Deep into day two at Grand Prix Toronto, we found two of the best teams in the field with their sights set on the top four. On one side sat Brad Nelson, Seth Manfield, and Brian Braun Duin, on the other, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, Ben Stark, and Eric Froelich. All of these names are no strangers to the Sunday stage and they're looking to add another notch to their resumes with a Top 4 this weekend.
In the Standard seats, Brad Nelson playing White-Blue Control faced off against Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa playing White-Blue Cycling. Traditionally, this match is a long and grindy affair, with players trading planeswalkers and countermagic for the middle turns of the game while trying to hit their land drops and resolve a key spell that will turn the tide permanently in their favor.
Damo Da Rosa had the play for Game 1, but began the game on five cards. He cycled some of his early spells like Censor for land drops, and was able to make them for the first six turns of the game, until, on turn seven, Damo Da Rosa was forced to pass without playing a land.
This is often the first turning point of these control deck mirrors. Damo Da Rosa needed to figure out which of his resources he could cycle away to keep pace with Nelson's mana development. This time, however, Damo Da Rosa drew land again on his next turn, while Nelson had to begin discarding to hand size on turn eight after missing land drops of his own.
Brad Nelson, Seth Manfield, and Brian Braun Duin
Damo Da Rosa then found a pair of Hieroglyphic Illuminations, which pulled him ahead in the card advantage war and provided him with both more cards to cycle and more lands to play.
Ahead of Nelson in both land drops and cards, Damo Da Rosa cast the first of his Drake Havens. Nelson fired off a Negate, which drew a Countervailing Winds from Damo Da Rosa. A Commit from Nelson and another Countervailing Winds from Damo Da Rosa, and the Drake Haven resolved. Damo Da Rosa had no mana untapped, however, and Nelson followed up with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and banished the Drake Haven back to Damo Da Rosa's deck.
That Teferi met his end at the hands of a Cast Out from Damo Da Rosa, but Nelson's second copy of the legendary planeswalker also resolved. When Damo Da Rosa went to Cast Out that copy as well, Nelson saved it with his own Blink of an Eye.
A Field of Ruin activation from Nelson shuffled the players' decks so Damo Da Rosa couldn't redraw the Drake Haven, but Damo Da Rosa had a Teferi of his own, and found a Drake Haven to pair with the Search for Azcanta he had in hand. All three card advantage engines coming down in a single turn was enough for Nelson to concede the game knowing he couldn't keep up with all the Drakes he was going to be facing!
In sideboarding, it was going to be on Nelson to make some drastic changes to his deck. The matchup for White-Blue Control against White-Blue Cycling is a difficult one. White-Blue Cycling has cheaper threats and fewer dead removal spells in game one. Nelson would be looking to turn his copies of Seal Away, Settle the Wreckage, and Fumigate into aggressive creatures, History of Benalia, and other planeswalkers or counterspells to fight through Damo Da Rosa's interaction. Damo Da Rosa, on the other hand, would have to expect the possibilities of more early threats and would need to balance what removal he left in his deck.
Game two started off with Nelson on the play and attacking with a Knight of Grace and following it up with a History of Benalia, a fantastic start for Brad Nelson fans. On the other side, Damo Da Rosa just had a turn three Drake Haven, but it met an untimely end at the hands of Invoke the Divine from Nelson before any Drakes could be created.
Damo Da Rosa tried to remove some of the pressure from Nelson's aggressive start with a Cast Out, but fell to 6 life on his turn from the many knights. A Teferi from Damo Da Rosa also met with a Syncopate from Nelson. Facing lethal damage and without an answer for Nelson's two knight tokens, Damo Da Rosa found himself packing it up and heading to game three.
Nelson's cunning sideboard strategy allowed him to take the second game. He managed to transform from a complete control deck with no creatures, to a deck that played multiple threats on the first three turns of the game. It's no surprise, given that Nelson is known for his constant ability to keep his opponents guessing and exploiting their weaknesses. Damo Da Rosa went back to the drawing board, changing a number of cards from his deck, trying to find a way to combat how Nelson might sideboard for game number three. He announced he would be taking the play, and the players were off with the deciding game for their standard match.
Game three began much like game one, with both players making their land drops and Damo Da Rosa cycling unnecessary answers and lands looking to find the proper cards for the situation. Once again we made it to the mid game with both players having six lands in play, and Damo Da Rosa beginning to cast Hieroglyphic Illuminations, looking for more lands. Nelson on the other side had multiple copies of Memorial to Genius in play, allowing him some extra fuel if the game became about extra resources.
Eric Froelich, Ben Stark, and Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa
Damo Da Rosa began the festivities with a Search for Azcanta, and Nelson, respecting the powerful enchantment, fired off a Disallow, which Damo Da Rosa answered with a Negate. Search for Azcata resolved. On Nelson's turn, he looked to Teferi as the answer to Search for Azcanta, and won the counterwar using his Disallow on Damo Da Rosa's second copy of Negate.
This put Damo Da Rosa in a spot where he needed to make some headway. He got Nelson to spend all of his mana on his own turn, but Nelson had a Teferi on the battlefield. He needed to stop Nelson from untapping with the powerful planeswalker, so he used his own copy of Teferi to send Nelson's planeswalker packing.
This left Nelson with an oppening, and he used it to resolve a History of Benalia and Gideon of the Trials, both of which had the ability to kill Damo Da Rosa's Teferi. But would Nelson respect the potential for Settle the Wreckage and risk both his planeswalker and his knight in combat?
After a short pause, he risked it, attacking with everyone, and Damo Da Rosa didn't have a way to protect the Hero of Dominaria. He did, however, fire off a Cast Out at end of turn to remove the Gideon of the Trials from the battlefield.
Unfortunately for Damo Da Rosa, this prompted Nelson to respond with a Pull from Tomorrow for SEVEN cards! This spell is usually the back breaker in these control mirrors, as the ability to refuel your hand after the initial counterwars makes things incredibly difficult for the opponent to overcome. And Nelson had resolved it.
Damo Da Rosa was, once again, the one under pressure. He was both behind on the board to Nelson's History of Benalia, and also behind on cards in hand. He did have Search for Azcanta transform into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, but would it be enough to stave off all off Nelson's resources?
It wouldn't even have a chance, since Nelson had Field of Ruin to destroy the Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. Damo Da Rosa had cycled so many of his powerful resources away this game, but had little to show for it. He did manage another Search for Azcanta, but Nelson one upped him with a Pull from Tomorrow for six. Damo Da Rosa stopped it from resolving, but Nelson's knights then went to work on Damo Da Rosa's life total.
With with no hand, and no resources, and facing down lethal damage, Damo Da Rosa extended the hand. The team of Brad Nelson, Seth Manfield, and Brian Braun Duin won the match and moved themselves one step closer to the Top 4 with a 10-2 record! Congratulations to Brad, Seth, and Brian as they move one step closer to their quest for a trophy here at Grand Prix Toronto.