Winning a Pro Tour is one of the greatest feats in Magic. Through sixteen rounds, both Draft and Constructed, players battle for the right to return and play a third day: The Sunday stage for the Top 8.
What's at Stake?
Both Patrick Cox, who came into the weekend looking to just maintain Gold status in the Pro Players Culb, and 5th-ranked Owen Turtenwald found themselves in their second Pro Tour Top 8. For Cox, his last match on a Pro Tour Sunday was at Nagoya in 2011. His teammate David Sharfman took that event down, and now it was Cox's plan to do the same today: He had played out the last round against fellow quarterfinalist Jackson Cunningham to ensure he'd begin each match Top 8 match on the play. Winning would mean more than just Gold as those who claim the trophy are elevated to Platinum benefits for the following season.
In addition to, you know, winning a Pro Tour, which had been a goal of Cox's for years.
Turtenwald, however, had carved an incredible season throughout the year leading to this Top 8. Winning back-to-back Grand Prix months earlier, today added another Sunday notch to go with his Pro Tour Gatecrash Top 8 last year. Already maintaining his Platinum benefits in the Pro Players Club, the former Player of the Year was looking for his own space at the World Championship. As one of two of the famed "Peach Garden Oath" members chasing it, including 20th-ranked William Jensen battling likewise in this Top 8, Turtenwald was working to fill out his career stats nicely. If the Hall of Fame was in his future, he would be well on his way with a victory today.
When you expect a field of slower decks built for longer games there's two paths to take: beat them at their own plan, or blitz them before they can get started. Cox had gone for the latter, choosing to play a deck he had perfected throughout the Grand Prix season. Naya Aggro aims to attack decks the same way Green-White Aggro does by filling the battlefield with creatures as quickly as possible. The wrinkle Cox added was red, allowing Boros Reckoner to stymie opposing aggressive decks, Boros Charm to nullify removal like Supreme Verdict, and Ghor-Clan Rampager to hit as hard as lethal by the forth turn. It was fast and efficient, if painful to play with a manabase built on Mana Confluence and Temple Garden.
Turtenwald's choice for the weekend was White-Black Midrange, a deck most of his testing teammates had similarly brought. Riffing on the Black Devotion decks, White-Black Midrange evolved to use the same removal suite and inevitability of Pack Rat with the ability to go over the top with Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Maintaining control of the early game to pull away with Blood Baron of Vizkopa or Obzedat, Ghost Council was the typical winning sequence for the deck, though it would sometimes take its time doing so thanks to plenty of lands that entered the battlefield tapped.
"Do you know how long it'll be?" Turtenwald asked as they waiting for the video team to switch on their match.
"Yeah. We're just sitting here being nervous." Cox added.
"You're nervous?" Turtenwald turned to Cox and seemed genuinely surprised.
"I'd like to win the Pro Tour so yeah, kinda nervous." Cox admitted.
"I'm free rolling here," Turtenwald said, referring to his Pro Players Club status. He had only the World Championship left at stake.
If either player was nervous it was apparent once the wheels were in motion. The creatures began early for Cox in the first game, with Voice of Resurgence and two copies of Fleecemane Lion, but Turtenwald played Pack Rat to begin assembling a force of his own. Bile Blight cleared the Lions and Turtenwald slipped a large attack in back thanks to Mutavault.
Boros Reckoner would prevent that from happening unless Turtenwald could remove it, but Blood Baron of Vizkopa was a way to just go around it. Ajani, Caller of the Pride meant Cox could bulk up his forces, making Reckoner even more terrifying, and when Turtenwald played Lifebane Zombie it revealed Boros Charm and two copies of Brave of Elements waiting.
At 17 life Turtenwald chose to pull Ajani's loyalty back to 1 attacking with the Blood Baron, and Cox paused to work out the math. Brave the Elements and Boros Charm alone wouldn't be enough, but adding Ghor-Clan Rampager for the next turn might do the trick. Instead, Turtenwald killed the Rampager and attacked all-in. It was enough for Cox to try again in the second game.
"You'll play first?" Turtenwald confirmed.
"I will. I'll go one-drop, two-drop, you-drop."
Turtenwald appreciated the bit of humor, sharing a laugh with Cox.
However, untrue to his word, Cox played Dryad Militant without a two-drop to follow. This time when Turtenwald had a second turn Pack Rat, Cox had Mizzium Mortars to clear the way. Turtenwald traded a second copy of the token generator the turn after with Dryad Militant, leaving just Voice of Resurgence for Cox.
After Turtenwald killed the first, Cox played a second Voice of Resurgence and continued to pester with 2 damage attacks. However, Blood Baron of Vizkopa threatened to lock Cox out of future aggression. Ghor-Clan Rampager was one of the few ways Cox could meaningfully fight the Blood Baron, but Bile Blight let Turtenwald answer it during the next attack.
Another Rampager appeared, and it was Elspeth, Sun's Champion Turtenwald played. Making a small army of Soldiers, Turtenwald chose not to defend Elspeth when Cox attacked. Selesnya Charm let the Rampager slay the Planeswalker. On his turn, Turtenwald gained more life thanks to Blood Baron before using Last Breath and Bile Blight to eat away at Cox's army.
However, the next Blood Baron attack revealed Advent of the Wurm for Cox, and Turtenwald was out of removal. At a comfortable 18 life Turtenwald might have had a few turns to find what he needed but it didn't take any at all: he played his second Elspeth, Sun's Champion to wipe away all but an Elemental token left behind by an earlier Voice of Resurgence. Finally without another creature to add to the battlefield, Turtenwald used Lifebane Zombie to check Cox's hand before making even more Soldiers.
Putting Cox to 4 on the next attack, Turtenwald presented an army the Cox couldn't surmount: Cox extended hand hand to the former Player of the Year.
(5) Owen Turtenwald defeats Patrick Cox 2-0 and advances to the Semifinals!