No. 16 Lee Shi Tian is a name that has been ringing through the halls as of late. He's put up two Pro Tour Top 8s in the last two years, and is known for playing innovative decks. Blue Moon was a Modern breakout success, and it's a surprise to few that he would be playing some version of the Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck.
An often-reserved Lee was excited. He tried to hide it, but it failed. He had calculated that with a win here, along with a few other alignments of the stars, he would be in the Top 8.
For 16th-ranked Lee Shi Tian, a third Pro Tour Top 8 was just within reach. For Spencer Garnier, his first big finish was just a win away.
But he would have to get through Spencer Garnier first. Garnier is on the proven-strong Abzan Midrange deck, and he's been playing it to a tee, making his way all the way here. A win here might just propel him into his first Pro Tour Top 8.
At the start of the first game, Lee really needed some more pressure relief. He had to go down to four cards. And Garnier's opening seven was land, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Courser of Kruphix, and Hero's Downfall. So Lee was in for some trouble. Real quick. It's difficult to assemble a four-card combo with only four cards. But his deck had some tricks up its sleeve, and it sure was fast.
Lee used an early Tormenting Voice to find a Rattleclaw Mystic; used that to cast a Commune with the Gods to find his Jeskai Ascendancy; then he removed most of his graveyard to cast a Dig Through Time. Did you get all that? Because Garnier was following it card by card. He had left mana open, ready to unleash his fresh Murderous Cut, hoping it wouldn't be a Sylvan Caryatid that started the Jeskai Combo. Lee could draw cards all he wants, but if he couldn't stick a creature, the combo can't work.
The next turn the Caryatid came down. Lee didn't have all the pieces yet, but Garnier had to apply some damage. He needed a faster clock, so he tapped out for Elspeth. That was more than enough.
Could Lee combo off after a mulligan to four?
Lee knew it was now or never, so a Retraction Helix targeting the Caryatid and Twinflame got the cycle going. He drew ten cards until he found a Briber's Purse. Garnier nodded that it could enter the battlefield. Was Lee going to do this from four cards?
From there he made infinite mana by casting, bouncing, and recasting the Briber's Purse—tapping the one Caryatid for mana, and the other for its Retraction Helix–granted ability. The Jeskai Ascendancy untapped both creatures. He cast his Nissa, Worldwaker. The +1 ability untapped his four lands. Then, by bouncing the Nissa and recasting it four times, he turned each land into a 4/4 Elemental.
Lee then cast and recast Briber's Purse 4,996 times (I know because he said his lands were 5,000/5,000) and swung in for the win.
Garnier 0 – Lee 1
I asked Lee if his deck can usually win off a mulligan to four. "Never. First time in the tournament." In fact, he had never even tried a four-card hand during testing.
In the second game it was Garnier who had to mulligan. He kept his six cards, I think mostly because it contained a Thoughtseize and early aggression. Lee had Retraction Helix, Jeskai Ascendancy, Sylvan Caryatid, and Tormenting Voice, along with three land. That's very close to the entire combo in his opening grip. The Caryatid hit the bin thanks to Thoughtseize and Garnier had some breathing room.
He got out a Fleecemane Lion, despite having no third land, and began to pressure. He found the third land just in time to cast a Drown in Sorrow to take out two creatures and scryed right into another one for the next turn.
Garnier flipped his cards feverishly in his hands, and each time he passed the turn back to Lee, he shook his head, willing Lee to not draw the missing pieces. He kept attacking each turn, getting Lee closer and closer to death. Garnier got him all the way to 4, then to 1 with a Siege Rhino. It was Lee's last turn.
Garnier exhaled and put his hand of cards on the table. "You have it. I know you have it." He looked up, then sat back in his chair.
Garnier sits back, hoping each turn would not be his last.
Lee didn't have it.
Garnier 1 – Lee 1
Now each player had won off a mulligan. But Game 3 was for keeps, and it was the first game both players were on a full seven cards.
Garnier started fast, but had no disruption this time. And the whole time he walked a tightrope. He was afraid to tap out any turn, for fear of it being his last. But without tapping out, he couldn't keep up the pressure required to actually win.
He stuck a Siege Rhino and waited. Nothing.
He got the turn back and cast a Wingmate Roc. He waited again. Nothing.
Each turn iteration, he took a little more life out of Lee's total.
After the next attacks Lee went from 15 all the way down to 4. This next turn would probably be Lee's last. Then post-combat, a Siege Rhino took him down to 1.
It was definitely his last.
He put the top card of the deck into his hand and didn't look at it. Coverage people swarmed to get a glimpse of the card, but not even Lee knew what it was. He looked at his hand one card at a time, starting with the ones we already knew.
And at the back of the pile laid a Jeskai Ascendancy.
He seethed and immediately tried to go off from basically nothing. He cast the Twinflame and looted with the Ascendancy. Again he didn't look at the draw.
It was a Tormenting Voice. When he cast that card, he found the jackpot—two Dig Through Time. He physically twitched in his chair and jumped. He was breathing through his teeth now and it was audible.
It was in this precise moment, which stretched out for all of us, he knew he would find what he needed. And he had. After using the power of Dig Through Time, Lee Shi Tian had found his combo in the last moments of the third game, after winning majestically off a mulligan to four in game one.
Lee literally leapt from his chair, knocking it over in the process, and ran towards his cheering MTGMintCard teammates and throttled into their arms.
The embrace of friends and teammates was followed by an explosion of emotion from Lee, who earned his third Pro Tour Top 8 in two years.
As everyone at the table sat, stunned, he ran back and emphatically shook Spencer Garnier's hand.
"Thank you," he said. Everybody around congratulated him, and then Lee sat back down in his chair curled his legs a bit, and he started to cry.
He looked up at us at said, "Things have been so hard for Hong Kong."
"This means so much to me."
Garnier 1 – Lee 2