At any given Magic tournament, there are a number of unique stories walking around the room. From players at their first Grand Prix to the pro trying to earn a few more critical pro points, everyone has their tale to tell.
Even still, William Greer's is noteworthy. Cincinnati isn't just his first Grand Prix in several years; it's his first tournament at all in that time.
"I just kind of drifted away from it, and I've been back exactly two weeks," he informed his Round 6 opponent in the feature match area.
That opponent? Pro Tour mainstay and ChannelFireball writer David Ochoa.
And the feature match area? Greer ran out to a perfect 5-0 record without any byes, setting up the showdown with the also-perfect Ochoa.
Greer didn't exactly ease back into Magic. He attacked it by skipping straight to one of the more tricky decks in the format in Esper Control, a deck that can require some well-planned sequencing to play optimally.
That is especially true against the deck Ochoa chose to battle with, a Mono-Black Devotion build splashing red for maindeck Rakdos's Return and a few splashy sideboard options that play a key role against control decks. He also made the move to put the sideboard Lifebane Zombies into his starting 60 in anticipation of having plenty of targets.
Ochoa's build is atypical for the Mono-Black Devotion deck, but it proved its power all day, and would again against Greer.
"The Lifebane Zombies in the maindeck has been good, and so has the Rakdos's Return," he explained. "It depends on what you're expecting. The red splash is a metagame call, but it's been very good today."
It's assumed that the deck packing Sphinx's Revelation is the one loaded with more card advantage, but Ochoa set out to prove in the first game that's not always the case.
Thoughtseize stripped away the copy of Esper's key card, and with a Lifebane Zombie alongside a Mutavault, Ochoa — all the while drawing extra cards with Underworld Connections — provided enough pressure to force Greer to turn his Supreme Verdict into a one-for-one trade as he tried to build toward casting Elspeth, Sun's Champion with enough mana to protect it with Dissolve.
That plan fell through when Ochoa used a Bile Blight to kill both copies of Greer's animated Mutavault with a single spell, possibly baiting Greer into activating both by letting a lone one get through the turn before.
Ochoa used that window to cast Gray Merchant of Asphodel, forcing Greer to issue another verdict. That opened the window for a Whip of Erebos to resolve, which immediately whipped a Gray Merchant into shape to induce the scoop.
"I guess I should have seen that Bile Blight coming, but I don't really know all the cards," Greer lamented as the pair shuffled for Game 2.
"Don't worry, I always touch the stove the second time too," Ochoa consoled him.
Game 2 was a much more tightly-contested affair, with Duress into Thoughtseize by Ochoa on Turn 2 stripping away part of Greer's hand. But what remained was just as powerful, and a Jace, Architect of Thought landed several turns later on an empty board.
All Ochoa could muster was a Lifebane Zombie, which along with his two Mutavaults did present enough power to kill Jace the next turn even through the Celestial Flare Ochoa knew Greer had. But the Esper player shut that down with a Pithing Needle set to Mutavault, setting the stage for Greer to take over the game with Sphinx's Revelation on his next turn.
That is, until Ochoa revealed the perfect card, and one of the reasons he chose to splash red in his deck.
With no instant-speed answer to the control-killing demon, Greer was forced to pitch his hand and stare sourly at another copy Sphinx's Revelation when he drew for the next turn. He tried to work his way back into the game with a Supreme Verdict off the top two turns later, but the follow-up Gray Merchant of Asphodel for Ochoa was enough to wrap things up and stay undefeated on the day.