Going into the weekend, Belgium's Peter Vieren had two Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, but such accomplishments were decidedly dwarfed by those of his opponent in round four. Hall of Famer Ben Stark could boast a whopping 17 Top 8s at the GP level and another four at the Pro Tour, including one win at each.
So yes, Vieren was the clear underdog here with regards to past results. The result of the match at hand, however, would also come down to the decks these two had chosen. Stark was playing Dark Jeskai, while Vieren was on Blue-Red Prowess.
"I don't know who's the favorite here statistically," Stark said later. "I have cheap removal and Duress. But against that deck you're never, ever safe."
Nominally, Vieren's was the more aggressive deck, but the early game was all Stark's. He led with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, killed Vieren's Stormchaser Mage with Crackling Doom, summoned Mantis Rider, and even managed to transform Jace.
Vieren fought back with another Stormchaser Mage and Abbot of Keral Keep, but Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet rose from its coffin to put the final nail into Vieren's. Impervious to most burn spells, the lifelink creature was poised to take over the game.
Vieren had another trick up his sleeve, though. After Slip Through Space, Fiery Impulse, and Grip of the Roil, his attackers managed to kill Jace, Telepath Unbound, with Mantis Rider burned to death and Kalitas currently inconvenienced.
Suddenly, Stark found himself on the backfoot and had to face some Painful Truths to replenish his resources. Vieren went for the kill with another Stormchaser Mage plus Titan's Strength. Murderous Cut saved Stark and also gave him a Zombie token via Kalitas.
The Traitor of Ghet was now free from the Grip of the Roil as well, and when Stark cast Chandra, Flamecaller for an additional 6 power worth of attackers, it was Vieren who found himself taking lethal damage.
"That game was so close," said Stark. "If you had a second Titan's Strength there, or probably even any card draw spell, that would have been it."
Peter Vieren 0-1 Ben Stark
Things changed somewhat for the second game, especially for Stark who brought in additional cheap interactive spells from the sideboard. Still, and despite Vieren missing his land drop on turn three, it wasn't enough.
After both players had traded various burn spells versus creatures, Vieren was able to mount a lethal attack with two Stormchaser Mages, Elusive Spellfist, and Abbot of Keral Keep. Stark tried to avert his impending doom via Crackling Doom, but Vieren had Dispel and evened the score.
Peter Vieren 1-1 Ben Stark
The final game again began with creatures being picked off one by one. Vieren was a little short on lands, limited to just casting one of the many 2-mana creatures he had drawn per turn. He took a bit of risk with Magmatic Insight and didn't find another land with either the card draw spell or with Abbot of Keral Keep.
Meanwhile, Stark was pulling ahead in cards with a pair of Painful Truths, but obviously paid for that in life. When he lost his Mantis Rider to Fiery Impulse, Abbot of Keral Keep and Stormchaser Mage were able to bring him to 6.
Stark, however, rallied magnificently, cast Dig Through Time, then Soulfire Grand Master, and then Roast to pull himself out of immediate danger. Elusive Spellfist and Expedite for Vieren tried to keep up some pressure, but then Stark untapped and summoned Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, before applying further burn spells. Each of Vieren's dying creatures now gave Zombie tokens as well as extra life to Stark, and it didn't take long before Vieren extended his hand in concession.
Peter Vieren 1-2 Ben Stark