With more than 250 players qualified for Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings, we came to Spain looking forward to one of the largest fields of the season. It was the perfect setting for the premiere of The Lord of The Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™ in both Limited and Modern, and it hasn't disappointed through two days of competition.
The second day of Pro Tour competition has lived up to the hype. With nine rounds of play, three of Draft, and five of Modern, Simon Nielson left on Friday looking back at the rest of the field. The Copenhagen native didn't slow down on Saturday as he started strong and coasted out to a perfect 12-0 record.
Nielsen wouldn't go on to complete the undefeated Swiss run, but he did comfortably advance to the Top 8 shortly after Team Handshake teammate Javier Dominguez did. They were joined by the rest as things shook out in a chaotic final round of tiebreakers-matter standings. When the dust settled, the Top 8 in Barcelona was set:
- Simon Nielsen (Mono-Green Tron)
- Jake Beardsley (Rakdos Evoke)
- Christian Calcano (Mono-Green Tron)
- Javier Dominguez (Mono-Green Tron)
- Marco Del Pivo (Temur Rhinos)
- Stefano Vinci (Temur Rhinos)
- Kai Budde (Temur Rhinos)
- Dominic Harvey (Amulet Titan)
Let's take a look at these top players and decklists, then see how we got here.
Nielsen Leads the Way
All eyes were on reigning World Champion Nathan Steuer, who entered the tournament on a historic run. And while Steuer started Saturday with a strong 6-2 record, it was Nielsen who stole the show. Not since Jim Davis at the Neon Dynasty Championship had a player gone undefeated through the swiss rounds (Davis went 12-0 and locked Top 8; and Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas famously went 16-0 at Pro Tour San Diego in 2013).
But that was in Nielsen's sights after he reeled off another perfect The Lord of The Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™ Draft and followed up with a pair of Modern wins to push his record to 12-0 when everyone else had picked up at least two losses. The undefeated run ended there (it took 13 wins to clinch Top 8 with certainty) but Nielsen did enough work to earn back-to-back Top Finishes. The Top 8 was the culmination of another incredible performance for the Dane, who came off a Sunday appearance at Pro Tour March of the Machine in Minneapolis earlier this year. This marks his third career Top Finish in the past 14 months.
Now he'll try to take the next step after finishing as the runner-up at the New Capenna Championship last year. To do so, he'll have to fight through a Top 8 featuring professional Magic legends Javier Dominguez and Kai Budde.
Budde is Back
"I can't believe I still get so nervous after 30 years of this."
Those were the first words from Kai Budde as it dawned on him that a Pro Tour Top 8 in a fourth decade was on the table. The German Juggernaut's name has been invoked regularly in recent months, as the Magic world has watched Nathan Steuer chase down one of the best streaks in the game's 30-year history.
As if summoned by the existence of such a challenge to his record, Budde was back in Barcelona where he won a Pro Tour in 2001. More than 23 years after his 2001 win in Barcelona, he was back at the top tables as he delighted fans with a deep Pro Tour run.
Playing the Temur Rhinos deck, relying on the cascading power of
The 6-0 The Lord of The Rings Drafts
The Top 8 at the Pro Tour isn't finalized until Round 16, but it's the draft rounds that kick off each day that have traditionally been the secret to reaching Sunday. Players and teams have traditionally found the largest edge to gain in Draft, with a good performance in the Limited rounds usually leading to a Sunday shot.
Seven different players went a perfect 6-0 in drafts on Friday and Saturday and it delivered a pair of players into the elimination rounds on Sunday.
- Gabriel Nassif
- Simon Nielsen
- Sean Goddard
- Marei Okamura
- Toru Inoue
- Tin Mihael Capar
- Stefano Vinci
An astounding 7 players went 6-0 in draft at #PTLOTR! Congratulations to:— PlayMTG (@PlayMTG) July 29, 2023
Simon Nielsen - WB, BG
Marei Okamura - WB x2
Gabriel Nassif - UR, UB
Toru Inoue - 4-Color, BR
Stephano Vinci - Grixis, Esper
Tin Mihael Capar - 4-Color, Grixis
Sean Goddard - UR x2
The results largely reflected what players had to say before the tournament: black and red were the best colors in The Lord of The Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™. The strong crux of removal in those colors girded the majority of the 3-0 decks in the room, including with Gabriel Nassif's lockdown control deck featuring The Bath Song to recycle his best cards into his deck
Karn is Liberated in Modern
Tron is back. Well, it never left, but, four years after it won the last Pro Tour in Barcelona in the hands of Thoralf Severin, the deck is enjoying a resurgence of popularity thanks to
BLAST FROM THE PAST! 12-1 @MrChecklistcard's Mono-Green Tron main deck today is 39/60 (65%) of commentator @CedricAPhillips RG Tron main deck from 2013!— PlayMTG (@PlayMTG) July 29, 2023
Thanks to @karsten_frank for the data! pic.twitter.com/zEguLV3Yd7
Everything old is new again. Take for instance Karn, the infamous turn-three threat deployed by Tron for over a decade. But at Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings, the Karn in question is
In 2023, Tron plays out like something more akin to a control deck than a ramp deck. The flexibility offered by Karn – plus the sheer power of
The other big winner this weekend was Rakdos Evoke with
Another favorite making a strong showing this weekend was Amulet Titan, which helped to send Dominic Harvey to the Top 8 with its explosive mana.
Next up is the Top 8, and there can be doubt that Budde enters as the favorite – after all, Kai doesn't lose on Sundays. (He has, but you can't count on that.) He'll face tough competition from the rest of the Top 8, which includes Nielsen looking to pick up his first title in his third Top Finish, plus 2018 World Champion Javier Dominguez on a similarly blistering back-to-back streak as teammate Nielsen.
With three copies of Mono-Green Tron squaring off against three builds of Temur Rhinos – plus Dominic Harvey on Amulet Titan and Jake Beardsley piloting Rakdos Evoke – the Top 8 is sure to feature both Modern's classic archetypes along with its newest additions.
We're lucky enough to watch it all play out. Coverage begins at 10 a.m. CEST / 4 a.m. EST / 1 a.m. JST. You can catch all the action at twitch.tv/magic!