Of the eight players that sat down for the quarterfinals at Grand Prix Memphis, fully five were sleeving up Abzan Control decks. The pairings provided one Abzan-on-Abzan mirror match, while the rest of the Abzan builds would have to best one of the Sultai Control or White-Red Aggro strategies that had also battled their way to the Top 8.
Brad Nelson vs. Eric Rath
Rath gets out of the gates quickly in Game 1.
Nelson fell behind quickly in the Game 1, when he didn't have a Bile Blight to answer an early Hordeling Outburst from Rath's White-Red Aggro deck. In the blink of an eye Nelson was overrun and the quarterfinalists were off to Game 2.
Fleecemane Lions came out of the sideboard for Nelson, a strategy that had worked wonders for Abzan Control mages all weekend. Nelson had one on his second turn, halting the tokens from Rath's Goblin Rabblemaster. Rath was stuck with only three lands and forced to cast his Ashcloud Phoenix as a morph—a sure sign that he was in dire straits and they were soon on to the decider.
Nelson leaned on his Fleecemane Lions to turn the tide after he lost Game 1.
Rath got off to another lightning-fast start in Game 3, with two copies of Seeker of the Way and a Chained to the Rocks on Nelson's Lion threatening to put the game away quickly. But a third-turn Drown in Sorrow engulfed the Seekers, earning Nelson a scry in the process. From there, Rath had difficulty rebuilding a board against Nelson's ample removal. When Nelson stuck an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Rath was forced to extend his hand.
Nelson 2 – Rath 1
Patrick Cowe vs. Steve Rubin
Game 1 of this Abzan Control mirror match was, predictably, a slugfest with Planeswalkers flying back and forth. Cowe landed an early Liliana Vess, though it soon met a heroic downfall. Rubin fired back with an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, minusing to take out Cowe's Siege Rhino. Rubin followed up his Elspeth with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and the pair of Planeswalkers soon buried Cowe in card and token advantage.
The graveyards are well-stocked as Cowe and Rubin lob threats and removal spells back and forth.
Much as in the first game, both players spent turn after turn removing each other's threats and trying to eke out an advantage. Siege Rhino after Siege Rhino and Planeswalker after Planeswalker entered the battlefield, only to be quickly hustled along to the graveyard. The removal soon dried up however, and Cowe and Rubin found themselves in a good old-fashioned board stall. Both plays searched for a way to break it open, but it was Rubin who found the answers, with multiple copies of Read the Bones digging him to just the cards he needed.
Rubin 2 – Cowe 0
Chris Fennell vs. (22) Ben Stark
Fennell took a mulligan in the first game and was quickly under assault from Stark's Goblin Rabblemaster. Fennell used an End Hostilities to clear away the Rabblemaster and one of his token friends, but promptly found himself facing the same Goblin-y predicament, this time with one fewer answer in hand. The quick start proved too much for Fennell and he scooped them up and looked to his sideboard.
Just as Brad Nelson did against his quarterfinals opponent, Fennell brought in his Fleecemane Lions from the sideboard. He looked to be taking control when a Hero's Downfall eliminated Stark's Seeker of the Way, while an Erase took care of a freshly cast Outpost Siege. But Stark had a pair of Stormbreath Dragons in hand, and while Fennell was able to answer the first hasty flier, he was no match for the second.
Stark 2 – Fennell 0
Jack Fogle v. Alex Majlaton
In a match-up of Fogle's Sultai Control against Majlaton's Abzan Control both players, predictably, spent their early turns drawing cards with the charms of their respective clans. Fogle began to tentatively develop a board presence with a pair of Satyr Wayfinders chipping in for damage while providing fodder for his deck's playset of Dig Through Time. As each player gradually cast more and more expensive spells, the match culminated the only way it could: an Ugin-on-Ugin battle. Fogle stuck the first copy of the colorless Planeswalker, and after it was destroyed, Majlaton stuck the second. After that one met a Hero's Downfall, Fogle followed up with yet another copy of his own, and when that one went unanswered he won Game 1.
Majlaton manages to sneak a Tasigur underneath Fogle's wall of countermagic.
In Game 2, Fogle used Dig Through Time to sculpt a wall of counterspells like Disdainful Stroke and Negate that would be invincible to any assault Majlaton could through at him. Invincible, that is, if Majlaton had not already developed a threatening board of multiple Soldier tokens and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. With a grip full of countermagic, Fogle found himself too far behind to recover and they were off to a deciding Game 3.
Fogle once against took a patient approach in the third game, sitting with multiple removal spells and two copies of Ugin in hand, while Majlaton pecked away with Courser of Kruphix. When Majlaton cast Siege Rhino, Fogle finally began to take action, using a kicked Silence the Believers to dispatch both creatures. Still holding back his Ugins, he led with a Satyr Wayfinder and a one-mana Tasigur. The banana aficianado began netting him more cards—a Sultai Charm here, a Dig Through Time there—and before long Majlaton stuck out his hand.
Fogle 2 – Majlaton 1