Analyzing the Pro Tour Top 8 Matchups

Ben "ILOVEAZORIUS" uses his data from the tournament to predict a potential bracket and winners from the Top 8 matchups.


The Swiss rounds of PT Phyrexia have concluded, producing only eight competitors who get to compete on Sunday, the coveted Final day of the event. This Top 8 is absolutely stacked, with Hall of Famers Reid Duke, Shota Yasooka, and Gabriel Nassif participating, as well as current Magic World Champion Nathan Steuer. The lineup also includes first-timer Benton Madsen, who is famous in the Magic community for qualifying for the event on his phone and an amazing Round 8 match on Day 1, where he narrowly won a game with a topdeck Boseiju to secure a perfect 8-0 record.

While the field still remains open to anyone winning, I thought it would be a good idea to use my data repository and the competitor’s decklists to try to determine who will be the one who takes home the trophy. Let’s dive right in!

Quarterfinals Match One

Shota Yasooka (Rakdos Midrange, 1) vs. Derrick Davis (Enigmatic Fires, 8)

The first match features Yasooka’s inventive three-Mutavault Rakdos against Derrick Davis’ 80-card Yorion + Fires of Invention + Enigmatic Incarnation – well – pile. Yasooka’s deck seeks to run both players low on cards and allow for his efficient creatures to run away with the game, while Davis wants to resolve one or more of his four-mana enchantments and use them to begin accruing value before running his opponent over.

The data from the tournament shows that in this matchup, Rakdos Midrange won zero times while Enigmatic Fires won all six times these decks clashed. This makes sense, as this is famously a bad matchup for the Rakdos Midrange deck. The Fires pilot usually has more than enough time to set up their powerful enchantments, draws enough cards to get out of Rakdos’ early hand disruption, and goes far over the top. Without a card like Invoke Despair in his sideboard, Yasooka has no way in his 75 to get a resolved Fires or Enigmatic off the battlefield and stop it from accruing value besides reducing Davis’ life total to zero.

However, Pioneer is a very play/draw dependent format, and with Yasooka reaching twelve match wins in only round thirteen of the tournament, he secured first seed and the ability to be on the play in this matchup – and every other Top 8 round he may or may not play. Yasooka’s deck is slightly more mana-efficient than other Rakdos builds due to his inclusion of Mutavault, which may allow him to get in for a few extra damage here and there, which may prove fatal for Davis. Shota’s mainboard miser’s copy of Duress and two copies of Liliana of the Veil give him a little extra play vs clunkier Fires draws.

I’m hesitant to vote against the master Shota Yasooka, but I have to give the edge to Davis on this one. I predict a 3-1 victory for the Enigmatic Fires player.

Quarterfinals Match Two

Reid Duke (Izzet Creativity, 4) vs. Nathan Steuer (Lotus Field Combo, 5)

The second match on the top side of the bracket is sure to be an absolute banger, and is a match-up that really pits the Old Guard against the New. Duke’s deck hopes to assemble the two-card ‘Splinter-Twin’ combo of Big Score and Indomitable Creativity to put Xenagos, God of Revels and Worldspine Wurm in play to attack for 30 points of damage in just one turn, while Steuer wants to survive the early turns of the game to build up a board with two Lotus Fields that he can then untap for mana to cast a flurry of spells, also winning in just one turn. Two ships are passing in the night, here.

The data from the tournament shows that in this matchup, Izzet Creativity won six times, while Lotus Field won two times. When considering a ‘two ships passing in the night’ matchup, one has to look at how fast each deck can combo off, and the disruption that each deck brings for the other. The Creativity deck has one mainboard copy of Spell Pierce and three copies of Make Disappear for disruption, with a bunch of cards to help them find those combo and disruption pieces, and can win on their fifth turn with the ideal hand. The Lotus Field deck has only three Boseiju and two Otawara for mainboard interaction, and can win on their third turn with the ideal hand.

After sideboarding, the Lotus Field player gets access to a few creatures that either speed up the combo or are very hard to answer, with Steuer choosing to exclude cards like Mystical Dispute that are usually helpful for these kinds of matchups. However, the Creativity player has access to up to seven counterspells and Shark Typhoon as instant-speed threats, as well as a swap to a Hullbreaker Horror game plan if they so desire, allowing them to have an even easier time controlling the combo potential of the Lotus player and a harder-to-read clock being presented to them.

I think this should be a fairly easy victory for Reid Duke and his Creativity deck due to his disruptive potential combined with Lotus’ comparative lack of disruption. I think this matchup being such a wash is one of the primary reasons why his team chose to register the Creativity deck, as many proficient Wizards were quite open about them thinking Lotus Field would be a strong choice for this tournament. I predict a 3-1 victory for the Izzet Creativity player.

Quarterfinals Match Three

Takumi Matsuura (Mono White Humans, 3) vs. Chris Ferber (Lotus Field Combo, 6)

This matchup is a fairly classic combo vs disruptive aggro one that has been seen throughout Magic’s history. Matsuura and Ferber were both fairly quiet throughout the tournament, having rarely been part of the feature matches, but having solid results throughout, obviously. Matsuura’s inclusion in the Top 8 of the event speaks to his prowess with the deck and likely his correct build, sporting four mainboard copies of Ossification. Mono -White Humans had an absolutely abysmal win-rate throughout the weekend, with an overall match win percentage of only 36%, the worst by far of any deck with a decent play-rate percentage in the event.

The data from the tournament shows that in this matchup, Mono-White Humans won three times, while Lotus Field won five times. This is kind of surprising to me, as Lotus Field traditionally has a terrible matchup against aggressive decks! With disruptive cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and fast clocks like Thalia’s Lieutenant and Adeline, Resplendent Cathar, one would think the deck has the speed necessary to kill the Lotus Field player before they can combo off.

I believe this disparity between my expectations and the actual result of matches this weekend can be explained by the sideboard choices of the Lotus Field players. Traditionally, Lotus players run one wrath in the sideboard to bring in against aggro decks, but Nathan Steuer chose to run two, a Depopulate and a Ritual of Soot. Chris Ferber went even further and chose to run three – a Path of Peril, a Supreme Verdict and a Ritual of Soot. Ferber also has access to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as an expensive wrath. Finally, Ferber has more mainboard creatures than many other Lotus builds I’ve seen, allowing him more chump blockers to buy time against aggro.

I think this matchup is going to come down to whether or not Matsuura can find either a blisteringly fast Adeline draw or a disruptive hand with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. I do not think Ferber has much of a hope of beating Matsuura’s best draws, but likely has the edge postboard given his deck construction. I predict a 3-2 victory for the Lotus Field player.

Quarterfinals Match Four

Benton Madsen (Selesnya Auras, 2) vs. Gabriel Nassif (Izzet Creativity, 7)

This matchup is my pick for the most interesting matchup of any in the Top 8. I think both decks have solid plans against each other and there are a lot of interesting interactions between the plans and cards of each deck. Madsen looks to assemble one of more large creatures with powerful Auras, while Nassif looks to stop that from occurring and one-shot Madsen with his Wurm combo.

The data from this tournament shows that in this matchup, Selesnya Auras won one time, while Izzet Creativity won zero times. This matchup took place in round four – the first round of Constructed – when Benton Madsen dispatched Reid Duke quite handily. Interestingly, Nassif has already played against Auras once this tournament, in Round 8 when he faced Ben Lundquist’s Orzhov variant. In that match, a one-of Vanishing Verse gave Nassif pause about just going for a combo kill, and a Fiendslayer Paladin gave Nassif a boatload of trouble, threatening to get Lundquist above 30 life at times with a certain series of potential draws.

With this said, Madsen doesn’t have access to either of those cards. What Madsen does have access to is four copies of Gladecover Scout, which Nassif has zero direct answers to in his entire 75, outside of combat damage, which is an extremely unlikely way for the Elf to meet its end. Other important cards that Madsen bring include Rune of Sustenance, which can bring him above the requisite 30 life, and Skrelv, Defector Mite, which can get past Nassif’s removal spells and blockers.

I think Madsen’s lack of consistent interaction for the combo kill and Nassif’s overwhelming removal suite give Nassif the edge in this matchup. I predict a 3-2 victory for the Izzet Creativity player.

(Potential) Semifinals Match One

Derrick Davis (Enigmatic Fires, 8) vs. Reid Duke (Izzet Creativity, 4)

The data from this tournament shows that in this matchup, Enigmatic Fires won twice, and Izzet Creativity also won twice. Despite this, I believe that Creativity has the edge in this matchup, as the Fires deck lacks effective ways to deal with the Creativity combo besides Leyline Binding, and more than enough time to set up a combo kill against the slow deck that is 80-card Yorion.

Derrick Davis did defeat Mike Sigrist 2-0 in round eight and Jakub Toth 2-0 in round twelve, both of whom were on Creativity, but he also already fell 0-2 to Nassif in round fourteen. I predict a 3-1 victory for the Izzet Creativity player in this potential semi-final matchup.

(Potential) Semifinals Match Two

Chris Ferber (Lotus Field Combo, 6) vs. Gabriel Nassif (Izzet Creativity, 7)

We already covered this matchup in Reid’s semifinals game against Steuer. I think Ferber’s inclusion of Thought Distortion and Natural State in the sideboard give him a better chance against Duke, I still am not quite swayed.

I predict a 3-2 victory for the Izzet Creativity player in this potential semi-final matchup.

(Potential) Finals Match

Reid Duke (Izzet Creativity, 4) vs. Gabriel Nassif (Izzet Creativity, 7)

This matchup is kind of the natural way for this tournament to conclude given the meta-call made by the team that Duke and Nassif are both on. Nassif and Duke are on nearly identical lists, with Duke choosing to cut the second Mystical Dispute in the sideboard for a copy of Aether Gust, which is not particularly relevant in this matchup overall.

Luckily, we have already seen this exact showdown play out in this tournament, with Nassif and Duke playing during round 15, where Duke ended up winning 2-0 (hence his higher seed).

I predict a 3-2 victory for the Izzet Creativity player in this potential tournament finals. No, I will not elaborate which one.

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