I’m watching the Valencia quarterfinals live via the web broadcast. Somewhat stream-of-consciousness commentary in the extended. Three of the four matches ended very quickly and felt quite one-sided, but the last and longest match was a really nice, complex one between two control decks that took rather different approaches to control.
The introductory discussion between Randy and BDM focuses on the strange circumstances of this top eight — specifically, the lack of time to test (they have only half an hour for lunch between the completion of the final swiss round and the top eight) as well as the nature of the Extended game. Basically, with the field being wide open, everyone just brought the decks they were happy with.
Koike is apparently unhappy with his matchup. As BDM mentions, several Japanese players came in playing Saito’s “Orange Stompy” deck, and Koike and ostensibly Mihara are playing it in the top eight, whereas Saito and another major Japanese player did badly and scrubbed out on day one. Even though both decks are UW TRon, Mihara’s deck is fairly different from the Saito build, as it goes almost strictly for the Mindslaver lock, which the Saito build eschews. Curiously, Mihara has gone for only three of each Urza piece. I agree with Randy — this is a little surprising.
Of course, it sounds like Nakamura is also unhappy with his matchup with Koike. Funny.
Randy says, “It’s almost like this format doesn’t have archetypes. It has packages.”
I like formats with packages.
Starting with the match between Sam Stein and Andre Mueller (Affinity versus Enduring Ideal)
BDM likes Andre Mueller for the overall winner of this top eight. He thinks Andre has the best Enduring Ideal build.
Randy: “What are you looking for in this matchup?”
BDM: “Finding out if Affinity is fast enough to beat a seven-mana sorcery.”
I’m wondering what the first grab is for Enduring Ideal when you’re facing Affinity. Confiscate?
Ouch. That was a Seething Song off of two sac lands into a turn-three Enduring Ideal, and Sam Stein simply scoops. BDM explains why Sam scoops. The first card is Dovescape, if he’s not under pressure, but otherwise he’ll grab Solitary Confinement. Once both are in play, the opponent can’t cast anything but creature spells, and can’t attack or target you. Lock.
So Sam Stein needs to bring out his enchantment hate early (and bringing in disruption dilutes his deck). He does have six maindeck anti-Dredge cards he can take out, though.
Mueller’s deck has a Divining Top / Fetchland engine going on to allow him to reshuffle if he doesn’t like what he sees.
In game two, Stein has managed to get his Seal of Primordium out, which will carve through at least one enchantment once Ideal resolves. As Randy notes, though, there’s not a lot of damage pressure from Stein (although he now has two Seals out). And having hit Enduring Ideal, Mueller goes for Pernicious Deed and basically kills Stein’s board on turn four. Stein scoops. In retrospect, he made a mistake not hitting Mueller’s Lotus Bloom during upkeep to keep him off the mana for a turn. It sounds like Stein didn’t realize that the first enchantment out would be the Deed.
The third game seems doable for Stein, so far. He has several critters out, and a Cabal Therapy ready. Rather than going for Enduring Ideal, Sam names Solitary Confinement — and gets it! Mueller had that in hand, but not Ideal. After that, it’s a matter of how many things Sam needs to throw to his Ravager to play to win — and he basically eats his whole board, hitting for 9 points, leaving Mueller at 10. If he topdecks an artifact land of a zero-cost artifact, Stein wins on his next turn. BDM suggests Sam took the Solitary Confinement in anticipation of this plan, although that wouldn’t have been great for Mueller. Stein draws an artifact land, hits for 10, and takes game three. Looks like Mueller wasn’t going to draw into Ideal very soon.
Mueller gets to play in game four, which is potentially iffy for Stein, especially since Mueller has an opening pair of Lotus Blooms again. Ick. However, this game is not a runaway for Mueller, as Stein can bring down a Seal of Primordium to strip away Mueller’s first choice, which is likely to be Confinement. At the moment, Stein only hits for 9 on his next turn, but if he grabs an artifact, he’ll make it to 10. Alternately, Mueller might go for Deed and try to sweep Stein’s board (which it will do). Mueller does Lotus, Lotus, Seething Song, Seething Song into Burning Wish, grabbing Ideal, and plays Ideal, grabbing Pernicious Deed. Stein’s deck has no Shrapnel blasts, so he can’t luck into a win on his next turn — and it Mueller just wipes Stein’s board whenever he wants at this point. Sam attacks, and Andre goes to 1, unwilling to blow the Deed. As Randy and BDM note, Mueller’s play here depends a lot on knowing Sam’s decklist, and knowing there’s no Krosan Grip in Stein’s deck. Mueller clears the board, then goes for Dovescape, and Stein concedes.
With that match in the bag, we move over to the match between Shuhei Nakamura and Takayuki Koike. Koike is down in this match, with it going 2-1 for Nakamura right now. It’s Shuhei’s UW Tron deck (the Saito build) versus domain zoo. Koike lost his second-turn Grim Lavamancer to a Condescend from Shuhei because Koike didn’t play his second land before trying to play his creature. Ouch. The Tron deck then clears the board with Engineered Explosives (taking out Isamaru and something else). Shuhei is clearly in charge of this match — he cycles Decree of Justice to generate six soldier tokens, then brings in a Sundering Titan…and that’s game and match.
From there, we go over to Mihara versus Barra. Barra leads 2-0 in this match, and in the current game has been Vindicating Mihara repeatedly to get rid of Tron pieces. With several Treetop Villages and an Eternal witness, Barra is kicking his way through Mihara’s life total. As we come into the game, Barra uses Duress to pull the one relevant card (Thirst for Knowledge) out of Mihara’s hand, leaving Mihara dead on the board in two turns and with very little to draw. Where Mihara is running UW Tron, Barra is playing Gifts-Rock with a white splash for Vindicate, and that seems to have worked well for him (Melissa DaTora was also running Gifts-Rock). Mihara has one Ghost Quarter, which Barra chooses to Vindicate, theoretically forcing the issue — but Mihara lets it resolve, and thus doesn’t take a hit. Interesting. Mihara then plays Gifts on his next turn, but having tapped out to play it, it’s entirely unclear if there’s anything he can grab that will actually help him. Mihara plays out a Ghost Quarter post-Gifts, but Barra draws another land and that’s it. Barra advances.
The last match running is Tine Rus versus Remi Fortier. We come in with Fortier leading the match 2-0, but down to 1 life in the current game. I’m unclear on the matchup here. Fortier’s deck has a Jitte, and Rus just put down an Indrik Stomphowler. Fortier’s deck is a “good stuff” deck that tries to grab various interesting things with Trinket Mage — like Engineered Explosives — and then reuse them with Academy Ruins. Rus plays out a Gifts Ungiven, which suggests he’s playing Gifts-Rock. At the moment, his biggest issue is working around the Academy Ruins – Engineer Explosives recursion engine, which can clear his board repeatedly. Although, as Randy notes, Teneb is big enough to avoid the Explosives. Rus goes with Teneb, Genesis, Eternal Witness, Living Wish — the ideal “no good choices” selection from Gifts. Fortier gives him Genesis and Living Wish. Rus plays out the Genesis — it’s all fine for him if Fortier kills that off. Fortier has some Jitte counters, and plays out a Dark Confidant. This would be a good time to target the Divining Top with some artifact removal. Rus plays Eternal Witness, grabs Eternal Witness, plays Eternal Witness, grabs Teneb. I suppose the double Witness play is to put pressure on Fortier to blow the Explosives right away. Fortier stands behind a lone Trinket Mage with a Jitte. Two Jitte counters go to kill off the Witnesses, and the Trinket Mage chumps the Genesis. Leading with a Cabal Therapy, Rus plays out Teneb (who is too big to blow up), then follows up with a Sakura Tribe Elder. That’s too much for Fortier, who scoops, giving Rus a game.
After a bathroom break, they come back into game four, with Fortier up 2-1. Rus Cabal Therapies for Dark Confidant, pulling one out of Fortier’s hand (nice). BDM and Randy mention the lack of Dredge hate in sideboards in the top eight, although they go on to point out that several of the decks run graveyard hate in the maindeck. After a couple turns, Fortier has a Jitte-equipped Dark Confidant against a Loxodon Hierarch and a Sakura Tribe Elder, the latter getting Putrefied so it can’t chump block the Confidant. Rus hits with the Hierarch, then goes for a Gifts Ungiven, presenting Teneb, Genesis, Stomphowler, and Pernicious Deed, and getting Genesis and Deed. He then strips out a Thirst for Knowledge with Cabal Therapy, leaving Fortier with Engineered Explosives and a Chrome Mox. Fortier cranks Confidant to six, smacks Rus. Rus plays out his Pernicious Deed and pops it for two, clearing out Confidant and Jitte. A followup hit from Hierarch leaves Fortier at 8, I think, with very little in hand. Fortier plays out a Tarmogoyf, which is a good anti-Hierarch wall. Rus plays out Genesis and passes — but as BDM has already noted, Fortier can’t really afford to kill the Genesis. Rus VIndicates Tarmogoyf and attacks with both his critters, one of them getting chumped by Confidant. Fortier is now down to 3, and can’t effectively clear the board. Rus follows that up with a Baloth, and after drawing a couple more cards on his turn, Fortier concedes.
Fortier chooses to play in Game 5, and Rus leads yet again with Cabal Therapy, failing to hit Dark Confidant this time (but getting a look at Fortier’s hand). Rus sacs his Bird to flashback Cabal Therapy, which Randy and BDM think is a bad move, since he could have waited a turn, used the Bird to play out a Hierarch, and then sacced it for the flashback cost. After a couple turns, Rus has a Sakura Tribe Elder facing off against a Tarmogoyf. Rus then plays a Hierarch. Fortier follows up with a Trinket Mage, grabbing Top. Rus attacks with a Hierarch, and Fortier lets it by — only to see Rus drop another Hierarch. Fortier responds by bringing in a Confidant. The two Hierarchs come in, and one is mass-blocked by a mid-sized Tarmogoyf, Tinket Mage, and Confidant. Rus ignores the Goyf and kills Confidant and Mage, then follows his atack with Cabal Therapy. Fortier activates top. On his turn, he finally has the mana spread for Engineered Explosives, hitting for four. leaving Tarmogoyf alive. Rus is hit by Goyf, but his life total is still quite high. Rus goes for Gifts Ungiven, presenting Stomphowler, Eternal Witness, Genesis, Teneb. Fortier pitches Genesis and Witness — and may have had second thoughts, but he’d already put them in the graveyard, so the judge wouldn’t let him take it back. Rus attacks for 1 with the Elder, which is cute and may well be relevant later, since it lets Teneb kill in one hit. Tarmgoyf hits, and Fortier plays out a second Tarmogoyf (ouch — still, Rus is at 18, and the Goyfs are only 4/5s). Rus plays Teneb, but Fortier flips the Top, grabs a Counterspell and Counterspells Teneb. Both Goyfs attack, pulling Rus down to 10. On his turn, he activates Genesis and picks up Teneb — if he can get it out next turn, he still doesn’t win, and he still loses to Goyf hits. He pulls out another land, and plays out two Sakura Tribe Elders, which can help. The Tarmogoyfs come in, and Rus chumps both with Elders, going for two more lands. Fortier brings in a Dark Confidant, giving him a single-turn kill…except that Rus Putrefies a Tarmogoyf, buying himself time. He follows that up with an Eternal Witness, which Fortier counters, leading Rus to pass the turn. Fortier drops down to five life on his turn, taking a hit from Dark Confidant despite having a Divining Top in play. Fortier hits for 6, pushing Rus down to 3. Rus plays out Teneb, which resolves. Fortier draws more with Thirst For Knowledge, looking perhaps for Venser, which is his one real solution to Teneb. Fortier grabs a Putrefy off of Dark Confidant, goes to 1, clears Teneb, and wins.
This was the most interesting match of the quarterfinals, despite perhaps seeming a little one-sided at the beginning. Given the choice, I’d play Rus’s deck, but Fortier’s deck is a very nice, complex concoction.
Now we wait five minutes for them to roll into the semifinals.