Quarterfinals: Pat Cox (Red Aggro) vs. Matthew Sperling (Abzan Control)

Posted in Event Coverage on August 2, 2015

By Josh Bennett

It's been a great year for Team Ultra PRO, and now two of its players are in a landmark match. One year ago they both Top 8'd Pro Tour Magic 2015 and neither escaped the quarters. Now one of them will advance to his first Pro Tour semifinal match.

Pat Cox has been to the Sunday stage twice before. His first came at Pro Tour Nagoya 2011, and he had to wait until last year to get a second crack at immortality. He's hoping that third time will prove to be the charm. As if that weren't enough pressure, reaching the semifinals will also move him up from Gold status to Platinum.

Matthew Sperling has always been a beloved internet curmudgeon and provocateur while maintaining a constant presence on the Pro Tour and Grand Prix circuits, but with his Top 8 last year, Sperling seems to have found a new gear. He added two more Grand Prix finals to his resume, and he locked Platinum with his performance in the Swiss. All that remains are the three matches between him and the trophy.

Patrick Cox has one more hurdle to clear in order to unlock Platinum status in the Pro Tour Players Club. Sperling, however, had his sights on a trophy.

On paper the match-up is a closer than it first appears. Both decks are fast with plenty of high-impact cards, and after game one Sperling gets to bring in a whopping eleven cards. Word from the experts was that whoever was on the play would have the edge.

The Games

Cox was on the play and started with Zurgo Bellstriker. While Sperling idled with a tapped land, Cox added Monastery Swiftspear and hit for 3. However, he only had the one Mountain to work with. Sperling Thoughtseized and stole Stoke the Flames, leaving behind two Abbot of Keral Keep and an Exquisite Firecraft. Not the most dangerous hand.

Cox failed to draw a mountain but at least got himself another threat: Goblin Glory Chaser. He knocked Sperling to twelve and passed. Sperling played his third land and waited for Cox's next attack, then dropped Hero's Downfall on Zurgo. He was down to 9. Still, Cox could not find the lands he needed. He had to be frustrated but showed no signs of it. Sperling was likewise held up on lands, but he had another Downfall for the Glory Chaser, totally stunting Cox's offence. Cox simply passed another turn.

Cox's deck can manage off of one land for a while, but his deck could still use a few over time.

Sperling untapped and found gangbusters: Courser of Kruphix revealing a desperately-needed Windswept Heath and gaining him one life. Cox bricked again and now the window for victory was closing fast. Sperling fetched away the uncastable Elspeth, Sun's Champion on top of his deck and drew Den Protector. With four mana, he summoned Siege Rhino and got comfortably into the double-digits. One more blank draw step was all Cox could endure, and he packed it in.

"I've been mana-hosing people all weekend, why stop know?"

"You're saying you got lucky to Top 8 a Pro Tour?"

Sperling laughed. "Fair enough."

Cox had to mulligan again for the second game. He hesitated as he scryed his top card, eventually choosing to keep it where it was.

Cox led out with Monastery Swiftspear and then a second on the following turn. Sperling played out Sandsteppe Citadel and Windswept Heath. Cox paused on his third turn and considered his options. He swung with both his creatures, losing one to Ultimate Price as Sperling fell to fifteen. Cox followed up with Abbot of Keral Keep that flipped up his third Mountain and enabled Zurgo Bellstriker.

Sperling was well on the back foot. He tapped three for Nissa, Vastwood Seer and fetched a Forest. Searing Blood cleared the way for massive damage. Sperling set up a Fleecemane Lion for defence and passed with two mana open. Cox dashed in Goblin Heelcutter, drawing out another Ultimate Price, and swung out. The Lion devoured the Abbot, but Sperling was down to just 1 life.

Sperling navigates a very deadly dance to stave off lethal with only a few points of life.

Sperling tried a second Nissa, and Cox finally passed a turn without action. Sperling hit for 3 and passed. Cox levelled Lightning Strike at him at end of turn, but Sperling was ready with Dromoka's Command, preventing the damage and fighting the Swiftspear off the table. Cox calmly untapped, dropped Eidolon of the Great Revel, and then tapped two for a second Lightning Strike to take the game.

It was as good a position as Sperling could hope for in the final game, on the play for the biggest game of his life. Cox came out fast with creatures backed by Searing Blood, and Sperling's mana hamstrung him, putting him against the wall. A dashed-in Goblin Heelcutter added to his woes, and before he could find his feet he was down to just 5 life.

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth came off the top for Sperling and enabled Drown in Sorrow, clearing the board and giving him a peek at his top card, which he kept right where it was. Cox dashed in the Heelcutter again to leave Sperling at 2 and passed. Sperling wasn't going to go quietly. He tapped out for Siege Rhino, jumping back up to 5.

Cox was doing the best he could to quiet his shaking hands. He had a grip of five cards and four Mountains on the field. He thought hard, and then made his move. He summoned Monastery Swiftspear and Roasted the Rhino, knocking Sperling back down to 3. Sperling untapped and summoned Fleecemane Lion, leaving up Urborg and Sandsteppe Citadel.

Cox drew, thought, and then tapped three for Exquisite Firecraft to the dome. Sperling tapped two lands and showed him that he'd drawn the backbreaking sideboard one-of: Pharika's Cure. He survived at 1 life and killed the Monastery Swiftspear in the exchange. Then came another Rhino, bolstering him to 4. He wasn't out of the woods yet.

Cox summoned Abbot of Keral Keep and got Zurgo added into the deal. Sperling assembled another piece of his survival puzzle, the Courser of Kruphix, going back up to 5. Cox couldn't break through. He chained two Abbots into a Lightning Strike but didn't have the sixth mana to play it. Hero's Downfall killed one of the Abbots, and then Sperling was paying six mana to bring out Elspeth, Sun's Champion and her soldier friends.

Now even Sperling, who had been the model of measured restraint all match, began to show a bit of nerves in his fingers. He knew that he had survived the worst and just needed to close out the match. Cox played his sixth land and dashed in two Heelcutters, but Sperling was safe to block four of Cox's creatures and only take two damage, leaving Cox with just one creature on the board. More soldiers joined the party, and Sperling morphed a Den Protector. When it flipped up to get back Pharika's Cure, Cox extended his hand in defeat.

Matt Sperling defeats Pat Cox 2-1 and advances to the semifinals!

Sperling stayed at the table after the match end, carefully packing up his things and generally collecting himself. His teammates David Williams and Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl showed up grinning with barely-contained excitement to heap on the congratulations.

"I knew you'd do it," said Williams, who immediately threw Rietzl under the bus. "He thought it was over."

Rietzl hung his head, smiling sheepishly. "I lost faith."

"He said 'It's over, he's done' and I said 'No, he's going to draw Urborg, Drown, Rhino, Rhino, and take it down.'"

Sperling turned to Rietzl and deadpanned "Oh ye of little faith."

Patrick Cox's Red Aggro - Pro Tour Magic Origins

Download Arena Decklist

Matthew Sperling's Abzan Control - Pro Tour Magic Origins

Download Arena Decklist

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