For Robert Berni, his appearance in the final match of Grand Prix Phoenix 2014 was a chance to claim what was lost in Grand Prix Kansas City 2013, where his chances at a trophy were dashed by eventual winner Seth Manfield in their Semifinal match.
For Nathan Holiday, Grand Prix Phoenix 2014 was a chance for him to add another trophy to his collection. The Grand Prix San Diego 2013 Champion had already earned one Constructed title, and a win in Phoenix would cement his place among the United States' best Grand Prix Constructed competitors.
The two faced off with relatively classic takes on Black and Blue Devotion, respectively. In a tournament where many were ready with splashes and new tech, it came down to a match between two decks that are synonymous with the post-Theros Standard metagame. Which one would win in this classic showdown?
Holiday spent his second and third turn deploying Cloudfin Raptor, then growing it with a Judge's Familiar with Tidebinder Mage. A Bident of Thassa threatened to over-take the game, despite Berni's best efforts at controlling the board with a hand of multiple Bile Blights. Domestication on Nightveil Specter cleared the path for another swing with his only remaining creature, a Judge's Familiar.
While Berni had spot-removal to answer most of Holiday's creatures, including for his own stolen Nightveil Specter, it was too slow and not enough, as Holiday continued to fuel his hand with cards courtesy of his Bident of Thassa. A Master of Waves made things elementary, and Berni was more than willing to move to a second game.
When Berni's Thoughseize on the second turn of Game 2 revealed Bident of Thassa, it almost immediately hit the graveyard. Holiday's Nightveil Specter met a Hero's Downfall, and Desecration Demon gave Berni an optimal start and a speedy, flying clock. That clock was downgraded to a frog lizard courtesy of Rapid Hybridization on the next turn, though the 3/3 creature was still larger than Holiday's Frostburn Weird and Tidebinder Mage. Master of Waves unsurprisingly was disposed of by Berni almost immediately upon entering play, and Pack Rat gave Berni a way to mount an offense over the next couple of turns.
Domestication, however, cleared the frog lizard path and allowed Holiday to get an attack in with his Tidebinder Mage and Mutavault. Berni's rats began to increase in number. One traded with an attacking Frostburn Weird on the next turn, and another Rat traded with the domesticated frog lizard a turn after that. When Holiday was out of threats, Berni took the opportunity to start attacking with his Pack Rats.
One of Standard's lessons: when an army of giant rats start going after you, the game doesn't last long. When Cyclonic Rift was not awaiting Holiday before his demise, he conceded. As added insult to injury, Holiday flipped the top card as he died to the rats, revealing the Cyclonic Rift that eluded him. The final moved to its third and final game.
Holiday started a card down due to a mulligan, and Duress made that hand smaller, stripping Holiday of Rapid Hybridization and leaving him with two Tidebinder Mages, Master of Waves, and an Island. While Holiday burned a Cyclonic Rift to hold back Berni's Nightveil Specter, he couldn't stop it on the next turn. When it attacked, it exiled a Nightveil Specter of Holiday's, to the chuckle of both players, as Berni cast it.
When the Specter duo attacked on the next turn, Berni found another one of Holiday's Specters and immediately cast it from exile.
Sure enough, a turn later, and Berni had a fourth Specter in play: three owned by Holiday. The game was all but over, and when Holiday found nothing waiting, he offered the handshake.
Congratulations to Robert Berni, Grand Prix Phoenix 2014 Champion!