Round 6 Feature Match: Frank Skarren vs. Gerard Fabiano

Posted in Event Coverage on March 14, 2015

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.

Some players consider Limited the most skill-intensive way to play Magic. Most players agree winning a Grand Prix to be a career-worthy moment. What happens when Limited Grand Prix are the career moments one had achieved?

Frank Skarren and Gerard Fabiano each had two Limited Grand Prix wins under their belt from the past two years. Skarren made his name known at the monstrous Grand Prix Charlotte in 2013, and followed it up with another victory at Grand Prix Philadephia in 2014. Similarly, Fabiano earned his first Grand Prix win in nearly a decade at Grand Prix Montreal in 2013 and added another at Grand Prix Baltimore in 2014.

Here, early at Grand Prix Cleveland, the battle was on between the two Limited challengers to remain undefeated on Day 1 One of the best ways to set up a run at Top 8 on Sunday.

The Decks

Skarren's deck was an unusual combination with Khans of Tarkir in the mix: Bant. Fate Reforged had introduced a powerful cycle of allied-color legendary Dragons and pushed more monocolored cards into the higher rarities. With the pool split evenly between the two sets, Sealed decks often followed these unusual configurations to take advantage of the new cards. With Dromoka, the Eternal next to Pearl Lake Ancient and Thousand Winds, it's clear Skarren had brought the most powerful cards in his pool to bear.

Likewise, Fabiano had constructed another type of configuration not uncommon in the Sealed format: Four-Color. With hits like Outpost Siege, Jeskai Charm, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, and Kheru Spellsnatcher all footed by multiple copies of Whisperer of the Wilds, Fabiano packed as much power as possible into his deck.

The fact both players dipped into unusual configurations speaks to the potential the format provides.

The Games

In the first game Skarren's early Frost Walker was hit by Whisk Away, permanently dealing the oversized two-drop, and from there Fabiabo curved out with Whisperer of the Wilds, Temur Banner, Hooting Mandrills, and a morph in short order.

Skarren cast Ethereal Ambush, but Fabiano stole it with his morphed Kheru Spellsnatcher. Even after Skarren used Force Away to buy time against Fabiano's Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, there was little resistance left to slow Fabiano's decisive start down.

“I realized there was a good chance it was Spellsnatcher right after the morph resolved. I just had this feeling I was going to get Spellsnatched, and I should have cast it in response,” Skarren said between games.

“Would you have double-blocked if it had resolved?” Fabiano asked.

“Maybe if I hit two bricks,” Skarren said, referring to making manifest anything other than creatures.

“Did I make it too obvious it was a Spellsnatcher?” Fabiano dug in, looking for how to beat Skarren to the punch again.

“I don't know if there's anything you could have done otherwise,” Skarren said with a shrug.

If that was Fabiano's tip that the pump-for-strategy-information jig was up he missed it. “I think Force Away got better with Fate Reforged,” Fabiano offered.

“I've always liked it fine,” Skarren said.

“Do you ever Force Away your manifest creatures?” Fabiano asked.

Skarren offered a non-answer: “I don't think I've played enough of this format to know if I do often or not.”

Out of time to ask more, Fabiano had to settle for just that as the second game got underway.

This battle was closer, as Fabiano's Jeskai Sage attacked Skarren early and often. Though Fabiano was stuck on two lands, Whisperer of the Wilds, Temur Banner, and Outpost Siege all helped pull Fabiano along despite the missing mana.

Frank Skarren worked to take advantage of Fabiano's missing mana in the second game.

Hunt the Weak took care of one part of Fabiano's access to mana, but seeing two cards each turn thanks to Outpost Siege Fabiano kept up with answers like Arc Lightning and Cancel.

As Fabiano drew out of his land lock, the advantage of his Outpost Siege over Skarren's Monastery Siege started to add up. Pearl Lake Ancient made an appearance for Skarren, though Fabiano's Cancel helped keep things in check when Skarren tried Force Away for a Bear token.

Reality Shift was the first attempt for Fabiano to deal with the massive Leviathan, and Skarren let it happen. With Treasure Cruise to follow, Fabiano had a full grip and plenty of mana to work with.

“Cards?” Fabiano asked.

“One.” Skarren was out of options.

Fabiano kept his hand full at the end of his turn, and Skarren used his next to unmorph Thousand Winds and Savage Punch away the Bear token. Skarren piled in with everything, and Fabiano was forced to Saltblast the Scion of Glaciers and Whisk Away the Thousand Winds.

Every trick and haymaker had counted so far, though at 14 life to Fabiano's 3 put Skarren in the commanding position.

Gerard Fabiano fought with every tool he could cast as his slowly pulled himself out of his mana woes.

Atarka, World Render was a fine body for Fabiano to fight Thousand Winds, and discarding every turn to Monastery Siege had left Skarren with little to work, as well as one mana short of replaying his rare as a morph with mana to unmorph it.

When Fabiano had Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker to follow up, Skarren fell from 14 to defeat in fell swoop.

“I don't think I was supposed to bounce Pearl Lake Ancient,” Skarren said, referring to the turn he let Reality Shift exile it. “It would have taken me two turns to replay it, and I wouldn't have been able to unmorph Thousand Winds there.”

“I would have been happy to see you bounce it. Instead you got a 2/2 and you know how those 2/2's are against me.” Fabiano's quip was biting as playful, as usual.

Gerard Fabino defeated Frank Skarren, 2-0.

Frank Skarren – Bant

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Gerard Fabiano – Temur

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