The Top 8 of Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica contained a mix of veterans and newcomers, and the lower bracket was a perfect representation of that. On one side sat Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas as well as Jérémy Dezani, both previous Pro Tour winners. Meanwhile, the other side featured a pair of players relatively unfamiliar to the Pro Tour Sunday stage, with Michael Bernat taking on LSV while Denmark's Kasper Nielsen squared off against PT Theros winner Jérémy Dezani.
All four players were on variations of a similar deck—the White Weenie strategy that was a breakout success at the Pro Tour over the weekend. The main differences came on whether players opted to play more red cards like Boros Challenger or stick to a mostly white version for Benalish Marshal.
All four players' decks were capable of blistering starts that packed a punch and could end games in a flash thanks to a critical mass of small creatures backed up by powerful pump spells like Benalish Marshal, Heroic Reinforcements, and Pride of Conquerors.
The winners would face off in the semifinals, but first they had to make it through the nerves of the opening round of Sunday play at the Pro Tour.
Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Michael Bernat
In Game 2, it was an outbreak of one-drops that marked the early game, and LSV then upped the ante with Ajani's Pridemate, which wasted no time before it began growing thanks to a pair of Leonin Vanguards. Along with a transformed Legion's Landing, the Pridemate would be the biggest threat on the table for as long as it remained in play.
Fortunately for Bernat, he had Conclave Tribunal to take the Pridemate off the table while attacking with a pair of Adanto Vanguards. But thanks in large part to the incidental life gain from his two Leonin Vanguards, LSV remained ahead in the race. And once the Adanto Vanguards were reduced to playing defense thanks to reading all three chapters of the History of Benalia, things went downhill quickly and just like that LSV was up 2-0.
The next game—possibly the decider for the Hall of Famer—played out quite differently with sideboards involved. Bernat had an aggressive start, while LSV traded off a few creatures but was forced to hide behind a Settle the Wreckage as Bernat pulled away on the board. But then came the haymaker from Bernat: tapping out to play Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, which returned Healer's Hawk to the battlefield from the graveyard and then grew along with the rest of the team when all five of Bernat's creatures convoked out a Venerated Loxodon. That made it trivially easy to play around Settle the Wreckage, and in the end LSV scooped up his cards without even showing the Settle as Bernat got onto the board to fend off elimination.
Still on the verge of advancing to the semifinals, LSV had the chance to be on the play again, and kept a one-land hand thanks to the plethora of one-drops he could play with it. Things might have looked bad when he failed to find a second land, but when Bernat took his second turn he revealed that he too had kept a one-lander and missed on his draw steps.
But playing lands in hand isn't the only way to make mana. Legion's Landing for both players became the second land as they played out one-drops and attacked. For the next several turns, LSV poked at Bernat's life total while both players desperately searched for but failed to find lands.
Bernat drew out of it first, and a pair of History of Benalias allowed him to try to get back into the game even as his life total dwindled. But finally, the Hall of Famer hit a land and deployed Benalish Marshal for a huge attack that, when the dust settled, left him up 27-5 on life with both boards decimated.
From there, the game slowed to a crawl. Bernat leaned on Adanto, the First Fort to keep his ever-dwindling life total afloat as LSV cracked in with Healer's Hawk. The game was teetering on a knife's edge when a land off the top unlocked Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice for LSV. The attack put the brakes on Bernat's comeback, and although he had a Conclave Tribunal to take Aurelia off the field, the next Aurelia LSV had ready to go sent the Hall of Fame pro into the semifinals of Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica.
Luis Scott-Vargas defeated Michael Bernat 3-1 to advance to the semifinals!
Kasper Nielsen vs. Jérémy Dezani
There was a wild flurry of trades and attacks between Dezani and Nielsen as the attention turned to the back table. Nielsen quickly took down the first game as Skymarcher Aspirant could simply fly over Dezani's defenses to lock up the win. The second contest mirrored the first, with both players spitting out creatures to the battlefield. But it was Dezani this time who returned the favor with a flying army that evened the match at one game apiece.
As was the norm in the match, both players flooded the board again in Game 3, which made it a contest of who could find a payoff card to go over the top. That turned out to be Nielsen, who used Heroic Reinforcements to the tune of a 20-damage attack to elevate himself to one game away from the semifinals.
But it wasn't to be, not yet at least. Nielsen ran into a glut of lands while Dezani took him down to 8 with several rounds of attacks. Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice gave Nielsen a chance to claw back into the game, but a timely Lava Coil for the Frenchman finished off the Angel after blocks, clearing the way again for his team to send the match into a deciding Game 5.
A mulligan and a pair of Clifftop Retreats in the deciding game meant that Nielsen had an extremely slow start, while Dezani curved Legion's Landing into Goblin Instigator into a Skymarcher Aspirant plus Lava Coil. It was a devastating 1-2-3 punch by the Pro Tour Theros Champion, and he achieved the city's blessing by the fourth turn.
A perfect start for Dezani and a slow draw meant that Nielsen needed to fight back while dodging any haymakers. But a haymaker is exactly what Dezani had when he found Heroic Reinforcements off the top of his deck, ending the game in a flash and punching his ticket to a semifinals match against Luis Scott-Vargas.
Jérémy Dezani defeated Kasper Nielsen 3-2 to advance to the semifinals!