THE KING OF THE HILL AND THE UNDEFEATED

Posted in GRAND PRIX SALT LAKE CITY 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on September 7, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

What does it mean to be King of the Hill? Early in the day it isn't much more than a moniker and coveted seat in the feature match area. There isn't an exact science to determine who begins, but it's always someone riding high in competitive Magic by the end of the day.

At Grand Prix Salt Lake City, the highest (second) ranked member of the Peach Garden Oath brothers Owen Turtenwald was chosen to seed the day, though any of those three would have done as well. Between Turtenwald, third-ranked Reid Duke, and fourth-ranked and Pro Tour Hall of Fame member William Jensen, the trio had taken down Grand Prix Portland by defeating every other team they faced in Magic 2015 Limited. The only thing better than winning a recent Grand Prix in a format would be winning the most recent Pro Tour, which both Turtenwald and Jensen tried with their dual Top 8 appearances immediately before their victorious Grand Prix.

Riding high was, perhaps, a bit of an understatement. But if Magic guarantees anything it's excitement: Anything can happen.

Round 4: (2) Owen Turtenwald (Blue-Black) defeats Erik Stokes (Blue-Black)

Beginning with a run of victories Round 1 through Round 3, Erik Stokes began as the challenger for the King of the Hill chair in Round 4. Starting a day undefeated is a reasonable feat, and it put him on solid ground to build up from. Marching through opponents, including longtime Magic competitor and Grand Prix winner David Williams, Stokes would face a blue-black mirror match against Turtenwald. In the end, Stokes was unable to overcome the powerful professional.

Round 5: (2) Owen Turtenwald (Blue-Black) defeated by Shaun Hughes (White-Red)

While Turtenwald had won the match against a deck similar to his own, the aggressive power of Shaun Hughes' red-white amalgam rose to the challenge. Splashing a little blue, Hughes' deck built off the power of two copies of Triplicate Spirits and Raise the Alarm to go wide and fast. Backed up with Cone of Flame and Chandra, Pryomancer it was more damage than Turtenwald could take.

Round 6: Shaun Hughes (White-Red) defeated by Brian Speicher (Blue-Red)

While Hughes' powerful deck could amp up the attackers quickly, Brian Speicher brought a potent blue-red pair to the challenge. With two copies of Generator Servant, playing an early and haste-enhanced Soul of Shandalar or Stormtide Leviathan let might trump flight, passing the crown to yet another.

Round 7: Brian Speicher (Blue-Red) defeats Brad Maxwell (Black-Red)

Brad Maxwell wielded the wonderful weapons of black-red in his challenge to the reigning king, bringing plenty of burn in Stoke the Flames, Goblin Kaboomist, Chandra, Pyromancer, and two copies of Lightning Strike. However, Speicher's ability to bounce creatures, counter haymaker burn spells, and draw plenty of card along the way was enough to touch it out under the heat.

Round 8: Brian Speicher (Blue-Red) defeated by Nathan Holiday (White-Blue)

In a match that leaped to the small screens at home, Nathan Holiday and his white-blue deck challenged the defending King of the Hill. Holiday, winner of Grand Prix San Diego in 2013, wrangled a strong troupe to battle with: Soul of Theros and a bevy of ways to draw cards gave him the edge to overpower the ruler.

Round 9: Nathan Holiday (White-Blue) defeated Jamie Parke (White-Blue)

As one of the several battles for undefeated playing out, holding on to the King of the Hill chair for Day 2 would mean seating at the Draft pod filled with the most successful players from today. It's an honor to be king, but it's a tough road to follow.

Jamie Parke was one of the many resurgent pros returning to the game in recent years, demonstrating that excellence in Magic is a skill that sticks around. With a Top 8 at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx Parke was primed as one of the best challengers of the day. Armed with a Soul of Theros of his own, Parke and Holiday fought to three games where Holiday's Master of Predicaments helps overcome Parke splash of red mana.

The Other Undefeated

The final fight for King of the Hill wasn't the only undefeated decision happening. Three other matches brought long wars to determine who would remain perfect into the second day of Grand Prix Salt Lake City.

(Left to Right) Ian Robertson took control against Nicholas LeBlanc's Goblin Rabblemaster aggressive deck.

Nicholas LeBlanc's Goblin Rabblemaster deck wasn't fast enough to overtake Ian Robertson's Soul of Shandalar-and-Liliana Vess-powerhouse. Soul of Shandalar Itself was more than enough in the decisive third game.

(Left to Right) 11th-ranked Shaun McLaren used his green tools to pick victory from Sammy Batarseh's Soul of Shandalar and Jace, the Living Guildpact Sealed deck.

11th-ranked Pro Tour Born of the Gods winner Shaun McLaren pulled plenty of tricks with Phytotitan and Yisan, the Wanderer Bard to squeeze past Sammy Batarseh's mythic-packed deck of Jace, the Living Guildpact, Soul of Shandalar, and Scuttling Doom Engine. Achieving perfection meant McLaren had more chops than his Modern-fueled success might indicate.

(Left to Right) It took two full games and all the time in the round, but Allen Sun's control deck finally wrenched victory from Neil Anderson's Garruk, Apex Hunter.

And in a match that went right up into extra turns in Game 2, Allen Sun used a powerful control deck with Stormtide Leviathan, Cruel Sadist, Chasm Skulker, and Jace, the Living Guildpact to slowly grind away at Neil Anderson's Genesis Hydra and Garruk, Apex Hunter machinations. Despite deathtouch beasts and Hydra summonings, Sun stayed true to his plans with bounce and flying cutting the path to victory.

(Left to Right) Nathan Holiday, Ian Robertson, (11) Shaun McLaren, and Allen Sun are your undefeated players from Day 1 at Grand Prix Salt Lake City.

With Nathan Holiday, Ian Robertson, and (11) Shaun McLaren all going 9-0, and Allen Sun slipping in with a record of 8-0-1, the four undefeated would start anew with Magic 2015 Draft the next day. Congratulations to the Day 1 undefeated players, and reigning King of the Hill, of Grand Prix Salt Lake City!