This feature match pitted together two regulars on the European Grand Prix circuit. They’re true veterans of the feature match area, and now they have to duke it out. On the left side of the table, we had Steve Hatto, the Luxemburgian National Champion who regularly finishes deep in the money at Grand Prix events. On the right side, we had Alesandro Portaro, with a Top 8 at Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011 as his best accomplishment to date.
Yesterday, Hatto won a Grand Prix Trial with R/G Aggro. “You’re able to play turn-2 Rabblemaster, which goes a long way, and everything apart from Elvish Mystic is a threat,” he said about his deck. Today, he brought the deck once again, although he added Peak Eruption to his sideboard as a sweet answer to Chained to the Rocks.
Portaro, on the other side of the table, chose a deck that he described to be in between U/B Control and Fabiano’s Sultai control. “The green splash is worth it. Sultai Charm gives card draw, spot removal, and a good answer for Outpost Siege or Whip of Erebos. In addition, Kiora, the Crashing Wave is very good in this metagame because it can win by itself against Abzan. However, I don’t like to play Satyr Wayfinder because it leaves fewer slots for removal or counters.”
As far as the matchup was concerned, both players agreed that it heavily favored R/G Aggro. But Magic is Magic, and unexpected things can happen.
Hatto, on the play, mulliganned into the following six cards:
Portaro kept the following seven cards:
The first interesting moment came on Hatto’s fourth turn, after Portaro had just exiled Shaman of the Great Hunt with Ashiok. Hatto had three lands and an Elvish Mystic in play, and he decided to cast Fanatic of Xenagos by tapping two lands and an Elvish Mystic rather than three lands. This way, he left a Temple of Abandon rather than an Elvish Mystic untapped, even though the Elvish Mystic could attack to whittle down Ashiok’s loyalty.
The reason for his play was Wild Slash: He wanted to be able to kill Shaman of the Great Hunt before it could grow into a 5/3. But the way he tapped his lands spewed a lot of information, and it was up to Portaro to make the most of that. Did Hatto really have Wild Slash, and if so, would it be wise to put Shaman of the Great Hunt in play? Could it be a bluff? Or could he have just tapped his mana incorrectly?
That’s high-level Magic in a nutshell: Even the simplest things tell a story, and the best players distinguish themselves by being able to pick up on these little tells.
As Portaro told me after the match, he anticipated the Wild Slash, but he still chose to put Shaman of the Great Hunt on the battlefield because he also wanted to cast Kiora, the Crashing Wave on that turn and wanted to make sure that Wild Slash wouldn’t be available to take out the green-blue Planeswalker.
A few planeswalkers, removal spells, sweepers, and card selection spells later, the board was clear and Hatto’s resources were exhausted, but Portaro was down to a very precarious two life. Any burn spell, even another Wild Slash, would be lethal. But none were near the top of Hatto’s deck. Via Ashiok (the third one of the game), Portaro got Shaman of the Great Hunt in play, and Hatto eventually succumbed to his own creature.
“I made a primary choice to play 4 Ashiok maindeck because I want to play it on turn three. I think it’s very good in the mirror match and against Abzan,” Portaro commented after the match.
Alesandro Portaro 1 – Steve Hatto 0
Hatto boarded out burn spells for Outpost Sieges and Planeswalkers. Portaro boarded out all of his 3-mana and 4-mana planeswalkers for bigger, sturdier threats in the form of Garruk, Apex Predator; Tasigur, the Golden Fang; Pearl Lake Ancient; and Silumgar, the Drifting Death.
“That deck can’t lose when it’s on the play with a second-turn Goblin Rabblemaster,” Portaro said. Hatto agreed: “It’s the sole reason why I play it over the red/white deck.”
Alesandro Portaro 1 – Steve Hatto 1
This time around, Hatto was on the draw and lacked a turn-one Elvish Mystic. He still curved out nicely with Heir of the Wilds and Fanatic of Xenagos, but on his fourth and fifth turns, all he could do was to add Elvish Mystics to his board. That’s the problem with mana elves: They’re great on turn one, but they’re miserable topdecks later in the game.
Given that the pair of Elvish Mystics didn’t put a lot of pressure on Portaro, he had a lot of time to take out Hatto’s threats with Hero’s Downfall and Crux of Fate and to improve his hand with Dig Through Time. Eventually, the control player turned the tables with Silumgar, the Drifting Death and Garruk, Apex Predator, holding a grip full of removal just in case.
Alesandro Portaro 2 – Steve Hatto 1
Alesandro Portaro moves to 6-1, in good position to make another deep run at this Grand Prix. Steve Hatto falls to 5-2, and he’ll very likely have to go undefeated in today’s remaining rounds to qualify for the second day of competition.