My job, among many others at the Pro Tour, is to pick the feature matches. It's a bit of a sprint every round, scanning the list for names, players with great decks, and unknowns on heaters. It's stressful, happens in the blink of an eye, and is thoroughly testing of my Magic knowledge. But one table is easy. One table literally picks itself.
The King of the Hill.
The King of the Hill starts with the previous Pro Tour Champion at the start of Day One, in this case, Martin Dang, Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir Champion. From there, the game is simple: don't lose. The winner of every King of the Hill match stays in the feature match area, typically at the same table, until they lose. Lose, and they're replaced by the person who beat them.
Technically, the winner of the Pro Tour doubles as the final King of the Hill, having either kept or taken the seat during the Top 8. In that way, we have a string of "he beat him and him and him and her" all the way back to when we started tracking King of the Hill. So for Pro Tour Magic Origins, this is the official record of how the King of the Hill went down.
We started with Dang, who quickly lost to Branco Neirynck, who hopefully enjoyed his brief moment in the spotlight, because he also lost and barely made Day Two at 4-4.
Taking Neirynck's place was Zack Mandelblatt fighting to 3-0 his draft pod. Unfortunately, the misfortunes in the King of the Hill table continued, and Mandelblatt fell flat against Scott Lipp before also finishing Day One at 4-4.
Lipp, however, was the first king to truly reign.
Long-live the king! Well, at least for three rounds.
Lipp qualified for this Pro Tour on match points from Grand Prix Las Vegas, but he's not exactly a new kid on the block. In fact, Lipp's Pro Tour debut came way back in 1997, the first of six Pro Tours he's played on.
In other words, the dude has chops.
After finishing the Draft 3-0, Lipp's Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact deck took down Seth Manfield and Mike Bryant to run his record to 5-0. Lipp was starting to look like a contender.
In the sixth round, however, he ran into World Champion Shahar Shenhar and lost his mantle. But don't feel bad for Lipp—he recovered nicely to finish the day 7-1.
In fact, Shenhar grabbed the crown only to immediately drop his next two matches, finishing below Lipp at 6-2. The man he lost it to, however, started making the most of his pole position.
Limited master and Canadian Rich Hoaen.
Hoaen defeated Shahar before also taking down Pat Cox to end Day One as one of two undefeated players alongside Kentaro Yamamoto. That set up a showdown between the two remaining 8-0 players to start Day Two.
But the Hill was fickle once again, as Yamamoto's more streamlined deck struck down Hoaen's Jund-flavored Draft list. The Japanese pro held serve again against Swedish all-star Joel Larsson, then stuck around another round before once again falling from the top.
The man to push him down was Brian Gottlieb, who got to enter the Constructed rounds sitting atop both the hill and the standings. His weapon of choice for the final five rounds? Abzan Rally, one of the breakout decks of this tournament.
Not that it mattered much. The Hill giveth and the Hill taketh away. Gottlieb was replaced by Yuki Matsumoto who was replaced by Stephen Neal's blisteringly fast red deck, who was replaced by…
It's good to be king.
No one! Stephen Neal managed to hold out for the rest of the day, finding himself atop both the standings at 40 points and atop the hill as king.
Long live Stephen Neal, King of the Hill!
At least until tomorrow when the Top 8 determines much, much more than the reigning King of the Hill.