Nerves were one thing that wasn’t a problem at this particular event. The final four players at Grand Prix Atlanta had a lively discussion before starting their matches, and the laughter around the table can be a rare sight when the tournament nears its conclusion.
But not in Atlanta. As Tom Martell and Aryeh Witnitzer shuffled up for the semifinal match, the conversation turned to a discussion of Martell’s recent fashion choices. Witnitzer lamented the lack of what was once Martell’s signature scarf.
“Unfortunately, Jon [Finkel] took it back,” Martell laughed.
With the tone for the match set, the pair were ready to decide who would advance to meet second-ranked Owen Turtenwald in the championship.
For all the talk of avoiding green in Draft, Martell wasn’t afraid to get creative. His four-color beast took full advantage of the mana-fixing provided in Green, with Lifespring Druid playing a prominent role alongside Natural Connection, a ramp-spell and combat trick with Landfall all in one.
While Martell’s deck presented as many colors as possible, Witnitzer’s deck aimed to present none — his Blue-Black Devoid deck hoped to control Martell’s early creatures and then rely on the power of his Eldrazi to take over the late game.
It was Martell who struck first, turning a second-turn Snapping Gnarlid into a Benthic-Infiltrator killer courtesy of a timely Tandem Tactics. He also laid a 2/3 Tajuru Stalwart on the same turn, quickly filling the board ahead of Witnitzer’s defenses.
And those defenses were coming up quickly. Cloud Manta came down to trade with the Stalwart and Complete Disregard exiled Grove Rumbler, while Martell tried to reload with Grovetender Druid and a plant token. It wasn’t much, but when Roil Spout awakened a land and did a Time Walk impression on Witnitzer, Martell was able to crash in a big chunk of damage.
Manta returned to the battlefield on the next turn, along with a Dominator Drone. Sitting just short of a lethal alpha strike, Martell opted to send in just Snapping Gnarlid. Witnitzer blocked with the Drone in hopes of a trade, but an instant-speed Natural Connection triggered landfall and put an end to those hopes. Now down another creature on the board, Witnitzer was open to Martell’s next alpha strike.
Beastmaster Savant isn’t usually used to attack, but that’s exactly what Martell did with it on the second turn to draw first blood. A full-strength Tajuru Stalwart followed, and all Witnitzer could muster was a Mind Raker with nothing to process. The Stalwart beatdown followed, and in a few quick turns Witnitzer found himself down to 10 life as Martell used running removal spells to clear the way.
Witnitzer finally stuck a Dominator Drone, but again Martell awakened the coast to add a 4/4 to the board. With an Ulamog’s Nullifier arriving to stop the air attack, Witnitzer also needed a way to stall the ground, which he finally found in Oracle of Dust. Still, Martell had an ever-growing board and a 20-7 lead in life totals, building all the while to an alpha strike.
Witnitzer was hanging on by a thread, but it was one that began to fray as Territorial Baloth forced a double-block from Witnitzer to clear it. When Witnitzer bricked on his next draw step, Martell turned his team sideways in an all-out attack. The dust settled with the Pro Tour Gatecrash champion down a few creatures, but it left Witnitzer on just one life, with three creatures to Martell’s five.
In need of a great draw to stay in match, Witnitzer moved to his draw step… and then quickly laid his cards down on the table as he extended his hand to Martell.
“I only have four creatures,” he said as Martell moved to the title match of Grand Prix Atlanta. “Good luck in the finals!”
Tom Martell wins 2-0 and is on to the finals!