Thanks to byes, this was the first round the pro players were playing in, and already we found quite a good match to watch. In one corner sat Hall of Famer Ben Stark, veteran of countless Grand Prix and Pro Tour Top 8s. (Actually, that's not entirely true; we were able to count and came up with 15 and four respectively, with one win apiece.) Facing him was Max Sjöblom who, so far, had only finished in one Top 8 each at Pro Tours and Grand Prix and was looking to maybe add another to his résumé this weekend.
Sjöblom was running what appeared to be a pretty standard version of Abzan Aggro, whereas Stark had brought a sweet-looking Abzan Control with Satyr Wayfinders, Murderous Cuts, and Den Protectors. Who would prevail in the battle between the Abzans? Well, we would find out.
All began with a mulligan for Sjöblom. Though his six-card hand looked spectacular (two lands and Ultimate Price with a perfect curve of Fleecemane Lion, Anafenza, the Foremost, and Siege Rhino to boot) it deteriorated quickly, thanks to a pair of Thoughtseizes from Stark who took both Sjöblom's 2- and 3-drop. Sjöblom didn't cast a single spell until turn four, while Stark had a Satyr Wayfinder.
Next, the two players summoned matching Siege Rhinos. Sjöblom had a second, killed Stark's with Hero's Downfall, and it looked as if he might actually come back from the early-game lull. However, Sjöblom lost one Rhino to Bile Blight and blocks, the other to Murderous Cut, and once again found himself out of creatures.
Pulling ahead even further, Stark cast and turned up a pair of Den Protectors. He then re-summoned Siege Rhino and cast Mastery of the Unseen. Sjöblom did have Bile Blight to dispatch the two Den Protectors, but when Mastery of the Unseen found a third (what else?) on top of Stark's deck, the game was effectively over.
Ben Stark 1-0 Max Sjöblom
The second game began with the players casting Thoughtseizes, Stark again stripping Sjöblom of a turn-two play. Nevertheless, Sjöblom was able to build a bit of a board presence with Sorin, Solemn Visitor and a Vampire token, while Stark cast Satyr Wayfinder plus Courser of Kruphix. Stark lost both right away when Dromoka's Command forced him to sacrifice an enchantment and forced a fight between Vampire and Wayfinder.
Stark drew Hero's Downfall, but was low on answers to planeswalkers and knew about Nissa, Worldwaker in Sjöblom's hand. "Can I see Nissa for a second?" Stark asked. Sjöblom gave Stark the card to read, and Stark decided to let Sorin live.
However, Nissa was not the only planeswalker in these two players' hands. With more Satyr Wayfinders, Stark himself was building toward eight mana for the Ugin, the Spirit Dragon he had revealed earlier. The looming Spirit Dragon may have kept Sjöblom from deploying as many threats as he otherwise might have. He never mounted much of an offense and later found himself forced to cast Nissa, Worldwaker anyway. Stark's Elspeth, Sun's Champion died to Hero's Downfall immediately, but her Soldiers stayed around and managed to take down Nissa before long.
The game was shifting more and more in Stark's favor. Close to the end, Sjöblom blocked one of Stark's tokens with a solitary Wingmate Roc and promptly lost it to the +2 ability of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon which entered the battlefield post-combat. Later, Sjöblom said, "That was such a bad block."
The mistake was not exactly crucial to the match, but neither was it irrelevant. It certainly sped things up as Sjöblom, bereft of his only flier, was unable to stop Ugin from going straight up to eleven counters. In the face of this as well new additions to Stark's team in Siege Rhino and Den Protector, Sjöblom extended his hand in concession.
Ben Stark 2-0 Max Sjöblom
After the match the players discussed some of the more interesting game play situations. "I think everything you did up to that point," Stark told Sjöblom, referring to the block with Wingmate Roc, "I would have played exactly the same."