Known to many as "Wrapter," his Magic Online moniker, Josh Utter-Leyton entered the final round of Pro Tour Philadelphia with his eyes firmly set on the prize of becoming a champion. His opponent was Samuele Estratti of Italy. Though on foreign ground, Estratti had a huge contingent of Italian players all cheering loudly for him from the spectator's section, every draw or big play meriting an uproarious reaction from the crowd in his support.
The first spell of the game was a Ponder for Estratti's Pester Twin combo deck, which was hoping to cast a Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite and then make a lethally large amount of copies of the creature with either Splinter Twin or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Josh Utter-Leyton's first spell was a second-turn Tarmogoyf. His Zoo deck hoped to disrupt the combo strategy by casting a threat to the battlefield, then sitting back and allowing removal spells to provide cover for those threats to serve lethal damage before the Italian's deck could combo.
Can Josh Utter-Leyton's disruption-heavy Zoo deck win before Samuele Estratti can protect his combo?
When Josh attempted a Knight of the Reliquary, his opponent used Remand to set it back a turn. The move bumped the 'Goyf up to 3/4, and Josh worked on pressuring his opponent's life with it. A Green Sun's Zenith for two allowed Utter-Leyton to put an end to any hopes from his opponent of using Splinter Twin by fetching up Gaddock Teeg, at least for the moment. Estratti switched gears and used Pestermite to tap his opponent's Tarmogoyf, buying himself some time and conserving life.
Josh's creatures' adventures in the Red Zone were working wonders. With some help from Samuele's own fetch-lands, they had knocked the Italian down to just 12. He used Firespout to change that dramatically, wiping out the Teeg and a Wild Nacatl, then cast Lightning Bolt to finish off Tarmogoyf. That set his opponent back to square one and gave Samuele enough confidence to begin attacking with the Pestermite. The following turn Estratti would be able to combo. Would his opponent have the removal to stop that effort if he tried?
The Italian opted to dig, then revealed a Splinter Twin. Josh didn't hesitate, nodding his head and scooping up his cards. He didn't have the removal! The two were on to the next game with the Italian leading.
Estratti 1, Utter-Leyton 0
The second game opened on a mulligan for Josh Utter-Leyton, while his opponent was able to keep his hand. He kept on six and opened things off with a Wild Nacatl. He followed it up with Tarmogoyf, but lost the powerful green creature to a Lightning Bolt from his opponent before it could begin attacking. His follow-up was a Gaddock Teeg to help stall his opponent, shutting off Splinter Twin, and Samuele Estratti set about crafting the perfect hand with cards like Ponder.
The cantrips dug him to Firespout, and he used it to two-for-one his opponent, nabbing the problematic Teeg and Wild Nacatl. That set Utter-Leyton back significantly. He had no further action on his turn, and had to pass before cracking a Horizon Canopy in hopes of drawing some pressure. For a second turn in a row he had no creatures and passed, but when his opponent tried a Pestermite at the end of the turn, Josh was ready with Lightning Bolt to kill it.
Samuele Estratti seemed to be in firm control of things, but he wasn't within reach of comboing and any attempt to do so would have to happen in the face of a relatively full grip from his opponent. Why was that bad? Because Josh wasn't casting any creatures, it heavily implied he was holding many of his hate cards in hand.
Utter-Leyton broke pace by finally casting a threat, though it wasn't much to look at. He cast Noble Hierarch and got in for 1 thanks to its exalted trigger. A Misty Rainforest allowed Josh to find a second creature in the form of Dryad Arbor, and the 1/1 creature-land began attacking for 2 via exalted. Was Estratti going to attempt to go off?
He bought himself more time with a Lightning Bolt on the Hierarch, but again passed with no attempt at his combo. The two players settled into draw-go, and Josh replaced his Bolted Hierarch with two more copies. His Dryad Arbor managed to plink Estratti all the way to 4 life, and Samuele decided it was finally time to go for it.
He cast an end-of-turn Pestermite, then untapped and attempted Splinter Twin. His opponent cast Flashfreeze to counter, but Estratti had Dispel. A second Flashfreeze met Deprive, and Josh nodded his head; his opponent had the answers, and they were headed to the third game.
Estratti 2, Utter-Leyton 0
Clearly frustrated by how the second game had played out, Josh took a moment away from the table to compose himself. After getting a drink of water, he returned and shuffled up for the third game.
It was finally time for Samuele Estratti to take a mulligan, and he sent his opener back for six despite his opponent getting to keep a hand of seven. When that hand wasn't good enough he sent it back for five. They got underway after that with Utter-Leyton leading off on a 2/2 Wild Nacatl. He followed that up with a Qasali Pridemage, but the 2/2 Pridemage earned a Lightning Bolt from Estratti.
Spellskite for Samuele allowed him to stem the Nacatl beats, but a Bant Charm made short work of the 0/4 and kept the 3/3 Cat beating down. A Ponder worked to help the Italian dig out of his double mulligan and he kept all three cards on the top of his deck. The Zoo deck cast some card draw of its own, using Green Sun's Zenith to search up a two-drop. Instead of the expected Gaddock Teeg, however, Josh got Tarmogoyf. It seemed like an odd play—except that his opponent was shy on mana and couldn't go off, so the Tarmogoyf gave him a bigger clock without making him as vulnerable to Firespout.
The play proved correct the following turn as Samuele revealed he did indeed have Firespout, killing the Wild Nacatl. Unfortunately for Josh he also had Dismember which finished off the 'Goyf. The American didn't seem bothered, simply casting a second one. On 4 life, Estratti had no choice but to begin using Deceiver Exarchs from his hand to tap that Tarmogoyf each turn. Josh didn't seem to mind, sending in his creature when he could and mowing down blockers. His opponent had a tall order: somehow get enough land to cast a Splinter Twin on a Deceiver Exarch and fight through hate from his opponent.
Utter-Leyton didn't give him the chance. He revealed a Path to Exile from his hand to remove Samuele's final blocker, and the Italian conceded to the lethal attack headed his way from the remaining Tarmogoyf.
Estratti 2, Utter-Leyton 1
In between games, the only words offered between Samuele Estratti and Josh Utter-Leyton were a quiet, "I'll start," from the Italian.
The game got underway with a Ponder for Estratti and a Wild Nacatl for Utter-Leyton, as classic a start in the matchup as you could ask for. With any additional losses spelling an end to the American's run at becoming a Pro Tour champion, he took his time considering each possible play. A Green Sun's Zenith for one netted Josh a Noble Hierarch, potentially providing him some protection against a possible sideboarded Blood Moon and allowing him to attack for 4 with Wild Nacatl.
A Firespout took out both the Nacatl and the Hierarch and set Josh back to square one, hoping to come up with a new plan. Dryad Arbor and Tarmogoyf were that plan, and as if on cue, Samuele Estratti cast the aforementioned Blood Moon on his fourth turn. The enchantment was bad for Josh, but he did have a fairly large Tarmogoyf and the fact that his opponent missed a fourth land drop going for him. Could he beat through the enchantment before his opponent found the land?
Engineered Explosives for two hit the table for Estratti, but he didn't have the fourth mana to activate it, forcing him to take another hit from the Tarmogoyf. Josh attacked his opponent to 7 but had to pass, the game looking to fall increasingly out of his control.
The Explosives took out Tarmogoyf and a Spellskite hit for Samuele. Josh continued attacking with a Dryad Arbor, which remained a 1/1 creature despite the fact the Blood Moon was on the battlefield. The game settled into a stalemate once more until Samuele cast Pestermite. He untapped and attempted Splinter Twin, earning a Lightning Bolt in response from his opponent. Josh targeted Samuele instead of the Pestermite, however, and Estratti seemed confused. He opted to go to 3 life, and when his opponent's second Bolt was redirected to Spellskite, Estratti found himself earning a handshake from Utter-Leyton.
Samuele Estratti 3, Josh Utter-Leyton 1
C'mon, guys. Tell us how you really feel.
Samuele Estratti is the 2011 Pro Tour Philadelphia champion!