465 players arrived in Bilbao with the goal of winning Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Eighteen matches later, and we're down to the final two players.
The showdown between Luis Salvatto's Lantern Control deck and Gerry Thompson's Mardu Pyromancer deck was the one that would determine who the Pro Tour Champion was. Salvatto was gunning for his first title, while Thompson was hoping for a repeat victory, less than nine months after claiming Pro Tour Amonkhet.
"It's not a terrible matchup, but I would have preferred to play somebody else in the finals," Salvatto confessed. "Not only is Gerry a great player, but his deck can also handle artifacts and can potentially apply a lot of early pressure."
Would Luis Salvatto become the game's first Argentinian Pro Tour champion, or would Gerry Thompson be able to secure a second Pro Tour title in less than a year after winning his first?
The first game began with a mulligan from Thompson. After deciding to keep, he scryed, and Salvatto asked if he had chosen to keep that card on top.
"Yeah, on top!" Thompson said as he tried to lighten the mood. "It's so good. In fact, it's delicious. I'm so happy right now."
Salvatto's inquiry was not without cause. Since Thompson chose to keep that card, Salvatto had to deny it with a turn one Pyxis of Pandemonium. He followed up with Codex Shredder, sacrificed Mishra's Bauble to look at the top card of his library, and then milled it away. He found Lantern of Insight, which enabled him to mess with Thompson's draw steps.
"This might be the last damage I deal you this game. Go to 18? What are my odds of winning from here? Zero?" Thompson began thinking out loud.
After playing Lantern Control for three months, Salvatto had gotten very fast and efficient at piloting the intensely intricate lock deck.
"I think it's about 1%," Salvatto answered. "You need to have all three Kolaghan's Commands on the top of your deck stacked one after another. And even if that happens, I can use Codex Shredder and Pyxis of Pandemonium to get rid of the first two, and I can sacrifice Lantern of Insight to force you to shuffle away the third. You might have a chance if you draw it back immediately."
The analysis made a lot of sense. After deliberation, Thompson decided not to waste everyone's time. "Mulligan, scry, fetch, cast two spells," Thompson quipped. "I did five actions this game. It's like you're playing the evil turn-three kill combo deck instead of a control deck now."
In Game 2, Thompson had to mulligan again. "Well, my deck sucks," he said as he was forced to mulligan a second time. Salvatto went down to six cards himself, but he seemed pleased with the replacement.
After both players scryed, Salvatto sacrificed Mishra's Bauble to take a look.
"Curious?" Thompson asked. "It's a Young Pyromancer. It's not even good." Regardless, Salvatto pointed Abrupt Decay at it when it landed. When Thompson used Thoughtseize on Salvatto, he responded with Whir of Invention for Codex Shredder, emptying his hand.
Thompson couldn't help but smile and jest when facing circumstances each game that were nearly insurmountable.
Thompson finally had enough resources to cast Bedlam Reveler, but he drew nothing relevant. Meanwhile, Salvatto built his prison, brick by brick, tile by tile. First, two Pithing Needles, and then Ensnaring Bridge, and then a pair of Codex Shredders. At this point, both players began discussing Thompson's odds of victory again.
"What would you put me at this time?" Thompson asked.
"Perhaps 3%," was Salvatto's response. However, after drawing a second copy of Whir of Invention, Salvatto changed his answer.
"I like 0% better than 3% because it means I can get out of jail now!"
With that, Salvatto took down the second game, and both players reached for their sideboards. "I need to do the 'reverse sweep' now," Thompson hopes. "Losing the first two and then winning the next three, just like I did in the semifinals."
Salvatto smiled and presented his deck. He was one game away from becoming a Pro Tour winner, Argentina's first.
He led with Lantern of Insight, so everyone had a sneak preview of what was on the horizon. Thompson offered Young Pyromancer, but it was melted down by Abrupt Decay. However, Salvatto was having some mana problems. He did not have metalcraft for Mox Opal, and neither did he have three blue Mana to cast Whir of Invention.
As Thompson drew Inquisition of Kozilek for his turn, he unveiled Molten Rain as his next draw step, prompting him to exclaim with excitement. Thompson destroyed Botanical Sanctum, leaving Salvatto with only Academy Ruins and Botanical Sanctum as mana sources, and a single Whir of Invention in his hand.
However, Salvatto drew Welding Jar and his third Botanical Sanctum in succession, allowing him to Whir for Ensnaring Bridge! Despite having Young Pyromancer, Bedlam Reveler, and a horde of tokens, Thompson could only wait for a solution before dealing the finishing blow.
Since Salvatto did not have Codex Shredder or Pyxis of Pandemonium just yet, he was still not safe. Thompson could still "escape." For safety, Salvatto picked up Lantern of Insight from his graveyard to shuffle his own library, as he did not want to draw a second Mox Opal. Then, when Liliana of the Veil lurked at the top of Thompson's deck, Salvatto repeated that action, this time forcing Thompson to shuffle instead.
Thompson got curious again. "What are my chances now?"
"How about now?"
"I'm not sure really," Salvatto still needed at least one of his "Millstones."
"Come on, put a number on it!"
"I think 5%," Salvatto murmured.
"That's not bad, 5% isn't 0%."
As Thompson felt the door closing on his second title, he couldn't help but enjoy the ride.
A second Codex Shredder landed.
"1%," Salvatto informed Thompson.
Right now, the only way to get out of jail was to draw multiple cards in a row, since Codex Shredders could not affect the second or third card drawn. If Thompson could find some of these card drawing spells such as Faithless Looting or Bedlam Reveler, he might be able to break free. Hence, Salvatto judged these two as "live" cards and they had to be removed.
"Congrats on winning the Pro Tour buddy," Thompson said as he extended his hand to the roar of the crowd.
The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give. This weekend was all about Luis Salvatto's flawless performance with Lantern Control. Sweeping through the finals against the toughest adversary made Salvatto's win even sweeter. Not only will he be upgraded to Platinum status immediately, he also earned himself a seat at the 2018 World Championship.
Congratulations to Luis Salvatto, Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan Champion!