For platinum pro David Ochoa, the first half of the season has been a difficult series of rough beats and heart-breaking finishes. The Northern California pro has gone to over a dozen Grand Prix events in the North America region, looking to build up a resume of five solid Grand Prix finishes, and with that, some much-coveted Pro Points to lock up Platinum.
While he landed a Top 16 finish recently, some rough waters prevented Ochoa from building on an impressive lead to only finishing at 40th place. His third loss of that event was against Naya Hexproof from Jacob Maynard, and going into this round, he found himself in a very similar predicament.
His opponent this round is Philip Arcuni, a Magic player from Santa Barbara, California, who has been battling through with his Naya Hexproof deck, and currently sits at 10-2 going into the thirteenth round.
The Naya Hexproof match-up is particularly rough for a Black Devotion deck, as many of the strategy's main deck cards are effectively blanked by the hexproof creatures in Arcuni's deck. While it isn't a match-up that is impossible to win, it does not put Ochoa in a favorable spot to take the game.
A second-turn Pack Rat from Ochoa was met with Gladecover Scout. However, the Rat looked a lot less scary from Ochoa when he passed without a third land. Voice of Resurgence from Arcuni elicited Devour Flesh from Ochoa, taking out the Scout, but it was simply replaced with another. Thoughtseize from ochoa revealed a hand of all spells: two Selesnya Charm, Ethereal Armor, and Madcap Skills. The red enchantment hit the graveyard, and again, Ochoa passed with no action.
And what little action he had, the Pack Rat, was Chained to the Rocked when Arcuni drew it on the next turn. Without the Pack Rat, a third land would not get Ochoa out of the predicament, and he promptly packed it in for the next game.
Ochoa led off the second game with a a first-turn Thoughtseize, eliciting a "Shoot!" from Arcuni who revealed a hand with Gladecover Scout, Voice of Resurgence, Madcap Skills, and lands. He discarded the Voice of Resurgence, passing to Arcuni who led with Temple of Plenty, keeping his card from the scry on top. Ochoa followed suit with Temple of Malice, seeing and leaving Pack Rat. Arcuni's Gladecover Scout entered play on the next turn.
Pack Rat came down for Ochoa, and a freshly drawn Voice of Resurgence was Arcuni's next play. Ochoa was not deterred though, casting Duress and robbing Arcuni of an Unflinching Courage. He played a land and passed with three open, using the mana to make a rat when Arcuni's only action was Fiendslayer Paladin.
...that is, until a Madcap Skills came off the top and onto the Fiendslayer Paladin. It attacked in, dropping Ochoa to 11 and bringing Arcuni to 23. That became 20 when a rat attacked in, with Ochoa keeping back two rats (one made that turn) along with an untapped Mutavault. With the rats becoming a large force, Arcuni's attacks became minimal, at least until Ajani, Caller of the Pride came down and gave the Fiendslayer Paladin double strike and flying. The Fiendslayer Paladin was sent in, dropping Ochoa to 1.
However, Ochoa kept calm, passing with all of his creatures untapped and a card in hand. When Arcuni sent in his whole team, Ochoa made a rat (his fourth), woke up Mutavault, and blocked all of Arcuni's creatures, two rats in front of the Madcap Skills-enhanced Fiendslayer Paladin. The resulting attack left Arcuni's board in ruins, with nothing but an elemental token from a Voice of Resurgence left over. An attack that, if Ochoa could not draw a Hero's Downfall, was also unnecessary, as Ajani could simply go up to two loyalty and then launch the Fiendslayer Paladin at Ochoa for lethal the next turn.
However, when another Madcap Skills came off the top on the next turn, it was all for naught, with Arcuni's lone elemental getting through for the final points of damage.
It was difficult to determine whether holding back a rat token was Ochoa's best option, to prevent an early demise to another Madcap Skills. In most cases, attacking in this case is correct, giving the opponent as few extra turns as possible. But the Pack Rat math can be very different, and hard to calculate in dire circumstances.
Nonetheless, Ochoa would have to wait until his next Grand Prix for a shot at Top 8, his chances denied in Phoenix after a rough round, a familiarly frustrating match-up, and a fate grimly similar to what took place two weeks ago in Cincinnati.
Arcuni 2 – Ochoa 0