Two players loomed over the feature match table, casting a shadow across the decks, dice, and tokens, waiting for the approaching game.
Wait, no, sorry. I meant Ben Friedman’s hat. Ben Friedman’s hat cast a shadow across the features table where, a match ago, he defeated Jarvis Yu to make the semifinals. He then beat Paul Rietzl and did a set of push-ups before coming to face Corey Baumeister in the tournament’s final match.
Ben Friedman and Corey Baumeister are, in a way, two peas in a pod. They’re not quite Pro Tour regulars (yet), but they’re successful, up-and-coming players with increasingly impressive lists of accomplishments.
Friedman, who made the trip from Baltimore, Maryland, has three previous GP Top 8s to his name and is a new member of Team MGG.
Corey Baumeister is a frequently seen Grand Prix player from North Dakota, though at GPs he’s often found in the company of his brother, play testing partner, and cheerleader Brad Nelson. Baumeister arrived in the final match of GP New Jersey having just locked up Gold.
Both players were on different versions of 4-Color Copy Cat.
Baumeister’s list was a fairly traditional take on the deck. He had tuned and tested it with Nelson in the preceding weeks, and used to make the Top 4 of an RPTQ last weekend. Baumeister’s deck paired four Saheeli Rai and four Felidar Guardian with other classic four-of value creatures like Rogue Refiner and Whirler Virtuoso, as well as three Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
Friedman, on the other hand, eschewed more traditional choices in favor of a one-of Ishkanah, Grafwidow, three Traverse the Ulvenwald, and three Walking Ballista. As Baumeister told Friedman while he pored over his decklist, “yeah, your deck is freaking crazy!"
Friedman landed a Saheeli on turn three. On the next turn, unwilling to cast his Felidar Guardian into two open mana on the other side of the table, Friedman took care of Baumeister’s Servant of the Conduit, played a Servant of his own, and passed the turn.
On turn five, Friedman tried to combo off, but his Felidar Guardian died to a Harnessed Lightning from Baumeister, who then landed a Saheeli of his own. A second Felidar Guardian from Friedman, however, ended the game, as Baumeister didn’t have another answer for the pesky feline.
“Lucky," Friedman said, referencing his second copy of the integral combo piece.
While game two began promisingly enough, with both players developing their mana bases – Friedman through a Traverse the Ulvenwald and Baumeister with a Servant of the Conduit – Friedman hit a snag when he didn’t have a land on turn three. Or on turn four.
Baumeister began to pull away, pressuring Friedman’s life total and filling his own hand with a Tireless Tracker. When Friedman finally hit a Servant of the Conduit, Baumeister was able to kill it with an Oath of Chandra before Friedman could begin to pull even with him.
On Friedman’s sixth turn, facing down a giant Tireless Tracker and an opponent with a full grip of cards, he failed yet again to hit a land and scooped up his cards.
“I play a Saheeli on turn three, then you tap out and on my next turn I kill you," Friedman said as the players shuffled, drawing up his ideal ending to the match.
“That sounds good, except I want to be the one doing it," Baumeister replied.
“You can do it too," Friedman said, “but it’s harder on the draw."
A moment later both players drew their opening seven.
“Good luck," Baumeister said.
“Let’s battle," Friedman replied after both players keep their seven, and the game began.
Unlike earlier games, there was little activity before the third turn of the game, when Friedman played a Rogue Refiner and Baumeister landed a Whirler Virtuoso. Both players followed up with more creatures, including a Whirler Virtuoso for Friedman and a Tireless Tracker for Baumeister.
The board cleared a little when the players traded thopter tokens, Friedman killed Baumeister’s Tireless Tracker with a Harnessed Lightning, and Baumeister killed the Rogue Refiner with an Oath of Chandra.
Feeling the pressure to get rid of the Saheeli, Friedman attacked the planeswalker with a thopter token and the Whirler Virtuoso. Baumeister took the bait and blocked Friedman’s Virtuoso with his own.
Friedman then cast a Walking Ballista with two counters on it. He couldn’t resist the opportunity to get rid of Baumeister’s Whirler Virtuoso, and removed a counter from the Ballista to deal the final point of damage to it, then passed the turn.
Looking at his opponent’s five tapped lands, Baumeister couldn’t keep a grin off his face. He cast the Felidar Guardian in his hand. Friedman nodded ruefully, revealing a hand with two Felidar Guardians, but no white mana, and then extended his hand.
Corey Baumeister takes the match two games to one to become the Grand Prix New Jersey champion!