One of the great things about Grand Prix tournaments is the opportunity for relatively new players to face off against established pros. Round Seven gave us just such a match-up as Daniel Higgs, riding the two byes he earned in his hometown of Sault St. Marie, Ontario and a solid Temur deck to a 6-0-1 record and a feature match against Dave Shiels. Shiels has had a ton of GP success and has been on the Pro Tour for four straight years but needs an X-2 finish this weekend to stay or he'll miss the next one.
The players took a few seconds getting to know each other but it was all business once the dice were rolled and cards drawn, the only sound coming from either player was the shuffling of cards and the announcement/response to spells.
Shiels had the play in Game One and his four-colour morph deck ("I side into the fifth colour against Aggro decks.") did exactly what they are supposed to do in Khans block limited. He played a bunch of lands that came into play tapped and gave him access to lots of colours. He played a morph on turn three, another on turn four and Higgs was already playing catch-up.
The kid from Northern Ontario dug for business with Bitter Revelation and binned some big monsters, including an Avalanche Tusker. He didn't play his first blocker until turn five when a Hidden Game entered the fray.
Shiels, well ahead on tempo and pushing his advantage for all he could, revealed one of his morphs as a Mystic of the Hidden way and crashed in with his team. No blocks from Higgs, which telegraphed a trick by saving his fragile Hidden Game. Shiels then added a Sultai Scavenger to his army, presenting 6 evasion against Higgs' 9 life.
Higgs fought back with a Hooting Mandrills which took out the Scavenger with a Savage punch and revealed his trick – using Throttle to allow the Hidden game to hit well above its weight class in creature combat – but Higgs was way too far behind and eventually died to a late game Sagu Mauler.
Shiels 1-0 Higgs
Both players swapped out cards, modifying their decks to deal with the threats they'd seen in Game One.
Game Two started the same way Game One did – the same way so many Khans of Tarkir Limited matches start – with a flurry of ETBT lands and life gain. This time however Shiels has played three ETBT lands and has no play until his turn four, which follows what is starting to look like Higgs' favourite play: turn four Bitter Revelation.
Sheils's first morph is answered by an Avalanche Tusker from Higgs which in turn gets the boarded in Suspension Field which is followed by a Riverwind Aerialists from Higgs and Game Two starts to look like it's going to be a very grindy affair.
Then, in the first of two radical swings, Higgs clears Shiels' board with Savage Punch, followed by Winterflame, and adds his Mandrills to the field. Suddenly the four-year pro is in danger of being overwhelmed by the novice and with time running out in the round the odds of finishing Game Three are remote. Every tick of the clock puts Shiels further behind the Eight Ball.
23-16 for Sheils quickly becomes 15-16 for Higgs.
Sheils fights back with Debilitating Injury and a critical Abzhan Guide, which would effectively blank the damage of the Aerialists while whittling away at Higgs dwindling life total.
Then, with both players drawing a lot more land than spells, Shiels hit another bomb and swung the game back in his own favour.
Another Avalanche Tusker entered the field for Higgs, but it was too little, too late. At four life and potentially dead on board to the Guide, Higgs played a dual land, gaining him a critical one life point so the Guide needed two turns to kill him if Shiels had a way to remove the Tusker. But Shiels had another plan. With five cards in hand, Master of the Way goes to the dome and ends it.
Goliath has defeated Daniel 2-0.
After the match Shiels was full of praise for his opponent.
"I would never have known you were at your first GP by your composure," he says. "You have a good deck and play well so you should do well."
Shiels also admitted that he'd been a bit fortunate. "There were a couple of turns where I attacked into a 5/5 with two morphs which were a 5/5 and a 4/5 if he blocks the right one I'd have been set back a lot." However, each time Higgs blocked the wrong morph and the creatures annihilated each other ultimately leaving Shiels a chance of qualifying for yet another Pro Tour.