Magic Origins has proven itself to be a lightning-fast format at times, and no one has made better use of that than Shuhei Nakamura, who won multiple games over the weekend without ever playing a third land. It was a strong run that enabled the hall of famer to advance to a stunning 26th career Grand Prix Top 8 (moving one closer to Olivier Ruel's record of 28).
Across from him sat Nathaniel Smith, a Magic Online guru who showed up in Dallas and found it wasn't so difficult to replicate that success in paper form. He opened up a strong pool of cards on Saturday — “Mythics plus bad cards,” as he called it — and ran it to an 8-1 record. But his success was no fluke; he managed a 5-1 record on Day Two despite what he described as a lackluster second draft. His run to the semifinals granted him Silver status in the Pro Players Club, so there's no doubt we'll see more of him around the physical game soon enough.
Nakamura's deck was one more of the more popular Magic Origins draft combinations: white-green. The efficient creatures in white backed by the large attackers offered in green — and tied together with a bevy of removal and combat tricks — meant that Nakamura's deck could both punish slow starts and grind out advantages in the long game.
Smith had opted for a black-red deck that looked much like the one he used to 3-0 his last draft pod and earn his Top 8 berth. Liliana, Heretical Healer was the flashiest part of the deck, but it was far from the only powerful card; Hangarback Walker made an appearance as well. Surrounded by a suite of removal spells and aggressive creatures, Smith's deck had brought him swiftly into the semifinals.
The early game played out around Smith's in-hand Macabre Waltz, with the American trading off creatures with the intention of bringing them back later. Nakamura reloaded his own hand with Llanowar Empath, which was then met with an equally-strong four-drop from Smith in the form of Blazing Hellhound.
Opting not cast his Totem-Guide Hartebeest on the fifth turn, Nakamura instead dealt with Smith's board, using a Suppression Bonds to lock down the hound. Undeterred, Smith quickly reloaded with Firefiend Elemental, catching Nakamura without blockers and turning his elemental renowned.
While the 4/3 is a fearsome attacker in Magic Origins, it can't quite punch through Totem-Guide Hartebeest, and when Nakamura cast it and searched up another Suppression Bonds, Smith found his offense stagnated. While he put up his own defenses with a Returned Centaur, it wasn't strong enough to match up against Nakamura's Rhox Maulers, and a triple-block from Smith on the next turn left his board significantly reduced after Enshrouding Mist saved the Maulers from damage.
Already on the back foot, Smith could do nothing but let out a small laugh when Nakamura followed up with Gaea's Revenge. That quickly turned to a long sigh when he was forced to trade off his last two creatures to survive, and one draw step later he conceded the game.
Nakamura 1, Smith 0
A mulligan to six presented a risky decision for Smith: keep a powerful hand that needed to draw a land, or mulligan even further?
After some deliberation, Smith opted for the former. He didn't find his second land until three turns in, at which point he put up maybe the best defense he could hope for: Hangarback Walker. Nakamura, not having had a fast start himself, needed an answer for the artifact before it took over the game.
The hall of famer had exactly that, casting a Suppression Bonds on the Walker and sending himself into the finals at the same time when Smith failed to find another land.
Nakamura 2, Smith 0