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Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 Top 8 Highlights

June 30, 2024
Corbin Hosler

Nearly 250 players came to Amsterdam to battle in Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3, but after six rounds of Draft and ten rounds of a new-to-us Modern, we were down to eight final players on the Sunday stage to battle for the trophy and title:

  • Ma Noah (Mono-Black Necro)
  • Eli Kassis (Bant Nadu)
  • Jason Ye (Bant Nadu)
  • Javier Dominguez (Jeskai Energy Control)
  • Simon Nielsen (Bant Nadu)
  • Sam Pardee (Bant Nadu)
  • Seth Manfield (Mono-Back Necro)
  • Daniel Doetschel (Four-Color Nadu)

The Top 8 was all about Nadu, Winged Wisdom–and if anything would defeat it, just like the rest of the weekend. The Bird was the best deck in the field over the course of the tournament, and placed five members into the Top 8. With the three would-be challenger decks all facing off against the combo deck in the quarterfinals, Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 had the potential to turn into an all-Nadu affair in the Top 4.


Let's run through the combo deck one time. The basic "combo" is Nadu, Winged Wisdom plus Shuko or Outrider en-Kor. Equipping the artifact triggers Nadu's ability, which then begins to churn through the top of the deck. Lands come into play as normal, so multiple triggers can generate positive mana. Thanks to Springheart Nantuko, lands not only produced mana but additional creatures to trigger Nadu additional times–yes, the Bird's ability gives the trigger to each creature in play. From there the deck goes on, one trigger at a time, either putting lands into play or cards into hand.

Here's where things get a little tricky. A one-of Endurance is in the deck, and it uses the elemental to reset its own graveyard. Likewise, Sylvan Safekeeper not only protects your combo but also provides a crucial land-sacrifice outlet–this will come up later. After starting the combo, eventually the Nadu deck will have gone through everything in its library. This is where Springheart Nantuko comes back in, because it can bestow upon creatures to make additional copies of that creature upon landfall.

Shuko Springheart Nantuko Sylvan Safekeeper 522233

At that point, the Nadu player can sacrifice lands to Safekeeper, make copies of Endurance to shuffle them back into their library, and produce as much mana as they want this way. This loop also guarantees a recursive use of Otawara, Soaring City–the deck's true "win" condition–to bounce all of an opponent's relevant permanents to their hand forever (this does in fact win the game).

The Quarterfinals

And with all that setup out of the way, we were off to the races. At least Nielsen was, as he tried to assemble the combo early before Dominguez's control deck could set up. But while the creatures on the first two turns represented a strong start for Nielsen, being on the draw meant that he would always give Dominguez an opportunity to spend mana first–and a string of countermagic and removal from the former world champ was enough to control Nielsen's board until his own endgame came online. It was an ideal start for Dominguez, and one that made the idea of knocking off Nadu seem tenable after all.

Simon Nielsen

Javier Dominguez

Now on the play, Nielsen pressed his mana advantage in the next game with an early Noble Hierarch, followed by a Shuko-threatening Urza's Saga. But with Dominguez's countermagic preventing a Summoner's Pact for Nadu, instead Nielsen opted for the "fair" play of finding Haywire Mite to go along with a construct and Springheart Nantuko. This represented the kind of Nadu game that could be interacted with profitably: Dominguez cast Wrath of the Skies, cleared the board and wrapped up the game a few short turns later.

Now came the sideboarded games; enter Suncleanser.


"That player can't get counters."

The unexpected rare made a showing in the team's Nadu lists, and it made a showing when Nielsen needed it most in the quarterfinals. Combined with some mana struggles from Dominguez, the third game quickly went Nielsen's way–after all, it's pretty difficult for the energy deck to function when it can't produce energy.

If some Suncleanser is good, more is better. The matchup-defining card would make more appearances throughout the next two games, with Nielsen's creature-based Bant deck more than capable of finding it on command thanks to Chord of Calling. Now faced with two nearly unbeatable three-drops to plan for, Dominguez's control deck faded in the final games, with the reigning Player of the Year completing the reverse sweep and earning the first spot in the semifinals.

The next player to try their hand at defeating Nadu was Hall of Famer Seth Manfield with Mono-Back Necrodominance, who was taking on Eli Kassis. Mono-Black Necro was one of the other new decks to come out of Modern Horizons 3, and while it didn't have a standout performance overall it did place two players into the Top 8 in Manfield and Ma.

Seth Manfield

Eli Kassis

But even the Hall of Famer couldn't pull it off. Kassis had locked up his spot in the Top 8 early thanks to his mastery of the archetype, and though Manfield was able to take a game off of Kassis, it was another Nadu through.

That sent things over to Sam Pardee and Jason Ye, already deep into the Bant Nadu mirror with one game win apiece. With the sideboards now in play, the race to combo became a race to protect the combo as both players gained access to more removal to try and stop each other from assembling the combo.

Sam Pardee

Jason Ye

All of which, unsurprisingly, led to the players splitting the next two games. That sent things into a fifth and final deciding game to decide the match. Arboreal Grazer for Ye meant it was ahead on lands, but with Pardee on the play and a Noble Hierarch start, it was all cylinders firing for both players. It was Pardee who found Nadu first, with a Chord of Calling following shortly thereafter for Springheart Nantuko, the writing was on the wall–and Pardee was into the semifinals.

With a very important question left to settle.

With that, there was just one quarterfinal left: Noah Ma and Daniel Goetschel. It was also the last chance for a player to knock Nadu off its perch–Ma was the first player to secure a Top 8 berth with his Mono-Black Necro deck. One of the few decks with both the tools to answer Nadu while not falling hopelessly behind in card advantage, Mono-Black hadn't enjoyed a dominant weekend overall but had looked that way in Ma's hands.

Ma Noah

Daniel Goetschel

Like Ye and Pardee, the pair were locked deep in a fifth and deciding game.

Bird was the word for the semifinals forward.

The Semifinals

First up was a battle among two of the Pro Tour's most consistent players of the past decade: Kassis and Pardee. It was Bird-on-Bird violence, as the rest of the Sunday playoff would be.

The first game went much slower than expected, as both players developed their early boards but neither raced to a combo finish. When one of them finally did assemble the combo–Pardee on the fourth turn–it wasn't the explosive finish we've become accustomed to. Instead, the expert combo player found a string of nonland spells on the top of his deck, potentially interrupting his combo and leaving him no instant-win. It's a rare outcome, but one that cropped up occasionally throughout the tournament. Multiple times on his big turn, Pardee was down to his final creature that could trigger Nadu. But with tight play built on a lifetime of combo decks, Pardee was able to turn the corner and secure the first game over Kassis.

From there, things went as the Nadu mirrors tended to: players traded games back and forth until they were in a fifth and final game–just like all the Nadu mirrors across the quarterfinals and (spoiler warning) semifinals. And that deciding game was just like the first four, with a race to combo that was one by Pardee as things came together with backup by turn four on the play.

With one finals competitor set, all that remained was to find Pardee an opponent. It would be either Goetschel, the former Grand Prid champion, or Nielsen, the best player in the world over the past year. Classic Bant Nadu versus the teched-out build with black that Goetschel was rocking.

Access to Thoughtseize in the 75 fundamentally changed how the matchup could play out–with or without a Shuko, Nadu, Winged Wisdom is impossible to answer profitably once it hits play; Thoughtseize was a way to prevent that from happening.


Both players entered the Pro Tour knowing Nadu was the deck to play–and the deck to defeat. The problem with trying to remove Nadu by traditional means is that the removal player is going to give up at least two triggers (one from the initial targeting and one from the removal spell) in the exchange; even bolting the Bird isn't particularly effective, especially with Sylvan Safekeeper involved.

All of which meant that the games, once they began, played out much like the other Nadu mirrors: a race to combo. And like the other matches, it went a full five games, with both players trading combos back and forth. With tight play on both sides that inevitably led to birdbrained combos, it was the Player of the Year who flew the highest in the end.

Pardee and Nielsen would face off to claim the Pro Tour trophy.

That set up an Amsterdam finals showdown between a Pro Tour Sunday winner in Sam Pardee and a Pro tour trophy chaser ready for their victory event in Simon Nielsen.

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