After 15 intense rounds of Magic across both Historic and Standard format, eight players rose above the rest to return on Sunday—and their shot at advancing through the Top 8 double-elimination bracket for the next Magic Esports title.
Congratulations to the Top 8 competitors of the Zendikar Rising Championship!
One of Scotland's finest, Brad Barclay has been a fixture of the Magic scene there since his journey to the World Magic Cup in 2012. With a Top 8 at Grand Prix Manchester in 2014, Barclay made his triumphant return to the big stage this weekend qualifying through MTG Arena—and the cheering of his fellow countrymen. With the less popular pick of Azorius Control in Historic (where he went 7-0 in matches) and a version of Dimir Control built to prey on Standard's most popular decks, Barclay marched to the top of Day Two standings before slowing his pace and clinching his Top 8 berth in the final round. He's already defeated fellow Top 8 competitors Luca Magni, Autumn Burchett, and Gabriel Nassif in Historic, and he can certainly do it again.
MPL competitor Autumn Burchett is off to a smashing start for the 2020-21 season. After rattling off strong finishes throughout 2020, including a Top 8 at the 2020 Season Grand Finals and Top 16 at the Players Tour Finals, Burchett now added their third career Top Finish this weekend. Playing her venerable Gruul Adventures deck in Standard, and a tuned up version of Goblins in Historic, she's added four points to her MPL standings and returns tomorrow in back-to-back attempts to claim her second Sunday trophy.
Burchett has been a fan favorite since their debut at the pro level, and with a second straight Top Finish coming on top of a Mythic Championship victory in 2019, Burchett is making their case to be the best technical player in the world right now.
Luca Magni, better known as "LordofIronforge" on MTG Arena, earning his entry to the Magic Rivals League last season as one of the dominant players in Qualifier Weekends and in Ranked Play. After terrorizing players across Platinum and Mythic ranking, his skill with both Dimir Rogues in Standard and Four-Color Midrange in Historic—each one of the most popular and played decks in both formats—his sights on set on claiming the trophy in his first Sunday appearance.
What hasn't Mengucci accomplished? The 2019 Mythic Invitational winner is notching his seventh Top Finish, with all of them coming in the last six years. That's a pace few in the game have ever managed, but Mengucci has turned himself into one of the foremost faces of the game known for his content creation, style and frequent cuisine posts. But more than anything, Mengucci is a fierce competitor who has been a part of one of the most successful testing groups over the last two years, and now he has another Top 8 to show for it.
Jan-Moritz Merkel has made the most of a year of events played on MTG Arena. As the 17 year-old winner of Pro Tour Kobe in 2006, Merkel's professional Magic heyday seemed long behind him until he rekindled his fire online. Ranking up with MTG Arena, qualifying for and winning Red Bull Untapped's Week of Wings qualifier, then making Top 8 at the Untapped 2020 World Final, propelled him into the Zendikar Rising Championship and, now, his second career Top Finish—14 years after his first. He played Gruul Adventures, one of Standard's best decks, and Sultai Midrange, the breakout Historic deck of the 2020 Mythic Invitational, to prove he still has the skill more than a decade after his first Sunday showdown.
Gabriel Nassif is a Magic Hall of Famer that's put himself back into the conversation for the greatest player of fall time. In back-to-back Top 8s, a monumental fifth Top Finish in just over 12 months of play, and padding up to his 15th career Top Finish is a string of success only exceeded by fellow Hall of Famer Kai Budde's legendary run in the 2000's. Aiming at the Standard metagame with Mono-Green Food in Standard (netting a perfect 8-0 record in the format), and playing a control-style Sultai Midrange deck in Historic, let Nassif pave his path to yet another Top 8.
Brad Nelson has long been known as one of the premier masters of Standard, and he showed again why this weekend at the Zendikar Rising Championship. His ability to innovate on a presumed-solved metagame is impressive across Magic history, and this weekend it was the resurgent Mono-Green Food deck in Standard that he used to cut a path to his seventh career Top Finish.
There is still one thing missing for the former Player of the Year: after three finalist appearances he's still seeking a trophy to go along with one of his Top Finishes.
Tomáš Pokorný is making his breakout move at the Zendikar Rising Championship. After competing through the year in the Magic: The Gathering Česko Slovenská Liga tournament series that led to his invitation here, Pokorný surged on Day Two and ensured his Top 8 clinch was easily on excellent tiebreakers. Choosing Mono-Green Food for Standard, and Four-Color Midrange for Historic, Pokorný had a clear vision of what to expect for Friday and Saturday—leaving just a strong Sunday performance to put in for the weekend.