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Pro Tour Thunder Junction Top 8 Highlights

April 29, 2024
Corbin Hosler

When Pro Tour Thunder Junction kicked off Friday morning, it was something of a celebration: the Pro Tour back in the place where it all began. And as the sun set on this Standard Pro Tour in Seattle, the final eight players gathered one more time to determine the only thing left: who would claim the Pro Tour Thunder Junction trophy.

Sixteen rounds of incredible Magic action over two days brought us to this point—with bold choices in both Standard and Outlaws of Thunder Junction Limited alike paying off for competitors—and a final slate of seven matches would crown a champion.

Top 8, Left to Right: Yuta Takahashi, Lucas Duchow, Takumi Matsuura, Yoshihiko Ikawa, Rei Zhang, Arne Huschenbeth, Jason Ye, and Sean Goddard

We began the action with the most dominant player of the Swiss. Longtime competitor Yoshihiko Ikawa qualified for Pro Tour Thunder Junction by winning the last round of Regional Championships in Japan and then worked with the Japanese team Moriyama Japan, captained by Masahide Moriyama. The ten-player testing team has put up consistent finishes at Pro Tours in recent months and had a huge breakthrough in Seattle: three members of the team made the Top 8, with Takumi Matsuura and former world champ Yuta Takahashi joining Ikawa on the Sunday stage.

Ikawa was the first to punch his Top 8 ticket, dropping just a single match to Javier Dominguez before picking up his twelfth win in Round 13 to secure his spot early. That's where the action picked up on Sunday, and Ikawa and Sean Goddard kicked things off with one of the most memorable matches we've seen on camera in some time; there are plenty of memories to make when the best-of-five Pro Tour quarterfinals go the full distance.

The Domain Ramp deck Ikawa had cruised through the tournament with could go over the top of pretty much any other deck in the room thanks to Atraxa, Grand Unifier; that fact helped him outlast the myriad Esper Midrange builds that made up the largest share of the field. The only problem for Ikawa was that team Worldly Counsel member Goddard was playing Temur Analyst, the only Standard deck that could Channel (Aftermath Analyst) Fireball (Worldsoul's Rage) to go even larger. The result? An epic match that swung back and forth and back again as the players showcased just how skilled they are to play at such a high level for so long—it's well worth a complete watch if you want to see how the best in the world play such superb Standard Magic.

Not that it looked like it would go the distance at first. Goddard took the first two games from the Domain deck and soon advanced the third game to a favorable place. But Ikawa just wouldn't go out, with clutch plays keeping him hanging on while he sought to stabilize. Then, the wall began to crumble.

With the sideboards involved, the dynamics changed. And while the games were just as long and grindy as before, they now tilted slightly more toward Ikawa. And once he began winning on Sunday, he just didn't stop.

As the marathon match played out, the rest of the Top 8 was also deeply locked in battle. Arne Huschenbeth, the newest official member of Team CFB-Ultimate Guard, went deep into the Esper Midrange mirror with Lucas Duchow, the Magic Online specialist who now has a tabletop Pro Tour Top Finish to add to his resume.

With both decks packed to the brim with removal and value creatures, the games often came down to who could maneuver to leave a single threat left standing after dozens of cards had traded back and forth. Team CFB-Ultimate Guard was perfectly prepared for this outcome, and as the game ground on, Huschenbeth was able to do just that in three tight victories.

Two semifinal seats filled, two to go. The next match was Takahashi versus Rei Zhang, also known online as "cftsoc" (combo for the sake of combo). Zhang and the rest of team Sanctum for All are responsible for huge parts of this Standard format, with both the Aftermath Analyst decks and the Four-Color Legends deck that delivered Zhang and Jason Ye to the Top 8 coming from members of the team.

Takahashi was the only Top 8 competitor piloting Azorius Control, part of a very diverse set of six macro-archetypes to qualify for the elimination rounds. And against Zhang's Four-Color Legends deck, the former World Champion's deck did exactly what it was built to do: eliminate every creature that hit the battlefield. Zhang's deck had plenty of those; with 29 lands and 22 creatures, its deck was designed to keep the threats flowing. Over four extremely tight games, Takahashi was able to narrowly edge out Zhang for the semifinals seat.

That left just one match to decide: Matsuura and Ye. Featuring the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Azorius Control, Matsuura's Boros Convoke deck was the premier aggressive deck of the format, bringing the Pioneer power of Novice Inspector into Gleeful Demolition, with a huge boost coming from the inclusion of Inspiring Vantage in Outlaws of Thunder Junction. With the aggro deck firing on all cylinders—at least in the three games Matsuura defeated Ye in—the Convoke deck showed off its power and sent us into the semifinals.

Only two more matches stood between the Pro Tour and its finals: Ikawa versus Huschenbeth and Matsuura versus Takahashi. It was a showdown of squadmates when the Moriyama Japan teammates met in the semifinals, but when your team holds three of the final four slots in a tournament, it's inevitable.

Pro Tour matches don't come any more classic than Boros Aggro versus Azorius Control, and Matsuura and Takahashi put on a show with their respective decks as they faced off with the finals on the line. And while Matsuura was able to overrun Takahashi's defenses at times, he was only able to take a single match off Takahashi as the Faerie Mastermind flew straight into the finals of Pro Tour Thunder Junction.

On the other side of the bracket, Ikawa was every bit as dominant. The now three-time Top Finisher had only lost once on the weekend, and he wasn't going to start now. After rallying from a 0-2 deficit to reverse-sweep Goddard by winning three in a row, Ikawa kept the winning streak going.

Like all testing teams preparing for the Pro Tour, Ikawa's team knew that Esper Midrange was likely to be a huge portion of the field and adjusted their deck as such. On the whole, Esper had a poor showing at the Pro Tour, but excellent lists and expert gameplay had still delivered a pair of pilots into the Top 8, including Huschenbeth.

But with his teammate waiting in the finals, he could not be denied. Ikawa won three straight games to advance to the title bout with Takahashi in a fitting conclusion to one of the most dominant team Top 8 performances.

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