Sunday March 4: 5:55 p.m. - Quarterfinals: Osamu Fuijta vs. Olivier Ruel
by Ted Knutson
The brothers Ruel put their heads together…
It took Olivier Ruel all of three tournaments back on the Tour to return to form and start Top 8'ing events again. Joined by his brother and Raphael Levy in the Top 8, they now have to do battle against 5 Japanese players, making this a pure Japan vs. France battle. Ruel's deck is a spicy one, sporting all sorts of new Balancing Tings technology, but sitting across from him is a Fujita, and "technology" is the family's middle name. Tsuyoshi's latest creation is Deadguy Boros, yet another Extended beatdown deck meant to take advantage of metagame inefficiencies, and it looks like it is working. Ruel faced Tsuyoshi Ikeda earlier in the weekend (who played an identical 75 to Osamu), an managed to defeat him 2-0, but admitted that he might have just gotten lucky. He'll have to do it again if he hopes to progress past the quarterfinals.
Fujita had to mulligan his first hand, but still was able to play Isamaru, Hound of Konda on turn 1 followed by Icatian Javlineers and Grim Lavamancer. Oli was happy to see a pair of Lotus Blooms in his opening hand, but would need to draw some business spells soon with Osamu getting off to a fast start. Osamu got Oli down to 6 on turn 3, and then Ruel made a small mistake with which mana he used to activate Sensei's Divining Top, cast Balancing Act, sacrificed all his lands in response, and cast Anurid Brushopper. Osamu responded by casting Lightning Helix, and flashing back Lava Dart to drop Ruel to 2. It took Osamu four turns to draw the two lands he needed, but Oli died to Lightning Helix before the Brushopper could get there.
Fujita 1 - Ruel 0
Both players kept their opening 7 in game 2, with Ruel again suspending Lotus Bloom on turn 1, matched by Grim Lavamancer from Fujita. Ruel suspended a second Bloom on turn 2, but Kataki, War's Wage would make their use a bit more interesting. Insidious Dreams on turn 3 from Ruel showed how Tings has changed recently, since he stacked Draco on top of his deck and then used the Erratic Explosion already in his hand to make Osamu pay for using Ravnica dual lands in his manabase. "Take 16!" almost invariably seems to bring a quick end to games.
…but could not overcome clan Fujita.
Fujita 1 - Ruel 1
Fujita was undeterred by the outcome of the last game, starting off by taking 3 from his mana base and casting Savannah Lions on turn 1, and double suspending a pair of Rift Bolts on turn 2. Orim's Chant during Fujita's upkeep was a filthy double Healing Salve, and saved him from at least one extra turn of Jotun Grunt beatings. Balancing Act on turn reset the board with Ruel at a healthy 14. Both players quickly rebuilt, with Fujita using Molten Rain to try and buy that one extra turn he would need to burn Ruel out. With his life at 5, Oli was forced to act, or at least it looked like he was, but he simply Topped and passed the turn. Luckily Fujita also did not have any action, swinging for 1 with his Lavamancer before saying , "Go." Oli scoffed. "Exactly what I did not want to hear… 'Go.'" At the end of Fuijta's turn, Ruel cast Insidious Dreams for 3, but Osamu responded with a slowrolled Char for Oli's last 4 life.
Fujita 2 - Ruel 1
Sunday March 4: 7:31 p.m. - Semifinals: Rapael Levy vs. Antoine Ruel
by Jun-Wei Hew
Raphael Levy vs. Antoine Ruel
They traveled half way across the world to play. Neither player needs much of an introduction, with Raphael Levy coming off a hot streak from a victory in Dallas. His Top 8 presence here gives him the chance to clinch back-to-back Grand Prix titles, but in the meantime, he had to deal with Antoine Ruel. This semifinal match features the Domain Zoo mirror, undoubtedly a matchup that has seen play several times over this weekend.
This particular match is the pure 75-card mirror, making things even more interesting.
One facet of the Domain Zoo mirror is that, at least for the first few turns of the game, it's arguable whether you deal more damage to yourself than your opponent. Mana management becomes an understudy of life and time management even more so in this matchup than any other.
Grim Lavamancers came out on both sides, Antoine's having the advantage from two fetchlands compared to Raphael's one, but Raphael's Tribal Flames took care of the opposing Lavamancer before it came online.
Over the next few turns, the board developed into a biological food chain of sorts- Antoine's Isamaru would not get past Raphael's Kird Ape, which in turn would not get past Antoine's newly summoned Wild Mongrel. However, Raphael still held onto his advantage outside of combat in his Grim Lavamancer, taking out Isamaru before Watchwolf joined in.
Sending Wild Mongrel in, Raphael made the logical block of the sole Watchwolf, which was then disposed of courtesy of Gaea's Might. His own Wild Mongrel came in to replace the fallen wolf, along with Kird Ape to help things out.
Wild Mongrel smashed into Wild Mongrel, Raphael's taking out Antoine's without much of a fuss. He then used Grim Lavamancer to take out Antoine's Swiftblade, leaving him with just a lone Kird Ape, before going in for the kill with Jotun Grunt and Isamaru.
Antoine, still stuck at two hand, revealed the creatures still stuck in his hand.
Levy 1 - Ruel 0
Sideboarding in any mirror is always interesting, particularly when both players are bringing the exact same 75 to the table.
Surprisingly enough, both players sideboarded nearly exactly- they each took out one copy of Boros Swiftblade, Savannah Lions, Sudden Shock, but Raphael took out Brute Force, while Antoine chose Breeding Pool. The choice of a single card now separated the two decks.
Antoine started out the second game drawing out a Firebolt from Raphael's hand via Isamaru, before his Grim Lavamancer hit the table. Unfortunately, Raphael took that out with a Tribal Flames.
Jotun Grunt came down on Antoine's side, which was then matched by Raphael's own Grim Lavamancer and Isamaru cheering him on.
It was then that the realization that this was the first time Antoine has brought a pure aggressive deck to the table hit, as he commented at how disoriented he felt at having just three cards in hand on turn two.
Antoine sent the Jotun Grunt into the red zone, daring Raphael to block. Both players had green up, suggesting a tradeoff in Gaea's Might. Raphael chose to play it safe, blocking with Isamaru before using Gaea's Might to save it after damage was put on the stack. That left his Grim Lavamancer open for Antoine's Lightning Helix to take out.
The life totals stood at 18 to 14 in Antoine's favour.
Raphael Levy can't be beat.
Looking to even things a little, Raphael sent Isamaru into the red zone, playing Boros Swiftblade and Kird Ape to add to his forces. Antoine's Firebolt took care of the Swiftblade, and he served with his Grunt, eager to milk it before the cumulative upkeep clock struck. With no blocks, Antoine Gaea's Might'ed into a free 8 damage, taking Raphael down to 6.
Raphael then drew an Umezawa's Jitte to swing back into the game, but did not have the mana to equip it onto anything just yet. Antoine paid for his Jotun Grunt for the last time, before deciding that he ought to Cloak up the Grunt to force through what damage he could, and give him a larger buffer before the Jitte got too out of hand. Kird Ape soaked up some of the damage from the impending Grunt, leaving Raphael at 5.
Isamaru took up Umezawa's Jitte and swung. After Raphael used one counter, Antoine looked to possibly hold things off a little bit more with another Jotun Grunt, but Tribal Flames dispatched it, leaving Raphael with a very angry Isamaru with a Jitte, now standing at three counters.
Antoine, now exhausted out of resources, could not stop the Jitte from doing its work. His last draw step coughed up Gaea's Might, which he decided would be put to better use on Raphael's impending Isamaru. Not to be outdone just yet, Raphael played along, pumping it with the Jitte and playing a Gaea's Might of his own.
A 16/16 Isamaru, Hound of Konda led the way for Raphael into the finals, where he is now ready to play for a potential second Grand Prix title in a row.
Levy 2 - Ruel 0
Sunday March 4: 8:39 p.m. - Finals: Shingo Kurihara vs. Raphael Levy
by Ted Knutson
Shingo Kurihara is playing for all the marbles.
"Is this a good matchup for you?" asked Levy. "So so," replied Kurihara. "You think so?" Levy replied that he was uncertain, but Raph has been almost unbeatable for the last two weeks, so he had to feel like he held an advantage, at least with this particular deck in hand.
Since picking up the Domain Zoo deck from Olivier in Dallas, Levy has gone on a ridiculous tear and now has a chance to become one of the few Magic players in history to win back-to-back Grand Prix titles. To do so, he must defeat the latest Japanese ascendant, Shingo Kurihara. This is Kurihara's first Grand Prix Top 8, but it comes directly on the heels of a Pro Tour Top 8 he earned last month in Geneva, in an entirely different format, no less. Kurihara is playing the other story of this event (besides Levy's run), the latest version of Balancing 'Tings. Akira Asahara's favorite deck has once again hit the big time, placing all three players running the deck in the Top 9 (Shuuhei Nakamura missed the Top 8 with it on tiebreakers). Everyone running the deck has admitted it is extremely difficult to play correctly, but the performance of those players cannot be denied - like Domain Zoo, it's a clear player in the Extended metagame.
Kurihara won the die roll to start the finals, but had to mulligan his first hand. Levy opened with Kird Ape and then Watchwolf, dropping to 14 from his lands. An attack from the animals and then Tribal Flames for 5 dropped Kurihara to 8 before the young Japanese player wiped the board with Balancing Act. Levy rebuilt, but more land damage evened the life score at 8 a piece while allowing Levy to cast Jotun Grunts. A swing from the Grunts and Gaea's Might made Levy's low life total irrelevant.
Levy 1 - Kurihara 0
Kurihara didn't appear flustered while shuffling for game 2. After all, he did beat Levy during the swiss, and was 2-0 against the archetype in general on the weekend. Raph was obviously just happy to be that much closer to back-to-back Grand Prix wins. One more game, and another title would be his.
Raphael makes it two!
Levy looked at his opening five cards of Boros Swiftblade, double Might and double Tribal Flames, and shed a tiny little tear when his final two cards did not turn up a land. "Well, that's a heartbreaker right there." His next six cards delivered the goods, and Raph cast Grim Lavamancer on turn 1, then Meddling Mage naming Insidious Dreams on turn 2. Gaea's Might on the attacking 'Mancer and Mage threatened to hit for 8, but Moment's Peace fogged the way. Levy just shrugged and threw five points of burn at Kurihara's head instead. The game slowed a bit, with Levy choosing to slowly press his advantage while saving up cards in hand for a recovery. Kurihara rawdogged a Terravore onto the table, forcing Levy to rethink what was really going on. Raph aimed a Lavamancer at the 3/3 Vore, removing two of his own lands and forcing Kurihara to sacrifice two lands to save it, and then flash back Moment's Peace to save himself from burn. A curious play indeed. Levy chose to simply cast Jotun Grunts and pass the turn.
The next turn was where things got interesting. With Kurihara at 12 and with Levy holding Gaea's Might and Brute Force in his hand, he could possibly win on this turn barring either Moment's Peace or Quicken plus Balancing Act. Instead of pushing, Raph waited another turn to kill the 'Vore with his Grunt upkeep. Another turn of inaction from Kurihara, and Raph pushed his men into the red zone, tossed Gaea's Might onto his Grunts, and Kurihara conceded. Levy played it cautious to guarantee his win, but in reality Kurihara was a punching bag for the entire final game.
"It took me nine years to win another one, and now I've won two in two weeks. This is ridiculous."
Raphael Levy is the winner of Grand Prix-Singapore 2007!