Round 15: Jan Ksandr (Black-Green Delirium) vs. Daniel Gräfensteiner (Four-Color Copy Cat)

Posted in Event Coverage on February 4, 2017

By Tobi Henke

In the penultimate round of the tournament, two players met in the feature match area with a Top 8 berth on the line. Jan Ksandr, a young talent from the Czech Republic, had his biggest finish to date at last year's Grand Prix Sydney where he came in second. This would be his first Pro Tour Top 8 and, with a record of 11-3 so far, chances were he really needed only one more win to make this a reality.

For long-time German player Daniel Gräfensteiner, this would be his second Pro Tour Top 8 after San Diego in 2010. However, with three losses and a draw on his record, he would likely have to win more than just this round, and a loss now might eliminate Gräfensteiner from Top 8 contention already.

Gräfensteiner had brought an interesting take on the Saheeli Rai/Felidar Guardian combo to the table. Adding green and an energy theme with lots of value cards like Rogue Refiner and Whirler Virtuoso, the deck didn't necessarily rely on the combination. At the same time, Gräfensteiner's Elder Deep-Fiends could help push the combo through against removal like Grasp of Darkness and, incidentally, Fatal Push.

Jan Ksandr, meanwhile, was playing one of the standards of the Standard format in Black-Green Delirium. The deck had been around before Aether Revolt, although the set's release definitely taught the color combination some new tricks. In fact, its current iteration bore almost no resemblance to the Black-Green Delirium decks of tournaments past, and drew most of its strength from the +1/+1 counter theme of Winding Constrictor, Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Verdurous Gearhulk, and Walking Ballista. The Ballista was particularly important in this matchup, as 1 point of damage directed to Gräfensteiner, and redirected to Saheeli Rai, would be enough to disrupt the Planeswalker's loop with Felidar Guardian. And not even tapping everything with Elder Deep-Fiend would change that.

The Games

The early turns of the first game were characterized by trades: Ksandr's Winding Constrictor fell victim to Gräfensteiner's Harnessed Lightning, his 7/7 Verdurous Gearhulk was taken down by Nahiri, the Harbinger who herself died in combat not much later, and his 4/4 Rishkar, Peema Renegade traded with Rogue Refiner and a Shock. Meanwhile, Gräfensteiner's own Servant of the Conduit fell to Grasp of Darkness.

When the smoke from these exchanges cleared, Gräfensteiner found himself without a nonland permanent, whereas Ksandr still had one Tireless Tracker standing. The Tracker kept on tracking, eventually grew to be a sizeable 7/6, and was joined by Mindwrack Demon. All the while, Ksandr had kept one Clue and three lands at the ready, enough to get Felidar Guardian with Fatal Push if, indeed, push ever came to shove.

Gräfensteiner now played his eighth land and passed the turn. Everyone knew there might be an Elder Deep-Fiend lurking in the deep, and it did surface just as expected. However, Gräfensteiner needed to use the Octopus's ability to tap down Ksandr's attackers, and couldn't tap enough of Ksandr's lands anyway.

Clue, lands, and Fatal Push remained on guard against an onslaught of Felidar Guardians. Gräfensteiner wasn't even able to complete the combo, and the game ended soon after.

Things ended with a bitter disappointment for Gräfensteiner. Over the course of the game, he only cast one Whirler Virtuoso, made one Thopter, got one Felidar Guardian taken by Transgress the Mind, and finally cast and used Ajani Unyielding to reveal a Rogue Refiner. Then he died.

But for a long time leading up to this conclusion, things hadn't looked half bad for the German, as Ksandr had missed his third land drop for multiple turns. Only shortly before Gräfensteiner cast his Planeswalker had Ksandr been able to summon Rishkar, Peema Renegade and really get things going. Things really did get going, though, beginning with a second Walking Ballista. Then, when Gräfensteiner was tapped out for Ajani, Ksandr summoned a second Winding Constrictor, tapped this Ballistas for mana, and cast Nissa, Voice of Zendikar.

This Planeswalker had a more immediate impact, giving each of Ksandr's creatures another three +1/+1 counters. Some of those were removed from one Walking Ballista to clear away Gräfensteiner's defense. Following that, Rishkar and Constrictor attacked for 12, and the remaining Ballista counters easily represented lethal damage.

Jan Ksandr 2 - Daniel Gräfensteiner 0

"I really needed to get rid of Winding Constrictor," said Gräfensteiner after the match. "This is the most important card. Once that gets out of hand, all is lost."

Ksandr voiced his impression that Walking Ballista was the linchpin. "I mean, if I don't have Ballista and if Elder Deep-Fiend cuts off my mana, there's nothing I can do about the combo."

Such fears were at least somewhat unfounded, as Gräfensteiner revealed that he took the combo out when sideboarding, hoping to get an advantage from opponents playing around it. Instead, he had been trying to play a fair game, but Ksandr's Winding Constrictor and Gräfensteiner's mana flood had made this a very unfair game yet.

Above I mentioned that there seemingly was no end to the young talent coming out of the Czech Republic. As if to remind us of that, Platinum pros Ondřej Stráský and Petr Sochůrek jumped onto the stage now to congratulate Ksandr on his victory. Stráský had been the great Czech newcomer in the 2014–15 season, Sochůrek the rising star in the 2015–16 season. This season, it was time for Jan Ksandr.

Daniel Gräfensteiner - Four-Color Copy Cat

Ksandr, Jan - Black-Green Delirium

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