The crowd gathered tightly around the Feature Match area as Round 9 of Grand Prix Louisville wound down. By a quirk of the entries, the pairings worked out so that exactly two undefeated teams remained heading into the last round of the day, and only one would head into Day 2 undefeated.
Even in an event highlighted by its notable players teaming up to compete together, it was impossible to top this final pairing.
Jon Finkel. Chris Pikula. Jamie Parke.
Sam Black. Justin Cohen. Matt Severa.
Only one team would end the day at the top of the standings.
Parke and 2014-15 Rookie of the Year Justin Cohen finished first. Parke stretched the game out as long as possible, but with a land-light start even the Arlinn Kord in his hand wasn't enough to save him. In a round that went right to the brink of time, Cohen's early dispatching of Parke set all eyes on the remaining two games.
Playing the Blue-Green Emerge mirror, Finkel was able to narrowly take a game courtesy of Decimator of the Provinces, but the second game bogged down with the Decimator unable to punch through Severa's formidable defenses like by Ishkanah, Grafwidow. The two traded blows for card advantage until Severa revealed the ultimate trump in the matchup: Emrakul, the Promised End. As her name implies, Emrakul was enough to end the game.
That left Pikula and Black, batting in a tight game. Black had won the first game by the narrowest of margins, a Confront the Unknown saving Sanctifier of Souls from a Dark Salvation from Pikula and allowing Black to ride it to victory. The second game was just as close, and once again Pikula once in the driver's seat, Slayer's Plate turning his small creatures into threats big enough to slowly drain Black of resources.
That is until Descent Upon the Sinful came off the top for Black. Exiling Pikula's board and leaving a 4/4 Angel token on the way out, the sweeper was enough to give the game — and the match — to his team.
The perfect finish means that Cohen and Severa — winners of the last North American team Grand Prix in Washington D.C. alongside Mike Hron — will enter Day 2 in pole position to defend the title. And while renowned Limited master Hron won't be in town, the world's 20th-ranked player isn't a bad replacement.
“Well, we showed we could do it without him, so we figured why not include him and see if we can win with Sam?” Cohen joked after the match.
If Saturday is any indication, they're the favorites to do just that.