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The Finals of Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor

February 26, 2024

More than 250 players qualified for the first Pro Tour of 2024, and after 16 rounds of Murders at Karlov Manor and Pioneer play, then a wild set of Top 8 matches played out from among a diverse metagame. Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor had it all.

The only two who remained were Simon Nielsen and Seth Manfield, a pair of Magic greats who had worked their way through the Top 8 in very different fashion. Manfield was piloting the breakout deck of the weekend in Rakdos Vampires, reaping the rewards of trusting his team's testing and his own instincts in choosing the surprise new deck.

In a Pioneer field that many prognosticators thought held no significant edge to be found, the Ultimate Guard Channel Fireball team had done so, again. Manfield's run through the Top 8 started off straightforward against Izzet Phoenix – a matchup the team had tested heavily – but against the reigning World Champion. No matter; Manfield himself won the World Championship in 2015. He dispatched Depraz in four games and then did the same against Mingyang Chen to earn his spot in the finals.

Nielsen's path to the finals wasn't quite so simple. His quarterfinal victory over Adam Edelson was a clean 3-0 with his explosive Boros Heroic build, but then came a nailbiter of historic proportions against Christoffer Larsen when their semifinals match went seven games. (There were draws. It was epic.)

That set the stage for the finals, where one of these storied players would add another trophy to their case.

The first game saw each players deck progress as expected in the first few turns. Nielsen build a board of creatures ready to be pumped if unblocked, while Manfield tried to lean on removal and Smuggler's Copter to bridge the early turns.

First one exchange of resources, then another. The game wound on, but Manfield's life total sat stubbornly high – not a good sign for the aggro Boros deck.

Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord was the difference maker in the opener, as it had been for the Vampire deck all weekend. In a game that didn't feature any truly explosive plays by either player, it was instead the value Manfield was able to grind out in every exchange that paved the way for the Copter and crew to do its work over the next handful of turns.

The first game had been a back-and-forth affair; the second was decidedly not. Manfield got stuck on lands and was not able to dig out from the heavy pressure in time, falling quickly as the series evened up.

Their first-to-three-wins match was now a first-to-two. And with Manfield on the play, his deck delivered. Nielsen began growing an early Favored Hoplite, but Preacher of the Schism gave Manfield not just a steady blocker but a stream of card advantage, and soon both players were dug in.

As it has so often since its printing, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker broke parity. The acceleration provided by the treasure tokens all weekend allowed Manfield to turbo out a Vein Ripper without Sorin even getting involved, and in the third game the Ripper significantly complicated an already complex board.

As he struggled to open a window for his creatures to get in, Nielsen made a desperation swing that cracked the seal, but it wasn't lethal and it was desperate for a reason.

That reason was the transforming Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. With no way to remove the Vein Ripper, Nielsen surveyed the landscape after his big swing and found no way to get through the Reflection of Kiki-Jiki making Vein Ripper tokens.

With that, Manfield was just one win away from earning his second Pro Tour title, the first coming at Pro Tour Ixalan in 2017.

And what would turn out to be the final game delivered him the perfect start to do so. He had Duress to attack and peek at Nielsen's hand, giving him near-perfect information about what was to come.

Nielsen was able to deploy Illuminator Virtuoso to have a credible threat, which kept pressure on Manfield even as he was able to build his own board with Vein Ripper and Fable. But this time Nielsen had his own powerful saga with Showdown of the Skalds. As the players began to go back and forth building their boards, it looked for a turn like the Skalds might provide NIelsen with enough gas to turn the corner.

But it was Vein Ripper that brought Manfield to the finals, and it would be Vein Ripper that carried him to the trophy. Try as he might, the flying threat full of upside was too much for Nielsen to overcome, and the 2022-23 Player of the Year extended his hand to congratulate Manfield on winning Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor.

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