Davoudi/Nelson/Merriam vs. Wescoe/Hayne/Skarren
Both these teams came into the third round 2-0. This was common at most events for these seasoned players, as most of them would usually have byes. But with team events like this one, there are no byes. So every win is a hard-fought win.
In the middle seat on one side was Grand Prix Salt Lake City winner Brandon Nelson, flanked by Mani Davoudi and Ross Merriam. No. 17 Alex Hayne was in the middle seat on the other side, surrounded by his teammates Craig Wescoe and Frank Skarren.
Mani Davoudi vs. Craig Wescoe
Things didn't start well for Mani Davoudi in the first game. He had to mulligan to five on the play. His blue-green deck fought valiantly against Pro Tour winner Craig Wescoe and his Mardu hate brigade, but there was little to be done to recover.
Wescoe went Ruthless Ripper into Mardu Skullhunter (netting an Incremental Growth), and kept the beats coming. Davoudi's hand looked good enough, with multiple Crippling Chills, but for that plan to work out you need creatures to stick around. Wescoe had just the right mix to get game one finished early.
Wescoe, always ready with a quip, pointed at the Longshot Squad, and looked at Davoudi. He was smiling already; he knew he had a good one. "Hey. Hey, is that your team name?" Wescoe couldn't resist revealing a devilishly silly smirk. Davoudi couldn't either. That was gold, Jerry, gold.
The Pro Tour winner had started just as strongly, if not stronger this game. Mardu Warshrieker, Mardu Hordechief and company helped Wescoe explode onto the field. He had a Highspire Mantis for airborne beats too; but the real star was Ainok Bond-kin. It went to four +1/+1 counters, thanks to Davoudi's lack of pressure. And finally, when an Icefeather Aven tried to reset the outlast creature, getting Davoudi back into it, a Feat of Resistance said "No" while adding yet another +1/+1 counter.
Even though Davoudi had things like Incremental Growth to help beef up his big butts, the butts just played chump blocker turn after turn in the face of the 7/6 first-striking Bond-kin. It was over soon after that.
Wescoe wins 2-0, and his team is up one point.
Ross Merriam vs. Frank Skarren
Ross Merriam and multiple limited Grand Prix–winning Frank Skarren battled in the third seat, using mirroring Jeskai builds. The first game was all Merriam. Jeskai Student, War-Name Aspirant, Mardu Heart Piercer, and Canyon Lurkers all came down in the first few turns. Though a conglomerate of mostly marginal creatures, the curve, backed up by a few timely removal spells, punished Skarren's relatively slower start. It was 1-0 very quickly.
But just as rapidly, the second game went back the other way. Skarren opened with a first-turn Monastery Swiftspear. And though tons of creatures and removal traded back and forth, the Swiftspear was the last creature left unscathed. The creature got Merriam into single digits, all-but single-handedly.
Merriam had landed a midgame Jeskai Ascendancy, but he had no creatures on his board—they were all in his hand. Without anything that actually triggered the Ascendancy, it was a useless piece of cardboard. Skarren and his Swiftspear took the second game.
Skarren had to consult teammate Alex Hayne during all three of his potential opening hands in the last game. Hayne said of the final hand, "You gotta keep that five-card, right?" Skarren dejectedly agreed and hoped Merriam didn't have a quick start.
Well, he did. After creatures on turns two, three, and four, a Flying Crane Technique ripped any potential comeback out of Skarren's hands.
Merriam won the games 2-1; the teams were tied at one point each. It was all up to the middle seats.
Brandon Nelson vs. (17) Alex Hayne
With the scores tied, this match would mean the whole enchilada.
During the first punch-up, to throw Brandon Nelson off his game, Pro Tour Avacyn Restored champion No. 17 Alex Hayne chided: "How did Mani con you into teaming up with him again?" He pointed a thumb at Mani Davoudi, and smiled. "I mean, come on, you're big time now, right? Grand Prix champion!" These guys have been playing together on the circuit for years; it was a light-hearted love tap. Nelson was unswayed. He and Davoudi were thick as thieves; and his trip-up tactics weren't going to work.
Hayne's Temur build featured standouts like Savage Knuckleblade, and many, many copies of Awaken the Bear. But Nelson had some quick Mardu beats backed up by removal like Suspension Field and Mardu Charm. Nelson was hoping to overwhelm his opponent with some tokens and friends. "Need more tokens?" was a common question out of Hayne this round.
In the first game, Nelson was able to pressure early with multiple Mardu Hordechief and a Ponyback Brigade. But as the game wore on, Hayne's creatures outclassed Nelson's. Even with a removal spell for the first Woolly Loxodon, just by virtue of me saying "the first," you know there was a second. And even though a late Mardu Skullhunter took an Awaken the Bear—the penultimate card in Hayne's hand—the ultimate card was a Savage Punch.
Hayne had gas for days, and though it was close, it was Hayne took the first game.
However, in the second game, it was Nelson who seemed to have all the answers. A well-timed Ankle Shanker, then a Murderous Cut on a Savage Knuckleblade allowed Nelson to plinky plink away at Hayne. And thanks to the Shanker, Hayne could do nothing but chump until the game was taken from underneath him.
Not only was it down to this match, now it was down to this game.
Nelson was able to lightly pressure with some dinky dudes, while using things like Suspension Field to keep Hayne's Savage Knuckleblade from doing any real harm. But Hayne didn't just have Knucky. His Alpine Grizzly was still able to hold the fort while Hayne built his board with morphs (which Nelson figured, correctly, were either Woolly Loxodon or Temur Charger).
Nelson had been sandbagging creatures in his hand because he knew something would come, and when the sideboard Barrage of Boulders came down from Hayne, he was thankful to have four more cards to recover. However, what I'm calling "sandbagging," some might call "short on land." So stars like the Ankle Shanker and Throttle were left stranded, awaiting a fifth land.
Nelson was able to get the life totals reasonably close, but he was inches from death. When consulting his teammates about tapping out against Hayne's empty hand, Davoudi said, "Well, we're dead to anything—literally anything." Nelson agreed and tapped out, confident that without "anything" he might be able to swing the game back in his favor. All he needed was no removal to take out his lone blocker or a creature for Hayne to block with.
Hayne drew his mystery card. He thought for a second then Frank Skarren said, "Just run it." Hayne agreed. "He has to have Murderous Cut, which he must have just drawn or he would've played it last turn."
That wasn't just idle chatter. Hayne had drawn the Burn Away. And took out Nelson's last creature to win the game, the match, and the entire round for his team.
Craig Wescoe, (17) Alex Hayne, and Frank Skarren defeat Mani Davoudi, Brandon Nelson, and Ross Merriam, 2-1.