What's a seat at the World Championship worth? For the Hall of Fame player and No. 20 Ranked Play William Jensen, it was worth defeating his teammate, No. 5 Ranked Player Owen Turtenwald, on his march to an 11-0 start. Playing at perfection is one way to get there, and so far he had lost just once: the King of the Hill seat at the switch to Constructed. With the Top 8 near his grasp, Jensen fought for every match point he could find to ensure he'd make the cut for the biggest tournament of the year.
For Patrick Cox, Top 16 would mean maintaining his Gold level status in the Pro Players Club. However, his trend up to the match was aiming much higher: Coming into the round at 11-2 meant he could make Top 8 with a series of wins. Gold status might be what he needed most, but a Top 8 and potential win would earn him so much more.
Jensen was playing one of the most consistent decks of the weekend: White-Black Midrange. Gaining share of the metagame overnight, the deck is built to kill creatures, planeswalkers, and anything else opponents might throw their way as they build up an army of Pack Rats or Blood Baron of Vizkopas. Elspeth, Sun's Champion put a cap on most games, ensuring they can finish by going big, wide, or both as needed. Its one fault is, perhaps, how slow it can begin games by relying on it's suite of removal to give it time to set up.
Cox's deck was something of his own specialty. "I've been playing white aggro variants since Pro Tour Theros," he explained. "I was testing it then, and played it in several Grand Prix. I went from Boros to Orhzov, but when they printed Mana Confluence so I decided to try green. Since all the creatures cost double colors I couldn't play Mutavault anymore, but Josh Utter-Leyton," the 4th-ranked 2013 Player of the Year and Cox's teammate, "suggested I splash red for Ghor-Clan Rampager. Naya was already a deck so it's really an amalgam of that and a white weenie approach: You can hit them for a ton of turn 4 with it if they tap out."
Filled with small, efficient creatures, Cox's plan was to be as fast a possible. It seemed like the only way to overcome the wall of White-Black's inevitability.
Cox, as his deck was wont to do, hit a fast start with Fleecemane Lion and Voice of Resurgence. Despite blocking as often as he could with Lifebane Zombies and Pack Rats, the steady stream of colorful creatures from Cox's hand overwhelmed Jensen's defenses in short order.
Jensen and Cox, familiar with each other from crossing paths on a season on the road, chatted between games. "Do you have a Top 8?" Jensen asked, meaning at a Pro Tour.
"Were you on CFB?"
"No," Cox said. "Luis [Scott-Vargas] Top 8'd. [David] Sharfman won, and we played with the Puresteel Paladin deck we came up with. That was the last Draft Top 8."
"Really?" Jensen raised an eyebrow, inviting more detail from Cox. As someone that returned to the game, it's easy to forget that even recent changes can be forgotten quickly.
Cox had a similarly speedy start in the second game, but this time Jensen had enough removal ready. Lifebane Zombie and several different "kill this creature" spells kept Cox's army in check until Blood Baron of Vizkopa could arrive. Cox quickly shuffled his hand in thought.
Then a second joined the battlefield.
Cox had the mighty Boros Reckoner and even a 3/3 Elemental token from Voice of Resurgence, but all of his creatures were white. That fact Jensen let Jensen attack uninhibited while padding his own life total. Even going up to five creatures in play – Ready to attack! – led to Cox moving on to a third game.
"It was all pretty good until that Blood Baron of Vizkopa. All gas even though he's killing these guys..." Cox said. Jensen just nodded as Cox trailed off in thought.
The third game played out differently than the first two. Cox assembled an array of creatures at a slower pace while Jensen didn't play many removal spells. After Jensen missed his fourth land drop, Cox took notice and swung in big to put Jensen down to 10 life. With Brave the Elements to stop a Hero's Downfall, Cox put Jensen to 1 on the next attack. Despite using Last breath on his own Pack Rat to buy another draw step, Jensen had to concede to the next attack.
"Why didn't you Hero's Downfall on your turn?" Cox asked as soon as the game ended, referring to a moment when Jensen drew for the turn, checked his lands, and passed before casting it during Cox's upkeep.
"I definitely can't beat this card," Jensen said, pointing to Brave the Elements, "but I might have been able to handle the monstrous," flipping back to the Fleecemane Lion Cox had during the end. It was a subtle push to get Cox to tap out and would have let Jensen block that turn if monstrosity was used instead.
"Yeah. I can see that," Cox said after a beat. "See you in Top 8, I hope."
Cox 2 – Jensen 1