Kyle Boggemes is no stranger to competitive Magic. With a Pro Tour Top 8 to his name (at San Diego in 2010), he knows what it takes to compete at the highest level of the game.
That's not what he expected to happen this weekend.
"I expected to get my butt kicked," he said. "I work and go to school and consult and do research, so I don't really have weekends free and I haven't really played much Magic lately. But the Esper deck draws a lot of cards, so I figured I'd at least have fun when I'm losing."
Except he didn't. Lose, that is. At least not much.
Boggemes stormed to the Top 8 of Grand Prix Cincinnati, a tournament he attended on a whim when he found out he had a break from school and the tournament wasn't too far away.
In the quarterfinals he squared off against Jeffrey Pyka, the No. 2 seed in the Top 8, who was equally as surprised that he made the elimination rounds.
"I didn't play the tightest this weekend, but my deck really loved me," he told Boggemes before they drew their opening hands.
If making the Top 8 was a surprise, then making the semifinals of the nearly-1,800 player tournament would be even more so. And one of these players would.
Pyka was playing the Mono-Blue Devotion deck with a white splash for Detention Sphere and some sideboard options. It's a variation that has brought the deck that first premiered at Pro Tour Theros back to the forefront of the Standard format. The combination of an aggressive curve and counterspells to back those cards up gives the deck game against anything.
On the other side was Esper Control, a deck that Boggemes hadn't tested at all but said fit his style and allowed him to compete with anything in the room.
Things started off rough for Pyka, who seemed like he may have finally run out of luck with his deck after a mulligan to five cards in the first game.
Still, he presented an aggressive start that Boggemes struggled to contain. A growing Cloudfin Raptor backed up by a pair of Mutavaults put the game within reach and made it look like he could overcome starting a pair of cards down.
Boggemes fell to six life and Pyka summoned a Master of Waves to reload the board, but a timely Doom Blade and a Mutavault of his own cleared the board for Boggemes, who then chained a pair of Sphinx's Revelations that prompted Pyka to concede the game.
Game Two played out similarly, with Boggemes taking some hits early before landing one of the premier haymakers in the matchup in Archangel of Thune. The angel stopped Pyka's Master of Waves before it could ever reach the beach, and a follow-up Blood Baron of Vizkopa a few turns later sealed the deal and propelled Boggemes to the semifinals.