If Gerard Fabiano was nervous at the start of the match it did not show on his face or in his demeanor as he bantered back and forth with the leader of the team that has never lost a match in sanctioned Team Rochester Draft...
As they shuffled, Gerard was amazed by the speed and fluidity with which Kai pile shuffled his cards.
Gerard: "Do you practice that?"
Gerard went on to tease Kai about the video from a World Chamionship on which Kai commented that his mother couldn't believe he had won three Grand Prix titles.
Gerard: "So, what? Your mother thought you were a stick?"
Kai was now shuffling Gerard's deck and needled him back: "39 cards?"
It was all in good fun and Gerard toweled off his notoriously sweaty hands—perhaps the only thing that may have betrayed a touch of nervousness—and the two shook for good luck and the match was underway.
Game 1: Kai Budde vs. Gerard Fabiano
Both players kept their opening hands after Kai won the flip and elected to play first. Both players played turn two Werebears. Kai used his to ramp up to a turn three Krosan Archer while Gerard's got to sit out the bottom half of turn when he cast Phantom Tiger with three lands.
Kai could not make his fourth land drop—and had only one Island. He played a Skyshroud Egg and used his Werebear and a forest to crack the egg. Kai drew, played an Island, and used that and the floating mana to play a Cephalid Constable.
Gerard was able to draw first blood when he saw that Kai did not have a green source available to pump his Archer. He then enchanted the richer with Coral Net and played a Nullmage Advocate.
Kai = 17 Gerard = 20
Kai chose not to pay the upkeep on the Archer and let it go the graveyard. He missed his fifth land drop and tapped out—including Werebear to play a Rabid Elephant. Gerard also tapped his Werebear to play a Hydromorph Gull leaving an Island open to use its ability should it become necessary. Kai swung with his Elephant and played a Forest and another Rabid Elephant.
Kai = 17 Gerard = 17
Gerard used Churning Eddy to return the untapped Elephant and an Island to Kai's grip. He swung in with the Nullmage and the Gull.
Kai = 12 Gerard = 17
Kai attempted to recast the Rabid Elephant and with only a lone Werebear available for mana, he was unable to pay for Gerard's Circular Logic with two cards in his yard. His other Elephant stayed home to guard the fort. Gerard was content to fly over with his Gull and pass the turn.
Kai = 9 Gerard = 17
Kai sent the Elephant back into the Red Zone and Gerard saw nor reason to lose a guy. Kai dropped an Anurid Barkripper, a Druid Lyrist, and put Seton's Desire on the Anurid.
Kai = 9 Gerard = 14
Gerard just sent the Gull over again.
Kai = 6 Gerard = 14
Kai continued to send the Elephant and Gerard let the Phantom Tiger lose a counter and blocked. Gerard sent in the Gull and Kai had only one turn to find an answer.
Kai = 3 Gerard = 14
Kai looked at his top card and had nothing.
Game score: Kai – 0 Gerard – 1
Jon Sonne was down a game to Dirk Baberowski. Before the round began I asked Jon about the match-up and he thought that he would prevail despite the two Butchers in Dirk's deck. Jon felt that his two Waste Aways would trump Dirk's 2/3 men. Things did not work out quite as he planned in Game 1, with Jon's path to victory—a Treacherous Vampire—languishing under a Butcher.
Game score: Dirk – 1 Jon – 0
Things were looking much better for SPG in the match-up between Scott McCord and Marco Blume. Blume had nothing but seven lands in play while Scott had Pianna, a Frenetic Ogre with Arcane Teachings, and a Nomad Decoy. Things seemed well in hand for Scott...
Slowly, the momentum began to shift. Marco sacrificed his Abandoned Outpost and played an Iridescent Angel. Floating Shield dispatched the Arcane Teachings and Lava Dart/Lava Dart with flashback made Pianna go away. Marco could not mount an offense because he needed to leave the Angel back on defense.
Scott started playing men ever turn and built up his army for an Alpha Strike. When the time came, Marco didn't have any damage prevention and Scott emerged victorious.
Game score: Marco – 0 Scott – 1
Game 2: Kai Budde vs. Gerard Fabiano
Kai elected to play first and neither player did anything for the first two turns. Kai attempted to play a third turn Cephalid Constable with obvious glee but Gerard had the Syncopate. Sadly, he did have the third land. He played a Thought Eater. With his maximum hand size reduced by three he was forced to discard two cards...Deep Analysis and Giant Warthog. Kai played a turn four Erhnam Djinn. Gerard still had no land to play and cast Deep Analysis with flashback in search of one. He attacked with the Eater and played a Forest. He had to drop two of his six cards at the end of his turn and pitched an Island and an Aven Windreader.
Kai = 18 Gerard = 17
Kai sent Ernie to the Red Zone and played a Rabid Elephant.
Kai = 18 Gerard = 13
Gerard attacked with his forestwalking, flying Thought Eater and played a Werebear.
Kai = 16 Gerard = 13
As Kai was about to enter his attack step he pointed out to the judge that he had forgotten to give one of Gerard's men forestwalk as per the Erhnam Djinn's upkeep effect. The matter was resolved simply and Kai went back to the business of smashing Gerard with his fatties. Seton's Desire on the Erhnam meant that Gerard was taking nine unless he blocked. He went to nine and Kai cast Phantom Tiger.
Kai = 16 Gerard = 4
With the possible exception of Sol Malka, no good Magic player likes to think about having to block. Gerard was contemplating the Ivy Elemental in his hand—it could either be a 3/3 with his Werebear standing vertical or a 4/4 and the Werebear would be tapped. In the end, Gerard played it as a 4/4 and left his Thought Eater the unenviable job of guard duty.
Kai almost forgot the upkeep effect for his Ernie again but everything was cool. He attacked with both of his men and the Erhnam Djinn got to eat the Eater. Gerard was holding onto this game by his fingernails.
Kai = 16 Gerard = 1
Gerard was still struggling to manage his limited supply of mana and could not afford to tap his Werebear. Instead he used Churning Eddy to return the Erhnam Djinn and his own Island to their respective owner's hands. He replayed the Island and used it to cast Coral net on the Rabid Elephant. Kai chose to pay for the elephant and discarded Island. When the Elephant came over for the attack Gerard looked sadly at his six card graveyard. If he had threshold he could double block with the 4/4's but his Werebear remained a 1/1 and Ivy Elemental took one for the team and gave Gerard threshold. Kai played another Rabid Elephant. Gerard made a Hydromorph Gull and passed the turn.
Kai played Elephant Guide on his Phantom Tiger and swung with the team.
3 attackers + 2 blockers + 1 point of life = Game 3.
Game score: Kai – 1 Gerard – 1
At this point, Jon Sonne lost Game 2 of his match to Dirk when he failed to draw sufficient land to play his spells.
Match Score: Phoenix Foundation – 1 Slay Pillage Gerard - 0
Suddenly, the outcome of Kai and Gerard's Game 3 could determine the outcome of the match. Scott and Marco stopped with Scott up a game to watch and find out if they would need to battle on.
Game 2: Kai Budde vs. Gerard Fabiano
As they shuffled for the game, Antonino DeRosa could be heard cheering Gerard on from the bleachers. Antonio is one of a small handful of players that will be sharing in Gerard's good fortune this weekend. Kai offered a cautionary tale about prize splits by simply pointing to Alexander Witt who was watching from the catwalk.
Both players kept their opening hands and the game started out as a mirror of Game 1 with Werebears staring across at each other at the end of turn two. Gerard was light on land and did not want to see Kai get out to a significant mana advantage and he enchanted the German's bear with Stupefying Touch and drew into his third land. He used it and his Werebear to make a Thought Eater.
Kai shrugged and further enchanted his bear with Seton's Desire and sent it to the red zone for three.
Kai = 20 Gerard = 17
Gerard had nothing to do with his extra Werebear-mana so he sent it in with the Thought Eater. He then fortified with a Nullmage Advocate.
Kai = 17 Gerard = 17
Kai continued to bash with the Werebear and Gerard had nothing that would efficiently stop it. Kai on the other hand had plans to stop the flier and cast a Krosan Archer.
Kai = 17 Gerard = 14
Gerard had yet another enchantment at the ready and cast Lost in Thought on the Archer. With no cards in Kai's graveyard it was effectively Pacifism and Gerard turned all of his creatures sideways.
Kai = 12 Gerard = 14
Nothing would deter the Werebear and Gerard rolled his eyes when Kai made another in a seemingly endless chain of Rabid Elephants.
Kai = 12 Gerard = 11
With no means of discard obvious and zero cards in Kai's bin, Gerard was planning on winning the game in the air and he continued to pack away with the Thought Eater.
Kai = 10 Gerard = 11
Rabid Elephant accompanied the Werebear into the red zone this turn and Gerard had no blockers. Phantom Tiger was added to Kai's side of the table.
Kai = 10 Gerard = 5
The Thought Eater took another tenth of Kai's life total and Gerard finally played another creature—a Krosan Avenger.
Kai = 8 Gerard = 5
Kai used Deep Analysis to draw some cards and sent a round of the usual to the red zone. Gerard cast Moment's Peace. Kai played a Druid Lyrist—which could finally deal with the Lost in Thought on the Archer next turn.
Gerard attacked with everyone except for the Werebear. Kai knew that Gerard does not have any "Giant Growths" in his deck otherwise he would have to chump with his Lyrist or risk losing the game. Without that threat, Kai is able to kill the Nullmage at the relatively low price of a counter on his Phantom Tiger and he went to five. Kai was expecting a 3/3 flier and Gerard did not disappoint with an Aven Windreader—tapping his Werebear for mana and leaving up three green for Moment's Peace.
Kai = 3 Gerard = 5
Kai attacked with only his Rabid Elephant and his Werebear and Gerard flashed back Moment's Peace. Kai: "Excellent choice, excellent!" Kai played a Constable.
Gerard took a deep breath before drawing his card. If he drew a Churning Eddy he would win the match. He peeled the card off the top and dragged it across the table without looking at it. He picked it up...
Gerard tried to examine his options. He used Aven Windreader to look at the top card of Kai's library—an Island.
Gerard: "What are you on?"
Kai sacrificed his Lyrist to destroy the Lost in Thought a the end of the turn.
Kai attacked with his Rabid Elephant and Gerard tried to figure his options.
Gerard: "I'm on 5? No blocks."
Kai added a Stone Tongue Basilisk to his ever-growing army.
Kai = 3 Gerard = 2
Gerard looked Kai square in the eye as he prepared to draw.
Gerard: "Churning Eddy for the win?"
Kai: "You didn't play the Dematerialize?"
Antonio got the crowd started cheering for Gerard to draw the Eddy and once again Gerard took a deep breath. He dragged the card toward him and peeled it up slowly and began to offer the hand when he saw that it land but he hesitated.
Kai: "That's okay, you can keep playing, if you like."
At this point Marco looked like his eyes were going to pop out of his head and he bellowed for a glass of water.
In the end there was no out that Gerard could find and Kai made yet another trip the finals with Phoenix Foundation's unbeaten streak intact.
Final Result: Phoenix Foundation – 2 Slay Pillage Gerard – 0
After the match, Gerard and Kai determined that he could have also topdecked an Elephant Guide for his 2/2 flier. Kai also asked why Gerard used his Werebear to cast the Windreader instead of leaving it back. Gerard explained that he was nervous about the Stupefying Touch that Kai didn't end up playing. Gerard could have still used the Bear in response to cast Moment's Peace. Kai says that he thinks Gerard had a chance to win the game had he left the Werebear up.
Who can argue with him?
Jonathan Sonne, Seat A
Slay Pillage Gerard
Gerard Fabiano, Seat B
Slay Pillage Gerard
Dirk Baberowski, Seat A
Kai Budde, Seat B
Marco Blume, Seat C