Welcome to sunny Spain! 268 players traveled to bright Barcelona to battle in Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings. As the final Pro Tour of the season before the World Championship, competitors had a lot to play for: invites to future Pro Tours, qualifications to the World Championship, and their share of a $500,000 prize pool. The tournament was the premiere of The Lord of The Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™ at the highest level of play, alongside the return of Modern to the Pro Tour stage.
The rich Limited format did not disappoint, and neither did the stacked field of competitors. We were treated to a Draft format with more depth than many had imagined, and the range of play continued into the Modern rounds filled with different decks.
Entering the tournament, all eyes were on reigning World Champion Nathan Steuer. He entered the weekend on a historic run, and he would indeed start the tournament off hot. Steuer finished the draft 2-1, en route to a 6-2 record on the day. It's not the completely dominant performance of tournaments past, but it leaves the World Champion still very live to make a Top 8 run on Saturday.
When the dust cleared and there were just two undefeated players squaring off for the top spot, Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings looked a lot like the last Pro Tour in Barcelona: Mono-Green Tron at the top.
Simon Nielsen and Zachary Kiihne are friends and colleagues on Team Handshake – the most successful team of the past year on the Pro Tour – and they were the final 7-0 players who met in Round 8 to set the pole position on Day Two.
It was Nielsen who emerged victorious in the mirror, capping an incredible day for the Dane who first rose to Magic prominence with the famous "Daneblast" World Magic Cup team. The Pro Tour one of the toughest tournament fields in the world. But even so, his run stands out. Nielsen was forced to dispatch teammate David Inglis in the first round, and then immediately ran into a gauntlet of Hall of Fame talents: Lee Shi Tien in Round 2 and Olivier Ruel-Mailfort in the Draft finals. It doesn't get more difficult than that, but the clutch allowed Nielsen to emerge into Modern unscathed, where he trusted that his build of "The One Ring Tron" could help carry him the rest of the way.
Now it's time for Team Handshake to put the TRON in STRONG! 😎— Sleep-In Simon Nielsen (@MrChecklistcard) July 28, 2023
That's exactly what it did, and now Nielsen leads the room heading into Day Two of Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings.
The Pillars of Draft
The day kicked off with The Lord of The Rings: Tales of Middle-earth draft, taking a Limited format that was already familiar to competitors and giving them a chance to take it to a new level at the Pro Tour.
The conventional wisdom was such: don't draft green, if at all possible. This came true, as only one player went undefeated with a two-color green deck:
Instead, Black-Red turned out to be the most successful archetype, reflecting the strength of both colors in the format. Black cards like
"My strategy is usually to stay open and familiarize myself with all the archetypes in a format, but after about 20 drafts I realized I hadn't drafted Black-Red yet," he explained. "Once I realized that, I started looking into it and forcing it to learn the archetype, and realized that even the medium drafts of the colors were coming out well – as long as you have one of those colors as your base in the format, you'll usually do all right.
"We [Team Handshake] actually didn't hate Green – the Green-White Food strategy can work if things come together. Tristan Wylde-LaRue loves drafting Green; he did a one-hour monologue on how to draft the color during our Limited meeting!"
Black-Red also delivered a 3-0 finish to longtime Pro Tour regular Christian Calcano – who took maybe the most interesting path here. The American played in a Regional Championship qualifier while visiting friends in Europe... and won it. So, of course, he had to run it back at the Regional Championship itself... where he qualified for the Pro Tour. And on Day One of that Pro Tour?
Modern and Middle-earth
As always, Modern never lacks in intensity, and time and again we watched matches go down to the wire or revolve around a single set of decisions in the way that only Modern can.
The Lord of The Rings: Tales of Middle-earth made a huge impact in Barcelona.
But the day belonged to
"Tron is the best
Frank Karsten covered the full Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings metagame, highlighting nine of the spiciest decks in the room. While Mono-Green Tron and Rakdos Evoke stole the headlines, lesser-played archetypes found success as well: Amulet Titan finished 6-2 in the hands of Jack Potter, as did the innovative ThopterSword deck piloted by Robert Graves.
You can find all of the Modern decklists here.
With eight rounds and the first cut behind us, we turn toward Saturday and the race for the Top 8. Needing a 4-4 record or better to advance to Day Two, 169 players succeeded in that goal and will be back for another draft of The Lord of The Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. From there, we turn to the stretch run of five Modern rounds.
Nielsen leads the field, but as always, it's a stacked crowd at the top. The German Juggernaut himself, Kai Budde, punched through to a 7-1 finish, as did notable names Zachary Kiihne and Pro Tour 25th Anniversary winner Greg Orange. These players and many more will continue to chase down Nielsen when play kicks off on Saturday.
Coverage begins at 11 a.m. CEST / 5 a.m. EST / 2 a.m. JST. You can catch all the action at twitch.tv/magic!