Oh it's bubble-match time once again! Sitting at 6-2, each player here needs to win to earn their spot into the second day of competition. This was a spicy one, indeed. Sitting in one row together, were (13) Josh Utter-Leyton, (14) Ben Stark, (9) William Jensen, Tom Martell, Martin Juza, (3) Shaun McLaren, (22) Jacob Wilson, Miguel Gatica, and Sam Pardee. They were all facing elimination. And that was just one row. (10) Stanislav Cifka and Reid Duke were elsewhere staving off death.
The plays were fast and furious. As many decks here were playing some version of Jeskai and some version of Abzan, so the match-ups are known. And it's late here for an American Grand Prix. Whoever wins will have to come back nice and early for another full day of mind-crunching Magic, so everyone involved is incentivized to finish up this day and get some rest.
The first match-up finished was Jacob Wilson and William Jensen. Wilson was on Abzan plan, and Jensen had suited up the Jeskai Wins, in contrast to his Pro Tour Blue-Black Control deck. In a very quick 2-0 Wilson won. The Abzan plan is pretty simple—if you can get the early disruption to stop their few creatures before they start, the burn won't get Jeskai to the finish line.
Wilson had early discard and early removal to take both starting creatures from Jensen out of play, and it was elementary after that.
Josh Utter-Leyton had a similar soul-crushing set against Shaun McLaren. When I asked him about it, his only response was, "I had to discard in both games." And that's not discard to discard spells like Jensen in his match-up—like, discard-cause-you-don't-have-land discard. Gross. McLaren advances.
Martin Juza and Miguel Gatica squared off with opposing Jeskai decks. Juza thinks the match-up is pretty dead even (I mean, it is a mirror), and if you can get your stuff online first, the opponent is forced to react to you—which is a distinct advantage. Juza pulled out the set and will be here tomorrow.
Ben Stark was the next on the chopping block. When I had passed the match earlier, he was saying to his opponent, Joseph Pei, "I'm just going to kill myself for you." He was referring to the ridiculous amount of pain lands he was drawing in the match. But, for Stark, it was still meant to be. Though there was tons of early trading in all the games, Stark had the digging to keep the pressure up. When Pei ran out of stuff to do, Stark was still chugging along. Slow and steady wins the race, and earns a Day 2 seat.
Stanislaw Cifka, with his "Everything Awesome in Black and Green" faced what he thinks is a pretty good match-up against Sean Brickley. Cifka's deck has about 1,000 different draw engines thanks to Whip of Erebos, Eidolon of Blossoms and the full constellation support friends (even Brain Maggot). "I don't run out of gas at all," he said.
Against Abzan, if he can avoid things like Anafenza, the Foremost taking out his graveyard, he will basically always eventually win. Here, he grinded out a long two games and earned himself a spot tomorrow.
"I don't think the deck is that good, though," Cifka said. But as I learned from his partner in crime, Ivan Floch, even decks they call "not good" can make it to the Pro Tour Top 8. So who knows?
Tom Martell and Sam Pardee went to three games after some late-in-the-day, brain-worn shenanigans. And in the end, Martell's Jeskai deck was able to take down Pardee's Abzan Aggro. Like the Wilson-Jensen match, if Abzan can take out the first couple creatures it will likely win. However, if it can't . . . well, then Abzan dies to a flurry of burn and hasty, flying beatsticks. Martell finishes good enough at 7-2.
The last match to finish was Reid Duke's—which was extremely tense. There were tons of green flowing on both sides of the game. At a certain moment, there were a grand total of seven Sylvan Caryatids between the players.
Then a judge call held the tension longer. Duke's opponent, Jordan Stoltz was nervous—not only to be on the verge of his first Grand Prix Day 2, but also having to beat the fourth-ranked player in the world to do it. He was jittery, and during the third game he knocked some cards over from his library, revealing them. As this was not his first warning, the judge wanted to see what the previous warnings were about.
There were silent moments as the judge came back allowing the players to proceed (as the infractions were unrelated). After that, Stoltz promptly walked all over Duke.
Stoltz was gaining all sorts of life with Whip of Erebos and had a gigantic, gigantic Fleecemane Lion (thanks, Sorin, Solemn Visitor). Though Duke had enough green mana to use Monstrosity on Polukranos, World Eater for five +1/+1 counters, and cast Hornet Queen at will, it wasn't enough. Stoltz's life total just went up and up, and the match with Stoltz on 58.
"Good games," Duke said, "Good luck tomorrow. You played the games really well." As we've come to expect from Duke, even in defeat where others get salty, Duke keeps his demeanor intact.
After Duke left the area, Stoltz let out a huge sigh and said, "Never in a million years." I asked him never-in-a-million-years what? That he would make Day Two? That he would beat Reid Duke? Or that he would do both simultaneously.
Exasperated he said, "That last one." Stoltz had a cake-eating grin as he packed up his cards, and was ready to come back tomorrow.
So Reid Duke, William Jensen, Josh Utter-Leyton, Miguel Gatica and Sam Pardee are all out for tomorrow. Martin Juza, Jacob Wilson, Tom Martell, Ben Stark, Stanislav Cifka, and Shaun McLaren all advance. And an extra-special congrats to Jordan Stoltz. The Arizona player has just earned himself a Day Two spot, and a story for life.