It was a welcome sight to see Bordeaux, France, native Guillaume Matignon under the Pro Tour Top 8 lights. He was the 2010 World Champion and Pro Tour San Juan finalist; he's used to the lights. But for this Pro Tour he qualified via the Magic Online Championship Series. He has no Pro Player level, and no team. His Jeskai Approach deck looks remarkably different than other Approach decks, but it served him well, aided by his 6-0 showing in Draft. He was building himself back up, but to go any further he was going to have a tough match up against a tough opponent. Across the table was No. 11–ranked Seth Manfield.
I'm just going to say it now—Seth Manfield will one day be in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Maybe not next year, maybe not the year after, but some time we'll look at these numbers that the Maryland native has put up again and again and again, and say, "Yup, this guy's worth remembering." He was omnipresent in the last few years, winning Grand Prix like it was his job (it was), and making the Top 8 of Pro Tours and winning World Championships like he was one of the best players in the world (he is). His now back-to-back Pro Tour Top 8s is yet another example of his dominance.
His team, Genesis, was on the lightly played Sultai Energy deck—though using "Energy" in the name is a bit of a misnomer. The deck plays much more like the old Black-Green Constrictor deck with a supercharger of energy, replacing Sylvan Advocate and Tireless Tracker with Longtusk Cub and Rogue Refiner.
"We just thought that it was more aggressive than the other builds. Blossoming Defense is hard to play around," Manfield said about the deck. The team's thought was right, as the deck's win percentage against the field was rather good. This includes matches against Matignon's Jeskai Approach.
The slower control deck with a "combo" finish of Approach of the Second Sun was well positioned against many of the format's bigger decks, but aligns poorly with resilient decks that are lower to the ground. Matignon knew the difficulty of the matchup well, "I did not build my deck for [Sultai]—just Temur," he said. But Matignon has already come quite far without a leg up; perhaps he can do it again.
No. 11–ranked Seth Manfield was on the play and had just about an optimal start. It was one of those openings that looked more like a slideshow explaining how powerful a deck could be. It was like Guillaume Matignon was attending a seminar and Manfield had a laser pen directed at a chart with damage output graphs. All Matignon could do was nod along.
Manfield cast Attune with Aether, then Longtusk Cub, then Winding Constrictor. Bing. Bam. Boom. Matignon took 4 damage from the Cub, as with help of the Snake, one pump grew the Cat to 4/4. On the American's next turn, he swung with both creatures, and Matignon's Harnessed Lightning was foiled by Blossoming Defense. Matignon took 12 more damage (the Cub become a 6/6, and the Constrictor was pumped by the Blossoming Defenses). It was turn four and Matignon was at 4 life.
Guillaume Matignon sought to cull Manfield's creatures with Harnessed Lightning.
Manfield followed with a Walking Ballista, and the presentation concluded. Manfield had shown Matignon the virtues of this Sultai Energy deck like he was teaching a class.
Between games Matignon took out a science fiction novel and read as he could. He removed his Pyretic Ritual bookmark and sunk into the pages, trying to maintain focus. When it came time to play, he replaced the card in the book, gave himself a few slaps to the face, and shuffled up.
In the second game, Matignon was importantly on the play. His control deck could use any extra set up time it could get against the very aggressive starts of Manfield's deck. Matignon's turn-two Censor stopped the first Longtusk Cub, but his Harnessed Lightning on the second was met with a Blossoming Defense. However, as this was on Manfield's end step, the +2/+2 bump was irrelevant.
Matignon again delayed the assault by using Commit // Memory on the Cub, while using any and all card draw to dig and dig. He was just trying to earn more time. When he began his seventh turn, he was at 12 life. Healthy but unstable.
The French player laid his seventh land—which was when his deck got dangerous. Matignon tapped out for Approach of the Second Sun, going all the way back up to 19 life. Now the Approach was seven cards down in the library and the Frenchman had presented a clock. Seventh turn, seventh land, seven cards down. 7-7-7.
Manfield had built up a board with Winding Constrictor, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and the recently recast Longtusk Cub. He had the tools to race, he just had to decide how best to use them. He drew a card off Siphoner and attacked for 10 damage, after pumping his Longtusk Cub to a 6/6. A post-combat Walking Ballista threatened lethal the next turn. Manfield had decisively put the ball back in Matignon's court.
Seth Manfield needed to keep Matignon on the back foot.
Matignon returned serve quickly, passing back to Manfield with almost all his lands untapped. Matignon had tried for a Harnessed Lightning, but to no avail. With two Settle the Wreckages in his hand, his route to survival was clear. Though Manfield would likely play around the first one, he had to hope the second would catch him off guard. If the control player could stave off just enough to clear the board, the winning follow-up Approach of the Second Sun would be within reach.
Manfield cast a Walking Ballista precombat, then attacked with the minimal number of creatures he needed to finish off Matignon—awaiting the Settle the Wreckage. It came and took the Cub and the Siphoner into exile.
Matignon had hopes pinned on the second mass removal spell. As Manfield had deftly avoided the first, he next attacked with just two Walking Ballistas, keeping the Winding Constrictor back. It was the right way to ensure lethal for Manfield the next turn.
After the Settle came, Matignon sunk to 2 life when Seth removed all the counters from the Ballistas in response, and a post-combat Rouge Refiner ensured that Matignon was dead to two different creatures. He needed two removal spells—and there weren't enough cards in his hand. Manfield takes the 2-0 lead.
Matignon strongly set the third game's pace. He Censored Manfield's first Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, then cast Harnessed Lightning on the second. He resolved Baral, Chief of Compliance as well, which sped up his capabilities remarkably. Out of the sideboard, Baral does work against decks like this—speeding up Matignon's card draw and removal, while also providing a blocker against 2-power creatures.
The first play that threatened to reverse the course Matignon charted was a Commit // Memory attempting to bounce Manfield's Longtusk Cub in response to a +1/+1 counter activation. Manfield had two Negates in his hand, and could have committed to early damage by countering the spell. Instead he let it resolve and played for the longer game— saving Negate for frying bigger fish.
But maybe he regretted that plan after a four-card Pull from Tomorrow resolved next turn while he was all tapped out. Matignon drew a boat of cards, feeling great.
Instead of countering creatures then drawing cards like he had been doing, now Matignon was drawing cards while countering creatures, thanks to Baral. Then he was playing them a second time with Torrential Gearhulk...and another Gearhulk.
After amassing a double-Gearhulk army, led by Baral, Matignon quickly made Manfield submit.
Between games, the combatants checked in on the other quarterfinals match-up—sizing up the potential competition if they made it to the next round.
Seth Manfield (left) took an opportunity to check on the other quarterfinals match while Guillaume Matignon (right) maintained his focus.
This break, Matignon kept the book out of reach. "I have to be in the world for that," he said. "It's not the time."
Manfield was still one game away from advancing, but after losing the last game the momentum wasn't in his favor. To start the fourth meeting, he resolved his two-drop, which was vastly important for board-building. But Matignon's Baral, Chief of Compliance stopped the Winding Constrictor from getting anywhere meaningful in the red zone.
After a few turns, Manfield had made marginal progress on both the board and his opponent's life total. He had added a litany of creatures, but Matignon had kept pace better than in previous games, killing or stopping them as he could. Manfield had a Rogue Refiner; Rishkar, Peema Renegade; and Deathgorge Scavenger—with the Winding Constrictor having been killed. He was able to hit Matignon for about 3 damage per turn. Though not a lot, Matignon couldn't quite stem the bleeding. After a few turns, Matignon was at 9 life. Matignon's last couple draw steps yielded only land, which was what allowed this mediocre aggression to get the best of the deck.
On his next turn, Manfield attacked for a lethal amount, but left a creature back, fearing another Settle the Wreckage. However, what he thought was Settle the Wreckage was actually a Pull from Tomorrow for four. Matignon hoped to pull himself out of trouble with the draw-four. He failed to draw removal, but Manfield's safe attack bought an extra turn or two.
Matignon dug and dug something fierce, but his deck was not built to weather this kind of sustained aggression. The Frenchman extended his hand, and Seth Manfield shook it with rigor.
Guillaume Matignon (right) graciously extended his hand to congratulate Seth Manfield (left).
No. 11–ranked Seth Manfield defeated Guillaume Matignon 3-1 and moved on to the semifinals!