With only three losses, Round 15 is a virtual win-and-in match for these players, assuming they can draw with their final-round opponent, but either seemed to be feeling the pressure of being on the edge of Sunday. No doubt it helped that both had just managed to lock up Gold status for the coming season.
It was one year ago that Patrick Cox put up his second Pro Tour Top 8. A beatdown artist best-known for his love of Wild Nacatl, Cox is a member of the illustrious Team Ultra PRO, who have been putting their stamp on this Pro Tour season with strong finishes from many of their members. This weekend Cox is piloting one of the tournament's most popular decks, Red Aggro.
This round he faced a virtual mirror match against Sweden's Joel Larsson. He rose to prominence at Pro Tour Gatecrash where he wowed viewers with both his impeccable hairstyle and his top-notch play, coming just a match short of taking home the trophy. He's hoping to correct that error this weekend.
Patrick Cox and Joel Larsson have both been aiming burn spells at all sorts of targets all weekend. Now, the freshly re-minted Gold players get to do so against each other.
Cox won the option and chose to draw. Larsson went down to six cards, and Cox briefly considered joining him. After Larsson's scry, they were off.
The opening turns were almost too fast to follow as the pair traded creatures and burn spells. Only Larsson's Monastery Swiftspear survived. Once the small fry were cleared out, they started to go upstairs with the heavy ordinance. Cox brought Larsson to 9 with an end-of-turn Stoke the Flames into Exquisite Firecraft, but Larsson had burn of his own to bring Cox to 6.
Cox found Abbot of Keral Keep waiting for him and summoned it, earning a free Monastery Swiftspear that snuck in for a quick point. Larsson had Searing Blood in reserve, just waiting for targets. Cox was dropped to just a single life. However, Larsson was out of gas. He played a Firedrinker Satyr, his last card. Cox passed an empty turn with two cards in hand, daring Larsson to attack. Larsson's draw step was burn to the face, eliminating the dilemma.
Again Cox chose to draw. Both players kept their opening seven.
For Cox, the extra card proved to be more enticing than going first.
Larsson opened with a summoned Lightning Berserker. Cox brought out Swiftspear and hit for one. Larsson fired back with his Berserker for the full 3, tapping out. Cox had Searing Blood to dispatch it on his turn, and his attack brought Larsson to 14. Larsson played Abbot of Keral Keep but hit an uncastable card. He played a land and passed back.
Cox hit for 1, and naturally Larsson declined to block. Cox added an Eidolon of the Great Revel, getting further ahead despite being on only two lands. Larsson took 2 damage, clearing it out with Exquisite Firecraft and hitting for 3. Cox demoralized him with a Searing Blood and bashed him down to six.
Larsson drew for his turn, and then flipped over a hand full of lands with a laugh.
As they shuffled for the deciding game, they discussed the power of the Red Aggro deck. Cox said that it came down to how good Searing Blood was in the format. "Oh yeah," Larsson agreed. "People playing Hangarback Walkers and Jaces and Nissas."
"I played against Jeskai and they rolled out a turn-two Jace. That's just, okay you lose."
Larsson may have locked Gold, but now he has the Top 8 in his sights.
Larsson decided to stick with the play, but had to go down to six cards. He opened with Swiftspear. Cox answered with Zurgo Bellstriker. Larsson followed-up with Eidolon of the Great Revel. Searing Blood took care of it. He replaced it with an Abbot but got no bonus off it.
Cox continued to fire on all cylinders, dropping a Swiftspear of his own and clearing a path with Lightning Strike. Larsson tried another Abbot, and this one at least found Lightning Berserker. After a moment's consideration he played a mountain and dashed in the Berserker, swinging for two and leaving just the Abbot on defence. Cox untapped and brought out an Abbot of his own. He flipped over the top card: Searing Blood. Larsson sounded appropriately disgusted, and Cox for his part raised his eyebrows in appreciation. He showed the fourth Mountain he needed and cast the Blood. Larsson shook his head.
"And I thought I was going to win this game!"
He passed the turn back to Cox with all three of his mana open and an untapped Swiftspear. Unfortunately for him, Cox had an embarrassment of riches. He played another Swiftspear and crashed in with all his creatures. Larsson blocked one and tried to Lightning Strike a Monastery Swiftspear. Cox tapped one for Titan's Strength, and Larsson extended the hand.
Patrick Cox 2 – Joel Larsson 1
Larsson congratulated Cox on his good chances of making Top 8. Cox extended his best wishes for the final round. They briefly discussed the decision of play versus draw, with Larsson remaining unconvinced of Cox's strategy. Cox was confident, however, saying "I just think you just trade cards and whoever runs out of action first loses."
I asked Cox about his deck and how it had fared against the field.
"Well I've played five red mirrors and three Jeskai decks, so it's been a weird tournament. I've been winning lots though so I think the draw strategy is good. I mean, in the game there I kept a one-land hand with a Shock and a guy, so if I draw one land it's like I can't lose. I just have too many spells. We also bring in two Outpost Siege, which is the actual best card for the mirror, so drawing helps get to four mana."