Can anyone beat Márcio Carvalho at draft? The Portuguese pro had been utterly impregnable at the format over the past year.
Pro Tour Shadows of Innistrad. No-one beat him—6-0.
Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. No-one beat him—6-0.
2016 World Championships. Almost another perfect 6-0. It was only Jiachen Tao in the very last round that denied Carvalho a perfect 18-0 record for the second half of last season.
Any hopes that the switch to the colorful plane of Kaladesh would open a chink in the Draft Master's armor were brutally crushed here at Grand Prix London. Coming through the Sealed Deck portion with a 7-2 record, Carvalho reached the draft portion and did as a Draft Master does.
He already had two wins in the bank from the final Top 8 draft to put him 8-0 for the day, and now only one match stood between him, another 3-0 and the title of Champion of Grand Prix London 2016.
Given the unenviable task of trying to stop the draft juggernaut was Gabor Kocsis. This was the Hungarian's first Grand Prix Top 8. He also had a handful of PT appearances, but in his own words, “they're not worth talking about.”
What Kocsis did have was a decent pedigree in the World Magic Cup. He was part of the Hungarian teams that made the final in 2013 and the semifinals in 2012. Would that be enough?
He had beaten Carvalho before.
“I did beat him last time we played,” he said to me.
“I don't remember,” Carvalho said.
“Madrid, Sealed Deck.”
“Sealed deck? So it wasn't in draft. It doesn't count.”
“I eliminated you.”
“Oh, I remember now. So… revenge?”
Both players had drafted very aggressive decks. Kocsis's was red-white with some artifact synergies that could potentially turn Salivating Gremlins into a much scarier threat. Carvalho had a chunkier red-green deck, but he also had rares, lots of rares—Pia Nalaar, Bristling Hydra, Lathnu [autocard]Hellion[/autocard] and Fateful Showdown.
Something told me this match wouldn't be lasting very long either way…
There was no hanging around here. Both hit curves starting from turn two. While Carvalho's Servant of the Conduit powering out Spontaneous Artist might have seemed rapid, Kocsis's turn three Foundry Inspector allowed him a truly explosive turn four as he summoned both an Ovalchase Dragster and an Eager Construct.
“What is this, Affinity?” an incredulous Carvalho asked.
Had the Draft Master been rocked?
He still had some haymakers of his own—A Bristling Hydra with a plentiful energy store.
An Appetite for the Unnatural took care of the speedster, but the Hungarian was still smashing in with big tramplers. A Glint-Sleeve Artisan and sacrificing a Cogworker's Puzzleknot created enough Servos to send some Salivating Gremlins in for six damage.
Carvalho put a stop to future big hits by having the Hydra eat the Gremlins with Hunt the Weak.
And then the ‘dead land draw' effect of Kaladesh Limited kicked in. Kocsis spent a couple of turns drawing lands, which at this point was the same as not drawing a card at all. By the time he started finding action spells again Carvalho had built up a commanding board with the Hydra being joined by Brazen Scourge and Self-Assemblers.
Carvalho also had some excess land. But he also had the aptly named Fateful Showdown to throw his hand at Kocsis's head and take the first game.
Carvalho 1-0 Gabor
This time it was Kocsis's turn to have his aggressive start trumped. He opened with a Gearshift Ace on turn two and it was promptly outclassed by Carvalho's second turn Voltaic Brawler. The Hungarian might have thought there was something wrong with his opponent's draw when Carvalho passed turn three without either attacking or making a play.
That hope was dashed a turn later when the Bristling Hydra came out to play.
Carvalho held the Hydra back as both developed their boards. The Portuguese Draft Master started to make more aggressive moves on a turn that saw both Lathnu [autocard]Hellion[/autocard] and Spontaneous Artist enter play.
On a relatively stalled board, Carvalho sent the Hellion in again and again to harass Kocsis's life total. Lathnu [autocard]Hellion[/autocard] is a deceptive creature. It's tempting to take the damage in the knowledge the Hellion is eventually going to run out of energy and go away. But Carvalho's deck showed no signs of running out of energy anytime soon.
Unfortunately for the Hungarian, his deck had once again hit the ‘dead-land-draw' zone. Chump blocks with Servos and then a Glint-Sleeve Artisan kept the Hellion at bay long enough for it to finally run out of energy.
Unfortunately, that was the moment Carvalho found another of his solid rares as Pia Nalaar entered the battlefield with a little thopter in tow.
It was that little thopter that ended up being decisive. Kocsis had no blockers capable of blocking fliers, or a removal spell to get rid of it. The thopter flew over the battlefield unopposed and Pia pumped it to the four power that would be enough to remove Kocsis's last remaining life points.
And like that, with one little thopter, Carvalho capped a perfect 9-0 record at draft on Sunday to take the title of Grand Prix London 2016.
Draft Master is an apt title. Once again, can anyone beat Márcio Carvalho at draft at the moment?