Ladies and gentlemen, Paul Cheon is back. The ChannelFireball mainstay, and one of the best players from the bay area from the mid to late 2000s, will be making his way back onto the Pro Tour this October. He is joined by longtime friend and Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas, as well as friend and No. 23 Ranked Player Eric Froehlich. The three players locked up their Top 4 spot in the final round, giving Cheon a great weekend and both Scott-Vargas and Froehlich solid starts to the 2014-2015 season.
Their opponents for the Semifianl match feature familiar faces, if you were following coverage for the last year. It's hard not to respect the incredible seasons that No. 2, 3, and 4 Ranked Players had over the last twelve months. Owen Turtenwald, Reid Duke, and William Jensen have all finished in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour in the last twelve months, and their performances for the last year may have led to their Top 4 berth this weekend being the least surprising of the 649 teams that came to compete in Portland.
How did their matches progress? Let's find out.
Scott-Vargas vs. Jensen
Scott-Vargas was on a first-game rampage with his red-green deck, as Borderland Marauder, Netcaster Spider, and Kird Chieftain gave him the early upper hand.Jensen quickly found himself at 8 life with his white-blue deck. Jensen put up little resistance and was soon picking up his cards for a second game.
The second game was Jensen's lead, as Divine Favor and his flying creatures put him in an early lead over Scott-Vargas in what amounted to races.
In the third game, Jensen consulted with Turtenwald over keeping a one-lander. Ultimately, the two agreed that the hand was worth the risk.
Left to right: No. 3 Ranked Player Reid Duke, No. 4 Ranked Player William Jensen, No. 2 Ranked Player Owen Turtenwald
When Jensen found his lands on queue, the reasons unfolded. Early creatures traded with Scott-Vargas's few threats, and a Chasm Stalker quickly began to reach unanswerable proportions. Scott-Vargas got one whole land mine from a Goblin Kaboomist, and that wasn't going to answer the Stalker, as Jensen's blue creature beat Scott-Vargas into submission.
Froehlich vs. Turtenwald
Turtenwald was the one out of the gates in his match against Froehlich, with a first-turn Cruel Sadist that started charging up. Black Cat joined it, and the Razorfoot Griffin that Froehlich deployed looked like a fine target to shoot down.
However, Turtenwald decided that beating down was better. An attack dropped Froehlich to 17, and Necrogen Scudder came down, dropping Turtenwald to 15. Charging Rhino gave Froehlich a beefy ground blocker but would do little in the face of Turtenwald's Scudder.
Living Totem grew the Razorfoot Griffin for Froehlich, and Pillar of Light disposed of Turtenwald's Cruel Sadist when he made it a 4/4. The result was Froehlich had stabilized the board, as Turtenwald was in no position to throw away creatures to the Griffin for attacks.
And when Froehlich began attacking with the Griffin, it became clear that he had moved into having the upper hand. Stab Wound on the Scudder left Turtenwald bleeding, and thanks to some of his own card effect, found himself at 9 despite Froehlich having attacked very little. Froehlich set up his defenses and stopped any attacks with Turtenwald's creature now inflicted with the Stab Wound, content to let Turtenwald lose 2 life increments.
Turtenwald, meanwhile, was stranded on a single white mana and no white creatures, meaning his Triplicate Spirits was stuck in hand.
Game 2 was a more lopsided affair, as Turtenwald bashed in turn after turn with evasive creatures. First Accursed Spirit, then Carrion Crow, then Triplicate Spirits. Froehlich managed to build a large flying creature for a few turns, and a Carnivorous Moss-Beast gave him a sizable creature to combat with, he was ultimately helpless to Turtenwald's evasion and went to the third and final game.
Froehlich's two Raise the Alarms in the first few turns of Game 3 were met by Witch's Familiar from Turtenwald. When one of those soldier tokens received Marked by Honor, Turtenwald quickly shrank it back down to a 2/2 with Crippling Blight. However, Hunt the Weak allowed Froehlich to grow the enchanted token back up to a 3/3, all while clearing away Turtenwald's only blocker. At 9 life, Turtenwald's drawn Necrogen Scudder seems rather unexciting, and when Froehlich's aggression proved to be too much, Turtenwald conceded as all eyes focused on Cheon and Duke's match, who were going into the third and final game.
Cheon vs. Duke
Conveniently, commentator Tim Willoughby was off-camera and offered his help in observing the two games that led to this moment. For an in-depth look on the Duke and Cheon match, click here.
Cheon's second-turn Satyr Wayfinder was met with Bronze Sable along with Ornithopter from Duke, signaling the impending Ensoul Artifact waiting in Duke's hand. Sure enough, the Ornithopter became a 5/5 and put Cheon on a fast clock on the next turn. However, Cheon was willing to race, as a third-turn Living Totem left him with a 3/3 Satyr and a three-power totem when Paragon of Eternal Wilds came down on the fourth turn. Attacks left Duke at 14 and Cheon at 15.
However, when Duke drew another Ensoul Artifact, enchanting a Tormod's Crypt cast on the previous turn, Cheon was put in a difficult position. Not only did Duke have a potential chump-blocker with the Sable, but if Cheon didn't block with his Paragon, the Ornithopter represented a lethal strike on the next turn.
Cheon ultimately took the 10, going to 5.
And at 5, Cheon was dead from multiple angles. Even if he had removal for one of Duke's 5/5 artifact creatures, a Lava Axe was sitting in hand should Duke reach five lands. With no way out, Cheon offered the handshake.