Bryan Gottlieb had come to Atlantic City from across the river, travelling down from Brooklyn, New York City. Earning his first Grand Prix Top 8 this weekend, he defeated the masterful Gaudenis Vidugiris, and couldn't shake the smile from his face.
“You're beautiful,” Gottlieb said.
For Christian Calcano, mugging for the camera was just one of his many endearing traits. A veteran with five Grand Prix Top 8s, including his victory at Minneapolis in 2013, Calcano agreed with Gottlieb's compliment. So did his friends watching nearby.
Both players were in great spirits headed into their match.
Calcano has assembled a powerful white-black deck, using cards like Hidden Dragonslayer and Silumgar Butcher to both kill threats and become ones themselves as well as Mastery of the Unseen to provide inevitability if a game went late. It was a mix of aggressive power and late-game strength that had propelled Calcano into the semifinals
Gottlieb, however, had one-sided plan in bringing red-green beats. With hits like Atarka's Command, Stampeding Elk Herd, and three copies of Sabertooth Outrider, Gottlieb could not only turn his guys sideways most turns but could come out on top. Overwhelming power is what put him into the seat across from Calcano.
Calcano led the way with Soul Summons in the first game, though Gottlieb's Twinbolt cleared it away. Sandcrafter Mage as a 3/3 followed as Gottlieb matched it with Gore Swine. Calcano attacked before making another 3/3 Sandcrafter Mage and Typhoid Rats.
Both players jockeyed for the dominant board position.
Christian Calcano couldn't hide his smile throughout his semifinal match.
Colossodon Yearling shored up a defense for Gattlieb, but Calcano attacked with everything to trade a Mage for the Swine, then exploit his Rats to finish off the Yearling from Silumgar Butcher. Sabertooth Outriders traded with the other Mage as Mastery of the Unseen appeared for Calcano.
His first manifest turned out to be Hidden Dragonslayer, letting Calcano attack Gottlieb down to 9 life while leaving mana up for another activation of his Mastery. Gottlieb stalled out on four lands, limited to just casting Frontier Mastodon for his turn. When Calcano attacked again, and had Artful Maneuver to save his Butcher, Gottlieb decided to try again in the second game.
It turned out fast.
Gottlieb had Dragon Fodder for Calcano's Typhoid Rats and Mastery of the Unseen, then pressed his advantage when Calcano missed casting a creature on the third turn. Sabertooth Outrider and Stampeding Elk Herd joined the fray to provide Gottlieb and impressive army as Calcano just manifested a creature. Mind Rot cleared Atarka Pummeler and Kindled Fury from Gottlieb's hand before Dromoka Dunecaster joined for Calcano.
Gottlieb attacked anyway with his trampling army, and Calcano blocked to fall to exactly 1 life. A second Outrider appeared for Gottlieb as Calcano finally found his fifth mana. He took some time to consider his options and made just Dromoka Warrior before passing back. Gottlieb attacked with two Outriders and two Goblin tokens, and that was enough for Calcano to fall.
“Please don't have Mastery of the Unseen in at least one game,” Gottlieb said.
“We'll see,” Calcano laughed back as the two settled in for the match finale. Calcano led off with Dromoka Warrior and Gottlieb followed with Dragon Fodder, a fine way to stop a 3/1. Snapcaster Mage turned the Warrior into a 4/2 before Gottlieb made Colosson Yearling.
Calcano's aggressive plans seemed to be crumbling.
Bryan Gottlieb was similarly cheery as his opponent, and looked to close in on a Grand Prix finals.
Calcano attacked with both of his creatures anyway, representing Artful Maneuver and other tricks. Gottlieb paused before letting the damage through and falling to 15 life. Soul Summons was Calcano's move before passing: he had missed his fourth land drop.
Gottlieb didn't, and played the fearsome Sabertooth Outrider. Undaunted, Calcano attacked with everything again. This time, Gottlieb blocked with his Goblin tokens and Colossodon so Calcano used Artful Maneuver to keep his Mage and manifest around.
A second Outrider again appeared for Gottlieb but Merciless Executioner undid that work, at least until the third Sabertooth Outrider showed up. When Calcano attacked and Gottlieb declined to block with his untapped 4/2 with first strike, there was a long pause: What did that mean for Calcano? He decided the two untapped Rugged Highlands didn't represent a Twin bolt and Calcano cast Butcher's Glee to add three more power – lethal power – to his team.
Gottlieb revealed a hand of Atarka's Command and a land before extending his hand.
“I thought we was setting up 13 damage with [autocard]Atarka's Command[autocard],” Calcano explained to his friend who asked about the last play. “I had to go for it.”
That Atarka's Command would have been lethal for Calcano: It was a race to the very end.
Christian Calcano defeated Bryan Gottlieb 2-1 and advanced to finals of Grand Prix Atlantic City.