Quarterfinals: Sam Williams vs. Kyle Blankenship
As first seed, Sam earned the play for all of the Top 8—but he’d have to get through Kyle first. Sam’s Experiment Jund list contained maindeck Deathrite Shamans, giving him a game 1 edge, but the post-board games gave Kyle a much more robust deck in the matchup.
Sam's playing an aggressive deck and gets to go first in every round of Top 8; the dream.
Sam had the play and kicked it off with Experiment One on turn 1 after playing Overgrown Tomb, an ideal start to the Top 8. His opponent also fell to 18 for Temple Garden and Arbor Elf, putting the onus on Sam to start lining up a clock. He added Rootbound Crag and then Deathrite Shaman to the battlefield, evolving the Experiment One before attacking.
Appetite for Brains revealed Thragtusk, Lotleth Troll, and Craterhoof Behemoth alongside several lands, exiling the 5/3 and telling Sam he’d want to get a big meanie in play soon. Kyle didn’t play the Troll on the next turn—he dropped a fresh Somberwald Sage down and made that Craterhoof a pretty real danger. Not to mention a potential Angel of Serenity from the top of the deck!
Wary of the danger, Sam knew that he only had to worry about dying to Kyle’s cast cards thanks to his Deathrite Shaman. Getting aggressive while he could, Sam added Dreg Mangler to the board and attacked for 7 damage, hoping to dodge an Angel of Serenity and also not excited about a potential Thragtusk off the top. Kyle bricked though, which meant he had to rely on Lotleth Troll for some defense. Worse, he would have to sacrifice his Craterhoof in order to get to 3 power and eat one of Sam’s creatures on defense!
Sam couldn’t know that the Hoof was Kyle’s only creature for pumping, though. What did work in his favor was that Kyle had forgotten to play a land in his rush, meaning he couldn’t Hoof next turn, either. Sam decided to Appetite for Brains to make Kyle grow the Troll, and then declined to attack afterward. He ate the Craterhoof Behemoth once Kyle made a land drop and passed, the 3/2 Troll holding down the fort with Kyle on 9 life.
Flinthoof Boar landed and gained haste before an attack with all of his 3/3s, Deathrite Shaman in back. Kyle chumped with Arbor Elf while Troll ate another one, keeping him at 6 life. Deathrite Shaman made that 4 in the end step, and would be able to make it 2 on Sam’s own turn—that meant Kyle had to toss Somberwald Sage under the bus when Sam made his next attack, with Lotleth Troll eating Dreg Mangler this time while Experiment One lived on.
Kyle’s draw was Unburial Rites, which he couldn’t cast without straight-up dying to Deathrite Shaman. Sam put him to 2 in the end step and then untapped, needing any sorcery or instant or any creature to win the game. Abrupt Decay did the trick!
Sam 1, Kyle 0
Kyle slid into 8th place playing Reanimator.
“You have a lot of sideboard for me—that’s unfortunate,” Sam admitted as he looked voer Kyle’s decklist between games. Sam’s turn 1 Deathrite Shaman in game 2 met a turn 2 Abrupt Decay from Kyle, while Sam recovered with Strangleroot Geist. Kyle was quick to counter, adding Centaur Healer to the battlefield and going to 21.
Dauntless, Sam tapped out for Dreg Mangler and sent both creatures, losing the front end of his Geist but putting Kyle to 18. His Rhox Faithmender appeared likely to keep him floating, and Sam could only net 1 damage with another Dreg Mangler on turn 4, trading Strangleroot Geist for Centaur Healer.
Kyle’s Thragtusk put him to 25 and made him feel safe enough to poke for 1 damage with Rhox Faithmender, Sam in quite the pickle. He badly needed Falkenrath Aristocrat or Thundermaw Hellkite here to just go over the top, but his list skimped on the big flying beaters in favor of smaller aggro drops and some disruption—he didn’t have them. Sam eventually decided to attack with just one Dreg Mangler and then pass with five mana up, representing a willingness to trade with the Beast if it attacked but no desire to scavenge onto his 3/3.
Unburial Rites for Thragtusk kept up the pressure and moved Kyle to nearly 30 life, the Beast attacking now but earning no trade. Sam’s situation appeared dire—but he did have Hellrider to chip in for 2 damage as he sent both Mangler and Hellrider into battle. Thragtusk traded for Hellrider as Dreg Mangler met a block from Faithmender, prompting a Searing Spear from Sam to take out the 1/5.
On a clock from two Beasts, Sam fell to 6 before Kyle flashbacked Unburial Rites on Thragtusk, going to 42. Sam drew and dropped Hellrider onto the battlefield alongside Strangleroot Geist, but his attacking days were over. He lost the Mangler and triggered Strangleroot Geist while going to 3, but Obzedat earned the scoop.
Sam 1, Kyle 1
Back on the play, Sam was looking for an aggressive start that would put Kyle away in a hurry. Missing a one-drop and playing Rootbound Crag wasn’t ideal, but Kyle also had no one-drop. Strangleroot Geist made up for lost time on the second turn, while Kyle played Woodland Cemetery and then chose to hold Lotleth Troll in his hand and keep Abrupt Decay available.
Sam’s Strangelroot earned the Abrupt Decay in combat, and he had no three-drop—just a tapped Overgrown Tomb. Now Kyle dropped his Troll, along with a drawn Arbor Elf, not worried about regenerating but very interested in playing a turn 4 Thragtusk. Hellrider made his board a little weaker, knocking him to 13, but he traded the Lotleth Troll for Geist to keep the 3/3 contained.
Rather than cast Thragtusk, Kyle went for Rhox Faithmender via Cavern of Souls to get maximum value from his future 5/3’s trigger, but left himself a little vulnerable to a potential Dreadbore. A second Hellrider turned up the heat, leaving Kyle on 8 even with a block from his Faithmender. Thragtusk on the next turn left him at 18 life after playing a shockland, and now Sam dropped Dreadbore onto the Faithmender.
Another swing from both Hellriders put Kyle to 12, and Ghor-Clan Rampager kept Thragtusk from Trading while Kyle went to 5 life. Suddenly back in dire straits, he cast Grisly Salvage for Sunpetal Grove, putting an Angel of Serenity into the bin and playing the Grove. Oblivion Ring took the Hellrider away and bought Kyle room to breathe with a 3/3 Beast and Arbor Elf on defense.
Kyle lacked any other white sources, having needed Cavern to play Rhox Faithmender, meaning his in-hand Angel of Serenity lacked oomph. Flinthoof Boar from Sam gave him enough triggers to put Kyle down to 3 with his remaining Hellrider, and Kyle predictably blocked the Hellrider with his Beast while Arbor Elf chumped Flinthoof Boar.
Sam tanked in combat, indicating a potential Rampager, but in fact only had Rakdos Charm to deal 2 damage to both players, putting Kyle down to 1 against just a Flinthoof Boar. He drew another uncastable Angel of Serenity, and extended the hand in defeat.
Sam 2, Kyle 1