David Foster, in his second Grand Prix attended, had already surpassed the expectations most players bring to the event. With his invitation to Grand Prix Dragons of Tarkir already earned, Foster's goal was now two matches away: A trophy-earned as champion of Grand Prix Baltimore. His thoroughly Abzan deck was built for long games and hard-fought wins.
Harry Bradford, while carring a bit more experience at big events, was also in his first Grand Prix Top 8. The prospect of earning a seat – and win – at the final match of the event was a driving excitement for him. Having assembled a strictly blue-green deck in the Top 8 draft, his evasive creatures had soared to victory in the quarterfinals.
Could Foster's Anafenza still be the Foremost against a flying army?
Heir of the Wilds was the early play was Foster, though Bradford matched it with Temur Charger. Alpine Grizzly upped the stairway of climbing creature power, and they volleyed back and forth with adding creatures and attacking, unafraid of the mounting damage.
"What's blocking?" Bradford asked as he fell to 9 life.
Archer's Parapet too went to work for Foster as he slowly built up his army, and fended off what Bradford attacked with. The Parapet inched away all the while, from 8 to 7 to 6 life and lower. Riverwheel Aerialists was Bradford's first real threat, but at 19 life for Foster they had a long way to go.
Clever Impersonator copying the Aerialists changed the math considerably. Kheru Spellsnatcher caught a Murderous Cut that let Bradford kill the Parapet, but he fell to 2 life doing so. But with the army Bradford had, he only needed one more turn to crash through to take the first game.
Temur Charger for Bradford and Alpine Grizzly for Foster faced off again in the second game as both players jockeyed for position. They traded a few creatures until Hooting Mandrills came down for Bradford.
"I need blue mana," Bradford said, devoid of Islands on his side.
"I'll cast Abzan Ascension," Foster said.
"They all have reach? They'll be there for the Riverwheel Aerialists," Bradford lamented as Foster's army grew and stretched with Longshot Squad. They swapped attacks again before Bradford grinned on his draw step.
"Uh oh. Look what I drew..." he trailed off as he played his sought-after Island.
Crippling Chill to ice down Longshot Squad was the first blue spell Bradford unleashed. A second Island joined Bradford's side as they traded attacks again: Foster fell to 7 life to Bradford's 12. While Abzan Ascendancy gave Foster a flying Spirit, the biggest creatures still belonged to Bradford. Murderous Cut dealt with the Wooly Loxodon Bradford had been sending in, but Singing Bell Strike on Longshot Squad was the reply in kind.
Back-and-forth it went, Bradford working to push his creatures in and Foster holding them off. Dead Drop finally tipped the scales for Foster, giving him a clear path to begin attacking with his 5/5 Longshot Squad again despite the Singing Bell Strike it was under.
A face-up Glacial Stalker was Bradford's attempt to get back in the game, but it came too late: Foster swarmed over for the last points of damage anyway.
The third game was off to a rough start for Bradford, who mulliganed down to just five in his opening hand.
"Alright," he said unhappily. "These are some cards."
Heir of the Wilds was Bradford's early play, matched by Alpine Grizzly from Foster. They traded, and a face-down Kheru Spellsnatcher then another morph joined the battle. Archer's Parapet tried to block for Foster, but Bradford's second morph was Mystic of the Hidden Way that punched through anyway. Foster quickly fell to 14 life, then 12.
Foster unmorphed an Abzan Guide on his next attack, pulling him back up to 16, but Incremental growth from Bradford put a two 5 power creatures on the offense for Bradford.
"That's a lot." Foster said.
"Yeah," Bradford agreed, and his attacks continued.
Archer's Parapet bought Foster some time, letting him slip to just 11 life, but the muscle on Bradford's size was huge. Abzan Charm exiled a face-down Glacial Stalker, handling one for Foster, but Singing Bell Strike let Bradford keep the pressure on. Longshot Squad would now cost six mana to untap for Foster, who had just five lands in play.
Five lands remained up for Bradford.
"Just enough for Spellsnatcher," Foster commented.
"Barely," Bradford bluffed. Kheru Spellsnatcher cost six mana to unmorph. The Oracle rules text for cards should always come from judges.
Creatures traded off again as Foster finally found his sixth mana.
"I'm going to cast Anafenza," Foster said, putting Anafenza the Foremost onto the battlefield.
Bradford tried to go over the powerful legend with Riverwheel Aerialists.
"No Dead Drop, please" Bradford said as Foster began checking his mana, but it was too late. Foster counted out the ten mana for his Dead Drop in waiting, clearing out what Bradford had set up. With Anafenza at the forefront, Foster quickly overran the match from there.
David Foster defeated Harry Bradford, 2-1, to advance to the finals!