Zac Elsik's improbable run through Grand Prix Oklahoma City continued all the way to the final round, closing a journey for the Dallas native that began at Grand Prix Charlotte in June. Across the table sat one of the tournament's strongest competitors, and while few would be surprised to see Brian Braun-Duin playing for the trophy, he himself was one of them.
“I didn't expect to do very well in this tournament,” he admitted before the match started. “I couldn't find a deck I liked so I just decided on this a few days ago and didn't get much practice with it.”
Unlikely as it may be, Braun-Duin's strong play over the weekend — including a set of nifty plays with a Splinter Twin-enchanted Snapcaster Mage in the semifinals — landed him just one win away from a title.
To pick up that title, Braun-Duin would have to beat a deck he had never even faced before: Lantern Control.
The deck Elsik introduced to the world with a Top 16 finish in Charlotte earlier this year, he aimed to lock out opponents with Lantern of Insight, Ensnaring Bridge and a bevy of mill effects. It delivered him to an undefeated Day One record, and now left him one win short of a trophy.
And, unlike Braun-Duin, Elsik had experience in the matchup, having faced Splinter Twin variants many times throughout the tournament.
“Well, you're definitely more prepared than I am for this matchup,” Braun-Duin laughed as they prepared for the first game.
The matchup was a first for Braun-Duin, and the sequence of plays that transpired on the second turn was a first for both. Elsik attempted to Surgical Extraction a Misty Rainforest out of Braun-Duin's graveyard, and it was met with a Dispel. Determined to get the land, Elsik responded with a second Extraction, one that Braun-Duin begrudgingly allowed.
“Not only does it resolve, but here you go,” he said as he laid down two more Misty Rainforest from his hand.
Lantern of Insight followed for Elsik, and knowledge of each player's draw step was granted. But with a Vendilion Clique that forced Elsik to bottom an Ensnaring Bridge, Braun-Duin was able to begin work on Elsik's life total. The Dallas native fell to 7 life before finding a second Ensnaring Bridge, which was met with a Remand. But with his Mox Opal active Elsik had enough mana to try again, and when the second try resolved, the soft lock was on.
Determined to enforce his control, Elsik tried to follow with a Spellskite, which was also Remanded. As it was again when Elsik tried to replay it. Finally, the third try resulted in a resolved Spellskite, and with that the lock over both Braun-Duin's draw and combat step was complete, and the pair were soon off for Game 2.
Brian Braun-Duin had never faced Lantern Control, and did his best to learn on the fly.
Inquisition of Kozilek led things off for Elsik, though it failed to turn up anything but a pair of Cryptic Command, a Splinter Twin and lands for Braun-Duin. A freshly-drawn Pestermite was cast next for Braun-Duin, and with the Twin in hand he threatened to combo kill Elsik on his next turn.
A timely Thoughtseize ended that threat, but Pestermite still began to peck away at Elsik's life total as he tried to establish the lock through Braun-Duin's counterspells. As Braun-Duin hoarded instant-speed cantrip effects like Twisted Image and Desolate Lighthouse, he began to try and find a way to finish the game through direct damage after giving up and fighting through a pair of Ensnaring Bridge.
Turning up a Keranos, God of Storms on top of the deck went a long way toward that. With several ways for Braun-Duin to beat the mill rocks on the table, Elsik was forced to let him draw the god. With a guaranteed way to deal direct damage, a few draw steps later Elsik was ran out of answers and fell to Keranos to send the pair into a decider.
After a Top 16 finish in Charlotte, Zac Elsik was trying to close the deal in Oklahoma City.
Forced to keep a one-land hand after a mulligan, Elsik went digging with an Ancient Stirrings, finding a land that was joined by a Lantern of Insight and Grafdigger's Cage. With knowledge of Braun-Duin's hand from Inquisition of Kozilek, Elsik was also able to freely resolve an Ensnaring Bridge. Just three turns in, Braun-Duin was already locked out of large swaths of his deck, and when Vendilion Clique resolved to make Elsik lose a Ghoulcaller's Bell but only revealed another, the lock was fully in place.
Braun-Duin tried his best to fight back, but with no access to a draw step the writing was on the wall, and with a shake of his hand and a congratulations, Braun-Duin conceded to Elsik and sent the Lantern Control innovator to his first Grand Prix title.
Zac Elsik defeats Brian Braun-Duin 2-1 and is your Grand Prix Oklahoma City champion!