Starting the day off with a loss is tough. It's that much tougher when it puts you to 6-3, meaning that another loss could be the end of your Top 8 aspirations. The best players find a way to put those concerns out of their head and play in the moment.
If you don't recognize Antonio Del Moral León, try picturing him jumping for joy with a trophy in his hand. That was how he looked at the end of Pro Tour Fate Reforged, and he's looking to put the finishing touches on a great season that also saw him put up a Grand Prix Top 4 and secure the captaincy for Team Spain at the World Magic Cup this weekend. For this draft, he put together a controlling White-Black deck that makes strong use of Blightcaster.
Joining him at the table is Hall of Famer and two-time Limited Pro Tour Champion, Nicolai Herzog. Herzog is dedicating much less of his time to Magic these days, but still makes a concerted effort at the occasional Pro Tour. Having a lifetime invitation thanks to being in the Hall means he doesn't need to worry about chaining together finishes. He's also in the hunt for captaincy of Team Norway. He needs ten match wins to steal it from Kenneth Ellingson. This round, he's brought a Blue-Red tempo deck with plenty of enters-the-battlefield effects.
Round 10 features match-up between Magic's old and new greats, as Pro Tour Hall of Famer Nicolai Herzog squares off against recent Pro Tour champion Antonio Del Moral León.
To make a little pre-match small talk, Herzog asked about Del Moral León's Pro Club status.
"Wow. So I guess you Top 8'd a Pro Tour?"
Herzog made little effort to hide his embarrassment. "Shows how much attention I've been paying." Del Moral León laughed along with him.
Herzog led out with Bonded Construct, but had no two-drop to follow up. Worse, after a Shambling Ghoul from Del Moral León, he could only draw and pass, having failed to draw a third land. He did the same on two subsequent turns while Del Moral León piled on with another Ghoul and a Blightcaster. After Herzog missed on his fifth draw, he packed up his cards.
There were no mana troubles for Herzog in the second game, as he again led out with the Bonded Construct and played a third-turn Artificer's Epiphany. Del Moral León got on the board with Shadows of the Past and then Stalwart Aven. Herzog's Scab-Clan Berserker was forced to stay home, and fell to Reave Soul on Del Moral León's turn. The only problem was that Del Moral León had yet to find a fourth land.
Herzog's history with the game still doesn't prevent even a great from stumbling occasionally.
Herzog hoped to capitalize on his stumble. He sent the Aven home with Separatist Voidmage and added a second Bonded Construct to his side. Del Moral León replayed his Aven and passed, still short on land. Herzog piled on with Thopter Engineer, sending in his army and losing one of the Constructs to get in some damage. The scry from Shadows of the Past showed Del Moral León the land he'd been waiting for. He untapped, played it, and brought out Guardian Automaton.
That was enough to dissuade Herzog from making further attacks. He build up his board with Flameshadow Conjuring and Guardians of Meletis. For two turns the boards built up. Soon Del Moral León was confident enough to attack with his Aven and played a second copy to further dominate the air. However, Herzog wasn't about to go quietly. Tapping five mana, he put down Reclusive Artificer and copied it with his Conjuring, aiming to kill the new Aven and the Automaton. Del Moral León considered binning them both, but decided it was worth saving his Aven with Enshrouding Mist, locking Herzog out of profitable attacks.
Unwilling to stop with a Pro Tour win, Del Moral León has continued to impress.
Worse for Herzog, he was flooding out, unable to take further advantage of his Conjuring. He could only watch as Del Moral León played out Blightcaster and then a Totem-Guide Hartebeest that fetched a Knightly Valor. It was a sequence representing card advantage that would shame even the greediest blue mage. Now Del Moral León was free to hit in the air without sacrificing his defences, and the game was soon over.
Antonio Del Moral León 2 – Nicolai Herzog 0
"I had an out," said Herzog, showing a worthless Chandra's Ignition in his hand and riffling through his deck to find the Soulblade Djinn he needed to go with it. They wished each other good luck with the remainder and went their separate ways.
I caught up with Herzog to ask after his hand in Game 1. "It was something like, the two Islands, Artificer's Epiphany, Claustrophobia, Guardians of Meletis, Bonded Construct, and a red card," he replied. I asked if keeping on the play was a close decision for him, but he waved that off. "I think you have to keep that hand. It's simply too good and needs only one land."
Herzog was a little disappointed with his deck's performance. "You could see the synergies I have there. I think it's a pretty good deck. The thing is, the card quality in the draft was very high, so I think everyone has good decks. It might mean this one is not as good as I thought." He looked ruefully at Chandra's Ignition. "It's done nothing for me today. I only draw it when it will kill all my creatures and none of my opponent's."