Semifinals: (15) Reid Duke vs. Woodrow Engle

Posted in Event Coverage on January 11, 2016

By Corbin Hosler

While the match next to them filled the air with pregame banter, fifteenth-ranked Reid Duke and Woodrow Engle — making his first Grand Prix Top 8 appearance — opened things off in near-silence, as each examined the other's decklist and prepared for the match ahead.

For Engle, it was an opportunity to further etch his name into the competitive scene, after a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier Top 8 appearance a few months earlier left him tantalizingly close to a Pro Tour qualification.

For Duke — the Pro Tour veteran with one PT Top 8 to his name along with an astounding 15 previous Grand Prix Top 8 appearances — it was a chance to add a fourth Grand Prix title to his name while picking up precious Pro Points as he tried to make up ground in the race for the title of Grand Prix Master – and the World Championship invitation that comes with it. At 19 points entering Grand Prix Oakland, he sat six points behind leader Tomoharu Saito before the weekend began.

The Decks

Engle's deck has been around since Magic began: red-based aggro. But this season's take on the deck — a splash of green for Atarka's Command and the “combo kill” of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage — made the deck more potent than ever. If an opponent ever tapped out or ran out of blockers, they were at risk of dying on the spot.

Duke's four-color deck was possibly the most unique in the format, not to mention the most trigger-intensive. Rally the Ancestors takes advantage of a glut of small creatures that synergize incredibly well. Nantuko Husk, Catacomb Sifter, Grim Haruspex were the heavy hitters of the deck, but a host of small, value creatures like Elvish Visionary, Sidisi's Faithful and Zulaport Cutthroat allowed the deck to get into the mid and late game where returning the team with the deck's namesake would create an insurmountable amount of beneficial triggers.

The Games

Duke took the play, but it was Engle who was onto the board first, with a Zurgo Bellstriker on the first turn. It was followed with a Monastery Swiftspear and quickly Duke was down to 14 life. The pro's first play of the game came on the third turn, when Catacomb Sifter arrived to try and put up the defenses.

As the team rumbled in again for Engle, Reid tried to play around a suspected Titan's Strength and used both creatures to block Zurgo. He guessed right, as Engle revealed and cast the Strength instead on the unblocked Monastery Swiftspear. Unfortunately for Duke, a Become Immense followed and out of nowhere put him down to just two life before flooding the board further with Dragon Fodder.

With one last chance to stabilize the board, Duke brought out Sidisi's Faithful to bounce the Swiftspear to try and buy a turn. But when Abbot of Keral Keep revealed another Zurgo, Engle had exactly the number of attackers he needed to end the game.

The second contest started similarly, with Monastery Swiftspear applying the pressure from the first turn on. Reid's second-turn play of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy was thrown under the bus to trade for a Titan's Strength, but Arashin Cleric stabilized the ground after that for Duke, who was able to hold off the hordes of goblin tokens that Engle produced.

When Reid just passed back on the next turn, it looked like Engle might have a window to attack. Instead that attack was met with a Murderous Cut, and Collected Company for Duke filled his board with blockers.

Sitting on a pair of Become Immense, Engle certainly had the power to end the game, if only he could find a window to get an attacker through. Any haste creature or token maker would give him an opportunity, but instead he found a third copy of Become Immense. That forced him to pass the turn back yet again, giving Duke the opportunity to fire off another Collected Company and increase his lead.

Engle's next two draws yielded the other half of his combo, but the army of blockers backed up by a timely Dispel was enough for Duke to send the pair into a third and final game.

Like clockwork, Engle had Monastery Swiftspear on the first turn of the game, this time with the benefit of being on the play. A second-turn Titan's Strength meant that Duke was down to 13 life by the time he cracked his fetch land for his first mana of the game. A Hordeling Outburst and Atarka's Command followed, and Duke was down to 5 life and backed up squarely against the wall.

In need of a big play, Duke went to the well with Collected Company, hoping his deck would provide him the defense he needed. It did exactly that, turning up Elvish Visionary and Catacomb Sifter. When Zulaport Cutthroat followed on his turn and assembled the, Duke was able to make his way back to 8 life and block all of Engle's creatures.

In the course of one turn cycle Duke had completely reversed his fortunes, and it was now Engle who needed to find an answer on top of his deck as Duke began crashing in with his excess creatures. When he library yielded nothing, he extended his hand and congratulated Duke on advancing to the finals.

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