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Pro Tour March of the Machine Top 8 Highlights

May 08, 2023
Corbin Hosler

Pro Tour March of the Machine began with more than 250 players converging in Minneapolis to battle it out through 16 rounds of Draft and Standard. It ended with a finals match between breakthrough player Cain Rianhard and the hottest Magic player in the world–and reigning World Champions–Nathan Steuer.

Cain Rianhard

Nathan Steuer

Team Handshake dominated high-level Magic over the past year, and their run of excellence continued in Minnesota with half of the Top 8 having prepared with the superteam. They faced a challenge from the other side of the bracket, with four players set to take on the Rakdos Midrange deck that became ubiquitous throughout 2023.

These are the eight players who advanced to play on Sunday.

  • Javier Dominguez (Rakdos Midrange)
  • Karl Sarap (Rakdos Midrange)
  • Simon Nielsen (Rakdos Midrange)
  • Yiwen Chen (Azorius Soldiers)
  • Nathan Steuer (Rakdos Midrange)
  • David Olsen (Five-Color Ramp)
  • Autumn Burchett (Orzhov Midrange)
  • Cain Rianhard (Rakdos Reanimator)

Here's how we found Rianhard and Steuer in the finals.

The Quarterfinals

Team Handshake had their eyes on securing the top four slots with their Rakdos Midrange deck–the straight first through fourth place finishes–but could the superteam hold out against the challengers?

It started with one of two World Champions in the Top 8: Javier Dominguez. The 2018 World Champion kicked off Sunday play with a match against Canadian David Olsen, who was piloting the Five-Color Ramp deck. Olsen and a Canadian squad of teammates had streamlined the deck's success with the full set of Atraxa, Grand Unifier. He described the matchup against Handshake's Rakdos deck as one of his better ones in the field, and his plan to prepare on Saturday night was to trust in his testing and get a solid night of sleep.

Javier Dominguez

David Olsen

Consider his 3-1 victory over Dominguez as evidence of that. Olsen's strategy in his games against Rakdos was the same as it was throughout the weekend: trade early removal like Ossification, Leyline Binding (easy to cast thanks to Triomes), and ramp options including Topiary Stomper, Herd Migration's second mode, and the new card Invasion of Zendikar.

555361 574645 Invasion of Zendikar

All of that led into Olsen's top end that included the scariest high-end threat with Atraxa, Grand Unifier and Etali, Primal Conqueror. Along with Reckoner Bankbuster, all of this early action meant that the deck was insulated better than most against the backbone of the black decks: Invoke Despair. With enough fodder to survive and a more powerful top end to break parity, the Five-Color Ramp could reliably grind out victory against what had been the format's grindiest deck.

As the games played out Dominguez tried to get in early damage, leaning on the classic curve of Bloodtithe Harvester into Fable of the Mirror-Breaker into Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. Team Handshake determined that was the best way to upset the ramp deck, but in only one game of a four-game set was Dominguez able to successfully execute on that plan. Instead, he was able to consistently poke at Olsen's life total but quickly stalled out. To wit, the fourth and final game in the set went exactly in this manner, with a leftover Reckoner Bankbuster eventually crewing up and finishing the job for Olsen.

One quarterfinal down, and one Team Handshake member eliminated; there would be no fairytale 1-2-3-4 finish for the squad this time around. Not that Dominguez was disappointed with his first Top Finish in two years.

Next up was the other World Champion–the reigning one, in fact. Nathan Steuer faced off against Yiwen Chen, who undoubtedly played the spiciest deck in the Top 8: Azorius Soldiers. One of the few players to find success piloting something that didn't contain Sheoldred or Fable or Atraxa, Chen's deck leaned on the synergy of Valiant Veteran, Skystrike Officer, Harbin, Vanguard Aviator and the rest of the Soldiers in Standard.

Yiwen Chen

Nathan Steuer

But Chen's Top 8 run was built on the back of his 5-1 March of the Machine draft record, and he dropped two of his three matches against Rakdos Midrange in the Swiss rounds. And in the opener, Chen struck first. He overwhelmed a mana-light Steuer and looked impressive in doing so, raising the possibility of a second Team Handshake member exiting earlier than planned.

But Steuer is the reigning World Champ making an incredible third Top Finish in a row, after runs at the World Championship and Pro Tour Phyrexia. He didn't blink after the ugly loss and quickly rallied back to even the series, then take it over by closing the last game with a perfect hand of Duress into Bloodtithe Harvester into double Cut Down into Invoke Despair: the Soldier synergy couldn't stand up to the pure power of the Rakdos deck, and Steuer advanced to meet Olsen in the first semifinal.

On the other side of the bracket, both matches were locked into an intense five-game set. Team Handshake mainstay Karl Sarap was rocking the team's Rakdos deck and was locked in a struggle against Cain Rianhard's Rakdos Reanimator, while the final member of the team (Simon Nielsen) faced a challenge all of his own against Autumn Burchett's Orzhov Midrange deck.

Autumn Burchett

Simon Nielsen

Burchett and Nielsen were next in the showdowns. Burchett's tweak on Mono-White Control gave her an edge throughout the weekend thanks to its increased range, while Nielsen was piloting what was undoubtedly the best build of the best deck in Standard: Rakdos Midrange.

The result was a back-and-forth affair that swung wildly as each player deployed their tech for the tournament. Nielsen's deck was built to prey on linear strategies, but Burchett had value stapled to all of her creatures, chiefly Serra Paragon. The angel was the late game threat-and-engine all-in-one that bridged the gap to the Breach the Multiverse at the top of Burchett's curve.

And in the final game, it all came down to that value: a pair of Ambitious Farmhands turned Seasoned Cathar led the way for Burchett as she outlasted Nielsen's removal and earned a spot in the semifinal.

Now all that remained was finding her an opponent, and it was Cain Rianhard who would emerge from their own battle with Rakdos in the hands of Sarap. The Reanimator deck Rianhard picked up several Regional Championship victories and was one of the best choices to go bigger than the midrange decks could handle.

Cain Rianhard

Karl Sarap

Not that it went that easily in practice: The pair matched wins in the first four games to bring it all down to one epic conclusion, where Rianhard rode a prototyped Phyrexian Fleshgorger to victory.

The Semifinals

With that, Team Handshake was down to just one member in Steuer. Not quite the 1-2-3-4 finish they were envisioning, but another dominant performance from the best team in Magic. The last thing that remained was determining the finalists from Olsen vs. Steuer and Burchett vs. Rianhard.

It took another epic match to get there, with Burchett and Rianhard going deep in a full five-game set. They traded blows, removal spells, planeswalkers and just about everything else that can go back and forth over the course a match.

The final game was tight as the rest, and as expected it came down to who had the final creatures remaining once all resources had been exhausted. That's exactly where the Reanimator deck packing Gix's Command wants to be. The Command proved to be the final haymaker Rianhard needed, ending an incredibly impressive run back to the Pro Tour Top 8 for Burchett, winner of Mythic Championship I in 2019.

One finalist down, one to go: either Steuer or Olsen would move on to play against Rianhard for the title. Unlike the nailbiter on the other side of the bracket, however, the top semifinal was a masterclass from Steuer demonstrating once again why he's the World Champion. His pair of Fable of the Mirror-Breakers didn't hurt either, and when a last-ditch Etali from Olsen failed to turn the tides the finals were set: Cain Rianhard against Nathan Steuer for the Pro Tour March of the Machine trophy.

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