"Can we switch seats A and C?" Rich Hoaen asked before the match began.
An odd request, but one that made more sense once you considered that Hoaen and Mike Hron — seats A and C on the two opposing finals teams, for reference — had paired up in their last two team Grand Prix and won both.
For Grand Prix Washington D.C., though, they split up. Hoaen joined Tom Martell and Ian Spaulding, while Hron partnered with Matt Severa and reigning Rookie of the Year Justin Cohen.
More than 3,500 players competed in the largest team Grand Prix in Magic's history, but despite the odds it was Hoaen's and and Hron's team that met in the finals. No matter who won, it would be the third team Grand Prix win in as many tries for one of them, while the other would settle for "only" a finals appearance.
Not a bad result for either side.
While it was mostly pride on the line for Hron and Hoaen, there was more on the line for their teammates. With players on both sides chasing pro points — a win would lock Severa for Silver and give Cohen the first trophy of his career in what was also his first appearance inside the Top 16 of a Grand Prix — the finals match had plenty going for it.
Mike Hron, Matt Severa and Justin Cohen were trying to finish off an impressive won that would award Hron an astounding third Team Grand Prix title in in his last three attempts.
As it was, Hoaen squared off against Cohen, with his grindy black-green deck squaring off against Cohen's aggressive red-green deck. And that deck got off to a hugely aggressive start in the first game, with a Grove Rumbler crashing in several turns in a row. With counters from Support triggers and landfall benefits, the Rumbler quickly outgrew Hoaen's attempts to block it. When he finally did triple-block the Rumbler to get it off the battlefield, it was quickly replaced by Immobilizer Eldrazi, which rendered enough of Hoaen's blockers useless to give Cohen the first game.
Meanwhile, both other matches stretched deep into Game 1, with Hron's Dampening Pulse essentially turning off a good portion of Martell's board. Along with a pair of Ancient Crab, Martell was finding it difficult to sneak through any damage. Eventually, Hron's fliers gave him the first game.
In the middle match, Severa fought through Deceiver of Forms on Spaulding's side thanks to several whiffs on its ability and a Blinding Drone keeping it bay. He too eventually fought through with a host of fliers to take the game.
Used to pairing with Hron, Hoaen — in search of a third straight Team Grand Prix title of his own — was trying to defeat his friend's team in the finals.
With Cohen's team all up a game, he opened Game 2 with Hoaen ready to slam the door. And while his aggressive start began to work on his life total, Hoaen was able to stabilize with Kozilek's Translator, Vampire Envoy and more. As their game developed into a long board stall, attention shifted back to the other matches, which saw both Martell and Spaulding even things up in lightning-fast fashion.
But while the second game had gone well for Martell, he wasn't able to fight through the figurative and literal Wall of Resurgence Hron put up. Martell was able to handle the first Cloud Manta, but flying reinforcements arrived and after several turns of blank draw steps Hron closed out the game and put his team one win away from a title.
It wouldn't come easy. Spaulding missed an early land drop but resolved Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet to immediately stabilize the board. With his ground attack stalled but Blinding Drone holding Kalitas at bay, Severa needed to take to the air to close things out. He was able to knock Spaulding to 8 life, but with the lands finally arriving for Spaulding his hand was unlocking quickly.
That demanded a risky play from Severa, and he wasn't afraid to make it. He cast Inverter of Truth with just three cards in his graveyard, effectively putting himself on a three-turn clock to close out the game.
It was a risky move, but it was one Spaulding wasn't ready to answer. When the top card of his library didn't reveal an answer, the Inverter finished its work and sent Hron, Severa and Cohen to the title at Grand Prix Washington D.C.