"Brad, I'm Brad."
"This game is going to go very Brad."
No, those quips didn't come from Brad Nelson, despite his proclivity for the pun "playing Bradly." They came from his opponent, Bradford Grant, the Cincinnati native and grad student who apparently loves Brad puns just as much as his opponent.
Grant didn't have any previous high finishes of note prior to this weekend, but the other Brad, the former Player of the Year, certainly did. In the past few years he's become known as something of a Standard master, Top 8ing multiple Standard Grand Prix and other major tournaments. It doesn't get much bigger than getting paired against Nelson in the Top 8 of a Standard Grand Prix.
Especially when you're playing the exact same deck.
On one hand, Nelson has a knack for picking the best deck for any given tournament, no matter what that deck is. He's played breakneck aggro and glacially slow control without reservation. So it's got to feel pretty good to pick the same deck.
On the other hand, the Esper mirror wasn't exactly known for moving quickly.
"Yes, we'll play at a reasonable pace, but it'll still probably take two hours," Nelson said as the judges gave the "reasonable pace" speech.
Two hours wasn't far off. Go grab a drink, stop in the bathroom, maybe even call your mom. Because this one isn't finishing any time soon.
Little happened over the first many turns, as Esper Mirrors are wont to do, with Nelson experiencing the first hiccup, discarding due to hand size when he missed a land drop.
Thus began the Jace game, with Nelson working to keep his in play and Grant cashing his in at the first opportunity in order to Detention Sphere Nelson's Jace.
The move backfired slightly as Nelson was able to make use of the otherwise dead Jace in his hand.
Now with plenty of mana and plenty of cards, both players settled in to the patient game of back and forth and hitting land drops that control mirrors usually became. Both had plenty of dead cards, but they each could throw some haymakers—or counter them—as well.
This picture of Bradford Grant was taken approximately 14 years ago, during the middle of game one. All times approximate.
The game largely revolved around Jaces, Detention Spheres, Sphinx's Revelations and Dissolves at this point. Nelson attempted to throw the biggest punch with an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, but Negate ended any aspirations he had in that arena.
Nelson seemed to be slowly falling behind as Grant's pair of Thoughtseize and Negate were giving him a slight edge, where Nelson had dead cards. Grant even resolved an Elspeth before losing it to Detention Sphere. He even lost the tokens to Supreme Verdict.
And just when things seemed to be slowing down into an attrition matchup where no one could get a lead, Nelson found a hole to resolve Sphinx's Revelation for nine.
Tapping out to do so meant Grant could safely resolve a Revelation of his own. And, just like that, we were back to everyone having everything.
More trading, more things dying, being countered, etc.
That, again, resulted in a game state where both players wore each other down to just a few cards in hand. Fortunately for Grant, one of the few cards he had was an Ætherling—and it resolved!
Of course, as the ebb and flow of the game dictated, Nelson promptly resolved his own Ætherling, setting off the race and the odd Ætherling fog game that always resulted with extraneous removal in these situations.
Nelson, however, took the initiative by leaving a Doom Blade on top, letting him fog for one key turn and grab the lead for good. Another Ætherling activation ever and Nelson had won an incredibly long, trying...game one.
On to game two!
Then, Nelson tried to set up an Elspeth with a small end of turn Sphinx's Revelation, but Grant wasn't done with the disruption. Notion Thief stole the draws and Nelson missed on land to even attempt Elspeth.
So the disruption kept coming. Thoughtseize stole the Elspeth before it could happen and Grant's disruptive force just kept coming. Nelson resolved several Jaces, but lost each one to attacks from Grant's motley crew. Unable to cast Sphinx's Revelation and unable to find an answer through his Jace's, Nelson put up very little resistance in a much faster second game.
This time it was Nelson's turn to start disrupting Grant's plans, stripping a Thoughtseize from a hand of expensive Planeswalkers and little else. Even with a mulligan, Nelson found himself quickly pulling ahead thanks to two timely land draws and a Gainsay to deny Grant a Divination.
On four mana, both players resolved a Jace, and with lands plentiful again it looked like we were settling in for another back and forth match much like the first game. Jaces resolved, Sin Collector felt a Dark Betrayal, and long pauses interspersed brief flurries of action.
Nelson might have been bruised and bullied out of game two, but his parade of Jace, Architect of Thoughts put him in the driver's seat midway through the crucial third game.
Thanks to a parade of Jace, Architect of Thoughts, Nelson emerged from this early scrum slightly ahead, getting in with Mutavault every turn to put pressure on Grant to make a move at some point. All the while Nelson sat on several reactive spells that would allow him to respond accordingly should the situation call for it.
But it was Nelson, finally, who made the first move, casting Elspeth, Sun's Champion into Grant's five cards and six open mana. When the dust—and four counterspells—settled, Nelson had his very own Elspeth.
So Grant simply untapped and made one as well.
But when everyone has Elspeth, the first often wins.
And when the owner of the first Elsepth also happens to resolve a Sphinx's Revelation (again, through countermagic), that win percentage must go way, way up.