Tom Martell cannot win this match.
Let me rephrase that. Tom Martell could win this match. Hypothetically, he could even win this match 3-0. But ask anyone in the room who has even touched these two decks in proximity of one another, and the prognosis isn't good for Martell.
Patrick Chapin put Melissa DeTora and her Kessig Wolf RunBant deck as an overwhelming favorite over the Martell-piloted team SCG deck, The Aristocrats. Luis Scott-Vargas said the matchup was virtually unwinnable. The brain trust behind the deck spent a good portion of the night sequestered in their hotel rooms trying to discover an off-the wall way to tip the matchup in his favor. The results were mixed.
"I can't win," Martell said, walking into the Top 8 clad in a fairly fashionable scarf. "But now that I have Jonny Magic's scarf, I can't lose."
But Pro Tours, Grands Prix events, and other major tournaments are strewn with examples of difficult or unwinnable matchups flipping the script. Paul Rietzl's defeat of Jund with White Weenie at Pro Tour Amsterdam springs immediately to mind, as does Reid Duke's 3-0 win over an Esper Control deck with Bant control that seemingly had him dominated on every front.
There's a reason we play the games.
And these games promise a marquee matchup of Magic talent that cannot and should not be missed. Martell already has a Top 8 to his name, with a 7th place finish in Paris in 2011 already stapled to his resume. The platinum pro also has four Grand Prix Top 8s next to his name, including a win in Indianapolis last year. The Aristocrats deck he's piloting, a white-black-red humans deck with sacrifice synergies, isn't particularly fast, but is particularly resilient.
Unfortunately for Martell, that's exactly the sort of deck DeTora's Kessig Wolf RunBant deck preys on. Combining life-gain creatures, Sphinx's Revelation, Supreme Verdicts, Sphinx's Revelation, Thragtusk, and Sphinx's Revelation with a light splash for Kessig Wolf Run means DeTora's deck can stay alive and simply overpower The Aristocrats. And while this is DeTora's first Pro Tour Top 8 – in fact, it's the first Pro Tour Top 8 for a female player ever – she does have a Grand Prix Top 8 and a firm mastery of her deck.
Melissa DeTora gets started in her Quarterfinal match against Tom Martell, a match in which she is heavily favored to win.
If the predictions are correct, that should be more than enough to take her past Martell.
But, then again, he's wearing Jonny Magic's scarf.
Martell started as best as he could, playing two successive Champion of the Parish and a Doomed Traveler to stake an early lead on the board and in the life total column. But breaking early leads was what DeTora's deck did, and Farseek into a Centaur Healer was exactly the way she wanted to blunt Martell's draw.
The 3/3 Centaur didn't deter Martell, however, as he sent his 3/3, 2/2 and 1/1 charging into the red zone, losing the smaller of the Champions to a block. His follow-up Boros Reckoner represented the kind of aggression he needed to see to have a shot in the match.
DeTora, it seemed, wasn't afraid to get aggressive either. She attacked her Centaur Healer directly into Boros Reckoner, trading her 3/3 for Martell's in exchange for 3 damage to her dome. Thragtusk, however, undid that damage and more and sent her right back up to 18 life.
DeTora doesn't hold back, her Kessig Wolf RunBant deck affording an aggressive line of play thanks to tons of life gain.
Martell, however, kept fighting back right on curve. Falkenrath Aristocrat jumped into play and charged across the field alongside the 3/3 Champion of the Parish. DeTora took the damage and fell to 11.
Martell seemed to have adopted an aggressive strategy, getting damage in at any point that he was able, trying to race DeTora's more powerful threats before she had the time to deploy them.
Instead she found some cheaper ones. Centaur Healer buffed both her life total and her board presence, and Detention Sphere took care of the Aristocrat. DeTora's deck advantages were starting to show.
Two freshly cast humans – Knight of Infamy and a Champion of the Parish – began to complicate the math for DeTora. The first Champion, now 6/6 on the attack thanks to exalted, fought through DeTora's defenses to drop her to just 6 life.
The board was now DeTora's Thragtusk and Centaur Healer against a 5/5 Champion of the Parish, a 2/2 Champion of the Parish, Knight of Infamy, and a Doomed Traveler. With DeTora on just one card and seven open mana, Martell went for the throat by sacrificing the smaller Champion to his newly cast Falkenrath Aristocrat, pumping it to nearly lethal proportions.
Nearly lethal because, as it often does, DeTora's open mana signaled a Sphinx's Revelation, this one for four cards and 4 important life. Martell could sacrifice his board to bring DeTora to just one life, but risked death on the return attack, thanks to Kessig Wolf Run and just 9 life to spare.
And, indeed, DeTora threatened to end the game by attacking with Thragtusk. Martell blocked with Knight of Infamy and Doomed Traveler, just enough to ensure even Kessig Wolf Run couldn't kill him, and Melissa declined to pump for any additional trample damage. Instead, she used her mana to play a Thragtusk and jump to 9 life.
Martell repeated his attack from the previous turn, only to be met by Azorius Charm. Instead of lapsing it to the top of his deck, Martell chose to sacrifice the Aristocrat and pass the turn.
Another attack merited a Kessig Wolf Run activation for DeTora, dropping Martell to2 life, and when he found no help on the top of his deck, even Jonnny Magic's scarf couldn't save him.
DeTora 1, Martell 0
Even Martell's most aggressive draw with multiple Falkenrath Aristocrats wasn't enough to win a pre-boarded game. So if he couldn't win that game in what everyone seemed to universally agree was a bad matchup, what chance could he possibly have?
But, hey, that's why we play the game.
A quick keep by Martell was met by two just-as-quick mulligans by DeTora, eventually settling on a hand relying almost entirely on Rhox Faithmender to get her off the ground.
Martell keeps his head above water, even in a match-up where the odds are stacked against him.
The Faithmender came down on turn four, but was unable to attack effectively through the protection from white Knight of Infamy or block at all. As long as Martell had two Knights, the Faithmender was virtually a blank.
Not that it would have much time to gain any life anyway. Silverblade Paladin let Martell hit for 8 damage and drop DeTora to just 4 life. She would need a ton of help to make it past Tom's next turn.
And when none of it came, Martell had evened the match.
DeTora 1, Martell 1
Things didn't start off much better for DeTora in the third, as she had another case of the mulligans. This time, she at least stopped on six cards and led with a Farseek to fix her mana.
Martell wasn't sitting on his heels, though. Champion of the Parish and two Doomed Travelers quickly put DeTora under the gun, made worse by the need to play two shock lands untapped. Before Martell even took his third turn, his Bant opponent was already at 13 life.
DeTora does what she can to fight back after a series of mulligans in the past two games.
Martell tried to put the pedal all the way to the floor on the next turn, pairing a Silverblade Paladin, which resolved only thanks to Cavern of Souls, with his now 4/4 Champion of the Parish. DeTora, however, had the Azorius Charm for the Champion and a follow-up Detention Sphere to take the Paladin.
Taking advantage of the fact that DeTora had to tap low—she had become stuck on four lands—Martell followed up with Falkenrath Aristocrat and took DeTora all the way to 5 life. Azorius Charm held the hasty Vampire in check for a turn, but under the gun and tight on mana and answers, DeTora was forced to pick up her cards and hope to win two back-to-back "unlosable" games.
DeTora 1, Martell 2
This time it was Martell's turn to throw back his initial hand in search of something better.
DeTora started a bit slower, forced to play her first two lands tapped and wait till her third turn to cast Farseek. She was at 13 before Thragtusk put her right back up to 18. Just like that, DeTora's deck was flexing the muscle that made this matchup look so good before the second and third games.
The big 5/3 immediately stymied Martell's offensive. He pecked away with his Lingering Souls tokens, but wouldn't commit any more tokens or other creatures to the board.
DeTora's deck, meanwhile, was clearly firing on all cylinders. She attacked with her Thragtusk without hesitation, trading for a Lingering Souls token and Champion of the Parish. Naturally, she had a second value beast to jump to 21.
Martell, meanwhile, was overstocked with lands. He did manage to flash a Restoration Angel into play on DeTora's end step, but had no other action in his hand.
Until his draw step, that is. A Zealous Conscripts plucked from the top of his deck let Martell crash in for 9 damage with DeTora's own Thragtusk, dropping her from her previously safe life total down to 12.
A timely top-deck in the form of Zealous Conscripts turns things around for Martell.
Unperturbed, DeTora crashed in with both her 3/3 Beast and Thragtusk and took Martell to 12 as well. Unlike her opponent, DeTora's hand was flush with action, including a Restoration Angel that all but sealed the deal. It blinked out Thragtusk, gave DeTora five more life and another 3/3 and effectively shut off any semblance of an offense Martell might have had.
But the Martell pushed on. Exalted allowed his Restoration Angel to attack, but it only invited DeTora to attack with her entire team.
Then Martell unleashed a haymaker. Orzhov Charm bounced his Restoration Angel, blinking his Zealous Conscripts and stealing DeTora's Thragtusk during her attack. What looked like a safe, virtually lethal attack became a minefield for DeTora.
Thragtusk bumped DeTora back to 10 and locked up the ground, but, once again, the top of Martell's deck was generous, offering a Silverblade Paladin to pair with a Spirit token. Combined with two Exalted triggers, the single spirit hit for 6, dropping DeTora to a precarious 4 life.
But DeTora shot back again, using Detention Sphere to remove Martell's lethal Spirit tokens. With only three blockers to Martell's five attackers, she would need to have something else in hand to survive. The complication was that Martell himself was only at 7 life, and an all-out attack would expose him to a potential Azorius Charm that would simply force him to lose on the spot.
After all the talk of the matchup being unwinnable. After no one giving Martell a shot, it was now DeTora who needed a miracle to win...
...except it was Martell who drew well, once again, finding Falkenrath Aristocrat to more than run over the mere two lands left in DeTora's hand.
Despite overwhelming odds favoring her in the match, and no matter how unlikely it is to win, things can go your way. For Tom Martell, wearing Jonny Magic's scarf, today was his day to defy the odds.
That's why we play the games.
Tom Martell wins 3-1 and advances to the Semifinals!