For Zack Strait, the inaugural StarCityGames.com Legacy Open of 2011 marked his return to the Top 8 stage on the StarCityGames.com Open Series. For John Gatza, it was his first run to the Top 8 for StarCityGames.com, but he excitedly chattered with his friends standing on the rail about his performance.
Zack opened on Tropical Island and Wild Mongrel, indicating he was playing the old school Survival of the Fittest build popularized by Blake Patraw at the StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens during the 2010 season. His opponent opened on Aether Vial, and when Zack attempted a Trygon Predator John was obliged to use Force of Will in order to counter.
The Vial allowed John to sneak in a Mother of Runes, then a Stoneforge Mystic. The 1/2 attempted to block a Wild Mongrel, then was given a protection from green boost via the Mother. Strait simply discarded a card to pump his Hound and changed it to black, felling the Mother of Runes. It wasn't clear John had seen that play, but losing the 1/2 didn't seem entirely terrible for him.
A Serra Avenger and Weathered Wayfarer joined Gatza's side of the battlefield, his blue-white tempo deck firing on all cylinders. The creatures forced his opponent to stay home, but when Zack managed to cast a Survival of the Fittest, John had no counter and was forced to allow the powerful enchantment to resolve. Strait didn't immediately discard the creature in his hand to begin the motion of going off with Vengevines, and Gatza cast a "mysterious" morph on his turn (almost assuredly Fathom Seer, a fact his opponent teased him about).
Double Swords to Plowshares allowed John to take out his opponent's Wild Mongrels, and a second Serra Avenger joined his team to begin beating his opponent down. Zack was slightly hamstrung as a result of being low on green mana, but began going through the motions of Survival'ing. He stocked the graveyard with Vengevines, then ended his loop by discarding Basking Rootwalla and casting Memnite to return all the 4/3s from the graveyard.
Zack sent the team to the red zone, but was only able to get through for 4 while John managed to handily survive and keep a Serra Avenger on the battlefield. Passing the turn, Zack was dismayed to see his opponent rip an Umezawa's Jitte, cast it, equip it, and go back to attacking with Serra Avenger. That meant his opponent was again on the back foot, unable to attack through his opponent's creature while still taking 3-point hits each turn via the Avenger.
"Do I go on the defense plan with Wonder?" Zack asked no one in particular when he had the turn back. He discarded a Basking Rootwalla in his hand to Survival to find the aforementioned Wonder, but upon hunting it up he opted to concede rather than try to battle through his opponent's superior board position.
John Gatza 1, Zack Strait 0
Down a game, Zack found himself in the unenviable position of taking two mulligans to start his do or die game. He kept his third hand, but had only Wasteland for a mana source. His opponent cast Mother of Runes and worked on taking advantage of his opponent's stumble. He dug into his deck with a Brainstorm, then smiled as, in a cruel twist of fate, his opponent's deck yielded a second land: Gaea's Cradle. With no creatures on the battlefield, Zack couldn't actually tap the Cradle for mana.
A Serra Avenger joined John's team, and when Zack discarded a Basking Rootwalla for having eight cards in his hand, Gatza couldn't contain his excitement at using Swords to Plowshares on the 1/1. A second copy a turn later was also targeted with a copy of the removal spell, but Strait pulled the trigger on Force of Will to counter it.
It wasn't enough, however. John continued pressuring and Zack continued missing land drops. He couldn't come up with a solution to his opponent's 3/3 Avenger and John Gatza found himself headed to the Semifinals.
John Gatza 2, Zack Strait 0