While some big names moved into Day 2 of Grand Prix Cincinnati undefeated, several others were fighting for their tournament lives in the final round of the day. With more than 1,700 players battling, only those with a record of 7-2 or better would advance, making it an elimination round for the hordes of players sitting at 6-2.
I made the rounds around the event hall to see how many of the players we were watching would live on to battle on Sunday and keep their Top 8 hopes alive.
No. 8 Josh Utter-Leyton vs. Daniel Cecchetti
Eighth-ranked Utter-Leyton squared off against Daniel Cecchetti in the Mono-Black Devotion mirror with a trip to Day 2 on the line.
Surprising no one, the games went long and came down to a series of several draw steps, and it was Cecchetti who had more of them thanks to a pair of Underworld Connections that not only kept his hand loaded but guaranteed that Erebos, God of the Dead was always ready to battle.
Between Underworld Connections triggers and Gray Merchant of Asphodels, Cecchetti fell to a precariously-low six life in the final game, which gave Utter-Leyton a chance to steal the match with the Whip of Erebos in his hand and the Desecration Demon in his graveyard. But when Utter-Leyton failed to find the eighth land he needed to play and activate the Whip in the same turn, it was Cecchetti who took the match and will take Mono-Black Devotion into Day 2.
No. 8 Josh Utter-Leyton stares down his opponent's board in the Mono-Black Devotion mirror. Utter-Leyton had a window to win the game but couldn't find the final land he needed to seal the match.
Chris Pikula vs. Christoph McKinney
Everyone's favorite Meddling Mage spent Saturday battling with Esper Control, and he faced off against Christoph McKinney and his White-Black Midrange deck for the right to play on Sunday.
McKinney assembled an impressive board state that included Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Obzedat, Ghost Council. Unfortunately for the white-black player neither of those could block Ætherling, which turned itself unblockable and then sideways to power Pikula into Day 2.
Chris Pikula's Ætherling carried him past a tricky matchup against Christoph McKinney's White-Black Midrange deck and into Day 2.
Christian Calcano vs. Jeff Champagne
Set on Esper Control, Calcano was relishing his chance to cast Sphinx's Revelation again before the tournament began. But against Jeff Champagne and his Jund Monsters deck, the Revelations couldn't stack up to Xenagos, God of Revels, which made every Stormbreath Dragon summoned even more of a must-kill threat. When Calcano ran out of removal the god blessed the Dragon with enough of a boost to knock Calcano out of Day 2.
Neal Oliver vs. James Bower
Settling in for the Esper Control mirror was Neal Oliver and James Bower, who did his best to keep the commentary lively even while the two engaged in a drawn-out battle.
In the end, it was Grand Prix Las Vegas champion Oliver who came out on top, thanks to a ready suite of counterspells designed specifically for the mirror. Between the maindeck Syncopate and Dissolve and the Gainsay and Dispel in the sideboard, Oliver was able to win the all-important battle over every Sphinx's Revelation, giving him the edge to pull away in the final game even as he struggled to find blue mana.
Settling in for the long mirror, Neal Oliver looks at his opening hand as he faces off against James Bower with a place in Day 2 on the line.