"You got four Hurkyl's Recalls? You're out to get me, man."
"I gotta give myself a prayer, right?"
This is the sort of banter you always hear at the finals table. The difference was that one of the players in the finals was thirteen years old. Portland's Ethan Brown had been stunning the world so far in this Top 8—and even in the final rounds of the Swiss. He beat Legacy master Joe Lossett in the quarterfinals and ten-time Grand Prix Top 8er Pascal Maynard in the semifinals. And now he was here, against Merfolk piloted by Simon Slutsky. Could he sweep through?
"And Kira, Great Glass-Spinner...it's the only thing that can block my fliers."
"Yeah, for a while I'd went far enough to play Lingering Souls," Brown sighed. "Lots of fetch lands," Slutsky chucklingly replied. While he shuffled up his cards, he revealed his nervousness in little movements. His reminder pawn for the top of the library sat next to his play area, and his fastidiously kept play scores showed that he had planned for such nervousness. While on Brown's end of the table there was merely some dice for life totals and Arcbound Ravager counters.
The matchup, as Brown's opening gambit revealed, was all about the Hurkyl's Recall. In the first game, Slutsky would need to draw just the right cards could that disrupt Affinity enough to sneak the Merfolk through. Dismember is his friend.
But once games two and three hit, the powerful sideboard cards could wreck Brown's day. Well, maybe not his "day," really. I mean, he's thirteen years old and he's just made it to the finals of a Grand Prix. How wrecked can your day really get from there?
Slutsky thought his opening hand was pretty good—some creatures, and a Dismember for anything too early. But as Slutsky hoped that he wouldn't get blown out of the game, he had to listen to Brown's first turn, and watch helplessly. "Darksteel Citadel, Memnite, Mox Opal..." Brown said. He continued. "...tap for a red and colorless, Cranial Plating."
Brown thought for a second, then ended with, "Go ahead." Seems like a pretty good first turn.
Slutsky shook his head. "The actual nightmare."
As Slutsky tried to figure out what to do, Brown started singing to himself, and moved rhythmically back and forth in his chair. He was under no pressure at all.
"This is amazing." Slutsky chuckled. "So I go to 11 and you go to...20?" But Slutsky was exaggerating. He seemed to have the answers he needed at his disposal. He traded for the Skirge with a Phantasmal Image of his own. Even a Spreading Seas for the Blinkmoth Nexus.
"...yeah, that resolves..." Even with all that removal, Slutsky still took 8 poison on the next attack.
Four removal from the aggro deck still wasn't enough to stop this Affinity steamroller. A turn later, it was over. And like that, Slutsky was down a game.
But now it was Hurkyl's time to shine. Slutsky would be thinking about Hurkyl's Recall, and wanted to maximize it to the fullest. Bouncing Brown's entire board for two mana could swing even a terrible game. Slutsky was likely chanting to himself, "Recall, Recall, Recall."
When Slutsky drew his hand for the second game, he cracked up. It was six land and a Hurkyl's Recall. Maybe he chanted too hard.
His second was a one-land hand with a Hurkyl's Recall, and with his Vancouver scry he saw the second. He sent it to the bottom in search of a second land. That was too many Recalls.
While Slutsky was playing his own little mini-game of land and Recalls, Brown was over there doing what Affinity does—getting busy winning.
But by then, Slutsky had found his second land and was playing toward the Hurkyl's. Though Slutsky had taken that damage, he planned on taking no more. The Hurkyl's brought everything back to Brown's hand. That's when the fish arrived.
They swarmed like piranha-folk, and ripped apart Brown's life total digits at a time. It was all according to plan. But could Hurkyl save Slutsky again in the third game?
In the last game, what looked like the slowest start yet from Brown was the most gotcha moment of the tournament. Brown just cast out two Ornithopters and laid a Glimmervoid. But he wasn't able to contain his excitement to Spell Peirce Slutsky's first-turn Æther Vial.
The entire hall, huddled around the broadcast booth, erupted in an "Ooooo!" Slutsky sunk. Was this how it was going to end?
He clasped his hands. He was hoping that Slutsky didn't have the Hurkyl's Recall. We could almost hear him saying in his head, "Please don't have it; please don't have it."
But Slutsky had it.
Hurkyl's Recall bounced Brown's entire board. But it didn't seem like quite the game-changer it had been last game, as Slutsky was still in bad-looking shape. However, It still returned everything, and he Stone Rained a Glimmervoid.
Brown refilled the board like it was nothing, and Slutsky was back on a one-turn clock.
But after he drew for the turn, and was thinking, he saw something that he hadn't before. Or maybe he had, or maybe he was playing to it the whole time. All I know is that I didn't see it, Brown didn't see it, and neither did most of the tournament audience.
With Brown at 17, Slutsky used the Merrow Reejerey untap ability to do a little more with his mana than could be reasonably expected, and cast a pre-combat Lord of Atlantis and activated his Mutavault.
He swung with everything that could swing, and it was exactly 17 damage. The Spreading Seas meant that there was nothing any of Brown's creatures could do about the fish swimming in.
Slutsky threw his hands in the air, and couldn't believe he'd done it. In one match, things had gone from an "actual nightmare" into a Grand Prix victory!
Simon Slutsky wins 2-1 over Ethan Brown!