In this all-French finals, we had a battle between two of the best decks in Standard and two of the best players in the event.
On one side of the table, we had Raphaël Lévy, a 34-year old veteran from Toulouse. He is a member of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame and had won five Grand Prix tournaments before in his career. In this event, he entered with his take on Green-White Tokens. It included two copies of Chandra, Flamecaller that he could only cast via Oath of Nissa.
On the other side of the table, we had Julien Henry, a 23-year old student from Reims. He had recently competed in Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, and the Top 8 at this Grand Prix meant a qualification for Pro Tour Eldritch Moon and silver level in the pro player club for him. So we'll see him again in Sydney and Honolulu. His deck choice at this Grand Prix was Bant Company because he felt it had a very high power level and game against everything.
After exchanging a mutual "bonne chance," which is French for good luck, the match got underway.
In the early turns of the game, both players developed their board position, with Levy seemingly coming out ahead.
Raphaël Lévy and Julien Henry
On Levy's sixth turn, after his attack, the board state was as follows:
It seemed like Levy held the advantage, as he was ticking up his planeswalker and had plenty of blockers to properly defend it. But Henry navigated that situation well: He cast not just one, but two Reflector Mage on the subsequent turn, bouncing both Hangarback Walker and Sylvan Advocate. He then pointed an attack at Gideon. Afterwards, Levy's lead had turned into a massive advantage for Henry, as the game state turned into six non-land permanents for Henry and only one for Levy.
Could Levy battle back? His deck had two main ways to sweep the opposing board: he could either use Evolutionary Leap to set up an Archangel Avacyn transformation, or he could cast Chandra, Flamecaller. However, when Henry added two additional Sylvan Advocate to the battlefield, that sweeper plan wouldn’t work anymore as those 4/5s had too much toughness.
So Levy played a bunch of blockers instead, but that was not enough. A third Reflector Mage from Henry easily allowed him to set up a lethal attack.
Raphaël Lévy 0 – Julien Henry 1
As the game got underway, both players filled up the battlefield with powerful permanents and card advantage engines.
On Lévy's sixth turn, both players still had high life totals, and after a mid-combat Collected Company, the board looked as follows:
That's quite a complicated board state, but Lévy was about to make it much simpler. He sacrificed a token to Evolutionary Leap to transform his Avacyn and passed the turn. On his upkeep, in response to Avacyn's trigger, Henry sacrificed two clue tokens in the hope that his Tireless Tracker would survive. It was to no avail, as Lévy finished off the Tracker with Dromoka's Command while putting a counter on his Sylvan Advocate to make it survive.
After the dust settled, Lévy had four relevant non-land permanents and Henry had none. Henry surveyed the board, but given that he was tapped out, he saw no way out and conceded the game.
Raphaël Lévy 1 – Julien Henry 1
When Lévy cast Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Henry had Reflector Mage to bounce the Knight Ally token, and attacked Gideon with all of his creatures. But three damage was not enough to reduce the planeswalker's loyalty to zero, and that turned out to make a big difference over the course of the next few turns.
Lévy started by using Planar Outburst to sweep the board. Well, except for Gideon, which then started attacking. The planeswalker-turned-creature first took down Jace, Telepath Unbound, then went after Henry's life total.
Now on the back foot, Henry had to find an answer for Gideon, and he had to be quick about it. But the next couple of turns all turned out in Lévy favor. First there was Hallowed Moonlight to counter Collected Company. Then Lambholt Pacifist and Archangel Avacyn were added to the board.
And all the while, that Gideon kept on attacking relentlessly. Lévy had brought a wide assortment of self-crafted tokens with him, but in the final game of the tournament, he didn't need them—the plus ability from Gideon was the only one he really needed, and several attacks later, he had reduced Henry's life total to zero.
Raphaël Lévy 2 – Julien Henry 1
Congratulations to Raphaël Lévy, winner of Grand Prix Manchester! That's his sixth!