Two titanic teams had faced off: One, nigh unbeatable throughout the day, the other looking to repeat what they achieved two years earlier. Both teams were comprised of some of the game’s best players, and both had pride at stake walking away with a win.
That was just Round 12.
Again, the potent triplet of Hall of Fame player Luis Scott-Vargas, friend and former National Champion Paul Cheon, and No. 12-ranked Eric Froehlich – a longtime testing partner with them – squared off against the victors from San Jose in 2012: Hall of Fame player and No. 21-ranked Paul Rietzl, longtime friend and Pro Tour standout Matt Sperling, and the charismatic former Pro Tour star David Williams.
With a team win, Cheon would be joining his teammates next weekend at Pro Tour Fate Reforged. Together, they’d prove the chemistry and skill they knew themselves – and pushed to a Top 4 at Grand Prix Portland last year – to be worthy of a Grand Prix title. For Rietzl and his companions, taking a second team Grand Prix victory – in the same city no less – would put them on top of the modern era of team Magic and raise a new argument about which current team was truly the best in the game.
Everything from throughout the weekend had led up to this final showdown. It was time for a team to make history, one way or another.
Scott-Vargas had an early Leaping Master and Hordeling Outburst to stretch an army across his battlefield, and Williams had Chief of Scales and a morph; It was two aggro decks facing off in the third seat. Both sides added to their armies, trying to go wider or higher than his opponent.
They reached a relative stalemate filling the battlefield with bodies, but Williams’ Abzan Skycaptain kept plugging away in the air. When it got two +1/+1 counters to go on it, the race tipped firmly in William’s favor. It wasn’t long before the Captain went all the way.
The second game was a shorter affair. Williams, with an active Elite Scaleguard and a pile of creatures alongside it, poured damage onto Scott-Vargas. While Scott-Vargas bought some time with Crippling Chill and more, adding a +1/+1 counter to Disowned Ancestor gave Williams too many ways to removal blockers.
But that didn’t actually matter.
The third game started with an early Hordeling Outburst from Scott-Vargas, but Williams played a stream of creatures to overwhelm the army right back. Crippling Chill and other tricks kept Scott-Vargas in the game until Barrage of Boulders and, again, Temur Battle Rage ended the game in an abrupt fashion.
Scott-Vargas had put his team on the board.
In the center seat, Froehlich’s slower start rumbled to life with both Goblin Heelcutter and Mardu Roughrider that ensured attacks would be swift and difficult to block for Sperling. With Sandsteppe Outcast and others, Sperling went bigger to keep up. With removal and more bodies, Sperling raced against Froehlich. Froehlich added Ghostfire Blade to made his Roughrider even bigger, and aimed to punch through with Rush of Battle, but a well-timed Collateral Damage meant no life gain for Froehlich.
Sperling took the first game on the attack back.
Mardu Runemark started the second game, suiting up Sperling’s morph as he tried to race against Froehlich’s Abzan Skycaptain and accompanying morph of his own. The game quickly devolved into a race to go wider, with Froehlich’s Ponyback Brigade and stream of creatures hitting a stalemate against Sperling’s own impressive army.
Arc Lightning from Froehlich tried to break the balance, but Sperling used Collateral Damage to strike right back. It took some volleys of removal before Sperling assembled the combination he needed to finally crack the balance and finish Froehlich.
With his win, Sperling evened the score for his side.
Paul Rietzl (left) found support, and disagreement, from his teammates David Williams (center) and Matt Sperling (right) throughout the tense final match.
It was the first seat where the intensity hit its peak. Tuskguard Captain began to outlast in the first game for Cheon, playing against Rietzl. Rietzl’s board developed slowly, with Sultai Emissary, Smoke Teller, and others to slow down the game. It took some time for Tuskguard Captain to gain six +1/+1 counters, but its that bludgeon that Cheon kept hammering in with.
It put Rietzl down to 4 life, despite and active Temur Sabertooth. Wooly Loxodon was the morph Cheon needed to finish putting Rietzl away.
By the time this first game ended, the other matches had mostly wrapped. The pressure was on Cheon to find another win and claim what we wanted most: Flying to the Pro Tour happening in six days.
Eric Froehlich (left) and Luis Scott-Vargas (center) were supportive of Paul Cheon (right) in his fight to win their match.
The second game was a back-and-forth battle, with Rietzl struggling early to keep up as he was stuck on just Swamps in play. Cheon used Sultai Soothsayer and Tuskguard Captain to begin building his force. Plains and Necropolis Fiend unlocked potential for Rietzl, but Cheon’s forces were growing wider and bigger simultaneously. Without a graveyard to feed his Demon, Rietzl’s rare was “just” a flyer.
Rietzl had plans to change that.
With a dash of removal and some clever blocking, Rietzl climbed back into the driver’s seat. Cheon valiantly attacked, causing plenty of discussion on Rietzl’s team. Whisk Away deferred an Abzan Guide for a turn which set up Archfiend of Depravity from Cheon.
Sperling began to offer some thoughts before Rietzl corrected him. “We know exactly what we’re drawing.”
Rietzl didn’t have an answer for the Archfiend, and he couldn’t replay his Guide without trading away something else. He elected to just pass and Cheon’s Marag River Prowler kept the damage flowing, but it was behind the race against Rietzl’s 3/7 Disowned Ancestor.
Then Rietzl traded it away for a morph. “I like this line,” he said to his teammates.
Quite a crowd had gathering for the final turns of the Grand Prix San Jose finals.
There were seven cards left in Cheon’s library at this point, mostly due to self-inflicted milling, but Rietzl was down to 10 life with an end-of-turn-surprise-it’s-back Abzan Guide unmorph. Gaining life would mean he could try and last until Cheon ran out of cards. Cheon revealed his morph as well, a Pine Walker, which forced Rietzl to use Necropolis Fiend to finally eat the Archfiend of Depravity.
With Necropolis Fiend tapped, Cheon went all-in with his creatures. Dragonscale Boon boosted a Longshot Squad to 5/5 as it was blocked by Abzan Guide. The damage resolved and it left just Necropolis Fiend as the last creature on Rietzl’s side. Post-combat, Longshot Squad used outlast to set up the final showdown.
Sultai Flayer looked to gain life for Rietzl anyway, so Cheon went back to the Marag River Prowler plan for a turn.
“There’s just too many cards!” Rietzl exclaimed when he checked Cheon’s library again.
Cheon doubled-blocked the Sultai Flayer with a 6/6 Longshot Squad on the attack back, which let Rietzl gain life and use the Fiend to finish off Cheon’s fatty. Life totals were 6 to 5 in Cheon’s favor after the River Prowler did its work again. Rietztl finally used his Fiend to reset the Prowler for a turn, but Cheon was up to two morphs face down. One, Abomination of Gudul, unmorphed at the end of Rietzl’s turn and Cheon stormed in with everything. Reach of Shadows killed the Abomination, and the Fiend Blocked the morph.
But that was a contentious decision. Both Sperling and Williams felt a different block – the Sultai Scavenger – was better. Rietzl, however, was adamant. “If I do that I’m just dead to a Krumar Bond-Kin!” Sticking to his blocking plan meant going against both his teammates.
Krumar Bond-Kin hit the bin when combat resolved. Despite calling the shot and buying another turn, Rietzl looked out of options. The next attack, with three creatures, was more than Rietzl’s rare alone could handle.
Rietzl extended his hand. Cheon shook it, and leaped from his chair in joy. His overdue return to the Pro Tour had arrived.
Cheon holds his celebration in check as handshakes are exchanged. The intensity overflowed in the aftermath.
Paul Cheon, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Eric Froehlich defeated Paul Rietzl, David Williams, and Matt Sperling, becoming the champions of Grand Prix San Jose!