Spaniard Javier Dominguez came back into the feature match area dripping water from his face. He had gone to the bathroom and dunked his face. “It keeps me sharp,” the Grand Prix Paris champion said. “You know how some people slap themselves?—that’s what it is for me.”
Dominguez maybe needs the extra incentive to stay sharp because he’s already achieved what he was looking for this weekend. He needed to X-5 to clinch Gold Pro Player status, and he did it with ease. All the Top 8 glitz for him is just gravy. He had played on the Pro Tour for the last two and a half years, each time without being qualified for the next one. But Gold status assures him the entire next year he will be qualified.
For his opponent, Simon Slutsky, this Top 8 meant something else entirely. Hailing from California, this was Slutsky’s first time in the single-elimination rounds of a Grand Prix, much less finding himself qualified for a Pro Tour. His Merfolk had been serving him well all weekend, and was just hoping for two rounds more. He’d like to keep the trophy in the region for sure.
Dominguez was Junding against Merfolk. Though it’s easy to say infinite removal should be a deck that needs to attack with small fish, it’s not that simple. Though Dominguez has pinpoint removal, it’s almost all one-for-one, so he’d have to pick his spots wisely, because it would only take one turn for the fish to wiggle their way to Dominguez’s heart—and then rip it to pieces.
Turn-one Æther Vial meant that Simon Slutsky would start the game off fast. It would double his casting ability, to help to race the efficient removal of Dominguez.
Dominguez and his Jund removal started picking away, but the merfolk were picking away at Dominguez’s life total. He cast an Inquisition of Kozilek, and said, “I want to see just how many Master of Waves you have.”
Dominguez gave the “not-bad” face in complete agreement, and took the Kira. That card would put a severe dent in the whole “kill the creatures” plan.
On the next turn, Slutsky splayed the cards from his hand again, only this time they were actually on the battlefield, sans the Merrow Reejerey. Slutsky took Dominguez to 10 life and was gunning for the finish line, quickly.
Dominguez was fighting hard to winnow his opponents’ resources before his life got to zero. He played fatalistically. Every reaction garnered a “What-else-could-I-do?” response. When his only creature, a Scavenging Ooze was killed, the “sure” hand motions became feverish.
There were no cards in his hand and Dominguez was living off the top of his deck. But he just needed something, anything of substance. A Lightning Bolt to two staved off death, but only for a couple extra turns.
Instead of that “something, anything” he was asking for, Dominguez got “nothing, nothing,” and he said “That’s it,” in a tone that suggested he already knew that it was going to happen.
In the second game, Slutsky’s start was more disruptive than aggressive. A Cursecatcher into a Spreading Seas didn’t really bring the beats, but it made Dominguez shrug even more frequently, trying to efficiently cast his spells.
This game the Dominguez had an early Tarmogoyf which looked like an Eldrazi compared to all the little fish across the battlefield, and it took Slutsky’s life total down quickly.
When Dominguez cast the second Spreading Seas, that was when Dominguez broke. “That’s a pretty good card right there.”
Slutsky smiled. “Yeah, I put it down as my best card of the weekend [on the player profiles]; it’s been putting in some work.” He wasn’t kidding. Dominguez was locked out of two land, and was putting a hamper on the DEX Protection team member. The hand motions and fatalism continued, obvs.
But though Spreading Seas and Cursecatcher were good, they weren’t the way that Merfolk wins games. And Dominguez had done a great job of keeping the lords off the table. Domginuez had kept the life lead from the beginning of the game, and after adding a second Tarmogoyf to the table was taking over the battlefield as well.
The race was tight. The first turn Slutsky was able to untap with a Lord of Atlantis in play, he was threatening lethal. And he needed to be, he was sitting on 5 life.
He reassessed the board, went down to Lightning Bolt range for a Dismember, cast another lord and swung in for the final points, this time the Spreading Seas helping give Islands to a formally non-blue opponent. Dominguez was surely bluer now though.
Slutsky and his fish have won two games and are on the finals!
“Eh, I like those match-ups, they are fun to play,” Dominguez said as he smiled and shook Slutsky’s hand. Thanks to his Gold status, he knew he’d be seeing Slutsky soon on the Pro Tour.