In his third Modern format Pro Tour, and fourth total of his career, sixth-ranked player Lee Shi Tian was a bundle of energy. Thanks to testing efforts with his teammates, he set aside his Jeskai Ascendancy proclivities to play the deck his team found most suitable: Burn. As arguably the best player in Asia, and certainly one of the best in the world, winning his way through a Pro Tour would put a definitive exclamation point next to his name on future Pro Tour Hall of Fame ballots. Exclamations were suitable for the oft-excited contender.
Antonio Del Moral León was a Magic Online Championship Series contender. Winning a season, and qualifying for the Pro Tour, Del Moral León represented one of the many ways to not only make it onto the Pro Tour but put in the practice needed for success. While he didn't hail from an organized testing team, he did make fast friends with other Spanish competitors that attended this weekend, including those he fought alongside of as part of Spain's 2014 World Magic Cup team.
Burn, Lee's deck and similarly built to fellow Top 8 competitor Seth Manfield's, was a straightforward number crunch. With classics such as Lighting Bolt, Rift Bolt, Searing Blaze, and Goblin Guide, the red side of things improved with Khans of Tarkir's addition of Monastery Swiftspear. A splash of white allow both the efficient Lightning Helix through the door, and it also brings sideboard cards like Kor Firewalker to bear in the mirror. His team's overall success on the weekend made it clear Burn was an appropriate choice.
Before the format's upheaval, Modern was home to a powerful Delver of Secrets deck that used cards like Young Pryomancer and Lightning Bolt to aggressively press in damage. Without that deck's backbone—Treasure Cruise—available, some players returned to blue-red's roots in the format with Splinter Twin. The powerful Aura not only wins games with either Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch, but also turns one Snapcaster Mage into every spell in the deck among other tricky options. With its victory at the first Modern format Pro Tour, it remained a perennial contender, putting not just Del Moral León but fellow Top 8 player Jelger Wiegersma into the Sunday spotlight.
Magic Online player Antonio Del Moral León faces off against sixth-ranked Lee Shi Tian, who is competing in his fourth Pro Tour Top 8.
In typical Lee fashion, his emotions were running high entering the match.
"Do you feel nervous?" Lee asked Del Moral León as they shuffled.
"No," Del Moral León said.
"It's my fourth time," Lee said, "and I'm still nervous." He shook his hands at his sides, wriggling in his seat to disperse his anxiety. They didn't wait long to get started.
The first game began with Del Moral León following the tried and true path of Splinter Twin decks: Massaging his hand, digging for the pieces of the combo he needed with multiple Serum Visions. Lee similarly ran the line Burn lays, opening with Monastery Swiftspear with a plan to cast Lightning Bolt-type spells. A defensive Flame Slash took care of the Swiftspear, but Goblin Guide replaced it.
Del Moral León passed with three mana up, then cast Deceiver Exarch to block Lee's guide.
"Combo?" Lee asked, wondering what Del Moral León had planned next turn. After failing to deal damage to Del Moral León, Lee just passed the turn leaving his own mana up. Deceiver Exarch attacked Lee, and Del Moral León passed after missing his fourth land.
With mana up, Del Moral León represented another Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite, as well as Vendilion Clique to peek into Lee's hand. Lee cast Lightning Helix at the end of that before drawing for his turn and passing back. Here, Vendilion Clique was Del Moral León's end-of-Lee's-turn play. It saw Lightning Bolt, Shard Volley, and Lightning Helix waiting. Lightning Bolt was cycled away, and with the coast clear of two one-mana instants in Lee's hand Del Moral León jammed Splinter Twin onto his Deceiver Exarch to take the first game.
Del Moral León did not come into Sunday alone. He has Spain's Pro Tour competitors cheering him on today.
The second game began with a suspended Rift Bolt by Lee, and the familiar Serum Visions by Del Moral León. Eidolon of the Great Revel was Lee's next play, turning any further Serum Visions for Del Moral León into self-inflicted Shocks. The Eidolon attacked on Lee's next turn before he cast Lava Spike, and Del Moral León paused before settling on Negate.
A suspended Rift Bolt meant Del Moral León's 12 life was precarious: He took it to 10 playing an untapped Steam Vents. Then on Lee's turn Pestermite, to tap down the Eidolon, put Del Moral León to 5 after that. Del Moral León stayed at three open lands before passing back to Lee, who cast Monastery Swiftspear.
Del Moral León used his Remand, falling to 3. Lee just cast the Swiftspear again and found Pestermite blocking his Eidolon. The enchantment creature had done its work as Del Moral León was within rage of nearly every spell in Lee's deck.
Another Serum Visions gave Del Moral León his fourth mana, and on Lee's upkeep the Swiftspear met a Lightning Bolt. Lee just passed without playing anything, then Del Moral León did likewise. When Del Moral León finally broke the stalemate by casting Pestermite to tap a land at the end of Lee's next turn, Lee unleashed the two copies of Searing Blaze he had waiting.
Del Moral León could only handle one.
Lee demonstrates why he is one of the most animated pros in the room.
Both games had been decided by the tip of tempo through an opening that needed to happen for either side to push through. The third game was no different. Lee led off with Grim Lavamancer as Del Moral León massed with Serum Visions as usual.
"Always on top," remarked Lee as the cards Del Moral León scrys went back to the top of the library. Lee attacked with his Spellshaper before playing a second and passing. Lightning Bolt, Deceiver Exarch, Flame Slash was Del Moral León's next turn, and it reset Lee to just two lands. Goblin Guide was a gamely play by Lee that revealed Dispel on top of Del Moral León's library during its attack. When Del Moral León played his fourth land and passed back, Lee cast Skullcrack at the end of the turn. He repeated it again when Del Moral León added his fifth and passed.
It put Del Moral León to just 8 life.
Snapcaster Mage appeared from Del Moral León, bringing Lightning Bolt back to deal with the pesky Goblin Guide, and Lee just passed back with all his mana open. Another Snapcaster Mage let Del Moral León dig deeper with Serum Visions on his turn.
Lees end-of-Del Moral León's turn Lightning Bolt met dispel, and he used his own to make Eidolon of the Great Revel. It was forced to block an incoming Snapcaster Mage as Lee himself was dangerously low on life.
Splinter Twin was Del Moral León's next play, and Lee didn't have a response. When the Exarch activated its new create-a-copy ability, Destructive Revelry stepped in for Lee to stop the combo. Despite the effort, staying alive it was a relative concept in the moment as Lee fell to 4 life on Del Moral León's attack.
Molten Rain similarly put Del Moral León down to 4 life but Lee didn't have any creatures for blocking. As Del Moral León considered his options, Lee just shook his head. Snapcaster Mage attacked alone, and Lee fell to 2. Lee drew for his turn and simply passed back.
The Snapcaster Mage struck in again with Deceiver Exarch for Del Moral León, but Lightning Bolt brought Lee one more turn. Out of time to wait, Lee cast the remaining two spells in his hand. Rift Bolt met Remand, and Eidolon of the Great Revel met Spell Snare.
With Del Moral León controlling the only remaining creature against a tapped out opponent, the Spanish contingent could be heard cheering from all the way across the hall. Lee extended his hand.
Antinio Del Moral León defeats (6) Lee Shi Tian 2-1 and advances to the semifinals!