Kyle Huett, Michigan native and Brazilian steakhouse lover, is off to a fast start in his second Grand Prix. Now 2-0 with no byes, Hulett finds himself in the feature match area looking to make a run at his first Day 2.
What's that? You're not here for Hulett? My mistake.
Hulett is a good player, as you'll see, but we're all here to marvel at the Meddling Mage himself, Chris Pikula. Long on the edge of the Hall of Fame discussion, Pikula has made an effort to attend Grand Prixs when he's able, including Grand Prix DC and Grand Prix Richmond. So far his comeback has been filled with starts and stops. After making Day 2 of DC, Pikula said he hasn't had much success.
"I tell people that it feels like Day 1 of DC was the last time I won a game," Pikula said. "I've been running that cold."
Now at 2-0, Pikula had at least managed to win a few games since then with his Esper control deck. But what his opponent had in store for him was a little unexpected...
Pikula was packing a pretty standard Esper control deck with few frills and all the normal trappings. He selected the deck because he had been playing WU Control—complete with Azorius Guildgates—but wanted a better way to tackle the RG-based Monsters decks—specifically Stormbreath Dragon—and found the black splash was pretty free. He wasn't terribly enamored with Thoughtseize, but felt it helped speed up games enough that he played some in his sideboard anyway.
Hulett, meanwhile, was playing Esper as well, but of a very different flavor. Full of aggressive creatures like Lyev Skynight and Precinct Captain, the deck looked to take advantage of some top-end threats like Ephara, God of the Polis and Obzedat, Ghost Council. Hulett has actually only played against Esper Control so far this tournament, building his unblemished record on the backs of other Elspheth and Jace aligned mages. Ephara and Obzedat were particularly dangerous against control decks.
Key to the match were the post-board Thoughseizes Hulett would be bringing in. His haymakers were key to winning, but they were easily answered with counterspells and some of Pikula's more exotic removal—Dark Betrayal, Revoke Existence, etc.—so removing those answers would be important if Hulett was going to come out on top.
Hulett started hitting Pikula early, working an Imposing Soveriegn and a Mutavault into the redzone. Azorius Charm gave Pikula a brief respite from the Mutavault, but he found himself at 10 life fairly quickly.
The soldier tokens, however, were enough to gum up the board long enough to fire off a Sphinx's Revelation for four. And, just like that, Pikula had all the answers. Detention Sphere for Skyknight, Doomblade for Imposing Sovereign, another Sphere for Ephara, God of the Polis and another Elspeth to really lock up the board.
Kule Hulett's Imposing Sovereign wasn't terribly imposing after all in the first game.
Meanwhile, Hulett was drawing some pretty useless removal spells. He pointed an Ultimate Price at a token, but otherwise was stuck with little useful in hand and absolutely nothing but land on the board.
A few turns, a few tokens, and few more blanks for Hulett and Pikula swiftly took the first game.
Between games, both players shared their love of Lyev Skynight, which Pikula affectionately called "the Blue-White Lifebane Zombie." He was mostly joking.
Where he wasn't joking was how much he was apprehensive about sideboarded games. He said he wasn't sure how to board against Hulett's fringe strategies, though he was sure of one thing.
"Here come the Thoughtseizes."
The ubiquitous discard spell wasn't forthcoming for Hulett, but he did have a pair of Precinct Captains to threaten some early trouble.
Then turn four and Supreme Verdict rolled around, so there was that.
But Hulett and his pristine record against Esper control weren't done. He reloaded with Ephara, God of the Polis and started attacking with Mutavault, but was struggling to find the second Black mana for the pair of Obzedats in his hand and the Whip of Erebos. Instead, he played a third Precinct Captain that Pikula, reluctantly, had to Supreme Verdict away again.
Once Hulett found his second Black mana, it felt like the game really started to hit its stride as he started throwing out haymakers while Pikula worked to find answers. Whip met a Dissolve while Pikula used a second Dissolve to save his Jace, Architect of Thought from Detention Sphere.
That turned out to be a key play, as Jace yielded a Dark Betrayal that could keep Hulett's very dangerous Obzedat, Ghost Council at bay. Without it, it was likely Pikula would have had no answer to the blinking legendary spirit.
But with it, Pikula had room to breathe. Room enough to land a haymaker of his own, casting Sphinx's Revelation for five and strengthening his grip on the game.
But all this time Ephara was working her magic, netting extra cards and keeping Hulett's hand filled with threats Pikula had to answer. It looked for a moment like Hulett could claw his way back into the match on the back of Ephara and a motley crew of White creatures scratching their way to Pikula's life total.
It looked that way for a moment, anyway.
"Sphinx's Revelation for 10?"
The next time you name Sphinx's Revelation with Meddling Mage, you can thank this guy. Meanwhile, Pikula himself is pretty thankful he's got the power of Sphinx's Revelation in his corner.
To be fair, Hulett put up a good fight after that. Glare of Heresy freed an Ephara after another Detention Sphere, there was a thing with a Lyev Skynight, and he even got to attack multiple times with two Soldier of the Pantheon.
But do you remember the part where Pikula cast Sphinx's Revelation for 10? From that point forward, Pikula had complete control of the game. It was an Ætherling and an Elspeth that eventually dealt the final points of damage, but by that point, the real damage was already done.
Hulett's last draw? Thoughtseize. Many, many turns too late.
"Did you not have Thoughtseizes?" Pikula asked after the game.
"No, I did. I had four. Guess what my last draw was?"