Heading into Round 11, both Gabriel Nassif and sixth-ranked Stanislav Cifka were 5-0 in the Khans of Tarkir draft portion of the Pro Tour. With 11 Pro Tour Top 8 appearances between them, there is no doubt both of these players are masters of their craft and brought that to the draft format. The Constructed rounds of the tournament hadn't gone quite as well, though at 7-3 both players were still well-positioned at a deep run on Saturday, especially the winner of this match.
It was also a match-up between essentially two different eras of Magic. Nassif was one of the most prolific players of the last decade, advancing to play on Sunday in eight Pro Tours between 2001 and 2007. He earned the Player of the Year title in 2004 after making the Top 8 of three Pro Tours that season, and was named to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Cifka is a more recent riser to the top of the circuit. His first breakthrough at a premier event came at Grand Prix San Jose in October 2012, where he made it to the Top 4 of the team event with friends Ivan Floch, and Lukas Jaklovsky. Just a week later he blew that finish out of the water when he defeated Yuuya Watanabe to win Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. Since then, he's added another Pro Tour Top 8 (Pro Tour Journey into Nyx) as well as a pair of Grand Prix Top 8 finishes.
Between Gabriel Nassif's history of incredible finishes and Stanislav Cifka's current success, both players brought a wealth of Pro Tour success with them to the feature match table.
The winner of this match would not only claim the bragging rights of a 6-0 finish in draft, but enter the final phase of Standard with some momentum and a shot to make a run to the Top 8.
Things started poorly for Nassif, as the hall of famer was forced to mulligan to five while Cifka kept his opener.
On the other hand, he was able to find all three colors of mana for his Mardu deck on turn 2 when he played a Bloodfell Caves and a Bloodsoaked Champion off of his Scoured Barrens. Cifka too had all the colors he needed in his Temur deck, and he morphed a pair of creatures while trading damage with the Champion.
Cifka is a master of calculating every moving part in an engine, whether it's his deck, or what's going on in his opponent's head.
Cifka passed the turned with five mana available, representing a wide range of possible morphed creatures. Nassif, meanwhile, stared at the Debilitating Injury in his hand and found himself asking the unanswerable question: Which morph is the right one? In the end, he chose to use the removal spell on the first one, a decision he immediately regretted when Cifka revealed it to be a Monastery Flock and unmorphed the Canyon Lurkers next to it.
Things went from bad to worse when Cifka followed up the reason he was splashing green in his deck: Surrak Dragonclaw, the khan with basically every ability you can think of. The 6/6 finished off Nassif a turn later.
Cifka 1 - Nassif 0
Again the Monastery Flock taunted Nassif, taking a Debilitating Injury for the team and leaving Cifka's other creatures around. But having kept his opening seven this time, Nassif wasn't deterred. The goblins from his Hordeling Outburst were able to keep the pressure on Cifka while a stream of removal spells and combat tricks allowed the little red men to attack unchecked for several turns.
The mounting damage prompted Cifka to keep his Mystic of the Hidden Way back on defense, a plan that didn't look so hot when Nassif found Monastery Swiftspear on top of his deck and then used Ride Down to both clear out the Mystic and knock Cifka down to 3 life.
Nassif has long since turned in his yellow hat, but he remains a recognizable and famous fixture on the Pro Tour circuit.
Surrak Dragonclaw again showed up to the party, but even being able to kill one attacker a turn wasn't enough to stop the swarm of one-power creatures Cifka had amassed, and like that Nassif stole a game without ever putting a creature with three power on the board.
Cifka 1 - Nassif 1
Facing down Cifka's deck of evasive creatures was a tall task for Nassif's deck on the draw, especially after a mulligan to six. Still, the six cards Nassif did keep looked to have a fighting chance, with Debilitating Injury and Hordeling Outburst to create favorable trades.
Of course, those cards are only good if you can cast them, and that's exactly what Nassif couldn't do when he failed to find a third land in time. He was able to take out a Mystic of the Hidden Way, but it became clear a land-light Nassif couldn't match the stream of threats Cifka poured on. When an Glacial Stalker unmorphed to take out Nassif's goblins and Arrow Storm followed, Nassif saw the writing on the wall and extended his hand to Cifka.
Cifka 2 - Nassif 1