The Top 8 at Grand Prix Milwaukee was stacked with household names. However, you’d be forgiven if the finals competitors, Brandon Fischer and Steve Carter, had eluded your gaze until now. But name means nothing when it comes to the cardboard, and both Fischer and Carter handily dispatched their competition throughout the Top 8—and have made their names known now.
But this isn’t Brandon Fischer’s first time in a Grand Prix finals. Earlier this year at Grand Prix Costa Rica, Fischer met second-ranked Seth Manfield, who was then-reigning World Champion, in ultimate round and was sadly defeated by the pain train.
Fischer, who’s playing a hyper aggressive Red-Black deck, is former roommates with both Grand Prix Orlando 2014 champion Eugene Hwang, and Grand Prix Denver 2015 champion Andrew Brown. He was living with both when they won those titles. The house joke was that Fischer was the only one without a trophy. It’s now his second chance to rebuff that label.
On the other side, Steve Carter, with hs Black-Green fabrication machine, was the true Top 8 newcomer. Though he’s played on two Pro Tours he’d qualified for via PTQ, this is the first time he’s qualified via a Top 8 finish.
Hailing from Chicago and a huge Cubs fan, 2016 has already held some joy for him. This first Top 8 in the final weeks of the year has been a welcome addition. His friends extoll that it couldn’t have happened to a better person. “He’s the nicest guy, he really is. And really modest.” His wing of fans, who just happened to be his carmates, watched eagerly from the other side of the tape.
The matchup looked to favor Carter—if Fischer’s deck didn’t just blow Carter out of the water in the early turns. Carter had cards like Fairgrounds Trumpeter and Armorcraft Judge that were midgame standouts when paired with all his creatures with Fabricate. But if Fischer went one-drop, Smuggler’s Copter-drop, three-drop, Carter would be on the back foot, and would be unlikely to recover.
The Fischer’s Copter had been the whispers echoing throughout the Top 8. It could play a big role in this last match too.
Fischer had to go to five cards on the draw, and Vancouver’ed his top card to the bottom. But he kept a two-lander, and like a true hero he immediately drew his Smuggler’s Copter. If something could get Fischer out of this hole, it would be the roflcopter.
Copter was soon crewed by Reckless Fireweaver, and though Fischer was low on cards, he churned through his deck like butter.
But Carter, on his full seven, had beats of his own. Fairgrounds Trumpter into Peema Outrider gave him multiple +1/+1 counters, and he had Fischer down to 11 life before Fischer’s fourth land.
Despite land trouble, Fischer was still adding offense. Night Market Lookout, Inventor’s Apprentice and Spireside Infiltrator all joined the team and looked to get rowdy. With pump spell in hand, Carter was treading on dangerous ground. The Chicagoan had to think Carter carefully about his next attack. He was at 11 life himself, and knew removal and a pump could spell his doom.
Carter threw his caution out with the draft trash and attacked with everything—sinking Fischer to 4. His post-combat Hunt the Weak took just enough offense from Fischer to weird up the board state.
It was that turn’s choice that turned the game.
Now Fischer couldn’t attack without fear of an alpha strike awaiting the other end. On his next swing, Fischer didn’t have enough to get there—the Filigree Familiar Carter cast was too good a blocker.
When Carter attacked the next turn with his two green beaters, Fischer knew it was over.
The second game was even faster than the first. Fischer went Inventor’s Goggles, Sky Skiff and Spireside Infiltrator, getting Carter to 17. He followed with a Foundry Inspector and brought the hurt to Carter quickly.
Carter had a Narnam Cobra and Filigree Familiar to get out of scary damage range, but the tricks were soon to come. When Carter’s Armorcraft Judge and Familiar teamed up to block a spectacled Inspector, a Build to Smash obliterated both Carter’s creatures, while the Inspector passed inspection.
With that move, Fischer took control of the game.
He added two Giant Spectacle to the Inspector (to make it trispectacled) and attached for eight. Carter was slowly draining his creatures by double-chump-blocking each turn. Fischer thought that was spectacular.
Each turn previous, Carter had tapped out for creatures—Armorcraft Judge and Ambitious Aetherborn—which left no mana for the Narnam Cobra’s deathtouch. This turn, the Maulfist Squad keep precious land untapped, so the big Inspector guy was doomed to death.
But throughout this time, the Spireside Infiltrator had continued crewing Sky Skiff. With a new Night Market Lookout to “overcrew,” the pain triggers were too much. Carter went to 3, and after his next draw he scooped them up.
In the rubber game, Carter was back on the play—good news against Fischer’s early board flood. But Fischer kept his opening seven—that was bad news.
He staved off the aggression thanks to Peema Outrider with accompanying Servo, and by having an Appetite for the Unnatural Inventor’s Goggles. The next turn he had to play an empty 2/2 Armorcraft Judge to make sure he could maintain control.
Fischer uses his friend and former roommate Andrew Brown's Pro Player card as his energy counter. He can always count on Brown's energy.
However Fischer was making moves too. He had been drawing lots of land, but was trying to fight himself out. A Rush of Vitality took out the 2/2, and kept his own paltry creature from dying—keep some semblance of board presence.
It was 20 to 12 in Fischer’s favor, but Carter’s side of the battlefield was getting imposing. He had added Filigree Familiar, Thriving Rats and Narnam Cobra to the pot, and they were stirring up a nasty concoction. And all Fischer brought to the potluck was more land. He sunk to 13, then 8 on Carter’s next attacks.
The momentum was all Carter’s. He was leaning further forward in his chair now; he could taste it.
Fischer passed without casting another creature. Carter leaned in further.
Another turn passed. Another lean.
Salvation never came for Fischer. And when he extended his hand in defeat, Carter shook it with vigor. Fischer would have to settle for his second Finalist plaque.
The only Grand Prix rookie in the Top 8 had taken down the vets.
Steve Carter is Grand Prix Milwaukee champion!