Anthony Lee, an Australian, was the lone wonder from down under who had already locked up his return ticket for tomorrow. "I ignored everything my teammates were saying, and it worked out. I'm 5-2 and they're all 3-4," said Anthony Lee as he sat down for his first feature match.
Doing so was particularly impressive considering this was just his second Pro Tour, one he qualified for by winning an Australian PTQ. Lee was pretty happy to already be well outpacing his 202nd place finish at Pro Tour Nagoya in 2011.
He was also ahead of the pace set by his opponent this round, Pro Tour veteran Andrejs Prost.
"You're doing better than I did. I did not win a match in my first two," Prost said of his first Pro Tours. This one happens to be his twelfth.
But the experience gap isn't the story here, though it's certainly compelling. No, the story here is way cooler. The story here is Strength of the Fallen.
The reason we have these two fine gentlemen in the feature match area isn't that they're doing well, though they are, it's that Lee has a sweet deck that we really, really wanted to write about. Lee brought a White-Green Constellation deck with Strength of the Fallen. There had been ample talk about the possibilities of Strength of the Fallen – Patrick Chapin, for one, highlighted the card's power in his set review columns – but Lee was one of just a few to try and harness the two-mana enchantment.
I'm not exaggerating when I write that Lee did things with Strength of the Fallen that both delighted and confounded me. The deck sounded cool when I heard about it, innovative even. But I didn't really get just howgreat it was.
Prost, on the other hand, has pretty much the opposite of a brew: Red-Green Elsepth. The Naya-flavored deck is one of the bad guys of the format, boasting impressive win numbers and a slew of powerful cards. It wasn't subtle, but it was certainly effective. In fact, Prost had started 5-0 before mulligans had derailed his express train to Undefeated Town. Now he was fighting to stay in the thick of things.
To do so, though, he'd have to conquer the Strength of the Fallen.
Sylvan Caryatids kicked off the match for the players as they both attempted to out-accelerate the other. Prost, however, got the better of things when a Xenagos, the Reveler enabled him to make an additional two mana to Magma Jet Lee's Eidolon of Blossoms and rocket into the lead.
Lee fired back with Banishing Light, but it, too, was met with Banishing Light in order to free the red-green planeswalker. Prost was getting the better of every exchange and Lee was struggling mightily to keep up.
Thanks to a few attacks and a pair of Mana Confluences, Lee was already down to just 12 life, and let out a sigh as he contemplated his turn. Eidolon of Blossoms and Strength of the Fallen made appearances, but at the cost of another 2 life. They also didn't block particularly well, which was really what Lee needed.
In fact, he had much less time than he even realized, as Prost had a monster turn coming up.
Elspeth jumped from the top of his library into play and immediately made tokens. Those tokens, in turn, fueled five mana from Xenagos which, just like that, popped a Stormbreath Dragon into play. One attack and a bunch of damage later and Lee found himself at two life and pinned in by his Mana Confluences. Even a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx wasn't enough to push Lee over the top.
Lee started the second game in far more promising fashion, filling his graveyard with Satyr Wayfinder and Kruphix's Insight. Insight found Eidolon of Blossoms and Strength of the Fallen and, just like that, Lee was off to the races. His plan was so focused on Strength of the Fallen that he was even willing to suicide his Satyr directly into Prost's Courser of Kruphix.
Prost's start was more pedestrian, starting on the Courser of Kruphix and a few scry lands. But, for this game at least, we can forget about Prost. Because Lee was about to do some pretty sweet things.
Strength of the Fallen came into play and gave +2/+2 to...Prost's Courser. It took a second to realize just what was going on, but Lee apparently had a Reprisal plotted and planned, using his own pump to turn on his removal.
I mean, come on, how cool is that?
The next turn things kept getting cooler. Nylea gave Eidolon of Blossoms trample, and a second Strength of the Fallen kept the cards coming and pumped the Eidolon large enough to trample over Xenagos and remove the troublesome planeswalker.
And, to top it all off, Lee still had a full grip to work with.
He would need it, as Prost threw down Elspeth the next turn, hoping to stem some of the bleeding. Except that isn't how things work when the engine gets going. Lee played a pair of Courser of Kruphix, attacked with a 10/10 Eidolon of Blossoms and an active Nylea, killed Elspeth and threatened to do much, much more the next turn. There was, after all, a third Strength of the Fallen sitting on the top of Lee's deck, and that card, as it turns out, is pretty bonkers.
Prost, seeing the really cool writing on the wall (seriously, how cool was all of that?), drew his card and calmly shuffled up his cards for the third game of the last round of the day.
"I can't believe I gave a way a foil copy of Strength of the Fallen at the prerelease. A kid asked for it for his Commander deck and I thought 'I'm ever going to play this,'" Lee said.
As usual, both players started things with various green ways to deal with their mana. Prost played Courser of Kruphix and a Sylvan Caryatid while Lee "merely" Caryatided (totally a word) into Polukranos, World Eater.
The World Eater met a Reprisal that Lee knew about from Courser of Kruphix, but an additional land gave Lee pause to consider his options. Prost, as it turned out, was sitting on a grip full of burn and a Xenagos. That led to a series of turns where the two mostly just parried back and forth, a Banishing Light for Xenagos, Destructive Revelry for Courser of Kruphix, a pair of burn spells for another Courser, and so on.
The game didn't really break open until Prost revealed a Stormbreath Dragon on the top of his deck. With the Dragon in waiting and Lee running out of time, he tried to get something going with two Commune with the Gods, the second of which finally found Strength of the Fallen.
But at just 8 life and facing a potentially monstrous Stormbreath Dragon, would it even matter?
Carefully and cautiously, expecting a trap or a trick at any moment but with no other plays, Prost untapped, activated monstrosity and attacked in. Lee, all out of tricks, just extended his hand as Prost exhaled deeply in relief.
"I was so scared," Prost said. "There's that double strike thing I was worried about. I mis-boarded for Game 2 because I didn't realize Eidolon just destroyed me."
Lee 1 – Prost 2
Lee, even though he lost, was still happy to be headed to his first Pro Tour Day Two, and was happy to discuss the evolution of his deck.
It turns out it was that simple. As it turned out, Strength of the Fallen and Reprisal worked pretty well together, and Banishing Light was yet another way to trigger Constellation. But the key for Lee was listening to himself and ignoring, as it turns out, the naysayers on his team.