The final match pitted together two of the strongest players in the hall: Ben Stark and Petr Sochůrek. Ben Stark is a member of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame who most notably won Pro Tour Paris 2011, which was held in the same city as this weekend's Grand Prix. Petr Sochůrek may not be as well known, but by the players who know him well, he is regarded as one of the best players in Europe. You can read more about him in an interview from several months ago. After solid finishes at Pro Tour and Grand Prix events earlier this season, he had already assembled a large amount of pro points, and his finals appearance in this tournament meant that he clinched Gold level, which earns him a qualification for all Pro Tours in the current and next season.
While we're likely to see this young Czech talent at the top tables at future premier events, the final match here in Paris was one between Stark's Dark Jeskai and Sochůrek's Grixis Control. Both decks used the powerful legendary creatures Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet alongside spells such as Fiery Impulse and Murderous Cut to be flashed back and to generate tokens. But beyond that similar core, the decks differed a bit.
Ben Stark (left) and Petr Sochůrek (right)
Stark had stretched his mana base for a number of white cards. For instance, he had cheap two-mana and three-mana threats in Soulfire Grand Master and Mantis Rider. In constrast, Sochůrek relied more on expensive planeswalkers such as Chandra, Flamecaller and Ob Nixilis Reignited to win later in the game. Due to these differences, Stark could go under Sochůrek and defeat him quickly if his opponent would have a slow draw, but in the end, the matchup would likely be grindy and come down to card advantage.
"Four Painful Truths? I'm gonna get crushed!" Sochůrek said when the players looked over each other's decklists before the match.
"You have four Dig Through Time. It evens out," Stark offered as a consolation.
Stark got to be on the play due to having the higher seeding after the Swiss, but he was unable to take advantage due to a lack of lands. At a certain point in the game, Stark had Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, 2 Mantis Rider, Crackling Doom, Murderous Cut, Disdainful Stroke, and Roast in hand with only four lands on the battlefield, while Sochůrek had seven lands in play with little to no action.
Stark kept passing the turn to keep mana up for Disdainful Stroke rather than committing a threat and tapping out in the process. As he explained after the match, he was scared of a big card like Chandra, Flamecaller, Ob Nixilis Reignited, or Dig Through Time, and he wanted to make sure he was in a position to counter them.
Hall of Famer Ben Stark was feeling the trophy slip away from him during the finals.
While that was smart, Sochůrek saw through that plan, so he patiently waited until he could cast Duress and Chandra, Flamecaller in the same turn. Duress took Disdainful Stroke, the planeswalker resolved, and an activation of the zero ability allowed Sochůrek to cash in a bunch of lands for fresh cards. One of those cards was Fiery Impulse, which crucially shot down the Mantis Rider that Stark summoned on the next turn.
Another activation of Chandra's zero ability yielded Dig Through Time, which allowed Sochůrek to snowball his advantage. When he cast Dig Through Time number two, Stark saw no way out and conceded the game to Sochůrek card advantage engine.
Petr Sochůrek 1 - Ben Stark 0
The game started with a Transgress the Mind from both players. Whereas Sochůrek managed to exile Painful Truths, Stark wasn't able to exile anything at all! Sochůrek's hand contained Fiery Impulse, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, 2 Dispel, and Dragonmaster Outcast, which meant that there were no legal targets for Stark's Transgress the Mind to exile.
Gold-level pro Petr Sochůrek adequately protected his Dragonmaster Outcast.
When Sochůrek passed the turn with six lands on the battlefield, Stark cast Crackling Doom. This is where Sochůrek made a great call. Rather than countering the Crackling Doom with his Dispel (so that he could make a 5/5 Dragon token on the next turn) Sochůrek activated his Wandering Fumarole and sacrificed his creature-land instead. This put him down to 5 lands, which meant that he wouldn't receive a free Dragon yet, but it allowed him to save his Dispel for Stark's Dig Through Time.
This was a great play because Dig Through Time could potentially find more card drawing spells as well as removal spells for Sochůrek's creatures. Soon enough, Stark's Dig Through Time was countered indeed, and the game went downhill for the American in the ChannelFireball outfit. A 5/5 Dragon token came down, and it wasn't long until Sochůrek could attack for lethal damage.
Petr Sochůrek 2 - Ben Stark 0
"Congratulations. You played very well," Stark said as he extended his hand in defeat. "So many players would have played Dispel on Crackling Doom there, but you kept it for my Dig Through Time. I knew I lost when you sacrificed Wandering Fumarole instead."
Congratulations to Petr Sochůrek, your Grand Prix Paris champion!