Four players remain, pacing the feature match area, awaiting the semifinals of Grand Prix Portland. A few feet away, friends and spectators stand pressed against the ropes separating them from the tournament's top tables. The competitors take their seats under the cameras and shuffle up, only one fateful match between them and the Grand Prix finals.
Robert Santana, from El Monte, California, came to Portland with Jund Delirium. Distended Mindbender has been a standout card for him this tournament, making it fitting that it's the card that drew him to play the deck in the first place. Santana stumbled during the early rounds of the tournament, picking up a few loses to innovative decks, but stabilized and successfully battled through more familiar decks on day two.
Across the table, Seattlite Tanner von Difloe shuffles up Bant Company, a deck he played at the recommendation of friends.
“I almost didn't come to day two,” von Difloe admits. “I was x-1-2.”
But by fate, luck, or the undeniable draw of Magic, he did show up. He carved a path through day two, taking down every opponent between himself and the Top Eight. He now looks to continue his Sunday winning streak through the semifinals.
“Who has the higher seed here?” Santana asks.
“You do,” von Difloe replies. “Unless you're in eighth.”
“Hey,” says von Difloe, who entered the Top 8 seeded seventh, “everyone's ahead of me, except for one guy.”
Of course, it's not entirely true, as von Difloe has put the vast majority of the tournament's players behind him in his journey to the semifinals.
Early Origins Planeswalkers met early demises for both players, as Santana sacrificed a Nissa to cast a Distended Mindbender on turn four and van Difloe ticked down his Jace to flash back a Collected Company he'd discarded earlier.
The removal spells showed up in multiples for Santana, however, and he cleaned up the Company aftermath with a Languish. When van Difloe tried to refill his board with a pair of Duskwatch Recruiters, Santana had a second Languish to once again sweep them away.
A pair of To the Slaughters from Santana took care of van Difloe's next threats. Santana then cast a Nissa, Vastwood Seer, which transformed into a Sage Animist. A Planeswalker in play, Santana once again cleared the board with Languish, then claimed the territory with an Ashaya. Over the following turns, the unanswered Nissa garnered Santana too much card advantage for van Difloe to handle.
When van Difloe's Tireless Tracker meet its demise at the hands of two Fiery Impulses, he was left with nothing between himself and the aggressive Ashaya, which proceeded to take the game for Santana.
“I'll play,” van Difloe said as the two players got ready for game two.
“I'll draw,” Santana replied with a smile.
“I keep telling everyone it's the right thing to do.”
“That extra card can come in handy!” Santana said.
Unfortunately, in game two it was van Difloe who could use the extra card. He stuck a Duskwatch Recruiter on turn two, but didn't have a third land for multiple turns. Though he got aggressive with a pair of transformed Recruiters, along with a Sylvan Advocate, the lack of land stifled his development too much for him to recover.
Van Difloe finally found third and fourth lands, but his life total was too low to protect from the Dragonmaster's herd and an Ishkanah activation.
Santana took game two, and with it the entire semifinal match.