Round 6: Christian Calcano (Sultai Control) vs. (6) Paul Rietzl (Red Aggro)

Posted in Event Coverage on August 1, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

The stakes are always high at the Pro Tour, and that couldn't be truer for Christian Calcano, who is chasing Platinum, and sixth-ranked Paul Rietzl, who is chasing the Player of the Year Title.

It's a recipe for a high-drama match, and that's exactly what followed between two of the best players of the 2014-15 season. Calcano entered the event needing at least 28 (9-6-1 or better) match points to reach his goal of Platinum for the year, while Rietzl is a contender in the stacked race for Player of the Year. Rietzl entered the weekend trailing his newly-announced Hall of Fame colleague Eric Froehlich by seven Pro Points in the race for one of the game's top honors.

Of course, for two players competing with so much on the line, you couldn't tell from their pregame banter.

"So, you're okay with this, right?" Rietzl asked Calcano, flashing him a score pad that had Calcano listed as "New York" (Calcano is a lifelong Mets fan), and himself as "Boston" (Rietzl is a die-hard Red Sox follower). A detailed discussion of baseball's trade deadline followed, as players from across the feature match area chimed in as well.

You know, just like anyone playing some of the most important matches of their lives does.

A classic showdown between New York and Boston took place in Round 6, as Christian "The Mets" Calcano squared off against Paul "The Red Sox" Rietzl.

Calcano arrived with Sultai Control, a powerful deck that played to his strengths as a competitor and had the ability to stall the aggressive decks while casting resilient threats of its own in Tasigur, the Golden Fang.

Rietzl, meanwhile, sat down with something well within his own wheelhouse: Red Aggro. With ten one-drop creatures and a plethora of burn spells to back them up, Rietzl's deck could steal games in a flash, long before his opponents had a chance to set up their defenses.

The Games

Calcano won the die roll—vital in the matchup—and led with a Temple of Mystery while Rietzl got on the board quickly with a Monastery Swiftspear that was followed by an Eidolon of the Great Revel.

With just a Satyr Wayfinder of his own, Calcano quickly found himself under the gun against the aggressive deck. With the early creatures both pressuring his life total and threatening to punish for casting inexpensive removal spells, Calcano needed something special or he'd risk falling out of the game early.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang did exactly that, and Calcano looked to have stabilized. That is, until a timely Titan's Strength for Rietzl not only cleared away the banana king but also forced through enough damage to knock Calcano down to 16 life.

All Calcano could manage was Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and it was relegated to chump-block duty as Exquisite Firecraft knocked him down to 8 life. A Languish cleared away the board but did little to slow Rietzl, who followed up with a pair of creatures to threaten lethal damage again.

That's Boston at 14 and New York at 5," Rietzl remarked at the pair checked life totals.

The next attack poked Calcano down further, and soon he found himself at just 1 life after taking a point from his Llanowar Wastes to remove one of Rietzl's creatures.

Still, it looked like Calcano had stabilized the board, and an end-of-turn Hero's Downfall would have put him in a precarious position but one in which he could win the game. That is, until Rietzl responded with a Wild Slash to take Game 1.

With that distracting Magic match on hold for the moment, Rietzl and Calcano got back to what really mattered: talking about baseball. They traded stories of their favorite teams from childhood and may have gone on if not for the match they needed to finish.

Rietzl opened the game on the draw and took a calculated risk from the start. Staring at six strong red spells but only one Mountain, the Hall of Famer opted to take the chance, a gambit Calcano sniffed out thanks to a Duress.

"I appreciate it," he laughed as Rietzl found a land waiting on top of his deck and cast Eidolon of the Great Revel to make his hand go from greedy to great.

Rietzl's Red Aggro puts the pressure on.

A flurry of creatures and attack steps later, the game came to a tipping point. Calcano found himself at just 4 life, knowing full well Rietzl had a burn spell in his hand to finish off the job. Looking toward the top of his deck for an answer, he found that, in this match, one good turn deserved another.

Tasigur came off the top and into the battlefield, and the Feed the Clan he had been holding since the beginning took him out of the danger zone and back up to a more-comfortable 14 life.

Undeterred, Rietzl took down Tasigur with Exquisite Firecraft, aided by a Chandra, Pyromaster that put him back on the offensive.

The Planeswalker was a significant source of card advantage, but so too is Den Protector, which brought back Tasigur for Calcano. A round of attacks took down Chandra, and a second Feed the Clan put his life total safely out of reach and sent the pair to Game 3.

If the first two games set it up, the third one knocked it out of the park.

Back on the play, Rietzl wasted no time, pumping Lightning Berserker to knock Calcano down to 17 life on the second turn and following it up with the aggressive plan of Stoke the Flames to the face after that.

Calcano knew what it meant when the opponent started to point burn spells at his life total, and he did his best to hold the fort, laying down Tasigur a turn later as Lightning Strike knocked him down to 10 life. That put the brakes on Rietzl's attacks, but not his damage. Another Lightning Strike was pointed at Calcano, but he responded with the timely Feed the Clan to gain 10 life.

Calcano seeks to steal the match away from his aggressive opponent on the back of Sultai Controll and some unsuspecting Feed the Clans.

With so much work undone by one card, Rietzl's back was against the ropes, and he tried to dig out of it with an Outpost Siege set to Khans mode. It didn't avail him much right away, as Tasigur began attacking and putting a short clock on the match. But it did find a second Outpost Siege, and with the benefit of seeing so many cards a turn, Rietzl was able to burn away Tasigur.

After looking like the door was closed on the match, Rietzl was systematically forcing it back open inch by inch. Calcano gave himself more time by casting two more Feed the Clans to move to 28 life, but all that life wouldn't mean much if he couldn't find a way to get to Rietzl's last 3 life points.

Den Protector off the top returned a second Den Protector from the graveyard, and Calcano had himself an army, albeit a fragile one. Rietzl's attack put Calcano back under 20 life, and the game teetered on a knife's edge as Calcano peeled his top card away from his deck.

Fortunately for Calcano's dreams of reaching Platinum this weekend, that card was the removal spell he needed to wipe away Rietzl's last creature and attack for lethal damage.

Christian Calcano 2 – Paul Rietzl 1

Christian Calcano's Sultai Control

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Paul Rietzl's Red Aggro

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