No. 12 Yuuya Watanabe and Jesse Hampton each returned for Day 2 with a mere one loss to their names, well-positioned to make a run at the final tables in Miami. Watanabe, who made the Top 8 at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir last fall, was looking to add yet another Grand Prix Top 8 to his impressive resume. Hampton is on the hunt for Gold status, as he tries to build on the momentum he has established with a Top 4 finish in Team Limited at Grand Prix Nashville and his recent semifinals appearance at Pro Tour Fate Reforged.
Watanabe had sleeved up a new twist on the Jeskai Tokens deck that he first put on the Standard map at last year's World Championship. His latest addition to the deck is XXX TK copies of Citadel Siege. The 4-mana enchantment, already perhaps the strongest card in Fate Reforged/Khans of Tarkir Limited, is now looking to make the jump to Constructed. The card often serves as extra copies of Jeskai Ascendancy, the engine driving the Tokens deck, Watanabe explained, with it's ability to pump up his creatures in much the same was as the 3-mana alternative. “It's a very strong card in the format,” he said, and especially useful in shoring up the deck's match-ups against the popular R/W Aggro and various flavors of Siege Rhino-based decks running rampant through Standard.
Hampton was on neither of those, however, as he had opted for U/B Control this weekend. With an array of card draw spells like Dig Through Time and Jace's Ingenuity to push him ahead in the late game, his deck was looking to simply buy time to get there with black removal spells such as Bile Blight and a heaping helping of incidental life-gain in the form Dismal Backwater and Radiant Fountain.
Watanabe landed an early copy of Soulfire Grand Master and began chipping away for 2 damage at a time. With two copies of Citadel Siege in hand, Watanabe set about seeing just what the enchantment would be capable of in the match-up, tapping his four lands to to cast the first copy. When that was negated, Watanabe shifted gears, looking to Grand Master's ability to buy back burn spells such as Wild Slash on Hampton's end step.
As the Grand Master slowly hacked away at Hampton's life total, the control player used a Dig Through Time to find threats of his own, resolving first a Pearl Lake Ancient and then Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. Knowing that the Planeswalker would be unlikely to hit any creatures from his deck—since most of his creatures were generated from spells such as Hordeling Outburst, Watanabe was content to take things slow and keep grinding away. He tried once again to lay a Citadel Siege at Hampton's gates, but it too met a counterspell, as did a copy of Raise the Alarm.
Watanabe's Soulfire Grand Master chiseled away at Hampton's life total in Game 1.
When Ugin, the Spirit Dragon roared into play for Hampton, Watanabe was at least given free rein to unload his hand without fear of a counter, but against a board of Ugin, Ashiok and Pearl Lake Ancient, he was suddenly under tremendous pressure.
He led with a Goblin Rabblemaster, which generated a token and, when combined with a Stoke the Flames, was able to finish off the colorless Planeswalker. There was still the pesky question of Ashiok and the nearly unkillable Leviathan, however, which were rapidly whittling away both his deck and life total. When Hampton dissolved a Jeskai Ascendancy, Watanabe scooped up his all-land board, opting to conserve time for Games 2 and 3.
Hampton 1 – Watanabe 0
After exchanging some of his less-effective burn spells for copies of Negates and Disdainful Stroke, Watanabe led with a series of scry lands in Game 2. His Temple of Epiphany foresaw a Jeskai Ascendancy atop his library and Watanabe was forced to pause. While the enchantment was a crucial piece in the gears of his machine, he needed a second land and was ultimately forced to send it to the bottom.
For his part Hampton was stuck with four lands in play, a stressful situation for control players, who want nothing more than to hit land drops and control the board. When Hampton moved to the end of his fifth turn without laying a land, Watanabe had the option of casting Raise the Alarm. But, seeing that the spell would likely be met with a response from Hampton, he instead decided to let the U/B player discard a Bile Blight. He then cast the Raise the Alarm on his own turn, eliciting a Negate from Hampton and netting himself an effective two-for-one.
Forced to discard, Hampton had to dig desperately for a fifth land in Game 2.
Watanabe set about scratching and clawing to try to stick a threat, any threat, that would punish Hampton's inability to find a fifth land, but was stymied at every turn. A series of Rabblemasters met hasty demises courtesy of Hero's Downfall and Dissolve, and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker was Negated.
A Thoughtseize from Hampton took care of a second copy of Sarkhan and he followed it up with a heavily discounted Tasigur, the Golden Fang. The tide, as it often does for the Swamp- and Island-based control deck, was slowly but inevitably turning.
Watanabe tried to ride out that tide, delving away four cards and going for a Treasure Cruise on his turn, figuring that if Hampton countered he would at least be denied a Tasigur activation. Instead Hampton cast Jace's Ingenuity and both players finding themselves drawing three cards for 5 mana.
With three copies of Bile Blight already in exile for Hampton, Watanabe stuck first one Soulfire Grand Master, then another. But the Human Monks were soon Drowned in Sorrow and so too, evidently, were Watanabe's hopes for the match.
Even without a single activation of his ability, Tasigur did plenty of work as a vanilla 4/5, dropping Watanabe to 9 and then 5. When Ugin, the Spirit Dragon came down and burned Watanabe to 2, the Jeskai player could only extend his hand.