King of the Hill is a title that's somewhat hard to grasp. As with real-life monarchy, succession is very much a defining feature of the institution. Just as soon as one king dies, another one ascends ...
With regards to Magic, the title is typically bestowed upon one worthy player in the beginning of a tournament and each round this player then either defends the title or falls victim to someone who, upon victory, becomes the new king or, as it may be, queen. Of course, the incoming monarch immediately is in the same position and needs to fend off would-be usurpers, or they will lose the crown as quickly as they picked it up.
Naturally, the story of succession is also a story of success; the players succeed to the throne but also succeed at Magic! So we decided to take an interest in the proceedings here on the first day of Grand Prix Prague 2015 and asked the players in question to the feature match area each round to keep an eye on their matches.
We kicked things off with Fabrizio Anteri, veteran of six Grand Prix Top 8s, winner of three. Most recent among Anteri's finishes was his victory at Grand Prix London just two weeks prior. Crowned the champion at the previous European Grand Prix, he was an obvious pick for our first king.
I had already talked to him about his deck on Friday. "I'm playing the same," he had said, referring to the Abzan deck with four Hangarback Walkers that had carried him to victory in London. "I made a few adjustments though. I now have Elspeth—and Nissa to help get to six mana. I'm also running a couple of Thoughtseizes because I expect more control decks this weekend. The deck plays very differently now. It's still not Abzan Control, exactly, but it works more like a cross between the control version and the previous incarnation."
After two byes, Anteri's first opponent was Moritz Kaltofen, a German player who went 2-0 the hard way. Kaltofen was also playing Abzan with Hangarback Walkers, possibly a close copy of Anteri's deck, sans updates of course.
In true mirror-match fashion, they split two quick games and moved to a third to determine the winner. Here, Anteri kept a hand with three spells and saw about six more lands before he found another. However, that spell was Den Protector and Den Protector got back Abzan Charm and Abzan Charm drew into Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Hero's Downfall. And both cards turned out to be absolutely necessary to win the war of the planeswalkers versus Kaltofen's Garruk, Apex Predator.
Anteri remained king for now.
Next, Anteri met Maciej Ciemiega and his Red-Green Dragons. Ciemiega was ahead for much of the first game and managed to get Anteri down to 1. Ciemiega had Thunderbreak Regent on the battlefield then, but the loyal Siege Rhino was able to get Anteri's head out of the noose in the nick of time.
Another round, another failed challenger. Anteri was getting more and more comfortable in his throne in the middle of the feature match area and had no intention to leave anytime soon. Like his predecessors Marc Mühlbock was unable to claim the title.
Mühlbock was playing Atarka Red and had to find out the hard way that Hangarback Walker is quite good against the red deck. As is Siege Rhino. He was trampled into the dust in a record-setting 2-0 which only took about half of the round's time.
After a short detour into more of a red zone, this round saw a return to the more familiar territory of the Abzan clan. Carl Oscar Aaro challenged Anteri to another Abzan mirror match.
After initial trades, both players flooded the board with Soldier tokens courtesy of Elspeth, Sun's Champion, one on either side. Aaro's planeswalker was first to the fray, however, and Fabrizio Anteri didn't find an answer before Elspeth's ultimate ability turned all of those Soldiers monstrous, so to say.
But the king continued to cling to his crown. Aaro got stuck on three lands and remained so for the remainder of game two, eventually conceding in the face of Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. The third game again had Aaro struggle with a lack of lands and Anteri had no qualms about seizing the opportunity.
King Fabrizio faced Florian Surkamp next. Surkamp sent Mardu Dragons into the ring, a deck we hadn't seen before during this exercise. But the Dragons failed just the same.
Stormbreath Dragon made a strong appearance a couple of times, but after three hard-fought duels it was again Anteri's Elspeth, Sun's Champion who was, well, the champion. Elspeth killed the Dragon and allowed Anteri's white creatures to take the game.
Afterward, Surkamp revealed the Elspeth he himself had been unable to cast with just one source of white mana among his six lands ...
Black-Red Dragons, piloted by Laurent Calligaro, didn't fare much better, I'm afraid. In fact, they did even worse, collecting a swift 0-2.
"I got crushed," Calligaro admitted moments after his two Thunderbreak Regents, his last line of defense, were slain by Elspeth. "It was brutal. I don't think there was anything I could have done."
There's an old saying that claims you win some and you lose some. In the case of Fabrizio Anteri, this appears to be very much untrue; he just does the winning.
But would our King of the Hill end the day with his crown intact? In the last round of the day he faced Serafin Wellinger, playing yet another Hangarback Abzan deck.
At time of writing, Fabrizio Anteri was in a good position to hold on to his title, but maybe Wellinger would finally be able to kick Anteri off the throne and ascend to royalty himself.
Stay tuned to find out!