These two players, Ryan Scullin and Orry Swift, sat at the finals table—a first for both of them—and commiserated over how good it felt to be there.
"Have you been on the tour?" Swift, a Scrabble champion, asked.
"Oh man, congratulations!" Swift said he had played in three Pro Tours so far, and has a Top 25 finish to boot. These two were both stoked to be under the lights, and walking out of here with a trophy.
The two continued jovially, until Scullin, a level one judge, realized something. "Wait, isn't this the time you're supposed to trash talk?" he asked. Scullin immediately put on his mean face and said, "Tom Ross couldn't beat me with that deck—and you think you can?!" Scullin turned to me to see if his fake trash-talking was acceptable. It was.
Truth be told though, Scullin does have some reason to trash talk when looking at the decks. Mardu Midrange is set up to utterly smash White-Blue Heroic. Two of the worst cards for the heroic deck are Chained to the Rocks and Crackling Doom, and Scullin's deck had both.
Even Tom Ross, the creator of the White-Blue deck, thought that it was poorly positioned for this tournament specifically because of the rise of Mardu. Then how did Swift make it this far, you ask?
"I haven't played Mardu yet," he confided to me.
Scullin started on the aggressive with a Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, hitting Swift for five. Swift was able to deal with the first one, thanks to two Ordeal of Thassa on a Heliod's Pilgrim—"There it is," Scullin said on the second one. But Scullin had a second copy of Sarkhan.
Again, Swift was able to remove that, but he was now down to 6. It was 6-17 in Scullin's favor, and Swift was running out of time. A Goblin Rabblemaster and Seeker of the Way only sped up the clock against Swift.
It became a math puzzle. Swift agonized counting out how to make the arithmatic work in his favor. He used various cards—spells and land alike—to scry through his deck to hit what he would need to make this work. His turn ended with the Pilgrim at 7/7, and a Singing Bell Strike on the Seeker of the Way.
It looked all well and good—but, guys Sorin, Solemn Visitor, though!
Scullin gained a lot of life while dealing the final points of damage to Swift to take game one.
Ryan Scullin 1 – 0 Orry Swift
"I was thinking about other plays, but I had a plan and I stuck to it."
"Kill me?! Yeah, that was a good plan." Swift perused the Scullin's deck. He put his head in his hands and said, "This is such a bad match-up!"
In the second game Swift admitted that he was keeping an extremely greedy hand. And woah-lordy was it greedy. The hand was Lightning Strike, Lightning Strike, Lightning Strike, Temple of Triumph, Hordeling Outburst, Crackling Doom, and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker.
"If I draw any land at all, it becomes pretty hard to lose. And post-sideboard, if he has his nut draw, I need one too." That was his thinking he told me later. "This is like the perfect LSV test hand," he said. Referring to Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Luis Scott-Vargas (actually commentating on video for this match), who is famous for his high-risk, high-reward keeps.
In the first three turns Swift went land, land, land. Right off the top. After Swift countered the first Lightning Strike targeting his Hero of Iroas, he must've thought he was ok. Then the second Strike immediately took it out.
"The greed was real, my friend." Afterwards more removal killed more things and Swift was left pretty tapped out. The Goblin tokens and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker were mounting up.
Swift, who now had only a 1/2 Heliod's Pilgrim, attacked with it, paused and said, "It's real, my friend." Scullin took one damage. At this point, Swift got pretty despondent. "Man, what do I even want?" He chuckled.
Swift, who was now out of cards, was taking refuge in the fact that his 1/2 Heliod's Pilgrim was at least larger than the 1/1 Goblin tokens Scullin made from Hordeling Outburst. Take pleasure in the small things.
As the Sarkhan plinked away, turning into a 4/4 each turn, Swift tried desperately to get himself back into the game. But even with a Favored Hoplite at 3/4, it was still a longshot to take over the board, given his completely empty hand.
Swift went down in increments of four until the final points were taken.
The table judge said, referring to Scullin's suspect hand, turned and said, "And we learned nothing from that keep."
Scullin replied that he'd learned how to win some money. It's hard to refute that.
Ryan Scullin 2 – 0 Orry Swift
Ryan Scullin is your Grand Prix San Antonio champion!