(20) Shahar Shenhar, (18) Tom Martell, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa vs. Matt Nass, (19) Jacob Wilson, Jesse Hampton
It all came down to this. Both teams had great incentive to win. Jesse Hampton drove straight through Friday night (and straight through a blizzard) directly to the tournament hall, making it 15 minutes late Saturday morning. And it was No. 20 Shahar Shenhar's 21st birthday. Both teams had made it this far, so there would be cause for celebration no matter what, but there was just a little extra push.
Adding to that push was the fact that Matt Nass and (19) Jacob Wilson's teammate for the last team Grand Prix was none other than birthday boy, Shahar Shenhar. Shenhar was disappointed with their finish and found a new team for this weekend. It would be poetic for Nass and Wilson to prove to Shenhar that they're a team worth getting behind. But they'd have to get through No. 18 Tom Martell, and a Pro Tour Hall of Fame member, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa to do it.
This final match was crazy. With four of the six players playing in the World Championship next month and a combined infinite Top 8s among the six of them, it was a match for the ages. Each game had its own twists and turns, and some weird bumps along the way, but it was sure to end gloriously.
Jesse Hampton vs. (20) Shahar Shenhar
Jesse Hampton loved his deck, and for good reason. You could match it up against just about anything and the crazy token-producing and mass-pumping spells had some crazy game. He had Trumpet Blast, two Rush of Battle, Take Up Arms, and enough Valley Dashers took take Little Big Horn.
No. 20 Shahar Shenhar's deck had the weakest of his team's decks, or at least Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa thought. "I mean, how do you even win?" He asked incredulously.
"Easily," was Shenhar's reply. Game 1 tested that hypothesis right quick.
Hampton kept a hand of Rush of Battle, Take Up Arms, and Defiant Strike. He was confident that any amount of gas would allow him to steal the game. He drew a Valley Dasher on the third turn and used the extra mana to cycle away Defiant Strike.
The pivotal turn came when Jeskai Elder, Mardu Skullhunter, and a morph sent Hampton to 5 life. A Treasure Cruise refueled his hand to boot. Shenhar was at a comfortable 13 life—all Hampton had was a Valley Dasher.
Shenhar was going to have to pull out all the stops (and a hail mary) to take out Jesse Hampton. And as the second game began, that hail mary looked more and more like an interception.
War-Name Aspirant and Highspire Mantis started the party out for Hampton. And if Shenhar wasn't scared yet, he should have been when his Mardu Skullhunter nabbed a High Sentinels of Arashin, even though Hampton had a full grip.
With Shenhar at 14, a familiar sequence played out. An end-of-turn Take Up Arms (looking like a pre-rules-change Waylay) led into a land drop, Valley Dasher, then another Rush of Battle. Fourteen life never looked so paltry.
Hampton won the match in record time and if either Jacob Wilson or Matt Nass won their matches, they would take home the trophy.
(19) Jacob Wilson vs. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
Just like in the previous round, and for much of the tournament, No. 19, Pro Tour Born of the Gods finalist Jacob Wilson was on White and Black. This deck looked much different than his last, featuring two copies of the underrated Molting Snakeskin. Wilson wanted to win and win early.
Nine-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, Brazilian ultra-star Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa was hoping to drag the game out a bit longer. He was playing a Black-Green-double-splash deck that hoped to push through the final points with the big bomb Sorin, Solemn Visitor.
In the first game Wilson had Mardu Hateblade into Mardu Hordechief, but Paulo was able to quell the assault handily with a Tuskguard Captain and two Smoke Teller. A possible big beater Swarm of Bloodflies from Wilson was taken out quickly by a Roar of Challenge, and Wilson's aggression was truly thwarted.
Paulo started on the aggressive path himself, while Wilson was playing catch-up. But Wilson's playdate was cut short by a sad tourist, Sorin, Solemn Visitor. It came down and pumped the team and stopped Wilson's plans in their tracks.
The second game was a knock-down, drag-out, crazy-town slug fest. Wilson played more for the long game here with two Abzan Battle Priest, and started pumping them up. Paulo had big blockers, and Wilson needed a way to break through.
Paulo slowly built his board, while whittling away Wilson's. His Bellowing Saddlebrute had just the right power and toughness to give Wilson fits, and it got worse. When Wilson finally thought he had the removal, a Mistfire Weaver unmorphed and gave hexproof to the Saddlebrute.
Hampton, who by now was watching and helping his companions, said matter-of-factly, "That's not good." And also "not good" was the Sorin, Solemn Visitor that came next. This time, he started make Vampire tokens to help Paulo edge out the board. Soon Paulo was attacking in and gaining life, peaking at 28 life points.
Wilson got on a plan of "Load up on Flyers and Skip the Ground." He cast Sultai Scavenger and Alabaster Kirin. He already had a Swarm of Bloodflies, and after using a Throttle on the 3/1 flyer, he basically owned the skies. However, the score was about 6-28, so it wasn't like he could attack with anything other than the vigilant Kirin anyway—though a Molting Snakeskin made the hits count. The Swarm was happily gaining counters, but was relegated to guard duty.
Wilson had successfully gummed up the ground, and was hitting for four damage each turn (after killing off the Sorin). But the ground game was tenuous at best. Maybe if he had a red mana to unmorph his Ponyback Rider, and maybe if he had just a touch more life he could feel more secure, but that wasn't happening. And when Paulo cast a Dutiful Return to return some flyers, Wilson wasn't dealing damage quickly enough.
Jesse Hampton, who had been watching the other match, looked at the board and said, "This is crazy." Even Matt Nass, who was deep in a complex game of his own (more on that later), chimed in, "This is still Game 2, right?" The best keeper of time was the Swarm of Bloodflies that from various deaths was now around a 13/13; it was still held back to block.
Wilson finally drew a red mana source—Wind-Scarred Crag. He gained a life and on the next turn, seemingly coincidentally, was when Paulo made his move.
Getting low on life, he blocked the 4/3 Kirin with his returned Mistfire Weaver and forced Wilson to regenerating it—tapping it for the first time in the game. Paulo untapped, drew, and just turned everything sideways. There was a hell of a lot of stuff, but Paulo, who was now on the ropes knew that it was now or never.
Now, there was way too much on the board to give any succinct breakdown of what exactly happened, but know this: the winner of the game was Wind-Scarred Crag. Wilson survived the attack, but only because he was able to flip up the Ponyback Rider providing three additional blockers, and only because he had gained that one life.
Wilson thought about the attack, properly assigned all his blockers and resolved the damage. He went to 1. Paulo saw that the crackback was overly lethal, he packed in it.
Jacob Wilson had played a game that his deck never wants to play; he beat through many things; and he evened the score at one game a piece.
But before we visit the last game, let's take a look at the other match that was going on right beside them.
Matt Nass vs. (18) Tom Martell
Elves extraordinaire Matt Nass is by no means a slouch, but he was likely the underdog against Pro Tour Gatecrash winner, No. 18 Tom Martell. Martell was on the Abzan plan, with some good removal, like Abzan Charm, Debilitating Injury, and Death Frenzy; aided by creatures like Armament Corps and Rakshasa Deathdealer.
Nass admitted that his deck was the worst of the weekend. Hell, it was the first that did not contain Flying Crane Technique. It was a Blue-Green-splash Temur deck that was self-described as "fine." It had some good cards like Pearl Lake Ancient and Icy Blast; it was better than he was giving it credit for. But maybe he was just disappointed that he couldn't win by double-strike and flying the way he had the semifinals.
If he was disheartened by his deck, the first game didn't help his spirits. He stalled early and was relying heavily on his Snowhorn Rider. But Martell, whose curve had worked well enough, had a Smite the Monstrous ready once the Rider unmorphed. And just like that, Nass was down a game.
The second game was similar the other way around. Nass used Monastery Flock to buy him precious time against Martell's creatures like War Behemoth and Longshot Squad. Tricks like—Winterflame, then Warden of the Eye returning Winterflame—went far in controlling the board.
Speaking of board control, the big blue finisher, Pearl Lake Ancient made an appearance and added some large inevitability to the battlefield. With an Icy Blast safely in Nass's hand, and a Pearl Lake Ancient on the board it was only a matter of time before they were going to the third game.
When Matt Nass looked at his hand for the final game, he must have thought he had it in the bag. He was staring at two Monastery Flock, a Trail of Mystery, and the perfect three land. His team had trouble not revealing how good the hand was.
But early on Nass made a fatal mistake that could've cost him everything.
Martell attacked with a Mer-Ek Nightblade and a 3/3 morph into the two face-down Flocks. Nass basically snap-double-blocked the Nightblade as Jesse Hampton yelled: "Matt! He has Dragonscale!" The Dragonscale Boon made the Nightblade a 4/5 and untapped it. Not only did it eat both morphs, but after combat Martell used his last mana to outlast the orc assassin, making it a permanent 5/6. Nass sunk into his chair.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa who was looking on, said "Good turn." It was—for Martell anyway. From the opening hands, it looked liked Nass couldn't lose. And now it looked like he couldn't win.
Nass went into chump mode to buy time. Lucky for him, Martell drew very little of consequence, and when he was able to stick a Woolly Loxodon, the attacks from Martell stopped. Mind you, Nass was in no position to attack himself, but at least he had stabilized the board at 6 life. Martell was at 20.
Turn after turn came and went as Martell added inconsequential creatures trying desperately to sneak in the last few damage. When Nass stuck a Pearl Lake Ancient, the only thing that would do it was a flyer. It didn't come turn after turn, and it got to the point where Nass, now with a board full of creatures himself (so large he was stacking them on top of each other), used the trick of bouncing his Pearl Lake Ancient by returning three lands—including a "gain-one-life" land. The battlefield was that stalled.
A Sultai Scavenger from Martell looked like it could deliver the final blow. Martell had finally amassed the critical number of creatures to finally take the remaining life from Nass.
"I really need Icy Blast," Nass said.
And as Santa always said: Ask and you shall receive. Off the top of library, like magic, came the Icy Blast. Hampton basically went ballistic and starting saying, "Do it; Kill him; Kill him." That's exactly what Matt Nass did.
From the throes of sure victory, from the clutches of sure defeat, Matt Nass ran the gamut emotions in the final game of his match. He had not only won his match, but the match for his entire team!
The underdogs, Matt Nass, (19) Jacob Wilson and Jesse Hampton have beaten "Team World Magic Cup, (20) Shahar Shenhar, (18) Tom Martell and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa to become Grand Prix Nashville champions!