The final round of Day One of a Grand Prix has a tendency to show some pretty insane bubble-matches, also known as players on the cusp of elimination from a tournament. In this case, it was two 18-point players of very notable fame who were going into Round 9 with their tournament lives at risk.
Alejandro Betschart is a player well known to the Latin American Magic scene. After all, he has won the Uruguay National Championship not once, not twice, but three times, his last victory taking place in 2010 with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.
Willy Edel, No. 10 Ranked Player and a player who is a very strong candidate for the Magic Hall of Fame in this year's voting, has been representing Brazil well for a very long time. His credentials also include a National Championship title, thanks to his win last year, but it also includes four Pro Tour Top 8 finishes and six Grand Prix Top 8 finishes, including a win at Grand Prix Toronto 2012.
Both long-time players knew what was at stake, and it's certainly not a situation that either were unfamiliar with, as they silently shuffled and prepared for the start of match.
While the Temple of Deceits may throw you off, Betschart is piloting a fairly stock Mono-Black Devotion list, with all the usual key cards such as Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Nightveil Specter, Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, Desecration Demon, and of course, Pack Rat.
Edel, meanwhile, has turned in his Naya deck in favor of Boros Burn for this event. The match-up represents an awkward showdown between burn spells and a powerful life drain effect, and it can get worse for Edel if Betschart has a hand with Devour Flesh to go with Gray Merchant, as the Diabolic Edict effect can be turned on himself for some life gain in a pinch.
Edel led off with Boros Guildgate, his hand not blistering after a mulligan to six, while Betschart had a second-turn Pack Rat. Chandra's Phoenix was Edel's first play of the game, attacking Betschart down to 18. A second Chandra's Phoenix made the clock 4 damage a turn, but Betschart's Mutavaults and a second Pack Rat made on the third turn threatened to end the game a lot faster than what Edel could handle.
With a second Mutavault dropped onto the table on the fourth turn, Edel was forced to hold back his two Phoenixes in order to prevent an immediate end to the game, with Betschart representing a potential 18 damage if his creatures got in unblocked. Betschart animated a Mutavault and sent it in along with three rats.
Edel's Phoenixes made his blocks: one in front of Mutavault, the other in front of a rat. Boros Charm gave the one blocking Mutavault double strike. That left Betschart with one damaged rat after the combat, which Searing Blood disposed of, recurring Edel's dead Phoenix.
However, no miracles were getting Edel out of a Pack Rat infestation, and he quickly moved to the second game.
Edel led off in the second game with a much more stocked hand, but had no early action or Chandra's Phoenix. When Betschart's second-turn Duress left him without a Skullcrack over two Shocks, Lightning Strike, Searing Blood, and Chandra, Pyromaster, it became clear that Betschart had some Gray Merchants at the ready. Nightveil Specter from Betschart ate a Lightning Strike, and Betschart's fourth-turn Desecration Demon was Chained to the Rocks.
However, Edel did not have a land on the fourth turn, and while he found one on turn five, he needed to use his removal on the Desecration Demon. This left him susceptible to Thoughtseize, which robbed him on his in-hand Chandra, Pyromaster.
Fortunately for Edel, during two turns of draw-go between the two players, he found another one. Unfortunately for him, it yielded no cards and immediately succumbed to Hero's Downfall. Betschart's Gray Merchant of Asphodel came down on the next turn, as Edel worked to mitigate its damage with Spark Trooper. Things got worse for the No. 10 Ranked player when he attempted to shoot down a Desecration Demon with two Shocks and a Searing Blood though, as Betschart had Devour Flesh to not only fizzle the Searing Blood's effect, but also to gain 6 life.
Edel pressed on regardless, waking up two Mutavaults to attack in with the Chandra's Phoenix on the following turn. The Gray Merchant, which was held back to keep Edel's Mutavaults at bay, blocked one, and Hero's Downfall disposed of the other. Magma Jet from Edel let him clear out the Gray Merchant, and despite a rough few turns, he was fighting back.
While Betschart re-built a board with Nightveil Specter (which immediately got Chained to the Rocks), followed by a Desecration Demon and another Nightveil Specter. However, it was not a fast enough clock. Edel chump-blocked the Demon with his Phoenix on one turn, then aimed a Warleader's Helix to Betschart, getting the Phoenix back.
Betschart led off in the deciding game with Duress, revealing two Mountains, Tower of Triumph, Sacred Foundry, two Magma Jets, and Skullcrack. The Skullcrack immediately ended up in the graveyard, and Betschart passed back with no action after Edel led with a top-decked Mutavault. Edel held back on the second turn, then did the same on the third turn, always keeping Magma Jet open. The Temple of Triumph that Edel played on the third turn immediately had him leaving the card from his scry on top, telegraphing Chandra's Phoenix.
The Phoenix made its appearance on the next turn, and was immediately removed from the battlefield by Betschart's Devour Flesh. Betschart, who had four lands untapped in his next turn, tapped out for Desecration Demon. Edel re-bought his Chandra's Phoenix with a Magma Jet, and the Phoenix once again found itself in play. Betschart's Demon attacked in, dropping Edel to 16, before Betschart added Nightveil Specter to his board.
Edel held back the Phoenix on the next turn, but lost it to Hero's Downfall before combat. Betschart sent in his flying creatures, losing his Specter to two Magma Jets. Two Lightning Strikes disposed of the Desecration Demon on the next turn, putting Edel very low on cards, with his opponent still barely damaged.
That Phoenix, by the way? It would never leave the graveyard for the rest of the game.
Barely damaged became starting life total when Betschart followed up the dead Demon with Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Edel bought time and brought down that life total a bit with Spark Trooper, which caused a 12 point life swing. When Betschart sent in one of his two Mutavaults on the next turn, Edel woke up his and traded it. Warleader's Helix bought Edel a reprieve against Betschart's follow-up Nightveil Specter, the Chandra's Phoenix sitting helplessly in the graveyard.
Eventually, however, Betschart found a Pack Rat which, after making a rat token, all but ensured the game. Edel held on as long as he could, but when lethal was represented, he offered the handshake.
Betschart 2 – Edel 1