It was a matchup of dreamers in the semifinals. Both Robert Cucunato and Alex Bianchi were making their first appearance in the elimination rounds of a Grand Prix, and both were newly qualified for the Pro Tour thanks to their Top 8 appearance. Fortunately for them, the Pro Tour they qualified for in Atlanta is the same format that they just demonstrated excellence in with their run at Grand Prix Pittsburgh.
Cucunato arrived armed with the deck that has served him well for more than a decade: Affinity. He was proud of the fact he’s played the deck since its emergence in Standard, and it’s served him well since the creation of Modern.
Bianchi’s deck was another Modern favorite, though with a unique twist. He was playing the classic Splinter Twin combo, but rather than the strict blue-red shell most pilots opted for Bianchi added white to his deck. The Jeskai flavor 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.
Alex Bianchi’s unique Splinter Twin deck carried him into the Top 8 and punched his ticket to the Pro Tour.
Taking advantage of his higher seed, Bianchi opted for the play, and was able to use the tempo to catch a first-turn Vault Skirge with a Spell Snare before dispatching Steel Overseer with Path to Exile.
A Spellskite seemed like it was a turn late for Cucunato, but while it didn’t save the first Steel Overseer it was enough to protect the second while also preventing a Splinter Twin combo. Its presence forced Bianchi to burn his only Path to Exile on the Spellskite while also defending against an ever-growing army of Signal Pest and Inkmoth Nexus. After going to five poison from the first hit, Bianchi was forced to trade away Celestial Colonnade and Pestermite to survive the second attack. With only a Deceiver Exarch on board, he needed to find an answer in the next draw step or die.
And that was exactly what his deck served up, with Splinter Twin coming off the top to combo off and close out the first game.
One of the biggest draws to Affinity is the sheer power it can spew out in the first turn of the game. That’s exactly what Cucunato did in the second game, ending his first turn with Inkmoth Nexus, Memnite, Springleaf Drum, Mox Opal and Cranial Plating all in play before Bianchi even had a turn.
With Path to Exile in hand, Bianchi could potentially handle an attack or two from the Memnite, but instead Cucunato tapped it to Springleaf Drum to cast Etched Champion. When it resolved and was equipped by Cranial Plating, the game ended two quick turns later.
Robert Cucunato has been a friend of the robots for years, and they served him well this weekend.
That sent the pair into the decider, and after a mulligan from Cucunato, Bianchi sent himself to 17 to cast Serum Visions on the first turn. The life was well worth it, though, as Visions turned up a Stony Silence that he cast on the next turn.
Given that Cucunato started on Darksteel Citadel and Springleaf Drum, that was more than enough to vault him into the lead. Rather than play the follow-up Cranial Plating from his hand, Cucunato was forced to just attack with Memnite and later Blinkmoth Nexus, slowly poking away at Bianchi’s life total. As slow as it was, it began to work. When Dismember removed Bianchi’s would-be blocker in Deceiver Exarch, the attacks from the 1/1s brought Bianchi all the way down to 9.
That’s where things ended. Bianchi took care of the small creatures with Electrolyze, and followed up with Pia and Kiran Nalaar, a deadly duo that ended the game on the next turn and sent Bianchi into the finals.