184 players began the Zendikar Rising Championship with the dream of holding the trophy at the end. 15 rounds of play across Standard and Historic decided the eight who came back on Sunday to compete for that chance.
Historic was the format of choice for the double-elimination Top 8 playoff. It's a format that's undergone shakeups as both Zendikar Rising and Jumpstart plus recent additions Amonkhet Remastered and Kaladesh Remastered have tried reinventing the fan-favorite format.
For reference, here's how the Standard and Historic metagames looked with Swiss rounds:
But that just sets the scene for Top 8 competition. It's entirely something else to see how things played out.
The bracket kicked off with a MPL showdown between Autumn Burchett—in her second straight Top Finish—and the Italian Andrea Mengucci, who brought the Uro build of choice to battle against Burchett's Goblins.
Endland's two-time national champion described Goblins as their pet deck in Historic, and the addition of
It all went perfectly according to plan for Burchett in the deciding game, as
Next up was the most lopsided matchup of the Top 8, at least on paper. Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif and his 15 career Top Finishes were paired with Tomáš Pokorný who earned his first Top 8 at this level after a long road to the Zendikar Rising Championship that began with success in the Magic: The Gathering Česko Slovenská Liga.
But Pokorný wasn't intimidated—he began a deep Top 8 run by defeating the living legend in three fraught Uro mirror matches.
On the other side of the upper bracket quarterfinals, Brad Barclay and his
The Azorius Control deck was perceived by many to be too weak for the explosive Historic format, but the Scottish veteran was actually the top-performing Historic pilot of the weekend after reeling off an undefeated 7-0 record in his Swiss Historic matches.
Brad Nelson knocked Jan-Moritz Merkel down to the lower bracket in the final quarterfinal match, and play moved to the semis, where Burchett and Pokorný faced off for the right to match up against the Nelson-Barclay winner.
The first didn't last long. Burchett proved all weekend that she is the master of attacking, and after smashing her way through the field with Gruul Adventures in Standard, she raced out to quick victories over Pokorný in Historic. Meanwhile, Barclay continued his Historic run by coolly countering almost every relevant spell Nelson could muster in the final game, setting up a showdown in the upper bracket finals.
Control decks often struggle with red aggressive decks, especially when those decks can outpace one-for-one removal by swarming the board. While that's exactly how Burchett's Goblins deck can win, the archetype relies on a few key cards and is built to maximize them.
Goblins isn't quite as aggressive as you might assume, and saving countermagic for
What remained was to decide who would meet him there for the best-of-three-matches battle. With their backs up against the wall, Mengucci and Magni wasted no time in defeating Nassif and Merkel in straight games. For Magni, that included one of the more unlikely uses of
Next up for Mengucci was a matchup with Nelson and, as you might expect for the
After three thrilling games and dueling Nissas in the decider, it was Mengucci who was able to protect his planeswalkers best and escape the first Uro.
While the two MPL players battled, Challengers Magni and Pokorný were locked in their own mirror match. It was Pokorný who came out on top and kept his amazing run alive—but his next step was to get through the Italian superstar Mengucci.
Things started off well for Pokorný. He took the first game handily and found himself ahead on resources in the second. But Mengucci did what a player of his caliber so often does: found a way back when the game looked lost.
Turn after turn, he threaded the needle until he was able to clear the way for
Mengucci had lost the first round of the day, but in do-or-die mode he had now put together three straight wins. Five players had been eliminated, and Mengucci and Burchett had one final match left to decide who would advance to the championship match against Barclay.
As it had been much of the weekend, it was Burchett's Goblin show.
They would not be denied. With her addition to the deck—
That showdown—the Zendikar Rising championship match—was a battle of Historic decks that showed just how wide the format truly is.