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Quarterfinal: Action Pact

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As long as Sam Black has been playing and writing about Magic, it's a little hard to believe this is his first Pro Tour Top 8. The Level 6 pro has several Grand Prix Top 8s to his name and was on the U.S. National Team with Michael Jacob and Paul Cheon that won the team world championship in 2008.

Black is playing one of the breakout decks of the tournament with an essentially mono-blue combo poison list that can kill as early as turn two by exiling Dragonstorm or Progenitus to Blazing Shoal to deal the full ten poison with either an Inkmoth Nexus or, on turn three, a Blighted Agent.

Playing in his very first Pro Tour, Jesse Hampton may be less familiar to some readers, but his recent performances speak for themselves. He placed in the Top 16 at Grand Prix Dallas and took 35th at Pittsburgh last weekend. He's playing one of several variations of the Cloudpost deck that uses Through the Breach to make attacking with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn happen even faster.

Americans Sam Black and Jesse Hampton battle for a slot in the semifinals.

Hampton said he didn't like his matchup against Black's blue Infect deck and thought it could be his worst possible draw in the Top 8. He did, however, have some strong sideboard cards in Dismember, Firespout, and Punishing Fire. Punishing Fire could be especially brutal against Black's deck full of 1/1s.

Game One

Black mulliganed to six to start, but his fast poison deck only needs a few cards to kill quickly regardless.

Hampton, on the play for the first game, started with the classic Cloudpost, while Black had the weekend's signature play, a turn one Ponder, declining to shuffle.

A Vesuva let Hampton cast a Gruul Signet off his first Cloudpost, but Black had both an Inkmoth Nexus and a Blighted Agent on turn two, possibly spelling a quick end to the game. Main deck, Hampton's answers were limited to Beast Within and Through the Breach for something with annihilator, putting him in a tough spot if Black had virtually any counterspell.

Hampton chose to keep his mana open for Beast Within, playing a second Vesuva and passing the turn. Black, mindful of Beast Within, played Preordain and attacked for just one poison counter.

Now on a whopping ten mana on turn three, Hampton once again just played a land—Dryad Arbor—and passed, still representing Beast Within. Black, meanwhile, used an end-of-turn Peer Through Depths to find a Blazing Shoal.

When he went for it the following turn, Hampton did indeed have the Beast Within, but Black had Muddle the Mixture to force eleven poison counters through and take game one.

Black 1, Hampton 0

Game Two

Both players kept their seven, and Black led with a Gitaxian Probe and a tapped Tolaria West. The probe revealed a relatively slow hand for Hampton, but it did contain a Firespout to take care of any early Blighted Agents.

Black used a Scalding Tarn to search up and Island, then followed it with a Preordain into a Ponder, choosing not to shuffle.

A Glimmerpost allowed Hampton to play Oracle of Mul Daya, except Hampton had no second land and saw "only" an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on top of his deck.

Meanwhile, Black played his trusty Blighted Agent and passed the turn.

Jesse Hampton has made a phenomenal run, especially considering his relative inexperience with the format coming into the weekend.

Oracle was kinder this turn, revealing Grove of the Burnwillows and Misty Rainforest off the top of Hampton's deck. Hampton attacked with the Oracle to put Black to 15. This time, with no Inkmoth Nexus on site and his opponent tapped low, Hampton took the opportunity to cast Beast Within on the Blighted Agent, giving Black a mostly irrelevant 3/3 Beast token.

Yet another Preordain let Black keep both cards on top, and allowed him to play both Inkmoth Nexus and a Spellskite to protect it from the Dismember sitting on top of Hampton's deck.

Hampton drew the Dismember, but shuffled away the revealed Primeval Titan with the Misty Rainforest, finding an untapped Stomping Ground in the process. The life totals stood at 18-15 in Hampton's favor, but when you're casting Eldrazi and looking to poison people, life totals are usually unimportant.

A Vesuva copying Inkmoth Nexus gave Hampton possible blocking options if he could untap with it in play. Yet another Preordain shipped two cards to the bottom for Black, and he cast a second Spellskite, still unable or unwilling to get in for ten poison. Seal of Primordium gave Hampton another possible layer of protection, one that couldn't be countered once it was in play. It could, however, be redirected by one of Black's two Spellskites.

A Ponder, roughly the eighty-seventh cantrip Black had played this game, again resulted in no shuffle as he continued to stack his hand and his draw. Hampton, drawing nothing of relevance, simply cast Wall of Roots and passed, while Black responded with yet another Ponder (no shuffle) and the deadly Blighted Agent, still backed up by two Spellskites.

Those Spellskites, however, could not protect the Agent from Firespout, which cleared the board of the offending unblockable, the Beast token, and Hampton's own Oracle of Mul Daya.

Black had a strong follow-up with an end of turn Peer Through Depths to find Muddle the Mixture and then the third Blighted Agent of the match.

Making his first big play of the game, Hampton resolved a Primeval Titan to find two Cloudposts. If he could survive the next turn, the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in his hand threatened to win the game outright.

Black, now forced into action, transmuted Muddle the Mixture for Blazing Shoal, which he used along with Dragonstorm to deal exactly ten poison.

Black 2, Hampton 0

Game Three

Hampton had turn-one Cloudpost again, while Black unsurprisingly played a turn-one Ponder and shuffled. Glimmerpost and Gruul Signet powered up Hampton's mana and allowed him to Punishing Fires Black's second-turn Blighted Agent at the end of turn.

Are you ready for this?

When Hampton played a Grove of the Burnwillows, things looked bleak for Black. When he followed that with a Through the Breach revealing Primeval Titan, all on turn three, Black opted to concede in the face of mountains of mana and the Punishing Fire engine.

Black 2, Hampton 1

Game Four

After his ridiculous third turn in game three, Hampton's fortunes didn't hold as he was forced to mulligan to a six card hand with only two mana sources, but plenty of removal.

To the surprise of no one, Black played a turn one Preordain, leaving both cards on top, followed by a Ponder that shuffled away some junk and a second Preordain that left two cards on top. After only his second turn, Black had already looked at seven additional cards.

Hampton, meanwhile, got off to a significantly slower start with just a Forest and a Vesuva copying Forest and no other action. A Spellskite landed on Black's side of the table and promptly ate a Dismember, but that cleared the way for a Blighted Agent the following turn.

Sam Black aims to poison Jesse Hampton right out of this Top 8.

Hampton, however, could only muster the less-than-useful Eye of Ugin followed by Cloudpost without any other Loci. With only two untapped mana in play, he couldn't even cast Beast Within if Black chose to attempt a Blazing Shoal.

Instead, Black cast Peer Through Depths and attacked for just one poison, either electing not to play into another possible Dismember or still searching for another combo piece while stuck on two lands.

Hampton's mana base was also getting nowhere fast, and he simply passed the turn after drawing, holding ups Beast Within mana.

However, Black found his opening when an Inkmoth Nexus allowed him to transmute Muddle the Mixture for Blazing Shoal, and then follow it up with Summoner's Pact for Progenitus. When Black went for the win, Hampton did indeed have the Beast Within, but was stopped by a very timely Pact of Negation to seal the game and the match for Black.

Sam Black 3 defeats Jesse Hampton 3-1 and advances to the semifinals!

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