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Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor Day One Highlights

February 24, 2024
Corbin Hosler

Welcome to 2024 and Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor!

It's hard to believe it, but it's been five months since Jean-Emanuel Depraz capped off 2023 by winning Magic World Championship XXIX with a thrilling finish to a milestone year that marked the return of the Pro Tour and tabletop play. It was also at that tournament that Simon Nielsen locked up the 2023 Player of the Year title in epic fashion, extending a race with Reid Duke into the final hours of the final day of the final tournament of the season.

Fast forward almost six months, and both Depraz and Nielsen are back for another year of competitive Magic, waiting and ready to defend their title at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor here at MagicCon: Chicago.

At least, Depraz was. Nielsen, wanting to center himself before the tournament, biked to the tournament from his lodgings—and took a wrong turn along the way. A few furious blocks of petaling later, and he arrived just in time to get the Pro Tour off and running.

New and Familiar Faces

The first Pro Tour of 2024 is a critical time for these high-level Magic players. It's a chance to start the year off with a bang, accumulate rolling points, and requalify for another Pro Tours this year. While everyone dreams of a heroic Top 8 Pro Tour run, it's the bread-and-butter finishes that're the key to sticking around between big wins.

But it wasn't just battle-hardened veterans competing. The field of 258 players contained a number of competitors making the first Pro Tour appearances of their lives.

A player making their first Pro Tour appearance was Talia Bael, a Seattle native and former judge who recently picked up the competitive circuit. Bael made faer Regional Championship debut just a few months ago in Atlanta after qualifying for it through the VML and left there with a memorable Regional Championship debut.

Like many first-time Pro Tour players in attendance, Bael is enjoying the experience as it comes.

"More than anything, a successful Pro Tour experience would do a lot to help me contextualize myself in the MTG community as a player," Bael explained. "I was a pretty ingrained career judge pre-pandemic, and at this juncture my primary goal is to expand my relationship to the broader community. I'm still fairly new to competitive play, so testing for this has already done a lot to introduce me to at least one side of the competitive play community."

Saks and Bael would each perform well in the morning rounds, going 2-1 in Murders at Karlov Manor Draft. While Saks fell out of contention in Pioneer, Bael kept the run going, finish Friday 6-2 with Jeskai Control to set up for a possible deep Saturday run.

Unraveling the Mystery of Murders

It's the Constructed formats that draw the most attention at the Pro Tour, for good reason. The 60-card (or thanks to Yorion, 80-card) games are the ones played in the waning rounds of the tournament, when players are vying for Top 8 position or a qualification for the next event.

Lost in that is the six Draft rounds that make up a huge part of the Pro Tour. An 0-3 start on Friday is disastrous no matter how good your Constructed deck might be, while a strong showing increases the margin of error a vast amount as you begin to work your way through 10 rounds of Constructed matchups.

It's an edge that has been long recognized by the best players in the world, and the top testing teams are all complete with at least one Limited master. As Drafts evolve with the introduction of play boosters with Murders at Karlov Manor, it's more important than ever for Pro Tour hopefuls to treat the Draft as much more than an afterthought; Pro Tour Hall of Fame careers have been built on Limited excellence.

And so teams went to work.

As for the format itself, players adapted to the new boosters and new twists on familiar mechanics—notably the Disguise mechanic that gives Murders at Karlov Manor its core structure.

Forum Familiar Riftburst Hellion Sanguine Savior

Early indications were that the set was aggressive, but how would the numbers bear that after two weeks of dedicated testing by top teams?

Sometimes, the conventional wisdom is conventional for a reason. Playing aggressive white-based decks was the secret to success at least on Day One of the Pro Tour.

A look through the 3-0 records tells you everything you need to know about the importance of draft. Notable undefeated drafters included former world champ Yuta Takahashi along with a short list of previous Pro Tour Regional Championship victors: Luis Scott-Vargas, Jake Beardsley, and Adrián Iñigo Tastet, among others.

"We had two main strategies, one straightforward and very A-B-C—and another more off the wall," explained Team Handshake member Anthony Lee, who said the A-B-C plan fell off the rails early and forced the pivot.

That's where the weeks of dedicated prep come in. Lee managed to turn what could have been a poor start into a solid 2-1 finish to set up the rest of his day.

And what about Nielsen, whose Player of the Year title defense almost never got started? A perfect 3-0, start of course. He was already warmed up.

Picklocking Pioneer

Pioneer has a new look.

The format played host to an extended Regional Championship season in 2023, but the addition of some new key cards—and the removal of Karn, the Great Creator—had the format in a state of transition heading into this year.

Largely, things broke down into three tiers: the combo side of things with Amalia and Lotus Field decks; the "fair" side of things with Azorius Control and Rakdos Midrange; and the archetype unique to itself that is Izzet Phoenix. And as Day One played out, it was those three pillars that defined things.

Going beneath the surface, there's plenty to find (and our resident Hall of Famer Frank Karsten found all the spice you'll want to see). With no deck dominant and most of the field believing there was almost real edge to be gained in Pioneer deck selection, there was one notable squad that had a surprise at the ready.

Rakdos Vampires? The kindred deck is built around this synergy:

Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord 646668

Vein Ripper may seem a tough sell in Pioneer at six mana, but it fills a neat hole in the metagame. It's castable if need be, but most of the time the Vein Ripper arrives via Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord. Once in play, its drain ability punishes the go-wide token decks like Boros, while its protective ward ability that requires sacrificing a creature is nearly an unpayable cost in Azorius Control decks.

The deck didn't dominate, but it did carry Sam Pardee to a 6-2 finish.

Meanwhile, White-Blue players have of course leaned on No More Lies in response, making it a key point of interaction for the Azorius build.

The other deck to gain some traction was Izzet Ensoul, which combined Ensoul Artifact with cheap (and sometimes indestructible) artifacts like Darksteel Citadel or a range of tokens the deck can make with Spyglass Spy or Voldaren Epicure. With the classic Shrapnel Blast to go upstairs to close out games, the Ensoul deck – and a strong draft performance – carried Jose Hilario to a 7-1 finish with his only loss coming to Tastet.

Back for More Murders

When the dust settled on the Pioneer rounds, it was another familiar deck and face that stood tallest: Jesse Hampton wielding Izzet Phoenix.

Hampton entered the event riding a wave of event success, stacking up multiple qualification paths to Chicago:

  • Magic Online Champions Showcase
  • 30 or more match points at Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings
  • Top finish at the MagicCon: Las Vegas $100,000 Open
  • MTG Arena Championship Qualifier

And he was no stranger to the competitive spotlight. With two Pro Tour Top 8s in the past–2014's Pro Tour Fate Reforged and 2011's debut of Modern with Pro Tour Philadelphia—and plenty of events under his belt, it wasn't surprising that Hamption marched his way up the standings.

Kicking off the day with a 3-0 Draft start, his path didn't slow as he took Izzet Phoenix to 5-0 Pioneer finish on Day One to become the sole undefeated player at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor.

It was also his birthday.

It's a stacked field right behind him. There are seven players at 7-1 who will enter Day 2 on Saturday with the inside track on making a run to the Top 8 and Pro Tour immortality, including Simon Nielsen and Adrián Iñigo Tastet.

We'll be following it all here at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor, and so can you at

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