So, I hear this Esper deck is good?
So far in this Top 8 Esper has only lost to Esper, as Brad Nelson endured one mirror match in the quarterfinals. Beyond that, both players have devoured the competition, winning because, well, I'll let Nelson tell you.
"It's the best deck in the format. I've played so terribly this weekend," said the player now shuffling up in the finals of a Grand Prix.
It might have been hyperbole to say Nelson had played terribly this weekend—after all, a bevy of other Esper players had already fallen by the wayside—but his deck had pulled him out of several tight spots already.
Unfortunately for him, his opponent, Kyle Boggemes, was playing 59 of 60 cards the same in the main deck. Almost as unfortunate, Boggemes had a creature-based sideboard that Nelson felt would give Boggemes a leg up.
"I think I'm slightly disadvantaged because of it," Nelson said.
But at several points in this Top 8, Nelson has found himself in position to be more than a little disadvantaged and has always found himself on top. Now he just needed a little more Magic for one last round.
Boggemes, however, was looking for a little magic himself. Long resigned to "winning steak knives"—Boggemes code for getting second place—you could tell he really wanted this one. You could tell he didn't want any steak knives this time around.
Boggemes jumped out to what amounts to a blisteringly fast lead in the Esper mirror, Thoughtseizing away a Dissolve to clear the way for Jace, Architect of Thought and, after the first was Detention Sphered, a second Jace.
Behind from pretty much turn one, Nelson couldn't afford to putter around, so he went right for the throat on turn six, resolving Elspeth.
So, clearly, that left Boggemes to resolve an Elspeth of his own. Because mirror match.
With both players committed to tapping out on their own turns in order to resolve crucial spells, each player started throwing haymakers back and forth. Sphinx's Revelation begat another which begat an Ætherling on Boggemes side of the board. Far from an uneasy detente with untapped mana and itchy trigger fingers, these two were quickly headed toward a nuclear apocalypse.
Brad Nelson sat just inches from yet another Grand Prix trophy in Standard. His mastery of the format is never in doubt, but his ability to grab the Cincinnati championship hung precipitously in the air throughout the course of the finals.
As in, bombs.
Nelson actually managed to dispatch with Ætherling through a pair of removal spells, and the two started jostling to get the upper hand in the Elspeth fight. Both planeswalkers climbed into range of their ultimates, but there were so few soldiers on the table it hardly mattered.
"Please have nothing," Nelson pleaded.
What he had was a second Elsepth, enabling him to emblem-up ahead of schedule. Nelson followed suit in what was quickly becoming an absurd game.
"I need one too," Nelson said, motioning to an Elspeth emblem. Quietly, the judge restocked a third emblem token. Just in case.
Because this happens all the time.
Boggemes finally, long after the first bombs were launched, gained an upper hand in the Elspeth war, slaying Nelson's Elspeth on an attack thanks to a timely Doom Blade. When Nelson was unable to resolve Sphinx's Revelation to find a better answer, he conceded and moved quickly to his sideboard.
"Can you believe they got the third Elspeth emblem, just in case," Nelson mused between games.
The second game settled more into the draw-go fashion we all come to expect in these types of matchups. Boggemes stripped a Sphinx's Revelation with Thoughtseize early, but, otherwise, things were mostly quiet as the pair built their mana bases and sculpted the tops of their decks with scry.
It was Boggemes who fired the first shot once the pair had settled in, with a Sphinx's Revelation for two. That netted him a Thoughtseize and a second Revelation, and set off a counter war over the Thoughtseize.
It took a long time to get here, but with another trophy in sight, Kyle Boggemes finally claimed a title all his own.
Thoughtseize met Dissolve met Negate met Sphinx's Revelation met Negate. And when Nelson's follow-up Thoughtseize was Dissolved, the StarCityGames writer found himself unable to do anything about the Ætherling that followed.
Nelson drew, saw nothing, and congratulated Kyle Boggemes on winning Grand Prix Cincinnati. And not a single steak knife in sight.