ROUND 5 FEATURE MATCH

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

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Stark / Reeves / Fennell vs. Ochoa / Cuneo / Parker

What happens when titans collide? Skill, experience, and knowledge are among the most important aspects the greatest bring to the game. But if everyone in a match carries their own weight, which team hits harder?

It was masters versus masters in Round 5. From left to right: Chris Fennell, Niel Reeves, (13) Ben Stark, David Ochoa, Andrew Cuneo, and Brock Parker.

On the left side of the table sat 13th-ranked and Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Ben Stark. Next to him you found Niel Reeves, one of the game's greats returned to the premier play spotlight. Finally beyond him you saw Chris Fennell, another resurgent player from the past with multiple Grand Prix Top 8 and a team Grand Prix win... in 2004.

What all three players on that team shared was their expertise in Limited. As individuals, the Pro Tour testing teams they worked with would often defer to their judgment on the relative strength of cards, pick orders, deck builds and more. Together as a team they looked the part of a terrifying juggernaut bent on demolishing the competition.

Across from them sat a more than formidable wall: David Ochoa, Andrew Cuneo, and Brock Parker are also a team built of Pro Tour and Grand Prix Top 8 contenders with well over a decade each of experience to work with. While they didn't carry the moniker of "Limited specialists" each was no slouch in his own right. They wouldn't make things easy in the least and had carried themselves to the same 4-0 team record coming into the round.

The Decks

Building Team Sealed decks is a tricky enterprise in itself: Splitting twelve booster packs into three decks leads to both decks with more power and harder decisions when more than one decks wants a card. For Stark, Reeves, and Fennell the decisions didn't look easy, but the decks they found were powerful:

Stark played blue-green deck the splashed itself into Temur. Mystic of the Hidden Way, Treasure Cruise, Sagu Mauler, and plenty of on-color morphs were supported by Force Away and Waterwhirl: Setting up a long game where his fatties would break through was the plan.

Reeves had a focused white-red deck, but like Stark's splashed a little black to call itself Mardu. Packed with removal like Arrow Storm, Burn Away, and Bring Low, the plan for Reeves's deck involved multiple Ponyback Brigades and Ainok Bond-Kins going big and wide at the same time.

Fennell, unlike his teammates, was firmly Abzan in color across his basic lands despite six nonbasics to go along with it. With cards like Abzan Ascendancy, Ivorytusk Fortress, and Armament Corps it's clear why Fennell was so wide with mana sources. Aiming for the long game, morphs like War Behemoth supported buying time to set up multiple copies of Sultai Scavenger and a format-dominating Necropolis Fiend.

"It's the best card in this format," Fennell declared at the end of the match.

Across the table, the decks in Ochoa's, Cuneo's, and Parker's hand looked superficially similar at a glance:

Ochoa had a focused red-green deck that fixed itself into Temur. With plenty of creatures packing at least four power – Summit Prowler, Alpine Grizzly, and Snowhorn Rider – the suite of Savage Punch and Crater's Claw were solid ways to force games to end.

Cuneo played a clean white-black deck built to run over the opposition. Chief of the Edge, Bellowing Saddlebrute, Sultai Scavenger, and Swarm of Bloodflies made good use of tricks like Feat of Resistance to hit hard. If the aggressive angle wasn't enough both Herald of Anafenze and High Sentinels of Arashin promised inevitability.

Parker packed the less-common Jeskai colors to build an unstoppable air force. With evasive creatures like Mystic of the Hidden Way, Jeskai Windscout, Riverwheel Aerialists, and Sage of the Inward Eye, using things like Force Away, Crippling Chill, and Waterwhirl would ensure he had the time to soar to victory. And as if that wasn't enough, Ghostfire Blade was around to help out.

The Games

The matches within the match ended sequentially, and the first to close was the showdown between Reeves and Cuneo. While Reeves found a little time to outlast both his Ainok Bond-Kins in the second game, the aggressive starts Cuneo had in both games took their toll. The first game was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it trampling session. "Stop playing so many guys!" was Reeves exclamation during that rout.

Reeves's trinkets from the Pro Tour featuring his teammate Fennell weren't enough to stop Cuneo's assault in the first game.

The second game features Reeves closing in on stabilization with Cuneo casting a pre-blockers Feat of Resistance to push a 6/3 Krumar Bond-Kin through.

The second match to end was a thwo game swing between Stark and Ochoa. The first game features Stark's Mystic of the Hidden Way going the distance as Ochoa failed to find a way to overcome it. The second was much longer, though it was due in part of Stark remaining a land shy of six for several turns as Ochoa and he faced an impasse. Waterwhirl from Stark undid the work Ochoa had planned with Jeering Instigator and Meandering Towershell. When Stark unleashed his Dig Through Time to find a Savage Punch, Ochoa's thin line fell.

With one match each going to both sides, the longest duel fell to Fennell and Parker. Fennell took the first game in short order from a mana light fight from Parker. The second game turned the tables and left Fennell without black mana long enough for Parker to pull too far ahead. It was the third and final game of the table that made things interesting.

Both players had good mana early but executed different plans: Fennell used a morph, Armament Corps, and Dragonscale Boon to continually pressure Parker, who lost several creatures including Riverwheel Aerialists as he pulled the game to stability by trading. Without a fatty crashing in from Fennell, Parker took to the skies with Jeskai Windscout and more.

Ochoa and Cuneo helped sort out the best way for Parker to take back the game from Fennell.

Slipping away in the game, Fennell cast Scout the Borders hoping to find Sultai Scavenger. Instead, Necropolis Fiend found its way to his hand and, starting on the next turn, took over the game. Methodically wiping away all of the creatures on Parker's side, Reeves and Stark insisted on staying the course, passing up a win apparent attack to conservatively maintain absolute control.

"Do I just go for it this turn?" Fennell asked. With exactly the mana to clear a blocker and cast a morph face-down, Fennell was sure he could close the game out on the spot.

Fennell sought a second opinion from teammate Reeves in a critical turn of decisive game.

Reeves didn't hesitate: "Just shoot his guy." Stark agreed. Fennell followed his teammates' advice and played the conservative path, clinching the victory a few turns later after Parker's Crippling Chill bought futile extra time.

Stark, Reeves, and Fennell defeated Ochoa, Cuneo, and Parker 2-1.