Semifinals: Jon Graham vs. Magnus Lantto

Posted in Event Coverage on October 12, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

Jon Graham had already accomplished more than he had expected, flying through Day 2 of Grand Prix Madison with an undefeated record thanks to one of the less-flashy-but-plenty-powerful archetypes in Battle for Zendikar draft: a traditional white-blue fliers deck.

Taking advantage of the best wall in Zendikar — Fortified Rampart — Graham had stormed through the competition on Sunday as he hid behind the wall and soared in from the skies. He crafted the deck in both drafts on Day 2, and it was no surprise he had arrived in the semifinals with the same archetype.

Across from him sat Magnus Lantto, who traveled to Grand Prix Madison from Sweden to compete in the same state as next week's Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. He took down hall of famer Paul Rietzl in the quarterfinals, and was looking for another victory to face another in the finals, where Raphael Levy awaited after his own semifinal victory.

Magnus Lantto looked to secure an all-Europe final, which he would do with a win over Jon Graham in the semifinals.

The Games

Both players led off the match with defensive cards; the trusty Fortified Rampart for Graham and Kozilek's Sentinel for Lantto. With both walls up early, both players needed to find a way to go over the top. Or in Graham's case, through it, as Benthic Infiltrator threatened to do.

For his part, Lantto tried to get ahead with Herald of Kozilek, setting up his mana on future turns. And with Kozilek's Channeler on the next turn, he was primed to dump his hand. But first he had to refill, which he did with an awakened Coastal Discovery, while Graham tried to fight back with a Cloud Manta.

Despite drawing extra cards, Lantto wasn't able to find a fifth land. Still, he had plenty to work with, and he woke up another land with a Rush of Ice. As he crashed into the red zone, Gideon's Reproach took out one of the lands and left Lantto's mana even more stunted as Graham tapped out for Felidar Sovereign.

Still, the Sovereign was forced to play defense as Lantto removed the Manta and gummed up the board with a pair of Incubator Drone and their Scion entourage. With Graham unable to break through and Lantto finally finding lands and no much else, the game devolved into a board stall that went on for several long turns as both searched for a gamechanger.

It was Lantto who found it first, casting Valakut Invoker off the top of the deck, with plenty of mana to activate it.

The next game featured a much better start for Graham, who had Coralhelm Guide on the second turn and Makindi Patrol followed up. The start was somewhat held in check by Herald of Kozilek for Lantto, but after Fortified Rampart arrived to hold down the fort the hard-to-pin-down Merfolk simply made itself unblockable and continued to chip away at Lantto's life total. Drowner of Hope bought Lantto a turn, but that was all as Graham snuck in the last points of damage and sent the pair into a decider.

Graham's army of fliers had served him well all day, and now he stood just one match away from the finals.

The third game featured familiar starts, as Graham led with Fortified Rampart and Lantto responded in turn with Herald of Kozilek. The white-blue player tried to take to the skies with Eldrazi Skyspawner, but Boiling Earth took down both it and its companion. That curved perfectly into a fifth-turn Deathless Behemoth for Lantto, and with that he finally had an all-important Rampart breaker.

That put Graham on the back foot, and he was forced to burn a Clutch of Currents on it without awakening a land along with it. Kozilek's Channeler and Incubator Drone began to fill up Lantto's side of the board, and two turns later Graham was forced to burn a second Clutch of Currents to try and stabilize.

Still, he was making slow progress with Benthic Infiltrator, and with a few well-timed draws he tried to navigate a path to victory. Felidar Sovereign was a huge piece of that, and when the American passed the turn back he looked to be evening things up.

But again Valakut Invoker showed up for Lantto, and once again it took over the game. A pair of activations later and he was off to the finals.

Magnus Lantto defeated Jon Graham 2-1

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