Quarterfinals: James Buckingham vs. Erik Smith
Erik Smith had made into the Top 8 on the strength of an undefeated record in Legacy, but his Standard Jund deck was no joke. James had used Bant Hexproof to fight his way into the Top 8, and his higher seed gave him the play and an early advantage.
James mulliganed a no-creature opener while Erik elected to keep his seven cards. James began with Sunpetal Grove and another Grove plus Avacyn’s Pilgrim—an underwhelming start. James advanced with a turn 2 Farseek, an ideal draw so far for him. Attacking for 1 damage, James added Geist of Saint Traft to the board after playing the Breeding Pool he’d drawn.
Erik played his second Kessig Wolf Run and Olivia Voldaren, appearing somewhat mana-strapped himself. James drew a card and debated his options. He had nothing but creatures, needing an enchantment to send Geist through the Olivia. He could bluff an attack, but the game would likely be over if he was called...
In the end, James decided to play Silverblade Paladin and soulbond with Geist, enabling a trade with Olivia and getting in 4 damage with his Angel token. Erik took 2 for Dreadbore and Scavenging Ooze on the following turn, falling to 13 life. James just cast Invisible Stalker and passed the turn, likely stuck hoping to peel a Rancor in short order. Erik’s Thragtusk stabilized the board in his favor more significantly.
James Buckingham's Hexproof list is capable of some serious aggression.
Erik 1, James 0
James kept his seven to start the second game, while Erik went down to six cards. Forest and Gladecover Scout started the beatdown, with Breeding Pool providing James with Spectral Flight to supersize his offense. Erik Smith played Scavenging Ooze and James hoped to find a creature for protection from Liliana, but didn’t have one.
Erik 1, James 1
The score was even going into game 3, with Erik on the play and James hoping to break serve. Taplands for both players to start appeared to favor Erik, but no Farseek while James played Voice of Resurgence made things more interesting. Lifebane Zombie stole Geist of Saint Traft from James’s hand and left him with Gladecover Scout, Invisible Stalker, Selesnya Charm, Spectral Flight, and land.
Attacking for 2 damage, James followed with Scout and Spectral Flight on the Scout. Erik played a fourth land and used Pillar of Flame to take care of the voice, lacking the Liliana he needed to put down the Scout. He attacked for 3 and then took 3 damage back, James adding a new Voice to the battlefield. Erik’s fifth land provided him with Farseek, but with no plays on three open mana last turn it appeared unlikely he’d have much of anything else to follow with.
Indeed, he kept the Zombie back on defense. James was stuck on three lands with a few instants to protect the Scout, but he decided to go with Unflinching Courage on it and attack for 5 damage, relying on the Voice to ward off a topdecked Liliana of the Veil from Erik. His singleton Barter in Blood, on the other hand...
No Barter came, but Erik attacked for 3 damage and cast Bonfire of the Damned for 2 damage, clearing Voice and the token with Tragic Slip. James played a tapped shockland and passed the turn with three mana up, sitting on Selesnya Charm and Mending Touch. All Erik could muster was Huntmaster of the Fells and another attack for 3 damage—James closed it out with Selesnya Charm on the next turn.
Can a Bonfire for two reverse the race?
Erik 1, James 2
Erik would be up against the wall for the next two, with a game on the play and a game on the draw. Erik had Farseek on turn 2 after a Gladecover Scout from James on turn 1, getting this game off to a strong start for both players. Erik’s second turn was Ethereal Armor and a second Scout, leaving Erik on 18 life.
He made his fourth land and used Liliana to kill the weaker Scout, and James attacked Liliana before playing Invisible Stalker and passing the turn. Duress revealed three lands in hand for James, and Erik used another Liliana to kill the Invisible Stalker. Voice of Resurgence off the top for James, his Scout clearing Liliana once more.
Scavenging Ooze and Farseek for Erik gave him a good position to untap into, with James looking for spells off the top once more. He attacked for 4 damage and passed after playing a land. Another Duress missed again, James still stuck with just land and an extra Gladecover Scout, but now Erik could make his Ooze into a dangerous 4/4. James could no longer attack, and ended the turn.
James took 7 from a Wolf Run-enhance attack on the next turn, and now he would need a card to enable the race. On 11 life he had another draw step coming after one miss, but he couldn’t afford many more. Casting Gladecover Scout, James passed the turn. Would he chump to force some mana out of Erik’s Wolf Run, growing the Ooze even larger? James decided not to, and the Ooze came in for 8 damage this time.
Avacyn’s Pilgrim off the top was no good, and now James would have to bus at least five toughness in creatures to survive—all but one creature. Playing the Pilgrim, James passed the turn and crossed his fingers. Even a land from Erik would cost him all of his creatures except a Voice Elemental.
Erik drew Lifebane Zombie to spot nothing in his opponent’s hand, no longer needing to attack with a 3/1 intimidate on the board able to put James down to 0 next turn. Liliana of the Veil complicated things further with an edict, and Slip took care of the token that followed. When James failed to draw Unflinching Courage, he was dead to the board.
Erik Smith's removal put down the problem creatures.
Erik 2, James 2
Picking up his last seven of the quarterfinals, James quickly threw it back for a mulligan while Erik carefully considered his own keep. Turn 1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim from James earned Pillar of Flame, with Voice of Resurgence following up against Erik’s Scavenging Ooze. The Voice attacked, Erik trading with the 2/2 while James made an Elemental.
Another Pilgrim joined the board for James, and he passed. Bonfire of the Damned for 1 explained Erik’s trade, clearing the board. James drew his third copy of Unflinching Courage and passed the turn, Geist of Saint Traft stuck in his hand while he sat on two lands. Erik added Huntmaster of the Fells to his board, taking the offensive.
James drew and passed the turn, flipping Huntmaster and taking 8 damage on the next turn before Erik played a second copy of the Werewolf. One more brick, and it was all over.