It's hard to pick a favorite in a field of more than 1,700 players, but from the start of Grand Prix Cincinnati the miracle man Alexander Hayne was near the top of that list. And by the time Day 2 began, the Canadian stood alone atop it after an undefeated 9-0 start.
He followed that up with another win to start off Sunday, and in Round 11 squared off against Nick Seifert in a matchup of two of the final undefeated players. With a win, Hayne would continue his seemingly-inevitable march toward the Top 8 and possibly his fourth Grand Prix title in eight months.
On the other side sat Nick Seifert; and while his hot streak may not be as impressive as Hayne's, he did cash at the largest-ever Constructed Grand Prix in Richmond two weeks ago.
What else could Hayne be playing? After bursting onto the scene two years by winning Pro Tour Avacyn Restored with a white-blue control deck and taking down Grand Prix Vancouver in January with another, there could be no doubt that Hayne would be battling with the same in Cincinnati.
Seifert also kept it simple, playing Mono-Black Control without any splashes, something that put 23 players into Day 2, the second-most of any archetype behind Esper Control.
It's a matchup that revolves around incremental advantages and pacing rather than huge haymakers, though there would be several of those to come.
Game 1 was an exercise of patience, something Hayne showed he had plenty of as Pack Rats began to gather on Seifert's side of the field. A Supreme Verdict eventually cleared out the pack and was followed by a Jace, Architect of Thought, but the mono-black player fought back with a Desecration Demon and then a Thoughtseize.
Unfortunately for Seifert, that Thoughtseize revealed a loaded grip for Hayne, who had prioritized making his land drops with his Jace and Scry triggers. With two Sphinx's Revelation in Hayne's hand, Seifert was forced to strip away the Elspeth, Sun's Champion, allow Hayne to draw four and then six with Revelation, and settle in for the long game.
But Hayne wasn't prepared to let it get that far. He issued another Verdict and used a Last Breath to take out one of the two Mutavaults Seifert was using to stay in the game. When Hayne was able to able to use his final open mana to Syncopate a crucial Underworld Connections after attacks and then land an Ætherling on the next turn Seifert quickly suggested the pair move on to Game 2.
"You're the first person who has been able to get off a big Revelation against me,' Seifert lamented. "I've played against it a few times, but I have been able to keep them off it until this match."
While Hayne was the one enjoying all the card advantage in Game 1, that quickly changed in the next contest. Seifert got into the red zone for three consecutive turns with a pair of Mutavaults until Hayne tapped out for Jace, Architect of Thought. That gave him a window to resolve the all-important Underworld Connections, which he used to keep the supply of cards coming. Hayne fought back with an Elspeth, Sun's Champion to join Jace, and she began ticking up toward her ultimate while Seifert worked at Hayne's life total with a Gray Merchant of Asphodel.
But for all the cards Seifert saw, he never saw the most important one for this situation: a Hero's Downfall for the Elspeth he was staring down. That allowed Elspeth to activate her Ultimate and send a host of tokens into the air to seal the win and keep Hayne perfect on the weekend.