After 17 rounds of play, it all came down to this. The original field of 2,205 players had been cut down to just two: Akito Shinoda from Japan, in his first Grand Prix Top 8, and Bo Sun from China, in his third Grand Prix Top 8.
Shinoda had drafted a five-color deck based around four Jeskai rares: Mantis Rider, Sage of the Inward Eye, Ashcloud Phoenix, and Flying Crane Technique. Yet, it branched out to the other colors as well, going as far as double-splashing Abzan Ascendancy and Hooded Hydra. It was a wondrous mix of colors that was could only work because he had a sufficient number of morphs and 9 nonbasic lands that could smooth out his draws.
Sun, on the other side of the table, had drafted a solid three-color Mardu deck that could win the game in various ways: He could go for an aggressive plan headlined by the one-two-punch of Ponyback Brigade plus Master of Pearls, but he also had the option of going for a controlling game based around Bitter Revelation and Necropolis Fiend. His deck didn’t have as much power as Shinoda’s, but it certainly had the capability of adapting to a diverse set of scenarios.
Bo Sun (left) and Akito Shinoda (right)
Shinoda got to play first. Between Wind-Scarred Crag, Rugged Highlands, Swamp, and Island, he had access to all five colors of mana as early as his fourth turn, and thus he could cast all of his spells. He quickly added Mantis Rider, Longshot Squad, and a morphed Hooded Hydra to the board.
Sun, in the meantime, answered them all: Kill Shot dealt with Mantis Rider, Bring Low took out Longshot Squad, and Throttle killed the morph. But eventually, the removal spells ran out: When Shinoda added Sage of the Inward Eye to the battlefield, Sun didn’t have an answer anymore.
All that Sun had was a Sultai Scavenger and a face-down Ponyback Brigade along with a bunch of lands in hand, so the best he could do was to bravely attack with both of his creatures, hoping to bluff through several points of damage. It worked, but it wasn’t enough to win the game: On the next turn, Shinoda played Crippling Chill on Sultai Scavenger, getting a lifelink trigger from Sage of the Inward Eye to swing the race greatly in his favor. Although an Archer’s Parapet and an unmorph of Ashcloud Phoenix dealt the final points of damage, it was the lifelink from Sage of the Inward Eye that swung around the game.
Akito Shinoda 1 - Bo Sun 0
The early turns played out as many games in this format do, with morphs facing off on opposite sides of the board. When Shinoda attacked his morph into Sun’s on turn five, Sun made the block and lost his morph to Efreet Weaponmaster. However, the Weaponmaster fell to Crackling Doom on the next turn, which meant that even though Sun was down two cards to one, he had favorably traded six mana for eight mana.
But this small tempo advantage was about to be eclipsed by Shinoda’s more powerful cards. Sage of the Inward Eye came down on turn six, and his seventh turn casually featured Ashcloud Phoenix plus Abzan Ascendancy. In other words, a first-pickable bomb rare plus a boost that allowed him to get in for an eight-point life swing with Sage of the Inward Eye.
What was Sun to do against that? He was fighting an uphill battle, and Mardu Roughrider alone wasn’t enough to claw back in the damage race. The top of Sun’s deck then provided him with a Mardu Charm, but that was couldn’t answer Shinoda’s flyers either: Thanks to Abzan Ascendancy, Sage of the Inward Eye had grown to 5 toughness, and Ashcloud Phoenix would just come back from the grave.
In desperation, Sun did burn Ashcloud Phoenix with Mardu Charm, but it only bought him an extra turn; it wasn’t a permanent solution. In fact, Shinoda even got a token from Abzan Ascendancy in the process. When Sun’s next draw step didn’t give him an out to the flyers either, he was forced to extend his hand in defeat.
Akito Shinoda 2 - Bo Sun 0
Akito Shinoda’s friends were ecstatic that he took the trophy!