When Shuhei Nakamura and Ross Merriam sat down for the final match, it wasn't just a trophy on the line at Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth: it was history itself.
Nakamura long ago proved himself a master of Magic. His five Pro Tour Top 8 appearances and Magic Hall of Fame inclusion tell you that much. So what is there left for the man who has done it all?
Maybe nothing but to etch his name further into the history books. Nakamura's Top 8 appearance in Dallas was the 26th of his career — just two short of tying Olivier Ruel's record of 28 — and a win would be a record-tying seventh Grand Prix victory for the lifelong competitor.
Standing in his way was Ross Merriam, an up-and-coming American making his second Grand Prix Top 8 of the season. His synergistic black-green Elves deck had pulled him through a difficult semifinal match against Dan Jordan, and brought Merriam just one match away from his first career Grand Prix victory.
Things kicked into third gear on the third turn, when Merriam deployed Managorger Hydra, a fierce card that started small but ended up dominating many a Limted game over the weekend.
Like clockwork, Nakamura had Suppression Bonds for the hydra and then caught a break when Merriam's Sylvan Messenger failed to turn up any additional elves. But the Llanowar Empath that followed did not, and the board quickly began to fill up on both sides of the table.
Merriam broke serve first, deploying a Veteran's Sidearm to give his creatures the leg up in battle, though Nakamura tried to fight back with a Rhox Maulers. Still, there was nothing the Japanese pro could do about the Shaman of the Pack that drained him for 3 life.
But there was something Nakamura could do about the defenses Merriam had put up, and when he untapped he unleashed one of the most-feared combinations of the format: Tragic Arrogance, choosing to leave Merriam only the Managorger Hydra suffering under Suppression Bonds, of course. That allowed Rhox Maulers to attacked unchecked, and a follow-up Gaea's Revenge slammed the door on Merriam and opened it up to history.
Nakamura 1, Merriam 0
Gumming up the board had worked well for Merriam until Nakamura's game-ending board wipe, and he took the same track in the second game, casting a full three Fetid Imps to prevent Nakamura from having many profitable attacks.
The Imps were more than enough to stymie Rhox Maulers, though Nakamura worked in some damage with a Leaf Gilder and Cleric of the Forward Order while Merriam swung back with his growing army of elves and knocked Nakamura down to 11 life.
Facing a declining situation, Nakamura made his move, turning his entire team sideways and attacking Merriam for as much damage as he could. The American lined up his blocks, threatening to clear much of Nakamura's board and take over the game if he didn't have a trick.
But if 26 Grand Prix Top 8 appearances have taught us anything, it's that Nakamura always has it when he needs it. A Titanic Growth pumped his unblocked Cleric and, combined with the trample damage from Maulers, dealt exactly lethal damage to Merriam.
Game. Match. History.
Nakamura defeats Merriam 2-0 and is the Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth champion!