A pair of Grand Prix Top 8 first-timers entered the final match of Grand Prix Pittsburgh. Aaron Webster, a 23-year-old Syracuse native had torn through the tournament and even dispatched 25th-ranked Craig Wescoe in the semifinals, while Alex Bianchi had taken a unique twist on a classic deck and had scraped out Game 3s in both the quarter and semifinals.
One of them would leave a Grand Prix champion.
Bianchi’s deck was what has become the Modern standby: Splinter Twin, though with a unique twist. He was playing the classic combo with Deceiver Exarch, Pestermite and Splinter Twin, but rather than the strict blue-red shell most players used, Bianchi arrived with a Jeskai twist on the archetype. The white mana gave him access to Path to Exile as removal and Celestial Colonnade as a way to build late-game pressure. Unlike many modern-day Twin decks, Bianchi also opted to go all-in on the combo, shaving down to just one Cryptic Command to include copies of Restoration Angel and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.
Across from him sat his second-straight Affinity opponent. This time it was Aaron Webster, who had navigated the familiar aggro deck through a field of combo all weekend long. Affinity may seem like a straightforward deck, but it’s notoriously difficult to play optimally. Webster, an old hand with the robots, played well all weekend and now had a chance to add a Grand Prix title with one more win.
Aaron Webster had brought his favorite deck all the way to the finals of Grand Prix Pittsburgh, and now had a chance to end the tournament with a title.
It was an overly explosive start, but Mox Opal allowed Webster to power out Etched Champion on the second turn and send a second to join it on the next one. It wasn’t a ton of power, but it was resilient power, and quickly began to take chunks out of Bianche’s life total. With removing the Champions impossible and racing impractical, Bianchi was all-in on his combo.
His deck cooperated, giving him Deceiver Exarch on the third turn with the ability to follow up with Splinter Twin. But a timely Galvanic Blast from Webster nixed that plan and ended the first game in a hurry.
Webster had a slow start again in the second game, though he made sure Bianchi did as well thanks to a pair of Thoughtseize. The discard spells left Bianchi with two Splinter Twins but no way to use them.
The only problem was that Webster had no pressure to back them up, and Stony Silence slowed him even further. A steady stream of Snapcaster Mage and Serum Visions followed as Bianchi searched for a way to win, but even with the additional draws he was unable to find a fourth land to unlock the Splinter Twins in his hand. What he did find was removal, and he systematically mowed down every creature Webster could muster. Etched Champion threatened to finish what the Memnite and Blinkmoth Nexus had started, but Vendilion Clique gave Bianchi the upper hand in the race, forcing the Etched Champion to stay back on defense. A Lightning Bolt and another Snapcaster Mage to flashback the Bolt was enough to end things a turn later.
Alex Bianchi had played all three of his Top 8 matches to the final game, and the final was no exception.
That sent the pair into the deciding game with the Grand Prix on the line. It was a slow start on both sides, as Bianchi’s Celestial Colonnade was answered only by a Turn 2 Arcbound Ravager, which was sent on a Path to Exile when Etched Champion followed it up. Without the Ravager in play, the Champion found itself in a position seldom seen: lacking Metalcraft.
Searching for a way to win the game, Bianchi began to take hits from Webster’s army, with three Inkmoth Nexus upping the Poison count while Etched Champion worked on Bianchi’s life total. Deceiver Exarch bought a turn from one of the Inkmoths, and a follow-up Restoration Angel did the same while also threatening to stop the air force in its tracks. That prompted Webster to pull the trigger on the Galvanic Blast he had been saving all game, opting to try and remove the Angel rather than save it for a possible combo.
It was a calculated risk, but one that was rendered irrelevant by Dispel. With the Angel now holding off the attacks, it became a race: would Bianchi find a Splinter Twin before Webster’s Etched Champion finished things off?
The next draw step yielded no answer, just another Serum Visions as the tension grew.
“Do you have it?” Webster asked anxiously as Bianchi peeked at his top two cards.
“Great games,” Webster said as conceded the match and and officially sent Bianche to the title in his first Grand Prix Top 8 appearance.