Jake Mondello had a narrow loss in his first Grand Prix Top 8, a finalist appearance at Grand Prix Cleveland earlier this year. Now, back in his second Top 8 Mondello was looking to earn the title that slipped away.
Standing in the way was Omar Beldon, who rallied to the Top 8 after going undefeated on Day 1. It was his first Top 8 at a Grand Prix, and his first notable Magic moment yet. Like Mondello, this was Beldon's chance to break through to a finals showdown and shot at a trophy.
Beldon wielded a deck similar to what two other semifinal competitors had found success with as well: Dark Jeskai. One of the premier decks of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, the deck could attack across multiple modes. With Mantis Rider, it was a fast and efficient rempo deck that backed up threats with removal and countermagic. With Dig Through Time and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy it could grind out a controlling match, incrementally pulling ahead with card advantage and reusing its best options in the graveyard. Thanks to the free black mana off the combination of Khans of Tarkir's fetch lands and Battle for Zendikar's dual lands, Crackling Doom, Duress and Tasigur, the Golden Fang gave it both the “Dark” moniker and more potent tools for its arsenal.
Mondello however was the lone remaining that had taken a different path. Red-Green Eldrazi wasn't a deck on the map before Quebec City, and while others tried to make it work for the weekend it was Mondello that found the greatest success. With a slew of ramp spells from Explosive Vegetation and Map the Wastes to Nissa's Pilgrimage and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, Mondello was playing mosters like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to clear out the competition. With a smart suite of removal like Rending Volley and Seismic Rupture in the sideboard, Mondello's deck was built to bash in first with protection coming in one when needed.
Mondello led off the first game making plans with mana, finding Shrine of the Forsaken Gods with Sylvan Scrying on his second turn. Beldon missed his second land drop, and played a tapped Prairie Stream on his third.
It left Mondello to explode with mana off an unopposed Explosive Vegetation.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy looked to turn things around but Mondello's fifth turn Dragonlord Atarka annihilated the puny Human Wizard. Duress revealed just Jaddi Offshoot in hand for Mondello but it didn't matter if the Dragon stuck around. Beldon made a Tasigur, the Golden Fang before falling to 4 life on Mondello's next attack.
Beldon didn't find anything to kill the Dragon in the end.
Omar Beldon was coming for the finals, but Jake Mondello's monsters started off eating everything.
The second game featured Beldon leading off with Jace, Vyrn's Prodigy on the second turn. Mantis Rider and Jace's transformation quickly followed as Mondello just kept playing lands.
Nissa's Pilgrimage increased the mana even more for Mondello before Ugin, the Spirit resolved, removing Jace for “free” zero loyalty. More importantly, Sanctum of Ugin was sacrificed, and Mondello pulled Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger out from his deck.
The monsters were coming, but Beldon was prepared this time.
Utter End was the end of Ugin, and Beldon dug in with Painful Truths for three. Beldon passed and Mondello played his tenth land to cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. It exiled two sources of red mana from Beldon, but Ojutai's Command countered the Eldrazi and returned Jace to the battlefield.
Jace transformed again, and Mantis Rider number two put the pressure on Mondello to find an answer. Explosive Vegetation was his first step, followed by Map the Wastes. Mondello fell to 8 life on Beldon's next attack, then had his Ugin, the Spirit Dragon countered by Disdainful Stroke.
5 life was next as Mondello drew into his second Sanctum of Ugin. Playing it then casting Hangarback Walker for eight mana the Sanctum triggered, finding Ruin Processor – which Mondello thought he could pay for by playing a Forest that was actually his second land that turn.
Jake Mondello needed to find a way over the flying doom Omar Beldon kept throwing his way.
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods into Map the Wastes began Mondello's usual ramping path in the third game, but Soulfire Grand Master and Mantis Rider put the pressure on for Beldon. Explosive Vegetation pushed the land count higher after Mondello played Sanctum of Ugin. Rending Volley cleared away the Mantis Rider, but Beldon kept up four mana to represent any number of counterspells.
Mondello went for Ugin, the Spirit Dragon anyway – which hit Beldon's Disdainful Stroke – but it brought an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to Mondello's hand off Sanctum of Ugin. Another Rending Volley killed the Grand Master and Mondello went for a second Ugin first. Using the Ghostfire loyalty ability, Mondello began to burn away at Beldon's tall life total.
Dig Through Time at the end of Mondello's turn was a start, but Beldon kept his mana up. He dropped to 16 life from the next blast of Ugin and Mondello cast his final card in hand: Ulamog.
Ojutai's Command hit the Eldrazi again, and Utter End ended Ugin once more. Jaddi Offshoot and Map the Wastes led into a 1/4 to blocker with and a Haven of the Spirit Dragon sacrifice to get back the namesake Planeswalker, but Mondello was in trouble: Kolaghan's Command into Mantis Rider destroyed the Ugin and soon Mondello was facing down double Mantis Rider.
After drawing for one last turn all Mondello could do was shake Beldon's hand.
Omar Beldon defeated Jake Mondello, 2-1.