Earlier this year, a couple of coverage writers from the U.S. took a trip to Kobe, Japan for a Grand Prix. At that Grand Prix, they called a Feature Match with a relatively unknown player named Ken Yukuhiro. After watching him play in that Feature Match, the writer covering it immediately made it a point to feature him as often as possible. He was incredibly good, much better than was expected given his relatively unknown status. We watched him continue to demolish his far more experienced opponents, which included a quarterfinals victory over former World Champion Katsuhiro Mori. He only fell upon reaching the finals.
It appears that the decision to follow Yukuhiro was the correct one, as he successfully navigated his way into the semifinals of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored playing the complex, yet powerful, Japanese version of 4-Color Reanimator. His opponent, Gaudenis Vidugiris, is a Midwest Magic player with multiple Grand Prix wins under his belt, and the support of a great team at his back. A member of the SCGBlack team that coalesced for this event boasted a roster including Kai Budde, Jon Finkel, Sam Black, and a handful more big name players. After working on testing for the Block Constructed portion of the tournament for weeks, eight members of the team settled on a UG Tempo Geists deck that absolutely demolished the field. Seven of those eight players made Day Two, and two of them made Top 8.
Gaudenis Vidugiris and his Geists square off against Yukuhiro's Reanimator deck in the semifinals.
With Jon Finkel losing to Alexander Hayne in the quarterfinals, it fell to Vidugiris to keep the team's hopes alive, while keeping Yukuhiro from bringing his back from the dead.
Vidugiris started Game 1 with a second-turn Strangleroot Geist, shifting into attack mode early. Yukuhiro began to build his resources with a Mulch, milling a Huntmaster of the Fells and Cathedral Sanctifier, while putting himself high enough on cards that he got to discard an Angel of Glory's Rise at end of turn. Vidugiris put the pedal down, though, adding a Geist of Saint Traft to his team. Yukuhiro slowed the beats with a Fiend Hunter, stealing Vidugiris's Strangleroot, but Vidugiris forced him to chump block right afterwards by using Increasing Savagery to make his Saint Traft a 7/7. The Angel still hit home, though, dropping Yukuhiro to 12.
Yukuhiro added another staller to the board on his next turn, making another Sanctifier and gaining 3 life. He had four lands in play, and was signaling an Unburial Rites to come on the next turn. Knowing this, Vidugiris thought hard. He sent his whole team, but Yukuhiro stuck his Sanctifier in the way of the Saint, dropping to a safe 9. On his turn, he ominously tapped five lands and cast Unburial Rites, returning the Angel of Glory's Rise to play, returning the two Sanctifiers, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Fiend Hunter to play, pushing himself up to 17 life.
Vidugiris pondered for a long time about what to do. He decided to cast another Increasing Savagery on his Geist of Saint Traft, bringing it to a 12/12, likely hoping he would get a chance to use Spectral Flight to crack back at an unprotected Yukuhiro at some point before he died. Yukuiro decided not to play it safe, instead attacking with all of his creatures except the Fiend Hunter. Vidugiris blocked the Huntmaster, which Yukuhiro replaced after combat, rising to 19. Now Vidugiris needed a pump spell and a Spectral Flight to finish the job. He drew his card and thought. He attacked with his Geist and let Yukuhiro decide his fate. The new Wolf blocked, and Yukuhiro dropped to 15. After combat, Vidugiris made an Invisible Stalker, which actually made things quite interesting considering the pair of Increasing Savagerys in his bin. He passed the turn to Yukuhiro, actually still quite alive.
Yukuhiro untapped and considered his attacks. Ultimately, he kept his Angel and Fiend Hunter home, sending the rest. Vidugiris dropped to 6. After combat, another Huntmaster of the Fells put Yukuhiro up to 17, out of the danger zone. Vidugiris drew his card and shook his head. Ultimately, he ended up playing a Dungeon Geists to lock down the Angel and passed the turn.
Yukuhiro went back to thinking and swung with two Sanctifiers, two Wolves, and his Fiend Hunter. Any way he blocked, Yukuhiro was going to be able to simply do nothing and flip his Huntmasters, killing Vidugiris.
Gaudenis Vidugiris 0, Ken Yukuhiro 1
Vidugiris started the second game with a fairly quick start, getting a first-turn Avacyn's Pilgrim, but his pair of Forests on the board prevented him from playing a Geist of Saint Traft. His Abundant Growth ensured, however, that he would be fine on the following turn. Yukuhiro was going to make a race of things, though. A second-turn Mulch milled a Cathedral Sanctifiers and gave him enough cards to allow a natural discard of Angel of Glory's Rise. Things looked a lot like the last game...
Vidugiris realized the race was on and opted to just run a Dungeon Geists out on the following turn, clearly intending to enhance it soon and try to run Yukuhiro over. Yukuhiro kept digging, milling a Falkenrath Aristocrat and a Fiend Hunter off of a second Mulch. Two turns to go until Yukuhiro hit Unburial Rites mana. Vidugiris drew his card and thought before simply attacking for four, dropping Yukuhiro to 15. He added a second Pilgrim to his side and passed the turn.
Yukuhiro put the first wall in place with a Huntmaster of the Fells, gaining two blockers and a couple life. Unburial Rites loomed a turn away. Before Yukhiro could cast it, Vidugiris made a Silverheart and teamed up his Geists, bashing Yukuhiro down to 10.
Vidugiris goes on the offensive, hoping to end the game before Unburial Rites leaves him buried under an avalanche of Humans.
On his turn, rather than going straight for the Rites, Yukuhiro instead chose to try and maximize his value, playing a Fiend Hunter that he hoped would get to chump block alongside his Huntmaster of the Fells, trying to get as many double effects as possible. Vidugiris threw a wrench into that works with a Silent Departure, though, returning the Fiend Hunter and allowing Vidugiris to re-team up his Geists with the Silverheart. He added a second Silverheart to his side, teaming it up with a Pilgrim, and attacked Yukuhiro. The Dungeon Geists tied up the Huntmaster, leaving Yukuhiro to chump block only with his Wolves, dropping to 4.
With that, Vidugiris effectively won the game. Yukuhiro was unable to Unburial Rites and return enough meaningful cards to stop Vidugiris's army, especially with a Silent Departure sitting in his graveyard. Yukuhiro took one more stab at trying to get a pair of Fiend Hunters or something into his graveyard with a Faithless Looting, but didn't get there. He drew his card and conceded Game 2 to Vidugiris.
Gaudenis Vidugiris 1, Ken Yukuhiro 1
Vidugiris blazed out of the gates for Game 3. He was looking to punish a pair of mulligans from Yukuhiro, but the Japanese player had a bit of defense in his five-card hand. Vidugiris had a pair of Avacyn's Pilgrims to start the game, but Yukuhiro had a Cathedral Sanctifiers for some life and a cheap chump blocker. Five mana still makes a turn-three Silverheart, though, and the Wolfir paired up with a Pilgrim to make a pair of beefy attackers.
Despite this, Yukuhiro threw a fastball of his own. Falkenrath Aristocrat came down and smacked Vidugiris for 4. The Aristocrat does double duty in Yukuhiro's deck, providing a big attacker, an indestructible blocker in most cases, and a way to get maximum value out of his Angel of Glory's Rise. On the next turn, Yukuhiro chumped with his Sanctifiers and added a counter to his Aristocrat by sacrificing the soon-dead Human. He then used Faithless Looting to hasten the arrival of an Angel of Glory's Rise, currently able to return a Huntmaster of the Fells, Fiend Hunter, and Cathedral Sanctifiers.
Yukuhiro tries to stay alive long enough for his Unburial Rites to bring him back into the game.
Vidugiris attacked, forcing Yukuhiro to trade his Aristocrat with the 5/5 Pilgrim, dropping to 8 in the process. After untapping, he drew his card on an empty hand, finding a Mulch, which he immediately cast. Another Angel bit the dust and he flashed back one more Looting to try and desperately find that Unburial Rites. Unfortunately, he never got the chance. Vidugiris had one more enhancer stuffed in his massive hand and revealed it to send the match to Game 4. The double mulligan to start the match proved quite costly for Yukuhiro (as they often do).
Gaudenis Vidugiris 2, Ken Yukuhiro 1
Yukuhiro chose to play for the fourth game, and seemed quite pleased to be able to keep his opening draw. Vidugiris, on the other hand, seemed much more put off by his, though he eventually chose to keep. Yukuhiro got an early Faithless Looting, placing a Huntmaster of the Fells and a Fiend Hunter into the graveyard. Vidugiris popped his first-turn Evolving Wilds for an Island, setting up for an Invisible Stalker on the second turn. Yukuhiro used an Evolving Wilds of his own to grab a Forest, allowing him to get a Borderland Ranger to snag a land from his deck.
Vidugiris had no pants for the invisible man, and the 1/1 bounded over to poke Yukuhiro for 1. Yukuhiro decided that one was not enough and made a Falkenrath Aristocrat, bashing back for 6. Undeterred, Vidugiris used a Dungeon Geists to lock it down on the next turn. Yukuhiro had another waiting in his hand, though, and waited until after he had played a Cathedral Sanctifiers to attack with it. He chose to sacrifice the Sanctifiers after Vidugiris chose not to block, dropping him to 9.
Vidugiris is feeling the pressure from Yukuhiro's Falkenrath Aristocraft assault.
Vidugiris continued the tiny-scale beats, poking Yukuhiro back down to 20 with his Stalker. Afterwards, he used a Silent Departure to send the Aristocrat back for the time being. Yukuhiro replayed it and attacked on the following turn, dropping Vidugiris to 5. A Mulch put Angel of Glory's Rise into Yukuhiro's graveyard and he passed the turn back to a slightly concerned looking Vidugiris. All he did on his turn (other than attack for 1, of course) was use Increasing Savagery to pump his Geists. On Yukuhiro's turn, he hit the seventh land he needed to flashback Unburial Rites on his Angel, prompting a quick concession from Vidugiris. The pair of Aristocrats had done enough damage fast enough that Vidugiris was never really in the game. With that, the two moved on to the final and deciding game of this semifinals match.
Gaudenis Vidugiris 2, Ken Yukuhiro 2
With a trip to the finals, tensions were running high at the table. The already quiet Yukuhiro seemed to enter a Marceau-ian levels of silence when he was forced to mulligan his starting hand in this last game of the match. He kept his six-card hand, and the final game got underway.
Yukuhiro's mulligan seemed to be considerably less damaging than originally thought as Vidugiris failed to play anything on the first two turns. However during those turns he set up the perfect mana to threaten a Geist of Saint Traft on turn three. When the time rolled around, Vidugiris did indeed have the mighty clergyman, though Yukuhiro made a Borderland Ranger to give Vidugiris pause.
Undaunted, the Geist took to the skies with a Spectral Flight, smashing Yukuhiro down to 12. Yukuhiro made a Falkenrath Aristocrat, but Vidugiris shoved it out of the way with Silent Departure, dropping him to 4. A second Silent Departure sealed things a turn later and Gaudenis Vidugiris moved to the finals of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored with a Game 5 with a game that lasted a mere three minutes.
Gaudenis Vidugiris 3, Ken Yukuhiro 2
Gaudenis Vidugiris wins 3-2 and advances to the finals!