Between touring the world and earning a Top 8 at Grand Prix Santiago and breaking through with a Top 8 at Pro Tour Gatecrash, sitting at the Finals of another Grand Prix had been overdue for Melissa DeTora.
After quietly earning 5-0-1 in the draft rounds – drawing at the end to put herself and teammate Frank Lepore into the Top 8 together – DeTora had continued her march to the top unabated. With a passion for Limited and competitive pedigree to prove it, this looked like her title to win.
Eugene Hwang had just one Grand Prix Top 8 to his name as well, from Vancouver earlier this year. With his previous appearance on the back of a Standard deck, Hwang was emerging as a player to watch. Earning two Grand Prix Top 8 appearances in a year, in different formats no less, is not an easy feat.
It's a surprise coming from a player that was planning to walk away from the game. With just Grand Prix Los Angeles left on his schedule, Hwang had an exit strategy in place. Earning an invite and airfare to a Pro Tour has a way of changing one's mind on such matters.
DeTora's march to the Finals was built on a deck full of value. With beefy creatures and Temur Ascendancy together, making a steady stream of creatures with 4 or more power would be easy. Temur Charm, Savage Punch, and Force Away all synergized to buy her time to get there, or keep her ahead once the muscle was online. Behind it all, just two Temur Banners and two nonbasic lands – Rugged Highlands and Wooded Foothills – were there to help her piece it all together.
Hwang's deck seemed built to prey on DeTora's slower machine. With plenty of two-drops to apply early pressure, Hwang had also tapped into the power of morphs with Ghostfire Blade. Able to construct a 4/4 attacker from just colorless cards meant it mattered less what his mana was making: There would always be another threat. With Mardu Charm, Burn Away, and other removal to support an early rush, Hwang had cut down both his Semifinal and Quarterfinal opponents quickly. Two copies of Mardu Roughrider had seen to that throughout the Seimifinal and Quarterfinal matches.
Would it be value or speed that would take the final match of Grand Prix Orlando?
Hwang may have gone second, but his early Ghostfire Blade and stream of morphs meant his aggressive deck was off to the races first. DeTora used Alpine Grizzly and Temur Charm to slow things down, but Mardu Hordeshrieker into yet another morph tilted the battlefield back towards Hwang.
Arc Lightning cleared the Alpine Grizzly, and Hwang dropped DeTora to 11 life on the next attack. Smoke Teller, after drawing off Temur Banner, left DeTora with one card in hand. Mardu Charm cleared the blocker for Hwang, and both Force Away and Bear's Companion on the turn after bought DeTora some time.
After chump blocking her last creature, DeTora had run out of ways to slow the attack.
DeTora chose to play first again in the second game, playing a morph early to help hold off Hwang's early rush. Ruthless Ripper was backed by a morph and Mardu Charm again – DeTora revealing a deceased Icefeather Aven – but DeTora's rare Temur Ascendancy made an appearance.
With six mana in play beside it, her engine of beef and card draw was online.
Facing two morphs and the Ripper, Showhorn Rider face up was her first play to draw a card. Many more would follow. One of Hwang's rares made an appearance too: Unmorphing Jeering Insitagtor he cracked in to put DeTora down to 9 life. Alpine Bear kept the cards flowing for DeTora, letting her get a haste-fueled Jeskai Windscout on the attack.
Mardu Roughriders promised to open up attacks for Hwang, but DeTora's steady stream of beefy creatures meant Savage Punch was more than an answer. A second Snowhorn Rider put DeTora firmly in command of the battlefield, though the lone Ruthless Ripper continued to discourage the non-Jeskai Windscout creatures from attacking.
Treasure Cruise added even more to DeTora's hand, and it was clear she was setting up an alpha strike – an attack with every creature she had – to take out Hwang. On the opposite side, Hwang used bring Low to clear the Jeskai Windscout and swing in with a 3/3 Swarm of Bloodflies.
It was the last damage he would muster that game.
Force Away for the Ripper gave DeTora an attack and in came the full team: two copies of Snowhorn Rider, Tusked Colossodon, Alpine Grizzly, and Smoke Teller. Hwang blocked what he could, but Temur Charm cleared the last creature Hwang had.
"Game three." Hwang said after drawing for his turn and looking at his empty battlefield..
After taking a mulligan to five cards, DeTora had to use Wooded Foothills to set her mana up. Across from her, Hwang played a slightly slower draw with two of his enters-the-battlefield tapped lands. Chief of the Scale and Summit Prowler put DeTora to 9, but Temur Ascendancy come online from perfect mana of Island, Forest, and Mountain.
DeTora extended her hand.
"I'm sorry these things happen." Hwang offered, referring to DeTora's double mulligan start.
"It happens. But to be fair, I ran pretty good here." said DeTora, waving around the feature match area. "Congratulations."
"Thanks," said Hwang with a smile, "and you as well."
Eugene Hwang defeated Melissa DeTora, 2-1, to become the champion of Grand Prix Orlando.