The Top 8 at Grand Prix London might have contained the star power of players like Martin Jůza, Marco Cammilluzzi, and Fabrizio Anteri, but everyone has to start somewhere and this match saw a couple of newer names trying to make a name for themselves.
This was the first Grand Prix Top 8 for both Matteo Moure of Italy and Erik Skinstad of Norway and also earned them both their first Pro Tour qualifications. Two more wins for either of them and they would leave Grand Prix London with a first title for the trophy cabinet as well.
I asked who felt favorite and Skinstad immediately pointed to Moure. The Norwegian might be running the Green-White Megamorph deck that was the talk of Grand Prix San Diego last weekend, but his opponent, Moure, had brought the updated version of Abzan with Hangarback Walker and Anafenza, the Foremost to the table.
The first game was a showcase to the power and utility of Hangarback Walker. Skinstad came out of the gates with Fleecemane Lion. Moure matched it with the signature card of the weekend, probably of post-Magic Origins Standard, Hangarback Walker.
Moure showed one of the interactions of Hangarback Walker on the following turn. He tapped it to put a +1/+1 counter on it, added another one with Dromoka's Command and commanded it and the Fleecemane Lion to fight. Once the dust settled Skinstad was left with a dead lion and facing down a mini-squadron of three 1/1 Thopters.
It was this flying squadron that was a problem for Skinstad's green-white deck full of mana-efficient but non-flying critters.
Moure added to these problems with two more Hangarback Walkers. Skinstad had developed his board with the help of Courser of Kruphix and then a Deathmist Raptor. None of these things could do anything about the swarm of irritating Thopters pecking away at Skinstad's life total and any attempts to race on the ground only made the swarm larger as Hangarback Walkers blocked and popped.
It was prophetic that Skinstad had listed Wind Storm on his Player Profile as a card he'd like in his sideboard. With no way to counteract Moure's growing swarm of Thopters he packed in game one and went to his sideboard for answers.
Matteo Moure 1-0 Erik Skinstad
The second game was a much more full-blooded battle. Moure had a slower start that didn't see him making a play until the end of Skinstad's fourth turn when he aimed a Hero's Downfall at his opponent's morph. The Norwegian got some value out of it by turning over Den Protector and fetching back a Windswept Heath.
Then it ramped up into a battle between planeswalkers. Sorin, Solemn Visitor lent his vampire recruitment powers to Moure while Elspeth mustered an army for Skinstad. Neither hung around long. Abzan Charm boosted a flying Vampire token big enough to take down Elspeth and there were enough soldiers to drive away Sorin.
Moure pressed the advantage with a Siege Rhino to go along with his boosted Vampire token. He didn't hold it for long as a second Elspeth activated her second ability to remove the big guys.
Moure had a second Siege Rhino (everyone knows Rhinos travel in herds), but was still looking unfavorable as Elspeth kept spitting out more Soldiers. Den Protector to get back Hero's Downfall was one answer.
Moure didn't need it. Tragic Arrogance was brutal as it left the Italian with a Siege Rhino and the Norwegian a lowly 1/1 Soldier token. That token was nowhere near enough to protect Elspeth and the pendulum had swung back to the Italian.
It never really swung back from there. On low life, Skinstad threw three blockers in the way of a rampaging Rhino. Moure smelled something was up and didn't use Hero's Downfall, instead letting everything trade. The Downfall ended up happening to Skinstad's third Elspeth, although the Norwegian had already got some use out of her by removing Moure's Anafenza.
Moure had another Anafenza. Skinstad had a Hidden Dragonslayer. The pendulum of the game wobbled around in the middle.
A third Siege Rhino tilted back towards Moure. Skinstad was on dangerously low life. At four life, he was left with a headache as Moure's Rhino trundled into the red zone. He looked at his defenders. He chose to put only a Hidden Dragonslayer in play.
Matteo Moure 2-0 Erik Skinstad