Red-Green Monsters against Mono-Red Sligh—who would have thought that would be our finals today? But it was. Everyone at the tournament was ready for Jeskai and Abzan decks, and the players with innovative or under-the-radar decks came out on top. Ulanov and Scheid were among them, and after a long road to the finals, they now get to play one final match to claim the title, the bragging rights, and the trophy.
Ulanov, a 27-year-old software engineer from Russia who has been living in the U.S., is the slightly more experienced player in the finals, having several StarCityGames Open Top 8s to his name. Daniel Scheid, a 23-year old courier from California, merely listed "2nd at several FNM" as his previous high-water mark. Despite, slight experience differences, making it to the finals of a Grand Prix has been a break-out finish for both players.
The Decks and Matchup
Scheid's red-green deck contains Polukranos, World Eater; Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx; and Hornet Queen, but doesn't have four copies of any of them. So he's not all-in on the devotion plan. Instead, he has four copies of Stormbreath Dragon, allowing him to win games by ramping into big flyers.
Ulanov's mono-red deck features heavy hitters like Monastery Swiftspear and Goblin Rabblemaster, backed up by cards like Hammerhand and Stoke the Flames that can clear away the blockers. His deck can be blazingly fast, but can have trouble beating the more powerful cards from the green deck if a game goes long.
Scheid had a great hand with Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid, while Ulanov did not curve out as well: He had Monastery Swiftspear on turn one and merely a Dragon Mantle and a shrug on turn two, missing his second land drop.
On turn three, Ulanov found his second land and attacked with Monastery Swiftspear. It was promptly blocked by Sylvan Caryatid. Unwilling to be blown out by Lightning Strike, Ulanov chose not to double-pump his Monastery Swiftspear with Dragon Mantle. Instead, he beefed it up with Titan's Strength, and when Scheid indeed showed Lightning Strike, Ulanov played a second Titan's Strength to save his prowess creature after all. Although Ulanov might have had the final say in that combat, Scheid was still perfectly happy with that exchange: the nine-power Swiftspear didn't deal damage to him that turn, and Ulanov didn't use his mana to meaningfully progress his board.
A couple turns later, Scheid had taken over the game with double Courser of Kruphix. He quickly found himself back at 20 life with good blockers in play, truly showing why Courser of Kruphix is so strong against aggro decks.
The game took a while, but it was essentially over after the second Courser of Kruphix came down and Ulanov lacked a way to break through them. The only thing left for Scheid was to choose how to win the game, and he found a way in style with Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. It ticked up and attacked for four. It ticked up once more. And then it went ultimate! A couple turns later, the unrelenting card advantage from Khans of Tarkir's marquee Planeswalker provided Scheid with a lethal Crater's Claws.
Daniel Scheid 1 – Denis Ulanov 0
Ulanov had a nice start with Akroan Crusader, Monastery Swiftspear, and Foundry Street Denizen over his first two turns. Scheid, in the meantime, was able to use his mana to efficiently trade for those threats, as Elvish Mystic blocked one creature and Lightning Strike took out another.
Still at a comfortable life total, Scheid looked to be taking over with Ashcloud Phoenix that would provide a blocker even if Ulanov had a burn spell, but Ulanov had something that was much better: Harness by Force. The techy sideboard card was an incredible swing in this situation, as it not only took out a blocker but also added a four-power attacker. This attack put Scheid down to 7 life, and he was suddenly well within burn range. In a fiery blaze generated by double Stoke the Flames, Ulanov took Game 2.
Daniel Scheid 1 – Denis Ulanov 1
Scheid got the game underway with turn-one Elvish Mystic and turn-two Sylvan Caryatid, but didn't have a second land. Searing Blood took out Elvish Mystic, and things got tense for Scheid: If he found a land on top of his deck, then he would be able to cast Courser of Kruphix and slowly take over the game. But if there was not be a land on top, he would fall behind very quickly.
He looked at the top card, and it was a Forest! Courser of Kruphix came down at the crucial moment, and another on the following turn. A stream of lands got Scheid right back into the game.
Ulanov, in the meantime, had expanded his board with Firedrinker Satyr, Firedrinker Satyr, and Akroan Crusader, but he didn't have any cards that can make blocking difficult: no Coordinated Assault, no Hammerhand, and no Harness by Force.
Having his defense locked up, Scheid once again merely needed a way to win the game: Two Stormbreath Dragons and a Crater's Claws later, the game was over.
Daniel Scheid 2 – Denis Ulanov 1
Daniel Scheid is your Grand Prix Los Angeles 2014 champion!