Players and spectators alike were palpably anxious as they waited for the final match of Grand Prix Portland to begin. They shifted from one foot to another, striking up quick conversations while their eyes flicked from one person to another, and finally to the two seats remaining in the tournament.
Travis Woo, playing White-Black Control, had yet to face Jund Delirium. He worked his way through a mental list of the deck's biggest threats, ticking off Ishkanah, Distended Mindbender, and, of course, Emrakul, while wondering if Mindwrack Demon would join the crowd.
Santana entered the finals confident in the power of those same threats, and particularly in the power of his pair of Distended Mindbenders. His phone buzzed almost constantly, alight with text and Twitter alerts carrying best wishes from his family and friends.
Finally, the players settled into their seats and took a preliminary look at one another's decklists.
"Oath of Liliana," Santana said. "Yeah, that card is good against me. That card is really good against me."
"This is the first time I've played against Kozilek's Return," Woo remarked.
A minute later they set the lists aside and prepared to face what they'd seen on paper in person.
Woo chose the play, and both players took a look at their opening seven cards.
"How badly do I want to Grasp a Pilgrim's Eye?" Woo mused. The question was rhetorical, however, as he was already shuffling away his opening hand. A better six-card hand secured, the players began game one.
Woo chose to play his Oath of Liliana on turn three, while Santana had no creatures to sacrifice. Santana punished the play with a Pilgrim's Eye. Woo declined to kill the demure artifact creature, instead casting a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and adding both a Knight and a Zombie to his board. It was a play that would come back to haunt him in the late turns of the game.
On his following turn, Santana sacrificed the Pilgrim's Eye to cast a Distended Mindbender. Santana's all-star stripped Woo's hand of a Ruinous Path and an Ob Nixilis, leaving Woo with only a land. A top-decked Ruinous Path, however, looked like it would put the game away for Woo as it cleared away Santana's only creature.
Santana stabilized at 2 life. Persistent Ishkanahs, bringing with them swarms of smaller Spiders, further fortified his position.
"I have a lot of game-winning top-decks!" Woo said during his next three draw steps, but none of them were quite the card he needed. A pair of Gideons were Woo's next plays, putting Zombies and Knights into play. These unlikely allies couldn't chip in for the last few points of damage.
Santana used a Liliana, the Last Hope to return his Distended Mindbender to his hand. This time the card triggered a Kozilek's Return in Santana's graveyard, cleaning up Woo's hard-earned board presence.
A turn later Santana began the ominous count of card types in his graveyard. It's as sure a harbinger of Emrakul as Nahiri herself. Sure enough, the Eldrazi titan hit the table and secured Santana's Game 1 victory.
"Do I really want to slow down to kill a Pilgrim's Eye?" Woo asked again, mulling over his earlier plays.
"That's the question everyone's been asking themselves today," Santana replied.
"It feels bad."
"It sure does."
"I was one Fiery Impulse away," Woo lamented.
As the players sideboarded for Game 2, spectators struck up a lively discussion of the finalists' dueling buns. Unwittingly, they'd created what we feel obligated to call "The Bunderdome."
"Two buns enter, one bun leaves! Which bun will prevail?" a judge wondered.
"I hear that's the nickname they have for me on chat," Santana said. "Bun-lirium."
Both players mulliganed to six cards, Woo lamenting a hand with too few lands and Santana a hand with too many.
"Do you want the Eye, or do you want the Mindbender?" Santana asked.
"The Mindbender," Woo said without pause.
A few turns later Woo cast an Infinite Obliteration, naming the Den Protector he knew was in Santana's hand. He was hoping to rob Santana of the opportunity to return an Ishkanah from his graveyard, put there by Woo's Ob Nixilis. But a Grapple with the Past in Santana's hand returned the legendary Spider in spite of Woo's efforts.
"There's a lot that could go wrong with that play," Woo admitted. "I could just lose to Spiders."
That Ishkanah proved too persistent for Woo to keep off the table for more than a turn at a time, and Woo eventually declined to kill the Spider, accepting that it was destined to remain on the battlefield.
But then Santana again began the fateful count of card types in his graveyard.
She indeed brought around the tournament's promised end.
As Santana controlled Woo's turn, Ob Nixilis killed the Shambling Vent and Woo's remaining creatures made unwise attacks into the 13/13 titan.
On his post-Emrakul turn, Woo had a handful of non-instants he could draw to handle the now-lethal Emrakul.
His first draw saw a land. A draw with Ob Nixilis found him a Read the Bones.
Woo scried two cards to the bottom. His next card was a land.
"This needs to be a Planar Outburst," Woo said, his hand on his final draw.
It was not.
At 10 life and facing 13 points of damage from Emrakul, Woo extended his hand.
Santana is your GP Portland champion, taking the finals two games to none.