It's been over twelve years since Sol Malka claimed his Grand Prix Tampa title. In the interim he's never stopped opening booster packs and drafting Magic along the way. With his name attached as the originator of The Rock archetype – black-green decks that grind away at opponents' resources – and a travel range limited to the Southeast United States, it's easy to miss his name.
Narrowly missing an undefeated record on Day 1 and delivering a decisive run across his first two Khans of Tarkir drafts makes it clear how much skill, and maintaining it over time, really matters in the game. With a calm countenance, he never seemed frazzled and always played to his plans.
His plans have earned him a spot at next February's Pro Tour Fate Reforged. Not bad to 12 years of practice in between.
Across from him sat Pro Tour Magic 2015 Top 4 contender and Grand Prix Oklahoma City winner Pierre Mondon. Returning to the Pro Tour from that Grand Prix win, and extending his stay thanks to his performance upon arrival, it exactly what one would call a hot streak.
Here, in a totally new Limited format it's obvious that Mondon's streak hadn't cooling down.
While Malka had marched to the Top 8 using primarily two-color focused decks, his Top 8 selection was much more in line with what had been seen all day: A bevy of nonbasic lands to supporting casting heavyweights such as Siege Rhino, Rakshasa Deathdealer, and Sagu Mauler were all powerful rares in their own right. The bulk of Malka's deck was a core of black creature and removal with some green to support delve, a powerful base to unlock his multicolor beatsticks.
Mondon meanwhile crafted a deck closer to true clan roots. Building an aggressive Mardu deck around the power of Ankle Shanker, Crackling Doom, and Mardu Charm, it wasn't clear what two copies of Mardu Banner were doing alongside them. Two copies of Mardu Warshireker with on-color nonbasic lands to help fix mana seemed to set Mondon up to always have a way to cast his most colorful spells.
Malka led the first game early with Rakshasa Deathdealer, backed up with removal like Debilitating Injury. Mondon spent a Mardu Charm to deal with it before unleashing Ankle Shanker upon the world. Malka declined to block with Kheru Bloodsucker and Sultai Scavenger, but used Mardu Skullhunter and Rakshasa's Secret to shred everything out of Mondon's hand.
"It would have been better before you started delving everything." Mondon said.
Malka used the next few turns to set up his battlefield: Longshot Squad came cracking in as Disowned Ancester sat back to block and threaten life draining through Kheru Bloodsucker. Outlast began to trickle in for Malka, content to build a bigger army before overrunning Mondon's Mardu Warshrieker and Sidisi's Pet.
When Mondon attacked with a lonely Pet, Malka blocked with plenty to kill it.
"Wingmate Roc?" Malka asked.
"I wish it was that good." Mondon said as he played Madru Hordechief instead.
Siege Rhino took the life totals to 6 to 13 in Malka's favor. A turn later Malka's army came crashing in behind the Rhino. It was more than Mondon could take.
"Your deck is sweet!" Mondon said. "Lights out."
Sol Malka 1 – Pierre Mondon 0
"I've been playing Magic a long time. I played in the very first PTQ there was." Malka answered when Mondon asked how long he'd been playing.
"The first?" Mondon was a bit incredulous, but Malka's four digit DCI number was proof enough.
"Yeah." It was a quick lesson in history.
History has a way of repeating itself.
The second game started off with a mulligan and slow start for Mondon, and Malka took advantage with early attacks and Mardu Skullhunter. At least until Sidisi's Pet put the brakes on Malka's plans. While Mondon attacked and lost his Sidisi's Pet a turn later, the follow up Mardu Heart-Piercer took out a morphed Sagu Mauler.
"Oh! Lucky!" Mondon was thrilled to answer a threat like that.
"It was along way off," Malka admitted when he put it into the graveyard.
"That's the kind of Scout the Borders I like to see!" Malka said, taking the Swamp and immediately replacing the Sultai Scavenger for just one mana. Kill Shot answered that the next turn, but a second Mardu Skullhunter kept pressure on Mondon's hand. Mondon's Burn Away answered a growing Disowned Ancestor, and Arrow Storm handled Malka's Longshot Squad.
Murderous Cut in reply finally cleared the last blocker for Mondon, and the pair of Skullhunters crashed in with Rakshasa's Deathdealer joining in behind. Out of blockers and removal, Mondon extended the handshake and revealed the two lands left in his flooded hand.
"I really like your deck. I think it's got a great shot." Mondon gushed.
"Thanks." said Malka. Descending into sideboard and draft options was a lighthearted ending to a long day of Limited.
Sol Malka defeated Pierre Mondon, 2-0.