With Top 8s in two Pro Tours, one World Championship, and nine Grand Prix, without even including his various poker accomplishments, No. 23 Eric Froehlich is a man with a resumé. He's running the Melira Pod deck, arguably the most complicated deck in the format. And like a champ he picked up the deck like a week ago. Many pros here have steered clear of unfamiliar decks, especially one touted to be the hardest in the format to play right. But Froehlich said, "I started playing with it, and I just couldn't seem to lose." It's hard to argue with results. And he's 6-0 so far.
He's up against Westchester, Pennsylvania's Greg Kemper. Though Kemper has a comparably slimmer curriculum vitae, his 8 Rax deck attacks (or, I suppose, "attax") the format from a different angle that is often hard to account for. It heavily relies on early discard spells to empty the hand of his opponent. Usually after doing this, he can take his time killing the opponent with The Rack and Shrieking Affliction. Froehlich said he had never played the match-up before, whereas Kemper had played against Pod tons of times, so Kemper had the rogue advantage. He was 6-0 himself, so his been riding that advantage to good use.
But Eric Froehlich's Pod deck is a bit of a challenge for Kemper. The deck's namesake, Birthing Pod, allows Froehlich to play straight from his library, assuming he has a creature on the field. If Froehlich lands a Birthing Pod and can keep a creature or two on the board, he would eventually be able to grind out a win, but it would have to be faster than the one-drop kill spells of Kemper's. Kemper said the match-up is highly draw and board dependent. "For example, Smallpox against [the Pod deck], is great on the play, but it's terrible on the draw."
A turn-one Thoughtseize from Greg Kemper revealed Eternal Witness, Thrun, the Last Troll, Abrupt Decay, Kitchen Finks, Birthing Pod, and Verdant Catacombs from Eric Froehlich. He had a Overgrown Tomb already on the battlefield. But Kemper was far from finished with the discard (it would be quite the bad discard deck if it only had one discard spell).
Thoughtseize, Raven's Crime, and Inquisition of Kozilek all started stripping Froehlich's hand, but Froehlich kept the Birthing Pod safe. When he eventually cast it (using a land he had to Eternal Witness back from the graveyard), he sacrificed the 2/1 Regrowth machine to fetch a Murderous Redcap. The next turn, he sacrificed the Redcap (returning it with a -1/-1 counter thanks to the persist mechanic) and fetched out a Reveillark. The Birthing Pod chain had begun.
Though Kemper had landed an Ensnaring Bridge to stop Froehlich from attacking, the Top 25–ranked player had his engine online. Before Froehlich attacked for the turn, the life totals were 15-9 in Kemper's favor. Kemper blocked the 1/1 Redcap, and post-combat the Reveillark brought back both it and the Eternal Witness. Witness returned the Abrupt Decay that was discarded oh so long ago, and Kemper's one source of damage, The Rack, was sent to the graveyard. After all that maneuvering of cards in and out of zones it was 11-8. Kemper had the life lead, but had no way to deal the final points. Though it had looked grim, Froehlich finally had the lead, both in board state and life total.
Kemper was playing off the top (to be fair, so was Froehlich, but with the active Birthing Pod and few creatures out, the top of the deck is much less important). If Kemper had been able to stop the Birthing Pod from coming out, he had the potential to shut down this engine. But at this point, it was too late.
Froehlich's kill engine under Ensnaring Bridge wasn't pretty, but after he made a Ranger of Eos, finding a Noble Hierarch; then turned the Noble Hierarch into a Qasali Pridemage, Kemper had seen enough. He scooped up his cards for the second game.
Eric Froehlich 1 – 0 Greg KemperGame Two
Thoughtseize again turn one revealed Scavenging Ooze, Birds of Paradise, Kitchen Finks, Murderous Redcap, and land. Kemper took the Birds, and then followed Raven's Crime and a second Thoughtseize. Both times Kemper left the Scavenging Ooze in Froehlich's hand and it came down on the pro's second turn. This likely meant Kemper had an answer for it.
And he did. Kemper simply made a Liliana of the Veil and brought it down to one counter. This time Kemper's deck did what was supposed to. A Smallpox the next turn took out a land and a Birds of Paradise, and with the help of the Planeswalker, emptied Froehlich's hand. Smallpox is good on the play. And like a champ, Kemper top-decked the Shrieking Affliction to start the killing.
It was 15-12 when Kemper got the turn back. His Liliana was down to one counter thanks to a Voice of Resurgence (which is a real jerk to kill with Liliana), but Froehlich sunk to 9, and was on a quick clock. The Rack came down the next turn and Froehlich took five more to go down to 4 life.
But Froehlich still had a chance, oddly enough because he was drawing land. Kemper had two Inquisition of Kozilek in a row, but they couldn't make Froehlich discard anything, because he just flashed Forests. Voice of Resurgence kept attacking for two each turn, and it was 6-2 and Froehlich had two cards in his hand. Kemper would need to draw a card to make Froehlich discard his lands, or a Ensnaring Bridge in three turns.
He immediately found a Wrench Mind. It was more than enough to make Froehlich die on his upkeep thanks to 2 Rax.Eric Froehlich 1 – 1 Greg Kemper
Right on time, a third turn-one Thoughtseize came from Kemper. It revealed Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Abrupt Decay, Eternal Witness, and land. Kemper took the Witness and found himself facing down a top-decked Voice of Resurgence. Though not particularly fast, it was a clock at all, and hard to remove efficiently. If Kemper could have taken that card, he might have.
Kemper's second turn was spent casting two Raven's Crime and Froehlich chose to discard the other two non-land spells he had. On turn three a second Thoughtseize took the only remaining card, a second Abrupt Decay. Kemper cast a Shrieking Affliction and started the race. Kemper got his turn back with the scores 12-15 in Froehlich's favor, but the poker pro was handless. The Raven's Crime making sure that it would stay that way. It was Voice of Resurgence versus Shrieking Affliction.
It looked like Froehlich was on the losing end of the deal, but the turn that changed the game was when Froehlich top-decked a Qasali Pridemage. Not only did it add +1/+1 to the Voice, bringing to totals to 7-9, but it also took out Kemper's win condition. Kemper was beginning to sweat. Just as I said way back when, Voice of Resurgence on the second turn had created a threat that Kemper couldn't handle.
It might seem silly to say, but drawing the Voice on the second turn made the difference. It had dealt all the damage thus far in the match. And it would also deal the final. Kemper drew dead for a few turns, then became dead.Eric Froehlich 2 – 1 Greg Kemper
Commenting on the match-up after, Froehlich said that it can be frustrating but, "If I have a pod, I don't think I can ever lose. I just pod into Harmonic Sliver to kill the Ensnaring Bridge, and I can turn that into Entomber Exarch if a really need to." Eric Froehlich advances to 7-0; Greg Kemper sinks to 6-1.