Pro Tour Gatecrash winner, (17) Tom Martell was one of the last players to finish deck building, and has been seen between rounds discussing his builds with various other pros, trying to decide on the last cards, and if he got it right in the end.
"The deck is pretty good, but it's the hardest one I've built in this format and I have a lot of sideboard options," he explained before the match.
Across him is Portuguese Marcio Carvalho, who has numerous Grand Prix Top 8's to his name, and just recently made Top 8 in Madrid with an innovative Siege Rhino-deck, raising questions in the community if the card is simply too strong for Modern.
With both players on a 5-1 record coming in the round, one would almost certainly lock up a slot on Day 2, where the loser would have to win out to qualify for the draft rounds tomorrow. Quite the important round in other words, which really showed on the tension of the match.
As it turned out, both players had quite spicy four, or even five color builds. Carvalho on Jeskai, with a splash of Black for Utter End, and Martell on a five color control deck. Which made it unpredictable and his morphs hard to read. It's simply hard to know what your opponent has in hand when he passes the turn with mana up and all colors available.
Game one was all about a Master of the Hidden Way for Martell, and how much removal he had to prevent Carvalho from building a board.
Seven turns after flipping it up on turn four, the Master of the Hidden Way was attacking for lethal. To add insult to the injury Carvalho was staring at a Winterflame in his hand, unable to cast it without red mana for the entire game.
Tom Martell took a long time after Game 1, setting up his deck to the build he had settled on when tuning it between round after round. Would be still be five colors? Would he still be on the Master of the Hidden Way plan? And would he play three more copies of Kill Shot?
We would soon find out...
The conversation was minimal between the players as the second game got going.
A first turn Herald of Anafenza from Martell hinted that we might see a completely different game. And we sure would. Not in the way that Martell ran over Carvalho with tokens, but rather because Carvalho had learned the importance of keeping Mistfire Weaver unmorphed to wait for Martell's Kill Shot.
A morph, an Abzan Falconer and a pair of Mardu Hordechief put Carvalho in the driving seat for the game. And when he saved the Falconer by unmorphing the previously mentioned Mistfire Weaver, things were looking grim for Martell.
Abzan Charm took out the Falconer. And a Seeker of the Way looked like it might hold off the Hordechiefs. But Carvalho attacked with no fear, and without a spell in his hand to trigger heroic on Seeker of the Way, Martell was out of the game when Wingmate Roc hit the board soon after. But not without giving away some important information, when a morph that he cast earlier turned out to be Kheru Spellsnatcher.
Carvalho made a mental note, and shuffled up for the decider.
In a unexpected turn of events Martell opted to be on the draw for the final game. Something he might end up regretting, as Carvalho came out fast with a morph and a pair of Mardu Hordechief. Martell wasn't doing much other than playing lands of all colors. And although Carvalho was stuck on Plains only, it looked like he might overrun the Kill Shot-lacking Martell.
Seeker of the Way once again came down for the American, making it risky for Carvalho to attack if Martell had any spells to grow it.
Still with nothing but Plains, Carvalho decided to keep attacking, and surely let out a sigh of inner relief when Martell just took the damage. Despite struggling with his colors, Carvalho had a few morphs to add to his offense. But an Alabaster Kirin did a good job in holding them back.
It became a game of Mono White against Five Color Control, as Martell played very carefully, never tapping out to keep mana up for anything from Kill Shot to Abzan Charm or a potential counterspell. Wingmate Roc was thwarted by Disdainful Stroke, and it suddenly looked like Martell might be able to take the game with just Alabaster Kirin for offense.
Morphs came down for both players, complicating the board even more, with Carvalho now representing Kill Shot, making Martell unable to attack in fear of it. Many careful turns later it looked like Martell might have Kheru Spellsnatcher as one of his morphs as he suddenly found the courage to attack again.
Carvalho had found a Mountain, but still no Island. With a fist full of Force Away, Utter End and even a Sage of the Inward Eye he might be back in the game if he could only find that Blue mana sooner rather than never.
The game lingered, both players very careful with their life total, trying to play around whichever morphs their opponent might have. Hoping to counter removals with Mistfire Weaver and holding mana up for Kill Shot as much as possible.
Down to just nine life, Carvalho finally found his Island, but couldn't play his trump card Sage of the Inward Eye, as Martell was holding up mana for Kheru Spellsnatcher. Time was now running out in the round, forcing both players to pick up the paste if they wanted to have time to get the win.
Finally time was called, and although Martell had removed some of Carvalho's blockers it looked like we were in for a draw. However, Martell countered a mere morph with his Spellsnatcher, allowing Carvalho to resolve the Sage, now threatening lifegain enough to put the game out of Martell's reach.
On his second to last turn the Portuguese went for the win, he could remove Martell's last fliers and attack for 6 in the air with Martell at 12, and had a Cancel for a Kill Shot from Martell. Martell's very last card in hand however, turned out to be another, and now Martell could, on his last turn attack back for lethal.
A very happy Tom Martell smiled in victory, and gracefully complemented his opponent for playing for the win, rather than sitting back on defense for a guaranteed draw.
"Yeah, there was no way I was losing that game if I played for the draw, but a win is so much better," explained Carvalho after the game.