10 Fun Facts About The Magic: The Gathering World Championships

Learn 10 interesting facts about the history of Magic’s World Championships

Faerie Mastermind, illustrated by Joshua Raphael

With Magic World Championship XXIX (that’s 29 in Roman numerals) coming up September 22-24, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada, here are ten fun facts about past Magic: The Gathering World Championships.

1. The first World Championship was a single-elimination tournament.

The first Magic World Championship was a far cry from later events. For one thing, nobody had to qualify; they just had to be one of the first 512 players to sign up. And unlike the most popular tournament system for major events today, Swiss-system pairings with a cut to the top players after a certain number of rounds, in the 1994 World Championship, every round was single-elimination. Lose one? You’re done.

Zak Dolan, 1994 Magic World Champion.

American Zak Dolan didn’t lose a round. He outlasted hundreds of players and defeated then-French National Champion Bertrand Lestree to become the first-ever Magic World Champion.

2. Magic World Champions have represented five continents.

After 28 World Championships, five continents can claim World Champions. Europe has the most World Champions, with ten. Asia is next, with eight, and North America is right behind with seven. Two South Americans, both from Brazil, have won the title, and the 1996 World Champion, Tom Chanpheng, represented Australia.

3. The 1996 World Champion won a unique card.

Tom Chanpheng didn’t just win the 1996 World Championship. He also won 1996 World Champion, a unique card that was 1-of-1 long before that term became popular.

The 1996 World Champion card was encased in the winner’s trophy. And while it’s no longer the only unique Magic card available to collect, thanks to The One of One Ring, it’s an amazing piece of Magic history. (If you want the third unique Magic card, Shichifukujin Dragon, you’ll have to buy out Hobby Japan. Good luck with that.)

4. World Championships were once broadcast on ESPN2.

Before esports became a global phenomenon, the Magic: The Gathering World Championships made a move into the world of sports broadcasting. Starting with the 1997 World Championship, four consecutive World Championships would have highlights packages broadcast on ESPN2, an American sports channel. Yes, that’s an ESPN2 logo on the life total scoreboard in the bottom right-hand corner!

Though Magic made a push to broadcast other major events in 2000, ultimately the experiment didn’t work out, and no more events appeared on ESPN2 from 2001 on. Fortunately for today’s viewers, the World Championships are streamed live, and replays are on demand instead of only late at night.

5. The youngest World Champion was just fifteen years old.

Magic: The Gathering is one of the few activities where fifteen-year-olds and fifty-somethings can compete on equal footing and win major events. At age 52, Gary Campbell won Grand Prix Birmingham, scoring one for age and wisdom. On the opposite side, there’s the 2004 World Champion, Julien Nuijten, who was just fifteen years old when he took the title.

Julien Nuijten, 2004 Magic World Champion.

Teen phenom Nuijten won the Rookie of the Year award almost entirely off that performance. Not bad for someone who’d only been playing Magic for three years!

6. The 2012 World Champion wasn’t crowned at a World Championship.

For 2012, the pinnacle of Magic competition received an overhaul. Previous World Championships had been large events with hundreds of players. In 2012, that number shrank to sixteen.

Oh, and it wasn’t the World Championship. It was the Players Championship, and the winner would be the Player of the Year, a title previously used for performance over the course of a professional season.

Yuuya Watanabe of Japan won the Players Championship. Meanwhile, the professional Magic community voiced their displeasure at the loss of the World Championship name and title. Though the field remained small the next year, the 2013 event was renamed to the Magic World Championship, and Watanabe was retroactively recognized as a World Champion.

7. Only one person has won back-to-back World Championships.

As seen above, in 2013, Shahar Shenhar won the World Champion. As the reigning champ, he was invited to defend his title at the 2014 World Championship, a feat never done before.

That didn’t stop him from winning his second World Championship in Nice, France.

Shahar Shenhar’s victory photo at the 2014 Magic World Championship.

Shenhar wasn’t just the first back-to-back Magic World Champion; he was the first two-time Magic World Champion in history. Going into the 2023 version of the event, he remains the only player to stand alone atop the Magic world twice.

8. It’s third time lucky for Las Vegas.

Magic World Championship XXIX will be the third time for the event in Las Vegas. At the 2018 World Championship, Javier Dominguez claimed the title, while 2022’s Magic World Championship XXVIII went to Nathan Steuer.

After Magic World Championship XXIX, Las Vegas will be alone in second place for the number of times a city has hosted the Magic World Championship, leaving behind a tie with San Francisco. But Las Vegas still has a long way to go before catching up to Seattle, the closest major city to the headquarters of Magic: The Gathering makers Wizards of the Coast. It’s hosted the event seven times.

9. The last three Magic World Championships have been won on MTG Arena.

For most of its history, the Magic World Championship was played entirely with physical cards. Magic Online (MTGO), the first digital version of Magic offering tournament play, had its own championship which qualified the winner for the Magic World Championship.

Magic: The Gathering Arena, aka “MTG Arena”, changed that. With its slick digital interface, eye-catching graphics, and automatic rules enforcement, MTG Arena changed how many players discovered and enjoyed Magic. And at Magic World Championship XXVI, for the first time, the title match was decided, not across a physical table, but at two computer screens.

Magic World Championship XXVI was held in February 2020, right before the global COVID shutdowns. The next Magic World Championship, XXVII, was held entirely online in October 2021, with Yuta Takahashi claiming the title. In-person play returned for World Championship XXVIII, as mentioned above, but the screens stayed for the final match.

10. Recent World Champions have appeared on their own cards.

Since Javier Dominguez’s win in 2018, Magic World Champions have had their faces appear on Magic cards. Unlike the unique 1996 World Champion card, these cards appear in booster packs, with their names and the events they won at the bottom.

Fervent Champion Elite Spellbinder Faerie Mastermind

Javier Dominguez became Fervent Champion, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa became Elite Spellbinder, and Yuta Takahashi became Faerie Mastermind. These cards have come out a little over a year after their players’ victories, so watch for Nathan Steuer’s signature card coming soon.

Who will join the list of Magic World Champions, claiming a card of their own to go with the title, or inscribe their name a second time? Watch World Championship XXIX to find out!