Pro Tour glory. It’s an easy goal to set but a hard one to achieve. Every player that begins down the road of Grand Prix and Pro Tour Qualifiers wants to reach the greatest stage of the game. Both Eric Severson and Neal Sacks were looking for their chances to do just that.
Severson was one of the finalists of the team Grand Prix in Portland last year, narrowly falling to three of the greatest players in the game. With a near miss, Severson began his hunt for Silver status in the Pro Players Club. It’d take a win in Providence to make it happen this year. Sacks was even further behind in Pro Points, earning his first Grand Prix Top 8 ever. While he’d been to Pro Tours before, and enjoyed playing Standard at them, he too was looking for a big breakthrough in his career.
Severson’s Bant Megamorph was the merge of two successful plans: The duo of Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor as well as the control elements and finishing power of Dragonlord Ojutai. It got the best of both worlds with mana acceleration like Sylvan Caryatid and Elvish Mystic alongside efficient options like Fleecemane Lion and Courser of Kruphix. It could keep muscle going against some aggressive decks and push through like other midrange options. Disdainful Stroke was a powerful tool to prevent opposing Dragons or Elspeth, Sun's Champions from taking the game away – another separation that Bant Megamorph brought to battle.
Sacks was playing one of the many Abzan flavors that started the weekend: Abzan Aggro. Like Bant Megamorph, Fleecemane Lion appeared in Sacks deck but that’s where this similarities ended. Rakshasa Deathdealer, Anafenza, the Foremost, Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang presented powerful, efficient threats quickly. Backed by disruption in Thoughtseize, utility like Abzan Charm, and removal with Hero's Downfall, decks that couldn’t halt the onslaught of creatures quickly fell under heel.
Neal Sacks looked to make the most of his first Grand Prix Top 8, pressing his aggressive deck to its fullest.
The first game was a duel of their respective battle plans. Severson began to ramp his mana with Sylvan Caryatid even as Sacks used back-to-back Thoughtseizes to take away Deathmist Raptor and Valorous Stance.
Anafenza, the Foremost was Sacks’s first threat, but a second Valorous Stance was there for Severson. He played a morph – representing either half of his megamorph pair – as Sacks continued to deal himself damage off his lands.
“I’m killing myself here,” Sacks said, falling to 9 life to cast a second Anafenza that traded with Deathmist Raptor on the block.
More morphing followed for Severson as Siege Rhino finally appeared for Sacks. This time Sacks didn’t block the morph, and Deathmist Raptor revealed itself to less fanfare. A monstrous Fleecemane Lion was Sacks’s next turn, tapping out but presenting an indestructible Cat to try and corner Severson.
Mastery of the Unseen looked to give Severson options back, and the game almost ground to a halt. The Fleecemane Lion went unblocked on Sacks’s attack, and Severson looked to take advantage of a lonely Siege Rhino across the way. One morph came down, and his manifest turned up as Den Protector, returning Valorous Stance.
Severson’s post-Valorous Stance attack was exactly enough for 8 lethal damage.
Eric Severson needed to fight through the finals to earn the Pro Points he needed for Silver status.
While Severson led the way with an early Fleecemane Lion in the second game, Siege Rhino looked to stabilize things for Sacks’s slow start. Valorous Stance ended that option, but after Severson put a second Lion down two removal spells from Sacks leveled the battlefield.
Moving to the next stage of his plan, Severson began morphing creatures into play. While Anafenza, the Foremost looked formidable, Den Protector returned Valorous Stance to undo that. Falling in life, Sacks used Abzan Charm to exile Den Protector then drew Warden of the First Tree off the top to begin building an attacker.
Deathmist Raptor off megamorph led Severson strike in anyway, putting Sacks down to 5 life. Fleecemane Lion joined the fray and immediately became monstrous, forcing Sacks to draw removal or beef up his Warden. With only Anafenza, the Foremost and a land to play on the next turn he instead opted to create an 8/8 creature and leave his mana up again.
This kept Severson in check even as Hornet Nest had joined the opposing team, keeping the pressure on Sacks to have answers. When the Warden struck in as a an even larger creature, Hero's Downfall cleared the Deathmist Raptor and trample meant only two Insect tokens would appear.
Severson didn’t have enough to attack for 5 damage, and the next attack was all Sacks needed. “I really needed to kill that,” Severson said. In the end it was Severson’s missing removal that made the difference.
The third game had Severson lead off, but it was Rakshasa Deathdealer from Sacks on his second turn that started attacking first. Playing Temple of Plenty on the third turn without a play again put Severson far behind, and dropped him to 15 life.
With just three lands and a morph after four turns, Sacks’s army began to take over. Fleecemane Lion backed by two Dromoka's Commands, putting a +1/+1 counter on the Deathdealer and Lion each while fighting away two morphs quickly demolished what was left of Severson’s life total.
“I think this was a keep?” Severson asked after he extended his hand for Sacks. They were understandably unconvinced that it was a good opening hand.
Neal Sacks defeated Eric Severson, 2-1, and advanced to the finals!