Round 7 Feature Match: Chris Fennell (Abzan Control) vs. Scott Lipp (Jeskai)

Posted in GRAND PRIX MEMPHIS 2015 on February 22, 2015

By Peter Rawlings

The undefeated Chris Fennell has put up several strong Grand Prix finishes of late, making the quarterfinals of Grand Prix Baltimore in December and the Top 4 of the Team Limited Grand Prix with teammates Ari Lax and Craig Wescoe earlier this year. A Limited specialist, he's looking to put up a finish in Standard here in Memphis to match his sterling Limited results. “I'm Dazzling Ramparts when it comes to Limited versus Constructed,” he said, with his zero Constructed Top 8s to seven Limited Top 8s, matching the Wall's 0/7 stats.

He squared off against Scott Lipp, a Kansas City native, who has already put up one Top 8 appearance this year, making the quarterfinals of Grand Prix Omaha with a Modern deck built around Primeval Titan and Through the Breach. With that finish already earning him a Pro Tour invite, he was looking to capitalize on a strong start to 2015.

The Decks

Fennell was piloting an Abzan Control deck, relying on beefy ground creatures such as Courser of Kruphix and Seige Rhino to carry him through to the end-game, where expensive threats like Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon could take over.

Lipp brought an aggressive Jeskai build to battle, with 3-mana threats like Goblin Rabblemaster and Mantis Rider meant to assault opponents life totals, and a hearty helping of burn spells like Stoke the Flames and Lightning Strike able to dish out the last few points of damage.

Game 1

Fennell won the die roll and chose to play first, keeping a reactive hand with Thoughtseize, two copies of Hero's Downfall, and endless comes-into-played tapped lands. A turn-two Thoughtseize revealed a hand of two copies of Soulfire Grand Master and a Jeskai Charm from his opponent. Fennell stripped a single copy of the 2-drop Monk, and followed up with a Courser of Kruphix on his next turn.


Lipp faces down early pressure from a Siege Rhino in Game 1.

He followed that up with a Siege Rhino on turn four, presenting a high-toughness wall of blockers to ward off Lipp's lone Grand Master. On Fennell's end step, Lipp used Jeskai Charm to send Courser back to the top of Fennell's library, where it smothered a Temple of Silence. With Lipp tapped out, Fennell used the opportunity to Downfall the Soulfire Grand Master.

The Courser made its inevitable return on Fennell's next turn. After the land off the top of his library revealed an Elspeth, Sun's Champion lurking beneath, Lipp dropped his all-land hand on the table and they were quickly off to Game 2.

Fennell 1 – Lipp 0

“Well, at least the good news for you is that you didn't give me that much information,” joked Fennell as he quickly thumbed through his sideboard. Lipp chuckled and agreed and they were off to the next game.

Game 2

Lipp was hoping that being on the play for the second game would allow him to get out to a quick aggressive start. But that was not to be as he was missing a third land, and facing down a turn-two Fleecemane Lion, fresh from Fennell's sideboard.

Lipp soon found a third land, stuck a Goblin Rabblemaster and on his next turn attacked with two Goblin tokens and the Rabblemaster himself into Fennell's Lion, offering the trade. After a minute's deliberation, Fennell accepted, and returned fire with a Siege Rhino on his own turn.


Fennell looks to press his advantage after his opponent stumbled on mana.

A Valorous Stance prevented the Rhino from dealing Lipp too much damage, but his own pain lands were doing that themselves, as he had to take 2 damage in order to cast Mantis Rider with his three available mana. Fennell swatted the flying bug with an Utter End, and Lipp rebuilt with another, taking another 2 damage in the process and falling to seven.

A Murderous Cut and Bile Blight from Fennell went to work Lipp's side of the board, leaving only a copy of Soulfire Grand Master in their wake. With a Hero's Downfall in hand and his opponent at five, Fennell attacked into the monk with his two copies of Courser. Lipp chose not to block, falling to one.

When Lipp turned all his lands sideways on his own turn, Fennell sat up in his seat. Lipp cast a Treasure Cruise, delving five cards and hoping to draw into an answer. But with his opponent tapped out Fennell sent the Grand Master to its doom, and, facing down two lethal threats, Lipp extended his hand.

Fennell 2 – Lipp 0

Afterward the players discussed Fennell's decision to trade off his Fleecmane Lion for Lipp's Rabblemaster. “I think I had to block the Rabblemaster there because I didn't have Drown in Sorrow or Bile Blight in hand at the time and I didn't think I needed the Fleecemane to win,” Fennell explained. “At every point when you play this deck, you always make the most conservative decision, because it's built to win the long game.”

He went on to explain his sideboard strategy with this take on Abzan, which hinged on mixing up opponents by bringing Fleecemane Lion in from the sideboard after Game 1. “Lightning Strike is rampant in this format, so when you have Lion in Game 1 it's really bad,” he said. “But Strike has zero targets in the first game, so anybody with common sense will board them out. Then you bring in Lion and they don't have an efficient way to kill it.”

The Theros 2-drop will then further constraint the resources of many decks in the format, opening the door for Fennell to follow up with even bigger threats down the road. Against White-Red decks, for instance, opponents are dared to use Chained to the Rocks on the Lion, and if they do they are left with fewer answers to Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang.

The Lion also helps against decks with blue mana, because in those match-ups “you really want to have a lot of effective cards that are under 4 mana,” in order to mitigate the effect of Disdainful Stroke, he said. An early Fleecemane Lion can quickly go monstrous, punishing opponents who plan to sit back on counterspells.

The strategy was working well for Fennell so far. Still undefeated at 7-0 he was well on his way to upgrading his Dazzling Ramparts to a Kami of Old Stone.

Chris Fennell – Abzan Control

Scott Lipp - Jeskai

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