"What were the chances of being drawn against each other?" asked Manveer Samra of the world at large, as he and his brother took their places in the feature match area. The Samra brothers are popular players on the UK circuit, and have been increasingly mentioned as possible dark horse contenders for the title. To have the two play each other in the first round was in irresistible draw for coverage. Baljeet was bringing the G/R Valakut ramp deck, while Manveer was piloting a B/U Tezzeret Infect deck that looked to cheat Blightsteel Colossus into play with Kuldotha Forgemaster
"We've played this matchup quite a few times", Baljeet confided to me, as the round began, "and it's not in my favour".
Needing all the luck, Baljeet won the dice roll and chose to play first, but his luck ended there. Manveer joined him for the first mulligan, but Baljeet hissed as he drew his second hand of six and immediately threw it back on top of his deck and began shuffling. On the play, from five cards, in a bad matchup - things did not look good for Baljeet. Worse yet, an Inquisition of Kozilek brought an anguished cry and his five cards were instantly reduced to four, and Baljeet lost a Rampant Growth from hand. All Baljeet could manage through the early turns was to build lands, while Manveer replied with a pair of Spellskites and a Kuldotha Forgemaster.
Turn six saw Baljeet finally make a play, and he dropped his Primeval Titan. The arrival of the Titan was a huge boost for Baljeet, and he searched up a second copy of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to join the one he already hand, and a fourth mountain. Despite the way the early turns had gone in his favour, it now seemed as though momentum was shifting and all Manveer could manage to do was play a Creeping Tar Pit and pass the turn, shuffling the two cards in his hand backwards and forwards nervously.
Baljeet untapped, played a Forest and summoned forth an Avenger of Zendikar – that brought 8 0/1 Plants into play. Attacking with Primeval Titan allowed Baljeet to dig up another two mountains, and that signalled problems for Manveer – the arrival of the lands grew all of Baljeet's plants by +2/+2, and his twin volcanoes rained down fire on his brother. It was potentially devastating but Manveer was prepared and redirected all the damage from Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle onto one of his flimsy Spellskites.
Having survived the turn, Manveer had the chance to strike back – his Kuldotha Forgemaster churned away, reforging his second Spellskite and a pair of Inkmoth Nexus into a Blightsteel Colossus!
The Colossus would normally threaten to end the game on it's own, but Baljeet was tucked up safely behind his army of plants, thanks to that Avenger of Zendikar, and the Colossus only managed to chew threw a chunk of Baljeet's vegetable garden.
Untapped, Baljeet swung back, and Manveer admitted defeat – it would simply take too long to plough a path through his brother's Plants.
"That never happened in playtesting!", Baljeet admitted, smiling with relief at his win.
From a mulligan to 5, on the play, Baljeet had found Manveer helpless to prevent his march to six lands, and from there unable to defend himself from the sheer power of the behemoths Baljeet had at his disposal. When an Indestructible 11/11 creature isn't good enough, you know things haven't gone to plan.
The second game began more positively for Manveer, and an Everlasting Chalice accelerated him to a third turn Memoricide, stripping his brother of all the Primeval Titans in his deck! That play was followed by Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, and it seemed like Manveer was making big strides toward levelling the match.
Having Explore, Birds of Paradise and Rampant Growth on hand saw Baljeet ramp up his mana very quickly, though, and although there would be no Primeval Titan at the end of that road, it didn't stop Baljeet from bringing the big boys to the table – Inferno Titan was his weapon of choice in the second game.
The arrival of the Inferno Titan saw Manveer pause for thought before playing a Kuldotha Forgemaster, but the danger was now that Baljeet's deck would snowball very rapidly into lethal damage before Manveer could craft up his Darksteel Colossus and finish things in a single strike.
Baljeet summoned an Oracle of Mul Daya, revealing the top card of his deck to be a Terramorphic Expanse. The Expanse allowed Baljeet to find a Mountain, then he followed up with a second Mountain from hand, and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle threw more fire across the table. The Inferno Titan attacked, accounting for Manveer's Forgemaster, and the older brother fell down to just 8 life.
Manveer struck back with a 5/5 Inkmoth Nexus, using Tezzeret's power to boost the little Infect creature and hanve Baljeet five poison counters, but it was Manveer's last play.
You could see the hesitation in Baljeet's face, and in every play that he made, as the game drew to a close – he was so certain that the match was unwinnable that the approach of victory was surely impossible. Surely he wasn't going to win, and with every step of his final turn he seemed to be waiting for his brother to reveal how he would steal back the game.
It never came. Valakut spouted fire onto Manveer helpess Spellskite, and the Inferno Titan attacked to destroy both the Spellskite and Tezzeret. Desperately clinging to life, Manveer hurled in Inkmoth Nexus under the Inferno Titan, but it was a temporary reprieve. The Oracle of Mul Daya had Baljeet playing with the top card of his deck revealed, and both players knew that he had drawn Avenger of Zendikar. As the big green man hit the table Manveer ended his misery and conceded the match.
That wasn't how the games had gone in playtesting, but Manveer didn't seem to upset,
"The first game he was really lucky to play a land every turn after mulliganing to five", he told me, "and then to get the Avenger of Zendikar because there's only one of them in the deck. We played this matchup a lot last night and I win pretty much every time... apart from the time when it matters, obviously!"
Baljeet Samra 2 - 0 Manveer Samra