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

By Marc Calderaro

The bubble is a scary place to be indeed. Under usual circumstances, all the 7-2 records will advance to Day 2, and everything less dies in a blaze of glory (or a pitiful, weakly ember—context dependent). Going into the last round, there were many recognizable faces at 6-2. If they won in Round 9, they'd be coming back tomorrow. If not, well, at least they'd get to work on time Monday morning. (18) Alex Hayne, teammate Jon Stern, Matt Sperling, (2) Owen Turtenwald, Christian Calcano, Marshall Sutcliffe, and "The" Ben Seck were all hoping to stay strong through the last round.

The first finished match was Christian Calcano's. His solid, consistent Red-White deck did exactly what it was supposed to against James Zou's mirror. In the first game, he was able to use his Hoarding Dragon (with a Will-Forged Golem underneath and a huge Cone of Flame to take out Zou. In the second game, let's just say no archetype is better positioned to capitalize on land stumbling than aggressive Red-White. Calcano snagged 7-2 and advanced to tomorrow.

The second was Jon Stern and his Black-Red removal-laden deck against Eric Edvalson's Black-White. Despite what you might think about three-for-one Cone of Flame, they don't always win the game. Edvalson's Spirits (often coming from Spirit Bond) were just too much pressure for Stern to handle. Edvalson won and advanced while Stern will not see the draft portion of the weekend. Stern was disappointed, but he saw the limitations of his deck. Recognizing that Black-Red is one of the weakest archetypes in the format, he had some killer removal (like In Garruk's Wake), but not enough consistent dragon-slayers to put down anything with higher than four toughness. In the end, simple things like Siege Wurm would just destroy his deck. It was a tough final round for Stern.

Next was Ben Seck's game against Brandon Johnson. Though Seck's Red-White deck could be a bit curve-dependent, in the first game he curved straight up the mana chain—up to and including a Constricting Sliver (to turn on his Warden of the Beyond) into a Resolute Archangel. Johnson's Blue-Red Artifact deck didn't stand a chance. The second game was much closer, but on a key turn Seck tapped out and attacked into a seemingly better board of Gargoyle Sentinel and Scrapyard Mongrel. The Mongrel jumped up to block, but a Stoke the Flames via convoke took Johnson by surprise and gave Seck the win. The Ben from down under will be drafting tomorrow.

Owen Turtenwald was able to defeat Aris Najeeg 2-1 in a nail-biting fashion. Owen's Blue-Black deck was attempting to hold the fort with a Gargoyle Sentinel while he filled up on cards with Jace's Ingenuity, but a Juggernaut and various white weenies from Najeeg kept pounding him. Turtenwald was able to overcome a wave thanks to two Festerglooms and clean up from there in the second game.

And in the final game, Najeeg revealed Spectra Ward early when he fetched it with Heliod's Pilgrim. Owen waited and waited with a Negate in his hand. He waited and waited and waited until he backed Najeeg into having to cast the Aura or die on the spot. Negate took out the game-winning white Enchantment and Turtenwald advanced to the second day of the Grand Prix.

Matt Sperling had an impressive green-based deck. He was able to use convoke and Elvish Mystic to get an impressive board state early in the first game. However, his opponent, James Dye, was able to stave off that early aggression and gum up the works. Once Dye cast a few flyers and a Haunted Plate Mail, it looked like Sperling was too far behind. He took a lot of damage, and only had a single Pillar of Light, but he used it effectively. This made Dye's best option to equip his plating to a Gargoyle Sentinel to attack, which severely constricted his mana usage to further develop his board. Sperling used this advantage to keep on attacking until he snuck in a win to go up 1-0.

The second game was less exciting, as Dye stumbled early on mana and a giant Scuttling Doom Engine wrecked havoc all over his body. Though Sperling felt that his deck could've done better throughout the day, he said, "It's hard to complain about 7-2." Then paused and said, "See you tomorrow."

Alex Hayne's opponent, Mark Apker, played a Blue-Red tempo game. He had more than enough bounce to hold off big creatures while impressive little plinky ones (like Goblin Rabblemaster) got in there for twenty damage. In the first game, that was exactly what happened and Hayne sunk to 0-1. But in the next two games, Hayne showed how weak tempo strategies could be against White. You can only bounce so many 1/1s and 3/1s before it just gets inefficient. In two games Hayne came back to win 2-1, and net the last three points needed to get him a slot.

Last to finish, and one of the most exciting matches of the day, was Marshall Sutcliffe's match against Alfred Quan. In two games that stretched over three games' length, Sutcliffe was able to pull out a gripping victory to advance. I really think the game is worth watching, so please head to the video coverage and watch it. I won't say too much to spoil it, but I will say it's not too often you mulligan to four and win through a Soul of Theros. Just sayin'. Marshall Sutcliffe gets into Day 2 by the skin of his teeth.

Being on the bubble can be agonizing for players, but for spectators, it's the best. All that drama wrapped up in a fifty-minute round is a rousing way to end the day—making you anticipate Sunday even more.

See you tomorrow, everyone!