"I'm really sad you guys got paired up together in the first round," I told the players as they shuffled up for the first game.
"Us, too," Aintrazi admitted.
The judge asked if they were friends, and Aintrazi responded, "Yeah. That and we're the only non-CawBlade decks in the Top 8."
Aintrazi mulliganned to six on the play. McLeod broke the ice with a See Beyond on the second turn, but Aintrazi stopped him with a Mana Leak. He then untapped and added "Baby" Jace Beleren to his side, immediately drawing himself a card. McLeod used a Preordain on his turn to sift some, searching for a Pyromancer Ascension, as well as getting a copy of a useful spell into his graveyard.
Aintrazi cast Inquisition of Kozilek on McLeod, seeing a hand of two Into the Roils, Burst Lightning, Island, and Misty Rainforest. He took the Burst Lightning, not wanting to put a copy of a card that McLeod had in his hand in the graveyard, and passed the turn. During the end of turn, McLeod used one of his two Into the Roils to bounce Jace with kicker. That put one of his two copies in his graveyard, enabling the other to put a counter on his Ascension should he cast it. He then drew his card and passed the turn.
Aintrazi replayed Jace Beleren, attacked with a Creeping Tar Pit, and passed the turn right back. Continuing the trend of paying more spells on Aintrazi's turn than his own, McLeod aimed a Burst Lightning at Jace during the end of turn. Thanks to the copy that had been Inquisitioned earlier, he got the first counter on his Ascension. He drew his card and played a second copy of Pyromancer Ascension, adding a safety net. Aintrazi kept animating and attacking, dropping McLeod to two over the next two turns.
At the end of Aintrazi's turn, and interesting exchange took place. McLeod went to cast Into the Roil with kicker on his counterless Pyromancer Ascension. Aintrazi responded with an Into the Roil of his own on the Ascension with a counter. McLeod sacrificed his Misty Rainforest to fetch an Island enabling him to Mana Leak. Unfortnately, as the spells resolved in order, he went so far as to resolve his original Into the Roil without putting a counter on his Ascension, and Aintrazi stopped him when he tried to afterwards. The Ascension triggers upon casting of the spell, not resolution, so with the spell resolved, the time to add the counter had passed. Undeterred by his mental hiccup, McLeod untapped, added the second Ascension to his side, and then cast a Preordain to turn one of his Ascensions on. He followed that with a second copy, which he got to copy thanks to his Ascensions, and then a third, turning them both on. After that, he got to double up on a Gitaxian Probe, drawing a trio of cards.
From that point winning was elementary. Aintrazi got to attack him down to three with Creeping Tar Pits, but couldn't actually finish him. With his hand now full of cards, McLeod aimed a Burst Lightning and a pair (really sextet) of Lightning Bolts at Aintrazi to finish him off.
James McLeod 1 – Ali Aintrazi 0
McLeod started the second game rummaging through his deck and building a graveyard. He managed to get a single Ponder off before Aintrazi Duressed him, taking Lightning Bolt from a hand with Gitaxian Probe, a pair of See Beyonds, Preordain, Halimar Depths, and an Island. McLeod returned the favor, spying on Aintrazi with a Gitaxian Probe, revealing Jace Beleren, Grave Titan, Mystifying Maze, Darkslick Shores, and some Islands.
"I know. I'm going to get your Sphinx! Woo!"
McLeod used his Preordain and a See Beyond to give him one of more or less all the cards that matter in his graveyard. Now, all he had to do was draw a Pyromancer Ascension. Aintrazi got his Jace Beleren down and started drawing cards with him. McLeod decided to use his second See Beyond to dig a little deeper into his deck, finally finding his first Mountain. That enabled him to play a Pyromancer Ascension, setting him up to start building up. Aintrazi used the final loyalty of his Jace Beleren to draw a card before replacing it and drawing a second off his fresh Planeswalker. He passed the turn with Mana Leak (or Into the Roil) mana available. A Gitaxian Probe ensured McLeod he was safe, revealing that a Consecrated Sphinx and a bunch of lands had joined the Grave Titan in Aintrazi's hand. He had nothing.
McLeod started small, using another Probe to draw some cards. He passed the turn with four mana available, choosing to use it to cast a pair of Into the Roils with kicker to kill the Zombie Tokens made by Aintrazi's Grave Titan immediately after they came down. He then untapped and started drawing an obscene number of cards. See Beyond copied and filled up his hand. Lightning Bolt doubled up to kill the Titan. Ponder twinned and filled up his hand. Now in complete control thanks to Aintrazi's poor draw, McLeod passed the turn with a full hand and mana for a Mana Leak available. He got to use it when Aintrazi tried to cast the Consecrated Sphinx he had drawn earlier, getting to untap with a ton of lands in play.
Not feeling comfortable enough to simply go for things with his Ascension, he decided to play a Consecrated Sphinx instead, passing the turn with one red open. Aintrazi merely animated his Creeping Tar Pit and attacked. McLeod used a Burst Lightning to hit the Tar Pit and Aintrazi, but Aintrazi used Mana Leak to save his attacker. McLeod dropped to 9. He untapped and sent his Sphinx at Aintrazi, after which he set up a second Pyromancer Ascension before turning his burn loose on Aintrazi to finish him off, just in case he had a Mana Leak. Aintrazi had nothing but lands, and died a fiery death.
James McLeod 2 – Ali Aintrazi 0
McLeod mulliganed to six, prompting Aintrazi to remark, "First mulligan of the match."
"You mulliganed game 1," McLeod reminded him.
"Oh yeah. Man, that game was so close," Aintrazi sighed.
Aintrazi played a first-turn Creeping Tar Pit, which caused McLeod to ask, "Where are your first-turn Inquisitions?"
He found out in short order when Aintrazi aimed a copy of the spell at him on the second turn. McLeod paid mana for a Mental Misstep to stop it, but Aintrazi had a Darkslick Shores and a second Inquisition to strip a Mana Leak from a hand with a Scalding Tarn, See Beyond, Burst Lightning, and Gitaxian Probe. McLeod drew his card and played a See Beyond. When Aintrazi used Duress to strip him of Gitaxian Probe on the following turn (no free cantrips into lands for you!), he revealed two new cards: a Consecrated Sphinx and an Into the Roil.
For his turn, McLeod drew into a Ponder, using it to snag himself a third land, leaving him with Into the Roil, Sphinx, and Burst Lightning in hand. Aintrazi started to assume control, adding to his resources with a Solemn Simulacrum, who immediately started to attack on the following turn. A Jace Beleren followed, and when Aintrazi went to use him to draw a card, McLeod used Burst Lightning to kill the Planeswalker, limiting Aintrazi to that one card. McLeod drew a land for his turn, played it, and passed the turn.
Since that flurry of discard, Aintrazi had been firmly in the driver's seat. He animated his Tar Pit and sent it alongside the Simulacrum, dropping McLeod to 12. During the next attack, he used Into the Roil with kicker to try and return the Simulacrum, dropping to 11 from a Scalding Tarn. Aintrazi had the Mana Leak to stop the mana-light McLeod, and the attack dropped him to 6. McLeod made a Pyromancer Ascension on his turn, passing things back to Aintrazi. Aintrazi activated a pair of his Creeping Tar Pits and sent all his creatures over, prompting the concession from McLeod.
James McLeod 2 – Ali Aintrazi 1
McLeod mulliganned again in the fourth game of the match. When Aintrazi tried to hit him with Inquisition of Kozilek on his first turn, McLeod was ready with a Mental Misstep. This time, the torrent of discard spells stopped right there, with Aintrazi making a Jace Beleren instead, using his +2 ability to keep him safe from McLeod's burn. McLeod had failed to play a third land as well, so the decision could either be incredibly good if the trend continued, or terrible if it allowed McLeod to find one and get back into the game. McLeod did indeed find one, a Halimar Depths, and he used it to set up his next draws. It took him a couple of turns to find a fourth, but he was able to stay productive, using a Lightning Bolt to drop Jace when he worked his way down to three loyalty.
"Your Jaces are terrible,"McLeod commented upon seeing Aintrazi's hand.
"I know, they're atrocious," Aintrazi agreed. "They give me nothing but lands!"
Aintrazi tried to make his Sphinx on the following turn, but a Mana Leak kept it from the table. McLeod finally sifted his way through enough of his deck, and had a clear enough opening, to play his Pyromancer Ascension. All Aintrzi could do was play a freshly-drawn Solemn Simularum and start attacking. At this point, virtually every card in McLeod's deck turned on his Ascension. Turns went by, with Aintrazi attacking for two and McLeod doing nothing. 17. 15. 13… Eventually, McLeod broke it with a See Beyond, getting his first counter before ending his turn. Aintrazi cracked with his Simulacrum. A Lightning Bolt to kill it threatened to give his Ascension a second counter. An Into the Roil with kicker sent the Ascension back before it could receive it. Aintrazi drew his two cards and put the Simulacrum in the graveyard. When McLeod tried to replay the Ascension on the following turn, a Flashfreeze sent it to the graveyard.
All of those lands Aintrazi had drawn were an impressive sight now that he had them all in play. With that much mana available to him, he had to think about how to best use it. He had no copies of Creeping Tar Pit in play yet, much to his dismay. He was forced to fight with traditional creatures, making a replacement Solemn Simulacrum before passing the turn. An attempt at a second Pyromancer Ascension was met by another Flashfreeze from Aintrazi.
Aintrazi now had a pretty slight advantage, being behind in cards, but with an attacking creature in play. He got McLeod down to 9 with his Solemn before he sealed the deal with a Karn Liberated. McLeod tried to get something going with a Consecrated Sphinx, but Aintrazi had a Mana Leak to end the game right there.
James McLeod 2 – Ali Aintrazi 2
With the exception of the second game, which was pretty firmly in McLeod's hands the entire time, this had been an incredibly close match. Fitting that it would go to a fifth game. McLeod nearly immediately kept his hand, and Ali kept his hand after a bit of thought (and belatedly drawing his seventh card!).
The previous two games had been defined by early discard from Aintrazi, though this game went a little different. Both players played a Preordain on their first turn. After resolving his, Aintrazi did a little fist pump and exclaimed, "Ha! Tar Pit," as he put the Creeping Tar Pit onto the table. Unfortunately…it was still the first turn and he'd already played his land to cast the Preordain. Both players laughed as it was pointed out, and he picked it back up, admitting that he was "just happy to draw one after last game." It came into play on the next turn.
McLeod got a bead on things on his turn with a Gitaxian Probe revealing a hand of juice from Aintrazi. Karn Liberated, Grave Titan, Memoricide, Praetor's Grasp, Mana Leak, Into the Roil, and another Creeping Tar Pit (lucky!). What a grip! The first of those spells to see the light of play was the Praetor's Grasp, fetching a Gitaxian Probe from McLeod's deck and taking a quick note on what wasn't in it.
Now down one card in his deck, McLeod went back to digging. Ponder kept the status quo of his deck, though McLeod did nothing else, choosing instead to sit on Mana Leak. Aintrazi had managed to draw lands for his last two turns, enabling him to play a land every turn, keeping pace with McLeod. Other than drawing and playing lands, neither played anything until McLeod broke the standoff with a Consecrated Sphinx. Aintrazi countered with Mana Leak, leaving McLeod tapped out and vulnerable to Memoricide. Just to be safe, Aintrazi used his stolen Gitaxian Probe to check the status of McLeod's hand, revealing Burst Lightning, Consecrated Sphinx, a couple of Mana Leaks, and a Mental Misstep. With the coast clear, Aintrazi stripped McLeod of his Pyromancer Ascensions with a Memoricide.
Now all that was left was for Aintrazi to get a threat down, or start attacking with his Creeping Tar Pits. McLeod revealed what was coming with a Gitaxian Probe that revealed a Grave Titan in the near future. Aintrazi tried to strip a Mana Leak from McLeod's hand with an Inquisition of Kozilek, but McLeod had a Mental Misstep. When Aintrazi went for the Titan, it met the first of McLeod's Mana Leaks. When he chose to animate his Creeping Tar Pit and attack, McLeod tried to fry it with a Lightning Bolt, giving Aintrazi the chance to use the Flashfreeze he'd been holding. McLeod ran out a desperate Consecrated Sphinx, which slipped into play, but Aintrazi sent it home with an Into the Roil with kicker.
McLeod went for the Sphinx again, and again it hit, guaranteed to draw him two more cards on Aintrazi's turn. An Inquisition of Kozilek stripped one of them, a Lightning Bolt, from McLeod's hand. Knowing that the path was clear, Aintrazi made Karn Liberated, and he immediately ate the Sphinx, dropping to three loyalty. Despite being able to kill Karn, McLeod had other things in mind, aiming a kicked Burst Lightning at Aintrazi instead of Karn. When he revealed a Lightning Bolt that he had found with Ponder, it made sense. He simply wanted to make the most efficient use of the burn spells he had remaining.
And burn he did. After getting Duressed down to a lone Island, McLeod drew a Burst Lightning and aimed it right at Aintrazi, dropping him to ten. Unfortunately, the burn stopped coming after that, leaving Aintrazi free to swing him to death with his Creeping Tar Pit, winning an incredibly tight match and securing a spot in the semifinals.
James McLeod 2 – Ali Aintrazi 3