Two of the undefeated players from the first day were Ian Ayal and Zach Jesse. Ayal hails from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, while Jesse is from "a few blocks away." The two chatted casually, despite the stress of being under the cameras and both hoping to keep their perfect records. They were both 9-0.
"Do you play a lot?" Ayal asked.
"I mean, as much as I can. I am in law school ... and I am also married." Jesse smiled.
Ayal nodded. He understood perfectly.
The matchup is an interesting one. Though Storm can usually win a straight-up race, a one-turn stumble from the Storm deck can allow the Merfolk to crash through with the big beats. And sometimes, the deck can aid in that stumble. Ayal calls Cursecatcher his favorite card in the match-up. And starting as early as turn one, or uncounterable thanks to Æther Vial on turn two, the lowly 1/1 can give Merfolk the one extra turn it needs. The Storm deck can be very tight on mana early on; one mana more can make all the difference.
Then again, Storm could just combo off on the third turn regardless. Storm; I tell ya.
Zach Jesse started the party with a first-turn Faithless Looting, discarding Pyretic Ritual and Grapeshot. This pretty much revealed him as Storm to his opponent, if he didn't know already. Ian Ayal had practiced the Storm matchup, and knew what to expect.
But when a second-turn Master of the Pearl Trident came down from Ayal, Jesse said, "Whaaaa?" He, on the other hand, had not practiced against Merfolk. He puzzled for a second, then whisked the Master away with a Lightning Bolt before untapping and laying the deck's marquee card, Pyromancer Ascension.
Ayal resolved a few blue dudes over the next couple turns: Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, Merrow Reejerey, and Cosi's Trickster. Due to various pains, Jesse was already on 13 (with Ayal still at an unscathed 20). However, this was still a far cry from the 0 where Ayal would like Jesse to be, and Storm can combo at a moment's notice.
After laying a second Pyromancer Ascension and adding a counter on his third turn, Jesse started the machine on his fourth turn, and "a moment's notice" happened. After adding the second counter to both Ascensions, he started to "go off" and began rifling through his deck. A few cards down, he initiated a little combo loop that amused Ayal greatly.
Jesse cast Manamorphose, copying it twice thanks to the enchantment. He resolved the two copies, drawing two cards and making four mana (two blue, two red), then, with the original spell still on the stack, he cast Remand. The Ascension copied it twice. With the first copy, he countered the original Manamorphose and returned it to his hand (and drawing a card), and then with the second copy, he countered the original Remand, returning that to his hand and drawing him a card for his trouble. He was now four cards deeper, two mana richer, and had both spells back in his grip.
"I can draw out my whole deck this way," Jesse said, trying to goad the concession out of his opponent. "I mean, I can go through it if you want." Though Ayal had practiced the match, he had not seen this interaction before. He was impressed, verified that everything was legit, and scooped up his cards.
Zach Jesse 1 – 0 Ian Ayal
Though Jesse had one the first game, he was still flummoxed. "I can't fathom what the matchup is like; I actually have no idea," Jesse said as he leafed through his sideboard trying to figure out what to play. He put his elbow on the table and his hand to his forehead as he went over his potential options. He sideboarded in Empty the Warrens and kept in his Remands, but he was unsure of his decision. "Have fun and good luck," he said to Ayal.
"Hope for a great game three?" Ayal posited.
"Well, hopefully not."
"Two Ascensions..." Ayal muttered with a smile on his face. He drew his cards for the second game. He was hoping it wouldn't be the last.Game Two
On the play, it was Ayal's turn to set the pace. Æther Vial, Lord of Atlantis, Cursecatcher, and Kira, Great Glass-Spinner were Ayal's opening plays. Before he got the turn back for his fourth, he activated Æther Vial.
"Sure." Jesse said.
"Ok, I got nothing. Hey, gotta do it, right?" Ayal untapped for his turn and Jesse erupted in laughter.
"I love it!" Jesse clapped his hands together in amusement.
"Not everybody does." With the Mutavault for the extra gets, Ayal quickly evaporated Jesse's life total—first to 15, and then, thanks to a mid-combat Merrow Reejerey, he hit for twelve the following combat to bring Jesse to 3. These Merfolk could bring the beats.
With his opponent threatening to do very-much lethal the following turn, Jesse was forced to go off, whether he actually could or not. At the end of his opponent's turn, he sacrificed a Scalding Tarn to go to 2, then cast a Manamorphose to get one deeper and draw into something that could help him win.
He untapped, drew, and saw he had no way out. He had a Pyromancer Ascension with no counters, and no way to activate it and go off in the same turn. He sat with all four Remands in his hand. This made him greatly question his sideboarding choices. He used a cycler in GitaxZach Probe to try, but it was to no avail.
But rather than let the Merfolk gut him, Jesse was going to go out on his own terms. He made is land drop for the turn, Steam Vents, then declared, "I'll put it into play, untapped!" This stole the final two life from Jesse, and he scooped up his cards laughing. The act of seppuku did not go unnoticed and the crowd all enjoyed a laugh.
"All right. The exciting game three I was hoping for," Ayal smiled.Zach Jesse 1 – Ian Ayal 1
This time Jesse was on the play again. Like game one, he cast a first-turn Faithless Looting and a second-turn Pyromancer Ascension. On his third turn he flashed back the one-mana sorcery and sculpted his hand more. Because Ayal had cast a Relic of Progenitus, activating the Ascension was going to be difficult, so Jesse hoped to audible. He discarded the Past in Flames to the second Looting, then planned to go for the Empty the Warrens kill with the storm card sitting in his hand. This would be difficult as Merfolk had a great ability to clog the ground.
Ayal had a slower start (in part because of casting the Relic), but he put up some reasonable pressure. His first-turn Æther Vial helped him make Cursecatcher, Silvergill Adept, and Master of the Pearl Trident in addition to the Relic.
Jesse made a Goblin Electromancer then tapped out to cast Pyretic Ritual. Ayal took the bait and sacrificed his Cursecatcher to make the instant cost one more. Jesse let that resolve and passed the turn. Cursecatcher did its job perfectly.
After Ayal's attacks he passed the turn back to Jesse with a 8-20 life standing. Thanks to a post-combat Lord of Atlantis, it looked like again Jesse was given his final turn before he was ready. But he was going to try.
With the Electromancer on the battlefield, he had some play left. Manamorphose made a mana and cycled; Serum Visions helped sculpt the top of the library; Desperate Ritual made some mana. Around this time Ayal removed Jesse's graveyard, denying him of any hopes of activating the Ascension.
Now with three red mana and a Desperate Ritual alone in his graveyard, Jesse audibled again. It looked like an Empty the Warrens would really do the trick, but he had found Anger of the Gods and wiped the board clean. He replaced his Electromancer that he'd just subjected to God's anger, then passed.
Though Ayal had to start from scratch, he had a full grip and an Æther Vial. Ayal used Vial to make a Merrow Reejerey, cast Lord of Atlantis (untapping a land, thanks, Reejerey!), then used Vapor Snag to return the Goblin Electromancer back to Jesse's hand. It was now Jesse's turn to start from scratch.
But it was not to be. Game Two saw Jesse question his Remand sideboarding, and Game Three made him question the Empty the Warrens. Ian Ayal shows yet again the value of playing a deck that people haven't seen before.Ian Ayal 2 – 1 Zach Jesse
Ian Ayal advances to 10-0!