Posted in GRAND PRIX ORLANDO 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on October 5, 2014

By Rich Hagon

Rich Hagon combines a deep knowledge of the players of the Pro Tour with a passionate love of the game. He's a regular commentator for Pro Tour and Grand Prix live video coverage, and is the official Pro Tour Statistician. He has been covering Magic events since 2006.

At 9-2, both players in this closing match of the first draft of the day knew that only a win could keep them in contention for the Top 8. On the left, Seth Manfield. Two of his four Grand Prix Top 8s resulted in trophies on the mantelpiece, at Daytona Beach 2007, and Kansas City 2013. On the right, Ari Lax. His Grand Prix career is arguably even better, with seven Top 8s culminating in a title-winning run at Grand Prix Toronto 2013. While he's still waiting for a Pro Tour Top 8, he's been as close as you can possibly get, finishing 9th at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica 2012.

Both players started the day on 7-2, and both had lost earlier in the draft to Sol Malka, who had put together a spicy little number featuring no fewer than five copies of Jeskai Windscout. Lax was solidly four color, leaving green alone. Manfield had gone the distance, basing himself in Abzan, but spreading out across the full five colors, with a ton of manafixing lands.

Game 1

The players seemed bent on destroying the rules of probability early, as the first five lands came into play tapped, gaining Lax three life and Manfield two. Six of the first eight lands into play were mana fixing life-gainers, allowing the mid-game to develop quickly after the slow start. Morphs were much in evidence, but blowouts were hard to come by. Lax established a board of Highspire Mantis and Abzan Battle Priest, while Manfield had the last remaining morph on the battlefield, lined up alongside Bear's Companion, and the Bear's Companion's companion aka a 4/4.

Lax was always going to be ahead in the race – Abzan Battle Priest with a counter will do that for you. Manfield was down to 2 life, but had so many cards in hand that Lax was forced to play very conservatively. That wasn't a problem. Dazzling Ramparts created critical tap opportunities late in the game, and Pearl Lake Ancient behaved exactly as you might expect – it was good.

Manfield 0 – 1 Lax

Game 2

Lax has been roundly singing the praises of Ponyback Brigade throughout the weekend, so it was a testament to the power of Manfield's turn two Heir of the Wilds that Lax was so eager to trade for his face-down morph. He has a curious habit of semi-commentating on his own games. When opponents pause, he'll say 'unmorphing your Sagu guy?', or he'll attack with comments like, 'squad you!' There was good reason to attack with everything, since he had a counter on an Abzan Battle Priest, and an Abzan Falconer making it fly, together with Sage of the Inward Eye.

'Rares and Uncommons and perfect mana' sang Lax*, as he watched Manfield's land row stuffed full of nothing but Forests and Swamps. Revealing his deck after the game, Manfield showed eight non-basic lands to go with the horrendous suite of basics-only in play. That's the downside to playing five color when it doesn't come together. Even with morphs, there's ultimately nothing that can save you.

Manfield 0 – 2 Lax

*Please note: The 'roundly singing' at the start of the game 2 report was a journalistic caprice. The 'Rares and Uncommons and perfect mana' line later in the game? That was actual singing.

Ari Lax – 4 color

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Seth Manfield – 5 color

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