Both players in the finals are not just vying for their first Grand Prix title. They are vying for their second! Pierre Sommen won Grand Prix Amsterdam in 2011, and Immanuel Gerschenson won Grand Prix Madrid in 2014, just three months ago. Now they are in the finals here in Seville. When they sat down, both players exhibited the cool confidence of a player who had been in this spot before.
The matchup between these two veterans features the age-old battle between control and aggro. Sommen, who hails from France, is playing an Abzan Aggro deck. It aims to win the game quickly with a smooth mana curve of high-power creatures, swiftly punishing any opponent who stumbles on mana. Gerschenson, who flew in from Austria, is piloting a blue-black control deck, which intends to answer the opponent's threats with removal spells and countermagic early on, before taking over the late game with Dig Through Time and the ultimate trump card from Fate Reforged: Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
A key feature in this matchup is that Sommen's two-drops are pretty good in the late game, too, ensuring a steady flow of relevant threats throughout the game. Rakshasa Deathdealer in particular is difficult for Gerschenson to deal with, and Fleecemane Lion is similarly troublesome if it can go monstrous. On a historical note, when Ivan Floch's blue-black control deck faced off against Mike Sigrist's Abzan aggro deck in the quarterfinals of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, it was a quick affair, and the consensus was that the matchup heavily favored the Siege Rhino deck. But Fate Reforged has shaken up the format considerably. Would the additions of Crux of Fate and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon perhaps be enough to change the matchup around? Let's find out!
After the opening trades of Fleecemane Lion versus Bile Blight, Sommen cast Thoughtseize and got a peak at Gerschenson's hand. It revealed Pearl Lake Ancient, Crux of Fate, and Disdainful Stroke. Pearl Lake Ancient would take too long to come down, and Disdainful Stroke is easy to play around if you know of its presence, so Sommen took Crux of Fate.
He proceeded to deftly play around the Disdainful Stroke by casting Rakshasa Deathdealer and Anafenza, the Foremost instead of Siege Rhino. Gerschenson, stripped of the right answer by that devastating Thoughtseize, didn't have the tools to claw back and quickly succumbed to the Abzan-colored creatures.
Immanuel Gerschenson 0 - Pierre Sommen 1
Gerschenson sideboarded as follows, favoring high-impact planeswalkers and sweepers over slow, reactive counterspells:
Sommen sideboarded as follows, increasing his relevant threat density by replacing removal spells and Siege Rhino (which match up poorly against Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver) by card-advantage generating planeswalkers:
-3 Siege Rhino
-1 Bile Blight
+1 Liliana Vess
After the opening salvos of creatures and removal spells, Sommen transitioned into a late-game plan revolving around planeswalkers. Importantly, he delayed his Thoughtseize until the right time to force through his key threat.
On turn seven, Sommen cast the discard spell and saw that Gerschenson (who had 6 lands in play) was holding 2 Bile Blight, Silence the Believers, Hero's Downfall, Crux of Fate, and 2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Sommen, with Elspeth, Sun's Champion; Siege Rhino; and Anafenza, the Foremost in hand, thought for a while as he formulated a game plan. He decided to take Hero's Downfall because it was Gerschenson's only permanent answer to Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which was Sommen's most formidable threat.
Sommen would just have to hope that Gerschenson would not be draw a new answer to Elspeth or more lands to cast Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. As it turned out, Gerschenson found Perilous Vault on the top of his library, and this allowed him to answer Elspeth.
A few turns later, it was Ugin time. The first Ugin exiled Anafenza, the Foremost and was then dealt with via Hero's Downfall. The second Ugin shot Sorin out of the sky, but bit another Hero's Downfall. Even though Gerschenson seemed to have the game well under control, especially after casting another Dig Through Time, his win conditions kept dying, and he hadn't locked up the game yet. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver from the top changed that. Sommen lacked an answer, and scooped up his cards in defeat soon enough.
Immanuel Gerschenson 1 - Pierre Sommen 1
Pierre Sommen had a nice opening hand with 2 cheap creatures, 2 planeswalkers, and 3 lands. He curved out with Rakshasa Deathdealer into Anafenza, the Foremost and Courser of Kruphix, but then he hit a problem: he was unable to hit a fourth land.
Meanwhile, Gerschenson had a reactive hand with slow cards like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Silence the Believers. They seemed to match up poorly against Sommen's aggressive draw, but Sommen's mana stumble gave Gerschenson an opening to clean up before Sommen's planeswalkers would come out to play. Silence the Believers dealt with Rakshasa Deathdealer, Crux of Fate took out the rest of the creatures, and suddenly Gerschenson was in the driver's seat.
Sifting through his deck with multiple Dig Through Times, Gerschenson was able to find the right answers while Sommen was unable to play more than one spell per turn. Eventually, we got to a point where Sommen had five lands to Gerschenson's eleven, and Gerschenson switched into attack mode.
He started by casually casting Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in one turn. On the next, he proceeded with Dissolve and Pearl Lake Ancient. All that digging had paid off, and Sommen (whose deck doesn't contain any blue card selection spells) had been unable to set up his mana base in time before the biggest blue, black, and colorless win conditions overpowered him. Crux of Fate and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon may have made a difference after all.
Immanuel Gerschenson 2 - Pierre Sommen 1
Congratulations to Immanuel Gerschenson, your Grand Prix Seville 2015 champion!