With the rest of the Top 4 consumed by Eldrazi, Ralph Betesh had the hopes of the Zendikari riding on his shoulders. The triple-Grand Prix weekend was dominated across the globe by the Eldrazi menace, and the finals of both Grand Prix Bologna and Melbourne were decided by White-Blue Eldrazi mirrors in the finals.
That meant that the Philadelphia native, who had arrived on his Abzan company deck after not losing a match with it to Eldrazi over the past week on Magic Online, felt comfortable with his deck choice entering the tournament. The decision paid off for him, as he kept his streak of not losing to White-Blue Eldrazi alive all the way up to the semifinals.
That could come to an end in the semis. His opponent, Huang Hao-Shan, was piloting the ubiquitous White-Blue Eldrazi deck, and had quietly steamrolled his way through the tournament. While the other three players at the table were jovially celebrating their Top 4 appearances, Hao-Shan was carefully studying Betesh’s decklist, intent on finishing off the tournament.
But while Betesh’s start was fast, Hao-Shan’s was breakneck. Eye of Ugin on the first turn allowed Eldrazi Mimic, and when Eldrazi Temple and Thought-Knot Seer (removing Collected Company from Betesh’s hand) followed on the second Betesh very quickly found himself down on life.
Desperately in need of an answer, Betesh simply cycled a Horizon Canopy, while Hao-Shan slowed down slightly with Eldrazi Skyspawner. That was still enough to put the American into the danger zone, and when Reality Smasher joined the battlefield on the next turn the pair were quickly off into Game 2.
If there was ever a way to tell if it is “your tournament,” it’s Gemstone Caverns, and Hao-Shan was able to start Game 2 with the land in play with a luck counter. That allowed him to essentially steal the decision to play first and help to offset Betesh’s first-turn Noble Hierarch.
After the exciting start it quickly turned into a game of trading big plays. Kitchen Finks for Betesh allowed him a solid attacker, while Hao-Shan’s second turn of Thought-Knot Seer removed Chord of Calling from Betesh’s hand. Fiend Hunter came off the top and removed the Thought-Knot Seer permanently thanks stacking its triggers properly with the sacrifice effect from Viscera Seer.
Hao-Shan kept its foot on the pedal with Oblivion Sower on the next turn, though it netted only a Verdant Catacombs from Betesh. That was still enough to follow up with Drowner of Hope, all the while inching toward the mana to activate Eye of Ugin to seal up the game.
But he never got that chance. Betesh found Chord of Calling to fetch Melira, Sylvok Outcast and activate his infinite life combo with Melira, Kitchen Finks and Viscera Seer. That also allowed him to scry Murderous Redcap to the top of his deck and repeat the combo — with direct damage this time — to even up the match at one game apiece.
The third game hinged on one key moment. Wall of Roots met Eldrazi Skyspawner, and Hao-Shan faced the decision on his next turn to sacrifice the Scion token to cast Reality Smasher, or play a second Eldrazi Skyspawner and set up for Drowner of Hope on the next turn. He opted for the latter, playing for the long game rather than a quick burst of mana.
That decision proved fatal, as Betesh untapped and used Chord of Calling to find Orzhov Pontiff, completely wiping Hao-Shan’s board and removing his ability to cast his big spells. That was enough to spell the end of the game, sending Betesh into the finals to try and become the only non-Eldrazi player to take home a title on the weekend.