384 players entered the tournament on Friday. 130 of them returned on Saturday. On Sunday morning, it was down to just eight competitors, and this number was reduced to one champion by day's end. Here are the highlights from the Top 8!
International Star Power
Players Tour Europe wasn't just for Europeans. People came traveling from the Asia-Pacific region and from the Americas too. One representative of each even made it to the Top 8. China's Zhang Zhiyang was on vacation with his wife and took the opportunity to squeeze in a bit of Magic. After all, he had a history of doing well in Europe. This was Zhang's second big finish after a Top 8 at Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona last year.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, MPL member from Brazil, had traveled to Europe mainly to test Standard with the Czechs in preparation for the upcoming World Championship XXVI. Luckily, the cooperation also yielded a sweet Pioneer deck that took Damo da Rosa to his third consecutive Top 8 in top-level events: Mythic Championship VI, VII, and now the Players Tour.
Of course, several of Europe's finest took a seat in the playoffs as well, including two-time Pro Tour finalist Joel Larsson from Sweden. And Poland's entry into the World Championship, Piotr Głogowski, brought the number of MPL members up to two. The stars of Nyx were shining from various banners across the feature match area—down onto a number of stars below.
While Mono-Black Aggro and Dimir Inverter topped charts at essentially every stage of the tournament, a lot of this was down to their large initial metagame share. When it came to the Top 8, only one copy of each made the cut.
The quarterfinals pitted Bant Spirits against Sultai Delirium, Lotus Breach against Mono-Black, Mono-Red Aggro against Niv to Light, and Bant Spirits against Inverter. One couldn't have asked for a more diverse spread of interesting decks. Sultai Delirium in particular also led the charge when it came to converting few overall entries into many good finishes. Only six players submitted the deck, and five of them won six or more Pioneer matches.
The first two combatants to square off in the feature match area in the morning were Joel Larsson and Mattia Rizzi. After mulligans, Rizzi lost a quick game one, then took the second. In the decider, Rizzi did his best to give the impression that his draw was much better than it actually was. At various points, he bluffed interaction, Spirits, and Collected Company, but he could only fool Larsson for so long.
In the second match, Brent Vos again showed off all kinds of cool tricks. He had already turned his Thespian Stage into a Blast Zone on Saturday to kill Walking Ballista. This time, multiple Stages turned into Mutavaults and we learned the answer to an interesting rules question.
Interesting rules interaction in the #PTBrussels quarterfinals: if a Thespian Stage becomes a 2/2 Mutavault and then turns into a Lotus Field after blocks, it is still a creature.— Magic Esports (@MagicEsports) February 2, 2020
The match between Brent Vos and Zhang Zhiyang is now tied 1-1.
The third quarterfinal match featured Piotr Głogowski on Dimir Inverter up against Valerio Luminati's Spirits. The combo proved successful in the first game, when the Spirit deck's disruption capabilities weren't yet at their maximum. But after sideboarding, Głogowski had his work cut out.
And so he set to work ...
Głogowski navigated consecutive turns masterfully, capitalizing on Luminati's shortage of lands. In the end, he managed to fight through three counterspells.
The fourth quarterfinal match had Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa face Juan José Rodríguez López. In the first game, Damo da Rosa encountered the pitfalls of running a deck that's 58% mana sources. Flooded on lands, he quickly succumbed to the mono-red onslaught. The second game went according to Damo da Rosa's plan. An accelerated Niv-Mizzet Reborn gave him an early advantage, and many turns later, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath sealed the deal.
For the third game, Damo da Rosa set up another Niv-Mizzet for turn four. However, Rodríguez López summoned Abbot of Keral Keep, found a removal spell, and narrowly averted disaster. In fact, this spelled disaster for Damo da Rosa. Not only didn't he have 5 mana on turn four now, he also no longer had any source of black mana, looking at three black cards in his hand.
But then the advantage of running a deck that's 58% mana sources became apparent ...
The semifinal match between Joel Larsson and Brent Vos didn't generate much in the way of highlights. Decks that rely on a certain combination of cards will malfunction sooner or later, and now the time had come. In the first game, Vos didn't find Underworld Breach or Fae of Wishes. In the second, he wasn't able to present a sufficiently stocked graveyard when the Breach arrived.
The other semifinal pairing, by contrast, was just one big highlight. First of all, it involved the two biggest names in the Top 8: Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Piotr Głogowski—both members of the MPL, both sporting a résumé littered with Top Finishes, both headed to Worlds.
Then it involved Niv-Mizzet Reborn and The Scarab God, and The Scarab God reanimating Niv-Mizzet ...
It also involved lots of back-and-forth. Even The Scarab God wasn't safe. The match involved judgment calls and informed decisions, but it also involved the unexpected and ended on a surprise.
The contestants for the trophy represented the finest of European Magic—albeit from two different eras. On one side sat Joel Larsson who had been at the top of the game in 2015 when he won Pro Tour Magic Origins, who had come out of retirement for this tournament, who had brewed his Sultai Delirium with a group of players back home in Sweden.
Facing him was the champion of Mythic Championship VII, Piotr Głogowski, almost better known by his online name. Fluent in memes and emotes, "kanister" had been one of the first people to discover and popularize the new Dimir Inverter deck, and he had shared all of it on stream.
Głogowski took the first game with the help of a planeswalker that remained unchallenged for way too long, and only eventually delivered the killing blow in tandem with Inverter of Truth. "It's all thanks to Jace," commentator Riley Knight summed it up. "Jace, Wielder of Mysteries is not just a combo piece. It provides actual value."
The sideboarded games played out differently and, as sideboarded games often do, featured much more in the way of interaction. Both games began with Larsson deploying Leyline of the Void. This meant that Głogowski could no longer cast Inverter of Truth unless he had Jace in play or enough mana to follow it up with Thassa's Oracle in the same turn.
It also meant no more delve. Larsson later stressed the importance. "If they don't have access to Dig Through Time, suddenly you have the better topdecks."
In addition, Leyline meant that everything cast, milled, destroyed, or discarded was lost forever. Larsson indeed had several key Thoughtseizes at crucial moments in game three, and soon Głogowski was running low on actual win conditions.
After a particularly unfortunate self-mill, Głogowski had to switch gears and made a credible attempt at depleting Larsson's library instead of his own. His Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Thief of Sanity joined forces with Larsson's own self-mill and card draw. Larsson went down to a single-digit number of cards. But at the end of a long game, his Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Tireless Tracker crossed the finish line first.
Congratulations to Joel Larsson!
Larsson had originally retired from professional Magic when it conflicted with his studies. Asked about his plans for the future now, he reiterated that his top priority remained finishing his degree. "Magic always has ways of luring you back in," he said, "and this one is pretty good."