With six Grand Prix Top 8s (half of them wins) and one Pro Tour Top 8 (a win), all within the past four years, Alexander Hayne had quickly established himself as one of the greats of the game. However, even his impressive résumé had to compare unfavorably to that of one Raphaël Lévy, veteran of 19 Grand Prix Top 8s, three Pro Tour Top 8s, and one of the first ten members of the game's Hall of Fame.
Meeting here with but one loss each in the tournament so far, neither player was in immediate danger of being eliminated from Top 8 contention, but obviously both were looking for a win.
Hayne was on Esper Dragons, one of the more popular decks in the field, whereas Lévy had built an aggressive red deck with a somewhat higher mana curve than is usual for red decks these days. The games would certainly be interesting to watch. Shall we get to it, then?
Lévy started with Lightning Berserker, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and Flamewake Phoenix, one of the more aggressive openings his deck is capable of—and nicely suited to the matchup too! Hayne's first play was Foul-Tongue Invocation which killed the 1-drop.
Lévy attacked and brought Hayne down to 11, then made a second Eidolon of the Great Revel and lost both to Bile Blight. This got Hayne to 9, sacrificing Flooded Strand took another point, but that was all the life Hayne would lose this game. He summoned Dragonlord Ojutai which blocked the incoming Flamewake Phoenix and then went on offense itself.
Thanks to Wooded Foothills and Eidolon of the Great Revel—although Lévy's Big Red was typically very good at not taking too much damage from Eidolon—the 5/4 Dragon only needed to attack three times. It almost didn't come to that, as Lévy cast a pair of Wild Slashes to kill it. However, Ojutai teamed up with Silumgar—in the form of Silumgar's Scorn, that is—and that was it.
Alexander Hayne 1-0 Raphaël Lévy
For the second game, Lévy led with Ire Shaman and Flamewake Phoenix. Hayne smoothly handled both with Drown in Sorrow, but that left an opening for Lévy to sneak his sideboard tech of Hammer of Purphoros onto the battlefield.
Over the next couple of turns, Golems and other creatures traded with Hayne's removal but also took more and more life from Hayne. In between, in an interesting reversal, Lévy's Murderous Cut dealt with a Dragonlord Silumgar which otherwise might have stopped his advance.
The Golems grimly marched toward victory. They got Hayne all the way to 1, but many were lost along the way to Hayne's never ending barrage of removal spells. Finally, Hayne managed to stabilize with Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Foul-Tongue Invocation and even went back to 5.
Alexander Hayne 2-0 Raphaël Lévy
"In the first game, did you have the Wild Slash when I cast Bile Blight, to kill your two Eidolons?" Hayne asked after the match. At first Lévy thought he didn't have the mana to cast it then. In fact, he both had the card and the mana, but still it wasn't entirely clear whether destroying one of his own Eidolons to save the other would have been the correct play. Nevertheless, it had been an interesting situation and crucial to the game as it played out afterward.