This match pitted together Max Sjoblom, playing Mardu Midrange, against George Volakis, running Jeskai Ascendancy combo. Both of them were sitting on 10-2 records, so they can still make Top 8 if they don't lose another match from here on.
Sjoblom, with a Top 8 at Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011 to his name, is the more experienced player in the match, but does he also have experience playing against the Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck? After Lee Shi Tian carried the deck to the Top 8 of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, it had fallen a bit out of favor, and Sjoblom admitted that he hadn't tested against it.
Volakis was more familiar with the matchup, but he wasn't happy that he had to face it. "Mardu is the toughest matchup for me," he said. With efficient removal spells to disrupt the combo and a fast clock to up the pressure, it makes sense that he feared the Mardu deck. But how did it play out in practice?
Volakis kept a one-lander and passed the second turn without a single play. However, he had a good reason for keeping this mana-light hand: he had all of his combo pieces already in hand.
Once he found his second land, he started off with Sylvan Caryatid and subsequently added Jeskai Ascendancy to the board. Astral Cornucopia and Altar of the Brood were next, and Retraction Helix on Sylvan Caryatid provided him with an infinite loop: He would tap the Caryatid to bounce Astral Cornucopia and replay it for X=0, milling his opponent for one card. In the process, Jeskai Ascendancy untapped Sylvan Caryatid, which allowed him to go through the loop once again.
George Volakis assembled all of his combo pieces in Game 1.
Sjoblom had no way to interact with this and scooped up his cards before his entire deck would hit the graveyard.
In the second game, Sjoblom had all of the right answers. He had Anger of the Gods to take out Sylvan Caryatid, Thoughtseize for another Sylvan Caryatid, and Glare of Heresy for Jeskai Ascendancy. With the essential parts of his combo removed, Volakis was left with two useless Retraction Helix in hand, and quickly succumbed to Goblin Rabblemaster.
Volakis had to mulligan down to six in search of a keepable hand, and received Mountain, Altar of the Brood, Gather Courage, Commune with the Gods, Voyaging Satyr, and Rattleclaw Mystic. Certainly not the best hand, but it would be okay if he would find a green mana source in time, so he kept.
Unfortunately, it took too long for him to find his green mana. Sjoblom had already deployed Seeker of the Way and Butcher of the Horde, and the green source that Volakis' deck coughed up was a Temple of Mystery that delayed his board development by another turn.
Max Sjoblom capitalizes on his opponent's mana troubles in Game 3.
After surveying the board, Volakis realized that he was already too far behind and extended the hand.
Max Sjoblom defeats George Volaksi 2-1, keeping the dream of making Top 8 alive!