fter a draft marked by tons of fliers and only a few playable rares, grizzled veteran Quentin Martin faced down talented newcomer Christian Hüttenberger. After about 15 Pro Tours, Martin has been on an incredible run recently, storming the Top 8 in four of the last five Premiere limited events he has played, including Grand Prix-Bologna, Grand Prix-Nottingham, Grand Prix-Cardiff, and now the big game: Pro Tour-Prague.
His first lifetime Pro Tour Top 8 shows the payoff of his steady climb to the top. Hüttenberger represents the exact opposite, playing in his first individual Pro Tour of all time. Following a single team PT performance, Hüttenberger has gotten all the way to the Top 8 his first time out. The stage is set for a battle of battle-hardened experience vs. sudden new talent.
Hüttenberger, left, and Martin were Top 8 newcomers.
Hüttenberger followed a WBR draft strategy that offered Boros in set 1, his favorite guild Orzhov in set 2, and Rakdos in set 3. His deck included three first-pick quality Ravnica cards: Faith's Fetters, Viashino Fangtail, and a Doubling Season that somehow circled the table to 8th pick…then wound up in Hüttenberger's sideboard. Only middling in triple Ravnica draft, Doubling Season has skyrocketed in value due to its astounding interactions with the Graft mechanic unveiled in Dissension. In fact, Finkel was quoted as saying it was the single card he most hoped to open in the set, but for this final table they clearly didn't realize what they had on their hands.
The Savage Twister Crosby passed to Hüttenberger proved too tempting to pass up, and Hüttenberger stretched to 4 colors, including double-color spells like Fangtail to add the scalable wrath to his stack. The question is: Was his color stretch too greedy, leaving his spells stranded in hand, or will the raw power of cards like Savage Twister and Fangtail put him over the top?
After a first-pick Vedalken Dismisser, Martin also went into WBR, with fewer "first pick" quality cards as Hüttenberger, but substantially more removal.
After knocking off first-turn Plagued Rusalka with Clinging Darkness, Quentin responded to Benevolent Ancestor with an outclassed 3/1 Gnat Alley Creeper. Christian trumped the Creeper on turn 4 with Viashino Fangtail, giving the Creeper just one turn to live. Quentin wanted to get some use of his 3/1 before it died, and laid Pillory of the Sleepless on Benevolent Ancestor to get the 3/1 through for damage. This may look like a weak use of Pillory: After all, the Ancestor still gets to use its prevention ability under the aura, and Martin has no other men to push past the 0/4 once the Alley Creeper dies. However, Martin's deck is full of Slaughterhouse Bouncers and Gobhobbler Rats that would get hung up on the wall eventually. More importantly, the Pillory is itself basically "a man to push past the wall", since it inflicts a point of unpreventable lifeloss per turn.
Martin Brainspoiled the Fangtail, but Hüttenberger kept pushing with Centaur Safeguard and Slaughterhouse Bouncer. Martin rebuilt with Dimir House Guard and Hellhole Rats to stabilize the board and stop the attacks, with himself at 10 life and Hüttenberger at 15 and dropping to Pillory. When Hellhole Rats hit a plains, Martin added a line to his careful note-taking saying "Opp held land - probably no hellbent." This watchfulness for the subtle implications of opposing plays is one of Martin's strengths.
At this point, each player secretly held a castable pseudo-wrath, between Martin's Cleansing Beam and Hüttenberger's Savage Twister, and each player was secretly striving to manipulate the board to take best advantage of this heavy artillery. But neither spell would be great yet against the current board - Savage Twister is pretty ineffective against Dimir House Guard. Whoever could set up the most devastating wrath on his opponent would probably claim victory.
When Hüttenberger hit 12 life from the Pillory, he reactivated the attack phase by deploying the rarely used Necromancer's Magemark on the Bouncer and rumbling it in. On a board of assorted mid-sizers, it made the Bouncer extremely "awkward to block." Martin agreed to the resumption of hostilities by sending back Dimir House Guard, trying to get his race on.
The next turns brought the battle to a head, with Quentin on 6 life with Dimir House Guard, Ostiary Thrull, and a freshly cast Petrahydrox. Hüttenberger held 7 life with Magemarked Slaughterhouse Bouncer and Pilloried Benevolent Ancestor. Hüttenberger had been extremely patient with Savage Twister, agreeing to take Pillory lifeloss for many turns in a row, in order to lure Martin into over committing further. With the arrival of Petrahydrox, Hüttenberger suddenly made his move, declaring an attack to make sure Ostiary Thrull tapped his Slaughterhouse Bouncer and wouldn't be able to target and unsummon Petrahydrox. Then he put a Benevolent shield on the 4/4 bouncer and twisted for 4. To sweeten the deal, Hüttenberger happily noted that Necromancer's Magemark lets all your "enchanted creatures" die to your hand - including the Pilloried Benevolent Ancestor! The twister cruelly killed the opposing Ostiary Thrull and Petrahydrox, stopped the Pillory lifeloss, and restored the Ancestor's ability to block. It was exactly the "Savage" swing Hüttenberger was looking for.
Martin kept fighting, making a run at Hüttenberger's low life total with Dimir House Guard, but Hüttenberger's own House Guard ironically transmuted for a Faith's Fetters that "killed" the enemy fear skeleton. It wasn't long before Hüttenberger's 4/4 bouncer finished the game for Christian.
Christian brought in Restless Bones for Castigate. Quentin was forced to side out the powerful Cleansing Beam - the exact WBR mirror matchup being the worst possible time to have it. Incite Hysteria also came out for Martin, replaced by Slaughterhouse Bouncer #2 and a Sandstorm Eidolon for the anticipated war of attrition. In another nod to a slow grind of heavy removal, Quentin chose to draw first.
As expected, this game featured trade after trade between the removal-heavy decks. Hüttenberger's Riot Spikes, Centaur Safeguard and Pillory quickly traded 1-for-1 with Martin's Squealing Devil, Orzhov Euthanist, and Slaughterhouse Bouncer. The only unkilled monsters were a Sandstorm Eidolon and Dimir House Guard for Martin and a Shrieking Grotesque and Restless Bones for Hüttenberger. Martin seemed to have missed the "Sac my Pilloried guy to House Guard to stop the bleeding" play, then caught it and made the play one turn later. Slowly but surely, Martin pulled ahead as he made powerful attrition plays like casting Petrahydrox to get back Sandstorm Eidolon. He could then sac Eidolon at will to target and bounce Petrahydrox, then replay the Petrahydrox to regrow Eidolon and do it all over again! It's an extremely difficult combination for removal-heavy WBR decks like Hüttenberger's to stop.
Hüttenberger's sketchy 4-color mana base finally caught up to him as he held an uncastable Viashino Fangtail that could have blocked Sandstorm Eidolonand pinged Petrahydrox off the board. But even with Hüttenberger's whopping 9 mana available, he still didn't have the double red he needed - a well-known risk of playing double-colored cards in a 4-color deck. With Fangtail unable to help out, Hüttenberger's defenses could not hold, and he fell to red monsters.
Martin mulliganed and commented "I just haven't drawn my good spells yet…I think you've drawn far more of your good spells than I have….or maybe your deck's just better than mine!" Inspired by Geoffrey Siron's waking up the entire hotel room this morning with a 6 a.m. howl of "ONE TIME!" Martin continuously whispered "One time!" and chuckled good-naturedly as he shuffled or when he needed to topdeck out of a jam.
Quentin's mana did him no favors in Game 3.
Ironically, it was Martin's tighter 2-color-and-a-splash manabase that broke down this game, producing 5 swamps as the only lands for the whole game, while Hüttenberger karoo'ed into all four colors of lands by turn 4. Hüttenberger's Drekavac, Dimir House Guard, Aurora Eidolon, and Fists of Ironwood made short work of Martin's measly single-Ostiary-Thrull-with-no-white-mana defense.
Martin's opening hand on the draw threatened a repeat of the last game's color screw, with Ickspitter, Lyzolda, Brainspoil, Gobhobbler Rats, and Petrahydrox, but only a plains and a mountain for lands. Fortunately for Martin, he "just one time!!" ripped a turn 3 mountain to play Ickspitter, easily trumping Hüttenberger's turn 2 Tin Street Hooligan.
Hüttenberger deployed 3 colors of mana in the first 3 turns, usually a sign that your colors will be smooth sailing. Sadly Hüttenberger's stretching to 4 colors for Savage Twister again came back to bite him hard. The only color of mana he was missing was black - the color he relies on most. By turn 6, Hüttenberger had 3 plains, a forest, and a mountain, but still no black mana to play his pillory, mausoleum turnkey, Plagued Rusalka and so on. Ickspitter and Petrahydrox quickly evened up the match score for Martin.
All the games up until now had been relaxed and casual, while the cameras focused on the close De Rosa vs. Nakamura match. But for the fifth and deciding game, Hüttenberger and Martin advanced to the center table. With bright lights shining off the cards, a spotter naming every card played for the commentators, and another spotter murmuring every life total change for the A/V crew, the atmosphere got a little more intense. Quentin lamented "2 great games, and two terrible games." And Christian responded "Yes, let's hope for a good last game." Martin grinned "I'm hoping you mulligan to 3….but failing that I just want a good close game. I want to go out in style…..or win in fashion."
Hüttenberger's Game 5 strategy revolved around Savage Twister.
This time they both held good grips. Martin held a reasonable if slow Swamp x2, Mountain x2, Demon's Jester, Sandstorm Eidolon, and Slaughterhouse Bouncer. Hüttenberger mulliganed into a pretty hot Plains, Swamp, Orzhov Signet, Benevolent Ancestor, Fists of Ironwood, Faith's Fetters. Splashing Savage Twister off of six red sources and three green sources is one thing, but adding Fists of Ironwood as a second green card off of the same three green sources seems a possibly greedy color stretch, especially with fists of ironwood being only ok and not great as a card. Perhaps Hüttenberger was entranced by the mild combo of Fists of Ironwood and Necromancer's Magemark?
Hüttenberger opened up his hand with Rakdos Carnarium, then set up the stolid defensive line of Benevolent Ancestor, Centaur Safeguard, Dimir House Guard, and Aurora Eidolon with white mana backup. Meanwhile Martin deployed Demon's Jester, Slaughterhouse Bouncer, and Gnat Alley Creeper, unable to break through very effectively at all. Martin was wary of Savage Twister, but he knew he'd never break through this line of white blockers without more power on his own side of the table. Also, Hüttenberger had many colors of land, but no green mana, and he had been playing forest as soon as he drew it in every previous game, making it pretty clear that Hüttenberger did not typically hold back a forest to hide the possibility of a sudden Twister. Martin thought carefully, then went for it, staking a bigger claim on the board by adding Sandstorm Eidolon and Ostiary Thrull to increase his army to five creatures.
Nervously, Martin made a joke about how devastating Forest, Savage Twister would be against his board of five medium-toughness non-House-Guard creatures. Incredibly, Hüttenberger had chosen exactly this game to sandbag the forest and the Twister all along! He played both, sacrificing his Aurora Eidolon to save his House Guard, keeping Ancestor alive, and wiping out all five of Martin's creatures while losing only one of his own. Martin was visibly shocked and appalled at his unfortunately bad read on Hüttenberger's hand not having forest and the Twister. It didn't seem likely that Hüttenberger had intentionally run the Forest out in the earlier games in order to lure his opponent into a bad read this game, but Hüttenberger's keeping the Forest in reserve in his hand was certainly a completely annihilating psychological and gameplay tactic this game.
Martin scrambled to come back, regrowing his Eidolon with Petrahydrox, but the Savage swing was simply too much, and Benevolent Ancestor could keep Petrahydrox permanently off the board. Hüttenberger's Dimir House Guard got a Riot Spikes and a Fists of Ironwood, while one of the fisty saprolings got a Necromancer's Magemark, and the whole team started busting across. Martin summoned Hellhole Rats and put it in front of the Dimir House Guard with Riot Spikes. He got excited when Hüttenberger agreed "Damage resolves", thinking that the German PT novice had given up the chance to regenerate the House Guard, then Martin had to punch the table in jocular frustration when the judge pointed out that the House Guard was actually 5/3 and didn't die anyway…due to the +1/+1 from the Necromancer's Magemark sitting over there on the Saproling. Hüttenberger's forces soon polished off the game and the match, advancing the German student to the semi-finals to face fellow countryman Aaron Brackmann.
Christian Hüttenberger 3, Quentin Martin 2