It's been a long strange trip for Jesse Hampton. His journey started a few months ago; Hampton agreed to play the Team Limited Grand Prix in Nashville with his close friends Matthew Nass and fifteenth-ranked Jacob Wilson. After missing a connecting flight to get there, Hampton rented a car and drove through the night. He barely made it in time to play in the first round. When all was said and done though, Nass, Wilson, and Hampton hoisted trophies in the air and Hampton was qualified for the Pro Tour.
Hampton is the definition of raw talent. This is his second Pro Tour Top 8 and, by his own admission, he didn't practice at all for either event. It's clear that Hampton thrives at the highest levels of competition.
His opponent, Eric Froehlich, is widely considered the best Magic player in the world by other professionals. With this Top 8, Froehlich has, astoundingly, already locked up Platinum status in the Pro Players Club for the coming year. This Top 8 all but secures Froehlich's Hall of Fame berth in the coming year. Coming off a Grand Prix victory last weekend in San Jose, Froehlich is white hot and very capable of proving his talents on the game's biggest stage.
While eleventh-ranked Eric Froehlich earned his fourth Pro Tour Top 8, Jesse Hampton proved his raw skill at the game coming in to his second Pro Tour Top 8 with little preparation.
Froehlich led things off with Inquisition of Kozilek. He carefully wrote down all the cards in Hampton's hand and thought about his options before choosing to take Scavenging Ooze, the only threat for Hampton.
Gavony Township on the following turn put Hampton in an awkward spot. Froehlich's army of spirits and Tarmogoyfs would start growing with each turn. All Hampton could do was activate Stirring Wildwood and use Path to Exile to deal with one of Froehlich's Tarmogoyfs.
Gleaming information from Froehlich's expressions is nearly impossible.
Hampton couldn't find the necessary Maelstrom Pulse to stay alive and Froehlich made a lethal attack on the following turn.
It's clear that Lingering Souls is important in the Abzan mirror. Gavony Township lets a player win the Lingering Souls war and has been one of the most important pieces of technology to come out of this weekend. This first game provided a vivid illustration of card's importance in the match-up.
Hampton tapped his hand on the table. "You're just a Lingering Souls master," he said.
Again, things were looking grim for Hampton. Froehlich had an airforce of four spirits alongside a Tarmogoyf and Hampton could only play another Siege Rhino. It wasn't the worst card he could draw in that spot, but he would need a Maelstrom Pulse or Lingering Souls of his own if he wanted to keep up.
Again, Gavony Township came down and Froehlich sent his team at Hampton. Hampton had Path to Exile for Froehlich's Tarmogoyf, but now Froehlich's spirit army was growing and threatened to attack for lethal on the following turn.
It was Hampton's turn to be lucky as he found the perfect card, Maelstrom Pulse, on the top of his deck. The versatile removal opting cleared Froehlich's board and left only Hampton's Siege Rhino in play.
Hampton may seem like all smiles, but when it comes to the game, his plays are calculated and his goals are strong.
Hampton advanced his board-state further with Tasigur, The Golden Fang. Suddenly, things were looking very good for Hampton.
Froehlich tried to get back in the game with Siege Rhino, but Hampton had Dismember and his attack with Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Siege Rhino, and Stirring Wildwoods on the following turn would be enough to force a third game.
Froehlich played Tarmogoyf and, once again, it looked like he would be the early aggressor in the match-up.
Hampton played a Tarmogoyf of his own, but it was quite bad in the face of Froehlich's Scavenging Ooze. Froehlich's Abrupt Decay dealt with Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze gobbled up a pair of creatures to become a 4/4 before he attacked with it.
Hampton also had Scavenging Ooze, but the card is significantly weaker when an opponent already has one in play being activated. Froehlich used Dismember and another activation from Scavenging Ooze to attack for five.
But when each player had a fifth turn Batterskull, it seemed like the game could go very long.
Hampton settled in his chair. "This happened in testing. We had one game that went on for well over an hour before we decided to just stop playing."
Froehlich stares down his opponent, not dropping his stone cold expression for even a moment.
Froehlich had a Lingering Souls of his own and the game looked like it might last forever with each player gaining life by attacked the other so as to remain at parity.
"We both gain five," started to become a common saying.
Here, Froehlich had a number of turns where he could have drawn Zealous Persecution to simply win the game. It wasn't meant to be, though, and the life totals quickly swelled out of reach while the tokens traded.
Once again, neither player had an out to simply win the game without resistance.
Hampton continued to get in with Batterskull on Spirit after Spirit. His life total swelled well above twenty.
Froehlich was doing the same. Each cycle of turns, Hampton was gaining ten life while Froehlich was gaining five. This may seem like its hugely in Hampton's favor, but there's very little one could do about it given the situation.
The life totals continued to rise as each player continued to attack with spirits equipped with Batterskull.
Parity was finally broken when Tasigur, the Golden Fang came down for Hampton. Froehlich had Liliana of the Veil and immediately used the minus two ability to get rid of Hampton's Batterskull-equipped Spirit token, but it seemed like his options were running out.
In the coming turns, Hampton started activating Tasigur, the Golden Fang to get back seemingly endless amounts of gas from his graveyard. Froehlich saw no way out and was forced to concede.
Jesse Hampton defeats Eric Froehlich 2-1 and advances to the semifinals!