Posted in GRAND PRIX LOS ANGELES 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on October 19, 2014

By Frank Karsten

"He is playing Jeskai, I am playing Abzan Aggro," Pardee said when I arrived at the table. The two members of Team Face to Face Games had tested together for the Pro Tour and worked together for this Grand Prix as well. Although they might have preferred to face off in the finals, the reality of the pairing was that they had to play each other in Round 4 already.

Both players have hoisted a Grand Prix trophy before (Holiday won Grand Prix San Diego 2013, while Pardee won Grand Prix Portland 2013) so they were certainly not new to the spotlight, but something that was new was Pardee's giant pink hat.

Sam Pardee

"I lost the hat bet," Pardee explained. "We went to Disneyland yesterday and did a high roll there. The winner of the roll (Jacob Wilson) got to choose a hat, and the loser had to wear it for the entire GP. I lost."

The Games

In game one, Holiday was on the play, but all of his creatures were immediately taken out: Despise discarded Goblin Rabblemaster, Ulcerate killed Mantis Rider, and Hero's Downfall destroyed the second Mantis Rider. Afterwards, Pardee started attacking with Herald of Torment and a token from Sorin, Solemn Visitor. "Nice Orzhov deck," Holiday said after looking at Pardee's mana base of triple Caves of Koilos and Temple of Silence. "Green cards are overrated," Pardee quipped back. And green cards were indeed not necessary: Holiday was stuck with 2 Nullify in hand and, lacking answers to the fliers, quickly fell to Pardee's attacks.

Nathan Holiday

In game two, Pardee started with Fleecemane Lion and Anafenza, the Foremost while Holiday's first creature was Goblin Rabblemaster. With this board state, Pardee wisely chose not to attack with any of his creatures and double-blocked the incoming 1/1 Goblin token on Holiday's turn. This was a smart play because even if Holiday had one instant-speed burn spell, one of Pardee's blockers would still be left standing to take down the token. A couple of turns and a few removal spells later, Pardee was attacking with Fleecemane Lion and Anafenza, the Foremost, while Holiday had no creatures on the board anymore. The Jeskai player tried to claw out of his predicament with Dig Through Time, but was already too far behind at that point, and the green creatures did him in.

Sam Pardee defeats Nathan Holiday 2-0!

The sideboard strategies

After the match concluded, the teammates discussed their sideboard strategy. Pardee, who had played the Abzan Aggro deck (which Mike Sigrist piloted to a Top 8 finish) at the Pro Tour as well, showed that he had taken out 2 Abzan Charm and 4 Herald of Torment to put in 2 Bile Blight, 1 Wingmate Roc, 1 Erase, 1 Despise and 1 Thoughtseize. So, his plan after board revolved around mana-efficient answers to the creatures of Jeskai Wins. "If any of his creatures ever hit twice, I'll probably lose, but if they only hit once then I'm probably fine," he explained.

Holiday revealed that he had boarded in Suspension Field and Disdainful Stroke for Seeker of the Way and Magma Jet, but wasn't sure about that and asked Pardee for his opinion. "I think you have to go aggro, so I don't think you can take out this many two drops," Pardee said. "Maybe board out Prognostic Sphinx or Nullify?" Clearly, even the top players haven't figured the optimal sideboard strategy in this fresh Standard format yet.

I also asked Holiday about his deck and card choices. "I played Jeskai Ascendancy combo at the Pro Tour," he explained. "It's pretty inconsistent, but playing a higher-variance deck at the PT is okay. Here at the Grand Prix, if I play against someone who is less prepared, then I don't want to play a deck that might not do anything during the games. I also felt that Jeskai Ascendancy would not be as well positioned at this Grand Prix as at the Pro Tour because I expected less Green Devotion here."

"The Jeskai deck feels good, and plays very naturally," Holiday continued. "I'm playing a deck that is very similar to the list that Josh Utter-Leyton and Ben Stark played at the Pro Tour. My list has Nullify, which solves the two-drop problem, and Prognostic Sphinx, which is really good in the mirror. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Stormbreath Dragon may be better in other matchups, but Prognostic Sphinx is hard to beat as a Jeskai player."