Posted in GRAND PRIX NASHVILLE 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on November 2, 2014

By Seamus Campbell

Sam Black (Jeskai) - Matt Severa (RG) - Gaudenis Vidugiris (Sultai) vs. Fujimura Kazuaki (Temur Trail) - Kakumae Teruya (Jeskai) - Tamada Ryoichi (Mardu/Abzan)

Likely needing a draw to advance to the single-elimination rounds, "Team Madison" found themselves back in the feature area, facing off against an Osaka, Japan team.  Both teams feature strong lineups; all six competitors have found themselves in the single-elimination rounds of professional events before.  In the A seat, No. 22 Sam Black's Jeskai deck would trade tricks with GP Shizuoka quarterfinalist Fujimura Kazuaki's Temur-flavored Trail of Mystery deck; the B seat would see an aggressive RG deck in the hands of GP Detroit (2003!) quarterfinalist Matt Severa running into GP Kobe winner Kakumae Teruya's Jeskai deck; and on the end, triple Grand-Prix winner Gaudenis Vidugiris and GP Shanghai semifinalist Tamada Ryoichi were lined up in a control mirror—with Sultai on Vidugiris's side of the table, and a four-color Mardu-Abzan hybrid for Ryoichi.

Sitting in the middle, Matt Severa drew first blood with a Valley Rannet and an Arc Lightning to answer Teruya's Raid-less Mardu Hordechief.  It looked like Severa, with an Awaken the Bear and handful of aggressive creatures, might run away with the game, but Seeker of the Way and Mantis Rider provided a potent midgame of both offense and defense.  Severa managed to find some large creatures to keep the race even, but on the edge of collapse, Teruya found an Island on top of his deck.  With his sixth mana source coming into play untapped, he was able to swing in, cast Flying Crane Technique, and end the game.

To Teruya's right, A-seat teammate Kazuaki found himself in a bad spot after a mulligan to 5.  Black built an army of small-to-middling creatures via morphs and Raid-enabled Mardu Hordechiefs, turned them into a middling-to-large army with the help of Jeskai Charm, and turned aside a desperation Force Away by flipping a morphed Mistfire Weaver.

Meanwhile, the control mirror of Ryoichi and Vidugiris was, predictably, somewhat slower to get rolling, with an Archer's Parapet for Vidugiris staring down a Chief of the Edge for Ryoichi.  Vidugiris made a large token with Kin-Tree Invocation, but Abzan Charm quickly escorted it off the battlefield.  Ryoichi grew a pair of Parapet-killing monsters with Abzan Guide and Armament Corps, but Vidugiris had a well-stocked graveyard, thanks to Bitter Revelation, and Dead Drop reset his opponent's board.  Ryuichi rebuilt with Mer-Ek Nightblade, but Riverwheel Aerialists for his opponent was a much bigger threat.  A few turns later, Ryoichi scooped up his cards and reached for his sideboard.

All three of the matches finished their first games at roughly the same time—a testament, perhaps, to the quick, sharp play of the experienced control players—but the relative tempo of the matches was about to change abruptly.  B-seat player Teruya kept a five-land hand with Mantis Rider and Master the Way, and added Seeker of the Way and Dragon-Style Twins with his first two draws.  Severa was not able to offer any meaningful resistance, and just like that, the Japanese players were up a match, despite being behind in the other two matches.  Each player turned to watch and weigh in on a neighboring match: Severa leaning into offer opinions on the early turns of the Vidugiris - Ryoichi matchup, and Teruya turning the other direction, to the A-seat.

Kazuaki managed to keep a full-hand for the A-seat's second game, managing a pair of morphs on his third and fourth turns.  He missed his next land drop, but didn't slow down; a Rattleclaw Mystic enabled a Bear's Companion, and Black's lone morph was looking lonely and sad.  It only took a couple turns of attacks before Black succumbed, and looked to find salvation in game three.

While Kazuaki steamed in, the C-seat set up for a heavyweight slugfest.  Early turns saw a Ruthless Riper unmorph for Ryoichi to eat Vidugiris's Archer's Parapet, while the American player stocked his graveyard with Bitter Revelation.  An Ivorytusk Fortress for Kazuaki drew out Vidugiris's Dead Drop.  Kazuaki nearly managed to close the game with a Sultai Scavenger, dragging his opponent down to just six life, but a Suppression Field shut it down, and both players pulled back to comfortable life totals by attacking with Abzan Guides.  Eventually the lifelinkers would trade, and a second Sultai Scavenger for Kazuaki would go back to work.  By the time Vidugiris found Riverwheel Aerialists to staunch the bleeding, he was out of cards—in his library.  The bloody war of attrition had ground him down first.

Playing big game wasn't reserved for the control mirror, though.  Black would get ahead early, with a morph and a Mardu Hordechief.  When the 2/3 drew a double block from Kazuaki's Jeskai Elder and a face-down Watcher of the Roost, Black flipped Efreet Weaponmaster for a quick 2-for-1 and a nice punch of damage.

Kazuaki had an empty board, and a big deficit to make up, but he also had arguably the best card in his deck in Trail of Mystery, along with a hand of cheap-flipping morphs.  Punching through for damage would not be easy, when every three-mana creature he played threatened to simply crush any attacker Black might have.  Furthermore, he had Disdainful Stroke to keep Black from developing with Warden of the Eye.  Black tried to take to the air by turning up Thousand Winds, but Kazuaki kept it at by by revealing Icefeather Aven.  Black continued to throw haymakers.  Flying Crane Technique met Kazuaki's Stubborn Denial, but Black was able to resolve Dig Through Time on the following turn, fetching a Jeskai Ascendancy and a second Warden of the Eye.  Kazuaki responded with yet more morphs.  Warden of the Eye return Dig Through Time, and Kazuaki tapped out to reveal Abzan Guide and remove most of Black's board after combat with Dead Drop.  However, one of the two cards that the second Dig Through Time found was Jeskai Charm, which ate the last four points of Kazuaki's life total, evening up the overall match total at one match for each team.

All three American players huddled up to focus on the last game of the match and the Swiss rounds.  It was likely, in Black's opinion, that a draw would be sufficient to see their team drafting in the top 4.  The Osaka players, on the other hand, would probably need to win, so the onus was on Ryoichi to demonstrate that his deck could win in the few short minutes remaining in the match.  The eyes of several judges would ensure that both teams played at an acceptable pace.

Ryoichi made his most aggressive start of the match, with a Disowned Ancestor, a morph, and a Bellowing SaddlebruteSultai Soothsayer provided a blocker for Vidugiris, but Mer-Ek Nightblade represented a possible way to punch through.  Abzan Ascendancy on the following turn looked like a real problem for Vidugiris's defense, but he had Murderous Cut to take out the Nightblade and turn off deathtouch as time was called in the round.  Ryoichi had just three turns to deal with Vidugiris's 18 life.  His first attack broke through for 7, and Vidugiris dropped to 11, but a Suspension Field pulled the Bellowing Saddlebrute out of the picture, and Ryoichi ran out of steam.  The last few turns played out quietly, resulting in a drawn match and a likely top 4 appearance for the Americans.