Neither of these 6-2 pros were extremely excited about their draft decks. Third-ranked Lee Shi Tian, from Hong Kong, shrugged his shoulders and said, "It's a 2-1 deck." He laughed. "Always 2-1." He's playing a White-Blue Skies deck with a good amount of removal to back it up. Though he could be right, it could very well grab all three matches.
Lee looked across the feature match area at second-ranked Samuel Black, the other contender to usurp the currently top-ranked player and Pro tour Hall of Fame Class of 2015 member Eric Froehlich. Lee was one match down from Black, but with a solid second day, he could end the weekend as Player of the Year.
"It's hard for Asian players to get the Grand Prix points they need … but I've been very fortunate this year," he said. Lee wants the title very badly, but he's not focusing on that now. Although, he was keeping tabs on Black at the next table against Patrick Cox, and did say though, "I am definitely rooting for Pat." He smiled.
But before he could worry about Black, he had to worry about his current opponent—Pro Tour Gatecrash Top 8 finisher Gerry Thompson. Like Lee, Thompson wasn't a huge fan of his deck, and was less reserved about his dislike. "I should have been black," he said with a sigh. He had an aggressive White-Red deck, but was missing some of the hallmarks you really want. He had a Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, which was nice, but looking at his Ravaging Blaze he remarked, "I'd take Fiery Impulse over this every time."
Teammate Michael Majors said about the deck, "At least you can get some free wins." As Thompson had 3-0'ed his first draft pod, he knows how to get in the wins when he can. But starting off against Lee, who might end this weekend as the new Player of the Year, very few wins are "free."
Lee Shi Tian was in the thick of a very tight Player of the Year race. However, if he wanted to keep his head up in that race, he'd have to go through Pro Tour veteran Gerry Thompson.
Lee's deck on paper looked like it was quick enough to stop Thompson's assault before flying over for the win, as his main deck Yoked Ox might be pulling more weight than usual. But we well know that paper is not the same as reality. If Thompson got the right mix of creatures, pumps, and sneaky creature-stealers, the American could wind up the victor.
Gerry Thompson started with a Grasp of the Hieromancer on his Cleric of the Forward Order and took Lee to 17. The American wanted the game to end as quickly as possible. He was counting on it. He got his wish, but like a genie in a bottle, the wish is never exactly what you wanted it to be.
Lee started with a Watercourser, a Claustrophobia on the Cleric, and a simple flyer. But once he suited it up with a Knightly Valor, the Hong Kong native was swinging for 4 basically unblockable damage each turn. Without the removal for the air, and with no ground creatures to get in significant return fire, Thompson despondently scooped up his cards for the second game.
Be careful what you wish for.
Lee's draft deck has solid defensives that are backed by a furious air assault.
There were no two-drops for either player in the second game, but Thompson was the first to get aggressive. He put a Grasp of the Hieromancer on his Knight of the Pilgrim's Road to help get it in for renown purposes. Then he followed up with a Topan Freeblade, and an Ampryn Tactician.
Lee started his fifth turn at 7 life. He had a Charging Griffin and Knight of his own, but he was strongly on the back foot. That fourth turn +1/+1 counter on the knight from Thompson proved difficult to overcome. It was a 5/4 that tapped a blocker whenever it attacked.
Lee was now the one shaking his head, losing a little of his cool. He caught himself trying to cast a Ringwarden Owl without his second Island, and realized that he was getting out of sorts as the game slipped away. He was able to stave off death for another turn, gang-blocking the Freeblade and using a Celestial Flare to nab the Tactician, but Thompson wasn't done.
After follow-up creatures from Thompson, Lee saw the writing on the wall. And with another head-shake, he scooped up his cards for the last game. All Thompson needed was the right mix of creatures and removal.
In the last game, Thompson kept a six-card hand and began just as his deck wants to. He had a 2/2, and then used both Enshrouding Mist and Throwing Knives to kill Lee's first two creatures—Stalwart Aven and Charging Griffin—keeping the way clear.
But Lee was still at a high life total. He made a Patron of the Valiant and suited it up with Knightly Valor successive turns. He likely thought he was in the clear, but Thompson had some tricks up his sleeve.
Thompson rarely isn't found without tricks if he's got cards in hand.
After adding a Prickleboar, then stealing the knight token from the Aura with an Enthralling Victor, Lee lost 9 life and the life totals became 7-10 in the American's favor. All Thompson needed was one more push, and he could successfully race this vigilant, 6/6 flyer.
But sadly, that's when Thompson's deck ran out of gas. One more trick, one more removal, one more something could've have gotten him there. But it wasn't meant to be.
The Player of the Year hopeful soared over the heads of his adversaries and took the match win. As Lee left the feature-match area, he looked at Samuel Black one last time, refocusing back on the larger goal.
Lee Shi Tian 2 – Gerry Thompson 1