Lee Shi Tian: The sixth-ranked player, 2014 World Championship competitor, and three-time Pro Tour Top 8 contender, two of which came with the Modern format as well as last fall's Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. His career has been an impressive run of success over the past year and, again, his prowess at playing put him on the cusp once again.
Nathan Smith had qualified for Pro Tour Fate Reforged through the Magic Online Championship Series. As a 2014 competitor this was his first Pro Tour, and he had made the most of his debut opportunity thus far. For both players, winning this round would put them into a likely draw-into-Top 8 situation for the final round of Day Two. For Smith, earning his first Pro Tour Top 8 would be an exciting chance for an underdog to make a name; for Lee, it would be his fourth overall with his army of teammates looking on.
All stats and pride aside, this was for the right to return tomorrow for the Sunday stage and in the moment it's what both players wanted most of all.
Lee Shi Tian and Nathan Smith fought in a burn-on-burn match for their tournament life.
While it can't quite be called a breakout deck, Burn was one of the decks that performed well throughout the Constructed rounds on Day One. Both Smith and Lee he brought similar versions of the deck, which used the usual array of suspects to deal 20 points of damage as efficiently as possible: Lightning Bolt, Lava Spike, Shard Volley, Goblin Guide, and Monastery Swiftspear. Adding white to the historically red deck brought Lightning Helix as well as sideboard options, such as Kor Firewalker for the mirror. Complicating things for opponents was Eidolon of the Great Revel, a creature that can seal away the inexpensive spells so many Modern decks rely on.
Lee led off the first game with Goblin Guide, and Smith returned the favor. Lee added another on his next turn, and Grim Lavamancer after that. On Smith's next turn he thought carefully about his plays. Attacking, then casting Searing Blaze after playing a land for his turn put Lee at just 11 life.
Burn against Burn was a careful race of calculating damage, not just going out but coming in as well.
Lee paused on his turn before making Eidolon of the Great Revel. With a well-stocked graveyard for his Lavamancer, Lee's plan was to force Smith to damage himself to unlock the rest of his spells and keep his Spellshaper alive. After counting, Lightning Helix targeting Lee shifted the life totals to 7 and 13 in Smith's favor.
Before untapping, Lee spent some time calculating his damage potential. Smith's Goblin Guide met its end at the end of the turn, and Lee untapped to fall to 4 life searching and playing Sacred Foundry, then back to 5 off Lightning Helix. Goblin Guide and the Eidolon attacked Smith to 6, and Lavamancer put him down to 4 life.
Smith attempts to navigate the minefield of casting spells into Eidolon of the Great Revel.
"That was complicated," Smith said as they moved to sideboarding. Lee bobbed his head in agreement.
The second game was a slower affair for Lee who, despite going first, had no first turn play. Smith had his with Goblin Guide, and by the time Lee played his second land ended at 14 life but with Kor Firewalker on the battlefield.
Lave Spike was Smith's next play, missing his second land drop, to try and outrace the small pads of life the Firewalker would provide Lee. Clearing out Smith's Guide with Lightning Helix, Lee rose back to 14 life from 11 and began attacking Smith. With a second Goblin Guide on the next turn Lee pummeled Smith to 9 life. Even with cards like Searing Blaze, Smith couldn't keep up.
The next round of attacks was enough for Lee to tie the match up.
The third game featured a new creature, Monastery Swiftspear, attacking for Smith and a suspended Rift Bolt from Lee. Goblin Guide and Lava Spike on Smith's next turn dropped Lee to 9 life. Lee paused to think about where he wanted to send his incoming Rift Bolt.
The Swiftspear went to the graveyard, and casting Kor Firewalker put Lee at 6 life. While it was a precarious life total, the Firewalker could hold the fort as long as Smith didn't have Skullcrack to force damage through protection from red during blocking.
Lee, on the verge of his fourth Pro Tour Top 8, analyzes every play with precision.
When Goblin Guide crashed into the Firewalker, Skullcrack was indeed there waiting in Smith's hand. With Lightning Helix, Lee rose back to 7 life on his turn, but at the end of that Smith cast Boros Charm to deal 4 back, forcing a second Lightning Helix out of Lee's hand. Back at 6 life, Lee was still in a tough spot, but his attacks and burn had pulled Smith down to 7.
The game wasn't so stilted in Smith's favor.
Casting Monastery Swiftspear was where Smith stopped, opting to keep the blocker available. Lee played Scalding Tarn for a Mountain to cast Searing Blaze. It cleared away the Swiftspear, and put Smith down to 4 life.
As soon as Lee showed the Boros Charm waiting behind it, Smith extended his hand. Lee jumped up in excitement and slapped his hands together as his Pro Tour testing teammates let loose a cheer. For the third time in nearly as many Modern format Pro Tours, Lee looked to have found his way.
"No pair down," Lee said, holding his hands together as through he was praying. "No pair down." It was his one hope for the last round where, if his wish came true, he could draw into the Top 8...
Lee 2 – Smith 1
...and when the pairings were posted, it was confirmed.
Lee found himself in not only a back-to-back Pro Tour Top 8, but his fourth lifetime.