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Kaldheim Championship Top 8 Highlights

March 29, 2021
Corbin Hosler

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.

Shahar Shenhar

Riku Kumagai



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 Elder Gargaroth in the second game wasn't enough to stop the burn.

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.

Andrew Cuneo

Javier Dominguez



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 Emergent Ultimatum as Dominguez applied pressure, threatening countermagic at every turn. It came down to the final card as Cuneo finally found his Emergent Ultimatum chance, but Goldspan Dragon off the top of the library for Dominguez proved to be lethal.

Cuneo fought back to even the series, but found himself far behind in the decider when Dominguez had a timely Mystical Dispute for Binding the Old Gods. That allowed him to attack Cuneo down to just 7 life thanks to Lovestruck Beast, and when a Saw It Coming countered Cuneo's desperation Shadows' Verdict the former World Champion was on to the next step.

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 Emergent Ultimatum deep into the game.

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 Binding the Old Gods comes in. The Binding not only removed Lurrus of the Dream-Den, but it also dug lands out of his deck. However Kowalski still wasn't able to find enough, and eventually a parade of cheap threats from Huschenbeth was able to go wide enough to force a third game.



With both players loading up on removal and countermagic, the third game drug out. Kowalski was able to resolve a Binding the Old Gods and attempted to follow it up with Yorion, Sky Nomad, but the "sky noodle" was met with double Mystical Dispute from Huschenbeth. That opened the door for the German to cast Into the Story on his next turn. Refilling his hand left him with plenty of gas to go along with a fully-fueled Drown in the Loch and a Didn't Say Please.

Into the Story Drown in the Loch Didn't Say Please

Kowalski held out for as long as he could, expertly navigating the board state. But in the end a Soaring Thought-Thief protected by Drown in the Loch made the difference and allowed Huschenbeth to deal the final point of damage.

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.

Shota Yasooka

Noriyuki Mori



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 Roiling Vortex meant that Emergent Ultimatum alone wouldn't get it done for Yasooka. The Hall of Famer had Koma, Cosmos Serpent, and the pair battled back and forth as the Vortexes whittled down life totals. In the end, Yasooka lined up an attack for 10 with Mori at just 9 life, but a pair of Food tokens allowed Mori to gain 6 life and stay just out of lethal range. Klothys, God of Destiny combined with the Vortexes to ping out Yasooka on his next upkeep, and after a wild match Mori was moving on to face Kumagai.

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 Shark Typhoon token that cleared the way for Shenhar's creatures to punch through in a key attack step.

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 Lovestruck Beast and The Great Henge. The combination of lifegain and card advantage was too much for the red deck to keep up with once it got going, and in two quick games that's exactly what Mori was able to do.

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 Elder Gargaroths drowning Shenhar in card advantage.

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 Emergent Ultimatum and advance to the lower bracket finals.

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 Emergent Ultimatum. Kowalski would have had to pay life to bring in a Sea Gate Restoration untapped, a tough ask given the boardstate, so instead he pulled the trigger without what turned out to be a critical one more mana.

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 Emergent Ultimatum after stabilizing the board, Kowalski made sure he had enough mana, and he was rewarded with a trip to the championship match against Arne Huschenbeth.

Grzegorz Kowalski

Arne Huschenbeth



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.

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