Posted in NEWS on March 9, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Could the birthday boy unwrap one of the sweetest presents in Magic? It's a question Vipin Chackonal wanted to answer in the affirmative. With his first deep Grand Prix run, on his birthday no less, Chackonal was one match away from an achievement perhaps no one else has claimed: Find a Grand Prix victory on his or her birthday.

Brian Liu would not be an easy opponent. After slaying the monstrous Melira Pod deck twice in back-to-back matches, the last remaining contender was one that Liu surely saw over the event: Affinity. The most popular deck in the room coming into Day 2, Liu was determined to break down the last machinations standing in his way.

Chackonal's artifacts flooded the battlefield in Game 1, with Signal Pest, Cranial Plating, Ornithopter, Springleaf Drum, Inkmoth Nexus, and Blinkmoth Nexus all by his second turn. Liu's was equally impressive with a Noble Hierarch into second turn Birthing Pod.

Chackonal then activiated his Inkmoth Nexus to equip Cranial Plating, dealing 8 poison damage. Three turns down in the game. Liu thought for a moment before summoning Linvala, Keeper of Silence – a creature with flying to ostensibly block.

Vipin planned his attack carefully, summoning Vault Skirge before using Ornithopter with Cranial Plating to attack for 8 damage. That put Liu at 4 life and 8 poison counters. Four turns of uncontested Affinity, and Liu could only consider his options and pass the turn back. When Chackonal attacked, Liu used Restoration Angel to play a second flying blocker, but there was just enough mana to move Cranial Plating to the unblocked Vault Scourge.

Of course, Liu missed that using Pod on Linvala for Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to copy Noble Hierarch then cast Restoration Angel would have let him win on his turn.

Five turns. Affinity doesn't turn down a gift like that.

Chackonal was joyous to make it as far as the finals.

The second game started similarly, with Inkmoth Nexus, Blinkmoth Nexus, Arcbound Ravager, Springleaf Drum, and Vault Skirge all in play on Chackonal's second turn. This time, Liu had Spellskite to curb any modular options, and hitting four mana on turn four meant he also had the threat of Restoration Angel active. Chackonal found himself without a clear attack and only another Vault Skirge to add.

At the end of Chackonal's turn, Liu went for Restoration Angel but the opportunity was open for Galvanic Blast to handle Spellskite. A Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker off the top for Liu would end the game, but Birthing Pod was a close second as Wall of Roots transformed into Deceiver Exarch, which untapped the Pod and transformed Linvala into Kiki-Jiki.

"I had to go for the combo. I couldn't play around another Galvanic Blast – which could have been the last card in [Jones'] hand. Spellskite was holding it together," Liu said before looking to Chackonal. "So you had a pretty poor hand?"

"Yeah." Chackonal just nodded and shrugged.

"All the marbles for the match are in my sideboard," Liu said.

"So are mine," Chackonal agreed.

"But mine are pretty powerful." Liu was unwittingly prescient with his boast.

Liu laid our the future before anyone knew what happened.

The third, final game put Chackonal on the play again but with a mulligan. Vault Skirge off an Island, then another Vault Skirge, Mox Opal, and Signal Pest was a step slower than his blistering first game. This time Liu played the "fill the battlefield" style of Affinity, chaining Wall of Roots into another Wall of Roots and Birds of Paradise all from a starting three mana.

Despite falling to 14 on the next attack Liu seemed unphased. Shatterstorm on his turn was the reason why, and Chackonal was left with just an Island. Unknown to Chackonal, Liu had two Chord of Calling in his hand. At the end of the turn, Liu used on to grand Restoration Angle, then untapped with the other for Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.

Chackonal smiled and extended his hand, unable to open the ultimate birthday gift. "Congratulations," he said.

Liu smiled back, and the cheer from his friends hanging above was all you needed to hear to know it was over.

"I saw two red sources and Shatterstorm. I couldn't not keep." Liu beamed.

Brian Liu defeated Vipin Chackonal, 2-0