Just because you've made it to the Top 8 of a Pro Tour doesn't mean you're playing for the same thing as your opponent. While winning it is, as always, the goal of every player it's become more and more important to consider what else comes along with victory: World Championship slots, World Magic Cup captainship, and Pro Players Club benefits create victories that mean more than "just" a Pro Tour trophy.
If you hadn't heard of 20th-ranked William Jensen yet this season, you've been living under a rock. The former Pro Tour player had returned to the game around his induction into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, and embarked on a journey that's demonstrated his skill is more than worth of the game's hallowed few. Setting a new seasonal Grand Prix Top 8 record with eight this season, doubling his previous lifetime total, he's been on a march that earned him Platinum status in the Pro Players Club and, now, a potential seat at this year's World Championship.
Pierre Mondon has been heating up this season, with a Top 8 at Grand Prix Philadelphia and win at Grand Prix Oklahoma City. With his qualification for Pro Tour Magic2015 coming from that Top 8 it's been some time since he's played at the Pro Tour, but it hadn't stopped him from finding his first Top 8 there as well. While just Top 100 would have earned him Silver status – good enough for an invite to Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir– he is after much more returning to the venue for the Sunday stage.
Jensen, like many of his teammates, brought White-Black Midrange to bear this weekend. With plenty of removal at its disposal, it works to maintain control of the battlefield until Pack Rats, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, or Obzedat, Ghost Council lets it pull away with the win. Cards like Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Last Breath are just two of the many ways the white half of the deck complements the dominating power of Lifebane Zombie and Pack Rats.
Mondon's Jund Planeswalkers was a deck he picked up from Magic Online. After finding success in Daily Events, Mondon decided to take it to the Pro Tour. With a 9-1 Constructed record going into the Top 8, it was a choice that worked out well for him. By casting powerful spells, including Planeswalkers such as Vraska the Unseen and Xenagos, the Reveler with removal and Rakdos's Return to answer aggression and control, Mondon marched through decks of all types Friday and Saturday.
An early Thoughtseize revealed multiple copies of Chandra, Pyromaster in Mondon's hand, but it was a few more turns before one would appear in play. Missing a land drop on the fourth turn, Jensen was already behind when Xenagos, the Reveler appeared to begin producing haste-fueled tokens. Banishing Light was Jensen's answer as he drew out of his missing lands with Underworld Connections, though the Satyr still in play put him down to 13 life.
Chandra, Pyromaster began to tick up for Mondon as Jensen kept trading life for cards every turn with Underworld Connections. Unfortunately, Rakdos's Return is exactly the kind of card that fights that: Return for three mana meant Jensen went down to one card and 5 life, then 4 when he again used Underworld Connections. After killing off the Satyr token, Jensen dropped to 3 life still looking for a way out. Lifebane Zombie revealed Golgari Charm and Dreadbore but it was too little too late: two turns later Chandra had burned Jensen to death.
Jensen led off the second game with an early Duress, clearing Xenagos the Reveler and leaving Mizzium Mortars, Pithing Needle, Read the Bones, and Rakdos's Return behind. A pair of Underworld Connections set Jensen up to draw plenty of cards, but Mondon began his own digging with Read the Bones.
Abrupt Decay destroyed one of Jensen's Connections – though it was just replaced it next turn – and was followed by Sylvan Caryatid for Mondon, setting up Chandra, Pyromaster and Pithing Needle set to Swamp: It was a roundabout way to deal with another one of Jensen's Underworld Connections.
When Jensen cast Thoughtseize it revealed an updated hand: two copies of Mizzium Mortars, Rakdos's Return, and Vraska the Unseen, the latter-most he decided to have discarded. Hero's Downfall dealt with Chandra, but Rakdos's Return for three again ripped Jensen's hand down to one. Dropping to 9 by using Connections, Jensen cast Banishing Light to unlock his second and quickly refilled what he had lost.
Lifebane Zombie confirmed just two copies of Mizzium Mortars sat in Mondon's hand, and it wasn't long before one was used. Another Lifebane Zombie revealed Mondon had drawn his third Mizzium Mortars, but it was a freshly drawn Chandra, Pyromaster that killed the second Zombie. Again, Hero's Downfall handled the fiery Planeswalker and Jensen played his own with Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Mizzium Mortars reset Jensen's first wave of Soldiers, and Lifebane Zombie confirmed the third Mortars was still there but it didn't matter: the next turn Mondon drew and revealed Rakdos's Return, with plenty of mana to burn Jensen out on the spot.
"Good luck," Jensen said as he extended the hand.
"Congrats on what is it... your fifth Top 8?" Mondon asked.
"Yeah." Jensen, ever stoic, left the stage for the final time this season.
Pierre Mondon defeats (20) William Jensen 2-0 and advances to the Semifinals!