Sitting down for the finals of Pro Tour Paris, these two friends were all smiles. Rietzl is playing his last match of what has been a crazy weekend for him. On top of making the finals of the Pro Tour, he has been playing in the second day of the Grand Prix at the same time, making a 24th-place finish there. His opponent, Ben Stark, is having a hot run himself, having put up a number of strong finishes already this year on the GP circuit.
This finals match-up against Ben Stark is the first one he's faced in this Top 8 where Paul Rietzl hasn't felt like an underdog. He played against the white-blue Caw-Go deck a great deal in the Swiss, which was just one of the factors in him making the Top 8 in the first place. His Boros deck has all the tools to defeat white-blue, assuming reasonable draws.
Americans in Paris: Ben Stark and Paul Rietzl
Ben Stark had an easier run in Top 8 than Paul, but acknowledged that this match could be a tough one for him. He remarked that of all the people in the Top 8 (apart from, we must presume, himself), that he was most happy to see Paul in the final, as a potential worthy winner.
Paul's start was a little shaky, with a double mulligan. He did have turn one Steppe Lynx though, to threaten early beats with. Stark's game really began on turn two, when he played Stoneforge Mystic to fetch Sword of Feast and Famine.
Considering he was working off five cards, Paul's draw seemed solid. He had a second turn Steppe Lynx to go with the first, and an Arid Mesa, which he didn't need to crack immediately. The following turn he got in for 12 to take Ben to just 6 life, while Ben had only played a Squadron Hawk. Rietzl also had a Hawk, and suddenly not much more damage to deal to steal the first game.
Rietzl had indicated prior to the match that he felt he was the favourite on the play, so he just needed to steal one on the draw. Getting that one on the first game would be ideal. Stark's best efforts to stop that happening involved casting a Squadron Hawk and holding up Mana Leak mana. Rietzl seemed unperturbed. He played a Marsh Flats and attacked. Stark had to do some blocking to stay alive, and chose to let one Steppe Lynx through, trading Hawk for Hawk, and losing his Stoneforge Mystic, which with its dying breath put Sword of Feast and Famine onto the battlefield. Post combat, Rietzl kept the pressure on with another Hawk.
Stark was now on just 4, and with Marsh Flats still on the battlefield unused, he knew that both copies of Steppe Lynx were likely lethal if unblocked. Ben equipped his sword to Squadron Hawk, and cast a second.
A Teetering Peaks meant that even with blocks, Stark dropped to 1 from Rietzl's attacks. Rietzl thought a little before casting a pair of copies of Plated Geopede. He was extending heavily if a Day of Judgment was in his future, but having the Geopedes on the battlefield meant that even if he didn't draw a land he's be able to attack for the win in the face of blockers.
As it turns out, all this thinking wasn't really necessary. Stark drew his card and scooped for Game 2.
"That was your win on the draw? With five cards?"
"You should have kept your six," smiled Ben. "I like it when people keep bad hands against me ...."
Paul Rietzl 1, Ben Stark 0
That turn-one Steppe Lynx was there again for this game, but this time Stark had Oust to keep it back for a little while. This kept Rietzl back a little, without a play on turn two, while Stark had double Preordain on turn two.
"Oooh, sweet!" exclaimed Rietzl as he drew that Steppe Lynx again. He cast it, along with Squadron Hawk, fetching three more.
Again Stark had the Oust for Steppe Lynx. Rietzl just beat in with what he had, and cast a couple of extra copies of Squadron Hawk. He already had the Squadron in hand, so he didn't need to worry about searching, and shuffling away that Lynx.
It's been a long day for Paul Rietzl. Can he finish it out the way he wants to?
Stark had a Squadron Hawk of his own, but with all those copies of Oust he certainly didn't seem like the beatdown. Rietzl cast a Stoneforge Mystic to fetch Adventuring Gear. He resolved it without issue, equipped, and attacked with his flying team after playing an Evolving Wilds. This was enough to prompt a chump block from Stark, who was stuck on just three lands. Stark cast another Hawk and passed, falling further and further behind in the game.
Rietzl played an Arid Mesa, resolved the landfall of Adventuring Gear, then moved the Gear to another creature. In this way he could make sure that each of his creatures was a threat in spite of Stark's one blocker. He moved the gear again, and attacked, passing with one more fetch land up just in case. Stark dropped to 12.
A fetch land may not have helped Stark's life situation, but it certainly improved his odds in the game, as he cast a Day of Judgment.
"I'm still down on cards in the exchange," remarked Stark, in reference to the fact that both Squadron Hawk and Stoneforge Mystic are excellent sources of card advantage.
Rietzl cast Steppe Lynx and Squadron Hawk, which got equipped with Adventuring Gear. Rietzl then played another fetch land, meaning that he had two uncracked and ready for action. Stark showed Divine Offering to get rid of Adventuring Gear, before playing a Squadron Hawk.
That hawk had to chump-block Steppe Lynx, in the face of a host of uncracked fetch lands. Rietzl followed up with Plated Geopede, which forced another Day of Judgment. Stark was beginning to edge back in, with another Hawk and a Ratchet Bomb. He next cast Gideon Jura, immediately pumping the planeswalker to force attacks.
Rietzl cast Spikeshot Elder, before playing a Mountain and passing. The little goblin would get some good hits in given that Rietzl was now at 9 mana, and forced Stark's hand on blowing up Ratchet Bomb. Even on his way out, Spikeshot Elder killed off Squadron Hawk. Stark continued to power up Gideon Jura, and cast Baneslayer Angel, who was swiftly dealt with by Journey to Nowhere. Paul then had Stoneforge Mystic to fetch Adventuring Gear.
Stark's play was Jace, the Mind Sculptor, who gave Ben some Brainstorm help, and then to up Gideon, putting him to 12 loyalty. Stoneforge Mystic smashed in for 7 thanks to three fetch land activations, but that still left Gideon on five loyalty. Rietzl had to empty his hand of a Lightning Bolt and an Arc Trail to kill Gideon.
Stark started using Jace to fateseal Paul with, and cast another Gideon Jura. It was only a few fateseals from Jace, and swings from Gideon before Paul picked up his cards.
Paul Rietzl 1, Ben Stark 1
Rietzl kept his seven for this game, and again had turn-one Steppe Lynx. He got to crack in for six on turn two, thanks to a fetch land and a Goblin Guide. Stark had a Squadron Hawk on turn two, but it was consigned to chump-blocking duty, as Rietzl played another fetch land and another Goblin Guide.
Ben cast another Squadron Hawk and a Sylvok Lifestaff, tapping out. He wasn't dead, but he never got to equip that lifestaff, as the hawk had to chump block in the face of a Teetering Peaks. He still went to 4 from Rietzl's attacks. Day of Judgment cleared Rietzl's board, then Jace, the Mind Sculptor dealt with the lone Plated Geopede that Rietzl followed up with. He nodded sagely, and cast the Geopede again, along with a couple of copies of Squadron Hawk.
Ben Stark has been grinding again after a long absence, and this could be his weekend
Stark was creeping back in. He used Jace's Brainstorm ability, followed by casting Gideon Jura, to force attacks. Rietzl duly did so, but not before fetching a Sword of Body and Mind to swing with. Rietzl was able to swing Gideon Jura down to one loyalty—too low to use Gideon's -2 Assassinate ability.
A fateseal on Rietzl's deck from Jace required a little thought. In the end the card went on the bottom, and Stark cast another Day of Judgment before casting Sword of Feast and Famine. Rietzl's retort was Squadron Hawk, which let him shuffle the card Stark had disapproved of back in. He gave the Hawk a Sword, and then cast another winged beasty.
Stark too had Squadron Hawks going, casting one so that his Equipment had something to hold it. He also Brainstormed, added to Gideon's loyalty and cast a Ratchet Bomb. That he was on just 4 life no longer seemed so much of a problem. When Rietzl was forced to attack, a hawk tradeoff gained Stark 3 life, for a much healthier 7, while Gideon remained on a safe 4 loyalty.
Stark cast a new Hawk, but wasn't able to equip it before a Lightning Bolt jumped out of Stark's hand, killing the 1/1. An Oust from Ben pushed back Rietzl's only Squadron hawk, reinforcing the powerful board lock that Stark was building.
It was time to start attacking. Gideon picked up some weapons and came in. Rietzl was ready to pack up his cards.
Ben Stark 2, Paul Rietzl 1
"Every time I could have played around Day of Judgment I did ...." remarked Paul, looking for a way Game 3 could have gone differently.
"I think you played that game perfectly," replied Stark, just one game away from Pro Tour victory.
Rietzl was on the play in this one. As tends to be his custom, he took his time about mulligan decisions, and ultimately chose to send his seven back. The six didn't look too sharp either. It was a perturbed Rietzl who looked at his five card hand, nodded, and kept.
There was no turn-one Steppe Lynx for Game 4, but Goblin Guide was a fair substitute, running in for 2.
The pressure's on for Paul Rietzl.
"So you have three cards in hand?" asked Stark.
"That's true," said Rietzl. "Sick rub-ins."
"Sorry man," replied Stark, as he played an Oust on the Goblin Guide.
The Goblin Guide would not be coming back. Stoneforge Mystic shuffled him away, even as it fetched Sword of Body and Mind. For turn two, Stark had a warm body in the form of Squadron Hawk. The Mystic soon picked up the Sword, and forced chump-blocks from Stark.
Rietzl was still on just two lands though, while Stark was up to 4. He had little in the way of offence, unable to break through the stream of 1/1 fliers from Stark. Rietzl started casting hawks of his own, but behind on land he could not mount much of an offence. Stark showed a Day of Judgment, further slowing the pace of the game.
Rietzl finally got a hit in with his Sword, thanks to a hasty Goblin Guide. He got a Wolf token, and was happy to see that in the 10 cards he milled, he had hit both a Jace, and Sword of Feast and Famine. Stark, for his turn, cast Preordain, then another hawk.
A Divine Offering meant that Rietzl would only get one Sword hit in, and Stark dropped to 13 on attacks. When he came in the following turn, a Celestial Colonnade took out the Wolf token, but then died to Lightning Bolt, and a pair of Hawks traded.
Stark cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and used his Brainstorm ability before casting Squadron Hawk to net a shuffle and protect his planeswalker. Rietzl sent his team at Jace, and when each player's Hawks traded, Jace still had one loyalty left. Rietzl cast a Steppe Lynx and shipped the turn to Stark.
For a second turn Jace, the Mind Sculptor helped with Brainstorm, after which Day of Judgment was followed by Stoneforge Mystic. Ben was able to get a shuffle after each search effect, improving his card quality, and in this case the Mystic found Sylvok Lifestaff, which wasn't too shabby for Ben either.
Each player knew that the longer the game went on, the more Stark was favored, but Rietzl didn't seem to have the tools to force anything through. Rietzl looked to the crowd standing near the feature match arena, and saw a crowd of Ben's friends.
"That is a very bad sign," he remarked.
He looked back at the table and saw Ben casting Gideon Jura. "A bad sign ...." he murmured, studying the powerful board across from him.
Stark had all the answers, with a Day of Judgment to take a Steppe Lynx and Squadron Hawk off Rietzl's side of the table.
As Stark resolved a Jace Brainstorm, Rietzl smiled.
"Take the draw," he suggested, quoting the film Searching for Bobby Fischer. "It's thirteen moves away. He doesn't see it yet."
A good deck and a good smile will get you far.
It seemed unlikely the game would go on for thirteen more turns. Stark cast Baneslayer Angel, and while Rietzl was able to first Mark of Mutiny the Baneslayer to hurt Gideon, and then Journey to Nowhere it, he was still in rough shape.
Jace started fatesealing, and Paul knew it was over. He didn't need to wait to see what he drew when the card stayed on top. Ben cast another Baneslayer Angel and Rietzl extended his hand.
Ben Stark defeats Paul Rietzl 3-1 to become the Pro Tour Paris Champion!
"I've been dreaming about this since I was fourteen," said Ben, suddenly struck by what he had achieved.
"Congratulations," Paul replied. "You deserve it."