Round 5:
A Decade of Drawing Cards

Posted in Event Coverage on May 17, 2013

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Ben Stark (Boros Blitz) vs. Gaudenis Vidugiris (Bant Control)

Eric Froehlich (Esper Control) vs. Bob Maher (Bant Control)

Samuele Estratti (UWR Control) vs. Uri Peleg (Azorius Control)

How many copies of Jace, Architect of Thought does it take to get to the bottom of your opponent's life total? It took Pro Tour Hall of Famer Bob Maher six copies across three games with his Bant Control deck to defeat Pro Tour Gatecrash Top 8 competitor and fellow longtime player Eric Froehlich with his Jace-laden Esper Control.

Eric Froehlich and Hall of Famer Bob Maher both made Pro Tour Top 8 appearances a decade ago. For these two veterans, the age-old game of draw-go and Fact or Fictions is familiar territory.

Stock in Froehlich has been trending up in recent months, particularly through the last Pro Tour. With four Grand Prix Top 8 appearances this season aside, you could lose track of his appearance in the Top 8 of Pro Tour San Diego 2002, over a decade ago.

Maher's last Pro Tour Top 8 appearance was also a decade ago at Houston in 2002. But it was his thrilling loss to Jon Finkel in the finals of Worlds 2000 at Brussels that catapulted him into the minds of Magic players. Maher's appearance this weekend can't help but remind everyone just how long the game's greats have played.

The shorthand for Jace, Architect of Thought's second ability is "mini Fact or Fiction", a spell both players were once well-versed with a decade ago. Then, like now, the ability to pull ahead in cards determines the winner in control mirrors. It was an important component to these decks. "I was just never able to cast a Jace on time," Froehlich said at the end of the match. "He had the advantage the whole game," referring back to Maher's steady dominance on the back of his early Jace.

Maher moves quickly through Game 1 on the back of Jace, Architect of Thought's powerful card drawing.

Despite winning, Maher wasn't as prepared for the match as you might have thought. "I don't play enough Magic, much less any Constructed, to know which deck was favored. Even after the match I couldn't tell you which deck was favored here. All three of those games came down to draws, and even at the end of that game..." Maher said, referring to his delicate position with Ætherling against Froehlich's Blood Baron of Vizkopa at the end of Game 3, "...I came really close to throwing it away. Really close."

The importance of Jace was clear early in Game 1, when Maher cast the planeswalker on turn four and Froehlich immediately used Psychic Strike. Maher followed up with a second copy on the next turn. Within two turns Maher had resolved an Ætherling after Froehlich tapped out to catch up with Sphinx's Revelation. While Froehlich had Far & Away to bounce the Shapeshifter, Maher had a devastating Plasm Capture for Froehlich's own Jace, Architect of Thought. With the mana stolen from Froehlich, Maher easily returned Ætherling to play with blue mana to protect itself. After missing a few lands drops over the turns, Froehlich was without a way to handle the nearly indestructible creature.

Game 2 was the second game where draws decided the match. Maher had to discard several times as he failed to draw more than three lands for some time, eventually having just five to work with against Froehlich's ten. Keeping things gamely, Maher worked Jace in against two of Froehlich's Ætherlings that, unsurprisingly, cut Maher's life away in just two attacks.

Despite playing control decks, about half the time was left in the round. A judge confirmed the time, and asked if there was a chance they would go to time. "I'm pretty sure we can both deck each other before time runs out," Froehlich joked.

But even the third game was tilted from the start. Maher took an aggressive start with a turn three Loxodon Smiter into a turn four Jace, Architect of Thought. Froehlich was quick to use the Away side of Far & Away to send the Smiter packing, but Jace was beginning to put in the work for Maher, drawing extra cards most turns. Maher protected his Jace with Cancel, stopping Froehlich's Detention Sphere, allowing Froehlich to resolve Blood Baron of Vizkopa which Maher wasted no time in destroying with Supreme Verdict. Froehlich then tried to kill Jace again by playing his own copy. The ensuing Cancel-Dispel-Dispel counterspell war was won by Maher, who went on to play Ætherling with plenty of mana to back it up.

Froehlich evened things up in the second game, but ultimately succumbed to Maher's Jace advantage in the third game.

Throughout the final game, Froehlich used an early Underworld Connections to draw cards without a Jace of his own. The extra five cards allowed Froehlich to fight a second counterspell war over Azorius Charm targeting a game-ending Ætherling, lethal due in part to the life loss from Underworld Connections itself. With the way clear, Froehlich cast his second Blood Baron of Vizkopa of the game to present a way to race against Ætherling. But it was Maher's patience that prevailed when Froehlich opened a window with a main phase Sphinx's Revelation for seven. Reaching 11 life wasn't enough as Maher used Selesnya Charm to pump Ætherling, which increased its power the rest of the way.

Eric Froehlich's Esper Control

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Bob Maher's Bant Control

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