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Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings Top 8 Highlights

July 30, 2023
Corbin Hosler

More than 250 players arrived in Barcelona to compete in Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings, and after 16 rounds over two days of competition, we were left with just eight players vying for the trophy in Barcelona.

The Top 8 was highlighted by a pair of Magic pros at different stages of their career. Simon Nielsen dominated the tournament and jumped out to a 12-0 start to cruise into his third Top Finish in his last four tries. On the other end was the one and only Kai Budde. By far the Pro Tour veteran with the most titles, Budde was back in a Pro Tour Top 8 for the first time since 2019, his second such appearance since 2010.

The full Top 8 looked like this:

  • 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)

We started, of course, with the legendary Budde himself. The German Juggernaut was squaring off against Calcano, pitting cascade cards and Crashing Footfalls against Calcano's build of Tron and The One Ring. True to legend, Calcano took command early on with a Chalice of the Void set to zero to counter the suspended Footfalls. With Budde locked out of his deck's namesake card, he scooped the first game as soon as Sundering Titan arrived. The next tilt saw Calcano assemble turn-three Tron and resolve The One Ring. That led to a turn-four Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. It ran into a Mystical Dispute, but the damage from its cast trigger had been done. When Karn Liberated followed, a lightning-quick game two ended with Calcano up 2-0 against the Hall of Famer.

As things moved to the sideboards, Budde was in need of help. He hadn't yet resolved his deck's namesake card, and that trend continued in Game 3 when a turn-three Footfalls ran into Warping Wail from Calcano. But while Budde couldn't find Rhinos, he did find counterspells – all four Force of Negation, in fact. And he would go through them all as he tried to outlast Tron. But nothing outlasts Tron in this format, and eventually Calcano's threats proved too much for Budde to hold back.

Calcano was the first to earn a semifinal slot, and he was soon joined by another Mono-Green Tron player. Simon Nielsen dominated the Swiss rounds of the tournament en route to a 12-0 record with Team Handshake's dominant build of Tron. That gave him a top-four seed in the Top 8 and the right to play first in the quarterfinals.

The lopsided victories continued as Mono-Green Tron showed why it's been the dominant deck of the weekend. Nielsen dropped just a single game to Stafano Vinci, who was fighting uphill with Temur Rhinos, the second most successful deck of the weekend. But Crashing Footfalls couldn't match up against Karn, the Great Creator and its wide array of options, and things were challenging for the cascade player when Nielsen had easy access to a sideboard with options like The Stone Brain and Chalice of the Void. The result was another Tron victory, this time a 3-1 margin for the Dane.

On the other side of the bracket, it all came down to Italy's Marco Del Pivo to keep it from being a clean sweep of the cascade decks. He would square off against Jake Beardsley, the lone Rakdos Evoke player to convert the tournament's most popular deck into a Top 8 appearance. The combination of Grief, Fury, and Feign Death gave the deck a proactive angle against The One Ring, but the deck had faced its own tough matchups throughout the weekend.

Beardsley's quarterfinal was not one of those. He jumped out to a quick lead over Del Pivo and didn't look back. The first-time Pro Tour competitor has mastered the disruption-plus-aggression style that epitomizes Modern Rakdos, and that carried him to a decisive 3-1 victory over Del Pivo.

Three matches. Three Temur Rhinos players eliminated.

That left one more match: the former world champion with Mono-Green Tron against Dominic Harvey, the sole Primeval Titan player in the Top 8. Dominguez was making his return to the Pro Tour Top 8 after some months out of the spotlight, and he was on the same Mono-Green Tron build that took the tournament by storm.

But Tron was notoriously weak against the explosive Amulet Titan deck that Dominic Harvey brought to bear, and Harvey showed why in the quarterfinals. His deck was weak to many of the same hate cards as Tron, like Blood Moon, which meant that Dominguez's own sideboard options were limited.

A fast quarterfinal round left us with four remaining competitors and a pair of matches to determine the finals of Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings.

First up was Harvey and Beardsley in a battle of the non-Trons. As strong as Harvey's deck was against Tron, it was that weak to the disruption-filled Rakdos Evoke deck that Beardsley had brought. As the games played out, Harvey struggled to even resolve Primeval Titan against the flurry of Griefs and Thoughtseizes. In fact, thanks to Dauthi Voidwalker, it was Harvey who spent the most time attacking with Primeval Titan.

Who would be the first-time Pro Tour competitor's opponent in the finals? It would be a Pro Tour veteran from the other side of the bracket, either Calcano or Nielsen. Both players had dominated the tournament with Tron, albeit different builds that would now clash in one last Tron mirror.

It was a classic Tron vs. Tron matchup. Both players traded haymakers, prison pieces, and a lot of mana through five games. The flow of the match alternated between halting and grindy to explosive and lopsided. In the end, it came down to a fifth game to decide who would make the Pro Tour finals.

And there it was: Calcano, who landed the last haymaker, taking down his friend in the biggest match of either of their lives to this point. It was a jovial affair for both, and with a gracious handshake, Nielsen conceded to Calcano and wished him luck in the finals of Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings.

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