The Top 4 of Grand Prix Washington D.C. was an all-star cast of competitors, and essentially a who's-who of Team Grand Prix lately. Among the top four was the vaunted Peach Garden Oath of top-ranked Owen Turtenwald, sixth-ranked Reid Duke and No. 23 William Jensen, winners of team Grand Prix Portland in 2014, victors of Grand Prix Detroit Sam Pardee, Matt Nass and No. 18 Jacob Wilson, and as well as two-thirds of the winning team from Grand Prix Beijing in Rich Hoaen and Mike Hron, though they were split up for this event. Not to mention reigning Rookie of the Year Justin Cohen and Pro Tour Gatecrash winner Tom Martell.
In other words, there were just a few good players in the Top 4.
In this case, the defending North American champs Pardee, Nass and Wilson squared off against Cohen, Matt Severa and Mike Hron, fresh off his win in Beijing with Craig Wescoe and Rich Hoaen, who was competing in the other semifinal. The two were hoping for a finals matchup, but to do that Hron and and his team had to go through Pardee, Nass and Wilson.
Matt Nass vs. Mike Hron
Team Draft is a unique format that can lead to players going out of their way to make their neighbors' decks weaker, and some weird configurations can result from the format. That was the case for Pardee, Nass and Wilson, who ended up with three red decks, including blue-red builds for both Pardee and Wilson. Their opponents, meanwhile, had more balanced decks but came up a few cards short in each, making the good cards in the decks good but the bad ones quite the opposite.
Still, weaker overall decks can still lean on their powerful cards or synergistic ones, and that's exactly what Nass' deck consisted of. A barrage of Slip Through Space, Expedite and Prowess creatures allowed him to consistently poke in damage in the first game, and a hasty Stormchaser Mage was enough to close it out.
Things looked much worse in the second game, as Hron was able to fill the board with creatures as Nass struggled to keep up. As his life total dwindled, he was quickly running out of time to find a big answer.
That is, until he was able to cast Crush of Tentacles for its surge cost, clearing Hron's creatures and reloading his own board. The Octupus and friends took the game a few turns later, putting Nass' team up a match in the semifinals.
Sam Pardee vs. Justin Cohen
Cohen wasn't thrilled with his deck during the construction phase, but with some solid creatures and combat tricks, he was live to win any game. While more powerful, Pardee's also required a specific subset of cards to work to its fullest potential. Or he could just cast Chandra, Flamecaller. That was a good backup plan.
Players traded blows in the first game, with Cohen getting in with Kor Scythemaster while a stream of cheap removal spells for Pardee allowed him to trade back efficiently. He looked to take definitive control of the race by casting a two-drop and trying for a Reality Hemorrhage on Cohen's Kor Bladewhirl, but had to abandon that plan when Tandem Tactics saved the Bladewhirl and put Cohen up on life.
Cohen tapped out for Ghostly Sentinel, and despite being down to five life that gave Pardee a window to cast his planeswalker. Chandra called the flames down and cleared the board, giving him a clear hand up in the long game.
Not that he had an opportunity to reach it. Cohen untapped, cast a Steppe Glider and then had a pair of pump spells on it to end the game on his next turn.
The next game saw roles reverse, as it was Pardee who had the tricks — Slip Through Space took Cohen down to six life, and when Ulamog's Reclaimer bought it back to recast on the next turn they quickly moved to a third.
Pardee's opening hand was explosive, with a pair of Hedron Crawler to allow him to power out whatever cards he could draw. Unfortunately for Pardee, those cards were only a parade of Slip Through Space and Expedite, allowing him to cycle through his deck but not find any spells worth resolving. Cohen, meanwhile, had no such trouble of his own, and while Pardee flooded Cohen flooded the board. When Oblivion Strike removed the single Ulamog's Despoiler Pardee eventually found, Cohen evened up the match and turned all eyes to Wilson and Severa as they headed into their third and deciding game.
Jacob Wilson vs. Matt Severa
After the players split a pair of drawn-out games, they began the third with the knowledge a trip to the finals was on the line.
Again the game began slowly, though Wilson's Mina and Denn, Wildborn on the fourth turn provided a must-answer threat. That answer came in the form of Kozilek's Translator, and when it was joined by a second copy both Wilson's wildborn and Crater Hellion found themselves unable to attack into the 3/5s.
Until Wilson untapped and played Saddleback Lagac, that is. Suddenly his creatures were much more impressive as 5/5s, and a double block from Severa traded off a Translator for Mina and Denn while falling to 12 life.
Still in need of an answer to the second 5/5, Severa bought himself time with Catacomb Sifter, which provided both a pair of bodies to block and the ability to scry along with it. That kept Wilson on the defense, and Severa punished him for it a turn later with Oblivion Strike. Out of cards to attack with and holding only lands, it was Wilson who began being attacked. When an awakened Mire's Malice revealed only lands in Wilson's hand he conceded the match, sending Cohen, Severa and Hron into the finals of Grand Prix Washington D.C.