Posted in PRO TOUR KHANS OF TARKIR - COVERAGE - EVENTS on October 12, 2014

By Marc Calderaro

These two are the newcomers here today. This particular Top 8 is a home for established Pros who can reach new heights Magicoffers. No. 5 Ivan Floch can try for back-to-back wins; No. 11 Yuuya Watanabe can reach for a win that has eluded him for so long, and Ari Lax can finally put that well-earned line on his resume. But it's also where players earn their first breakout success. Many competitors hit their stride and stay on top after that first Pro Tour Top 8. Ondrej Strasky of the Czech Republic and Thiago Saporito of Brazil are hoping to be two such players.

Before the tournament, I asked Floch, No. 6 Stanislav Cifka, Martin Jůza, and other Central Europeans about the next rising star. Each year, a new name seems to pop up and become a new household face. Names were thrown around and discussed, but it looks like we have a definitive answer here. Ondrej Strasky, though not the only Central European in the Top 8, is the young gun.

Thiago Saporito on the other hand, has been getting more and more recognition lately, but under his Magic Online handle: bolov0. He crushed a Pro Tour Qualifier to get here; had a four-time Pro Tour Top 8 veteran, fellow Brazilian Willy Edel, help him out with the deck; then he crushed it here too.

One of these players will be catapulted to the next rung on the Top 8 ladder—getting ever-closer to that giant golden cup.

Thiago Saporito squares off against Ondrej Strasky in the Quarterfinals, the two MTGO-regulars looking for their first big win on the main stage.

Saporito was seeded higher, earning the right to choose to play or draw.

The Games

Saporito went first and used his one-two punch of Sylvan Caryatid into Courser of Kruphix to turtle up. Strasky did exactly what his deck is built to do: swing over turtles with a 3/3 hasty Mantis Rider. The Czech had taken a mulligan, but his six cards were a strong mix of burn and removal to help keep Saporito off balance.

The Jeskai deck was built to prey on this sort of green durdling, but the Abzan deck still had strong tricks to unleash. Well, I guess it's hard to call a 4/5 life-draining Siege Rhino a "trick." It's really more like a wrecking ball. A second one is even worse.

By simply casting the second Rhino the scores became 12-21 in Saporito's favor. And after the next attacks, the 12 was reduced to 8. I mean, there can't be anything worse for Strasky's deck than two Siege Rhinos, right?

Oh? A third one, you say? All Strasky could do was smile. Three Rhinos? Really?

Saporito's Abzan deck is all about efficiency.

Strasky had to dig, and quickly.

He bottomed both cards from an end-of-turn Magma Jet, drew for the turn, slapped himself in the face a couple times, and exhaled. He looked at Saporito's hand of five cards, and didn't know quite what do to.

Nothing. Nothing is what you do. Rhinos went smashy-smashy and came through for the last points of damage. This match made a truism abundantly clear: three Siege Rhinos will be difficult to overcome for a burn deck. Even if that deck has four maindeck Hushwing Gryffs. Because as we all know about Magic, you often have to draw your cards to use them effectively.

Saporito 1 – Stasky 0

Strasky was able to get on the aggressive faster this game, thanks to his sideboard Suspension Fields—and the crucial first turn. Seeker of the Way and Mantis Riders quickly got in there with the help of the enchantment removal—taking out a second-turn Fleecemane Lion, hitting the ball into Saporito's court.

Saporito was already at 12 when he cast his first Siege Rhino to stem the bleeding. In this match Siege Rhino can play the role of face-smasher, but also the role of "please-save-me-until-I-can-cast-Wingmate Roc." Saporito was going for the latter.

But here it failed to do either, because Suspension Field got that one too. Saporito was at 5 life in the blink of an eye. The Wingmate Roc came down the next turn, but by then it was way too late. Strasky's last two cards were two Lightning Strikes.

Strasky got a shot of confidence from that game. His had worked so effectively it was like a reminder of, "Oh yeah, that's what my deck can do." He exhaled and shuffled up for the last game.

Saporito 1 – Stasky 1

This match-up is highly dependent on who gets to go first.

"It's is about 50/50, I think. But if I can go first, I think I can win," was how Saporito put it. If the mana-acceleration and beats can get online for Saporito earlier than Strasky's burning beaters, it's a uphill climb for the Czech. And the reverse is true as well. Because Saporito came in as a higher seed, he went first in Game 1. That also ensures that if three battles are fought, at least two of them will be on the play.

To get the win here, Strasky would have to break serve.

Strasky looks to break serve in the third and final game.

Saporito immediately put his defense grid online. He had kept a hand of Thoughtseize, Caryatid, and two Courser of Kruphix. No real threats, but perhaps the Coursers would help him dig while the Thoughtseize bought time.

And just like a good midrange deck, it immediately switched gears from slug to turbo-powered. The Courser revealed the first Siege Rhino on the top of Saporito's library library and Saporito cast a Thoughtseize and took Strasky's Suspension Field. He prepared to siege the tower.

To parry, Strasky used his turn to Jeskai Charm the Courser to the top of Saporito's library, then Stoke the Flames it to the graveyard the next turn. This was able to delay the Siege Rhino on the top of the library for a turn or so. He had put out no aggression and no pressure, so Strasky would have to hope Saporito didn't have a strong, quick follow-up.

However, when another Courser revealed another Siege Rhino, and then a Wingmate Roc, Strasky chuckled. That was not what I meant, that was not it at all.

Murmurs could be heard throughout the hall each time the Courser flipped over another giant beater. Strasky delayed as long as he could, but his damage train hadn't even left the station before Saporito's had barreled into Strasky town loaded with giant birds and rhinos.

Thiago Saporito has advanced the Semifinals, showing once again that just because players know a deck is going to show up, doesn't mean it's a bad choice.

Thiago Saporito defeats Ondrej Strasky 2-1 and advances to the Semifinals!

Ondrej Strasky – Jeskai Wins Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir

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Thiago Saporito – Abzan Midrange Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir

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