Sam Black, Justin Cohen and Matt Severa are well used to playing together. As a group they've drafted Eldritch Moon dozens if not hundreds of times back home in Madison, Wisconsin where they regularly test and prepare for tournaments. This time was far from the first Eldritch Moon-Shadows Over Innistrad draft, though it might be their last given the impending arrival of Kaladesh.
Except this wasn't Madison. And it wasn't a practice draft either.
Black, Cohen and Severa had coasted through Grand Prix Louisville, starting off 12-0 before felling a pair of Hall of Famers in Paul Rietzl and Jelger Wiegersma along with Matt Sperling in the semifinals of the tournament.
Now they found themselves in the finals, trying to go wire-to-wire to become the Grand Prix Louisville champions.
(20) Sam Black, Matt Severa and Justin Cohen.
The only thing standing between them and victory — the second team event win in a row for Severa and Cohen, who teamed with Mike Hron to win Washington D.C. earlier in the year — was another Hall of Famer and his talented teammates.
Ben Rubin had been happily living in Magic “retirement” until friends Matt Boccio and Tillman Bragg pulled him back in for Grand Prix San Jose last year, where they finished fifth. That run relit the fire for four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Rubin, who said he had been hooked ever since that event. The team was back together for Louisville, and they dispatched two Pro Tour winners and a former Player of the Year in Alexander Hayne, Steve Rubin and Mike Sigrist in the semifinals.
Matthew Boccio, Ben Rubin and Tillman Bragg
A spectacular matchup in the finals of the tournament, and three matches would decide the winner.
Things started off in a hurry, with Matt Severa taking down Matt Boccio in the first game just as the other four players were getting started. Just like that the Madison crew found themselves up a game in shockingly fast manner.
A second win would not come as easily. Black tried to get ahead of Rubin with a fast Tattered Haunter and Ingenious Skaab. Rubin, meanwhile, was busy making an army of Eldrazi thanks to Wharf Infiltrator. It was a growing ground army that would filter Rubin's draws even while adding to the board. Long-term it would be a problem for Black.
Not that he planned to let it get that far. He cast Blood Mist and suddenly the power-toughness changing ability on the Skaab became truly dangerous thanks to the double strike the enchantment granted. Rubin tried to find a way to fight around the fearsome attacker, but several turns of attacks from the Skaab eventually overwhelmed his defenses and gave Black the first game.
On the far end of the table Cohen was playing in one of the weekend's many Emerge mirrors. Fortunately for the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year, the creature he sacrificed to Drownyard Behemoth was Accursed Witch, and between the 5/7 beater and the continued drain from Infectious Curse Cohen too was able to take the opener.
Being down 3-0 so quickly was certainly not the start that Rubin's team hoped to put together. Their backs against the wall immediately Rubin and Black shuffled up for their second game knowing that the finals were already on the brink.
Severa upped that pressure almost immediately. A Lunarch Mantle on Hanweir Garrison meant that he had a token-making 4/5 airborne creature to try and fly away with the game. Sitting on Certain Death in hand but no sixth land, Boccio knew the clock was ticking. An Anguished Unmaking off the top was enough to stem the tide, and when he found a land on the next turn to ensure Emissary of the Sleepless wouldn't be flying over his ground army anytime soon it looked like he was ready to take control of the game.
That is, until an escalated Borrowed Grace decimated his board when Severa alpha striked the next turn. The attack dropped Boccio to 3 life and when his draw step failed to yield any help Severa's team found themselves just one win away from the title.
Black was locked in a tight game with Rubin trying to find exactly that. Under pressure from Lashweed Lurker and Wretched Gryff, Black nonetheless had a plan thanks to Vildin-Pack Outcast and the Blood Mist he was hiding in his hand. Black threw away two creatures in blocks to survive, but if Rubin was unable to significantly add to the board the Blood Mist plus pumps to the Outcast would be enough to seal the final 9 points of damage. After the chump blocks Rubin certainly felt confident with his board state but with nothing but a pair of lands in hand and Black's “combo” he was actually very much in need of help.
Luckily for Rubin, Enlightened Maniac was exactly what he needed, even if he didn't know it. It and its Eldrazi friend jumped in front of the Outcast to allow Rubin to survive at exactly one life and crack pack for lethal on the next turn.
Sam Black had helped his team cruise into the Top 4 and now found themselves just one win from a title.
With Rubin narrowly pulling out the game attention shifted back to Cohen and Bragg, who were locked in a tightly-contested board stall. Cohen was nipping away at Bragg's life total with Infectious Curse and Fogwalker, but he was falling behind elsewhere. As the big creatures continued to accumulate for Bragg he found himself closer and closer to pulling his team back into the match.
Until Cohen revealed a card he had been saving all along: Dark Salvation. It not only removed a creature, it gave him the crucial blockers he needed to survive another turn and allow his Fogwalker to finish the job. With that he secured the victory, winning his second team event this year along with Severa.
The title and the trophy were nice, but what excited the world's 20th-ranked player most was the critical Pro Points that came with it.
“There's six points in this cup,” Black said with a smile.