Semifinals: Martin Dang (Red Aggro) vs. Adrian Sullivan (Blue-Black Control)

Posted in PRO TOUR DRAGONS OF TARKIR on April 12, 2015

By Josh Bennett

Just two rounds stood between these players and the title of Pro Tour Champion. They would do battle in one of Magic's classic matchups: Red Aggro against Blue-Black Control. Adrian Sullivan was cast in the role of Jace Beleren, sporting a snazzy suit jacket instead of the typical hooded robe. Martin Dang might not have had goggles to wear, but Chandra would appreciate the firepower he was wielding.

Team Ultra PRO had been hard at work in the intervening hours, preparing Sullivan for the matchup. Sullivan talked through test games played by Matt Severa and Matthew Sperling, all three weighing in. Soon, Hall of Famer Bob Maher showed up with a page of notes labeled "From Craig." That would be Craig Wescoe, Pro Tour Dragon's Maze Champion. He'd been testing the matchup by himself, playing both sides at once. Sullivan looked it over. "This goes along with what I've been thinking." He studied the bullet-point breakdown of how to approach the match. "Craig's notes are always so good." As an afterthought, he added, "Good enough to help Ari Lax win a Pro Tour."

Dang and his teammates from Thomme Thomme Thomme had done as much testing as they felt necessary. They relaxed and waited for the call to the feature match area.

Plenty of eyes were on the semifinals, and both teams were in the back, cheering their respective friends on.

The Games

Sullivan led with Dismal Backwater. Dang played Mountain and Zurgo Bellstriker. Sullivan untapped and took a thoughtful pause. "We are at a critical moment in the game, where it could the turn."

After some quick mental calculation, he went for a tapped Opulent Palace. Dang brought out Monastery Swiftspear and hit for 3. Sullivan added Polluted Delta to his side. A Forest from Dang earned a mildly concerned "Hm." Dang hit with his creatures and fired off Lightning Strike. A Bile Blight in response took care of the Swiftspear, and Sullivan took a total of 5.

He untapped, drew, and passed back without a fourth land. Dang sent in Zurgo, holding four cards. Sullivan thought about his next move. "Four cards is so many cards." He chose to Bile Blight away Zurgo. Dang took the opportunity to resolve a Stoke the Flames that put Sullivan to a precarious 7 life. He missed again on land and fetched out an island to give himself a second blue source, down to 6.

Dang's Red Aggro deck could drop an opponent quickly out of nowhere if given enough of a lead.

They played a round of "draw, go." Sullivan found his fourth land. Dang's next draw prompted him to action. He spent 2 of his 6 mana on Dragon Fodder. Sullivan went into the tank and decided it was worth the Dissolve. Dang flipped over a pair Lightning Strikes to take the game.

Both players kept their openers. Sullivan's hand was heavy on lands that enter the battlefield tapped, but he still had two black mana on his second turn to hit Zurgo Bellstriker with Pharika's Cure. Dang played a land and passed. Sullivan scryed off a Temple and passed back. Dang resolved an end-of-turn Lightning Strike, then untapped and went for Hordeling Outburst. Sullivan was quick to sweep the tokens away with Bile Blight. Dang tried it again the following turn and drew out a second Blight.

Sullivan's Temples had done a good job of crafting his draw steps, and he seemed to be taking control of the game. He allowed a Goblin Rabblemaster, took 1 from its token, and then cleared them out with Crux of Fate. Dang replaced it with Eidolon of the Great Revel. Again, Sullivan had the right tool for the job: Silence the Believers. He was down to just two cards in hand, however. Another Eidolon earned a Hero's Downfall when it went to attack.

Dang wasn't out of pressure yet. He resolved a Dragon Fodder, and a turn later dashed in Lightning Berserker. He attacked with his squad and played Atarka's Command: 3 damage for Sullivan and +1/+1 for his creatures. It resolved, but Sullivan had Hero's Downfall for the Berserker with Bile Blight to take down the goblins.

Radiant Fountain put him up to 10, and when Dang's next turn consisted only of a lowly Foundry Street Denizen, things were looking up for Sullivan. He played one of his deck's oddities—the singleton Interpret the Signs—looking to restock and put the game permanently out of Dang's reach. Looking at the top three he made no effort to hide his disappointment. "I missed," he said, and showed Ultimate Price after putting a pair of lands on the bottom. He drew only two cards.

Still, it was better than nothing. For two turns, Dang did nothing but hit for 1, while Sullivan drew and played Radiant Fountain and Dismal Backwater. Goblin Rabblemaster forced out the Ultimate Price. A turn later, Sullivan decided to spend Bile Blight on the Denizen. Dang tried Become Immense for the save, but Negate foiled that plan.

Sullivan came in with a plan, and he was confident his team's preparation and his deck would get him through.

Now they were both playing off the top of their decks. Sullivan drew and passed. Dang drew Rabblemaster and got 1 damage in with the token. Sullivan took care of the problem with Drown in Sorrow and sent another blank to the bottom of his deck. Dang plucked a Zurgo and dashed it in for 2 damage. Sullivan was down to 6. He drew and passed. Dang dashed again. He still had no answer, down to 4, another empty turn for Sullivan. Another dash from Dang, and Sullivan fell to 2. Sullivan needed to draw an answer immediately.

Dang tapped two and sent in Zurgo yet again. Sullivan turned over his hand: lands and a useless Drown in Sorrow. With a shake of his head, he shook Dang's hand and congratulated him on his victory.

While they packed up, they talked briefly about the matchup. "In playtesting, we found Game 1 is 60% for you, but Games 2 and 3 is 75% us." Dang was slightly skeptical, citing his own experience in the swiss and in testing. They agreed to disagree after such a strange Game 2. "It was when I missed on that card draw, that's when you won the game." Sullivan wished Dang good luck in the finals, and Dang's teammates swooped in with cheers for him.

Martin Dang defeats Adrian Sullivan 2-0 and advances to the Finals!

Martin Dang's Red Aggro Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir

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Adrian Sullivan's Blue-Black Control - Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir

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