The Pro Tour Hall of Fame isn't where players go to retire: It's where the game's greatest go to keep playing. Raphaël Lévy was among the best longtime players, and adding yet another Grand Prix Top 8 to his resume the weekend before a Pro Tour didn't seem unusual in the least.
Fellow Hall of Fame member Paul Rietzl likewise picked up an unsurprising top finish after his Top 4 performance at the World Championship a couple weeks earlier.
Joe Lavrenz was not an established member of the game's elite. Earning his first Grand Prix Top 8, and now Top 4, means he was now both qualified for a future Pro Tour and had cleared a hurdle some players spend years working towards. Making the finals or winning Grand Prix Madison would vault him even higher.
He'd have to defeat Lévy first, which is never an easy feat.
Lévy's deck was firmly a three color creation. Using cards like Resolute Blademaster, Woodland Wanderer and Infuse with the Elements to press the advantage multiple colors provide, then backing it up with removal like Sheer Drop and an endgame Dragonmaster Outcast to summon an aerial army.
Lavrenz's deck was similarly three colors, and used Fathom Feeder, Skyrider Elf and Ulamog's Nullifier to make the most of his choices. With Bane of Bala Ged and plentiful removal, such as Complete Disregard, to round of his deck, Lavrenz was prepared to go long and push hard.
“Getting your beatdown on!” Lavrenz said, describing the fast start from Lévy.
Cliffside Lookout and Kor Castigator came down early for Lévy in the first game, and when Fathom Seer tried to block Encircling Fissure kept the creatures alive. Infuse with the Elements let the Castigator trample over Lavrenz's next blocker, leaving Lévy with a 6/4 to attack again on the next turn.
Falling to 5 life, Lavrenz needed something big to get out of the beatdown Lévy had unloaded.
“How many cards?” Lavrenz asked.
“One.” Lévy said.
“Is it good?”
“Does it need to be good?”
Grip of Desolation let Lavrenz fall to only 1 life, and Complete Disregard finished off the last creature from Lévy. Lévy's follow up with Shadow Glider looked promising. Ulamog's Nullifier came flashing down on the next to stop it for Lavrenz.
“That's good.” Lévy said.
Grvoetender Druid and a 5/5 Woodland Wanderer were next from Lévy. “That guy's huge!” Lavrenz said.
Joe Lavrenz rarely lost the grin on his face, even when fighting to stay stabilized at 1 life.
But they faced off in stalemate thanks to Oran-Rief Invoker for Lavrenz: Neither had a great attack. Skyrider Elf and Incubator Drone joined Lavrenz's side next, but Dragonmaster Outcast looked to be the end.
“That guy's really good,” Lavrenz said. After using Coastal Discovery Lavrenz could only pass and let the flow of Dragons begin. It took another turn before Demon's Grasp solved the Dragon production.
“Three cards. What could they be?” Lévy pondered out loud.
The jig was up. “Alright, you got me. I can't block.” Lavrenz admitted while pulling his cards up.
The second game was a faster affair. Lavrenz started off quick, ramping up to a 4/4 Skyrider Elf thanks to Lifespring Druid. Spell Shrivel for Lévy's Encircling Fissure looked good for Lavrenz, but Sheep Drop handled the flyer on the next turn. Bane of Bala Ged followed next for Lavrenz.
“Don't you just hate that when you're mana screwed?” he asked.
After a very tight start Lévy moved into the command position after dealing with Bane of Bala Ged.
Another Lifespring Druid was all Lavrenz offered and he fell to 5 life on the next attack. Fathom Feeder and Halimar Tidecaller were the speedbumps he played after but weren't enough: Infuse with the Elements pushed through for the final points of damage for Lévy.
“Good match,” Lavrenz said, extending his hand.
“I didn't expect to win that one.” Lévy had a look of surprise – as did the Twitch audience following along from home. It was an incredible recovery to win the game and match.
Raphaël Lévy defeated Joe Lavrenz, 2-0.