The Top 4 draft between these two teams was full of twists as these two heavyweight champs readied to rumble. Both teams had decks that were full of some big cards, and some, well, not-so-big cards. That's how the team drafts tend to go.
Team Peach Garden Oath has won this whole thing before, and been in the Top 4 three times (not counting today). Fourth-ranked Reid Duke, 23rd-ranked William Jensen, and top-ranked Owen Turtenwald consistently threatened to take down each team event they attend.
Tom Martell's team was less bedazzled, but that doesn't mean they are slouches. Martell finished in the finals of a Team Grand Prix before, and Rich Hoaen, Canadian master, has won both of the last two Team events he's attended. Incidentally, both happened while teaming with Mike Hron, who's playing in the other semifinal match right now.
Ian Spaulding is vying for title of “Longest Time Between GP Top 8s” having finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Oakland in the 2003–04 season. Humorously it's been longer for him than fellow Oakland Top 8er Ben Rubin, only because Rubin got his two months ago.
When the teams broke off into building groups, they immediately started chatting about who had what. And who didn't have what.
“So Ian has Radiant Flames. Ok. But that's terrible against your deck.”
“Wait, you didn't see a Felidar Sovereign? In pack three? Is Reid white too?”
After the discussions came the building. Peach Garden Oath all played red in some capacity (as did the Nass, Wilson, Pardee team in the other semifinals). Their decks were all competent ones. Duke and Turtenwald were both Red-White while Jensen skewed Blue-Red.
Martell, Hoaen and Spaulding's team were a bit more color dynamic, sporting Green-Blue Aggro, Black-Green Value and a White-Black Allies.
(23) William Jensen (Blue-Red) vs. Ian Spaulding (Green-Blue)
In the first game, Jensen had a steady stream of rares with Jori En, Ruin Diver; Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper; and Eldrazi Displacer. Despite these hitters, he was having a bit of trouble stabilizing each turn. It wasn't his fault. Board dominance is hard when your opponent has a turn-three Nissa, Voice of Zendikar.
Ian Spaulding came out of the gates with his aggressive Green-Blue deck—playing numerous two-drops as his Nissa kept ticking up. Though he wasn't getting damage in large chunks, his board obviously kept growing.
Add a choice Void Grafter (taking away a Containment Membrane) and a Thought Harvester for some flying defense and attack, and Jensen was doing all the movement but not getting moving. He was spinning his wheels.
But Jensen was holding strong. And after a mid-combat Reality Hemorrhage to mess up blocking, the board looked good.
Until the judge put the cards back on the table.
Jensen had activated Wandering Fumarole and attacked, and his Noyan Dar awakened it with the burn spell. Both players thought this resolved in Jensen's favor, but the layers worked slightly differently.
Fumarole was a 3/3, rather than a 4/5 because it was already activated when awakened. Jensen binned his land, and Spaulding kept his 4/4 Scion Summoner.
Not long after that play, the game was all over. Nissa had stabilized, pumped the team, and helped Spaulding ride to victory. But despite winning, Spaulding was still a bit shaken from an earlier missed trigger, and the hectic Top 4 situation.
“Shake it off. It's all good,” Martell said to his teammate in between games.
“I'm hot; I'm tired.” Spaulding said.
“It's been a long day. You got this.” Spaulding heeded Martell's words and shuffled up. Make no mistake, going up against William Jensen is not easy for anyone.
Before we go on, let's check in with the other matches.
(4) Reid Duke (Red-White) vs. Rich Hoaen (Black-Green)
Hoaen got Duke to 5 life while still at 20 himself. Duke started to stabilize—casting Isolation Zone on the ranger—but Hoaen was far from finished. Malakir Soothsayer and a choice Oblivion Strike were the nails in the coffin, as the Canadian took the final points away from the New Yorker.
In the second game, Duke had Ondu Greathorn and Valakut Invoker to start. Again, consistent if unspectacular. Eventually he was able to get in some good damage with Resolute Blademaster and an ally to follow up. But after dumping his creatures, he was handless.
Again, Hoaen's start and finish seemed cleaner than it must have been in the moment. He made it look easy. He had two early Vampire Envoy that were never answered. It allowed him to fear the Blademaster slightly less. Along with that, a 1/2 Sky Scourer that continued plinking and plinking. Dominance in the air, one power at time.
The whole time Duke had ways out, and his Blademaster was a threat. But Nissa's Judgment from Hoaen took out the red-white ally and made both Envoys 2/5. And that was all she wrote.
Hoaen took a quick two games off Reid Duke.
Team Hoaen, Martell and Spaulding went up 1-0.
(1) Owen Turtenwald (Red-White) vs. Tom Martell (White-Black-blue)
In the third match, Owen Turtenwald's starter was stocked with removal and kept Tom Martell's open to a crawl. The only creature Martell could stick was a Vampire Envoy. And even that wasn't safe to attack.
“Rich, Searing Light, did you see it?” Martell asked his teammate.
“Yeah, he could have one.”
Martell thought again, and attacked with the Envoy.
Searing Light took it out.
A Deathless Behemoth momentarily evened things out for Martell, but Turtenwald one-upped him with a flying Felidar Sovereign (thanks to Angelic Gift). Just a turn or two with that, and the game would be over. The board mostly cleared with the ground-pounders taking each other out, and it was basically just the giant flyer.
Then Martell found a Bone Splinters and sacrificed an awakened land, saving himself from certain doom.
From the jaws of defeat Martell got there. With the board cleared and Turtenwald's threats mitigated, Martell dropped more little allies from his hand like bad habits and took the game away.
However, Turtenwald took revenge in the second game. His start of Valakut Predator, Allied Reinforcements, and Embodiment of Fury was unmatched by Martell, and a mid-combat Roil's Retribution on the following turn caused him to scoop them up instantaneously.
In the final game Turtenwald fought through a missed land drop early to create a familiar scene: Embodiment of Fury and Cinder Hellion while sitting on tons of removal in hand. Martell had Kalastria Nightwatch and Deathless Behemoth, so Turtenwald was kept in check. The two continued to build their boards.
Sadly for Turtenwald, despite sitting on instant-speed removal, he was caught by an Encircling Fissure while he was tapped out and it drastically altered the board in Martell's favor. Turtenwald sunk to 10 life.
We never had to return to the rest of the Jensen-Spaulding match because it never finished.
Team Hoaen, Martell and Spaulding won 2-0, and were ready for the finals.
Hoaen and Martell are returning to the Grand Prix finals, and Ian Spaulding is heading there for the very first time.