How does it feel to cast Rakdos's Return to discard your opponent's entire hand after they've missed several land drops? Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif humbly summed it as "pretty good" on his way to a split win over three fast games against Martin Juza.
Both veteran players of the Pro Tour, Juza and Nassif know the value in winning early rounds of a Pro Tour. Better tiebreakers come through victories on Day One, and each had set out to do that with aggressive decks.
While Martin Juza's Boros deck had some aggressive creatures, Nassif's Rakdos deck packed a real punch with Goblin Pikers, auras, and some powerful removal.
Juza, renowned for his Limited prowess from years of success on the Grand Prix circuit, drafted a white-heavy Boros deck that brought two-drops to bear. While a small suite of tricks were there, like Martial Glory and Boros Charm, his deck lacked removal. It also included creatures that couldn't attack, with two copies of Basilica Guards.
Removal and efficient attackers were easier to come by for Nassif, the two-time Pro Tour winner and Hall of Fame member who had pulled together a red-filled Rakdos deck. Homing Lighting and Launch Party highlighted the lethal spell suite to match multiple copies each of Bomber Corps, Riot Piker, and Deviant Glee.
"I felt like the matchup was okay," Nassif said, "but then in Game 2 I saw Concordia Pegasus and my deck is all Riot Pikers. I have a lot of ways to get them through, but coming in, I thought I was a big underdog. I felt pretty good after Game 1."
Juza was tight on mana across all three games, but particularly in Game 1. "I couldn't cast anything," he admitted, and with a slow start to boot, Juza was forced into blocks throughout. Nassif used Weapon Surge to help Ember Beast, Bomber Corps, and Ash Zealot punch through Syndic of Tithes and Basilica Guards, then Homing Lightning negated the worst of Martial Glory when Juza tried to save the Guards while blocking a turn later.
Rakdos's Return for 4 damage and four cards when Nassif hit his sixth mana in as many turns left Juza without anything to hold onto. While Juza's notepad was covered with the powerful spells he saw from Nassif's deck, losing to two copies of Bomber Corps, one with Deviant Glee, was a high price to pay for the knowledge.
Nassif closed out a first game off of a deadly Rakdos's Return while his opponent was struggling to find lands.
The second game showed Juza's resilience. He wanted to curve out even after a mulligan, and picked his cards up in order to see if it would happen. As he explained, "I always look at four then three, or three then three. I'll see two-drop, three-drop, four-drop and hope for land, land, land."
He got his wish on six cards, leading Boros Mastiff into Pyrewild Shaman, then Basilica Guards. Nassif's Bellows Lizard and Spike Jester sat at home a turn before trading away favorably for Juza, who followed up with Syndic of Tithes and two copies of Concordia Pegasus, plenty of extort getting paid for along the way. By the time Nassif hit a Launch Party to clear some of the incoming damage, he had run out of creatures to cast.
Juza may have been short on removal, but the quality of his creatures was high.
Game 3 was Nassif's opportunity to play first, and Juza adjusted by sideboarding in Zarichi Tiger. However, it was the lack of removal that derailed Juza's chances. Even with Boros Charm and Martial Glory in hand, and creatures in play to work with, it took Nassif just three cards and six turns to win: Riot Piker came in on turn two and was promptly enchanted by Madcap Skills on turn three. It attacked, and then attacked again on turn four. The Piker was finally made unblockable by Rogue's Passage on turns five and six for the final points of damage.