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The Championship Match of the Strixhaven Championship

June 07, 2021
Corbin Hosler and Elizabeth Rice

The Strixhaven Championship began with 250 players battling it out over both Standard and Historic, and 15 Swiss rounds and a double-elimination Top 8 bracket later, the finals were finally set: Sam Pardee vs. John Girardot.

It was a great conclusion to an epic tournament that heavily featured the much-changed Historic format, and it led to a stacked Top 8 that included Hall of Famers along with Pro Tour regulars and several newcomers. After Jeskai Turns proved beyond a doubt that it was the deck of the tournament, knocking out the three players not taking extra turns, there was one final mirror match between Pardee and Girardot to decide a champion.

Sam Pardee

John Girardot

Making his first Top Finish, Girardot was trying to complete a phenomenal run. It came as no surprise to anyone who followed his dominant MTG Arena career, and had previously just missed a Top Finish at Mythic Championship VII in 2019. Now he was trying to even things with Pardee, who had avenged his own Swiss loss by beating Girardot in the upper bracket finals. The French challenger had fought his way out of the bottom bracket to force the rematch.

Pardee was making his fourth career Top Finish, and he's long been seen among the best tournament grinders in the United States. His Grand Prix success is synonymous with friends and teammates Mass Nass and Jacob Wilson as they put in dominant performances at Team Limited events years ago. With three previous Top Finishes under his belt and many years of high-stakes tournament experience, Pardee was a favorite of longtime competitive Magic fans.

Both players put on a show with Jeskai Turns throughout the Top 8, and the fireworks were getting even brighter in the championship match.

Pardee fired the first salvo. Despite staring down a battlefield of lethal attackers in the first game, he resolved the most important card in the matchup: the legendary Dragon Velomachus Lorehold. Along with Mizzix's Mastery, the Dragon fueled an explosion of turns throughout the tournament and it showed up in the biggest way for Pardee as he clawed back to take the opening game.

But Girardot fought back to even things up after sideboarding, which led to a decisive third game to determine who held the upper hand in the championship.

In a format defined by game breaking bombs and huge spells, it was the unlikeliest of moves that tipped the balance of the Game 3. Pardee attacked with his 5/5 Zombie Army token from Commence the Endgame, but Girardot was ready with his own uncounterable Commence to set up a double-block and trade.

But there was one thing he didn’t play around: the Giant Growth. Or, in this case, a midcombat Commence the Endgame that saw Pardee grow his own token to a 10/10 that cleared out Girardot’s board and set the table for Pardee to pick up the first match win a few turns later.

Girardot had played with his back against the wall already, with a loss to Pardee earlier during the day in the upper bracket finals before fighting his way back from the elimination bracket. Now he would have to win two matches back-to-back to keep Pardee from claiming the title.

Pardee opened the second match looking at a Shark Typhoon and a hand of permission, which he put to use when Girardot tried for a Mizzix's Mastery after a mulligan down to five cards. With his most powerful card countered, Girardot was forced to go on defense himself, sitting on a removal spell and a pair of Memory Lapse while Pardee accumulated cards.

Counterspells are good at answering many threats in the matchup, but they did nothing about Shark creature tokens from a cycled Shark Typhoon. Already playing down in cards from the start, Girardot was forced to go for his big spells before the Shark closed the deal. That played right into Pardee’s hands, as a pair of Prismari Commands gave him the flexibility to answer Girardot’s Indomitable Creativity and close out the game from there.

Girardot was down, but he wasn’t out. He was much more aggressive with a better hand and stronger threats in the second game, and was able to pull ahead on both cards and the board when he resolved a massive Commence the Endgame to take over the board.

That put Pardee to the test, who responded by casting a Time Warp with countermagic backup. While Pardee was able to resolve several Time Warps from it, he couldn’t catch up on board. He was able to counter several of Girardot’s spells, but in the end a 4/4 Shark backed by a Fry was enough to seal the deal.

Pardee was ahead, but he still had another game to take if he was going to close things out. In the decider, both players traded resources in the early turns, but it was Pardee who resolved the first Mizzix's Mastery to reload by targeting Commence the Endgame, putting a Zombie Army threat on the board. But that left the shields down for Girardot to overload his own Mizzix's Mastery.

But that Mastery lacked a Time Warp to target, so Pardee untapped with one more chance to close things out.

And did he ever. He cast Brainstorm into a Time Warp and Mizzix's Mastery, and then on his next turn overloaded yet another Mastery. With the turns stacking and the board growing the writing was on the wall: Girardot’s turns were over.

Just like that, Sam Pardee completed his Top 8 run to win the Strixhaven Championship.

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