Quarterfinals: Ridiculous

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Gabriel Nassif vs. Matteo Orsini Jones

Frenchman Gabriel Nassif needs no introduction, and Englishman Matteo Orsini Jones, along with his brother Marco, already got one in the blog. Both have fought hard this weekend, but only one can go on from here.

Game 1

Gabriel Nassif and Matteo Orsini Jones play with poise in the Arena.

Orsini Jones got things started in this Quarterfinals match with a second-turn Thoughtseize from his Black-White Tokens deck. He Seized a Mulldrifter out of a hand containing two Broken Ambitions, Wall of Reverence, Cruel Ultimatum, and a land—neatly representative of Nassif’s Five-Color Control deck. A second Thoughtseize a turn later stripped the Wall of Reverence out of a hand that had just gained another land. After the Thoughtseize, Orsini Jones played a Knight of Meadowgrain, which Nassif quickly countered.

Orsini Jones didn’t have a creature on the following turn. He simply played a Glorious Anthem in preparation for any creatures to come. Nassif decided to use his second Broken Ambitions to counter it. A Windbrisk Heights from Orsini Jones ended his turn. Now that he didn’t have to hold back mana to counter anything, Nassif was able to evoke a Mulldrifter to dig a little deeper in his deck. He found a Pithing Needle, which he set to the Windbrisk Heights that now had a card locked under it.

Orsini Jones kept trying to get something going, and he finally got a Knight of Meadowgrain to stick. The following turn brought him a Cloudgoat Ranger, which met an early demise at the hands of a Terror. His Kithkin stuck around, though, and Orsini Jones’s army was starting to grow. When a second Cloudgoat Ranger came into play on the next turn, things looked as if they could get out of hand, but Nassif put an early stop to that with a Volcanic Fallout, clearing all but the Ranger from play. Unfortunately for him, Orsini Jones had yet another copy of Cloudgoat Ranger, and he refilled his board yet again.

Nassif had been attacked and burned down to 6 at this point, and was going to need something strong to get back into this. Something Cruel. His Cruel Ultimatum got him enough life to survive another turn, as well as a Wall of Reverence back from his graveyard. Unfortunately, Orsini Jones had more than enough tokens to keep his more important creatures in play. Orsini Jones’s next swing dropped Nassif to 3. After untapping, Nassif made a Broodmate Dragon, which would allow him to block and kill Orsini Jones’s two Rangers, while dropping to a still-alive 1 life. It also gave him a creature with a meaningful power for his Wall of Reverence, should it ever get into play.

Orsini Jones meant to see to it that it didn’t. His Tidehollow Sculler stole the Wall of Reverence before it could hit the table, in the process revealing a hand containing two Mulldrifters and an Esper Charm. He passed the turn. Nassif drew his card, tapped some mana, and dropped a second Broodmate Dragon into play. Wait, that wasn’t in his hand the previous turn! It was the card he’d drawn for his turn, and it couldn’t have been better. Now, he was even more protected from attacks, as well as having lethal damage on the board should he survive another turn. All Orsini Jones could do was Tidehollow Sculler and see the exact same three cards as the last time. Nassif counted damage, double-checked life totals, carefully made sure that there was no way that the Cloudgoat Rangers could fly, and then sent the four Dragons across for the win.

Gabriel Nassif 1, Matteo Orsini Jones 0

Game 2

Orsini Jones thought for a few seconds about his opening hand before adding it to his deck and beginning to pile shuffle a second time. His second met with far more approval. His second turn Bitterblossom revealed why. If the Bitterblossom was the injury, the Thoughtseize that followed it was the inevitable “your mom.” Initially, Orsini Jones seemed to want to take the Volcanic Fallout from a hand also containing a Broodmate Dragon and two Cryptic Commands, but he eventually changed his mind and went for the big Dragon.

The Bitterblossom tokens got to work multiplying and attacking. Orsini Jones stumbled a turn on mana before finding a third. The Arcane Sanctum he found was just what the doctor ordered, turning on his Reflecting Pool so he could cast a Burrenton Forge-Tender. Nassif wasn’t going to let him stop the Fallout and used a Cryptic Command to Dismiss the nuisance. A second Forge-Tender on the following turn resolved, despite Nassif having the mana available and another Command in hand. He had something else in mind.

With five colors but only one right answer, Nassif puzzles it out.

With Nassif at 17, Orsini Jones sent his three active Faerie tokens across to even the life totals up at 14. After combat, he played a Windbrisk Heights, which drew a little frown from Nassif. At the end of Orsini Jones’s turn, and after a little thought, Nassif used his Cryptic Command to return the Heights to Orsini Jones’s hand and draw a card. On his own turn, he played a Pithing Needle, which explained both why he didn’t mind letting the Forge-Tender resolve and why he frowned at the Heights. Getting to shut down Heights is almost always fantastic, and Nassif had already planned to use his Needle to shut down the Forge-Tender. The Pithing Needle came down naming Forge-Tender after all, and Nassif sent the turn to Orsini Jones.

On his turn, Orsini Jones sent his team at Nassif, who played Volcanic Fallout to kill all of his tokens in response. After combat, Orsini Jones dropped a Tidehollow Sculler to temporarily snag an Esper Charm from an otherwise uninteresting hand. When Orsini Jones tried to Tidehollow Sculler again, Nassif let it come into play before nearly wiping the board with a Volcanic Fallout that wasn’t in his hand a turn earlier. Nassif was very good at sliding cards around the Scullers.

With his newly reclaimed Esper Charm, Nassif cleared the Bitterblossom out before it could start adding tokens to the board again. After all, he’d worked to hard to make sure he killed them all just a second ago. Orsini Jones also attacked with a Mutavault before playing a second copy. With Mutavault now his biggest threat, Nassif used a Cryptic Command to return his Pithing Needle to his hand, which he replayed to shut the Mutavaults down. Orsini Jones ran a Tidehollow Sculler out on his next turn, and this time it hit a Broodmate Dragon. Oh well, Nassif can’t dodge them all. The following attack dropped Nassif to 5. The one after that dropped him to 2.

Orsini Jones tried to thin Nassif’s outs by adding a Knight of Meadowgrain to his board, but Nassif used a Broken Ambitions to counter it. He didn’t like the land on top of his deck and flushed it to the bottom. Now working from the top card, Nassif needed a miracle. What he found was an Esper Charm. Hiding in the top two cards of his deck was a Broodmate Dragon. Unfortunately, he was at 2 and facing a virtually unblockable Forge-Tender, so the Dragon might have been too late. The Forge-Tender attacked Nassif down to one. He now had one more turn to do something or die.

“You’re at ... eight?” Nassif asked, genuinely surprised. “I had you at ten.” When Orsini Jones reminded him of the Volcanic Fallout from a few turns ago, Nassif said, “That’s right,” and adjusted the totals.

Now, while Orsini Jones was at 8 and Nassif had 8 damage on board, he couldn’t just alpha strike for the win thanks to the Burrenton Forge-Tender. So instead, he sent one of his Dragons across, hoping that Orsini Jones might sacrifice his Tender to prevent the damage, while leaving a blocker back for the Sculler. Unfortunately, he didn’t bite, and a single swing from the pro-red Forge-Tender was all it took to finish Nassif off.

Gabriel Nassif 1, Matteo Orsini Jones 1

Game 3

Both players kept their opening draws to start off the third game. Orsini Jones went to work early, storing a card away for later under a Windbrisk Heights. He followed that up with Thoughtseize, stripping Plumeveil out of a hand that also contained Esper Charm, Wrath of God, two Mulldrifters, and a Cryptic Command. With Plumeveil out of the picture, Orsini Jones started his army with Burrenton Forge-Tender.

Nassif evoked a Mulldrifter on his third turn, which just loaded his hand for the Tidehollow Sculler that Orsini Jones played on the following turn. With the Sculler’s ability on the stack, Orsini Jones used a Path to Exile on his own Sculler to get himself a land and stick Nassif’s Cryptic Command in limbo. Orsini Jones was left on only three cards, but his deck was capable of doing very powerful things with only a single card. After Nassif evoked his second MullyD, Orsini Jones got the first of those three cards, an Ajani Goldmane, into play. He immediately used it to put a counter on his Forge-Tender before attacking. For his turn, Nassif drew some more cards, this time keeping his Mulldrifter around instead of just evoking it.

A Knight of Meadowgrain joined the fray, though with Nassif holding onto a Wrath it seemed unlikely that Orsini Jones would commit any more to the board just yet. A second Windbrisk Heights gave him a reason to get a third creature into play, but he only had two more cards in hand, and the cards he would lose to the Wrath meant that he would probably have to wait until afterwards to get to a board state to activate them.

An English Yankees fan? Nah, he probably just lost a bet.

Nassif’s flier went to work on Ajani, dropping him to two loyalty. Orsini Jones staved off the inevitable by gaining a couple of life, which would complement the Bitterblossom he tried to play very well. Nassif was still holding an Esper Charm, though, so he let the enchantment resolve before killing it. Nassif got one more hit in on Ajani before passing the turn to Orsini Jones. He really needed to get rid of the planeswalker before he played Wrath of God and cleared away his own creature.

When Orsini Jones tried to cast a Tidehollow Sculler, Nassif was ready with a Broken Ambitions. The Ambitions was really good for Nassif. In addition to countering the Sculler, the Ambitiions revealed Infest for Nassif and Burrenton Forge-Tender for Orsini Jones on the clash. Nassif had managed to kill a Tender before it even hit the table, as well as getting a good way to kill the one that was in play. So sick!

The Infest very obviously cleared the board on the following turn, paving the way for a massive Broodmate Dragon and mate to take over the skies. Orsini Jones was at a pretty high total thanks to Ajani Goldmane and Knight of Meadowgrain, but 8 points of flying damage would quickly remedy that. Nassif was dropped to 7 on Orsini Jones’s next attack, but he was also playing off the top of his deck. One of those cards on the top happened to be a Path to Exile, which actually created a bit of a problem for Nassif. His clock had been halved and his hand, while containing a Wrath of God to deal with the Tender if need be, was fairly dry beyond that.

The two players attacked each other and passed the turn a few times before the game had to change. Orsini Jones dropped Nassif to one. Nassif swung back and dropped Orsini Jones to 4. Nassif’s answer to the rampaging Forge-Tender? Wispmare. The 1/3 blocker was just what the doctor ordered. When Orsini Jones tried to clog the skies with a Spectral Procession, Nassif had a Negate. Orsini Jones was forced to sacrifice his Forge-Tender to survive the turn, and during his draw step, Nassif used an Esper Charm to make him discard his last two cards and force the concession.

Gabriel Nassif 2, Matteo Orsini Jones 1

Game 4

Orsini Jones started this game out with another Windbrisk Heights. He had yet to activate one this match despite having as many as three in play at a time. The customary second-turn Bitterblossom followed it and started in on both players’ life totals. Orsini Jones’s near perfect start continued as a Thoughtseize stripped an Infest from a hand with two Esper Charms, Broken Ambitions, and a Volcanic Fallout followed immediately by a Burrenton Forge-Tender. Nassif used an Esper Charm to kill the Bitterblossom before it could make more than a single token. Orsini Jones rounded things off nicely with a Tidehollow Sculler to strip a Broken Ambitions from an identical hand.

Nasif started digging for gold with an Esper Charm on his next turn. Orsini Jones started this game incredibly strong, and Nassif was going to need something good to take control before it was too late. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t able to kill any of Orsini Jones’s three creatures before he got a chance to attack with them. After the trio attacked, Orsini Jones used his initial Windbrisk Heights, one of only three lands, to play a Cloudgoat Ranger, which vomited creatures into play.

With Nassif’s Fallout being held at bay by the Forge-Tender, it was going to be up to a Wrath to clear the board or his last Infest to clear it down to the Cloudgoat Ranger. He used an Esper Charm to draw two cards and then passed the turn. It looked like the sorceries were out of the question, at least this turn. Orsini Jones played a second Windbrisk Heights and a Scepter of Fugue. He wouldn’t get to activate either, fortunately for him. Nassif had one more draw step to find an answer. He put the top card of his deck on the table and slowly slid it towards him before snapping it into his hand. As soon as he saw that it wasn’t what he was looking for, he conceded.

Gabriel Nassif 2, Matteo Orsini Jones 2

Game 5

Nassif keeps his cool in his umpteenth premier event Top 8.

Both players shuffled up for the final game of this match in relative silence. Neither player had been incredibly talkative up to this point, and with so much on the line here, the silence became tangible. Nassif was on the play for the final game, and the only other game this match in which he’d gotten to play first was a victory, so it seemed to be in his favor. His initial draw, however, was sadly not in his favor, as he was forced to drop to six cards for the most important game of the match. His next six were much better, and he started things off with a Vivid Meadow.

Orsini Jones had his own white-producing land that comes into play tapped. Last game was the first time he had gotten to activate a Windbrisk Heights, and the Cloudgoat Ranger he got from it was instrumental in racing Nassif’s draw step. He tried for a second-turn Tidehollow Sculler, but it was met with a Remove Soul. The Spectral Procession he played next gave him away around any more of those, and the three fliers he got gave him a way to activate his Windbrisk Heights, should they get to attack.

When Orsini Jones tried to Thoughtseize before attacking on his next turn, Nassif seriously had to think. He had a Cryptic Command and many options. After a good three minutes or so of thought, he decided to simply let it resolve. Orsini Jones didn’t think too long before taking the Broodmate Dragon and leaving the two Cryptic Commands alone. When he went to play his Windbrisk Heights spell, an Ajani Goldmane, Nassif decided that it was the spell he really wanted to counter.

Orsini Jones attacked again on the following turn, and Nassif thought for a few minutes before deciding against dropping his Plumeveil in to block. When he got to counter an Elspeth, Knight Errant after combat, he was glad he did. A second Windbrisk Heights came down for Orsini Jones, giving him another card if he got another attack in with his Spirits. Nassif thought for a good long time before deciding to deny him the chance to do that by clearing the board away with Infest.

Orsini Jones still had a handful of cards, and he went to replace the army he’d just lost by tapping out for a Cloudgoat Ranger. Nassif was ready with a Broken Ambitions for one, much to the delight of the viewers on the other side of the event hall.

“I guess they liked the Ambitions,” Orsini Jones said with a weak smile.

He decided to see what else Nassif had hiding in his hand with a Thoughtseize on the following turn. Nassif drew a couple of cards with Esper Charm before turning his Plumeveil / Cryptic Command / land hand over to Orsini Jones to look at. Orsini Jones didn’t even hesitate before taking the Cryptic Command. He followed that up with a pair of Burrenton Forge-Tenders which, combined with his Mutavault, gave him the three creatures necessary to turn on his Heights. He activated Mutavault and attacked. Nassif made his Plumeveil to block, but before he could push it in the way, Orsini Jones pushed it out of the way with a Path to Exile from the Heights.

Nassif was at 8 and taking 4 a turn. Before Orsini Jones dropped Nassif to 4, he Thoughtseized him, revealing a Reflecting Pool. Orsini Jones was one turn away from advancing to the Semifinals, and Nassif only had one draw to find something to stop him.

Nassif put his top card in front of him, face down, and then went about arranging his lands.

“I’m preparing my Cruel Ultimatum mana.”

He slowly peeled the card back before snapping it into his hand and hiding it behind his Reflecting Pool, all without looking at it. He then dropped the Reflecting Pool, tapped seven mana, and blindly dropped his card onto the table. The roar from the spectator packed observation area threatened to level the Arena with a wall of sound.

Nassif had topdecked the Cruel Ultimatum he had set up the mana for.

The stupid grin that seems to be the human body’s natural reaction to BEING ABSOLUTELY AMAZING still had yet to fade from his face. Barely audible under the still raucous crowd in the next room, Nassif simply managed to utter, “Ridiculous.”

After resolving the superfluously cruel Ultimatum, Orsini Jones and Nassif exchanged fortunes, and within one more turn, and under the crushing wings of a pair of Dragons, Orsini Jones finally fell in one of the most epic finishes to a match I’ve ever witnessed.

Gabriel Nassif defeats Matteo Orsini Jones 3-2 and advances to the Semifinals!

Nassif's Called Shot

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