Posted in GRAND PRIX BALTIMORE 2015 - WELCOME on December 15, 2014

By Peter Rawlings

Grand Prix Baltimore marked David Foster's first Day 2, his first Top 8, and now his first finals appearance. His Abzan deck, featuring strong clan rares in Abzan Ascendancy and Anafenza, the Foremost, had quickly dispatched Chris Fennell in the quarterfinals, and outlasted Harry Bradford in a long three-game semifinals. He was looking to make it the perfect weekend by adding first-time Grand Prix champion to that list against Gerard Fabiano in the finals.

Fabiano, already a two-time Grand Prix champion, was trying to add a third trophy to his crowded mantle. His Sultai deck managed first to take down Pro Tour Dragon's Maze Champion Craig Wescoe courtesy of a timely Blinding Spray in the quarterfinals. The competition didn't get any easier next round when he sat down across from Hall of Famer Ben Stark, but with help from a Sultai Charm on Raiders' Spoils and a hexproof Sagu Mauler, Fabiano was on to the finals.

The Games

Fabiano kept his opening seven, while Foster mulliganed first to six, and then to five, before finally keeping. The game started out slowly. Foster managed to summon a steady stream of threats given that he started with a two-card deficit, but Fabiano, for the time being, had all the answers. Foster's Heir of the Wilds suffered a Debilitating Injury, and Anafenza, the Foremost was Throttled.

Foster attempts to scratch out an improbably victory following a mulligan to five.

Though he was taking hits from an Alpine Grizzly, Fabiano looked to have finally stemmed the bleeding when he hunkered down behind an Archers' Parapet and used Rakshasa's Secret to discard Foster's hand. A Treasure Cruise from Fabiano seemed to further cement his edge, putting him at five cards to his opponent's zero. But the top of the deck was kind to Foster, and an Abzan Ascendancy grew his Bear and morph and threatened to provide a steady stream of future Spirit threats. But Fabiano had found a Sultai Charm during his Cruise, and used its Naturalize mode to take down the Ascendancy.

He still had Foster's attackers to answer, however, and after Foster entered the red zone yet again and cast a Mardu Hordechief with raid, Fabiano shook his head in frustration. "I'm pretty sure I'm just dead," he said, as a game in which his opponent has mulliganed to five seemed to be slipping out of reach.

Foster sacrificed his Hordechief and its token to Fabiano's Dead Drop, and when the Sultai player unmorphed a Sagu Mauler he was able to devour Foster's Abzan Guide in combat. Now at 3 life, Fabiano tried to find the breathing room to put the significant card advantage he had accrued to work.

A series of morph blockers finally halted Foster's attacks and Fabiano began chipping in and looting with an Abomination of Gudul, rapidly ripping through cards. "Maybe my out now is you drawing your deck," said Foster. After adding a second Abomination each combat step posed a difficult question to Fabiano: To loot or not to loot? An attack with single flying Horror and yet another draw from its trigger put Foster to 19 life and Fabiano to six cards in library.

Fabiano paused and did some math. The next turn he attacked with both Abominations and looted twice, depleting his library to three cards. He crashed in yet again the following turn, but by now his looting days were over. Foster was at 7. With six power worth of fliers he needed two attacks and had but one card left. He put Foster to 1. On his turn Foster went for a last-ditch Dead Drop, but Fabiano had the Disdainful Stroke. He untapped, drew his very last card, and flew in for the win.

Fabiano 1 – Foster 0

Both players kept seven cards in Game 2, and Foster kicked things off with an Anafenza, the Foremost on turn three. Foster barreled in, first with Anafenza, and then with a Longshot Squad, while Fabiano scrambled to defend himself behind a Monastery Flock and Sultai Flayer. A double-block with a morph and the Flayer finally took care of the 4/4 Longshot Squad, and Fabiano's morph hit the bin.

Fabiano frowns as Anafenza, the Foremost throws a wrench in his plans to delve.

Foster continued to apply pressure, adding a face-up Abzan Guide to the board, and soon enough his life total had climbed to 25, while Fabiano had fallen to 9. A Bitter Revelation dropped him further, to 7, and with his back against the ropes Fabiano was forced to chump the Abzan Guide with his Flayer while Anafenza came through for 4, with Fabiano staying at 7 thanks to the life gained from the Flayer. Or so the players thought.

A few turns later a judge stepped in, noting that Anafenza's exile clause meant the Flayer was exiled, rather than being sent to the graveyard, and thus Fabiano should not have gained 4 life from the Flayer's death trigger. Given that several turns had passed, the judge ruled that they had progressed too far to back up the game and should simply play on. But Fabiano, with the mistake on his hands and his life total at 1, chose instead to concede.

Fabiano 1 – Foster 1

Fabiano took a mulligan down to six cards and had to settle for a land-light hand, while Foster kept seven. Yet again, the Abzan player had Anafenza in play on turn three. When Foster added an Alpine Grizzly to his board, Fabiano cast Sultai Charm to draw two cards on Foster's end step, discarding a Treasure Cruise and enabling him to cast Dead Drop to clear the board on his turn.

It was then Fabiano's turn to apply pressure as he landed a Sultai Soothsayer, which netted him a Rakshasa's Secret, and an Abomination of Gudul. Right on time, Foster ripped the fifth land he needed to cast his own Dead Drop, returning the players to parity.

With Jeskai Elder, Fabiano was finally able to get a threat to stick. It was followed by an Abomination of Gudul, and the two creatures set to whittling away Foster's life total. Foster could only outlast his Ainok Bond-Kin. Fabiano cast a Bitter Revelation, falling to 15, and then a two-mana Hooting Mandrils to escalate the pressure.

Foster tried to claw his way back with a Longshot Squad, which had first strike thanks to the Bond-Kin, but Fabiano had the Throttle to wrangle it away and drop Foster to 3. After Foster passed the turn back Fabiano paused on his opponent's end step. He cast Dig Through Time with his two open mana and drew the remaining five cards in his library, not only giving him his choice of spells with which to finish the game, but enabling him to stack his deck.

He untapped and attacked. "For three?" asked Foster. Fabiano nodded his assent and Foster extended his hand.

Fabiano 2 – Foster 1