Posted in NEWS on January 29, 2014

Despite being the only two Mono-Black Devotion decks in the Top 8, No. 25 Jon Stern and Matt Sperling they managed to pair against each other in the Quarterfinals—ensuring that only one would advance to the Semifinals.

It was an old-school battle of America vs. Canada (I'm talking 1812 Old School). American Sperling had been running incredibly hot all weekend and didn't look to stop. However, don't sell Canadian Stern short, who squeaked into the Top 8 on breakers. This man knows what he's doing.

This Mono-Black Devotion mirror match would be all about card advantage, and sometimes, rat advantage.

Game One

Matt Sperling opened with a Thoughtseize (after a mulligan) and saw Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Underworld Connections, Desecration Demon, Mutavault, and Thoughtseize. He took the Underworld Connections to minimize the cards Jon Stern would see. Stern Thoughtseize'd back and took a Hero's Downfall; and Sperling really didn't have much else. The mulligan had hit him hard.

Underworld Connections turn three from Sperling could hopefully gain back the cards lost to the mulligan, but it would also have to combat Stern's turn–two Pack Rat. It was the third turn and Sperling was already on the back foot.


Matt Sperling

A few turns later, the American landed a Desecration Demon that was more than large enough to deal with the amount of Pack Rats so far (although there was a total of four, counting two Mutavault, which is getting a bit scary), and Sperling had the card-advantage engine online. If he could get some stellar pulls, he could maybe win this one.

Jon Stern was on the Rat plan. He made his third proper vermin before untapping for his turn, and when Sperling began using cards like Hero's Downfall on the tokens, Stern would just discard something from his hand to replace them. You see, that way he wouldn't have to move tokens around so much. Instead of picking up the token and putting it in the graveyard, he just made a new one. Well done, Stern. I approve.

Sperling's Desecration Demon was lonely. Every turn he was relegated to defense duty, and at any given time he could fail at that duty for the low cost of a creature sacrifice. The life totals were 11-18 in Stern's favor, and though Sperling final got his own Pack Rat, he was behind in the rat race. And the 6/6 demon couldn't single-handedly turn the tides.

Stern's huge attack came in with five 5/5 Pack Rats. This was not including the three Mutavaults and the mana to activate them. Sperling had five potential blockers after activating his Mutavault and discarding a Nightveil Specter to make another rat, but his own rats would not survive against Stern's superior rat numbers.

Ultimately, Sperling used the Mutavault, one token, and a Desecration Demon to block and cast a Hero's Downfall on one of the unblocked rats. Stern activated another rat, took away all of Sperling's blockers and sunk the American to 2. Sperling took himself to one to find an answer with an Underworld Connections, but was unable to. Really, he needed a card that would replace his mediocre draw with a good one.

Jon Stern 1 – 0 Matt Sperling


Game Two

Sperling had to mulligan again in the second game, and Stern quickly fired off a Duress, netting an Underworld Connections for his troubles. Next turn a Thoughtseize took Sperling's only non-land card, Dark Betrayal. And again, the American was left with no gas in his hand at all.

Stern followed his hand-based assault with a Nightveil Specter. Sperling drew a Pack Rat off the top, so he could at least participate in the damage game, while simultaneously turning on all the lands in his hand.


John Stern 

But the card advantage from Nightveil Specter was undeniable. Two Devour Flesh sat removed under the specter after the first two attacks, while Stern used a Dark Betrayal from his hand to take out the Pack Rat before it started making trouble. Sperling was back to square one.

Here was the irony: Sperling had been attacking for four damage per turn thanks to the Mutavaults this whole time so he was well ahead on the life-total front. After the Specter fell to a removal spell, all those virtual cards for Stern were gone. So even though Sperling's card quality and amount were minimal, the score was 18-5 when Sperling resolved a Gray Merchant of Asphodel. It was much closer than the previous game.

Though Stern had a Desecration Demon and four cards in his hand, all but one were land. He had six damage planning to smash at him on the next turn, what was the best line for him to survive?

Well, drawing a Pack Rat off an Underworld Connections seemed a good enough start. Though Sperling drew his own the next turn, the American's hand was empty, while the Canadian had a seemingly endless supply of land to munch on. With all the blockers he could want, and wit ha new Gray Merchant of Asphodel to basically swap the life totals, Stern was able to draw the Gray Merchant right on time and sweep the rug out from under Sperling's potential comeback. Having about infinite black mana symbols on the board negated all the work those Mutavaults and done, and Stern took the game.

Jon Stern 2 – 0 Matt Sperling

Jon Stern advances to the semi-finals!