Posted in PRO TOUR KHANS OF TARKIR - COVERAGE - EVENTS on October 11, 2014

By Marc Calderaro

2014–15 Pro Club Platinum Pro–level, three-Grand-Prix-winning, and all-around good bloke Shahar Shenhar sat down first and shuffled up his Jeskai Aggro deck. Practicing in the Team ChannelFireball beach house all week, eating meals prepared by Luis Scott-Vargas, Shenhar settled on a version of Jeskai Aggro. He said that even though it's one of the few known entities going into the tournament, tuning it for the mirror can change the entire match-up. So the team put minor tweaks in here and there, and Shenhar chose to run with one of the most consistent-appearing decks.

"It beats green-based decks," he said, "it beats the red decks," and he continued that it could be tuned well to beat the Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck that the team expected to see. He also had a plan for at least a version of the Mardu Planeswalkers deck his opponent is running.

So all those superlative descriptions and nomenclature for Shenhar are great and all, but, his opponent, Jérémy Dezani needs only one—Number One. Right now, Jérémy Dezani is the top-ranked player in the world. It was at this new-format Pro Tour last year where Jérémy Dezani became a household name, and came like a screaming Wingmate Roc across the sky to announce his rise into the top levels of Magic. He has yet to slow and has come with a creature-light, nary -absent, Mardu Planewalker deck that keeps the board clear while gaining incremental advantage with cards like Chandra Pyromaster, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, and even an Elspeth, Sun's Champion.

The two titanic Platinum-pro players, Jérémy Dezani and Shahar Shenhar, go head-to-head in Round 6.

The two finished shuffling, drew their hands and kept, and started into the match.

The Games

Dezani won the all-important die roll, and his three-color control deck would get a half-turn lead on the faster aggressor. Now, faster is relative, because with the Jeskai deck, as it goes just as fast as it has to. With all the burn it packs, it's just as willing to slow down the pace and let turns tick away, sculpting the best hand in the process, ready to unload the burn in quick succession when context requires. Shenhar let the game proceed slowly, opening up with a tap-land each turn (two Mystic Monastery and a Temple of Enlightenment), and waited for Dezani to cast the first spell. It was a turn-four Chandra Pyromaster.

Though the planeswalker went up to five loyalty, it soon became a little card advantage engine. It found Dezani an Evolving Wilds, which allowed him to cast a Tormenting Voice discarding the Wilds already in his hand while still playing the land from the top. It was a pretty good gain. This seemed all good for card advantage and stuff, but Dezani wasn't doing enough to Shenhar.

Once Shenhar had four untapped lands, he started with the end-of-turn burn. Always sternly learn from the end-of-turn burn. Magma Jet, Lightning Strike, and Stoke the Flames on successive turns emanated, came forth and singed Dezani over and over. And the relatively scoreless game quickly became 19-10 in Shenhar's favor. This first game can be hard for Mardu Planeswalkers, because all the creature removal in the world does nothing against multiple Lightning Strikes.

Given enough time and a lack of pressure, Shenhar's Jeskai deck can sculpt a lethal hand of burn spells.

Dezani was stuck with cards like Crackling Doom in his hand, which can be blowouts in certain match-ups, and with certain hands. But right now, they were stranded and awful. Shenhar hadn't yet dreamt of casting a creature.

The hits kept coming—burn, after burn, after burn. Before Dezani could mount anything resembling an offense, or a defense, it was over.

Dezani 0 – Shenhar 1

Brimaz, King of Oreskos came in as well as Disdainful Stroke for Shenhar, while Dezani added life-gaining and blocking elements provided by Nyx-Fleece Ram and Resolute Archangel. The Ram can play particularly well—blocking an attacker, then eating a burn spell. And the Resolute Archangel, well, it's kinda good here.

This game, it was Shenhar who had some stranded cards. Dezani's deck is quite low on creatures, I'm talking like no creatures low, but because Shenhar didn't know that, the Suspension Field for potentially important cards like Butcher of the Horde was sitting in his hand. This stranded-card theme was exacerbated by Shenhar stopping at three lands. Not by choice. Though he was already playing from behind, not being able to cast two spells a turn was limiting. Though Dezani had boarded Brimaz himself, it was only three cards of the deck.

Dezani had two 1/1 Warriors, thanks to a Mardu Charm (immune from Suspension Field), and they came marching forth after a Lightning Strike burned Shenhar's Seeker of the Way to death. Dezani was off to a more proactive start this game, and passed the turn back to Shenhar with him at 13, due in part to a Crackling Doom taking out a second Seeker of the Way.

Dezani's Mardu deck is capable of supplying a lot of threats that are immune to creature removal.

Still stuck on land, there was even a turn Shenhar discarded his eighth card rather than pass the turn unable to respond to Dezani's potential plays. The plan worked for a while. Disdainful Stroke and Negate kept two more formidable Chandra, Pyromaster off the board, but the 1/1 tokens seemed to work just fine.

In fact, Dezani was having so much fun with tokens he resolved an Elspeth, Sun's Champion—you know, just for more token goodness. He made three tokens and with Shenhar already at 7, and still not finding his fourth land, it was looking bad.

"Don't play Drown in Sorrow." Dezani chuckled.

"Don't play Urborg," Shenhar returned with a smirk.

On the turn before he died, Shenhar finally found his fourth land. Then, like I just said, he died.

Dezani 1 – Shenhar 1

In the last game, Shenhar was back on the play. This meant his plays of Goblin Rabblemaster into Mantis Rider were formidable, and make short work of the first six points of Dezani's life total. They were both removed in short order by Lightning Strikes, but did their expected damage output.

Shenhar then cast a bigger-butted threat in Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Lighting Strikes would be of no help, and without being answered, the card would quickly take over the game. It was 15-14 at the moment, but that was set to change in an instant. So as they always say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and Dezani cast a Brimaz of his own. The creatures were even, save for a lone Goblin token for Shenhar. Since they couldn't attack into one another, they just glared at each other ominously.

Again, Shenhar was stuck on lands, but this time it was four lands, which allowed for more wiggle room. His counterspells were keeping Dezani's planeswalkers from the table, as the Brimaz's just lazily stared at one another blankly. The only on-board changes came from a Nyx-Fleece Ram that passively fed Dezani more and more life buffer as the game wore on.

The big moment that broke the stalemate came with an end-of-turn Dig Through Time. It found a Jeskai Charm and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. The planeswalker was cast, killing the opposing Brimaz, then Shenhar swung Dezani down to 11, gaining a token in the process. The Ram remained, and it even gave Dezani a little life nudge, but it was small recompense for the tempo switch. But Dezani had a plan. A big pendulum swing back that he would hope could change how the game looked.

[card image Resolute Archangel align right]Dezani went to wall and used his last two cards—a Lightning Strike took out the Sarkhan, and the remaining mana made a Resolute Archangel. Going back up to 20, Dezani leaned into the table, without anything in hand, and passed the turn. One would think such an Angel would be a godsend, but Shenhar was ready.

Pop Quiz: What's the third mode of Jeskai Charm? I'll give you a hint, it works out really, really well when you need life and have a lot of tokens. Right! Everything gets +1/+1 and Lifelink! Shenhar saw Dezani's life gain and raised him more, along with an awful lot of damage too.

Two cat tokens, Seeker of the Way, Brimaz, and that old Goblin token brought Shenhar to 31 life, and made the Resolute Archangel go away. And the ram was left alone once again.

This game was so over. Dezani went up to the wall so close, he failed to see the writing on it. He drew his card; it wasn't End Hostilities. Dezani's Ram looked up and him, and thought, "Hey, I tried."

Dezani 1 – Shenhar 2

Shahar Shenhar – Jeskai Aggro

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Jérémy Dezani's Mardu Planeswalkers

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