The relentless pursuit of winning in Magic led tenth-ranked Owen Turtenwald to the finals of the 2015 World Championship. As a rising star, he was among the best players without a Grand Prix victory for years. After finally breaking the finals loss streak with back-to-back wins late in 2013 after making the Top 8 of a Pro Tour earlier, Turtenwald next turned his attention to earning his second Pro Tour Top 8 in 2014. Now, deep into 2015, he cracked the Top 4 of the World Championship and defeated Pro Tour Hall of Fame player 3rd-ranked Paul Rietzl to put another title in his reach.
To get there, he'd had to break an incredible match win streak.
Fourth-ranked Seth Manfield had taken just one match loss during the World Championship. Throughout second half of Day One and the entirety of Day Two, Manfield demolished the competition to secure the best Swiss record the tournament had ever seen since Shota Yasooka's run in 2012. His goal for the Top 4 was simple: become the next World Champion, ensuring his return for the next World Championship.
As a new father, he wanted to balance playing the highest level of competitive Magic around the world against being a dad at home. Winning would be the best step possible to ensure that.
Two titans of the last year of Magic were all that remained before a World Champion could be crowned. Who would win? The crowd watched, waiting for see who would be crowned.
Through Manfield's dominating performance in the Swiss rounds, Abzan Control emerged as the clear deck of choice when Turtenwald defeated third-ranked Paul Rietzl to enter the finals. It featured removal, Siege Rhino, and Elspeth, Sun's Champion with a splash of Languish or Tragic Arrogance. It was a winning sequence all weekend, and both titans of the game would be facing off in a near mirror showdown.
Cards from the sideboard like Glare of Heresy and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon would help determine the final position for both players, but the importance of Nissa, Vastwood Seer was even higher. Jockeying to ensure land drops and the advantage Nissa, Sage Animist could provide was a constant struggle in the mirror match.
The first game began as most Abzan Control battles do. Manfield's Thoughtseize crossed Turtenwald's, with Manfield choosing Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Turtenwald taking a Courser of Kruphix. Nissa, Vastwood Seer was next for Manfield as Turtenwald just passed with mana open.
Manfield played his Siege Rhino into the open mana, and Turtenwald's Abzan Charm was waiting to exile it away. Another Thoughtseize from Turtenwald took away Elspeth, Sun's Champion from Manfield before a face-down Den Protector joined the fray.
Manfield surveys the board, cards in hand, and life totals as he makes his play.
Manfield pressed the attack, putting Turtenwald down to 8 life. The Den Protector brought back Nissa for Turtenwald and the game slowed down. Manfield found a second Courser of Kruphix, then a third. Transforming Nissa, Vastwood Seer with his seventh land, Manfield attacked Turtenwald down to 5 life. He had declined to block with his Protector or Nissa of his own.
Bile Blight took away Turtenwald's chances to transform his own Nissa, and with a fresh 4/4 on the other side he couldn't afford to wait. He dug down with Abzan Charm, falling to 3 life. Languish answered that wave, but Elspeth, Sun's Champion off Nissa, Sage Animist's plus loyalty ability presented a new problem for Turtenwald.
He didn't have another answer that time.
The second game started similar to the first, with Turtenwald using Thoughtseize to take out Glare of Heresy from Manfield. Turtenwald's third turn Courser of Kruphix was met by Manfield missing his third land and playing Den Protector face-up.
Turtenwald thinks about all possible lines of play.
Siege Rhino from Turtenwald followed by a fast pass of the turn back from Manfield made it clear the game was over long before the final damage was dealt. Three turns later and Manfield never drew that third land.
The third game brought out a card that was a first for Manfield in the Top 4: Fleecemane Lion. Attacking Turtenwald, Manfield didn't have a third land and play to follow behind, and missed a land again on his fourth turn when he played Den Protector face-up.
Turtenwald's Siege Rhino put a stop to all that aggression from Manfield. Abzan Charm, taking 2 damage from his own lands when he hit his third on the next turn, was Manfield's way to keep the pressure on.
It didn't last.
Bile Blight cleared away the Fleecemane Lion for Turtenwald, but Manfield replaced it with a face-down copy. Turtenwald was unfazed as he played Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Manfield used his Protector to rebuy his Windswept Heath and have a fourth land, but the army of Soldier tokens was threatening Manfield's fragile 7 life.
At the end of the turn, Turtenwald put two +1/+1 counters onto his face-down Protector.
"You have me at 9, right?" Manfield asked, confirming life totals and calculating the winning math Turtenwald had run.
"Yep," Turtenwald agreed. When Turtenwald cast Thoughtseize it was good enough for Manfield to take the match to its fourth game.
"Too many hands haven't been good to me," Manfield said as they shuffled again. He'd need to win two games back-to-back to become the next World Champion.
The fourth game featured more mana for Manfield as Fleecemane Lion led the way again. They matched Courser of Kruphixs next, though Abzan Charm splitting the counters between Manfield's two creatures killed Turtenwald's on the block.
Manfield, on the edge of his seat in one of the most important matches of his life.
Manfield looked convincingly in control. A face-down and face-up each of Den Protector was Turtenwald's strategy to buy time. He fell to 7 life blocking the next attack.
Manfield made his own face-down Den Protector before Turtenwald untapped to cast Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Using Abzan Charm to supercharge his Den Protector before turning it face-up, Manfield was able to bypass the wall of Soldiers Turtenwald made. A turn later, reusing the Abzan Charm thanks to Den Protector, Manfield pushed the final points of damage through.
The decisive fifth game was an exciting way to wrap the World Championship weekend. Similar to how Shahar Shenhar had worked his way back from a two-game deficit to defeat Reid Duke in the finals of the 2013 tournament, Manfield fought back against Turtenwald's rally to even up the score. All of the games, all of the choices, and all of the draws had led to just one last game to declare a new World Champion.
The real question was whether it would be Manfield, his family watching close at home, or Turtenwald, who put in every ounce of preparation possible, to find the final win.
The familiar opening unfolded. Turtenwald's Thoughtseize discarded Nissa, Vastwood Seer for Manfield, and Manfield replied with a second turn Fleecemane Lion. Abzan Charm would keep it from attacking Turtenwald, and a second Thoughtseize from him took away Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Manfield's Siege Rhino came down next, and its attack on the following turn put Turtenwald down to 7 life. Nissa, Vastwood Seer promised a transformation in another turn for Turtenwald, but he'd have to stay alive that long.
Turtenwald fell to 4 life for the next Rhino run from Manfield, but there was one showing for him to cast on the top of his own library. Manfield took his time after combat to consider his options, choosing to make his own Nissa, Vastwood Seer before playing a face-down Den Protector.
Turtenwald transformed his Nissa next turn, and then cast the Siege Rhino he just drew. After making a 4/4 Elemental, Turtenwald passed to Manfield who started similarly by transforming Nissa into her Planeswalker side. Manfield instead went up an additional land from her loyalty ability before making Sorin, Solemn Visitor and a 2/2 flying Vampire.
Experienced in high pressure situations, Turtenwald focuses on what needs to be done in order to maximize his chances to win.
After going to ten mana with the same loyalty ability, Turtenwald cast Ugin, the Spirit Dragon to "Ghostfire" away the face-down Den Protector. Manfield increased Sorin's loyalty and attacked: the Vampire token at Nissa, and a Siege Rhino at Ugin. Turtenwald's block just traded his Courser for the Rhino. Manfield used Abzan Charm to draw down to Hero's Downfall, solving the Ugin issue for him before he played a face-down Den Protector again.
It was a tough game of attrition that Manfield was pulling firmly ahead in. Turtenwald sent his troops at Manfield's Planeswalkers—Siege Rhino at Sorin and a 4/4 Elemental token to Nissa—and Manfield put his Courser in the way for Sorin.
Turtenwald used Hero's Downfall to keep Manfield from untapping and turning his Den Protector face-up before passing the turn. After attacking with his Vampire, Manfield played Elspeth, Sun's Champion to clear away all of the large creatures on the battlefield.
Turtenwald untapped with nothing left but lands in play.
Siege Rhino might have brought Turtenwald some time, but with a plus activation of Sorin into an attack with two Vampires followed up by Siege Rhino led to the words Manfield wanted to hear most: "Good game."
Turtenwald extended his hand.
The crowd filled with his teammates, friends and Magic fans from around the world erupted as Manfield shook it.
One look at his face and you could see that the will to win for his family was fulfilled, and they were cheering just as loud for him at home.
Now, like his father before him, Manfield became a World Champion in the game he loved to play.
Congratulations to Seth Manfield, the 2015 World Champion!