Round 5: Jeff Cunningham vs. Brad Nelson

The fifth round feature match was a behemoth between two of the game’s titans: Jeff Cunningham representing the old school and Brad Nelson representing the new school.

The fifth round feature match was a behemoth between two of the game’s titans: Jeff Cunningham representing the old school and Brad Nelson representing the new school. North Dakotan Brad Nelson had been on a hot streak over the past few weeks, winning Grand Prix-Washington D.C., Top 8’ing Pro Tour-San Juan, winning the Community Cup at Wizards of the Coast headquarters, and showing up in time to compete at the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Seattle. Jeff Cunningham was shaking some of the rust off; the old school player and former StarCityGames.com columnist is a longtime hero for fans of Pro Tour history and stories in addition to having enough Pro Tour success himself to be eligible for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.

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Jeff Cunningham

The game got underway with Jeff’s Jund deck out to an aggressive early start thanks to a Bloodbraid Elf and a Sprouting Thrinax. Brad was running Blue-White Control, a decision he had made many times over the past few weeks for Standard tournaments. He used a pair of planeswalkers, Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Jace, the Mind Sculptor to keep up with his opponent’s aggression, using tokens to chump attackers and Jace to dig for more solutions.

Lightning Bolt from Cunningham took out the Elspeth, but Wall of Omens leapt forth to protect the Jace from Bloodbraid Elf. Board stabilized, it looked like Nelson was going to be able to sit behind his Jace accruing board and card advantage. But Cunningham had a few tricks up his sleeve, and cast a Lightning Bolt on Nelson’s upkeep to take the blue permanent out. Down his card advantage machine, Brad cast a second in the form of Mind Spring for five. That gave him so much gas he had to discard some of it, and he had enough confidence in the game state to begin attacking with a Celestial Colonnade the following turn.

On the other side of the table, poor Jeff Cunningham found himself short on mana. Stuck on two Forests, a Mountain, and an Island that had started out as a Savage Lands before Spreading Seas locked it into one color (which Jeff wasn’t, inconveniently enough, playing), he couldn’t cast the spells in his hand and was forced to begin discarding. Making matters worse, his opponent cast a second copy of the land aura targeting his only source of red, the Mountain, and it looked like Brad had it locked up.

When the 4/4 Colonnade had dropped him to 8, Jeff calmly said "Okay," and scooped up his cards.

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Brad Nelson

Brad Nelson 1, Jeff Cunningham 0

The two players spent their time discussing the recent Pro Tour-San Juan while sideboarding for their second game. Brad, who had made the Top 8 there, had benefited from having a decklist that came from Zvi Mowshowitz. That was a player Jeff knew well, having competed against him during his time on the Pro Tour.

They got their match underway with Cunningham opening on Putrid Leech while Brad cast Spreading Seas and an Everflowing Chalice for a single charge counter. To mitigate the Spreading Seas in order to prevent a repeat of the first game slaughter, Jeff cast Prophetic Prism. The artifact not only replaced itself but would allow him to use his faux Island to generate the black, green, or red mana he actually needed. A Baneslayer Angel from Brad meant the Putrid Leech couldn’t attack, but Siege-Gang Commander helped improve his opponent’s board position considerably.

The game started to stalemate, but when Nelson found Wall of Omens, he felt safe enough to begin attacking with his Baneslayer Angel. That cleared the way for his opponent to start pushing through as well, but a Gideon Jura made the attacking proposition much worse for Jeff. The instant his opponent cast it, it was used to Assassinate Siege-Gang Commander, a move that forced Cunningham to sacrifice both the Commander and a Goblin token to blow up the Wall of Omens. The Jura soaked up an attack, and Maelstrom Pulse killed the Baneslayer Angel, but Nelson’s life total was padded too much by the lifelinking Angel. He switched gears to Celestial Colonnade and Jeff found himself dead shortly thereafter.

Brad Nelson 2, Jeff Cunningham 0