ROUND 16: PATRICK COX VS. JACKSON CUNNINGHAM

Posted in PRO TOUR MAGIC 2015 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on August 3, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Playing for the Top 8 of any Pro Tour is a tough position only a privileged few have earned. Every event the best players, rising stars, and breakout players collide in a clump at the top of the standings, vying for the right to return for the Sunday stage.

The Players

Jackson Cunningham was one of those players. Attending Pro Tour Magic 2015 from a Pro Tour Qualifier as his very first Pro Tour, playing for Top 8 might have seemed unlikely a day before. Now, he carried the title of King of the Hill and could have taken a draw for a likely place in the Top 8.

"You don't want to draw?" It wasn't a typical question to hear at the last round of a Pro Tour. Jackson Cunningham asked it innocently, because his opponent was ready to play.

"No, I don't." Patrick Cox shared a definitive answer, looking to not just find his second Pro Tour Top 8 but to secure top seeding within it. Passing his previous goal or earning point for the Pro Players Club, Cox had set his sights on one of the most elusive achievements in Magic: winning a Pro Tour.

Patrick Cox's Top 8 slot may have been locked up, but he was intent to win the whole thing. That meant giving himself the best edge possible on Sunday. He needed the ability to choose to play with his deck.

The Decks

Cox's deck was Naya Aggro, a white-red-green mixture of colorful creatures meant to attack early, often, and for lethal, and entering the Top 8 at first place would mean he'd be on play throughout it. As an aggressive deck aiming to overrun opponents before they could do much, going first was often the different between being a step behind and emerging victorious. It was the entire reasoning behind Cox's ambition to win the final round: Lock in being on the play throughout the Top 8.

Jackson too had brought an aggressive deck, eschewing red for consistency, easier mana, and access to sizeable threats like Advent of the Wurm. Coming into this weekend as a Pro Tour Qualifier winner, it looked apparent for Cunningham to make the Top 25 cut to return for Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. Making Top 8 would have been assured with a win in the last round.

Making Top 8 of your first Pro Tour is almost unheard of, but far stranger things have happened.

The Games

After starting with 2/1 creature parity, Cox began to pull ahead with a Precinct Captain that connected to create a Soldier token. Fleecemane Lion and Soldier of the Pantheon followed, putting five creatures on Cox's side to just one for Cunningham.

Cox piled in for damage, though it only put Cunningham to 16. Soldier of the Pantheon on the other side had been blunting some of the damage by padding Cunningham's life total. When Advent of the Wurm put a 5/5 onto Cunningham's side, Cox's life began to drop faster. After taking damage from his lands, including Mana Confluence, Cox was down to 8 from just one attack back.

A pair of Experiment One's were bumped by another Soldier of the Pantheon for Cunningham, but when his wurm crashed in again Cox was ready: Blocking with the team, Cox forced Cunningham to use Boon Satyr, and Boros Charm made the blocking team indestructible.

Cox's deck was full of some brutal game-changing effects.

Out of cards, Cunningham could only watch as Ajani, Caller of the Pride let Precinct Captain pump even larger. Chumping his creatures away, Cox cast Brave the Elements to force Boon Satyr into blocking position. It wasn't enough.

Cunningham led the second game with Fleecemane Lion, a favorite piece in Cox's deck, followed by Loxodon Smiter. A paltry 2/2 Knight token attacked for Cox, but when the Smiter blocked it Ghor-Clan Rampager helped finish the job.

An Experiment One evolved from a second Fleecemane Lion put Cox at a further disadvantage. Ajani, Caller of the Pride helped boost the size of the Knight, but joined by just Soldier of the Pantheon meant Cunningham could use Gather Courage to overpower Cox's blockers. With just Ajani left in play, Boros Reckoner would become his last hope as a pumped up 4/4.

While it may have been Cunningham's first Pro Tour, it was sure to be a memorable one.

Selesnya Charm to pump an unblocked attacker was enough to finish Cox off from just 6 life, much of it from his own lands.

"Are you sure you don't want to draw? It's my first Pro Tour," Cunningham asked again.

"I understand it's your first Pro Tour, but I'm trying to win it." Cox explained. "Top 8 is now best of three instead of five [games], and it's really important for this deck to go first."

It was the last opportunity they would have to stop.

Soldier of the Pantheon for Cunningham was the first creature down, but it didn't gain life right away: Cox threatened to begin making tokens with Precinct Captain until Fleecemane Lion joined Cunningham's party too.

Ajani, Caller of the Pride helped Cox make a Soldier token happen anyway, but his army seemed small next to the evolved Experiment One and Voice of Resurgence Cunningham had on the following turn. Adding, and pumping, a Fleecemane Lion of his own Cox wasn't able to attack, but kept Cunningham from attacking as well.

Adding a Soldier of the Pantheon of his own, Cox used Ajani to bulk up his fewer-in-number forces to outsize their equivalents on Cunningham's side. Setessan Tactics disrupted Cox's plan, however, causing Precinct Captain to trade with Experiment One. At 8 loyalty, Cunningham decided to do something about Ajani and attacked: With double Selesnya Charm, Cunningham was able to take out Ajani and save his Fleecemane Lion, but Cox just played another Ajani and pumped for double strike.

With the double strike readied 5/5 Fleecemane Lion, Cunningham revealed just a Forest in his had when Cox bloodrushed Ghor-Clan Rampager for 18 lethal damage.

"Did you ever have anything? Brave the Elements?" Cunningham asked.

"No. I sided them out since it's awkward against your deck."

"Boros Charm?"

"Nope."

Cunningham fell crestfallen, seeing his chance at the Top 8 of his first Pro Tour slip from his grasp.

"At least you're qualified for the next Pro Tour." Cox offered as he stood to walk away.

Cunningham just nodded, still rethinking the moments that led to his loss. He wouldn't stay upset for long.

Patrick Cox defeated Jackson Cunningham, 2-1, and both advanced to the Top 8 of Pro Tour Magic 2015.

Patrick Cox's Naya Aggro

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Jackson Cunningham's White-Green Aggro

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