Sunday, 4:23 p.m. – King of the Hill – Endings

Posted in Event Coverage on May 11, 2014

By Nate Price

A longtime member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage staff, Nate Price now works making beautiful words for all of you lovely people as the community manager for organized play. When not covering events, he lords over the @MagicProTour Twitter account, ruling with an iron fist.

It's good to be the King. After nine rounds yesterday, Barry Smith sat at a perfect 9-0, surveying the bloodshed and fallen enemies around him. He had outlasted and outwitted seven opponents over the course of the day, and only really suffered a setback in the third round, where his Twin opponent actually managed to take a game off of him. It wasn't until the final round of the day that he earned entry into the arena, playing against then King of the Hill Jeremy Barbeau. Barbeau was playing Melira Pod, and Smith couldn't have been happier. He had been summarily crushing Pod decks under the massive mechanized feet and dangly tentacles of his RG Tron deck. Other than the first round's matchup against Twin, he had managed to play only Jund and Pod on his path to victory, and he had assembled the machine in each of them. His match against Barbeau went no different. Even with Barbeau assembling a nigh-infinite life total, his Pod was no match for Smith's Tron.

Smith started the day off against another of the 9-0 players, Michael Swailes and his UR Twin deck. This matchup was one of the ones that Smith wasn't too pleased about, and it showed why as he was unable to disrupt Swailes's combo in the first game and fell under the feet of Swailes's clone army. The second game was a pitched battle, and, with his back against the wall, Smith managed to use Eye of Ugin to search up threat after threat, eventually using Wurmcoil Engine, Sundering Titan, and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, to annihilate Swailes. Unfortunately, it took the entire remainder of the round to do so, and the players picked up a draw.

Both Smith and Swailes were undefeated coming into this round, and they would remain that way after it ended.

A draw may have dropped Smith from the ranks of the X-0 players, but it wasn't enough to dethrone him. In Round 11, he faced another near impossible situation, staring down against Brandon Nelson and Melira Pod. Smith was able to lock things down in the first game due to multiple copies of Sundering Titan, but Nelson fought back in the second game, assembling Kitchen Finks, Viscera Seer, and Melira, Sylvok Outcast, to gain about 3,000,000 life. Despite this seemingly massive advantage, Nelson wasn't safe and sound, as he soon found out. Karn Liberated quickly erased Nelson's advantages, resetting the game and giving Smith a second Karn and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, to start it off. Nelson made him actually attack to kill him, and Smith was more than happy to oblige.

Even 3,000,000 life wasn't enough to save Brandon Nelson against King of the Hill Barry Smith.

Round 12 was a trying time for the King, as Smith faced off against Gregory Orange and his WUR Control deck. This matchup is traditionally in Tron's favor, as the abundance of mana and the powerful cards often offers more threats faster than the control deck can keep up. Orange was no ordinary customer, however. He quickly realized that his best path to victory was to use his many Cryptic Commands and Snapcaster Mages to bounce the pieces of Smith's Urzatron, keeping him from ever tapping a land for more than one mana. This constant disruption gave him exactly the time needed to finish things off and dethrone Smith's RG Tron deck.

You can check out a replay of this exciting match here.

Orange's victory over Smith was a textbook example of the importance of understanding your deck's purpose in a matchup.

After such an exciting match, the following round's action was a bit of a comedown. It should have been an incredibly interesting match, as Orange was paired against Jeremy Barbeau's Melira Pod deck. Barbeau had been the King of the Hill for a couple of rounds near the end of Day 1, and this marked his return to the Feature Match area. The Pod/WUR Control match is about as even as they come, with the edge really coming down to a combination of skill and luck. In this instance, luck was on the King's side, as Orange managed to deftly dispose of Barbeau as he flooded out in their two-game match.

From there, only two people stood between Orange and his retention of the crown. First up was Taylor Laehn, one of the 9-0 players from Day 1. Laehn was playing the aggressive URG TarmoTwin deck that Patrick Dickmann popularized going into Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Of the two major Twin matchups, this was definitely the worst for Orange to run into, as the ability to simply kill with Scavenging Ooze and Tarmogoyf gives the TarmoTwin deck a route to victory that isn't open to the UR version. Orange was able to carefully manage his resources in the first game, using a crafty combination of burn spells and Snapcaster Mages to ensure that Laehn not only couldn't assemble his combo, but couldn't kill him with his green creatures. Eventually, Orange had built up enough mana to begin attacking with his Celestial Colonnade, and Laehn couldn't stop him. In the next game, Laehn's early Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage put a beating on Orange, dropping him to 10 before he was able to stabilize. From that point on, Laehn's deck gave him more lands than threats, and he eventually fell to Orange's Celestial Colonnade, just as in the first game, though he did manage to scare Orange, dropping him to 4.

The Citrus Assassin kept Leahn's Twins under control.

With Laehn out of the way, the only thing remaining in Orange's way was the end boss: Pro Tour Born of the Gods King of the Hill and champion Shaun McLaren. McLaren's epic run to the top of the hill in Valencia has been chronicled in video, every stellar match recorded. Like the gentleman he is, McLaren stood aside, allowing Orange to draw his way into the Top 8 and retain the King of the Hill title at the end of the Swiss! All opponents fallen by the wayside, Orange was free to celebrate his accomplishments with his friends.

Grand Prix Minneapolis King of the Hill Gregory Orange!

"This is my first Day 2, let alone Top 8," Orange said, in shock, after his friends crowded around to cheer him. A computer science student going to school in Duluth, the "Citrus Assassin" didn't have to travel far to make his first Top 8, but he did have one hell of a road to the top of the hill here at Grand Prix Minnesota. It was fitting that Orange, playing WUR Control, should meet Shaun McLaren in the final round of the Swiss, allowing them to draw in and ensure each other's spot in the Top 8.

"It was a lot of fun," Orange said. "I love Magic, so it's been a fun experience getting to get under the camera these past few rounds."

As McLaren was quick to point out, that can provide an advantage in the Top 8, or at least help to eliminate a weakness.

"Getting those rounds under the camera, when there's less on the line than in the Top 8, can really help with your nerves," McLaren pointed out. "Don't forget, I can still take the King of the Hill in the Top 8..."

With those parting words, McLaren left to prepare himself for the Top 8 ahead. Orange was looking ahead, as well, thinking about the potential Top 8 we had brewing. There were multiple Grand Prix and Pro Tour winners fighting for their own spots in the Top 8, which could result in an incredibly strong Top 8 field. Undaunted, Orange replied in the way that only a King could.

"I guess I just have to crush them, then."

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