This was exactly the deck matchup Brandon Fischer was hoping for. He's on the same brew he had played in New York—Naya Tokens. Though it looks very similar to the standard Green-White Tokens, it diverges in specific ways. Most specifically Arlinn Kord. The less-played Planeswalker gives inevitability to a match that can so often grind down to a nub. Granting something as simple as trample can be a real game-ender win the Tokens mirror match up.
Fischer, a former roommate to both Team East West Bowl's Andrew Brown and Eugene Hwang, is the only one without a Grand Prix trophy to his name. He hopes with this good deck matchup, he'll put that fact behind him.
But sadly, though the deck match-up was a dream, his actual opponent was an entirely different story. Sitting across the table was reigning World Champion, first-ranked Seth Manfield, coming off two previous Grand Prix Top 8s, all-but back-to-back. And oh yeah, he won Grand Prix New York less than a month ago.
You just can't stop a man this hot. At least, that's what Manfield's figuring.
“Oooo mirror!” Manfield chided as he looked over Fischer's list. Green-White Tokens has been doing well on the top tables, and the champ was clearly used to playing the match-up. There was a knowing chuckle from Fischer's side. Manfield would change his tune soon enough.
“Oh, wait ....” Manfield was nonplussed. “... nevermind, this is something else. What is this?” It was then that Fischer let out a little laugh.
After asking to see Arlinn Kord, and marveling over how many abilities she really has, Manfield tried to wrap his brain around this quasi-mirror match.
He settled on thinking he was slightly ahead, due to the awkwardness of the three colors of lands, but he didn't know how it would actually go.
Fischer was the higher seed and had first rites. He had a fair start, with Lambholt Pacifist, Hangarback Walker. For his part, Manfield was cluttering up his board, having drawn multiple Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Hangarback Walker, and an Oath of Nissa.
This was very bad news for Manfield, who was stuck on three lands. Standouts in the match-up, like Tragic Arrogance, were completed stranded. He was hoping his start could hold up the defenses, but it had collapsed like a cheap card table.
Fischer had brought up his aggression, ironically with two Lambholt Pacifists. On Manfield's turn, staring down the harmless pacificts, he could either play a two-cost spell, or crack a clue hoping to find a land, then cast it. He was dying without the land, so he cracked it—and found nothing.
Manfield had to pass the turn, which meant both the Pacifists turned into Lambholt Butchers. That would be the turning point in the game, when Manfield went from hanging on, to falling off.
Soon Archangel Avacyn landed for Fischer. And Manfield dropped like a stone from there. He had one final turn, to rip the second white source (and the fifth land) for a Tragic Arrogance to stay alive. He pulled the card hard off the top into his hand. It snapped with a crack. But it wasn't meant to be.
Fischer had gone up a game without even using his mirror-breaking red cards. Just the power of Pacifists, Avacyn, and a gripful of removal.
Between games, people started asking about how many Grand Prix Top 8s this makes for Manfield this year. He couldn't recall. Corey Burkhart suggested it was five, and no one immediately could countermand that; not even Manfield. This is his third, mind you. But that's the thing. With the Pro Tour Top 8 as well, it feels like five is a real number. Who knows? It could be soon.
Fischer silent shuffled up as the deliberating went on around him.
In the second game, Fischer had to mulligan, and kept a powerful, but slower hand. Early on that slowness was tested. He had to work to deal with Manfield's early Lambholt Pacifist and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. He recycled his Declaration in Stone with Den Protector, while using the creature to pressure Gideon.
But with only light disruption from Manfield, the champ could continue swinging the board in his favor. A Dromoka's Command killing the den mother, while pumping his Knight and creature-izing Gideon, meant that Fischer's life total would soon drop precipitously. It did.
Fisched was quickly down to 9, and was having trouble keeping anything more than an 0/1 Plant token on the field. And even those weren't staying alive long enough to see an untap step.
Just when Fischer looked like he was getting something going, with a “kicked” Sylvan Advocate, the famed combo happened, and it spelled exactly nine life points.
Manfield cast a Secure the Wastes at the end of Fischer's turn, then untapped and sacrificed the Westvale Abbey to make Ormendahl, Profane Prince. That thing can do everything: it can fly; it can attack the turn it comes into play; it can deal the exact amount of life Fischer had left.
The series was tied at 1-1. This was the final game. Fischer's mirror-beaters were yet to have any effect.
This would be the last game.
Both players started at parity in cards, and then also on the battlefield. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, and her Oath were like reflections, staring at each other across the warzone.
But similitude soon broke down. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar changed the landscape all by himself. Now, standing side-by-side with Nissa, Manfield was making two tokens a turn, and threatening more. In a turn or two, Fischer went the other direction with his own fresh-cast Gideon. He immediately cashed it in for a +1/+1 emblem, allowing his Lambholt Pacifist to turn sideways. Because remember kids, you can't spell “pacifist,” without “fist.”
However, its effect was merely to eat an 0/1 Plant. Fischer was fighting uphill.
Manfield was cruising along, making tokens, and sometimes pumping all those tokens up. The board looked to be gummed up good, but Manfield had a clutch Declaration in Stone to wipe away all the Plant blockers Fischer had left. This gave Manfield a clean attack in to take out Fischer's Nissa, despite it having seven loyalty. Now Fischer's defenses were truly down.
Fischer was behind on the board, and things were looking paltry, but he cast his Arlinn Kord, made a Wolf, and threatened a serious back swing with a 6/6 Pacifist and a 4/4 Wolf, both fully trampled up. There was a catch though—Fischer was now handless. He'd be playing the rest of the game off the top of his deck. Though it was easy to see how good Arlinn would be on a equal board, but the state was far from equal.
However, this complex card made Manfield tank, hard. On his turn, he picked up Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon, not once, but twice. If you thought Jace, the Mind Sculptor gave a lot of options, Arlinn Kord, and it' transformed side allow for five different choices. It was a lot to think though.
In what would likely become the pivotal choice of the game, Manfield made a Gideon emblem, then cast a second and did it again. All his creatures were now +2/+2 for life. His Plants became threats, and his Ally token became a beast. Before long he had stripped every possible blocker from Fischer, then took out Arlinn for good measure.
Combine this with a blank draw or two on Fischer's part, and it looked like Fischer, when it came to he, Andrew Brown and Eugene Hwang, would still be the last member in the “No-Trophy Club.”
World Champion, first-ranked Seth Manfield swung for the win, and Brandon Fischer extended his hand. That makes two Grand Prix wins in a month for Seth Manfield!