It was a mirror of first-timers in the semifinals, as both Scott Kirkwood and Brent Clawson were playing in their first Grand Prix Top 8. And both were on streaks: Kirkwood had defeated four straight Abzan opponents while Clawson was on a hot streak after squeaking into Day 2 at 7-2 and punching his ticket to the Top 8 by just not losing on Sunday.
“I've played against five Abzan decks in a row, and won the four before this,” Kirkwood informed Clawson as they chatted before the match.”
“Well, hopefully this one will be the one that beats you,” Clawson said with a laugh.
“However it happens, I just hope it will be a good game,” Kirkwood replied. “I'm stoked to be here.”
There was little mystery to Clawson's deck; he said he was playing Abzan because it won the Pro Tour. The mix of removal spells, versatile effects like Abzan Charm and the ever-omniscient Siege Rhino, the deck has been a mainstay of Standard for more than a year, and the formula proved successful enough to send Clawson to the elimination rounds.
Kirkwood sat down with Red-Green Landfall, a deck identical in colors to the more popular Atarka Red but different in function. While both decks like to attack and feature the dreaded end-game combo of Become Immense plus Temur Battle Rage, the landfall deck utilizes Scythe Leopard and Snapping Gnarlid to make its aggressive starts even more aggressive alongside a few fetch lands.
That aggressive potential was on full display in the first game, as Kirkwood curved Scythe Leopard into Snapping Gnarlid into a morphed Den Protector as Clawson struggled with a mulligan that left him with three Anafenza, the Foremost in hand. When a Dashed Zurgo Bellstriker joined the party along with a fetch, Clawson suddenly found himself down to one life before his fourth turn.
He had found a card that could help in Siege Rhino. Unfortunately, that would mean cracking a Flooded Strand to do so, and at just one life that wasn't a possibility. With that, the pair were on to the second game.
In the second game it was Clawson who got to be aggressive, turning his Warden of the First Tree into a 3/3 and drawing first blood by attacking past a Scythe Leopard. That plan changed quickly when Monastery Swiftspear plus the Leopard rumbled back for 4 damage. With that, both players began to build up their board, with Anafenza and Siege Rhino for Clawson and a pair of landfall creatures for Kirkwood, who was holding an ominous grip of three cards.
Wary to avoid the “combo kill,” Clawson kept his team back before casting Duress to check the way. When Kirkwood revealed naught but three lands, it was time for Anafenza and Siege Rhino to turn sideways. The beastly pair did their work quickly, and a second Siege Rhino sealed the deal.
Kirkwood debated long and hard over whether or not to keep his six-card hand in the decider. Finally, he decided to keep, and bottomed the top card of his deck before playing a Mountain and passing.
The reason for his consternation quickly became clear, as he missed a second land drop and was forced to pass back without a play. While Clawson got on board first with a Hangarback Walker, he was also forced to pass after failing to field a third land.
When Kirkwood did manage to find lands, a pair of Silkwrap took out the two small creatures he managed to cast, with the Hangarback Walker growing all the while. As the Construct began to chip away at Kirkwood's life total, he was reduced to using his Atarka's Command simply to burn Clawson's safely-high life total. Two attack steps later and still no creature, Kirkwood revealed his hand, showing that he did have the Become Immense/Temur Battle Rage combo. But without a creature to use it on, he instead extended his hand and wished Clawson good luck in the finals.