The final moments of Saturday here at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica were lit up by an eruption of excitement from one small group of players. First, Willy Edel of Brazil was confirmed as being the 7th place qualifier in the Top 8, even having lost in his final round. The cries of excitement from the Brazilians became a roar as he was joined by Pedro Carvalho, in 8th place.
Of the players in the Brazilian testing house, all made Day two of the Pro Tour, and two of them made the Top 8. That's quite the return on some hardcore testing, both online, and at a house in Seattle for the last week. Pedro Carvalho had qualified in the very last Magic Online qualifier, and came to his second ever Pro Tour with high hopes and a mountain of drafts in the bank. His deck of choice was Robots, the artifact deck that now sports just Thoughtcast from the famous affinity mechanic, but that has as explosive an aggressive start as it always has.
His opponent is a Czech chess master whose performance in the tournament to this point has been nothing short of phenomenal. Prior to the final round on Saturday, he had lost a total of two games. While he didn't get the perfect run in the Swiss, he still romped into the Top 8 as top seed, a huge advantage for his Second Breakfast deck, a Second Sunrise combo that can win as early as the second turn, and is very consistent for a win on the fourth.
Neither player had a mulligan for game 1, which would likely be a straight up race, where Cifka would have the advantage of going first.
Cifka's opening hand was Misty Rainforest, Chromatic Sphere, Faiths Reward, Faith's Reward, Reshape, Sleight of Hand and Elsewhere Flask, a pretty decent opener. For Carvalho, the starting seven was Mox Opal, Inkmoth Nexus, Darksteel Citadel, Cranial Plating, Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, Arcbound Ravager. This hand could race, but it would be tight.
The early turns were more or less all about Carvalho. His hand exploded onto the board, and he was soon attacking with an equipped Inkmoth Nexus for five poison, while just about all Cifka had mustered was a suspended Lotus Bloom on turn one.
Turn four is where things got interesting. "Either you kill me here, or you die," smiled Carvalho.
"I hope I make it."
"Winning the die is huge in this matchup. I wish there were dice rolls in the Top 8..."
"You should have played better," laughed Cifka.
Cifka flashed another Faith's Reward, but Carvalho was keen to make sure that Cifka could actually go off. It was possible for the Czech player to miss on his combo. Cifka cycled a string of Chromatic Stars. Then a Sleight of Hand and Chromatic Sphere. Once Cifka got up to three copies of Second Sunrise/Faith's Reward in hand, that was enough for Carvalho to concede. Each iteration of the white spell would effectively be drawing Cifka something in the region of seven or eight cards, and getting him a boatload of mana. Carvalho didn't need the Czech player to go through all the motions, given that there was no way for him to interact in this first game.
Pedro Carvalho 0, Stanislav Cifka 1
Game 1 was always going to be a straight race, but after sideboarding there were many more ways in which Carvalho's deck could interact with the combo deck from Cifka. With Relic of Progenitus, Spell Pierce, and Unified Will, Carvalho could keep the Czech player from going off in straightforward fashion, and it was likely that he'd have some sort of attacking going on at the same time. If game 1 had been easy street, the same would not necessarily be true for those that would follow.
Sideboarding after game 1:
- +3 Relic of Progenitus
- +1 Spell Pierce
- +1 Steelshaper's Gift
- +1 Unified Will
- +1 Master of Etherium
- -2 Thoughtcast
- -4 Steel Overseer
- -1 Vault Skirge
- +2 Pithing Needle
- +4 Echoing Truth
- -2 Silence
- -1 Elsewhere Flask
- -2 Sleight of Hand
- -1 Gitaxian Probe
Carvalho was quick to keep his seven for game 2, where he would be on the play for the first game of the match. Cifka was a little more deliberate in his decision over his opener. He chose to send the seven back. With each player aware of each other's decklists, he had a good idea of what sort of disruption he needed to play around, and overnight he had had a team of Czech and Slovak players figuring out what was important for him in this Quarterfinal matchup.
Cifka played a Pyrite Spellbomb on turn two, which along with Chromatic Star would be able to kill off Vault Skirge. There was an issue though. Carvalho had a Relic of Progenitus. Cifka's one win condition was Pyrite Spellbomb. He could not use it while the Relic was around, or he would not have a way to win the game. A Grapeshot sat in Cifka's sideboard, and it seemed likely that he would love to have a way of wishing for it in this game.
Unlike in game 1, where Cifka was quick and bright in his plays, he had become a statue, deep in thought. Attacks to Cifka to 12, and then to 3. He needed to find an Echoing Truth to be able to go off. At end of turn, Cifka made white mana, then sacrificed a Ghost Quarter targeting his own Plains. Before this could resolve, Carvalho used Relic of Progenitus targeting Cifka. The Czech player activated Chromatic Star in response, so that it would be removed from the game rather than the land. He now had two white mana, and a fetched up Island.
A Second Sunrise came from Cifka, putting Carvalho to a decision. He elected not to pop his Relic of Progenitus, waiting for a better chance in Cifka's turn. Second Sunrise brought back Plains and Ghost Quarter. Cifka had just Conjurer's Bauble and a land for his turn before passing.
Carvalho cast Arcbound Ravager, activated Blinkmoth Nexus and attacked with it and the Vault Skirge. When Cifka tried to kill the Skirge with Pyrite Spellbomb (getting red mana from a Chromatic Star), Carvalho responded by pumping it with Arcbound Ravager. That was enough for Cifka to concede.
Pedro Carvalho 1, Stanislav Cifka 1
Cifka went to his sideboard again for game three. Now that he was back on the play, his game-plan would be more focused on racing past any disruption, rather than trying to react to it. As such he made the following small changes.
Carvalho appeared calm, but below the table, there was a noticeable jiggle to his foot. His countryman Willy Edel was a game up one table over, and he was still very much in it for his match.
The Brazilian had a mulligan for game 3, which he executed briskly, clearly eager to keep things moving.
Game 3 started with a Sleight of Hand from Cifka, along with a suspended Lotus Bloom. Turn two from him saw Elsewhere Flask and a second Bloom. Carvalho didn't appear to have a very controlling draw, instead working to build a threat base. By the end of turn two he had Inkmoth Nexus, Blinkmoth Nexus, Ornithopter, Springleaf Drum, Arcbound Ravager, and Welding Jar in play.
While that may look like a busy board, Carvalho would have to have been most worried about what was going to happen when that first Lotus Bloom came off suspend. Cifka had just a Chromatic Star on turn 3, but turn 4 could bring a huge amount of action.
Carvalho played Mox Opal, and went to activate his Inkmoth Nexus. Cifka did a little adding up. It didn't look like the Nexus would be lethal this turn, so he let things keep moving. After Cifka declared blockers Carvalho looked at making that Nexus a little bigger. He used Blinkmoth Nexus to pump Inkmoth Nexus to be a 2/2.
Carvalho was lost in thought, looking for a way to get up to 10 poison. He sacrificed Ornithopter and Springleaf Drum to make Arcbound Ravager a 3/3, the sacrificed it to put three counters on Inkmoth Nexus. That was five poison, which would have to do.
Cifka untapped for his turn, and cast Lotus Bloom off suspend. Carvalho had just Mox Opal untapped for mana, meaning Cifka was safe to just try to go off. Sleight of Hand was followed by a Ghost Quarter activation, to destroy Cifka's own Island and fetch another one. Chromatic Sphere drew him a card, and soon he played another one. This too was sacrificed for blue mana. The Czech player was being careful with each of his plays, and built up to a point where he cast Reshape, sacrificing Elsewhere Flask. Carvalho paused for thought. Spell Pierce forced Cifka to sacrifice a Lotus Bloom in order to resolve his spell.
Carvalho was tapped out, and declared that on the third Sunrise effect he saw that he'd concede. Cifka wasn't there yet, but certainly had the tools to go for it. Chromatic Sphere got him Serum Visions. The next Spehere drew him a Chromatic Star which he played. The star found Faith's Reward, which was cast after the remaining artifacts had been sacrificed for mana. Cifka was building up to a winning position, but was not there yet. Ultimately the Second Sunrise combo is looking to gradually draw its entire deck using artifacts like Chromatic Sphere and Chromatic Star, periodically reloading with Second Sunrise. With Conjurer's Bauble, it can then recycle copies of Second Sunrise, to the point that the only cards left in the deck are copies of Second Sunrise and Pyrite Spellbomb. Getting red mana off Lotus Bloom, it is then a matter of looping around that one spellbomb until the opponent is dead.
We didn't get to see all that in this game, as once Cifka had gone through about half his deck, he showed Carvalho a couple of copies of Faith's Reward/Second Sunrise, and that was enough for the Brazilian to concede.
Pedro Carvalho 1, Stanislav Cifka 2
Carvalho now knew that he had to win the following two games in order to advance to the semi-final match, including one where Cifka would be on the play. From here he could not afford to slip up, and if anything he needed for Cifka to get a slightly clunky draw to eke out the win. He had to have been ruing the loss in this game, as he had been one point of damage off being able to break serve... perhaps simply having another artifact would be better than Spell Pierce on the draw, as any artifact would have been enough to get to lethal in that game. Pedro filed this insight away, hoping to make the most of it if he could get to game five.
While Carvalho had not changed his sideboarding between games, Cifka had, on the draw, brought back in two Echoing Truth in place of Sleight of Hand, for more protection should Carvalho get an early Relic of Progenitus.
Carvalho didn't like his seven, but was eager to get things going with his six. His first turn saw Darksteel Citadel into Springleaf Drum, then an Ornithopter, which he tapped to the drum in order to cast Steelshaper's Gift for Cranial Plating. Not a bad start.
Cifka's start was pretty nice too. Two copies of Lotus Bloom, and a Pithing Needle naming Cranial Plating. While Carvalho did play the equipment, he didn't have much in the way of attacks. Cifka's second turn saw two copies of Chromatic Star, while Carvalho's third was just casting Master of Etherium. The Master attacked for 9, alongside a Blinkmoth Nexus. Cifka tried to Echoing Truth the Master, but it was hit by Spell Pierce.
Now we were at turn four, and Cifka got his two copies of Lotus Bloom. Chromatic Star drew Cifka a card, turning blue mana into blue mana. Lotus Bloom made it 4 blue mana. A Reshape turned Chromatic Star into a Conjurer's Bauble, signalling that Cifka was desperately searching for a Second Sunrise effect. A Chromatic Star came next, and Lotus Bloom sacrificed for white mana. There was the Second Sunrise.
Bloom, Bloom Star, Star, Sphere, Bauble. They all came back into play, though they didn't stay in play for long, as Cifka was soon sacrificing them for more mana and cards, and in one case to Reshape, in order to get another Lotus Bloom. Conjurer's Bauble drew Cifka more cards, and a fetch land for Hallowed Fountain took him to 7 life. It seemed unlikely to matter. Second Sunrise brought back his board, and Cifka showed off his hand, which had three Sunrise effects. Carvalho sat back; he knew it was over, but this time he would get Cifka to show off the full combo.
Cifka cycled through stars, drawing more and more copies, before ultimately casting another Second Sunrise. In surprisingly brisk fashion, the Czech player went through each stage of his combo, whittling down his deck and with each copy of Second Sunrise getting further and further toward his endgame. At this point, mana was not even an issue, it was just a matter of cycling through to the end of Cifka's deck.
Once Pyrite Spellbomb came up, each loop of Second Sunrise would include two points of burn to Carvalho's head. At this point there were just copies of Second Sunrise left in Cifka's deck. Carvalho had done what damage he could, but against this combo deck, he hadn't quite drawn the answers he needed.
Stanislav Cifka defeats Pedro Carvalho 3-1 and advances to the Semifinals!