As they sat down to their match, Pierre Mondon offered Jackson Cunningham his hand. They shook, and Mondon smiled broadly. "Best of luck, man, whatever happens."
It was a very similar match-up to the one Cunningham had faced against Yuuki Ichikawa in the quarters. Cunningham thought his White-Green Aggro was an underdog overall, but had managed to take down Ichikawa's Jund Planeswalkers in three games. Mondon's list differs by having more main-deck removal and Read the Bones over some of the Planeswalkers.
Cunningham couldn't keep his seven-card hand, but stayed on six. He was also on the draw in the opening game, so he would face an uphill battle. He summoned Sunblade Elf while Mondon sculpted his draws with two Temples of Abandon and brought out Elvish Mystic. Cunningham had Plains and Fleecemane Lion for turn two and dropped Mondon to 18. Mondon drew but failed to find a third land. He summoned Sylvan Caryatid and passed.
Cunningham got in for three damage with his creatures and continued up the curve with Loxodon Smiter. Mondon drew and played Blood Crypt untapped, passing with five mana open. Cunningham sent in the troops. Again, Caryatid stepped in front of Sunblade Elf. Before damage, Mondon tapped three for Hero's Downfall on Fleecemane Lion. Cunningham played Temple Garden tapped and summoned a second Smiter.
Mondon found Temple of Abandon and tapped his five mana for Vraska, the Unseen. She immediately killed one of the Smiters. Tapped out, he watched as Cunningham killed Vraska with the Elf and did five to the face with the Smiter thanks to the Elf's ability. Mondon had a second Vraska to take care of the second Smiter, and now his Caryatid was untapped to stop the Elf. Cunningham again spent his mana on the Elf's ability to clear out the Caryatid.
Mondon, his back against the wall, upped Vraska's loyalty and hit for one with his Mystic. Cunningham knocked him to two with Sunblade Elf but held up his mana. Naturally, Advent of the Wurm was just around the corner. Mondon sacrificed Vraska to kill the Elf, then used Putrefy on the Wurm token when it attacked. Thanks to his shortness on mana, he still had a lot of cards in hand.
That put Cunningham in a pickle. He needed to get a presence on the board, but doing so would open him up to things like an overloaded Mizzium Mortars. He played out Experiment One and passed. Chandra, Pyromaster hit play right on time to kill it. Cunningham played out the Loxodon Smiter he'd been sandbagging as well as Banishing Light on Chandra. Mondon scryed away a card and summoned Sylvan Caryatid. Cunningham hit with his Smiter. With a shrug, Mondon pushed Elvish Mystic in the way. Cunningham couldn't show him the Selesnya Charm fast enough to end the first game.
"I kept a pretty loose one. I had three Read the Bones in my hand all game."
Again Cunningham had to ship back his opening seven in Game 2. Mondon had turntwo Elvish Mystic after opening with a scry-land. Cunningham started with Forest, Experiment One, and then attacked with it. Mondon was happy to trade. Cunningham played plains and a replacement Experiment, then passed. Mondon was happy to pay two life to Stomping Ground to get his Courser of Kruphix into play, showing a Sylvan Caryatid waiting on top of his library.
It was hardly the beatdown draw that Cunningham had hoped for. He spent his third turn on Mana Confluence and Voice of Resurgence. Mondon played a second Courser and then a land off the top, gaining two. Cunningham turned both his monsters sideways. Mondon put one of his Coursers in front of the Experiment One and watched it fall to Cunningham's Selesnya Charm. He didn't mind. Who can complain when they're at 18 on turn five against a beatdown deck and sitting on a handful of action?
Mondon played a free Blood Crypt untapped and summoned Vraska to his side, ticking her up to six loyalty. Cunningham, still stuck on three land, played Fleecemane Lion and passed. Vraska took care of that on Mondon's turn. Putrefy dispatched the Experiment, and Mondon played Sylvan Caryatid before passing the turn. All this with a second Putrefy waiting on top of his Library.
Cunningham rebuilt his army with Experiment One and Fleecemane Lion, down to just two cards in hand and still having only three mana to play with. Mondon sacrificed Vraska to kill the Lion and replaced her with Chandra. Chandra's zero-loyalty ability meant he could cast the Mizzium Mortars on top of his deck. He did so, killing Experiment One. He was even comfortable enough in his position to attack Cunningham for 2.
He had every right to be. After he drew Abrupt Decay, Chandra let him have a second Mizzium Mortars, which he was happy to overload. With plenty of mana and cards in hand, as well as an active Planeswalker, winning was academic.
For the third straight game, Cunningham had to go down to six cards. He kicked off with the dream start of Experiment One into Voice of Resurgence. Mondon had the Magma Spray to stop that nonsense, then played a second scryland. Whatever he saw, he had to think hard before deciding to keep it on top. Fleecemane Lion grew the Experiment to a 3/3 and it hit Mondon to 15. However, he had no third land. Mondon had Mizzium Mortars to get rid of the Lion and yet another scry-land.
Cunningham untapped and swung in for three. He had found a third land, a plains, but merely played a second Experiment One. Mondon checked with the judges before Magma Spraying the 3/3 Experiment and then casting Golgari Charm, wiping them both off the board. Cunningham hit his fourth land, but it was a third Plains, not the second green mana he needed. Mondon summoned Courser of Kruphix (revealing another on top) and passed. Cunningham had Banishing Light for that, but was down to just two cards in hand.
Mondon played his replacement Courser and turned up Elvish Mystic, just about the worst card for him. Cunningham brought out Loxodon Smiter. Mondon drew his elf and got a free land only to see another waiting for him underneath it. He summoned his Elf and Xenagos, making a 2/2 satyr. He had one card left in hand. Cunningham aimed his Smiter at Xenagos, and Mondon took another opportunity to confer with the judges. He came back to the table and double-blocked with Courser and the satyr. This was all according to plan for Cunningham, who had Ajani's Presence to kill off the Courser and Banishing Light in hand to bench Xenagos.
Mondon untapped, drew his land and played it, scrying another blank to the bottom. He played out his last card, a Sylvan Caryatid, and passed. If Cunningham was feeling an imminent victory he didn't show it. He turned his Smiter sideways. Caryatid chumped. He added Experiment One to his board and passed. Mondon slid off his top card and peeked. He couldn't help but betray a little emotion. He had drawn a good one - Vraska, the Unseen. She killed off the Smiter.
Cunningham drew and passed right back. Mondon upped Vraska, content to build his slow advantage. Cunningham drew and played Fleecemane Lion, but Mondon killed it with Hero's Downfall on his turn, and ticked Vraska up to four loyalty. Next turn he could use the minus ability without losing her. It looked like he was pulling farther and farther ahead. Cunningham found yet another Smiter, evolving his Experiment to a 3/3 and sent it in. Mondon chumped with his Elf.
Mondon used Vraska's second ability to free Xenagos, then made a Satyr. At long last, Cunningham found a second Forest. The Smiter took aim at Xenagos and the Experiment headed for Vraska. Mondon pushed both his satyrs in front of the Smiter. Cunningham tapped all his mana and trumped with a bestowed Boon Satyr. Mondon was knocked back down to just a Xenagos. He would need to draw yet another big threat.
It looked like a miss. He made a satyr and passed. Cunningham sent the Experiment One at Xenagos and told the Smiter to hit Mondon in the face. Mondon's satyr protected Xenagos. Mondon fell to 6. He untapped and drew. It was Chandra, Pyromaster, and her zero ability turned up a Putrefy. He made another Satyr and Putrefied Experiment one. Cunningham tapped four for an end-of-turn Advent of the Wurm.
He drew his card for the turn and the crowd in the next hall roared so loudly it could not be ignored. He had drawn Ajani, Caller of the Pride. Mondon had just one card in hand, so Cunningham went for the gusto: A flying, double striking 8/6 Loxodon Smiter. Mondon extended his hand and wished Cunningham good luck in the finals.
Jackson Cunningham defeats Pierre Mondon 2-1 and advances to the Final!