During most of the Grand Prix, the attention is focused at the top tables, watching players vie for undefeated records or a Top 8 berth. But in the final round of Day 1, the most exciting action isn't among those at the top of the standings; it's with those who are fighting for their tournament lives and a coveted place in Day 2.
I paced the tournament floor during Round 9 to follow several notable players who were in this position and trying to live to battle one more day.
David Ochoa vs. Brian Stroh
Things came down to the wire on our first featured match. David Ochoa wasn't thrilled with his blue-black deck that featured Tromokratis and Thassa's Emissary but little else in the way of pure power. It also carried a heavy curve and its removal, namely two Feast of Dreams, was situational. Still, it was a solid deck that could pull off powerful plays with Siren of the Silent Song and could take over quickly once it took control.
Stroh's deck featured several swingy rares, including the lifelinking brick wall that Dawnbringer Charioteers can be. It also carried Launch the Fleet, which Stroh used to handily win Game 2 and send the match to a deciding finale.
And in that finale, it was Ochoa's Kraken that took over. Ochoa laid the card with Stroh at the magic number of 8 life, forcing him to keep everything back to attempt a block. A few underwhelming draw steps by Stroh later, and Ochoa had assembled eight power of attackers alongside his Tromokratis to steal the game.
"I had to get a little lucky to get into Day 2," said Ochoa, who is sitting at 31 Pro Points this season and chasing the four more he needs to reach gold in the Pro Players Club. "I thought my deck was a soft 4-2, and that's how I did."
Ochoa 2 — Stroh 1
No. 4 Josh Utter-Leyton vs. Eric Krangel
If Ochoa's match was close, his ChannelFireball teammate's was a downright nailbiter.
When I first stopped at Utter-Leyton's match things weren't looking up for the world's fourth-ranked player, who is already a lock for platinum status next year but was battling for a chance to add to his total on Sunday. Krangel had a Stoneshock Giant that was quickly getting out of control, with a Fearsome Temper enchanting it. A Dragon Mantle joined the party, and suddenly Utter-Leyton's Pharika's Chosen looked fairly underwhelming.
But some smart plays with Scholar of Athreos bought Utter-Leyton just enough time to pull out the Game 3 victory, draining Krangel for five over the last few turns and propelling the pro to the narrow victory.
Utter-Leyton 2, Krangel 1
Jadine Klomparens vs. Stephen Horne
Fresh off her finals appearance at Grand Prix Chicago last week, Klomparens was fighting for a chance to make it back-to-back Top 8 appearances. But to do so she first had to go through Stephen Horne.
I caught the tail end of the match, just in time to see Klomparens lay down King Macar, the Gold-Cursed. It turned out that the ability to exile creatures simply by untapping is strong enough to win games, and a few turns later Klomparens earned the handshake and kept alive her hopes of a repeat performance.
There's only one thing standing in her way.
"I just have to win the first six games of premier-level draft I've ever played," she said with more than a trace of sarcasm after the match. "I've made the Top 8 of four limited PTQs and lost in the first round all four times, and I've never made Day 2 of a limited Grand Prix."
Other notables who were fighting for Day 2 in the final round
(5) Owen Turtenwald defeated Marcus Mathieson
(11) Yuuya Watanabe defeated Julien Archambault
Pat Cox defeated Zan Syed
Neal Oliver defeated Christopher Fennell
James Searles defeated Chris Pikula