You might have seen their faces at a Grand Prix before, but both of these players are new to these Pro Tour Sunday lights. Though Gold-level Pro Seth Manfield is far from green, this is his pinnacle finish so far. On the other side of the table, his opponent Justin Cohen was as green as they come. Cohen only started his competitive run in the last six months. He was, however, a Madison native and decade-long friends with No. 12 Sam Black. Being tutored by a teacher like Black can give you veteran status quickly.
As the two shuffled up, with the cameras fixed on them, they discussed the feeling of the Pro Tour Sunday. Cohen asked a bit about Manfield's veteran status.
"This is my first Pro Tour Top 8," Manfield told him. "I have three Grand Prix wins, though."
"Man, I don't even have one of those." Cohen replied. The two continued to talk, and it was clear they were both nervous.
Manfield does not feel confident as the Burn player in this match-up. "There's nothing I can really do to stop him. I just have to hope he draws bad hands," he said. But Amulet Bloom is know for its bad hands, and even some of the good ones are difficult to discern.
Two players square off in the Pro Tour Fate Reforged quarterfinal in this first Pro Tour Top 8. While one is no stranger to top-level Magic, the other has reached the pinnacle in only six months.
Either way, with Lava Spike.dec vs. Turn-Two-Titan, the match would likely be over fast. And there was one thing in Manfield's favor. He was higher seeded, so he would be on the all-important play in the first game.
In a familiar first-turn play, Seth Manfield opened with a Goblin Guide, taking Justin Cohen to 18. Then, after a tapped Tolaria West from Cohen, Manfield spent his next turn casting Eidolon of the Great Revel. This was about the best start Manfield could hope for.
Summoner's Pact, Summer Bloom, Simian Spirit Guide, Serum Visions, Forest, and Vesuva, and Cavern of Souls in his hand, and the last Goblin Guide attack had revealed a Hive Mind on the top of his library. Cohen settled in, taking time to find the right line. It's no joke that these hands can be hard.
Cohen had kept a hand without bounce-lands (like Simic Growth Chamber), so his mana-explosion engine was slower going. Going against Burn, "slower" was one word that Cohen wanted out of his vocabulary.
He used a Summer Bloom to get the remaining lands out of his hand, readying the Hive Mind combo for the next turn, but there was only five land on the field. Once at six he could cast the Hive Mind, then use the Summoner's Pact. The Hive Mind would require Manfield to make a copy of the card for himself (whether he wanted it or not), and once he failed to pay the upkeep cost Manfield would lose the game.
But he would need to find another land. With the red spells breathing down his neck, Cohen would have to hit it immediately.
Seth Manfield, the three-time Grand Prix champion, finally broke through to the Pro Tour Sunday stage. Now he just had to clear a primeval hurdle in order to keep the dream of a Pro Tour win alive.
Manfield continued doing what he does as Monastery Swiftspear joined the fray. Then he suspended Rift Bolt. With Cohen at 9 life, Manfield passed the turn knowing he would kill Cohen on the next go-around.
But he never got the chance. Cohen drew for the turn and hit a Gemstone Mine. He land it down and assembled the combo. Hive Mind gave Manfield a free Summoner's Pact that he never asked for. Because he couldn't pay the upkeep cost, he died at the beginning of turn he had intended to use for killing Cohen.
Cohen cast nothing but Serum Visions for two turns, sculpting his hand and his draws, in search of the key pieces. This hand, in contrast to the last had plenty of bounce-lands. It also had Amulet of Vigor and a Primeval Titan, but lacked the Summer Bloom to accelerate the 6/6. And Manfield was pushing hard.
So hard that Cohen reached his third turn with only one land in play, thanks to a Molten Rain out of the Manfield's sideboard. This hampered him greatly. All Manfield needed to buy was a half a turn, and Molten Rain provided just that.
Even Goblin Guide revealed that Cohen was about to draw the he needed Summer, Cohen never got the turn passed back. At 6 life, Cohen saw a post-combat Lava Spike, then Boros Charm pointed directly at his face. He knew he was going to a third game.
Madison resident Justin Cohen has put up an incredible performance at his first Pro Tour. Now he sought to improve upon it.
Until now, Cohen's deck had been operating on half strength. The deck's namesakes had never been used in concert for the big whammy the deck is known for.
That changed in the third game. Though Cohen laid nothing but a Forest on his first turn, his second turn was primed with all kinds of gas. He tapped the Forest to cast Amulet of Vigor, then laid a Simic Growth Chamber. With the land's "bounce" trigger on the stack, Cohen untapped it thanks to his Amulet and used the mana to cast a Summer Bloom.
With three more land drops this turn, he laid and re-laid his Chamber, netting two mana each iteration. At the end of the bounces, Cohen had six mana floating, including two green. He cast a Summoner's Pact (this time Manfield did not get a copy) and found Primeval Titan. Then on turn two, he cast it.
Now with two more lands to get onto the battlefield, as if "Primetime" weren't good enough already, Cohen fetched a second Simic Growth Chamber and Tolaria West. Both the lands untapped, then after floating the mana, Cohen brought the Tolaria West back to his hand (thanks to Growth Chamber #2). He used the three mana to transmute Tolaria West and find a second Summoner's Pact. This was his insurance plan.
Though Cohen's deck can be more aggressive, he knew about the Path to Exiles in Manfield's sideboard. He didn't think they were actually that good against him, "but I have to respect the card," he told me. Cohen's whammy happened; he got the turn two Titan. It was going to be real hard for Seth Manfield to claw himself back.
But he tried. He cast two Lightning Bolts on the 6/6, then a Destructive Revelry on the Amulet of Vigor. Though Cohen's board was cleared, these were reactive plays, to stave off loss. They weren't proactively furthering his plan. To add insult to injury, Cohen responded to the Revelry with Nature's Claim on his own Amulet. Instead of losing 2 life, Cohen gained 4, going up to 24.
Manfield let out a deep sigh. He was down to three cards in his hand, and his opponent was at a higher life total than when he began. Though Cohen wasn't actively killing Manfield, if Manfield wasn't killing Cohen, he was dying anyway, just by small increments.
After a turn or so, Justin Cohen casually assembled the Hive Mind/Summoner's Pact combo, and secured the match.
Manfield did all he could, but overcoming a turn two Primeval Titan is far from easy, as Cohen advances with his combo strategy.
Manfield knew he was an underdog coming in, but that did take the sting out of the quarterfinals exit. Seth Manfield had an incredible run, going undefeated until deep into Saturday, but here's where his Pro Tour Fate Reforged story ended.
Justin Cohen's story however—the one about the summa cum laude graduate of Sam Black's Magic School—advances to the next degree.
Justin Cohen defeats Seth Manfield 2-1 and advances to the semifinals!