Perth newcomer Paul Jackson sat down to face the Sydney Magic veteran James Zhang in the finals of GP Sydney. Zhang had already won Australian Grand Prix trophies back in 2005 and 2006 and was looking towards a repeat performance in 2014. Jackson, however, was determined to bring the trophy home to Perth.
"I haven't seen Zhang's deck at all," Paul said. "I asked Zhang about it, but he didn't seem too fussed, so I suspect I have the better deck. But I'm determined to play the Magic I've been playing all weekend and focus on winning, one game at a time."
With the higher finish in the Swiss rounds Jackson elected to play. Jackson raced out of the gate with a quick Research Assistant and Kinsbaile Skirmisher, while Zhang's first play was a Guardian Sentinel. Jackson continued pressing his advantage with a Frost Lynx targeting the Guardian Sentinel to push through his creatures.
Paul Jackson presses his advantage.
Jackson drew into a Heliod's Pilgrim and used it to fetch out his Spectra Ward, a card he snagged 3rd pack, 4th pick. Stuck on 3 lands, Jackson didn't yet have the mana to cast the powerful enchantment, but he had still managed to sprout seven creatures to Zhang's three.
The two traded blows, and as the board became more cluttered Zhang went into the tank. He swung at Jackson with his Wurm and Sentinel, but Jackson responded with a Devouring Light. Zhang summoning a tapped Carrion Crow. At this point Jackson had four cards in hand to Zhang's solitary spell, and 12 life to Zhang's 13.
With Zhang threatening five in the air, Jackson tossed up whether to send in the Spirits. Eventually he flew in two, leaving one back to block with a fresh Sunburst Pegasus.
Zhang eyed the Pegasus warily, knowing how difficult it would be to race a Spectra Ward on the lifelinking flyer. Eventually Zhang decided to send in the Gargoyle and the Crow. Jackson chose to block the Carrion Crow with both the Sunburst Pegasus and the Spirit Token, losing his winged horse. Zhang played yet another tapped Carrion Crow. Jackson responded at the end of turn with a Peel From Reality targeting Zhang's Gargoyle Sentinel and his own Frost Lynx.
Jackson landed a Selfless Cathar, threatening to giving real meat to his army, and continued pecking away at Zhang's life total with the remaining Spirits. Zhang replayed the Gargoyle Sentinel and an Undergrowth Scavenger. With Zhang on 8 life, Jackson counted up his mana and his attackers, then with a small flourish laid out his fifth land and cast Spectra Ward on the Frost Lynx. The cat swung in, knocking Zhang down to 4 life and threatening lethal next turn. After a turn chump blocking with the Gargoyle, Zhang scooped to the enchantment welding feline.
Jackson 1 - Zhang 0
Zhang was on the play and the two start trading early. Jackson again found himself on three lands as Zhang continued to ramp, but Jackson's low drops kept the momentum on his side. River Marshall as a 3/2 and Jackson's sole Heliod's Pilgrim - again fetching the Spectra Ward - kept the pressure on until Zhang played a Shadowcloak Vampire to slow the game down.
Jackson assessed his opponent, then swung in with River Marshall. Before blocks Zhang counted out the maths, relentlessly spinning a pen in his right hand, but decided against blocking with the vampire. Jackson followed up the attack by summoning both an Oreskos Swiftclaw and a Research Assistant.
Zhang continued to play out lands, used his life to jump the vampire, attacked and passed the turn. Jackson played a Selfless Cathar, then tapped his team to convoke Triplicate Spirits, holding up Ephemeral Shields mana.
Zhang realised how far ahead his opponent was progressing and, despite the unfavourable board, called Garruk, Apex Predator to his side. He used Garruk to put a 3/3 Beast into play then passed the turn back, ready to defend the huge planeswalker.
James Zhang calls on the help of Garruk, Apex Predator.
Here the game turned. Jackson used all his mana to cast a Paragon of the New Dawns, almost doubling the power of his army. Jackson sent in the 2/2 spirits to kill Garruk. Zhang responded by jumping the Vampire to block one so that the hunter of planeswalkers could survive another turn.
Zhang attempted to use the Vampire to Hunt the Weak against the Paragon, but Jackson protected it with a convoked Ephemeral Shield. When the turn passed back Jackson found a fifth land. The young man didn't hesitate to enchant the Paragon with his Spectra Ward. Zhang had no answer to the Spectra Ward and a few turns later offered his hand.
"You've got it." admitted Zhang.
The crowd burst into cheers.
"I feel like it's a weight of my shoulders." Jackson said afterwards. "It's surreal, I'm still getting over the fact I've won a Grand Prix. I had no byes, so starting from the bottom up was a lot of hours. As the first person from Western Australia to win a Grand Prix, it means the world to me. I started playing during Kawigama, off and on, and I've been getting serious in the past couple of years. I've been producing better results every time, so hopefully I'll improve on this win at the Pro Tour in Honolulu."