As the two competitors perused each others’ decklists—neither list being a well-known deck—they reacted aloud to the heresy they saw.
“What No counterspells?!” was Daniel Chan’s first response. He thought for sure his opponent’s Esper deck would have some sort of preemptive permission like that. Although there were Disdainful Strokes in the sideboard, the Chicago native wasn’t up against any blue resistance in the first game.
“Hixus?! Jeez!” was how former Rookie of the Year Ray Perez, Jr. reacted to the unique sideboard cards Chan was playing. Hixus, Prison Warden could be huge game with all the tokens Perez could produce. He was afraid enough that he clarified with a judge beforehand that Hixus died in response to its enter-the-battlefield trigger, it indeed wouldn’t remove his creatures. (He was correct.)
Both players had to deduce their game plans in the matchup, but they had to do it on the fly, right before they were going to camera. The match-up could get grindy, for sure. If the Blue Abzan could get its card advantage online, and stay safe from Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Secure the Wastes, it could Rhino its way across the finish line. But if the removal of Esper is too much to handle, the big end game of Perez’s deck to sail to victory.
Daniel Chan had the all-important first turn, and had his Warden of the First Tree and Heir of the Wilds prepped and waiting to enter the fray. Chan was the aggressor the whole game. Ray Perez, Jr. had Hangarback Walker to stall the assault and Painful Truths to find answers, but he was on the back foot from the get-go.
“Hm. Ze choices,” Perez mused, looking at his empty battlefield. He re-upped with a second Hangarback and a Silkwrap on the now–3/3 Warden. But by this point, Chan had a Siege Rhino and another Warden, and Perez had sunk to 8 life. The board was always Advantage–Chan.
Perez was fighting with Utter End and efficient blocks, but the second Rhino made it way too much to handle. The former rookie of the year hung in there for a turn or two more. But eventually, he said, “Yeah, that’s enough.” And they went to the second game.
Ray Perez, Jr. started the second match, and cast a turn-two Duress before too much action had happened. Upon seeing Virulent Plague in Chan’s hand, Perez did a “Wah-Nah” noise, imitating a sad trombone. Perez figured it would be coming in of course, but that didn’t mean he wanted his opponent to draw it. Though Chan moved it in the direction of the graveyard, Perez took the Abzan Charm. Perez had removal spells for days, so he took the one card that could give his opponent more cards. He sensed the incoming grind.
The match seemed to be going Perez’s way, until Chan got his card advantage with two Den Protector. Chan mounted some semblance of pressure, if a bit slow. Though Perez killed them with Murderous Cut, they were able to recur themselves when a creature was needed in play.
If the match had stayed this way—with Perez slowly leaking cards—it would have been all Chan. But there was a planeswalker that came to Perez’s aide that evened things out. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar single-handedly made the match a lot more difficult for Chan. Then it got real grindy, real quick.
Chan tried to fight through the advantage of the ‘walker, but Perez seemed to get the better end of every deal. An Ally token bagged a removal spell, and creature Gideon ate chump blockers. Chan thought carefully through his plays, and each turn became slightly longer as the grind was setting in.
Perez tried to pick-up the pace with a Wingmate Roc and his buddy, Bird Token. Though Perez was behind on life, 7-12, Chan was having trouble getting through the final damage. But the pace was still slow. Even after a Gideon emblem made the flyers 4/5, Perez still declined to attack.
Perez was being patient, and his patience paid off. He soon countered a Hixus, Prison Warden to swing the board grossly in his favor. With removal still in his hands, and a Shambling Vents ambling into the red zone with his Bird friends, Perez was eventually able to even the score.
Perez began clawing back casting Silkwrap on the Anafenza, then Ob Nixilis Reignited which killed the Rhino, then Murderous Cut on the Warden. Chan’s board was barren out of nowhere. His creatures vanished. Perez continued his creature-killing frenzy with more removal and counters—taking out an Heir of the Wilds and a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
Two turns early, Ob Nixilis was looking like it was basically a liability; now it’d become a looming portent for Chan. If Chan couldn’t stick some threats, he would be out of this tournament.
But Perez still had a long way to go. He was at 5 to Chan’s 23. Even if he had black removal, that wouldn’t stop two Siege Rhinos, or a Siege Rhino and a Den Protector to play it again. Chan could grab the last points without keeping a creature alive.
Chan had Rhino + Den Protector, but it would take a few turns to assemble. In the meantime, Perez had put together an assault squad of Knight of the White Orchid and Shambling Vent, both getting pumped by a Gideon emblem. He was gaining life each turn, and drawing extra cards. Perez was slowly getting out of reach.
When Perez started attacking with the second Shambling Vents, and got all the way back to 16 life, Chan realized his goose was cooked.
Though Ray Perez, Jr. had looked down and out, he came back and broke Chan’s serve to win the match 2-1.
Ray Perez, Jr. advances to the finals!