Round 13 Feature Match: Reid Duke (Esper Control) vs. (7) Jacob Wilson (Dark Jeskai)

Posted in Event Coverage on October 17, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

The tension is palpable at the top tables of the Pro Tour by the time Round 13 rolls around. Top 8 dreams live and die by the result these matches, and neither Reid Duke or seventh-ranked Jacob Wilson were any stranger to the pressure of the later rounds of a Pro Tour. With both entering the match at 9-3, neither had any wiggle room to give. A loss would almost certainly eliminate them from Top 8 contention, while a win would keep their hopes alive of running the table for the rest of the day.

The Decks

Wilson entered the arena with one of the format's more well-established—and feared—decks. Dark Jeskai has been terrorizing tournaments since Battle for Zendikar released, and it's one of the only archetypes in the format that can comfortably play both Mantis Rider and Crackling Doom in the same deck. The combination is deadly, and it still retains the ability to transform Jace, Vryn's Prodigy early and then bring it back later with Ojutai's Command.

While Wilson's deck adopted the control game, Duke's deck invented it. Settling on Esper Control for the tournament, Duke eschewed any of the dragons that sometimes accompany the archetype, and instead opted for a full suite of counterspells and removal. Outside of Jace, the only creatures in the main deck were a pair of Arashin Clerics, while Ugin, the Spirit Dragon (or occasionally an awakened land from Planar Outburst) did the hard lifting in terms of actually finishing off an opponent.

Reid Duke and Jacob Wilson both had white and blue in their decks, but their third major color created a lot of key differences in deck choice.

The Games

Both players cast Jace, Vryn's Prodigy on the second turn, and they settled into the long showdown that is the Jace mirror.

Wilson's was the first to transform, leading the way for Mantis Rider to follow and draw first blood. Duke followed suit on his turn, though Wilson was able to clear it out with a timely Draconic Roar while adding to the board with a Seeker of the Way.

Not that either got a chance to connect, as Duke cast Planar Outburst to clear the board. He followed up on the next turn with an Utter End to remove a freshly-cast Thunderbreak Regent, and refilled with Dig Through Time at the end Wilson's turn.

While Duke was pulling ahead on cards, he was still falling behind on board. Wilson's Jace, Telepath Unbound was freely operating through everything, and while it helped Wilson operate, he continued to toss out threats that Duke had to answer. First it was another Mantis Rider, and then a Seeker of the Way returned with Ojutai's Command. The pressure was slowly whittling Duke's life total down, forcing him to cast his own Command simply to gain life and then activate Jace on his next turn to do the same.

That created a small window for Wilson, and he took full advantage, casting another Thunderbreak Regent off the top and choosing to cast another card with Jace rather than activate the final ability.

With his back against the wall, Duke needed a big answer, and he found it in tapping out for Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, clearing away the board and leaving Ugin with three loyalty. Now it was Wilson who needed a perfect answer to stay in the game. He didn't disappoint, casting Mantis Rider and finishing off Ugin to swing things back the other way. Undeterred, Duke simply cast a second Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and ticked it up to take out the Rider.

Yes. Three damage. Get that Mantis off the table.

That was the straw that broke the Mantis' back, and though Wilson tried valiantly to hang in the game, Duke was able to control the next few threats while working on Wilson's life total with Ugin. A few turns later, they were off to the second game.

"I guess maybe I should have ultimate'd Jace," Wilson lamented in between games.

After the drawn-out affair that was the first game, Wilson knew he needed to put pressure on Duke's life total early to get under all the removal and late-game advantage, and his opening seven cards allowed him to do just that: a pair of Seeker of the Way had Duke down to 12 life by the fourth turn. Jace, Telepath Unbound helped Duke slow one down, though a follow-up Mantis Rider and Jeskai Charm had Duke down to just five life and facing lethal on the table even with Jace in play.

Again it was Planar Outburst that saved the day, clearing the board and buying Duke time to cycle through Ojutai's Command with Jace, gaining 4 life and drawing a card to try and survive the onslaught.

But Wilson wasn't worried about Duke gaining life. He refilled the board with creatures, and when Duke tapped out to bring back Planar Outburst with Jace, a Disdainful Stroke allowed Wilson to knock Duke to just 3 life, a critical point since it meant a Mantis Rider could end the game on the spot.

Knowing he's the aggressor in the matchup, Wilson couldn't let up in his games against Duke's Esper Control.

He had even better: Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury was dashed in and sent a mighty army toward Duke. But again he had the perfect answers, in this case a pair of Surge of Righteousness to remove both Mantis Rider and the Dragonlord and finish the turn at 7 life.

That marked the turning point, and from there on it was pure and classic Esper control. Murderous Cut removed Seeker of the Way and Ojutai's Command countered Thunderbreak Regent and returned a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to the field. As the clock ticked down to zero and Duke cast Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Wilson extended his hand and congratulated Duke on the victory.

Duke 2 – Wilson 0

Esper Control—Reid Duke

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Dark Jeskai—Jacob WIlson

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