Round 12: Frank Karsten (Affinity) vs. (1) Owen Turtenwald (Infect)

Posted in Event Coverage on February 6, 2016

By Corbin Hosler

As the Constructed rounds of Day Two began, Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch was heating up. The path to the Top 8 was far from clear, but a picture was beginning to form. For the pair of legends that met in the feature match area, that picture included a win in Round 12. Top-ranked Owen Turtenwald and Hall of Famer Frank Karsten entered the round at 8-3, and both needed a win to keep their dreams of making a perfect run through the Modern rounds to a Top 8 berth alive.

That explains the friendly-but-serious atmosphere in the feature match area, as all eight competitors wrestled with the stakes of their matches.

For Turtenwald and Karsten, this was just step one.

Both players needed to win for a guaranteed Top 8 appearance. Would it be No. 1 Owen Turtenwald, or Hall of Famer Frank Karsten?

The Decks

While both players undoubtedly found out in their testing about the Eldrazi decks that have swept the room this weekend, both opted to go a different route for the tournament.

For Karsten, that meant Affinity, the tried-and-true aggressive deck of the format that has carried multiple players to the Top 8 in the past and has been a mainstay of Modern since its inception. In fact, Karsten was so confident in his choice that he and a group of other qualified players chose to spend a day going to Disney World in the week leading up to the Pro Tour rather than test other decks. The decision had served him well, and he was in position to make a run for Sunday.

Turtenwald spent longer in testing as part of The Pantheon, and ultimately decided to bring Infect, another explosive deck that was poised to take advantage of the new, wide-open Modern format. With Glistener Elf, Blighted Agent and pump spells, the deck could end games in a flash.

The Games

Affinity is known for its explosive starts, and the first game provided Karsten with one of its most impressive openings. After both players chose to keep, the Hall of Famer started the game with a bang: Darksteel Citadel into Springleaf Drum into Memnite (tapping to make a mana) into Mox Opal (adding mana) into a second Mox Opal to make a third mana on the first turn and use it to play Master of Etherium.

Before Turtenwald had even taken a turn, Karsten had played six cards from his hand. When Turtenwald did take his first turn, all he could respond with was a Glistener Elf, one which was forced to block on the next turn as Karsten added Cranial Plating and attacked with a 12-power Master. When Turtenwald's deck didn't yield Dismember, he quickly scooped up his cards for the next game.

Both players had access to sideboard cards now, and that meant that Turtenwald had artifact destruction, while Karsten had Ghirapur Æther Grid and Spellskite. That would be extremely relevant in the second game as Turtenwald used Twisted Image and Nature's Claim to take out a first-turn Steel Overseer and Ornithopter. That cleared the way for Ghirapur Æther Grid from Karsten, but Turtenwald had a second Nature's Claim to clear out the dangerous enchantment.

Karsten is one of the room's most respected Affinity players.

That cleared the way for Turtenwald's Inkmoth Nexus to begin attacking, and when it was joined by Blighted Agent a turn later, a Might of Old Krosa was enough to end another lightning-fast game.

Heading into the decider, both players debated on their opening hands, with Karsten opting to keep his first seven while Turtenwald went all the way down to five.

For the first time in the match, Karsten didn't have an explosive opening, instead just playing a Blinkmoth Nexus and passing the turn. For his part, Turtenwald just stoically played a land and a Noble Hierarch, and passed back.

Arcbound Ravager and then Spellskite followed next for Karsten, a resilient board but a slow kill. Turtenwald removed the Spellskite with a Nature's Claim, and then played out Blighted Agent to present a threat of his own. Rancor made that threat even scarier, and it clocked Karsten for four poison on the next turns thanks to a Noble Hierarch trigger.

Turtenwald makes the most of his Pro Tour preparation in the weeks leading up to the tournament as part of The Pantheon.

Karsten untapped and attacked Turtenwald again, setting up a possible kill on the next turn, but unable to prevent Turtenwald from getting one more opportunity himself. The world's top-ranked player didn't waste his chance, and had a Might of Old Krosa to finish off the game.

As the players shook hands after the match, Turtenwald dropped a bombshell, one that his demeanor throughout the game didn't give away at all.

"I kept a no-lander," he explained. "Your odds of winning with this deck go down drastically every time you mulligan, and my hand was Noble Hierarch, Rancor, Nature's Claim, Blighted Agent and Viridian Corrupter. With the scry and the draw step, and any Gitaxian Probe I might draw, I had at least two chances to find a land in the top two cards of my deck. This hand was so good that it was worth the risk."

It was a calculated risk, and it worked perfectly for the No. 1 player in the world, who with the win, kept his Top 8 hopes alive.


Infect—Owen Turtenwald

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Frank Karsten—Affinity

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