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Players Tour Finals Top 8 Highlights

August 01, 2020
Corbin Hosler

The Players Tour Finals was an event all to itself. From the "Wilderness Reclamation vs. The World" metagame to battling on MTG Arena and the weeklong buildup between the end of the Swiss rounds and the Top 8, it was a unique event that each player will remember.

For Kristof Prinz, it is a life changing event. The Day One leader turned Day Two contender returned for the Top 8, showing his mastery of the best deck in Standard. He was the first to advance to the championship match after making his way through the Top 8, and once there he came up clutch, drawing his best cards in the biggest moments while facing certain defeat otherwise.

He needed every bit of it to hold off Riku Kumagai, who had eliminated Reclamation players throughout the tournament with a Mono-Black Aggro deck built specifically to prey on the ramp deck's weaknesses. The championship match went to the final game, where Prinz played almost flawlessly to become the winner of the Players Tour Finals.

How We Got Here

Before it came down to Prinz and Kumagai, here's how we got there. After a Friday announcement of the bracket, here's where each player in the Top 8 stood:

The Standard metagame heading into the Players Tour Finals had a clearly defined best deck built on Wilderness Reclamation. Everyone knew it, and everyone entering the tournament had a choice to make: play the best deck, or play one of a handful of decks with a plan to defeat the best deck (at the risk of giving up ground elsewhere)? It was Reclamation players on one side, everyone else on the other.

The Top 8 was a perfect representation of that, with four Wilderness Reclamation players and four other players on four other decks. Things didn't quite work out to pit one side against the other in the quarterfinals, and it was Fernandez and Prinz who met in the mirror. When they did, Prinz showed that the week off hadn't done anything to cool off the hot run Prinz had been on. His four-color build of Reclamation was tailored for the mirror against the more popular Temur variant, and he moved through in two straight games.

Meanwhile, in the one match not involving Wilderness Reclamation, Kumagai was facing off against Raphaël Lévy. Both had made the Top 8 by going their own way, albeit in different ways. Kumagai was the only Mono-Black Aggro player in the tournament, while the Hall of Famer had made the Top 8 with the Azorius Control list he had gotten from friend and fellow Magic Pro League member Gabriel Nassif.

It was a classic aggro vs. control battle, and it went the way that matchup historically goes; Kumagai's access to a suite of discard spells like Agonizing Remorse and Duress made sure of that.

Elsewhere, players took aim at the Reclamation players. Christoffer Larsen was piloting Jund Sacrifice against Ben Weitz's Reclamation deck. Despite it being a difficult matchup for the Witch's Familiar pilot, Larsen went on to beat the odds and the commentators' predictions.

Allen Wu fought back from the Temur side, defeating Michael Jacob's fan favorite Winota, Joiner of Forces brew. Jacob, one of Magic's original streamers and someone with years of experience with high-level Magic, had taken an easygoing approach to the Players Tour Finals. He began testing the Mono-White Aggro deck, but slowly changed things around until he landed on his build of Winota. He made sure not to second-guess himself and registered what had been working for him, and the decision paid off with a Top 8.

But Wu was quite familiar with these stakes himself: he won Pro Tour 25th Anniversary just two years ago. In the end, Wu ran away with both victory and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath.

Fighting For The Finals

In the first set of upper bracket semifinals matches Wu found himself facing down a brew, this time Kumagai's Mono-Black Aggro deck. But this time the rogue deck got the better of him, and Kumagai moved on to the upper finals. Larsen looked to join him there by knocking off another Reclamation deck, but this time it was not to be as Prinz was able to squeak out a victory even through a resolved Bolas's Citadel from the Danish pro.

On the other side eliminated players weren't out of the tournament. Rather, they moved down to a lower bracket where they could still battle for a spot in the championship match, though each match was now truly an elimination match.

With the upper bracket finals set, the other players battled to stay alive, and turned in a number of great matches. That included a much better showing for Jacob's deck, as Winota went absolutely wild in an elimination match against Levy.

It was the perfect showcase for the tournament's most surprising deck.

While Jacob was cruising with Winota, Patrick Fernandez made his way past Weitz in the Reclamation mirror. His reward was facing Wu in yet another mirror match. Three tense, grindy games later, it was the PT champion who kept his dream alive.

With Wu awaiting the winner, it was time for Larsen and Jacob to meet. Neither Jund Sacrifice nor Mardu Winota was particularly tailored to beat the other, and it promised to be one of the most interesting matchups of the Top 8.

The first game was certainly that, as Jacob's aggression threatened to overwhelm Larsen. But much is possible with Priest of Forgotten Gods, Mayhem Devil and Cauldron Familiar-Witch's Oven. Things devolved into a life total race, with Larsen pinging away with his litany of triggers. But he came up just short, and a Venerated Loxodon-fueled board sent Jacob to victory.

It turns out it was only a preview of what was to come, as in the second game Jacob provided one of the literally biggest moments of the day when he put 24 power of creatures into play through four turns..

With that, just four players remained. First came the elimination match between Wu and Jacob, two veterans playing with a chance to reach the finals on the line.

Once again, Jacob's deck was ready for Reclamation. As he taxed Wu's answers with cards like Selfless Savior and Basri's Lieutenant, Jacob was able to outpace the engine the Reclamation deck offered. In the deciding game, even an active Wilderness Reclamation wasn't fast enough to keep up with the disruption and Venerated Loxodon-accelerated clock.

That sent Jacob into the lower bracket finals. He would meet the loser of the Prinz-Kumagai match, and the winner of that would move on to the championship.

Kumagai's aggro deck was able to take a game from Prinz, but nothing seemed to truly stop the Reclamation deck. Prinz pulled off a third-game victory that left him just one round away from a title, while Kumagai was sent to the lower bracket finals for a matchup he certainly never anticipated: Mardu Winota.

But the Japanese pro had a plan: While Jacob's deck was capable of some incredible starts, Kumagai had access to more disruption than almost anyone else in the Top 8. Between discard spells and a steady stream of removal–Kumagai held up instant-speed interaction for a possible Winota at all times–he was able to prevent Jacob from generating a big "Winota combo" turn and take over the first game from there. And when Jacob failed to find much land in the second game, the rematch was on for the championship.

All About The Championship

For the third time in the tournament, it was Prinz vs. Kumagai, with Prinz having just claimed his spot in the final round by going through Kumagai. But none of the previous matches mattered – it was a clean slate and the first to two match wins in the finals would be crowned the victor.

Kumagai struck first. He leveraged his early Knight of the Ebon Legions perfectly, correctly playing around removal he could only guess at being in Prinz's hand: Thanks to cards like Justice Strike, Deafening Clarion, and Shark Typhoon, every turn had the potential to be a trap. But between the resilient threats and his disruption, Kumagai was able to just close out the first match.

For one of the first times in the entire tournament, Prinz found himself completely at risk. If he wanted to claim the title, he would now have to defeat Kumagai in two straight matches.

He'd start one match at a time. With his back up against the wall and the clock in Germany approaching 2 a.m., Prinz was up to the challenge. He was able to leverage a few fast Wilderness Reclamations into game wins to even things up in a flash, sending the championship it to a third and deciding match.

Through two weekends, 14 Swiss rounds, and the Top 8, it all came down to one final match.

Prinz was ready for the moment.

Down to his last possible draw in the first game, he pulled an increasingly improbable series of cards to chain through his deck until he found a lethal Expansion // Explosion on the final turn.

That meant Kumagai was on the play in the second game, and his Mono-Black Aggro deck was both scary and fast against Prinz's slower four-color mana base. That helped Kumagai race through to even things up for the final game.

It delivered. Kumagai jumped out to an early start and continued to develop his board, even as Prinz successfully stalled out the game with his few interactive spells. But in doing so he found himself with nothing but land while Kumagai presented multiple lethal attackers despite Prinz's active Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. Once again down to his final turn, Prinz needed help from the top of his deck.

And there it was.

That was the tournament: Prinz turned the corner and a few moments later was the champion of the Players Tour Finals.

"It feels great," he said after the match, elation mixed with fatigue as he tried to take in the moment of victory. "I was pretty happy just to be competing in a PT Top 8, but then the bracket rolled out and it was the best possible bracket for me with the two aggro decks on the side. I want to thank Reid Duke, Simon Görtzen and the online players Tangrams and INickStrad for helping me prepare for all the matchups over the past week."

After winning the Players Tour Finals, what's next? Prinz said he's interested in using this victory as a launching point to try and make a fulltime run at professional Magic.

"But first I'm going to finish my master's thesis in philosophy to make sure I have that in the books," he added with a laugh.

Congratulations to Kristof Prinz, champion of the Players Tour Finals!

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