Posted in NEWS on January 29, 2014

No. 18 Alexander Hayne is out here defending his national home turf. Coming into this round at 9-1, both he and his opponent, Grand Prix Las Vegas winner Neal Oliver, are in great positions to Top 8. They just need to win these last precious rounds.

"I don't think I've ever won game one in this match-up," Oliver quipped. Hayne laughed and agreed. The two talked about how there are so many dead cards from Mono-Black Devotion, there's just no way to reliably get an edge against Azorius Control.

Hayne says Mono-Black usually just "isn't quite fast enough."He continued that it "can rip apart the hand, but can't stop what's on the top of the deck." Game one demonstrated exactly that.


Alexander Hayne 

Game 1

Any early action from Neal Oliver was immediately quelled by Alexander Hayne. The Canadian had three Last Breath that were liberally used on Oliver's first creatures—a Nightveil Specter and two animated Mutavault. Oliver followed with a third Mutavault, but it was now turn six and Hayne still had a healthy life total—18-32 in Oliver's favor. That's not usually a good thing for Mono-Black.

Hayne cast a Jace, Architect of Thought and made his opponent pile some cards. Oliver split the stack into one pile of Azorius Guildgate, then the other into a second Jace and Sphinx's Revelation . Though an odd-looking hand, Hayne was light on land and Oliver knew it. Hayne took the land.

Oliver kept trying to mount pressure, but each time he seemed thwarted by the control deck. Desecration Demon was trumped by Elspeth, Sun's Champion tokens; and once there were too many creatures from Oliver, a Supreme Verdict started the quest anew. While Oliver was playing the game of "Keeping a Creature on the Board," Hayne was playing his own mini-game: "Find this turn's land drop." Though he was hitting just about every one of them, it was a struggle each time. He played small Sphinx's Revelations and suicidal Jaces, all in the name of hitting that precious land drop. After another Supreme Verdict wiped things again, it was 14-39 in Oliver's favor, and Hayne had hit this turn's land.

Oliver had finally started making some headway with the third Mutavault when Hayne cast his first big Sphinx's Revelation (X=7), then cast another Elspeth (the first had been taken out with a Hero's Downfall). Now back around 16 life again, Hayne had just closed it up. The big revelations usually do that.

Oliver cast a Thoughtseize, but it didn't seem like he cast it to win. Rather, he was just seeing whether he should scoop this turn or not. Hayne splayed a hand of goodies and Oliver thought, "Yes, this is the turn I will scoop." Even though he was still at 28 life, Oliver knew it wasn't getting better than this.

Alexander Hayne 1 – 0 Neal Oliver

Game 2

Though the first game is miserable, there are tons of cards out of the sideboard can really shore up this match for Mono-Black. Though still not the best, most of the chaff is removed, and if Mono-Black can go card-for-card while keeping draws flowing with Erebos, God of the Dead and Underworld Connections, Mono-Black Devotion can do pretty well for itself.

Or it can just cast a turn-two Pack Rat and have the opponent stutter for a second while the Rats munch on his corpse.

Oliver cleared the way for his Rat by nabbing a Last Breath with his Thoughtseize. Hayne had neither a Supreme Verdict nor the fourth land to cast it, so Oliver felt the coast was clear to go on the Pack-Rat plan.


Neal Oliver 

He made a second-turn rat, then a third-turn rat, and then, on the fourth turn . . . he made a rat. With the Mutavault already on the board, Oliver was threatening lethal on his next turn. Hayne had drawn not one, but two Supreme Verdicts, but had yet to draw the fourth land.

"Let's see if you're a master." Oliver smirked at his opponent.

Hayne drew and sat for a few moments, then scooped up his cards. So after all that planning for Plan A, Oliver just went with Plan B—Pack Rat + Smash = Win.

"Well that was a faster one," Oliver said.

Hayne smiled. "The games you win tend to be a bit faster."

Because Hayne's deck doesn't play Divination, it is much more reliant on early scry to find its land drops. This still sets up smooth late games, but can sometimes make for awkward early games. Pack Rat loves awkward early games.

Alexander Hayne 1 – 1 Neal Oliver


Game 3

Mirroring the second game, Oliver cast a first-turn Thoughtseize and saw Jace, Architect of Thought, Dissolve, two Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and two more land (both Temples). The Jace hit the bin. Letting Hayne keep the six-drops was a good play. Oliver was hoping to be far enough ahead by then to win, or at least have drawn and played some of his other discard spells to take them later.

Oliver went for a second-turn Pack Rat, confident after seeing no way for Hayne to deal with it last turn. But a drawn Dark Betrayal took it out in short order. And in similar fashion, a second Pack Rat met the fate of a Supreme Verdict. Hayne got an empty board handed back to him with the totals even at 18-18. This was not a repeat of the game two.

(For those keeping count, Hayne's deck, which was very much an Azorius Control deck, splashed black for Dark Betrayal out of the side board.)

Seemingly unable to find his lands on time, Hayne kept the battlefield relatively clear, but started doing silly things like casting Sphinx's Revelation for 1 on his main phase. He needed to get something going. But Oliver went Thoughtseize, Duress, Duress and Hayne was left with a Sphinx's Revelation and a Dissolve with only four land in play.


Oliver had just two Mutavaults and an Erebos, God of the Dead to his name, but it was enough to keep the pressure on and keep his hand full. It shut off the life gain from Sphinx's Revelation and Oliver was smacking for four a turn. It was 10-12 in Hayne's favor (because of all the Erebos greedy draws). Oliver tried to regain life with a Gray Merchant of Asphodel, but Dissolve kept Hayne in the game. If Oliver wanted those cards, he was going to have to pay for them.

It was very, very late in the game when Hayne finally laid his sixth land. And even then it was a Guildgate—Hayne still did not have six mana available. The land came too late. Oliver found an Underworld Connections and a Lifebane Zombie. This turned on Erebos. And the Black God combined with two demigods (Mutavaults, which are also Gods) were more than enough pressure to make the Pro Tour winner scoop up his cards.

Neal Oliver 2 – 1 Alexander Hayne

Neal Oliver advances to 11-1; No. 18 Alexander Hayne sinks to 10-2.