Fabrizio Anteri has been on a tear. In May he completed his 3-2-1 in Warsaw, by finishing 3rd, 2nd, then 1st at successive European Grand Prix events. This Venezuelan-by-way-of-Italy-currently-living-in-England player has been making his mark on the European Grand Prix circuit as an opponent to be feared. And that's saying something in Europe. They fear nothing.
He's on the Jeskai deck today, as he was playing the colors at the Pro Tour. "You can just play control with burn spells," Anteri said. "There are so many ways to just go bigger than everyone else."
"No I don't like it," Anteri said as he shipped his first seven cards back into his library.
"I probably did," Brad Nelson said, "It would've been good for me." Nelson is a name that needs little introduction. The former Player of the Year is a known Standard specialist and places highly at each Standard Grand Prix he attends. He's on an innovative Mardu Midrange deck that he Valentin Mackl and Patrick Dickmann are all playing.
Unlike many Butcher of the Horde builds, they are eschewing cards like Raise the Alarm and Stoke the Flames, even though they are playing Goblin Rabblemaster and Hordeling Outburst. They plan to go into longer games, and often, their opponents, who have tested similar decks, play around cards that aren't even there.
After mulligans, they got to it.
In the first game Nelson's deck did exactly what it was supposed to—one-for-one trading with slight upsides. Seeker of the Way was pumped repeatedly, and Anteri was spending his entire turn answering things like Hordeling Outburst. For example, Chained to the Rocks on Anteri's second Mantis Rider was a low-mana way to remove an imposing threat, while still leaving enough lands to do something productive.
"You have three cards?" Nelson asked. He used Hordeling Outburst to get a little presence on the board. Each player went back and forth countering or killing each other's spells, but Nelson was getting the better end each time. End Hostilities from Anteri against three Goblin tokens was a net win. Tapping out with not presence of his own wasn't the way Anteri would win this game.
Nelson was in command the entire time. After removing Anteri's final threat and swinging for pittance each time, he won the game at 23 life with some Goblin tokens and a 2/2 on the board.
Brad Nelson 1 – 0 Fabrizio Anteri
The second game, Anteri was on the play, but still couldn't keep his opening seven. Each mulligan is critical in this match-up. When decks want to go one-for-one each turn, removing each new threat as they happen, being a full card down can be the difference. This is especially true with Anteri on the play; he's already functionally a turn down. Anteri had to settle on a five-card hand.
"It has land; it's fine." Anteri had an uphill battle.
The decks played out similarly with threat, answer, threat answer. Until Anteri played some of his sideboard tech—Steam Augury. From there, the game changed course. He presented to Nelson a split of Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Mystic Monastery, and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker against, a Brimaz and Dig Through Time.
"It's not bad," Nelson said, looking at really good cards. He took a long time to think about the decision (which is usually the mark of a good pile split). He eventually gave Anteri the Dig Through Time stack. It was fewer cards on the surface, but Anteri was making up for his three-card deficit—and the Dig Through Time would aid that soon enough.
Nelson was still pressuring with two Seeker of the Way, but the extra cards worked wonders. Nelson double-pumped his creatures with two Lightning Strikes in response to Anteri's Anger of the Gods, but Anteri burned a Magma Spray and a Lightning Strike on each to get them out for good.
And when Nelson followed with a big ol' Butcher of the Horde, Anteri used Dig Through Time to find an answer. This is why that card has the name it has. It grabbed a Jeskai Charm and a Negate. The Charm delayed the Butcher and Anteri spent his next turn casting another Dig Through Time, finding another Jeskai Charm and an Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Anteri had clawed his way from being down on cards and life, and had a positive board position (and had seven cards in his hand) for the first time in the match. Nelson was down to three cards. It was elementary how Anteri won from there. Brimaz and Mantis Rider in the same turn, or whatever he wanted.
After the game, when the two were shuffling Anteri said, "I forgot I mulliganed to five in that game; it went so long." Not just the length but also the tons of card-drawing helped that too.
Brad Nelson 1 – 1 Fabrizio Anteri
The rubber match would come down to attrition, lots of attrition. Nelson's sideboard Read the Bones was key for him—playing the role Dig Through Time did in Anteri's deck. His early Seeker of the Way got Anteri down to 13 quickly, then became Butcher of the Horde fodder, once the 2/2 had outlived its usefulness. It sat on the field, awaiting sacrifice.
Anteri was stuck on three lands. He had juice in his hand, but was stuck casting one spell a turn, so his board was perpetually behind Nelson's. He couldn't Anger of the Gods the Seeker without the Butcher slaughtering him. He couldn't use Jeskai Charm or Stoke the Flames on the Butcher without getting hit by the Seeker more.
Stoke the Flames took out one, but thanks to more sacrifices, the totals became 23-6 in Nelson's favor, and Anteri still had only three lands. But Brad was down to his last card.
Anteri used Jeskai Charm to delay the 5/4 monster, but he needed a permanent fix. He had a handful of cards, but none were a solution that he could cast. Nelson attacked in with one hand on his Butcher, expecting the 5/4 would meet some sort of Red-White-and-Blue fate. Anteri extended his hand; he didn't have it.
The Mardu Midrange Machine goes up to 6-0, and showed that it feared no European phenom.
Brad Nelson 2 – 1 Fabrizio Anteri