Here's an all-too-familiar situation: A pair of ChannelFireball shirts battling out in the Top 8 of an event. And always on one side of the equation, Brad Nelson. Already leading the Player of the Year race at the start of the weekend, he's pulling even farther ahead of his nearest competitors (and teammates) Luis Scott-Vargas, Tomoharu Saito and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa.
Standing in his way, also in the orange and black, is Ben Stark, a Pro Tour fixture with a pair of PT Top 8's to his name. While they shuffled he tried to argue that Nelson didn't need another trophy and hardly had the space for it, but Nelson would have none of it.
Things started off with both players going down to six cards.
"Luis probably keeps both hands," joked Stark.
"Oh, definitely!" agreed Nelson.
They kept their sixes and were off. They each played lands until Stark dropped Sylvok replica. Nelson made no play on two plains and a mountain, and Stark added Corpse Cur to his board. Oxidda Scrapmelter took care of the Replica. Stark laid his fifth land and passed, shuffling the cards in his hand compulsively.
Nelson untapped and played Contagion Clasp, shrinking the Cur. He added a Myrsmith and Stark wasted no time dispatching it with Instill Infection. He untapped, swung in with the Cur. Nelson blocked, his Scrapmelter stealing the -1/-1 counter.
Stark decided it was time to go big, and summoned Alpha Tyrannax. Nelson picked up his Clasp with Glint Hawk and played Strider Harness. Stark swung in for six with his Tyrannax and got back Corpse Cur with another Cur. Nelson was undaunted. He played a fifth land, then Sunspear Shikari and gave it the Harness. He swung in with it and Glint Hawk. Stark grimaced and chumped with his Cur. Nelson gained some much-needed life. He replayed his Clasp, tagging the Tyrannax, and passed the turn.
Stark hit back, this time for five, dropping Nelson to eleven. He looped Corpse Cur again and tapped out to add Blistergrub to the mix. Nelson brought with the Hawk and Shikari again, gaining some more life, forcing the Corpse Cur off the table, and dinging Stark for two. He moved his Harness over to the Scrapmelter and passed with four mana open.
Stark didn't like his options. He swung with Tyrannax and Nelson blocked with Scrapmelter. After he played Corpse Cur and Blight Mamba, Nelson proliferated and gestured at the Tyrannax. Stark made no move to put it in the bin. After a short discussion, Stark realised he was mistaken in thinking that the Scrapmelter had had two -1/-1 counters on it.
"Well... that was bad."
Things quickly got worse as Nelson attacked again, and again the Cur went to the graveyard, then Nelson wiped the rest of his board with Arc Trail. Stark tried to hold on with Sylvok Replica, saving some damage and blowing up the Harness. Nelson calmly picked it back up with Razor Hippogriff. Corpse Cur and Blight Mamba came next, but the Hawk was flying over for three, and soon it was over.
Nelson 1 - Stark 0
Stark chose to play again for game two. Nelson quickly went down to six cards. Stark got on the board first with Sylvok Replica, and after Nelson played Barbed Battlegear, added Corpse Cur to the table. With Stark tapped out, Nelson was free to get out Glint Hawk, picking up the Battlegear. He also played Myrsmith.
Stark sent his Corpse Cur and Nelson wasted no time putting his Glint Hawk in the way. Instill Infection took care of the Myrsmith before it could make any creatures. Stark played Horizon Spellbomb and passed.
Stark swung back for seven, cracked his Spellbomb for a forest, and played Plague Stinger.
Nelson untapped and paused. He looked at his board. Five plains and a mountain. Trigon of Corruption and Golem Artisan. He wore a frown of concentration. With a small shake of his head, he simply scooped up his cards.
Nelson 1 - Stark 1
Nelson go to be on the play for the deciding game and he made the most of it, starting with Myrsmith. Stark summoned Blight Mamba, giving Nelson a chance to get a free 1/1 with Leaden Myr. Stark shook his head as he untapped, then played Contagion Clasp, killing the Myrsmith.
"I don't even know why I didn't do that before. That's just awful."
He passed the turn. Nelson swung in for two and played Chrome Steed. Stark made no play. Nelson happily charged in with his three creatures. The Mamba ate Leaden Myr and regenerated, and Stark took five. Razor Hippogriff got back the Myr, threatening the return of metalcraft.
Stark devoured the Hippogriff with Skinrender and passed back. Nelson added Leaden Myr and Vulshok Replica to his board (still all plains in play) and hit again with his 4/4 Steed. Stark was already down to nine. Stark untapped, played a sixth land, and passed the turn back, leaving all his mana open. Nelson surveyed the situation.
"You have a lot of cards, don't you?"
Nelson went deep in the tank. When he emerged, he tapped four for Glimmerpoint Stag, getting the Blight Mamba out of the equation. Two Myr, Replica and Chrome Steed charged in. Now it was Stark's turn to run the numbers. He confirmed Nelson held two cards. After a moment he said "Well, I finally figured out what I NEED to think about. Now I just need to think about it."
Finally, he came to a decision. Skinrender stood in front of Chrome Steed and Untamed Might switched the result. He took five and fell to four. Nelson played plains and Sunspear Shikari. Stark gave a grim nod.
He untapped and quickly put down Sylvok Replica, leaving four mana open. Nelson peeled his next card slow, and immediately took a thinking pose. The crowd held their breath.
"I just need to move some cards around, I'm still in my main phase," said Nelson.
"Just tell me when you're ready. I took a year with my last turn, I'm not about to rush you."
Nelson checked the potential blocks, then snapped down the mountain he'd drawn and charged with all his creatures. Stark looked the situation over.
"I'm dead, aren't I?"
"If you don't have anything."
He didn't, and extended the hand.
Brad Nelson defeats Ben Stark 2-1