Former Player of the Year Brad Nelson was a constant contender in Standard. Testing early and often, bringing well-tuned decks and sideboard plans to events was his calling card in recent events and it was no different here. Joining forces with others to hide the Fleecemane Lions Cats in the literal sideboard bag, his persistence at playing paid off once again in Memphis.
Jack Fogle was having a career breakthrough weekend, earning his first Grand Prix Top 8 after multiple solid finishes throughout recent years. With a different angle of control for the weekend, Fogle turned his undefeated run on Day 1 into a semifinal Top 8 appearance and ticket to Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir: Not a bad start early in 2015.
Fogle's Sultai Control was similar to successful three-color approaches early in the Fate Reforged Standard season. This weekend, Fogle's control shell layered on additional tools like Sultai Charm and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon that helped carry it over the adaptations players brought out from last weekend's victory by Blue-Black Control.
Nelson was one of the many that rode Abzan Control to the Top 8 in Memphis, and the Fleecemane Lions-hidden-in-the-sideboard plan paid off well for him and his testing teammates. It was the dominant deck of the Top 8, taking nearly half of the quarterfinal slots, and propelled Nelson past the popular White-Red Aggro deck. Every player was prepared for Abzan, but it takes more than preparation to break the Siege Rhino siege on the format.
The first game was a struggle over control. Fogle worked to clear away every threat Nelson brought down, but a Siege Rhino finally stuck long enough to attack. A second followed, putting Fogle down to just 6 life.
Dig Through Time, one of Fogle's key cards, and Crux of Fate swept away the pair of Rhinos and Nelson was without another threat for some time. Another Dig Through Time let Fogle sculpt his hand, setting up hits like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Treasure Cruise.
Eventually, Nelson had a third Siege Rhino that put Fogle to 3 life. Garruk, Apex Predator handled that for Fogle, and Bile Blight with Hero's Downfall was there for Elspeth, Sun's Champion Nelson the turn thereafter. Nelson tried his Sun's Champion again, but Fogle's answers were unending.
Brad Nelson's sideboard plan carried the day, but Jack Fogle's unexpected Sultai Control deck but the brakes on things.
The second game was another careful affair, with Nelson trying to get his mana online early off Courser of Kruphix. Fogle used Hero's Downfall to slow things down, and Nelson was forced to use Abzan Charm to draw into his fourth land.
Thanks to some work by Thoughtseize, Nelson found a window soon thereafter to land Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Together, Nelson took a 6 life point attack-and-gain against Fogle. It put the Sultai player into a very tight spot having to answer tons of tokens and two Planeswalkers together.
The next attack drew a Satyr Wayfinder block and Murderous Cut from Fogle, but he fell to 3 life anyway as Nelson surged to 24. But that one turn was the time Fogle needed: Ugin, the Spirit Dragon wiped away all of the colorful power Nelson had assembled. Back to square one it looked as through Fogle would climb back into the driver's seat.
Jack Fogle was never without cards in hand, even if his mana was sometimes unavailable for them.
The third game started like the other two with volleys of Thoughtseize trading off for key cards. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver stole one Siege Rhino from Nelson, but Fogle missed finding his fourth land on time. Going the Rhino route, Fogle cast the dominating creature in lieu of exiling more things with his Planeswalker.
Nelson was content to Abzan Charm the Rhino before using Hero's Downfall on Ashiok proper. Finding his fourth land, it was Fogle's turn to take the hit of Siege Rhino. Dig Through Time was just what Fogle needed though, and with his fourth land and stocked graveyard he had just enough to fire it off.
A second Rhino sieged for Nelson before Crux of Fate came out to save only the Dragons. Elspeth, Sun's Champion was the familiar follow up from Nelson, continuing to force Fogle to have all the right cards. A second Dig Through Time was a step in the right direction: It found Hero's Downfall, heading off Soldier production but giving Nelson room to attack Fogle to 10 life.
Liliana Vess fetched Ugin, the Spirit Dragon to the top of Fogle's deck. Fogle fell to 7 life on the next turn, but cast his Ugin and cleared away the tokens for 0 loyalty. Nelson's next move was Tasigur, the Golden Fang but it only brought a Thoughtseize back to his hand. It took a second round of activation to get the removal spell he wanted in Hero's Downfall.
Negate was waiting on the other side however as Fogle began to take over the game completely. Treasure Cruise had appeared followed by Kiora, the Crashing Wave. Ugin used his loyalty to clear away Tasigur, and Negate protected Ugin from the first Downfall. Nelson's second hit home and the way was clear for Sorin, Solemn Visitor to appear and make a Vampire token.
But there were still six cards in Fogle's hand. Sultai Charm and scry triggers kept massaging his draws and Fogle used his own Hero's Downfall on Sorin. Another Dig Through Time later and Fogle's hand was overflowing options.
Garruk, Apex Predator was his new plan, and a 3/3 Beast appeared before Nelson found another Hero's Downfall, but Dig Through Time followed yet again; At this point Fogle was looking at about half of his remaining deck. Kiora kept the Vampire token locked down as Fogle's Beast began to hit home. Tasigur, the Golden Fang appeared and, finally out of ways to fight around the value Fogle was generating, Nelson offered the handshake.
“Good luck,” Nelson said as he left the feature match stage.
Jack Fogle defeated Brad Nelson, 2-1, to advance to the finals of Grand Prix Memphis!