Posted in NEWS on December 9, 2013

Rodrigo Lopez, veteran of the World Magic Cup has been touted as the best Chilean limited player, although he thinks that’s wrong.  He feels people don’t give enough credit to Daniel Sanchez, also in attendance today, though he saves a little pride for himself and says they are probably tied.  Lopez was running the Mono-Black Devotion deck, inarguably one of the pillars of this Standard format at the moment.  He was 4-0 so far, but he was about to run up against another 4-0, the Argentine Agustin Hessel.

Agustin Hessel is using the RG Midrange beatdown machine.  The Argentine, who started playing in 2009, was excited to travel less than 5,000 miles to play a Grand Prix.  He said the Argentine scene is growing rapidly, and the amount of Grand Prix in the coming years will get the scene become even more energized.  “We need to make sure people are going to the Grand Prix and playing.  Playing at the Grand Prix is just good.”  It’s that simple.

Hessel is playing the hits in his deck:  Polukranos, World Eater, Domri Rade, Boon Satyr and even some Deadbridge Goliath to help power through Mono-Black’s constant creature kill.  However, this matchup is all about the sideboard bullets.  Lopez has Lifebane Zombie and Hessel has Witchstalker.  Both are insanely powerful once resolved.  Either spell can dominate a board if given the opportunity.

Agustin Hessel

Both players are jovial and chatted back and forth while shuffling.  Sometimes they talked about the speed and dialect of the various South American countries, and sometimes well, variations of South American insults.  There are a lot of variations, apparently.

Game One started out about optimally for both players.  Hessel had Sylvan Caryatid into Polukranos, World Eater.  While Lopez cast Underworld Connections and then an Ultimate Price to whisk away the Polukranos and draw a card.  This first game would be defined by how many removal spells—combinations of Doom Blade, Hero’s Downfall, and other killers—Mono-Black could draw, and at what moments.  If an early Desecration Demon appeared, providing a formidable clock, Lopez would need fewer removal spells.  Otherwise, he would need some more, and would likely have to rely on Underworld Connections to dig for them.

Hessel continued his plan, laying must-answer threat after must-answer threat, until Lopez could no longer answer them.  Deadbridge Goliath and Domri Rade both fell victim to removal, but a Boon Satyr which was immediately pumped via the Goliath took 9 points from Lopez, who was already bleeding himself with the Underworld Connections.  Another removal spell took out the dead-bug-pumped Satyr, but Lopez had to start using Gray Merchant of Asphodel just to go back into a double-digit life total.  And this was the first life Hessel lost.

Hessel played his fifth-best threat, the Ghor-Clan Rampager (usually much better to use mid-combat).  But if Lopez couldn’t answer it, the Beast would kill him as good as any of the bigger, better beaters.  And boy buddy, did that Beast beat Lopez.

Flesh // Blood came out from Hessel, and it hurt real bad.  A Polukranos was exiled, and the Ghor-Clan Rampager, aided by the Fuse spell, dealt more than enough to take out Lopez in short order.  Just like that, game one went to the beatdown machine.

Lopez immediately threw into his deck Lifebane Zombies from his sideboard.  These are killer in the matchup and could help to bring the score back even.  But Hessel would be bringing in his own hateful card, the Witchstalker.  Both these three drops could give the other deck fits if they land, though both could negate the other.  In the post-sideboarded games, both cards played important roles.

Rodrigo Lopez

The second game gave Lopez a turn-two Pack Rat, but no third untapped land to activate it, nor to cast the Lifebane Zombie in his hand.  And a third-turn Witchbane Hunter meant that Lopez’s late Zombie would be ineffective against it.  Although it still had some juicy targets.

Xenagos, the Reveler, two Boon Satyr, and Polukranos were all options for the Zombie.  Lopez removed one of the Boon Satyrs, then went on the aggressive tack.  He added a Nightveil Specter before hitting with the Zombie and passed to Hessel. 

The pivotal turn was when Hessel got the turn back after adding the Polukranos to the field.  He feared the Pack Rat, and thought that if Lopez untapped and killed his Polukranos, the Rat would simply take over the game.  So Hessel used monstrosity with X at one, targeting the Zombie and the Rat.  Lopez activated Mutavault to save the Rat (by making it a 2/2), and Hessel offered the trade by sending World Eater with five damage on it into the red zone, hitting the 2/2 Rat head on.  After the match, Hessel questioned his play, but he said, “If he had the kill spell for the Polukranos, the Pack Rat just wins it for him.  I think it was a good trade.”

However, his board was only Witchstalker.  Lopez was attacking with Nightveil Specter and was gaining life thanks to a Gray Merchant of Asphodel.  The score was 8-19 in Lopez’s favor.

Hessel thought hard about how to come back, but his hand was ineffective.  Neither the Boon Satyr nor the Xenagos would provide near enough damage to win a race if Lopez had another Gray Merchant.  So he tried his best to stall.  But the second Gray Merchant was already ready.  when it reared its Merchant-y head, Hessel knew it was time to pack it in for the third game.  It was one game apiece.

In the last game,  the Witchstalker came out even earlier than in Game Two.  Perhaps this would be the trick for Hessel.  A first-turn Elvish Mystic powered out the 3/3 who started smacking Lopez as soon as he could.  Afterward, an unchallenged Domri Rade followed and when Lopez laid his third land, he was already facing an imposing field.  The Chilean hunched closely to the board, as Hessel simple folded his hands on the table and kept his chin high.  He knew his hand was good.

The Argentine chose Polukranos to follow the next turn, and without quick answers, he would move to 5-0.

Lopez laid a Desecration Demon, but the combination of Polukranos growing large, and Domri Rade instigating a fight wiped the Demon to the graveyard while allowing Lopez to 4.  Hessel was at 14 himself. 

Witchstalker and a brand new Xenagos Satyr token threatened lethal the following turn.  Lopez stabilized for a short time by blocking with Mutavault, then casting a Gray Merchant as another chump blocker.  But there was more than power in Hessel’s hand to make Domri Rade’s fight ability a surefire winner.  The Gray Merchant went to the graveyard, and soon Lopez’s life total became 0.

After the match-up Agustin Hessel told me that after the Domri Rade came down, he was pretty sure he had the game locked up.  “I didn’t even draw a single card off the card, but I still had enough options to choose from to win.”

Turn two Witchstalker into a Domri Rade seems pretty good indeed.

Agustin Hessel advances to 5-0.