As No. 18 Alexander Hayne walked into the feature match area, No. 25 Jon Stern held his hand up for the high five and yelled "Free flight to Atlanta!" Hayne smiled wide and slapped his friend's hand. These two friends, both representing Face to Face Games here.
Both these players currently have the leaf of Canada up on the world Magic leaderboard, and are likely going to further inch up after these great performances. Though only one of them can make it to the final, both of them seemed fine if it were the other. They just wanted to play some good games.
Though Jon Stern's turn-two Pack Rat hit a Syncopate from Alex Hayne, Stern was able to land a third-turn Underworld Connections. This was a huge win for the Mono-Black Devotion deck. The deck had to go card-for-card with the Azorius Control deck, which was a hard thing to do when the other deck plays four copies of Sphinx's Revelation and you do not.
Potential fist-pump number two came when a Thoughtseize bagged an Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Though Hayne was eventually able to use Detention Sphere to take out two concurrent Underworld Connections, it was not before Stern was out-drawing Hayne at least 2-to-1. This was an abysmal game-one match-up for Stern, but he was holding his own.
Alexander Hayne and Jon Stern
Stern's damage engine was a Whip of Erebos and two Mutavault. This made things difficult for Hayne, and also explained how the totals could be 10-20 in Stern's favor, even though he was constantly damaging himself to draw cards and the like.
Hayne was down to one card—the mulligan had hurt him greatly. On the turn he needed to, he resolved his first Sphinx's Revelation to make the totals 10-24 and drew five fresh new cards. But the Mutavaults were relentless, and Hayne didn't seem to have a way to stop them. Pretty soon it was 6-27, then 2-29.
But then the big-daddy Sphinx's Revelation happened. Once X on the card was bigger than "6" it becomes really hard to stop Azorius Control, despite the actual life totals. Hayne resolved an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, made three blockers, and Hayne was sitting much better. You know a control player is doing well when he says this phrase: "Move to my discard phase."
Jon Stern went into the tank. He cast a pre-combat Desecration Demon, the eventually sent both Mutavaults in. It was 8-27, but the game would quickly spiral upwards, out of his control. The tokens took out a Mutavault and maintained Hayne's life total at 8—that giant demon loomed large in the background.
But Hayne had stabilized. This could be short-lived, however. The over thirty life for Stern meant he could just keep drawing cards until the cows came home. He could do exactly what he wanted to do in this match-up—go card-for-card.
Peeking at his hand for all the cards he had drawn, a lot of them were land. In fact, Stern had drawn seventeen of his twenty-six land. And when a Dissolve took out Stern's Pack Rat, he was left with only Swamps in his hand. Countering that Pack Rat was very important for Hayne. He had no way of knowing how many Gray Merchant of Asphodel were in Stern's hand. And with the Whip of Erebos in play, there were some odd shenanigans that could ensue, discarding to the Pack Rat than reanimating.
It was about this time Hayne got an Elspeth, Sun's Champion ultimate emblem. I think an emblem like that should stick with you your whole life, not just the remainder of the game.
A few turns later, when Thoughtseize revealed three Supreme Verdicts, an Ætherling, a Last Breath, and a Syncopate, Stern had to assess his line of plays that could win this game. There weren't many. Although Hayne drawing twenty land in a row could be one of them. With a hand like that, nothing really scared Hayne; he had weathered all four Underworld Connections, he'd stopped the Whip of Erebos reanimating, and Stern had no cards in his hand.
"Now all I have to do is kill you," Hayne joked.
"It shouldn't be hard," Stern said.
"Yeah, but it's going to be long," Hayne opined.
Eventually, after a bunch of turns, Stern packed it in. "Give me back my Underworld Connections." He continued, "It's funny; if that were a Swiss match I would have conceded 40 minutes ago."
Thanks, Jon. Thanks. Forty-five minutes into the match:
Alexander Hayne 1 – 0 Jon Stern
While Stern was in the bathroom, Hayne said to me, "I really hope for another game like that. Jon's too old to handle it." Hayne laughed at his dagger.
When Jon Stern started off with a Lifebane Zombie and Nightveil Specter, Hayne quipped, "Going aggro." Of course, the aggressive streak was not long for this world, as a Syncopate hit the Zombie, and a Dark Betrayal took out next turn's Nightveil Specter. However, Alex Hayne did not answer Jon Stern's turn-five Pack Rat, and with the aid of a discard and a Mutavault, it took out a Jace, Architect of Thought and stung Hayne for three.
Hayne calmly untapped and made an Elspeth, Sun's Champion with three accompanying tokens. The totals at 13-18, it was a pretty comfortable score for the six-cost 'walker. On the next defense, Hayne conservatively only used one Soldier token to block, anticipating a Hero's Downfall to kill Elspeth. His supposition was right. After sinking to 10 in combat, Stern sent the Elspeth packing. Hayne had no plays his next turn, and used his remaining tokens to chump block two of the 4/4 Pack Rats. Hayne went to 4.
A Sphinx's Revelation at the end of the turn made the totals 8-17, and gave Hayne four extra chances to pull himself out of this. Aside from the three Pack Rats, there were two Mutavault, and the ever-present threat of Gray Merchant of Asphodel, so even a Supreme Verdict on its own wasn't completely sufficient. The wrath variant did in fact come down and he killed both Mutavaults on the next combat with a creature land of his own and a Last Breath. Hayne staved off death for now.
As far as I'm concerned, the turn the Hayne pulled ahead for good was when he activated his Jace, Architect of Thought and flipped over Sphinx's Revelation, Sphinx's Revelation, and Dissolve. Both Hayne and Stern actually chuckled a little to themselves. Hayne took both Revelations. It was a good turn. Neither player had a board, but Stern had two cards and Hayne had nine. All things considered, I would've been pretty happy to be in Hayne's shoes.
You know, there's an inevitable time when Azorius Control is winning. It's the time when the life totals leader swaps. The whole game Azorius is behind, and then magically, it isn't anymore. Somewhere around the time Hayne cast a Sphinx's Revelation for six cards and an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Hayne went to 19 life and Stern was at 17. That generally signals the end.
This time was no different.
Alex Hayne 2 – 0 Jon Stern
After two long games, Alex Hayne beat Jon Stern to advance to the finals of Grand Prix Vancouver!