Paul Rietzl sat down in the feature match arena for the semifinals of Pro Tour Paris and the 15th round of Grand Prix Paris. Yes, in a Magic first, Rietzl would be playing in both a Pro Tour and a Grand Prix match at the same time.
Vincent Lemoine took a mulligan on his opening hand. He had finished top of the Swiss with his Boros deck, and as such was on the play for the first game, which would be a huge advantage in this aggro mirror. Whether it would make up for starting on six cards we would soon see.
Rietzl's start was his favorite play of turn-one Steppe Lynx, while Lemoine had to wait until turn two for his, as he started with a Terramorphic Expanse. Rietzl had a second Lynx for turn two, which allowed him to leave a fetch land uncracked. He looked on as Lemoine played out a Squadron Hawk, fetching the rest of the Hawk team to his hand. That is one way to get out of a mulligan. Lemoine was still on two lands. though, meaning his lone Steppe Lynx was nowhere close to as good as Rietzl's pair of Cats, who got bigger thanks to a second fetch land being played.
Paul got stuck in for 8, keeping one fetch land up. He cast a Stoneforge Mystic to find Adventuring Gear and passed things back. With Lemoine at just 10, he was threatening a hefty amount of damage. Keeping back one Arid Mesa meant that Rietzl was able to keep one of his cats alive when it, along with Stoneforge Mystic, was targeted by Arc Trail. Lemoine did have a third land, but was not about to start attacking.
Rietzl, however, lived in the red zone. He cast a Goblin Guide, then Adventuring Gear. The Goblin picked up the Equipment, and Rietzl played a Marsh Flats before passing. Everything seemed to be going Rietzl's way, as he swung in with the Guide and saw another Steppe Lynx on top of Lemoine's deck—a dead draw. His attacks put Lemoine at 2. It wouldn't matter what Vincent drew; Rietzl had the Lightning Bolt in hand to finish the game.
Paul Rietzl 1, Vincent Lemoine 0
Grand Prix Round 15
At this point, Paul's Grand Prix match started while the other semifinal ran for the webcast cameras. Rietzl's opponent, Herve Gazard-Maurel of France, sat down for their match in the second draft of Grand Prix Paris. Gazard-Maurel won the roll and chose to play, and was quickly shuffling back his first seven in a mulligan. In his haste to get things going, Gazard-Maurel accidentally drew seven cards, and was forced into a mulligan to five.
With just one land in hand, a Mountain, there was not much action from the Frenchman, who by turn four only had a single land and a Vector Asp. Rietzl, in the same space of time had Mortarpod and Tangle Mantis. A Blisterstick Shaman shot down the 1/1, and Rietzl followed up with Clone Shell. It was not long before Gazard-Maurel was scooping up his cards, having only played two Mountains and a Vector Asp the entire game.
Rietzl 1, Gazard-Maurel 0
This time around, Gazard-Maurel was careful to count out his seven cards, and kept them. He again had a turn-one Vector Asp, but this time off a Swamp. It was followed up by a Panic Spellbomb and a Necrogen Censer on successive turns. Rietzl's first play was a turn three Blight Mamba.
Gazard-Maurel was aggressive with his play, getting stuck into the red zone, and burning through the counters on Necrogen Censer before casting Kuldotha Rebirth on it. The Moriok Replica from him did not get to do much though, being taken out by a Galvanic Blast from Rietzl.
Rietzl cast a Mortarpod, and used it to off Vector Asp before equipping it to his Blight Mamba. The Mortarpod was Shattered midcombat by Gazard-Maurel, but Rietzl still held off much of the Frenchman's attack, and when he followed up with first Melira's Keepers and then Koth of the Hammer, the Frenchman smiled. His quick start looked like it could have trouble keeping pace with the mythic rare. Rietzl sent a Mountain in, and passed back to Gazard-Maurel, who had nothing.
For his next trick, Rietzl cast Bellowing Tanglewurm to let his Melira's Keepers attack unmolested. He attacked Gazard-Maurel down to 12, and the following turn went ultimate with Koth. This was more than enough to end things.
Paul Rietzl wins his Grand Prix match 2-0, and returns to his Pro Tour semifinal match, where he is only one game up on Vincent Lemoine.
Both players kept their opener for Game 2, with each starting on a turn-one Steppe Lynx.
A Teetering Peaks did a good imitation of a fetch land, allowing Lemoine to attack for 4. Paul simply had a real fetch land, a Marsh Flats, to hit back. The life totals were 15 each. Rietzl didn't have a red mana source yet, but he did have an Adventurer's Gear, which he equipped to his cat.
Lemoine got in for 2 with his Steppe Lynx, and used an Arc Trail to kill off Steppe Lynx and hit Rietzl for 2. With a Scalding Tarn held back, he could pump his Lynx at any time if necessary. Rietzl was still without red mana. He cracked another Marsh Flats to cast Mirran Crusader. The protection of this Knight was not too relevant in this match-up, but the fact that it had double strike meant it was definitely scary should it ever get as far as the red zone.
Lemoine played a Terramorphic Expanse and got stuck in for four before using Stoneforge Mystic to find Bonehoard. Each player had a powerful Mirrodin Besieged card now—it would be interesting to see which prevailed. When Rietzl went to equip his Crusader, it fell to a Lightning Bolt. From there it was little work for Lemoine to finish Rietzl off.
Paul Rietzl 1, Vincent Lemoine 1
Both players had hands chock full of lands, and went down to six cards for the third game. This would be the first game of the entire Top 8 where Rietzl would be on the play, his winning streak in games of Pro Tour Top 8s (that started in the quarterfinals in Amsterdam) now ended. Had the spell been shattered? He took a second mulligan, and then a third. The last high-profile game won on four cards was his friend Gabriel Nassif in the semifinals of Worlds in New York. That had been one of the most dramatic games ever played. Could he match it?
On four cards, he led with a Mountain. There was no one-drop from Lemoine, and indeed nothing on two, as Lemoine was the one without red mana this game. Rietzl cast a Squadron Hawk, immediately giving him a more respectably sized hand. Lemoine played a Scalding Tarn, and for the third straight turn passed without a play. He finally blinked when Squadron Hawk number two came down. Now he could extract full value from an Arc Trail, killing both creatures, which was sort of a 2 for one, but for the fact that he knew there were 2 more coming.
Rietzl got up to 3 lands, and used them to cast Sword of Body and Mind, though he didn't have a creature to equip in play. Lemoine's side of things was distinctly creatureless too. Lemoine fixed this with a Bonehoard, currently 2/2 thanks to the pair of Squadron Hawks in Rietzl's graveyard.
While he could, Rietzl used Arc Trail to off Lemoine's Germ token (played by a Geoffrey Siron Pro Player card). Lemoine simply replaced it with a Steppe Lynx, now a 2/3, with growth potential thanks to an uncracked fetch land in play for the Belgian. Lemoine had more burn in Lightning Bolt to stop a Steppe Lynx from Rietzl getting equipped, and then a Teetering Peaks to apply some serious beatdown with his growing Cat.
Rietzl was in deep, and cast first a Squadron Hawk, and then a Basilisk Collar, still on three lands. He dropped to 5 on attacks from Lemoine, who still only had that Lynx to attack with. On his next turn, he gave the Hawk a Sword and attacked, getting himself a Wolf to block with. When that Wolf was hit by a Journey to Nowhere though, Rietzl had nowhere to go but to his sideboard for Game 4.
Vincent Lemoine 2, Paul Rietzl 1
For the fourth game, and down one, Rietzl kept, but Lemoine was on the mulligan plan. He went down to five cards until he found something he liked, while Rietzl led with a Steppe Lynx. A turn-one Teetering Peaks came from Lemoine.
On turn two, Rietzl showed that his opener was none too exciting, as he missed a land drop, only casting Adventuring Gear. Meanwhile, Lemoine had an Arid Mesa to get him a Plains, and a Squadron Hawk to win back some of the card advantage he had lost.
Rietzl drew and cast a second Steppe Lynx, still sitting with just one land in play. He shrugged as Lemoine played Stoneforge Mystic to fetch Bonehoard. Lemoine now had so many cards in hand that he had to discard at the end of turn, pitching one of those Squadron Hawks.
When Rietzl finally drew a Scalding Tarn, he was not quick to play it, thinking through what it meant, and if he wanted to equip Adventuring Gear first. After a little thought, he did not equip, instead playing and using the fetch land to set up an Arc Trail such that he could attack for 8.
Lemoine cast Goblin Guide and Steppe Lynx before passing. Goblin Guide is an interesting card in the mirror, as while aggressive, it can set up an opponent's landfall. Given Rietzl's board, it was risky for him to attack with it. After Rietzl cast a Squadron Hawk, Lemoine did commence with attacks, giving Rietzl a Mountain.
Now up to three lands, Reitzl's hand was very much live, with a Cunning Sparkmage coming down to off Squadron Hawk, allowing attacks to take Lemoine to 7. The Belgian was not done yet though. When he drew his second Plains he was able to cast Kor Firewalker.
A second Cunning Sparkmage came from Reitzl, along with a fetch land to power up Rietzl's cats. This was enough to elicit a scoop from Lemoine. This match would go to a fifth game.
Paul Rietzl 2, Vincent Lemoine 2
On the play in the deciding game, Lemoine again took a mulligan, having seen a five-land hand. Rietzl chose to keep.
"I wish I knew how many times you were going to mulligan before I had to decide," he quipped. As it turned out, Lemoine only had a single mulligan.
Reitzl had the first play of the game, in Steppe Lynx, while Lemoine played Stoneforge Mystic on turn two to fetch Bonehoard. He had a second one on turn two, and got to hold back his fetch land activation for bigger pumps later.
Goblin Guide was the only play from Lemoine, who was short on lands. The same could hardly be said of Rietzl, who played another Arid Mesa pre-combat to set up for potentially huge attacks. When Lemoine didn't block either cat, Rietzl chose to make it 8 damage, taking Vincent to just 9 life. He then cast Arc Trail to kill Stoneforge Mystic, and deal one to Lemoine himself.
Vincent was still at two lands, and used them both to send one of Rietzl's cats on a Journey to Nowhere. Rietzl had yet another fetch land, which he didn't need to crack, as it was clear that Lemoine was blocking with his Goblin Guide. Rietzl simply cast Squadron Hawk, fetched three more, and passed.
In rough shape, Lemoine went for an Arc Trail to kill Squadron Hawk, and force a fetch land activation to keep Steppe Lynx around. For the first turn in a while, Rietzl had only a basic land rather than a fetch land, meaning that Steppe Lynx could only take Lemoine to 4. He cast a Kor Firewalker, then Cunning Sparkmage, and passed. Lemoine had another Arc Trail to kill off Rietzl's unprotected creatures, but couldn't stop himself dropping to 1 from Kor Firewalker attacks. Just in case, postcombat, Paul cast three copies of Squadron Hawk.
Lemoine drew his card for the turn and extended his hand. Paul Rietzl was on to his second Pro Tour final in the last three Pro Tours .... right after Round 16 of the Grand Prix, which was, conveniently enough, just about to start.
Paul Rietzl defeats Vincent Lemoine 3-2 and advances to the finals!