Along with Mike Turian and Nicolai Herzog, Anton had achieved the impressive feat of making Top 4 at both individual draft Pro Tour events this year -- Amsterdam and then San Diego.
It certainly started out about as well as anyone could reasonably ask for when his Mirrodin pack revealed Mask of Memory. A Viridian Longbow and some other powerful cards were present as well, but the Mask is just insane and Anton grabbed it up without hesitation.
Perhaps the real surprise came next pick however, when the first pack passed turned out to have a Crystal Shard waiting for him. With the benefit of watching the draft I knew that the person passing to him had taken Mindslaver over the Shard, almost surely a mistake. The rest of the pack dried up a bit in quality but by the end of it he'd assembled a solid collection of artifacts to back up his two bombs. His only real colored spell at this point was a Slith Bloodletter, and in combination with his Crystal Shard it looked like blue-black was a likely possibility.
Things got nuts starting with Darksteel. Anton opened an unreal pack of Skullclamp, Sword of Fire and Ice, and Murderous Spoils. He thought hard about this one but opted for the inexpensive drawing might of the clamp. Next pack he was gifted with an Arcbound Crusher that was a perfect match for his artifact-heavy deck, but the best part was seeing the expression on the face of the guy he'd just passed Sword of Fire and Ice, easily one of the very best cards in the format. The insanity continued next turn when another Crusher came to Anton, who was all smiles as he put Crusher No. 2 in his pile.
The remainder of the draft went relatively well, but Fifth Dawn was packed with sunburst goodies and none of the treats he was coveting, particularly a juicy Trinket Mage or two to go with his Skullclamp. In the process of finishing the draft he passed four Skyreach Mantas and two Sawtooth Threshers, almost surely creating a strong sunburst deck somewhere else in the pod.
The Final Deck
While he built his deck he quickly settled on the core cards but it was a long time before he decided on the last four or five to include. A pile that included two Cackling Imps, two Myr Servitors, Vedalken Mastermind , and Advanced Hoverguard continually shifted as Anton decided the best way to use those final crucial slots. Fiddling for a very long time with the final candidates, he suddenly broke into a grin and looked up, pointing out "at least I have a thousand playables!" In the end, he settled on this list:
When I spoke with him after deckbuilding, he felt the deck was very strong, but was frustrated that he'd picked the Mastermind over Relic Barrier, a card he felt would have been much better for this deck. He also felt the deck could have used more acceleration, but that one had been beyond his control at least. Impressively, this build meant that the only colored card from the first two sets was a lone Slith Bloodletter, but that fit in just fine with his double Arcbound Crusher setup.
Asked for a prediction on the deck's performance, he felt 2-1 and maybe 3-0 were reasonable, but he was concerned about the power of other decks at the pod as well.
"My deck has a lot of good cards, but the power level was so high that I'm sure there are other good decks as well," Jonsson said. "The guy passing to me has a rare he wanted more than Crystal Shard, plus the Sword of Fire and Ice I passed him back. Also, there are all the sunburst cards I passed, but I don't think I'm as worried about those with a deck like this."
When asked about his strategy coming in, he stressed that he preferred a very submissive strategy, waiting to see what opportunities were available before committing. Finally, I asked if there were any cards that he passed which concerned him, and he immediately pointed out the Viridian Lorebearers he'd passed on. He'd wanted to defensive draft it "because that single card wrecks me!" but he took Cackling Imp instead, believing that in such an artifact-heavy deck it could be important to have some colored creatures in case he ran into a protection-heavy green deck.
Coming into the first round of the pod, I was eager to see how Anton's deck would stand up to the other strong decks this draft had likely created. For the first round of this pod he was paired up against Nicolas Labarre of France, the other "name" player of the draft.
So how did it turn out? To be short, it was a massacre! Labarre smashed Anton Game 1, playing Raise the Alarm on turn two and again on turn three. Turn four he played out Leonin Sunstandard and, seriously, that was it right there. A couple other turns played out, but Anton had no way at all to deal with four 1/1s backed by the overwhelming pump power of the Sunstandard.
Game 3 everything fell apart for Anton however. Labarre had another amazing draw with what clearly was an amazing deck. This time the French player had Conjurer's Bauble followed by Leonin Squire to get it back. Next was Raise the Alarm, followed by Auriok Salvagers and the dreaded Sunstandard once again. Even with Skullclamp and Mask of Memory getting him looks at four extra cards a turn, Anton just couldn't scare up enough chump blockers to hold off Labarre's overwhelming attack. Shaking his head at the beating he'd received, he knew there wasn't much of anything he could have done in this match.
In the next round he was paired against Junes Villarraga of the Colombian national team. In the opener of this match, Anton had the kind of start his deck was built for -- dumping out an impressive five creatures by turn five, including an Arcbound Crusher. Looking to be in a dominating position, the floor fell out from underneath him when his opponent played Blood Scent on his Tangle Asp and swung in to wrath Anton's entire team.
Anton was visibly crushed. The look on his face when he saw the Blood Scent said it all. Coming so close on the heels of the beating he'd received at the hands of Sunstandard, this seemed like almost too much to bear. Even worse, his opponent followed up with the Lorebearers that Anton had been so worried about during the draft, and played out the insanely powerful Leonin Battlemage.
And you know what? Anton won that game.
In what was one of the best comebacks I've seen, Anton drew and played a second Arcbound Crusher, followed by Mask of Memory for a newly summoned Arcbound Stinger. Drawing cards off the Mask kept his meager chump blocker stream going while pumping up his Crusher, but time was running out. But, with very little time left to live, he found a Dross Golem, chumped with Crusher, and put all the counters on the fear Golem, swinging in for two quick bashes to send it, somehow, to Game 2 with a win on his side. As he shuffled his deck he was clearly shocked he'd pulled it out after losing five creatures in one turn.
In the second game he absolutely demolished his bewildered opponent, getting two Crushers, Skullclamp, Crystal Shard, Mask of Memory and even more into play in the first eight turns or so of the game. Gazing enviously at the phenomenal quality of cards Anton had on display, Villarraga never had any chance at all in this one. When I spoke with Anton after the match he still couldn't believe he'd pulled out the first game. "Did you see that?!" After shaking his head yet again, he pointed out that if his opponent had attacked more with his flier the game would have definitely gone the other way.
For the final match of the day Anton was matched up against Ben Zoz of the embattled U.S. team. And once again, the game opened with stunning speed. Ben surprisingly chose to draw first, but immediately jumped on the offensive with turn-one Bonesplitter, a turn-two Blind Creeper, and on turn three he equipped the Creeper and swung for 5 and then also played out Grimclaw Bats. Another swing and a Condescend to add insult and this one was over in less than four minutes. Anton, who had played a Skullclamp, Worker, and two Arcbound Crushers, just couldn't keep up long enough for his raw card power to take over.
In Game 2, Anton looked much better however, getting a turn-three Dross Golem followed by a Crusher and Leonin Scimitar. This one ground out for quite a while, but Anton was always in control thanks to Crystal Shard making combat so much better for him. He continued to nibble away at the American's position and life total until Skullclamp and a Crusher showed up to speed things along to the decider.
In Game 3, Anton made the first mistake since I'd started watching him Friday, and it was a terrible one. Behind on tempo with Skullclamp and a new Stinger in play, he was facing an offensive board that included fliers and a Ferropede. Knowing he would draw Crystal Shard next turn thanks to scry, Anton decided to leave the Stinger back to block the Ferropede to help stabilize the board -- rather than using Skullclamp to draw two cards off it. Unfortunately, he had briefly forgotten it was a Ferropede he was facing, and when he realized his mistake he yelled at himself angrily, "What have I done!" The unblockable came over, removing the Stinger's counter and killing it. In combination with the two cards lost that he would have drawn off clamp it was a painful mistake to witness, and one that clearly vexed Anton for the remainder of the game. Behind on tempo and low on creatures, the Zoz evasion offense kept coming. Anton hung on for two more turns, but clearly his will was broken. Somehow, despite having Skullclamp, Mask of Memory, and Crystal Shard in play, another game had gotten away from him.
I talked to Anton after the match and he was already in better spirits about the mistake, even just minutes later. "I still would not have won, but that's not a good excuse… I can't believe I went 1-2 with this deck!" We talked some more afterward and Anton's feeling was that his one weakness was the deck's lack of any real removal. Several games he'd lost had come down to simple inability to deal with a single problem permanent, such as Labarre's Sunstandard. Looking back though, there wasn't anything Anton thought he would have changed that could have remedied the situation. His one real shot at removal was the Murderous Spoils he passed along with Sword of Fire and Ice, when he took Skullclamp, but he stood by the pick and reasonably so.
As we talked about this aspect of his deck though, he pointed out, "Because of the lack of removal, my deck had to be insane to make up for it, and also because the general level of decks at the table was very good. Since my deck can't deal with permanents it needs to come out great, and it didn't do that enough games."
Anton had had some poor beats, and his opponents had enjoyed some good fortune as well, but looked at in this respect (and with the benefit of hindsight!) it made a certain amount of sense. In a format where specific permanents can be so deadly, and the pace is so unforgivingly quick, even a deck with this level of power was far from a sure thing. Friday wasn't his day, but Anton Jonnson will certainly be back.