The round started with a seemingly simple question: "How did he kill your regenerator?" Lars Dam asked second-ranked Pro Tour Theros winner Jérémy Dezani.
"He didn't." Dezani answered.
"How did he win then?"
"His guy was bigger."
"He just trampled through?" Dam sounded a bit incredulous but he didn't laugh at Armadillo Cloak: it worked for Paul Rietzl.
Dam had been watching the first round marathon match between his second round opponent and Hall of Fame member Paul Rietzl. Featuring aura-enhanced monsters and a Claws of Wirewood that drew a game, it was a spectacle other players couldn't help but watch.
There may have been another reason Dam was watching the match closely: his qualification for the World Championship came from the Magic Online Championship, and his qualification there came from being Limited player of the Year for Magic Online. Drafting at the World Championship seemed straightforward to Dam to earn some points, and previous Magic Online champions had an established pedigree of performance. Just check up on how "little-known" Reid Duke (currently third-ranked) and Dimitriy Butakov have done since their respective first adventures in the World Championship.
Dezani entered the World Championship with an impressive resume of facts for the year: 2014 Player of the Year title, winner of Pro Tour Born of the Gods, and two Grand Prix titles among several Top 8s. His string of top finishes and high-level performance made him a strong contender for the event. When he plays the best in the world he's often been the victor.
Magic Online's 2013 Limited Player of the Year battles against Premier Play's 2013-14 Player of the Year in the second round of this epic event.
Dezani had drafted the Blue-Green Madness deck, using cards like Frantic Search and Obsessive Search to dig down to key cards like Roar of the Wurm and Basking Rootwalla. The ability to quickly present powerful threats and back them up with countermagic and creature buffs makes it a classic archetype players still love today.
Dam took a different path to building his deck: Predator, Flagship with an array of black removal, and aggressive white creatures.
"From what I've seen black isn't very good but it ended up being extremely open," Dam said about his draft. "Hymn to Tourach ended up wheeling in the second pack. I was drafting an aggressive white deck but I abandoned my first pick Goblin Trenches and got rewarded: double Death Grasp, Expunge, double Chainer's Edict."
"I knew going in that I wanted to be in white," he continued. "I feel it's the strongest color by far. Battle Screech is almost unbeatable when you cast it on turn four and flash it back right away. The aggressive two-drops are very good. Most other colors lack two-drops that are very good: they all have drawbacks. White's two-drops are hard to stop very early."
Dezani opened with Mana Vault but didn't follow through on a play until Dam attacked with Phantom Nomad: Frantic Search into a madness Obsessive Search. Digging for action, Roar of the Wurm tokens were first met by Expunge, then Armageddon by Dam, ahead on board with creatures. Despite the big creature, Misthollow Griffin and a tapped Mana Vault quickly ate away the little life Dezeni had left.
Lars Dam relentlessly drops one big play after another.
"I'll play first."
Those were the only words exchanged between games, as Dezani went into the second game looking for a rebound. Dam led with Stoic Champion, though Dezani bought significant time with Man-o'-War. He threatened to end it quickly with Elephant Guide the following turn. Dam forced the 5/5 down into a 3/3 Elephant token before a second Elephant Guide made that 6/6. Dezani continued to press in and dropped Dam to just 6 life. An Æther Mutation later a quick second game was over.
This time there were no words at all as both players looked to find their first match win in the tournament. Stoic Champion was Dam's start again, with Chainer's Edict taking care of an early Basking Rootwalla from Dezani. Though Dezani was stuck on Islands for several turns, Dam wasn't able to take advantage of the time by casting more creatures. Saproling Burst changed the battlefield when Dezani hit his Forest on the fifth turn, but with six lands of his own Dam made Predator, Flagship.
Dezani, the reigning Player of the Year, is hoping to start out the tournament strong.
Falling to 9 life, Dam used Radiant's Judgment and Nature's Ruin to slow Dezani's Saprolings and friends down. After Saproling Burst ran out of steam, Dezani traded his Counterspells away to stop Dam from resolving creatures. All throughout Predator, Flagship and Dam's removal kept his life total healthy.
Gaining a little life with Death Grasp kept Dam afloat during the brief moments Dezani could hit damage, and that was all Dam needed. The methodical work of Predator, Flagship whittled Dezani down to one card in hand with just a few more left in his library.
Resolving Battle Screech was enough for Dam to finally push through for the win.
How much did the Magic OnlineLimited Player of the Year prepare for Vintage Masters draft? "Not a lot," Dam admitted. "When it came back on Magic Online I did like three or four drafts, but I've watched a lot more on Twitch so I knew what was going on."
You heard it here first: Some of the best in the game learn from the Magic Online streams of everyone else.
Dam 2 – Dezani 1