Status isn't everything on the Pro Tour, but it sure helps. Rising through the Pro Players Club ranks is one of the many goals competitors carry to each event. In a match like so many others out on the floor, both players needed to make a fantastic finish to level up. Patrick Cox had a quiet year, and it would take a Top 16 or better to renew his Gold status. Similarly, David Ochoa was looking for the same to renew Platinum level. After all, ensuring you have a flight and hotel for every Pro Tour goes a long way toward attending all of them.
Patrick Cox had earned Gold status in the previous seasons with finishes like his Top 8 at Pro Tour Nagoya and two finalist appearances at Grand Prix Austin and Denver in 2012. With a smattering of Top 16s and other cashes this season, he had a long road ahead of him.
David Ochoa had been a Platinum player more multiple years. He made his first Pro Tour Top 8 at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, and has appeared at both the 2012 Magic Players Championship and the 2013 Magic World Championship. This was the first season in some time his standing was under threat.
"I've got 31 points right now," Ochoa said. "I need one extra point for Gold," referring to the 3 Pro Points he gets for participating, "and Top 16 for Platinum... maybe World Championship. I'd need to check the standings; I've been in the 'cool kids' room for awhile." The critical 45 Pro Point threshold was a tall order.
It was too early to tell, but after starting 3-0 through the first Draft rounds they were both well on their way.
Ochoa was playing what appeared to be a "stock" deck: Black Devotion, splashing white.
"I played Black Devotion at a few Grand Prix so I got a pretty good feeling on it overall. Coming in we expected a lot of the big three: Black Devotion, Blue Devotion, and White-Blue Control. Those are just the three archetypes that most people will be looking to beat. There was also going to be a pretty good Forest component, like Jund Planeswalkers which has done pretty well recently. Plus a smattering of Red decks like White-Red Burn."
"Generally when we're testing I'm the guy playing the stock decks: The decks people learn to play against," Ochoa continued. "I get a lot of practice in with those. Black Devotion is one of the better options out of those three, so I decided to play it."
Cox and Ochoa are teammates and, as such, knew sitting down what each other was playing. So how did Cox's aggressive deck fit into the mix?
"Some of the cards we have in there are good, but against Black it's pretty even," Ochoa explained. "If you're advantaged against everything else it's pretty hard to come up with a deck that can do both. He's been working on that for pretty long time, and he's generally played white-based aggro decks and done well with them. He's very familiar with the deck."
Cox led the way early casting creatures like Fleecemane Lion and Dryad Militant, but Ochoa had an early pair of Pack Rats to match. While the game looked like a race, Cox had been stuck on two lands. That let Ochoa run wild with his growing pack, and it wasn't long before the gnawing was more than Cox could take.
Cox 0 – Ochoa 1
Cox had a blistering start for the second game – Soldier of the Pantheon and double Dryad Militant – and when Ochoa played Lifebane Zombie it revealed Brave the Elements to take it out after a block the following turn. At 8 life and four lands, a lonely Pack Rat and Mutavault traded away to leave just the Soldier behind.
After that, Ochoa kept trading removal for everything Cox could offer. Banishing Light cleared the Soldier and a Boros Reckoner, Hero's Downfall killed Xenagos the Reveler, but when Ochoa ran out Cox finished the job with Voice of Resurgence and Dryad Militant.
"That was a good draw," Cox breathed in relief. Ochoa nodded.
Despite their speed, each game had been close enough to shift either way.
Cox 1 – Ochoa 1
An opening Thoughtseize revealed a trove of creatures in Cox's hand as well as a Xenagos the Reveler to go with them. Dryad Militant was Ochoa's choice, ostensibly to slow things down a turn. With his mighty companion, Pack Rat, at his side Ochoa began to take over the game. Using removal to keep Cox's side of the battlefield clear, Ochoa dropped the aggressive player to 11 life before a Knight token and Boros Reckoner could stand in the way.
"It was a really good hand," Ochoa admitted.
"I just didn't have the mana," said Cox. "If I had top-decked Back to Nature in Game 2 it would have been a little different." He flashed Back to Nature, a card that would have unlocked two creatures for him from the grip of Banishing Light.
"It was like I was playing Jenga at that point: The blocks were pretty precarious," Ochoa said, before exchanging "Good lucks!" one last time.
Cox 1 – Ochoa 2