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Pro Tour Thunder Junction Day Two Highlights

April 28, 2024
Corbin Hosler

The magic number was twelve.

That was how many victories it took at Pro Tour Thunder Junction to automatically qualify for the Top 8. It's the only surefire way to secure a Sunday seat—no stress in the final rounds, just a chance to cheer on your teammates as they battled in the final rounds.

Locking up Top 8 before the final round is a rarity in competitive Magic, but for Yoshihiko Ikawa, it didn't just happen: it happened fast. Ikawa dominated the competition en route to a perfect 8-0 Day One start and didn't miss a beat on Saturday as he dropped only a single round to Javier Dominguez before earning his twelfth win and spot in the Top 8 well before the final round of Swiss.

It's the third Top Finish for the reigning Regional Championship victor from Japan. And Ikawa's near-perfect run through twelve rounds puts him in some very elite Pro Tour company in terms of dominant performances—and he was just one of three players from the Japanese squad to make the Top 8 cut.

With fewer players than many recent Pro Tours, anything could have happened when the draft dawned on Day Two. The most prominent deck in the Standard portion stumbled hard on Friday, and the many possible cards that can show up in Play Boosters of Outlaws of Thunder Junction established the well-received Limited format as one of unlimited possibilities. And so the field coalesced behind Ikawa, the tournament becoming very crowded with top players and many diverse macro-archetypes.

Rei Zhang and Takumi Matsuura were the next to make the cut, with each picking up their deciding twelfth win in Round 15 with Four-Color Legends and Boros Convoke, respectively. That set up a scrum in the final round of Swiss as players battled for the final remaining spots.

The full Top 8 rounded out like this:

  • Yoshihiko Ikawa (Domain Ramp)
  • Rei Zhang (Four-Color Legends)
  • Takumi Matsuura (Boros Convoke)
  • Arne Huschenbeth (Esper Midrange)
  • Lucas Duchow (Esper Midrange)
  • Jason Ye (Four-Color Legends)
  • Yuta Takahashi (Azorius Control)
  • Sean Goddard (Temur Analyst)

Six different decks in the Top 8, with huge differences in strategies among them. In other words, it's going to be a scintillating Sunday.

Draft It 'til You Make It

When it comes to preparing for a Pro Tour draft, nothing beats experience. With online and internal resources available to teams and players prepping for the Pro Tour, understanding how to succeed at the highest levels of Draft is as much an art as a science.

There's plenty of science, of course—the top teams play many hundreds of games and amass massive amounts of information. There are pick rates, win rates, spreadsheets galore—but none of that can make your pick for you once you sit down under the bright lights of the Pro Tour. And with Outlaws of Thunder Junction, there's no amount of practice drafts that can prepare you for all the possibilities; what do you do if you sit down and get passed two Archive Traps? If you're Jason Ye, you take them and never look back en route to an undefeated draft.

And while Ye found success on Day One with its bold strategy, Arne Huschenbeth did the same on Day Two. After taking four straight green-white cards to open the all-important draft, the new Team CFB-Ultimate Guard member found that those colors just stopped coming through, at the worst moment.

"I got a couple of fringe black cards passed to me, and then came a Syphon Insight and I thought, 'Okay I've got to do it now,' so I swapped hard," Huschenbeth explained. "My deck ended up kind of medium, but there were five or six green drafters at the table, so everyone had a hard time rounding out their decks."

How many players would blow up their Day Two draft like that? Those are the margins that matter at the Pro Tour, and once again we saw the biggest wins in Thunder Junction go to the brave: Huschenbeth finished a perfect 6-0 in Draft to help fuel a Top 8 run, his third career Top Finish. He was joined at 6-0 in Limited by Gregory Michel and José Neves, the only three players to win both of their draft pods.

Remarkable Runs

By the end of the Pro Tour weekend, all eyes are rightfully on the Top 8, who will take to the stage Sunday to battle for the ultimate prizes. The Top 8 is ultimately a snapshot into the stories of the eight players who make the cut, but those are just eight of the hundreds of individuals who comprise the players of the Pro Tour.

Pro Tour Thunder Junction overflowed with storylines. There's the ongoing dominance and friendly rivalry between Team CFB-Ultimate Guard and Team Handshake-Ultimate Guard that has given us most of the Pro Tour winners of the past two years. There's the group success of team Moriyama Japan highlighted by Yoshihiko Ikawa, Takumi Matsuura, and Yuta Takahashi advancing to the Top 8. There's the incredible run by Nicole Tipple, who went from learning Modern in a week and playing in a Regional Championship to her first-ever Pro Tour appearance, where one of the most memorable runs in recent years brought her to a win-and-in for the Top 8.

And then there's Simon's story. The reigning Player of the Year who came to Seattle on a record-setting streak of four consecutive Top Finishes—including at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor two months ago after he narrowly made it to the draft in time courtesy of an errant bike ride—it looked early on that Nielsen would finally miss being in the mix down the stretch this time after a slow start led to a middling 4-4 finish.

But you don't become Player of the Year—and certainly don't Top 8 a single Pro Tour, let alone four in a row—unless you can bounce back mentally from a challenging session. And that's exactly what Nielsen did, ripping off an undefeated draft and then another three wins in Standard to move to 10-4 and find his way right back into Top Finish contention.

The heart of a champion is tough to crack, and while his comeback hopes ultimately fell to teammate (and former champion) Javier Dominguez, it was a thrilling Saturday run for Nielsen and everyone watching along.

In the months leading up to Seattle, the Standard format was put through its paces and players began to explore non-traditional archetypes, including Mono-Blue Cauldron and Aftermath Analyst lists that often stretched well upwards of 60 cards. With the very recent release of Outlaws of Thunder Junction, most players decided to play it safe and sleeve up Esper Midrange, but trusty Esper wasn't quite so robust this time around—the deck performed among the worst of the major archetypes.

The best-performing deck among the most popular archetypes was Azorius Control, followed very closely by the Four-Color Legends deck designed by team Sanctum of All and renowned deck builder Zhang. In addition to Zhang's Top 8, Etienne Eggenschwiler finished 9th and Nicole Tipple 11th. While Esper struggled mightily, there were also a number of decks that only one or two players brought that found success, including the Orzhov Bronco that finished 18th in Kevin Anctil's hands.

Sights and Sounds of Seattle

With the Pro Tour taking place in beautiful downtown Seattle, there was no shortage of highlights for attendees. From the legendary Magic players who turned out for the show—ten Hall of Famers were in attendance—to the first-time competitors like Tipple, it was a momentous occasion in Magic's backyard.

We saw wildly surprising Limited decks, Standard surprises galore (it's extremely rare for the most popular deck to flame out the way Esper Midrange did), and we've watched some incredible stories play out among the hundreds of players, and the staff and crew has made the Pro Tour's return to the birthplace of Magic not only possible, but special.

Ward Warren, Amanda Coots, Ben Ferrer, Meg Baum, Wella Ladera, Klaus Lassacher, Travis Lauro, Tobias Vyseri made their Pro Tour judging debut at Pro Tour Thunder Junction.

The Sunday Stage Is Set

The Top 8 players aren't done yet: they'll return on Sunday morning to battle it out in Standard for their share of $500,000 in prizes, the trophy, and the title of Pro Tour Thunder Junction champion!

You can catch all the action live at! The stream goes live at 10 a.m. EST, 7 a.m. PST.

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