This Feature Match features two titans of East Coast Magic, duking it out early in the tournament. First up is Ben Friedman from Baltimore. After bursting onto the scene with a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Orlando in 2012, Friedman proved that he was one of the hot young players to watch by making a second Grand Prix Top 8 in Minneapolis just a few months later. While the 2013-14 season might look like it has been a quiet one for him, with only one Top 8 in Richmond, he has quietly amassed 28 points, putting himself in striking distance of Gold for next year. With the appearance points he would receive for showing up at the Pro Tour in Portland, Friedman needs a Top 4 finish here to lock up his Pro Tour invitations for all of next season.
Standing in his way is a legend of the game: Paul Rietzl. Though he may be based out of the West Coast of the US right now, Rietzl cut his teeth in the crucible of the East. Originally hailing from Massachusetts, Rietzl grew up playing the game against the legends of Your Move Games, including Hall of Famers Rob Dougherty, Dave Humphreys, and Darwin Kastle. Over the years, Rietzl has been a Grand Prix Champion and Pro Tour Champion, all while balancing time at college and eventually a full-time job. Nowadays, he has somehow managed to lock up Platinum status while holding down a very time-intensive job. Currently the 9th-ranked player in the world, Rietzl has a pedigree strong enough to warrant consideration for the Hall of Fame.
Both players came to Chicago packing Black/White Midrange, which has been the most-successful deck this past week on Magic Online. The deck is at its heart a grinding control deck with the ability to switch gears at a moment's notice. Between cards like Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, and Banishing Light, the deck is packed with ways to keep opposing threats at bay and strategies under wraps. Underworld Dreams and Read the Bones do the work of Sphinx's Revelation, keeping hands filled with cards. When it is time to go aggressive, Pack Rat can get the job done, failing that, Obzedat, Ghost Council, and Elspeth, Sun's Champion, can pick up the slack.
The first game of this match was an exercise in how much damage this deck is capable of dealing, not to an opponent, but to the pilot. A couple of early Thoughtseizes from Rietzl stripped Freidman of Ultimate Price and a Lifebane Zombie, but they also hit him for four. Underworld Connections helped him keep his hand full, but it, too, came at the expense of his rapidly dwindling life total. Friedman saw the writing on the wall and opted to animate that wall and beat Rietzl's face in with it. Rather than play a colored mana-producing land on the first turn of the game, Friedman went full aggro with a Mutavault. This Mutavault got in for six damage over the next four turns of the game, only taking a break to help add a Lifebane Zombie to the attack. This aggression kept Rietzl on his back foot, and he was put so far behind by his own efforts to take control that Friedman easily took the first game of the match.
"It's possible that I should have just taken both Lifebane Zombies," Rietzl admitted to Friedman, "But the Desecration Demon in my hand made me want to take Ultimate Price. Then you had to go and draw Hero's Downfall and Devour Flesh in the next two turns and completely wreck my plan."
The next game looked like it was Friedman's from the start. He had the immediate Banishing Light for Rietzl's Underworld Connections, as well as a copy of his own Connections to follow that up with. Still, Rietzl kept applying pressure, forcing Friedman to respond. Obzedat, Ghost Council, managed to get one lick in before it was hit with Devour Flesh. After that, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, hit the table unmolested. Without a Thoughtseize to strip it or a Hero's Downfall to remove it, Friedman found himself in trouble. He had a copy of his own in his hand, but his only way to play it would be to play his Godless Shrine untapped, a move that would almost kill him on its own. Thanks to Obzedat, Mutavaults, and Friedman's own Connections, Rietzl was able to attack with two Mutavaults and Elspeth's Soldiers to knock Friedman down to 4. From that point, finishing things was elementary.
"So the player that gets to use their Connections first loses," Rietzl joked between games. "That's my observation. I call it The Connections Disadvantage."
The final game saw the first appearance of everyone's favorite rodent this side of Splinter: Pack Rat. Rietzl managed to stick the little pest on the second turn of the game, and it lived to see an untap step. This usually spells disaster for opposing players, but Friedman had different plans. He first dropped a Lifebane Zombie, crucially removing Rietzl's Obzedat. He then cast an Obzedat of his own. The massive 5/5 attacker forced Rietzl into a blocking scenario where he had to trade away all of his Rats to clear Friedman's board. After the dust cleared, Friedman simply added a second Obzedat to his side of the board, putting Rietzl to 3. Rietzl had absolutely nothing he could do to stop it, and he died on Friedman's next turn.
Ben Friedman defeated (9) Paul Rietzl 2-1