Posted in GRAND PRIX BALTIMORE 2015 - WELCOME on December 14, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

It's a trend that started years ago, but does really have a starting point. Perhaps it was Jon Finkel's victory at Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur, after his induction into the Pro Tour Hall of fame. Perhaps it turned when Brian Kibler become the second member to do it at Pro Tour Dark Ascension. It's certainly evident in players like recent Grand Prix Orlando Top 8 player Sol Malka, or Pro Tour Journey into Nyx Top 8 contender Jamie Parke.

Players from across Magic's history that have proven time and again that previous success is a good indicator of future potential. For Chris Pikula, going undefeated on Day 1 at Grand Prix Baltimore was just a small stepping stone: Previously, he was one of the few at the top of Pro Tour Hall of Fame ballot discussions. Narrowly missing for several years, a shift in requirements led to his name falling off the eligible list.

He wasn't as flashy with success as his friend Jon Finkel was, Pikula's tireless work at improving ethical play in the community had a profound effect at all levels in the game. While every sport contends with the issues of rule breakers, it was Pikula (among others) that rallied the campaign to change what was expected, and accepted, among the game's elite. Work on behalf of players like him is why impact on the community is part of the Hall of Fame balloting considerations.

A returning champion rising to success is as clichéd as stories go, but it wasn't the only one at play. Local heroes are also a cliché in competitions, and it happened here too. David Foster was a local from Maryland that had attended just one Grand Prix before, and had been practicing specifically for this weekend.

"My first big event was Grand Prix DC," Foster said. "I've been waiting for a year for a local Limited event like this. It's the favorite format for me." How he prepared was an echo heard often. "I've been playing a lot of Magic Online."

For his second Grand Prix, going undefeated through to Day 2 was an almost unbelievable feat. The skill and intensity was elevated. "It's my first professional REL," Foster said, referring to the strictest Rules Enforcement Level in force for the Day 2 competitors. "I'm trying really hard not to make any mistakes."

If he made any he'd know about it. A small troupe had gathered just for Foster's match. Friends? "These guys," he said, waving to a small contingent that had been watching his match from the gallery, "from my school and local card shop. I drove some of them up here this morning."

It wasn't quite fighting for a hometown win, but for Foster and friends it felt just like it.

The Decks

Pikula's deck was, at a glace, average. With several morphs and powerful uncommons like Scion of Glaciers and Riverwheel Aerialists, Pikula could use his pressure to turn cards like Cancel and Disdainful Stroke into the tempo he needed to stay ahead.

Foster's deck was certainly colorful. With the ability to cast everything from Crackling Doom, Abzan Guide, Flying Crane Technique and even High Sentinels of Arashin, Foster relied on his powerful three-color-producing lands to power out the best his deck – and the format – could offer.

The Games

The first game was a back-and-forth affair on mana. Foster had access to four colors by his second turn, and cast Archer's Parapet to put up a shield. Pikula, with Bloodfire Mentor, did the same on the following turn. However, they both stumbled on three mana, building out an array of morphs beside their blockers.

"This is weird," Foster said.

"The Wall versus morph game," Pikula summed, though it was about to move on from that.

Crippling Chill at the end of Foster's turn was Pikula's attempt to dig into a land. He whiffled, but added Scion of Glaciers to his side. It looked small after Foster played Sentinels of High Arashin. The beefy fliers went to work attacking, but Pikula moved to race back. Attacking with his Scion, turning on Mardu Heart-Piercer and more, he worked to break through the blockade Foster has set on the ground.

There were six cards in Foster's hand, compared to just four mana in play for Pikula when he went all-in. Force Away bounced the Abzan Guide Foster unmorphed while blocking, leaving him with just his Parapet and Sentinels to Pikula's six creatures, Leaping Master being the last to join.

Chris Pikula worked hard to get ahead of David Foster in every game.

Longshot Squad and leaving everyone up to block was step one for Foster. Pikula struck all-in on the next turn again, dropping Foster to 6 life after his Abzan Charm exiled an opposing Mystic of the Hidden Way.

When Foster untapped, he checked Pikula's mana. "You're tapped out, right?"

"Yep," Pikula confirmed. Foster counted out white, red, blue, and three more. "Wow, you really have Flying Crane Technique?"

"I'll attack you after this resolves," Foster said, laying the card down. Pikula counted a moment.

"Alright. You got it."

As they shuffled up for their second game, the Jon Finkel-Dan Jordan match next to them ended in a similar climatic way as Finkel resolved a Flying Crane Technique of his own, except he also had Jeskai Ascendancy in play.

The ancient ways worked for old master in that game. Pikula would need to channel his own to find a way to two back-to-back wins.

A second turn Leaping Master was an aggressive start for Pikula in the second game, following up with a morph and Crippling Chill to attack through Alpine Grizzly. However, Pikula stumbled on playing land after that as Foster ramped up his defenses with Sultai Flayer. A third morph kept Pikula going wide, but without more mana it wouldn't matter.

Foster unmorphed an unblocked Abzan Guide, and Pikula used Crippling Chill to create an opening to attack back on the next turn. While lifelink would give Foster the edge in racing, Pikula's Sage of the Inward Eye promised to negate that. Drawing out of his missing mana, Pikula paused at six in play.

"Flying Crane Technique?" Foster asked gamely.

David Foster's deck was more a tour of some of the best Khans of Tarkir cards than a deck built around one clan.

Pikula settled for just an attack with his flier, letting Mardu Heart-Piercer kill off a face-down Abomination of Gudul. Pikula seemd satisfied with that, though the other face-down creature was Mystic of the Hidden Way. With Temur Charm to kill off one blocker, Pikula lost his face-down Mystic and fell to 10 life. Foster was back as a comfortable 20.

River Wheel Aerialists presented a bigger obstacle for Foster, and Pikula was forced to block with it when everything attacked him on the next turn. Dragonscale Boon let Abzan Guide kill the Aerialists, and from there Pikula couldn't catch back up. Falling to 1 life on the next attacl, Foster revealed his final whammy for Pikula: Crackling Doom.

Pikula chuckled and looked at his last card. "You got it."

Pikula extended his hand.

David Foster defeated Chris Pikula, 2-0.