Here we are: last round of the Swiss, and the tension is at its peak. The eight competitors all gathered in the feature match area have a chance for top 8 if they win. The losers will be forgotten by history ...
Nicolas Labarre of France was not playing his first feature match of the tournament, far from it. He needs no introduction anymore from us. Edward Fear, however, is kind of a newcomer. He's from Rochester, New York, USA, and I had not heard of him ever before, neither at the top or at the bottom of the Pro Tour ladder.
Nicolas was still playing his variant of Aggro Blue (borrowed from 1999 French Champ Pierre Malherbaud). Edward was running an original design, a Monoblack deck with very heavy creatures, tons of removal, and land destruction. Dark Ritual adds an element of speed that most decks in the format don't have, but in this match-up, Nicolas has the bouncing power to counteract that.
Game one started with Nicolas playing first. The Frenchman had a pretty good draw with turn two Bouncer, turn three Ribbon Snake. Fear kept a hand with a single Swamp, and drew two lands successively, to his great relief. He Snuffed Out the Bouncer on turn 2, and Ritualed out a turn 3 Wumpus, a risky play versus blue (because of a potential Daze). Nicolas had to use his Withdraw to send the Wumpus back where he belonged. Fear didn't draw a land, but Ritualed the Wumpus out once again. This time, Labarre Brainstormed into a Foil, countered and on his turn played a Bouncer. Fear spent his turn casting a Chilling Apparition. Labarre gained a definite momentum when, on the next turn, he cast Coastal Piracy and started drawing from his Ribbon Snake-turned-into-Magpie. Edward Fear seemed to recover slightly when he attacked and forced Nicolas to discard, then Snuffed Out the Snake. Nicolas served with the Bouncer, drew a Troublesome Spirit and cast it. Things were looking bad for Fear when Spirit #2 hit the table, so he conceded on turn 9. Game one to Labarre.
Electricity could be felt in the air as the two players shuffled and sideboarded. Fear Started with a turn one Peat Bog, turn two Rain of Tears and turn three Despoil! Nicolas lost land in the process and started discarding with one single land in play.
Suddenly a judge came by and grabbed Fear's deck. The American loudly complained about being deck-checked for the third time today, claiming that he had changed sleeves already and that those were brand new. It appeared that Fear was playing with a great number of Foil land cards. Most of us know those have a tendency to bend. Fear pretended to ignore it, but the judges came back with no penalty, having determined that Fear's deck wasn't marked.
So the game went on, and this time it was all Fear. He got a turn 5 Wumpus, which simply went all the way while Labarre was busy thinking about which card to discard next. On to game 3.
Nicolas chose to go first, of course. His draw was poor with a single land, so he had to mulligan once. Fear stared at a 6 lands- Dark Ritual hand and mulliganed as well. Nicolas opened with Rath's Edge and a Spiketail Hatchling on turn two. Using a Peat Bog, Edward conjured a Rain of Tears on the Island, taking the precaution to Snuff Out the Hatchling first (an unusual play). Nicolas found and dropped another Spiketail Hatchling on the next turn, then added a Bouncer the turn after. Fear chose that moment to Ritual out a Forced March for 2, eliminating both of Nicolas' creatures. Fear was left with no creatures or removal in hand though, as Labarre played two more Bouncers and a Drake. He could only draw land destruction while the Bouncers whittled his life away. Nicolas added a Drake to his army of little guys, while Fear finally drew business in the form of a Primeval Shambler. Labarre had everything to deal with it though, and kept bouncing it while slowly finishing Fear with the Drake. Constantly keeping a Counterspell in hand, the Frenchman masterfully managed his resources and untapped mana, leaving very little opportunity to the American. Fear drew one last land and extended his hand.
Nicolas Labarre will play in the top 8 tomorrow with an Altar/Cluster type 2 deck with which he went 5-1 on the first day of competition.