It was a near miss for Brain Braun-Duin to advance to his semifinal match. In three close games, it took every trick in his deck’s playbook to squeak out a victory against the powerful MUD deck. Now, in the semifinals, Braun-Duin faced another tricky opponent. While Force of Will and Spell Pierce were powerful tools, the maindeck choice of Pyroblasts and Swords to Plowshares would be anemic until sideboarding got involved.
Braun-Duin’s opponent? Royce Walter armed with Ad Nauseam Tendrils. One of the classic storm-based decks of the format, Walter’s plan was to sculpt a hand of fast mana – Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond – and a tutor effect to ambush an opponent with a self-copying-for-lethal Tendrils of Agony. Ad Nauseam let the storm player convert life into cards, and protecting the critical turn came on the back of cards like Cabal Therapy and Duress.
Would Walter’s battering storm sink the cruise Braun-Duin was sailing?
In the first game Braun-Duin led off with Gitaxian Probe to see the setup Walter’s storm deck had kept. Noting the massaging it would need, Braun-Duin proceeded with Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull as uncontested plays over the next few turns. Walter just worked to set up his hand. The Louisville winner wasted no time attacking, beating as Walter dug into his deck for the cards he wanted.
With 4 life left Walter had no choice but to go for it: Lotus Petal into Dark Ritual into Lion’s Eye Diamond into Infernal Tutor with an empty hand. Braun-Duin held back on trying to stop it, content to see what came next. Past in Flames was what Walter grabbed, which promised a bevvy of spells from the graveyard should it resolve.
“I’m not sure if I should have countered your Tutor there,” Braun-Duin offered as the shuffled up for the second game. “I didn’t want to add to storm count before you went off.”
“It could go either way,” Walter said. They shared a little dialogue but neither side went into true detail. There was will a match to settle.
The second game reversed the start, with Walter leading Gitaxian Probe to scope the lay of Braun-Duin’s hand. Braun-Duin returned the Probing pleasantry before casting a Meddling Mage from the sideboard. Walter cast Brainstorm before letting the Mage resolve.
Infernal Tutor was from then on verboten.
Carpet of Flowers was Walter’s from-the-sideboard response, aimed to ensure he’d have a steady flow of mana off Braun-Duin’s Islands. At least that was the plan until Wear // Tear cleared it. Meddling Mage chipped away at Walter’s life as Braun-Duin represented countermagic at every turn.
Young Pyromancer joined the fray before a second Gitaxian Probe peeked to find a hand full of mana for Walter: Cabal Ritual, two copies of Dark Ritual, two copies of Infernal Tutor, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Duress.
In other words, there was nothing to stop Braun-Duin from doing as he pleased.
Casting another Probe and making a second token on that turn, Braun-Duin was threatened 6 damage chunks going forward. At 11 life it was a short clock for Walter to find a way out.
When Walter just passed to Braun-Duin again, Brainstorm popped out to shuffle away lands off Flooded Strand. Lightning Bolt from the Volcanic Island put a fourth 1/1 Elemental token onto the battlefield, and dropping Walter to exactly 8 life.
Braun-Duin now had 8 power of creatures under his command.
After Walter drew for his turn, he extended his hand.
Brian Braun-Duin defeated Royce Walter, 2-0, to advance to the finals of Grand Prix New Jersey.