Modern Eldrazi may seem like the old enemy to those playing at Grand Prix Detroit, but this triple-GP weekend was actually the Grand Prix debut for the alien invaders after they made a world-breaking smash at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. Since then, the deck in its many incarnations — most prevalently white-blue — quickly became the boogeyman of the format that every other deck needed a plan to beat. It was more than 39 percent of the field at all three Grand Prix over the weekend, and the white-blue versions met in the finals in both Bologna and Melbourne.
That was the background of the event that Ralph Betesh and Evan Buchholz entered. The two live within an hour of each other on the east coast, and were familiar with each other from the local tournament scene. As they progressed through the rounds of Grand Prix Detroit, they had kept a running joke that both would meet in the Top 8.
By the time the finals of the Grand Prix did roll around, it was no longer a joke. Betesh and Buchholz stared each other down across the finals table, the joke now a reality that had a Grand Prix title on the line.
Unknowingly, the two had played this matchup earlier in the week, when Betesh’s Abzan Company deck ran into Buchholz’s White-Blue Eldrazi deck on Magic Online. Betesh had emerged on top in that matchup, but he could repeat the feat in the finals?
On top of that, he had the hopes of the non-Eldrazi world on his shoulders after the otherworldly beings had emerged triumphant in Europe and Australia thanks to the potent core of Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin powering out Eldrazi Displacer, Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher and Drowner of Hope all weekend long. Armed with an Abzan company deck that featured several combos centered around Persist, sacrifice effects and either Melira, Sylvok Outcast or Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Betesh had the potential to go infinite at any time, a key way to go over the top of the Eldrazi deck. Which is exactly what he planned on doing, given the worldwide Eldrazi dominance over the past 24 hours.
Talk about no pressure.
The first game featured Buchholz displaying one of the Eldrazi deck’s most potent starts. Turn 1 Eye of Ugin-Eldrazi Mimic led to Turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer, and in the blink of an eye Buchholz had mana ramp, hand disruption and a hefty attacker.
Betesh did manage a Wall of Roots to stymie the attacking half of Thought-Knot Seer, though a pair of Eldrazi Skyspawner for Buchholz sent his army into the air and began poking at Betesh’s life total. That demanded an immediate answer from the Abzan player, as he began to fall perilously low from the fliyers. He had the perfect one in Orzhov Pontiff, killing both Skyspawner, a pair of Scion tokens and the Eldrazi Mimic just by hitting the battlefield.
Looking for a way to break through the Thought-Knot Seer, Betesh had to settle for removing the Mimic with Murderous Redcap, which ate a Path to Exile and removed forever one of his key combo pieces. Buchholz activated his Eye on the end of Betesh’s turn to bring Drowner of Hope to his hand, and when it was joined by Phyrexian Metamorph on his turn he had added 14 power to his board in one fell swoop.
But with Orzhov Pontiff lingering, Buchholz was one creature short of sacrificing his Scion army to Drowner to tap Betesh’s team and swing for lethal. Instead he was forced to pass the turn back with the plan of activating Eye again on his next turn.
That gave Betesh a narrow window, but one he took full advantage of. Collected Company off the top of his deck found him Viscera Seer and Eternal Witness, setting up the combo of Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Kitchen Finks and the Seer. That meant infinite life, which while a huge safety net wasn’t a game-ender against Buchholz, who with Eldrazi Displacer and Thought-Knot Seer could conceivably lock Betesh out of relevant draws and run his library out of cards in the late game. And with the Redcap gone, Betesh’s usual kill wasn’t available.
But Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit was. Wish Melira in play, another repetition of the combo also served to create infinite Bolster triggers, which grew his team to big enough proportions to end the game in one fell swing.
The first game was a long, complicated and downright exciting affair, and it left Betesh a single win away from the title.
Game 2 led off with Eldrazi Temple from Buchholz, who had an Eldrazi Displacer on the second turn to kick off the action. Betesh did his best to keep up with the mana acceleration, using a Birds of Paradise to keep pace.
With three Reality Smasher in hand, Buchholz was building toward five mana to begin crashing in for damage. But an Intrepid Hero from Betesh put a major hole in that plan, and Buchholz was forced to burn a Path to Exile to solve it.
While Buchholz was building toward the Smashers in his hand, Betesh was building toward his own combo, which he found thanks to a timely Chord of Company, though he neglected to go for it in case Buchholz had another removal spell.
Instead, all Buchholz could do was play a land on his turn and pass, unable to play the Reality Smashers in hand for fear of removing any doubt of the safety of Betesh’s combo. After a long deliberation, Betesh opted to go for it on the end of Buchholz’s turn, and when no removal spell was forthcoming he scryed a Murderous Redcap to the top, enough to earn the concession and handshake from Buchholz.
It may have taken three events, but Betesh and his company finally took down the Eldrazi, winning one for the good guys — and a Grand Prix title for himself.