Skip to main content Download External Link Facebook Facebook Twitter Instagram Twitch Youtube Youtube Discord Left Arrow Right Arrow Search Lock Wreath icon-no-eye caret-down Add to Calendar download Arena copyText Info Close

Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor Top 8 Highlights

February 26, 2024

More than 250 players came to the MagicCon in Chicago with dreams of etching their name into Magic's record books at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor. After 16 rounds, six of Murders Draft and 10 with Pioneer Constructed, eight players remained with a chance to do just that if they could win three more rounds.

In a twist that defied probability and precedent, both the reigning Magic World Champion and the winner of last year's Player of the Year title made the Top 8 of the following Pro Tour. Both Jean-Emmanuel Depraz and Simon Nielsen had converted yet another Top Finish – it was Depraz's seventh career Top Finish and the fifth for Nielsen, who was also making his fourth consecutive Top Finish in a row.

That latter feat had never before been accomplished before in Magic's 30-year history. And now it set the Sunday stage for a fitting end to what was a Pro Tour to kick off 2024.

With so much star power – and a breakout deck in Rakdos Vampires to mix in – the Top 8 did not disappoint. When the dust settled on the six matches that determined the finalists, it was Seth Manfield and Simon Nielsen left vying for the title. Here's how we got there.

The Quarterfinals

The action started with the marquee matchup: the Hall of Famer Manfield against the World champ Depraz. Manfield was on the breakout Vampires deck that Paul Reitzl had dreamt up and the team had refined over the last two weeks. For a squad consisting of many of the longtime Ultimate Guard and Channel Fireball team members, they knew all about breaking formats at Pro Tours. It was a fitting return to form – disrupting formats most experts had considered "solved" – and the bold decision ended up placing both Manfield and Sam Pardee into the Top 8 and more team members not far behind.

The deck is built on the "combo" of Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord and Vein Ripper. The new Murders at Karlov Manor creature comes with a ward cast to sacrifice a creature. That's a cost that several popular decks in the format – namely Azorius Control – have few ways to pay.

Depraz was piloting the classic Izzet Arclight Phoenix deck that has swept over formats over the years. The Pioneer version was optimized for removal against the aggressive decks while packing just enough interaction to buy time against Lotus Field Combo.

Both players started on uneven footing, as their decks struggled to generate much action. That's a recipe for success for the Phoenix deck, which will advance its gameplan every turn its left alone: the deck will either be playing cantrips like Opt or Consider to draw through their deck, they'll find a way to fill up the yard with Arclight Phoenix, or they'll start hoarding spells for the big turn. The end result is always the same: a very angry flock of birds winning the game.

That's exactly how the first game unfolded, and with that we were off to the races. And while Depraz may have taken the opener, things shifted quickly in Manfield's favor. He took down the next three games in quick order to advance in the first quarterfinal of the day.

The next domino to quickly fall was Sam Pardee's match against Mingyang Chen. Pardee's Vampire deck faced an entirely different kind of challenge against the powerful Lotus Field Combo deck, where its trademark Sorin-Vein Ripper combo was less potent against a deck that didn't need to incrementally move life totals to win.

The result was a lopsided match that saw the former champion fall to the newcomer, as Chen took three straight games to eliminate the Strixhaven Championship winner. And with the victory the Top 8 Regional Championship competitor from China was into the semifinals.

On the other side of the bracket, things were going just as fast. Playing the lone copy of Amalia Combo in the Top 8, Christoffer Larsen executed his deck's gameplan efficiently three times: assemble Amalia, Wildgrowth Walker and a source of explore triggers or lifegain to start a combo that ends in Amalia blowing up all other creatures and attacking for 20 or more.

636941 Wildgrowth Walker

We were down our reigning World Champion, but the Player of the Year Nielsen would stick around to play more Magic. He put on a clinic with the explosive Boros Heroic deck, dispatching Adam Edelson's Izzet Phoenix in three quick games.

The Semifinals

The semifinals were set, and they could not have been more different.

One end of the bracket featured Manfield and Chen, the classic Lotus field deck trying to knock off Manfield's Vampires. But instead Manfield would avenge his teammate, turning the tables on Chen with a 3-1 victory of his own.

It was a textbook Pioneer play. The other semifinal was anything but.

Larsen's Amalia Combo deck has some powerful and interesting quirks. The powerful part is destroying creatures and then swinging in with a 20+ power creature. The "interesting" quirk is one particular aspect of the combo: because Amalia's ability only removes other creatures when it triggers and reaches 20 power, if for any reason Amalia's power is anything other than 20 when it resolves other creatures will survive.

As predicted by Pioneer experts like our own Frank Karsten, this interaction was critical the record-setting match. If Wildgrowth Walker is in play, it will trigger infinitely back and forth with Amalia. Amalia's built-in brake to destroy other creatures typically stops the interaction, but if there's nothing to break it up it goes on forever, creating a drawn game.

Not exactly something that comes up often.

But here it did – Nielsen's combat tricks of Loran's Escape and Defiant Strike could actually cause the loop to continue unbound by making the Wildgrowth Walker indestructible, or could use Defiant Strike on Amalia to skip the 20-power trigger and the Wrath.

Pro Tour Top 8 matches are often thought of as best-of-five, but they're not – they're first to three wins. Usually, there's no difference.

But not this time. This time, Nielsen was able to force two draws.

And this first-to-three match? It took seven games – a feat of focus between teammates in the best of spirits despite sitting on opposing sides.

Nielsen and Larsen battled back and forth as they worked through their long match, with another clutch spell from Nielsen preventing Larsen from closing out a game. They moved into their record-making seventh game, and finally Nielsen found a window to close out an epic match.

With that, the finals were set: Seth Manfielld and Rakdos Vampires versus Simon Nielsen and Boros Heroic.

Seth Manfield

Simon Nielsen

Share Article