What’s the best way to follow up your team’s undefeated record on Day 1 of a Grand Prix? A nearly undefeated run on Day 2 to make the Top 4. What comes after that? Trying to win the Grand Prix.
It isn’t an unusual circumstance for the trio of Pro Tour Hall of Fame player Luis Scott-Vargas, former US National champion Paul Cheon, and No. 12-ranked Eric Froehlich. With their second team Top 4 appearance, the first at Grand Prix Portland last year, they were poised with a better run at winner than before. Top seeded, and playing at an incredible level all weekend, the superstar team looked unstoppable.
Across from them sat an unassuming crew of Canadian. Typer Blum, the champion of Grand Prix Chicago in 2014, Robert Smith, the winner of Grand Prix Seattle-Tacoma in 2012, and mutual friend Sean Gifford (no slouch himself as a Pro Tour Qualifier winner for Pro Tour Magic 2015) we the team with “just” two Grand Prix champions among them. Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, they represented the lone international team remaining in competition. Climbing up the leaderboard quietly, they earned their way to a win-and-in matchup that they claimed triumphantly.
The question was whether the Canadian contingent could overcome the unstoppable juggernauts.
Smith began his first game against Froehlich drawing plenty of lands: Too many, in fact. Froehlich took advantage to deploy several creatures, including a Hooting Mandrills, to get ahead on life. Once Smith began casting his removal, however, Froehlich’s power slowed down.
Abzan Guide and Longshot Squad were fine replacements, and Smith considered his options with Savage Punch, Become Immense, and more in hand. Froehlich forced many of Smith’s tricks out of hand before finally leveling the battlefield with Duneblast.
Smith’s own Abzan Guide looked to pull the game away for him, but Froehlich revealed one of his other trump cards: Tasigur, the Golden Fang. The problem at this point was the lack of cards left in Froehlich’s library. At 36 life, Smith was comfortably padded and content to let Froehlich draw out his deck. It was a slow, but sure, way for Smith to take the first game.
In their second game, Froehlich had an early Tasigur, the Golden Fang. But Smith used Rakshasa’s Secret to empty out half of Froehlich’s hand. After that, tith the ancient Khan at the helm, Froehlich used removal spells at will clearing out any opposition Smith could muster.
At least, that worked until Froehlich’s graveyard had non-removal options against Smith’s Tusked Colossodon. After it picked up two +1/+1 counters, Froehlich was on the back pedal. Savage Punch killed off Tasigur, and it looked like Froehlich’s plans had fallen apart.
Duneblast and Savage Knuckleblade changed all that. With some tricks and pumps, the Knuckleblade demolished a pair of creaturs from Smith, leaving Abomination of Gudul free to attack in the air. Abzan Guide followed, and with Pyrotechnics for a finishing flourish Froehlich evened the score to force a third game
Eric Froehlich (left) fought long games as Luis Scott-Vargas (center) and Paul Cheon (right) pressed their opponents quickly.
The other matches at the table worked out differently.
In the center, Scott-Vargas had a quick start of creatures against Gifford with an early Master of Pearls turned face-up to wreck Gifford’s defenses. When Scott-Vargas used Master of Pearls a second time thanks to Jeskai Barricade, Gifford used careful blocks and removal to stabilize at 4 life. Waterwhirl bought even more time for the Canadian as Alabaster Kirin took flight to fight back against Scott-Vargas.
However, Quiet Contemplation wasn’t enough when Gifford ran out of tricks: Scott-Vargas took the first game of the match. The second game featured an early Ponyback Brigade and Mardu Strike Leader for Scott-Vargas, giving him a wide army to pound at Gifford. Fast and still growing, Gifford was unable to contain Scott-Vargas’ forces: He extended his hand.
Scott-Vargas had put his team on the board before the first game in the first seat had even finished.
That first seat was where Cheon and Blum faced off. Cheon’s Ghostfireblade was an early sign Blum was in trouble. Their first game was a back-and-forth match of face down creatures, Cheon’s always larger. Eventually, Blum found some size of his own in Sultai Scavenger and Shambling Abomination.
As Blum’s army grew, Cheon struggled to apply pressure. Ghostfire Blade made a few attacks possible, but the morph it was attached to didn’t flip right away. Ainok Tracker finally turned up to eat a blocker, helping to put Cheon back in command. Brutal Hordechief looked like a way to secure it, and Blum folded shortly thereafter.
Tyler Blum (left) and Sean Gifford (center) were under constant pressure, and Robert Smith (right) remained tied up against Eric Froehlich throughout.
The second game was a similar affair, though missing the early Ghostfire Blade for Cheon. The fast army pushed aggressively at Blum. Thanks to his larger creatures, Blum stabilized and began to strike back. Abomination of Gudul hit through the air, and Sage Eye Avengers made blocking a nightmare against Blum.
Ghostfire Blade showed up for Cheon, but he was far behind life. Trying to build a wider army was tough with Blum pushing his clock in through the air. Cheon attacked carefully, bringing Blum to 14 life and forcing some defenders to fall. At 7 life himself, Cheon couldn’t wait for an another opening. He flooded creatures onto the battlefield before casting Crackling Doom.
With more than enough creatures after that, Cheon overran Blum just before Blum could claim the game.
Cheon, Scott-Vargas, and Froehlich defeated Smith, Gifford, and Blum 2-0, and advanced to the finals of Grand Prix San Jose!