“I think I'm going to beat Owen,” Andrew Cuneo said. “I think I'm due.” He paused. “But Owen does usually beat me.”
To the unaccustomed ear, the hall wasn't quiet. But to those who had been here since 9 a.m., when Day Two kicked off with Round 10, the convention center bustle had faded to a background hum as close to silence as a Grand Prix ever gets. Cuneo and his opponent, Owen Turtenwald, prepared for the second Pantheon versus Pantheon Grand Prix finals of 2016.
Cuneo was playing an updated version of Dark Jeskai that included multiple copies of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and a suite of efficient removal spells, while Turtenwald was piloting a copy of the deck many players consider to be the titan of the current Standard format: 4-Color Rally.
Cuneo and Turtenwald confirmed their seedings with the feature match judge to determine who would choose the play or draw—Turtenwald was seeded fourth and Cuneo sixth.
“Is it too late to try to improve on that?” Cuneo asked.
Turtenwald chose the play and kept his opening hand. Cuneo mulliganed to six, kept, and scryed to the top.
“Well, I don't think attacking will get me anywhere,” Turtenwald said after Cuneo played his Jace.
“That's a really bad way to play around Sheer Drop,” Cuneo replied.
A Catacomb Sifter from Turtenwald was met with a Roast from Cuneo, who then followed up with a Tasigur, delving away all four cards in his graveyard. On his next turn, Turtenwald played both a Zulaport Cutthroat and a Reflector Mage that bounced the Tasigur and gained Turtenwald a significant advantage on the board.
With no white mana in play, Cuneo looted away a Gideon, played a Painful Truths, and Duressed Turtenwald. The Duress saw two copies of Rally the Ancestors and a single Collected Company. Cuneo took the Company.
Turtenwald attacked but had no follow-up plays. On his turn, Cuneo transformed his Jace, played Tasigur for a single mana, and added a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet to the board as well, successfully reclaiming the advantage of on-board presence.
Turtenwald wasn't able to recover, as Kalitas put Cuneo's life total out of immediate danger and robbed Turtenwald of graveyard food for his copies of Rally the Ancestors. Cuneo took the first game.
“I could have cast Collected Company the turn I played Reflector Mage,” Turtenwald said as the players sideboarded for Game 2, “but bouncing Tasigur just seemed too good. Plus, you only have that one Duress in your deck.”
Turtenwald was on the play again for Game 2, and both players kept their opening hands. They repeated their early plays from Game 1 as Turtenwald played an Elvish Visionary and Cuneo answered with a Jace.
A few turns later, Turtenwald was beginning to assemble 4-Color Rally's dangerous collection of cards, as he played a second Nantuko Husk to replace a first that Cuneo Roasted and followed up with copies of both Elvish Visionary and Catacomb Sifter. Cuneo answered with a Dig Through Time at the end of Turtenwald's turn.
Next turn Cuneo cast Radiant Flames, forcing Turtenwald to sacrifice his board to his Nantuko Husk, which did survive. Things looked grim, however, when an attempted Rally the Ancestors a turn later was answered by a Disdainful Stroke from Cuneo, followed by a Fiery Impulse to kill the lone Nantuko Husk. A turn later, Cuneo began pressuring Turtenwald's life total with a Mantis Rider.
Turtenwald, however, successfully cast a copy of Rally the Ancestors, which drew him three cards thanks to Elvish Visionaries and one copy of Jace dying to the "legend rule." The game stalled when Turtenwald's board of Reflector Mage and Nantuko Husk blanked Cuneo's copy of Kalitas. The players drew and passed for several turns, until a second Reflector Mage from Turtenwald cleared the way for a lethal attack. Turtenwald took Game 2, evening up the match.
Cuneo was on the play for Game 3, and both players kept their opening hands. This time an early Jace from Cuneo was met by an opposing copy of Jace from Turtenwald. A Duress from Cuneo took a Rally the Ancestors, seeing a Nantuko Husk, a Zulaport Cutthroat, and a Reflector Mage also in Turtenwald's hand. Cuneo followed up with a Painful Truths.
Turtenwald added a Catacomb Sifter and a second Nantuko Husk to the battlefield, and Cuneo continued to +1 his Jace to blunt Turtenwald's possible attacks. Another Duress from Cuneo saw two copies of Reflector Mage and an Elvish Visionary in Turtenwald's hand, but a few turns later Turtenwald flipped his unanswered Jace and flashed back the same Rally the Ancestors that Cuneo Duressed away earlier in the game. Turtenwald attacked with his two Nantuko Husks and pumped the unblocked copy for lethal damage.
“I didn't see a spell that could kill a creature,” Cuneo said of his failure to kill the Jace.
Cuneo will have to wait until the next time they face off to win that match he's due, as Turtenwald won this match two games to one to take the title of Grand Prix Houston Champion.