Quarterfinals: Mike Sigrist vs. Samuel Ihlenfeldt

Posted in Event Coverage on November 5, 2017

By Frank Karsten

Sitting down for Round 1 on Friday morning at his first Pro Tour, Samuel Ihlenfeldt was understandably nervous. "Before the tournament, I kept telling people 'I don't think I'm going to win a match.' Everyone here is so good. And then I won a match. And then I won another match." And after sixteen rounds of Swiss competition, he made it to the Top 8. It was beyond anything he could have expected, but he was incredibly happy to be there. And so were his Tower Games teammates.

His nerves hadn't subsided yet for the Top 8, as evidenced by what was written in large letters at the top of his life pad during his quarterfinal match: "I got this." It's good to remind yourself to breathe in a high-pressure match like this.


Pro Tour veteran Mike Sigrist (left) and rookie Samuel Ihlenfeldt faced off in the quarterfinals of Pro Tour Ixalan.

He got to the Top 8 with Mardu Vehicles, a deck that had gotten substantially worse with the rotation of Thraben Inspector, but Bomat Courier and Walking Ballista proved to be good replacements. With a low curve that could support Hazoret the Fervent and the dream start of Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran, Mardu Vehicles still had the tools to compete in Standard. Ihlenfeldt also had some sweet tech in his sideboard, courtesy of Ray Huang: Dusk // Dawn. The sweeper could prove useful against such creatures as Longtusk Cub, Bristling Hydra, and Glorybringer.

Ihlenfeldt's opponent in the quarterfinals was Mike Sigrist, the 2014–15 Player of the Year in his third Pro Tour Top 8. The only non-Hall-of-Fame member of team ChannelFireball, Sigrist had dominated the tournament so far with his Four-Color Energy deck. At one point he led the field at 12-1, and he cruised into the Top 8 as the top seed.

"Energy is just too powerful and Vraska, Relic Seeker helped the bad matchups," Sigrist said to explain his deck choice. But he may not have been expecting many Heart of Kirans this weekend, as he only had one copy of Abrade in his main deck. The flying Vehicle surely had the potential to score a quick win for Ihlenfeldt before Sigrist's Vraska, Relic Seeker could lock up the game. But if Ihlenfeldt had a slow draw, then Sigrist would surely have the edge in the late game. And when it came to experience in high-profile matches, Sigrist surely had the edge as well.

"Do you like the pressure?" Ihlenfeldt asked Sigrist as they shuffled up.

"I don't like it, but I don't dislike it either. I want to play well, and I care more about that than the result," Sigrist answered.

"I hate being on camera, but I'm happy to just be here, honestly. The fact that I'm going to Spain in February, whew!" Ihlenfeldt said.

The Games

In Game 1, Sigrist locked up the board with not one, not two, but three copies of Whirler Virtuoso. The 2/3s were great blockers for Inventor's Apprentice, Bomat Courier, and Pia Nalaar, and it seemed like Sigrist was way ahead. "Those triple Whirlers had me scared," Ihlenfeldt said after the game.

But after deploying those Whirler Virtuosos, Sigirist didn't play another relevant spell for the rest of the game. His hand contained Vraska, Relic Seeker, The Scarab God, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance—none of which he could cast with his collection of lands. There is a risk associated with playing four colors, after all. Meanwhile, Ihlenfeldt kept on casting threats that could still profitably attack, such as Aethersphere Harvester and a Scrapheap Scrounger. Several turns later, Ihlenfeldt won while Sigrist was still stuck with powerful uncastable cards in hand.

After the game, it was discovered that Ihlenfeldt had played two lands in one turn (a long one, involving a Bomat Courier activation) but the judges deemed it to be an accidental mistake.

After the players had shuffled up for Game 2 and were told to hold so their game could be shown live on camera, they diffused the pressure with some friendly conversation. It was a good reminder that despite the high stakes, everyone was mainly here to have fun.

While the wait continued, Ihlenfeldt checked his blood sugar, just to make sure. "Oh, my blood sugar is great. My shakiness is just the nerves," he said after.


Samuel Ihlenfeldt concentrated on playing his best under the bright lights.

In Game 2, Ihlenfeldt had the dream start of Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran, but Sigrist, who was on the play that game, had a reasonable curve as well: Longtusk Cub on turn two, Rogue Refiner on turn three, and Bristling Hydra on turn four.

Despite gaining heaps of energy, Sigrist did not activate any of his green creatures. His reason for stockpiling energy became clear when he cast Whirler Virtuoso, which could now create four chump blockers for Heart of Kiran. "And that's what I did not want to see," Ihlenfeldt said. Having answered the aerial Heart of Kiran assaults, Sigrist's green monsters rumbled in for the kill.

In Game 3, Ihlenfeldt had to mulligan down to five, but he could settle for the B team of Inventor's Apprentice, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Aethersphere Harvester. They offered a reasonably fast clock, but Sigrist had the right answers to Ihlenfeldt's threats via multiple copies of Harnessed Lightning and Vraska, Relic Seeker.

Walking Ballista eventually dealt with the planeswalker, but by then Ihlenfeldt was mostly out of resources, and Sigrist still had a Longtusk Cub on the battlefield alongside heaps of energy. It threatened to grow into a 7/7, and at some point, Heart of Kiran even had to chump block. That's a surefire sign that things were going downhill for the Mardu player, and the Cat attacked for lethal shortly after.

In Game 4, Ihlenfeldt was on the play with a turn-two Heart of Kiran. When Sigrist passed with three mana up and Ihlenfeldt found Toolcraft Exemplar as a potential pilot, Ihlenfeldt opted not to crew his Heart of Kiran, unwilling to expose it to a potential Harnessed Lightning. It was a good play, but Sigrist had Appetite for the Unnatural instead, so the Vehicle still died.

Ihlenfeldt's subsequent threats of Walking Ballista and Veteran Motorist seemed to be outmatched by Longtusk Cub, Whirler Virtuoso, and ten energy counters. Even Hazoret the Fervent didn't appear to be big enough, as Longtusk Cub turned into a 6/6 blocker. At least, until Unlicensed Disintegration killed the Cub. Now Hazoret could attack unopposed, and Sigrist was unable to find an answer. The best he could do was to set up a damage race with chump-blocking Thopter tokens, but it didn't prove successful, and the indestructible God claimed another victim.


Mike Sigrist is used to being in the feature match spotlight.

"Here's to a good Game 5," Ihlenfeldt said as they got ready for the decider.

"Good luck, buddy," Sigrist replied.

Game 5 revolved largely around Heart of Kiran. Although Sigrist answered the first one with Harnessed Lightning, Ihlenfeldt had a replacement copy to keep up the pressure. The game seemed to turn into a damage race that would favor Sigrist, as he could create chump-blocking Thopter tokens via Whirler Virtuoso while attacking on the ground with Longtusk Cub and The Scarab God. But Dusk // Dawn from Ihlenfeldt turned it into a tantalizingly close game instead.

Still, the Scarab God returned and, at a reasonably safe 10 life, Sigrist brought back Whirler Virtuoso from the dead. It created two Thopter tokens, which gave him a lot of time, but it didn't permanently answer Heart of Kiran.

Both players carefully managed their next few combat steps and built up their boards so that they would maximize their damage clocks while retaining enough blockers in the face of Pia Nalaar activations and The Scarab God triggers—it was one of the most complicated matches of the entire Top 8 thus far—but the advantage bar was pointing toward Sigrist.

But then Ihlenfeldt added another flying Vehicle in Aethersphere Harvester, to which Sigrist did not respond by eternalizing Pia Nalaar. Now with energy available, Ihlenfeldt could tap his Aether Hub for black and exile that Pia Nalaar via Scrapheap Scrounger. Suddenly, Ihlenfeldt had another flying threat and Sigrist couldn't get the Thopter that he needed to chump block. On Sigrist's turn, he mistakenly thought his Longtusk Cub had summoning sickness, and his subsequent attack managed to get Ihlenfeldt down to 1 life, which was not enough! What's more, it left him vulnerable to Ihlenfeldt's lethal counterattack! Sigrist, feeling somewhat upset at the lines of play that he had chosen, extended his hand in defeat.

Samuel Ihlenfeldt defeated Mike Sigrist 3-2 and advanced to the semifinals!


Samuel Ihlenfeldt's Mardu Vehicles

Mike Sigrist's Four-Color Energy

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