After 15 rounds of Swiss play, eight competitors returned for the Top 8 of the Kaldheim Championship to battle it out for the title. The format was Standard, and the bracket was double-elimination, and the lineup was stellar.
- Shahar Shenhar (Temur Adventures)
- Shota Yasooka (Sultai Ultimatum)
- Arne Huschenbeth (Dimir Rogues)
- Andrew Cuneo (Sultai Ultimatum)
- Javier Dominguez (Temur Adventures)
- Noriyuki Mori (Gruul Food)
- Grzegorz Kowalski (Sultai Ultimatum)
- Riku Kumagai (Mono-Red Aggro)
In the end, it would all come down to Arne Huschenbeth and Grzegorz Kowalski facing off in the championship match for the trophy and the biggest shares of $250,000 in prizes. Here's how we got there.
The Upper Bracket
Things started off with Shahar Shenhar, MPL player and two-time World Champion who dominated the first 15 rounds, matching up with Riku Kumagai, the lone Mono-Red Aggro player in the Top 8 who surged to success with a finalist finish at the Players Tour Finals.
While Shenhar's Temur Adventures deck had served him well all weekend, it was no match in this round against Kumagai's aggressive game plan where even an
Meanwhile, Arne Huschenbeth and his Dimir Rogues earned a quick 2-0 victory over Noriyuki Mori's Gruul Food, while Rivals League competitor Grzegorz Kowalski did the same in the Sultai Ultimatum mirror against Japan's legendary MPL player Shota Yasooka. That left another World Champion, Javier Dominguez, to square off against Andrew Cuneo and the all-MPL showdown.
With Temur Adventures taking on Cuneo's Sultai Ultimatum, the games were guaranteed to be full of interaction and they did not disappoint. Game 1 went long as Cuneo looked for a safe window to cast
Cuneo fought back to even the series, but found himself far behind in the decider when Dominguez had a timely
That brought us to the semifinals, where Huschenbeth met Kowalski and Dominguez faced Kumagai. In the first match, Huschenbeth's Rogues were able to bring Kowalski down to 7 life in the opener, but he was caught without a counterspell when Kowalski finally found his
In the second, Kowalski found himself with plenty of spells but not as many lands as his ramp deck would like. That's exactly where
With both players loading up on removal and countermagic, the third game drug out. Kowalski was able to resolve a
Kowalski held out for as long as he could, expertly navigating the board state. But in the end a
In the other match, Dominguez continued his dominant run. His Adventures deck smashed Kumagai in two straight games and sent the former World Champion into the upper bracket finals against Huschenbeth.
Experience helps, but so does expert play. Huschenbeth proved himself against the best in the world over the past year, and his match with Dominguez was actually their third meeting of the weekend. Dominguez took the first one in Round 9, but Huschenbeth fought back with a decisive 2-0 victory in the final round to punch his ticket to the Top 8. And after dispatching Dominguez in the first game of the grudge match, Huschenbeth made one of the most clever plays of the tournament to deny Dominguez in a pivotal moment.
It's a moment that defined how well Huschenbeth played all Sunday long.
Just like that, the upstart had made clear that he couldn't just play with the best in the world: he could defeat them when it counted most. It also that earned him the first seat in the championship match, leaving the other seven players to battle for the final remaining seat.
The Lower Bracket
The first round in the lower bracket was framed as a David vs. Goliath matchup. Hall of Famer, Player of the Year and nine-time Top Finisher Yasooka was squaring off against fellow Japanese countryman Mori in his first Top 8 appearance.
The first game was an absolute clinic in the power of Sultai Ultimatum, and Yasooka cast his deck's namesake card early and ran away with the game. But that was given right back in the second game, as Mori's innovative Gruul Food list ran roughshod over a land-light Yasooka.
It turned into a swing of a third game. Mori wasn't able to aggro out Yasooka, but his double
Next up was Cuneo and Shenhar, with Cuneo's Sultai deck facing a Temur Adventures deck that was the best-in-class of Standard at the Kaldheim Championship. The games were back-and-forth, but in the decider it was a timely Petty Theft to bounce Cuneo's
When the top of Cuneo's deck failed to find a board wipe, his tournament run ended.
Next up was another battle of Japanese all-stars, as Kumagai's Mono-Red Aggro deck met Mori's Food deck that had cooked the competition all weekend. Mono-Red was the third most popular Standard deck entering the tournament, but Kumagai was its lone representative in the Top 8, and it was a very lopsided matchup against Mori's deck of
Next up for Shenhar was Kowalski, who was piloting Sultai Ultimatum against Shenhar's Temur Adventures. Kowalski's Sultai deck did exactly what it was supposed to in a quick first game, leading them quickly to the second. Technical issues forced a replay of the second game, and it was Kowalski who pulled away with a pair of
With the field narrowing, just two more showdowns remained before the championship match. For Kowalski to advance back into the upper bracket, he'd have to go through both Mori and then Dominguez.
Neither match would come easy. Mori's Gruul Food deck put up a strong fight over three games, but he failed to find a crucial third land in the decider, which gave Kowalski the breathing room he needed to resolve
All that was left was a match against Dominguez, who was trying to win to force a fourth match against Huschenbeth on the weekend.
These two decks, Temur Adventures and Sultai Ultimatum, were made to grind against each other for ages, and that's exactly what happened in the match. Every decision was magnified as the games progressed. Kowalski's tight play led him to a first-game victory, but a critical mistake in the second game cost him.
It centered around
After a frustrating day for Kowalski, he had to shake it off one more time to advance to the finals. This time when he cast
It was now the resurgent World Championship finalist Grezgorz Kowalski facing off against an excited Arne Huschenbeth to see who would win the final match of the Kaldheim Championship.