When it comes to competitive Magic, Andrew Sullano is no slouch. He rocketed to the big stage with a top four finish at Grand Prix Oklahoma City in 2015 and is well-respected in the region surrounding his hometown of Dallas. He entered Grand Prix Louisville as a strong contender to do well, and a matchup most players would be happy to dodge through the tournament.
Sullano is a well-respected player. Reid Duke is a legend in his own time.
The world's fifth-ranked player and 2011 Magic Online champion has two Pro Tour Top 8s to his name, along with a full 18 previous Grand Prix Top 8 appearances. A perennial contender for Player of the Year, Duke had rattled off a perfect 6-0 run on Sunday to advance to the Top 8, where he had taken down the reigning world champion Brian Braun-Duin in the semifinals.
Things change slowly in Legacy, as you might expect given that the cards legal in the format stretch back more than 20 years. But both Duke and Sullano brought relatively new decks to the table — Sullano on Black-Red Reanimator and Duke on an innovative build of Sultai that took full advantage of newcomer Leovold, Emissary of Trest. Leovold was all over the room this weekend, and it was no surprise to see it make its way into the finals.
Sullano's Reanimator deck was more unexpected. Despite putting up a Top 8 appearance at Eternal Weekend several months back, the deck wasn't a major force across the room in Louisville. Not that it stopped Sullano, who powered through the Top 8 on the back of potential first-turn Griselbrand or Sire of Insanity. The explosiveness of the deck was unmatched, though fighting through Force of Will all day is no cakewalk for anything.
The finals began, and for Sullano, so too did the mulligans. The first game saw him go all the way down to four cards, though that four was almost as good as he could hope for. Chancellor of the Annex, Entomb, Exhume and Thoughtseize. If the top of his deck cooperated, Sullano's hand could actually get there.
Things started off well, as he scried a Bloodstained Mire to the top of the deck, allowing him to cast Thoughtseize on his first turn. In response, Duke fetched a Tropical Island, paid one for the revealed Chancellor tax, and then returned the land to Daze the Thoughtseize.
"I suppose this might not work out, but I'm going to Thoughtseize you," Reid said as he cast his own discard spell.
All it did, however, was elicit a sigh from Sullano, who Entombed a Griselbrand but lost the Exhume from his hand. With his options now limited to the top of his deck, Sullano was forced to watch hopelessly as True-Name Nemesis picked up an Umezawa's Jitte and sent Reid to the win two turns later.
If Game 1 displayed the weaknesses of playing a combo deck, the second game was a clear demonstration of its strengths as Sullano opted to play first and made the most of his opportunity.
Reveal Chancellor of the Annex. Play Bayou and cast Lotus Petal. Dark Ritual up to three mana, Entomb for Griselbrand and then Exhume to bring it into play. Even if Duke had been sitting on Force of Will, it would be useless to him thanks to the Chancellor trigger.
All Duke could do was play a land as he took a hit from Griselbrand. While he did manage to Flusterstorm a Collective Brutality from Sullano on his turn, another seven cards courtesy of Griselbrand was enough to return a Tidespout Tyrant to play and send the pair into a decider.
Again Sullano was forced to mulligan, this time to five cards with only one land among them. Things went from bad to worse when Duke led off with Nihil Spellbomb alongside Noble Hierarch. While Sullano missed his second land drop and tried to plan around the Spellbomb, Duke deployed Leovold, Emissary of Trest, for the first time in the match.
Low on resources but with no other choice, Sullano Entombed Griselbrand and cast Animate Dead when he found his second land two turns later. That forced Duke to pop the Spellbomb, and while it represented wasted resources on Sullano's part it at least cleared the way for a second try.
The only problem? Leovold, Emissary of Trest. Because the Brutality targeted both Duke and his creature, he was able to immediately draw two cards before casting Mindbreak Trap to counter the Brutality. A third Noble Hierarch hit the table for Duke, and suddenly the Leovold was swinging for six damage a turn.
With one last gasp, Sullano tried for another Animate Dead on Elesh Norn. But once again, Duke had the Mindbreak Trap. When the counterspell hit the table Sullano's hand hit the air to meet his opponent's, and he congratulated Duke on becoming the champion of Grand Prix Louisville.