Chris VanMeter is one of the StarCityGames stalwarts, churning out weekly articles, winning Open events, and even getting a 1/1 Elemental token made in his likeness. He has yet to taste success on the Grand Prix circuit, but with a 6-0 record so far this weekend, he was at least off to a good start.
But standing in his way was Eric Madaj, a Detroit native whose only taste of Grand Prix play prior to this was Grand Prix Detroit where, he said, he didn't do so great.
"I don't know how to play Modern. Standard. Just Standard."
At 6-0, he certainly had demonstrated his ability in Standard. And he had done so with a pretty stock deck.
VanMeter was getting his aggressive on this weekend, choosing to ride into battle with the popular Jund Monsters deck, similar to what won Grand Prix Buenos Aires just last week. He used a variety of aggressive creatures to hit for huge amounts of damage at a time, all backed up by black removal spells. It was an effective package that was carrying him, and many others, far this weekend.
Compared to what Madaj was playing VanMeter's deck was the new kid on the block. Suiting up a pretty staple Mono Black deck, Madaj was still on the version that played Nightveil Specter main instead of Lifebane Zombie. Whereas Lifebane Zombie can be one of the best cards against Jund Monsters, Specter was often simply mediocre.
Madaj would need to keep VanMeter's many monsters in check while VanMeter would look to use his sparse removal to force through a bevy of powerful haymakers. There was potentially a ton of give and take where any wrong turn could spell doom for either player.
Both players began flooding the board with creatures, an Elf and Scavenging Ooze for VanMeter and a Nightveil Specter for Madaj. VanMeter took an early lead by Ghor-Clan Rampaging his way through, over and past a Nightveil Specter, and then kept that lead with a Dreadbore on Desecration Demon.
His Ooze, now a 5/5, met a Hero's Demise, but much of the damage was done. Eleven damage, to be precise. That rendered Underworld Connections pretty much moot and left the Detroit native open to being run over by Polukranos. Pack Rat offered some way to chump block, but with few cards in hand and very little life, it was more a stop-gap and less of a solution.
Eric Madaj really regretted blocking that Scavenging Ooze.
But it wasn't even much of that when a second red source let VanMeter cast Stormbreath Dragon and fly over for the win.
"Probably shouldn't have blocked Ooze, eh?" Madaj mused between games.
Admittedly, he didn't have much information at the time, but he started out the second game with plenty of it, revealing VanMeter's land-light grip with Duress early on. Seeing two Stormbreath Dragon, Sire of Insanity, Ultimate price, Sylvan Caryatid, Chandra, Pyromaster, and just one land, Madaj knew he'd have some time if VanMeter didn't find land.
He found land, but still had his mana development stunted by Devour Flesh taking out Sylvan Caryatid. That held VanMeter off for a few turns from doing anything too damaging while Madaj started getting in a few points with Mutavault. A second Devour Flesh took out a second Caryatid and kept Madaj firmly in control.
However, Madaj wasn't putting on enough pressure, especially with the life Devour Flesh was giving his opponent. That gave Van Meter enough time to find his fifth land and start throwing haymakers.
The first, Stormbreath Dragon, met a Hero's Downfall (A dragon as the hero? Flavor police!). The second hasty 4/4 met Madaj's face and tightened things up slightly. When Madaj's Desecration Demon paid the Ultimate Price, VanMeter looked to be back in the game.
And the thing about Jund Monsters is that, when it gets back in a game, it doesn't let up on the pedal. Given an inch, it will run over you at a thousand miles per hour.
Pro tip: Don't let Chris VanMeter and Jund Monsters back in the game. Or they'll make you regret it.
And that was exactly what happened. Though down to just four life, VanMeter pushed it to 11 with Xenagos, the Reveler, putting lethal on the board and leaving Madaj knocking on his deck and looking for a way to deal two extra damage or stay alive for just one more turn.
Instead, he found no help and found himself staring down the barrel of a dragon reveling with a Planeswalker-turned God.
VanMeter, now 7-0 and locked for Day 2, really liked his deck and his tweaks to the archetype.
"The Green Red Monsters shell was very good beforehand, but you really have a free roll on what third color you use because it's not an aggressive format."
VanMeter even made some unique changes to the deck, dropping the oft-used Reaper of the Wild and keeping Ghor-Clan Rampager. Most notably he cut Courser of Kruphix and is playing Boon Satyr as well, changes he has clearly been very happy with.