"I play all mirrors on the draw. What more could I ask for?"
Andrew Elenbogen was in good spirits after his tough quarterfinals match. After defeating the top-seeded player, Wilson Mok, playing a Jeskai Control deck tuned to beat his aggressive choice, the first-time Pro Tour Top 8 contender knew this task ahead was tall. The Red-White Aggro mirror, like any aggressive showdown, generally favors whoever gets to start playing first.
It's something of which Tay Jun Hao was aware. Agreeing with Elenbogen's assessment, the fellow first-time Pro Tour Top 8 contender was happy to be going first in each game.
"It's good it's best of five," Elenbogen acknowledged.
Both players were attacking with small white creatures like Dauntless Bodyguard, Skymarch Aspirant, Healer's Hawk or Rustwing Falcon, Adanto's Vanguard, and Legion's Landing. With Venerable Loxodon and Benalish Marshal to back it up, assembling a massive army could happen in short order.
The difference in builds came down to how they each used red in their decks. Elenbogen could sideboard into an Experimental Frenzy package, giving him depth against decks—like Jeskai Control—aiming to annihilate his army. Tay opted to include Heroic Reinforcements in the main deck with Experimental Frenzys and a pair of copies of Banefire also in the sideboard. Reinforcements could ensure he'd always win against defenders looking to trade, and Experimental Frenzy served the same role as Banefire: being a way to overcome control decks that try to lock a game down.
While both decks were meant to be fast, clogged battlefields full of creatures would make every decision to attack—and block—matter.
The first battle quickly saw a battlefield full of creatures—Healer's Hawk, Dauntless Bodyguard, and Vampire Soldiers from Legion's Landings—squaring up. Tay's Venerated Loxodon was the first to up the ante.
"Your play is very wise," Elenbogen said before convoking a Loxodon of his own.
Tay played Conclave Tribunal to clear away the opposing 4/4 and crashed in—11 damage dropped Elenbogen to 9 life.
Elenbogen made the attack back, dealing 7 and gaining some life of his own to make the totals 15-13 in his favor. History of Benalia queued up Elenbogen's future plans, and Tay forced the point by pressing back. The next attack put Elenbogen to 6 life.
Benalish Marshal arrived for Elenbogen, who attacked to get the life totals smoothed out: 12-11 in his favor. The back-and-forth race had a pending third step in the Saga for Elenbogen, so Tay made a small attack for a trade.
With his Knights getting +2/+1 until end of turn, Elenbogen struck in with everything outside his Marshal.
"These are 6/5?" Tay asked, pointing to a Knight token.
"Yep," Elenbogen said. While Tay danced around giving Elenbogen too much life, and kept his Rustwing Falcon alive, the damage put him all the way down to 1 life. The next attack was enough.
"Exile your flier, attack with my flier?" Elenbogen asked, casting Conclave Tribunal.
Tay nodded as he moved to shuffle up for the second game. Again, a flood of small creatures hit board—from Skymarcher Aspirant and Dauntless Bodyguard to Rustwing Falcon, Vampire Soliders from Legion's Landing, and Knights from History of Benalia.
Elenbogen found Venerated Loxodon first, tapping all five of the creatures he had mustered into play from two lands to maximize what the big hitter could do. Tay added Benalish Marshal and a fourth land—netting the city's blessing in the process—before convoking a Loxodon of his own.
The board was so full of powerful creatures that Conclave Tribunal, exiling Tay's Benalish Marshal, couldn't unlock a good attack for Elenbogen. Huge Knights on Tay's turn forced a small chump block, and Tay finished it out with another Venerable Loxodon. Now the Knight tokens each had two +1/+1 counters on them.
While Elenbogen could fly for damage in the air, Tay's Benalish Marshal made everything huge. Elenbogen used Adanto Vanguard to stay afloat at 8 life but needed to hold back for Tay's next assault. When that arrived, Elenbogen used Pride of Conquerors to trade most of the armies. Tay's transformed Legion's Landing and Benalish Marshal ensured his fresh copy of Heroic Reinforcements closed the door to even up the match.
"Being on the draw is great in the beginning!" Elenbogen said with a hint of playful sarcasm.
"You won one on the draw." Tay pointed out, smiling back.
"Well, good luck in Game 3." Elenbogen offered. "I'll be on the play."
"Of course." Tay had made the same call earlier.
The third game was a bit slower for Tay, and Elenbogen looked to take that to his advantage. History of Benalia, Benalish Marshal, and Conclave Tribunal cranked the pressure against Tay and his lean force of Dauntless Bodyguard (protecting no one), but Venerated Loxodon helped shore up the defenses.
Elenbogen made his attack when the Saga completed its story, and Tay took the hit—falling to just 4 life. He stayed back on the next turn, just adding a Bodyguard to guard his Loxodon. Another Conclave Tribunal from Elenbogen opened Tay's shield wall—but the attack that looked like a trade across the board was upended by Tay's Make a Stand.
With the pressure eased a touch, Tay used a Tribunal of his town to get back his long-forgotten Benalish Marshal to bring the counterattack.
"I'll take 7. Go to 18," Elenbogen said.
Elenbogen wasn't content to let the battle slide into Tay's favor. He attacked with everything again, and used Pride of Conquerors with the city's blessing to keep his team on top. Venerated Loxodon on his next turn ensured he had a huge army after all of Tay's efforts.
"You're at 4, right?" Elenbogen confirmed. "Attack with every creature I control."
Tay mustered his blockers, falling to 1 life against Elenbogen's 33.
"That's game." Tay said, looking at one last card.
Applause erupted from the viewing area. "I'm sorry," Elenbogen said, "My friends are excited."
"It's okay. They're trying to cheer you on," Tay replied, reaching for his sideboard again.
The fourth game featured Tay leading off, but taking a mulligan into a tough scry. He played a Plains without a one-drop.
"Interesting," Elenbogen said.
Then Tay played a second Plains and no two-drop.
"Even more interesting," Elenbogen added.
While Tay had a third-turn History of Benalia, Elenbogen was far ahead. "I'll attack with everyone," Elenbogen said, as Tay took the 6 damage to fall to 12. Elenbogen added his own History, and Tay looked to stabilize with Benalish Marshal. His slow keep looked better now on the fourth turn, but it wouldn't last long.
Elenbogen found another Skymarch Aspirant and unlocked the city's blessing, used Conclave Tribunal to take way Tay's Marshal, then continued the beatdown plan of "attacking you with everything," as Elenbogen put it.
"I'm at 6," Tay said after blocking, left with a lonesome Knight and Rustwing Falcon. Another Benalish Marshal let Tay get in with his Saga-pumped Knight—putting Elenbogen to 10—and a Bodyguard showed up to protect his Falcon in the air. But all the defensive planning didn't stop Elenbogen from becoming the conqueror. He attacked with everything and cast Pride of the Conquerors to ensure it was a lethal end for Tay.
"Good luck in the finals," Tay said, extending his hand.
"Thanks," Elenbogen replied, before being a bit more somber. "I think I'll need it." The other semifinal match was to be decided, but it was between previous Pro Tour Champion Jérémy Dezani and nine-time Pro Tour Top 8 contender and Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Luis Scott-Vargas. The surviving titan from that clash would await Elenbogen soon.
Andrew Elenbogen defeated Tay Jun Hao three games to two and advanced to the finals of Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica.