Players to Watch at Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings

Players to Watch at Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings

Michael RappEvents, Modern

Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings will bring together a collection of the game’s best players in Barcelona this weekend, leaving us asking the question “who will come out on top?” I’ll start by saying that every player in this tournament has accomplished something great to be there, but at the end of the day there can only be eight players in the top eight — and one winner. 

From among a field of strong competitors, I have chosen the eight I believe are most likely to post a top finish. Let’s take a look at their resumes and what deck I think they’ll choose for the weekend.

Reid Duke

Reid Duke is a household name when it comes to competitive Magic — an embodiment of both sportsmanship and technical play. Reid is quiet but thoughtful, and that translates to his play. He also has the resume of an all time caliber player with four Pro Tour top 8s and one win at Pro Tour Phyrexia.

Reid is famously a Jund mage, opting to get down and dirty in low resource games and grind out small edges to rack up the wins. However, Reid recently won Pro Tour Phyrexia with Izzet Creativity in Pioneer, which is an interactive deck with a combo-ish element. 

While Creativity has a pedigree of being a strong Modern deck, it hasn’t posted much in the way of results since The Lord of the Rings released. Alternatively, Rakdos Scam checks a lot of boxes Reid could be looking for. It’s debatably the best deck in Modern, highly interactive and has a light combo element. That makes Scam a deck that is well within Reid’s range and comfort zone. 

Louis Scott Vargas 

LSV is about as big a name as there is in Magic. A clear top 10 player of all time, LSV has an incredible 10 Pro Tour top 8s with a win at Pro Tour Berlin, playing Elves. It is hard to look at any Pro Tour in the last 20 or so years and not have LSV come up as both one of the best players in the field and a favorite to post another top finish. 

LSV’s range is historically fairly wide. But with a history of championing decks like Elves, Crypolith Rites and Rally the Ancestors, I think Yawgmoth is likely to be LSV’s pick. Yawgmoth is on the come-up, as it can effectively win through the protection turn granted by The One Ring. 

Speaking of The One Ring, in order to make room for The One Ring and associated tech, Rhinos and Four Color Elementals have cut back heavily on Fury. This leaves Scam as the only deck with a lot of main deck copies of Fury, which makes Yawgmoth an attractive option if players are ready to show up with Four Color Elementals. 

Nathan Steuer 

Nathan Steuer is on an absolutely incredible trajectory with two Magic Online Championship Series wins, a Worlds win and two Pro Tour top 8s — one of which was a win. Oh, and this all happened in the last two years. 

This is a career many people would consider incredibly successful, and that is because it is…oh that right, Nathan is just getting started with what looks like a long and powerful career still to come. 

Nathan seems to be in the camp of playing the best deck and simply piloting it better than everyone else in the room. For that reason, I believe Nathan will play Four Color Elementals. The deck offers a combination of the best cards in Modern and a pile of options that give Nathan plenty of space to generate skill edge. That will be a tall order given the caliber of players around him, but he has demonstrated his ability to be up to the task before. 

Shota Yasooka 

Shota Yasooka is the player who many consider to be the control master. Playing at lightning speed with a deck that asks its pilot to make a lot of tough decisions, watching Shota control is a sight to be seen. And beyond his mastery of counterspells is a quietly dominant career. He has 12 Pro Tour top 8s with two wins, giving him among the strongest resumes in Magic history. 

Dimir Control is one of the hottest new decks in Modern since the release of Lord of the Rings. Leveraging both The One Ring and Orcish Bowmasters backed up with a mountain of interaction, most of which are counterspells, Dimir Control is a force to be reckoned with if players are slowing down to accommodate the new meta. It just makes sense to me for the control master to sleeve up a powerful control deck in Modern while it is good.

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa is another incredibly strong player with a career of five Pro Tour top 8s and a win. Also lauded as a control specialist, Wafo-Tapa has made a name with Celestial Colonnade. While I don’t think Celestial Colonnade will make the list, I do think Counterspell will make the list.

I actually don’t think that Wafo-Tapa will play Dimir Control like Shota. I think the Azorius deck that splashes Wrenn and Six and Omanth, Locus of Creation is more in line with what we’ve come to expect for this staunch Azorius Mage. 

When Four Color Elementals burst back onto the scene with The One Ring, the natural progression led to an Azorius Control/Elementals hybrid, which plays right into Wafo-Tapa’s strength.

Willy Edel

I believe Willy Edel may be the only person alive that loves casting Thoughtseize more than Reid Duke. He also has a hall of fame career, with four Pro Tour top 8s. A true Jund mage at heart grinding out Pro Tour after Pro Tour, Willy has been on the scene for quite some time and it doesn’t seem like he intends to stop any time soon.

Willy is one of the most devout Jund mages in the game, and with Jund Saga putting up some recent results, we could see Willy battling with Tarmogoyf yet again. Thanks to Wrenn and Six and Urza’s Saga, Jund was able to keep pace with the card advantage generated by Four Color Elementals, though we’ll have to see if that holds true with The One Ring in play.

Lee Shi Tian

Lee Shi Tian comes into Barcelona with a strong five Pro Tour top 8s, which was also good enough for the hall of fame. As a player, he has a somewhat balanced range but seems to tend toward aggressive decks when possible. 

Burn has been a go to in the past for Lee in Modern tournaments. It’s also excellent at punishing decks that slowed down to play The One Ring. And at the same time, it also beats up on decks like Yawgmoth and cascade strategies. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Burn put up a strong result, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Lee Shi Tian was the player behind the run, either.

Gabriel Nassif

If you know competitive Magic (or Magic streaming), you likely know Gabriel “YellowHat” Nassif. Often regarded as a top 10 player of all time, Nassif has nine Pro Tour top 8s with a pair of wins. 

Nassif, similar to Wafo-Tapa and Yasooka, is one of the best control players of all time. However, Nassif has been expanding his range in recent tournaments, so this could be a tricky one to predict. But my vote is the Four Color Elementals version with Counterspell. 

Four Color Elementals with Counterspell straddles a line between being good against the mirror while not cutting too many of the cards that make the deck good against creature decks. The added countermagic also improves the combo matchups, which are historically troublesome for Four Color Elementals. It wouldn’t surprise me if this version, especially in the hands of Nassif, does quite well this weekend. 

End Step

I am always excited when the Pro Tour comes around. Seeing what the pros believe are the best ways to attack the format and the tech players came up with to combat existing strategies is always a thrill. And those skills are on an even greater display when it comes to Modern, which is my favorite format. Best of luck to all of the players in attendance, and I’m excited to see who comes out on top, and with what.

Before I go I would like to shout out Tom Kessler, a teammate of mine who will be playing. Tom 6-0’d the draft portion of PT Minneapolis and I’m excited to see what he can put together this time.

As always you can find me on Twitter @RappaciousOne for questions, comments and feedback. I’ll be glued to coverage when I can this weekend. Until next time, be well!