ROUND 7: TOM ROSS VS. KEVIN ZHAO

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

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

While the Magic Online Community Cup put him onto our Twitch.tv screens everywhere recently, it hasn't been since his runner-up finish at Grand Prix Houston last year Tom Ross has been in the premier Magic spotlight. With a Pro Tour Top 8 from Honolulu in 2009 and another Grand Prix Top 8 shortly before that, is might seem as though Ross hasn't been playing competitive Magic recently.

Looking along the scoreboards of StarCityGames' Open Series tells a different tale.

Ross has been playing plenty of Magic, and doing quite well holding his own among the top performers on the Open Series. Thanks to near-weekly tournaments all across the US, Ross has only cemented his skills practicing Constructed formats. Grand Prix Houston, if you check back, was a Limited event.

Skill is like a blade, and Ross was keeping his sharp in all directions.

Of course, repeating a deep run this weekend was a long way off. Kevin Zhao, one of the many trying their hands at Khans of Tarkir Sealed this weekend was standing in the way. Coming into the round each player had a draw, which is often as bad as a lass: Only players with 21 or more points can return for Day 2, and earning just one through a draw doesn't help one get there.

For both players losing this match would be just like losing a second game, setting them into the path where no more losses were possible.

The Decks

Both players brought four-color decks to bear. Ross was firmly Abzan, with powerful monsters such as Ivorytust Fortress, High Sentinels of Arashin, and Rakshasa Deathdealer to work with, backed up by a splash of blue for Sagu Mauler. Two copies each of Savage Punch and Debilitating Injury rounded out a redundant removal package for Ross.

Zhao, too, packed a copy of High Sentinels of Arashin, but white was his splash color. With the dash of white to support Flying Crane Technique as well, Zhao brought the ferocity of the Temur with him: Bear's Companion, Winterflame, and some Jeskai converts in Riverwheel Aerialists and two copies of Mystic of the Hidden Way. With the ability to punch damage through and overrun through the air, Zhao's removal was fewer in number but mattered much more for him.

The Games

Zhao led with an early Temur Charger, clocking Ross repeatedly as the Community Cup champion assembled a morph to pair with Ghostfire Blade. Mystic of the Hidden Way was Zhao's mystery revealed, putting Ross to just 10 life.

Tom Ross battled from behind to take the first game.

Sidisi'd Pet was Ross's morph, netting him three life thanks to the Equipment buff, but Zhao kept ahead with a Sultai Flayer to up his race.

Sagu Mauler was Ross's other morph, eating Zhao's Temur Charger on the next attack and stabilizing his blocking situation. While Zhao had a Leaping Master at the ready next to his Mystic of the Hidden Way, he didn't have the white mana needed to make it jump. Murderous Cut took away Zhao's attacks altogether, forcing him to face an incoming Sagu Mauler next turn.

High Sentinels of Arashin, followed by a Savage Punch from his beefy Sidisi's Pet, was enough for Ross to finish the game.

In the second game, Zhao led the way again but off of a mulligan to five cards. While Trail of Mystery promised to supply Zhao with the lands he wanted, Ross had the time to set up an Abzan Falconer using its outlast ability, and a morph. While Ross's morph paired off in a trade with Zhao's, Ross followed up with Ivorytusk Fortress.

Starting with just five cards put Kevin Zhao at a distinct disadvantage in the second game.

High Sentinels of Arashin took a Savage Punch from the Fortress, opening the door for Ross to take Zhao down to just 6 life. Sultai Flayer looked to buy another turn, but Throttle took care of the last blocker against Ross.

It was over before either player could blink.

"Are you five colors?" Ross asked.

"No I'm just four." Zhao said. "Not a Swamp in sight."

There was a moment of quiet as Ross flicked two cards out of his deck – a foil and non-foil Ghostfire Blade each – and waited for Zhao to look up.

"Oh wow. Two of them! That's tough to beat."

Two games. Two Blades. Two games cut through. Ross didn't miss the mark.

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