Quarterfinals: That Darn Cat

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Paul Rietzl vs. Tom Ross

Paul Rietzl, mentalist.
Paul Rietzl is currently riding a streak across multiple formats. He made the Top 8 of the Legacy-format Grand Prix–Chicago in March, and this weekend he navigated ten rounds of Shards of Alara Block Constructed and six rounds of Draft to earn his first Pro Tour Top 8. He may not have experience on the Pro Tour Sunday stage, but he is no stranger to high level Magic with a total of three Grand Prix Top 8s. Rietzl prepared for the Constructed portion of this event with a star-studded crew that included Jelger Wiegersma, Mark Herberholz, Brian Kibler, Ben Rubin, Gabriel Nassif, Jamie Parke, Noah Boeken, David Williams, and Dan Burdick. The Esper Beatdown deck designed by Neil Reeves that he and Kibler played served them both very well on their way to today’s Top 8 draft.

Rietzl’s opponent is Tom Ross. This is Ross’s fifth Pro Tour, and his previous best finish was a 38th place showing three years ago at the first Pro Tour in Honolulu. Ross did not prepare with a star-studded crew for this event. He joked in his player profile that he prepared by sitting in a jacuzzi and doing one-on-one drafts, but that’s only part of the story. When I spoke to him yesterday, he credited Magic Online with giving him access to high-quality practice. That practice carried him this weekend to his first Pro Tour Top 8.

Although both Ross and Rietzl had Constructed decks that served them very well this weekend, the competitors have put those decks aside for the Top 8 draft. Tom Ross drafted a Naya beatdown deck, and his two copies of Knight of New Alara will make his multicolored creatures a force to be reckoned with. Rietzl’s deck is a straightforward Jund deck full of solid cards that tops off with a Mycoloth. Only one of those decks, and its pilot, can continue to the Semifinals.

Game 1

Ross started the game with a Bant Sureblade that was fully-powered thanks to a Firewild Borderpost. Rietzl made a Druid of the Anima off of two Forests. Ross attacked with the Bant Sureblade for three and passed. Rietzl dug with Elvish Visionary, but did not have another land to play.

Rietzl: “That’s too bad.”

Ross: “With those four in your opener, I don’t blame you for keeping.”

Rietzl: “I thought I’d hit a land somewhere.”

After one more landless turn, Rietzl started discarding. Ross’s Rhox Meditant, Wild Leotau, and Bant Sureblade punished Rietzl for his poor draw. When Rietzl finally found a land, Ross had a Lapse of Certainty for the Putrid Leech he played, and that prompted a concession.

Ross 1, Rietzl 0

Rietzl: “That was the best opening seven I could have had. If I could have picked my opening hand I would have picked that one.”

Ross: “Even with the double Forest?”

Rietzl: “Yeah, double Forest is fine.”

Game 2

Tom Ross, Knight of New Alara.
Rietzl started the second game with a mulligan and a Dragon Fodder. Ross gave a slight smile before playing a Grizzled Leotau to hold off the Goblins. It attacked the next turn, then Ross played a much more impressive 3/3 Wild Nacatl. Rietzl cycled Valley Rannet for a Forest in Ross’s end step.

At this point, Brian Kibler shouted to Paul from across the stage.

Kibler: “Paul, I may be going against your advice!”

Rietzl: “Oh no.”

Rietzl used the newfound Forest to play a Wild Leotau. After a Lapse of Certainty put it off for a turn, Rietzl yelled back to Kibler.

Rietzl: “I’m down a game.”

Kibler: “Me too. I double mulliganed, then he used Volcanic Submersion to kill my only blue source.”

Rietzl: “I discarded three times.”

A Rhox Bodyguard landed on Ross’s side of the table, then Wild Nacatl attacked for 4. Rietzl’s second attempt at the Wild Leotau was successful and forced Ross into a long think. At the end of that think, he played a Knight of New Alara and sent in his Grizzled Leotau as a 4/8. Paul didn’t block, and spent his next turn firing a Blightning at Ross, who discarded Forest and Asha’s Favor.

Rietzl: “Asha’s Favor!?”

Ross: “It was about to wreck you.”

Rietzl: “... Yup.”

The Grizzled Leotau came in again as a 4/8. This time, Wild Leotau killed it thanks to a Might of Alara from Rietzl. Rietzl cycled a Monstrous Carabid on his turn, then put a Yoke of the Damned on the Knight of New Alara. Both players were down to only one card. Ross drew and passed. Rietzl drew and rocked back in his chair.

Rietzl: “That was a pretty good card to draw.”

Tom Ross, Knight of New Alara.
It was a Mycoloth, which ate both Dragon Fodder tokens and went to 8/8. This also triggered the Yoke of the Damned, which killed the Knight of Alara. Ross’s only response was an Elvish Visionary and a Sigil Captain that came down, awkwardly, after it.

While Rietzl waited for a judge to bring him some Saproling tokens, he had another exchange with Kibler.

Kibler: “Guess what I’m about to play!”

Rietzl: “Is it an 8/8 Mycoloth?”

Kibler: “It’s a Frontline Sage!”

Rietzl: “Awww, Kibler! “

Kibler: “It’s good against him! He’s playing five-color control!”

Rietzl: “I’m not arguing with you.”

The Mycoloth spit out four Saprolings, then Wild Leotau took a sizable chunk out of Ross’s life total. Just in time, Ross topdecked an Oblivion Ring and used it on the Mycoloth.

Ross: “No more tokens!”

Rietzl: “The damage could have been much worse.”

Rietzl played an Elvish Visionary, then pondered. Other than Wild Leotau and Putrid Leech, his board consisted of four 1/1 Saprolings and two 1/1 Elvish Visionaries. He had hoped that the Mycoloth would let him break through, but the Oblivion Ring had shut that plan down. He attacked with just the Wild Leotau and Putrid Leech. Ross’s Wild Nacatl and Rhox Bodyguard double blocked the Leotau and Rietzl pumped the Leech. The attack resulted in the deaths of Wild Nacatl and Wild Leotau and left both players at 9 life.

Rietzl: “I’m glad that [the Wild Leotau] is dead. Forgetting its upkeep would have been really embarassing.”

Rietzl surveyed his board again. Unfortunately, the Putrid Leech was his last creature bigger than a 1/1. On his next turn, he sent it in and traded it for the Sigil Captain. Ross replaced the Captain with a Steward of Valeron, but Paul’s army of 1/1s was still too imposing for Ross to attack into. Both Rietzl added to his army of 1/1 creatures with a Druid of the Anima. Both players drew and passed with no action for a few turns until Rietzl drew a card worth commenting on.

Rietzl: “That was a good one!”

The good one in question was Hissing Iguanar, which made Rietzl’s seven 1/1 creatures much more imposing. Ross was only at 9 life, so he would almost certainly be dead in two Iguanar-fueled attacks thanks to the incidental ping damage.

Rietzl sent in the four Saprolings and the two Elvish Visionaries. Ross’s three creatures blocked Saprolings, and he fell to 3. He drew a second Rhox Bodyguard, which bought him a little wiggle room. He used the exalted ability on his two Rhox Bodygoards to attack with Steward of Valeron as a 4/4. Rietzl made sure Hissing Iguanar worked the way he thought it did, performed some calculations, then chose to take all 4 damage. On the next turn, he attacked with the Hissing Iguanar and his four 1/1 creatures.

Rietzl: “Have anything?”

Ross: “Nope.”

Rietzl 1, Ross 1

Rietzl: “It was awesome that the Blightning got your Asha’s Favor.”

Ross: “That would have been a game-breaker.”

Rietzl: “You drew the Oblivion Ring on the perfect turn. One turn earlier and I get blown out, one turn later and you get blown out. That turn, it just made the game interesting.”

Ross pulled a card out of his sideboard, then decided against it.

Ross: “I was trying to board in a card, but it’s so bad. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

Rietzl: “Maybe you should do it anyway. Your Grizzled Leotau is so good against my deck.”

Game 3

Rietzl and Ross are dressed for a classic White Knight / Black Knight confrontation.
Ross mulliganed to start the third game. While he shuffled, Rietzl chatted some more.

Rietzl: “If you were playing against a friend and you had the perfect hand, like a first-turn Wild Nacatl with both Mountain and Plains, would you think for a while before you kept?”

Ross: “I’ve never done that.”

Rietzl: “The worst is playing against the Japanese guys. They keep so fast. You aren’t even done laying out your seven cards, and they’ve already kept. Like, how good can your hand possibly be that you keep that fast?”

Ross started with a Wild Nacatl. Rietzl played an Elvish Visionary. The Wild Nacatl grew to 2/2 from a Plains, then got a +1/+1 counter from a cycled Naya Sojourners. The 3/3 Nacatl traded damage with the Elvish Visionary for a few turns.

Rietzl: “This is a good race for me, huh?”

Rietzl tried to even the playing field with a Rhox Brute, but Ross’s Lapse of Certainty held it off for a turn. Ross needled Rietzl when he drew it again next turn.

Ross: “Nice draw?”

Rietzl: “Yup. It’ll be the biggest creature on the board.”

It did not keep that status for long. Oblivion Ring took the Rhox Brute out of the picture, and Ross kept attacking with his Wild Nacatl.

Rietzl: “This would put me dangerously low.”

Rietzl used a Might of Alara on the Elvish Visionary to trade with Wild Nacatl, then untapped and played a Carrion Thrash. Ross’s answer of Grizzled Leotau looked little anemic in comparison, but Ross was ready next turn with a Knight of New Alara to make it huge. Rietzl came over the top with Yoke of the Damned for the Grizzled Leotau and Skeletonize for the Knight of New Alara, leaving Ross’s board empty.

Rietzl: “Two cards now, right?”

Was Blightning waiting in the wings? It was not; Rietzl merely played Hissing Iguanar and attacked with Carrion Thrash. Ross fell to 13 while Rietzl sat at 8. However, this time it was Ross’s turn to topdeck. He put Asha’s Favor on his Rhox Bodyguard, then attacked for 3 in the air. Rietzl fell to five. When Rietzl returned fire with an attack from Carrion Thrash, Ross took the damage with no hesitation. Rietzl then played Mycoloth, which devoured the Hissing Iguanar, Elvish Visionary, and Carrion Thrash. The Carrion Thrash returned Elvish Visionary, and the Hissing Iguanar did 2 damage to Ross. Satisfied, Rietzl passed the turn.

Rietzl: “Come on, nothing!”

Ross drew a basic Mountain.

Ross: “Something.”

That Mountain would have been a nothing in many situations, but here it was Ross’s first red mana—exactly what he needed to cast Colossal Might on the Asha’s Favored Rhox Bodyguard and crash in for the win.

Ross 2, Rietzl 1

Ross: “I thought I was going to lose that game on mana screw.”

Rietzl: “Wild Nacatl‘s pretty good.”

Ross: “This is the second time I first-picked that guy this weekend.”

Game 4

Rietzl began the fourth game with a sideboarded Toxic Iguanar and a Dragon Fodder. Ross’s Steward of Valeron loomed large over the three 1/1s, but was not enough to keep the Toxic Iguanar from attacking. Rietzl added a Sacellum Archers after combat. Ross’s Steward of Valeron hit back for 3 with the help of an Akrasan Squire. Rietzl attempted a Putrid Leech, but Ross was ready with Lapse of Certainty. Rietzl attacked unopposed with two goblins and Sacellum Archers. Ross traded his Akrasan Squire for the Toxic Iguanar, then added a Mosstodon to the board. Rietzl replayed his Putrid Leech. The board was complicated now.

Ross hoped to break the game open with Bloodbraid Elf. He called for Asha’s Favor, but the first card he flipped was a Wild Nacatl. Ross spent time trying to find a profitable attack but could not, and passed the turn. Rietzl put a Yoke of the Damned on Ross’s Mosstodon and passed the turn back. Ross promptly attacked with it, hoping to get some value from it before it died. A Goblin token blocked to trigger the Yoke, but Rietzl took 4 trample damage from the Mosstodon before its death.

Rietzl’s fifth land enabled a Skeletonize on Wild Nacatl and an attack with Sacellum Archers and Putrid Leech. Ross declined to block and Rietzl put 2 life into the Leech, leaving Ross with 8 life and Rietzl with 11. Ross crashed back with both the Bloodbraid Elf and Steward of Valeron. Rietzl put his Goblin and Skeleton on the Steward of Valeron rather than the Bloodbraid Elf in the hopes that Ross needed the Steward of Valeron for mana. Ross played a land and made two Saprolings with a Spore Burst.

A lucky Saproling.
Rietzl attacked with Sacellum Archers again. Ross did not attack back on his own turn, and when Rietzl’s Sacellum Archers attacked, Ross traded the Bloodbraid Elf for it. Rietzl raised the stakes with a Carrion Thrash. Ross’s freshly cast Naya Sojourners would be able to kill it, but that trade would allow the Carrion Thrash trigger to bring the Sacellum Archers back from the dead. Ross instead chose to chump-block the Thrash with a Saproling and trade Naya Sojourners for the Putrid Leech. After the Leech activation, both players were at 6 life. Ross’s other Saproling received a +1/+1 counter, but Rietzl’s new Cavern Thoctar was not afraid of it. When Rietzl attacked with Cavern Thoctar and Carrion Thrash, Ross could only block one of them, and a Might of Alara on the other was enough to put him away.

Rietzl 2, Ross 2

The players exchanged nervous banter while they waited for the cameras to move to them.

Rietzl: “How’s your hand?”

Ross: “I dunno .... Yeah, it’s awesome.”

Rietzl: “Once again, I can’t beat you with these seven. I’m gonna need more cards for sure.”

Game 5

Ross started strong with Wild Nacatl and followed it up with a less impressive Cat in Grizzled Leotau. Rietzl’s Dragon Fodder made two 1/1 Goblins that were dwarfed by Ross’s Cat. The Leotau attacked for 1, then Ross tried to play a Firewild Borderpost for its mana cost off a Forest and two Plains. He received a warning, then played it by returning a Plains instead.

Rietzl sent his two 1/1 Goblins into the 2/2 Wild Nacatl. Did he have a trick? Ross bit, and Rietzl’s Colossal Might got it over the top of the Wild Nacatl. Ross’s fourth turn brought nothing other than the Plains he had returned the turn before. His Grizzled Leotau still held the fort. Rietzl made a Hissing Iguanar that went well with his Goblin tokens. Ross played a Rhox Bodyguard, then sent his Leotau in for 2 damage.

Rietzl decided that he had seen enough of the Grizzled Leotau and put a Yoke of the Damned on it before attacking with the Hissing Iguanar for 3. Ross passed with nothing again, and Rietzl’s sixth land let him summon a Cavern Thoctar. Ross tried to match it with a Mosstodon, but Rietzl used Skeletonize to kill the Mosstodon and triggered the death of the Grizzled Leotau thanks to Yoke of the Damned.

Rietzl attacked with two Goblins, Hissing Iguanar, and Cavern Thoctar. Ross offered to trade his Rhox Bodyguard for the Iguanar, then fell to 7. Rietzl asked a judge for the wording of Martial Coup before passing the turn, but all Ross had left was a hand full of lands and he conceded.

Paul Rietzl defeats Tom Ross 3–2 and advances to the Semifinals!



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