Welcome to the first round of Pro Tour–Hollywood! The stars have really come out today, and the feature match had some of the biggest names in the game set to do battle. Jon Finkel sat across the sunken feature match area fresh off his win at PT–Kuala Lumpur. The next table over featured another old-school face of American Magic who has been through a bit of a revival as of late: Midwesterner, PT–Geneva Champion, and all-around good guy Mike Hron. His opponent was no slouch either. Reigning Rookie of the Year Yuuya Watanabe is no stranger to the bright lights of the Feature Match area, and certainly not fazed by high profile opponents.
With all of this action, I found myself drowning in a pool of talent without a life preserver. I needed to sit down. As I caught my breath, I realized I had found the feature match I wanted to cover. It was a matchup that was sure to be repeated time and again this weekend, featuring two of the defining decks of the format. Christoph Huber, the Swiss player who recently ran his way to the number one seed of the Top 8 of Worlds, was running a green-black Elf-based deck that has been making a statement throughout the qualifier season. Across the table was Shouta Yasooka, one of the shining stars of Japanese Magic right now with multiple GP Top 8s, including a recent one at Kitakyuushuu. He was running the iconic Faerie deck that has come to dominate players’ minds going into this tournament. If a deck can’t beat Faeries, it seems, it’s going to require some sort of divine providence to make it to the last day of play.
The first game started off rather inauspiciously as both Huber and Yasooka mulliganed, with Huber going to six while Yasooka went to five. Huber started off with a turn-one Thoughtseize
, stripping Yasooka of a Mistbind Clique
. His turn-three Imperious Perfect off a freshly played Mutavault was met by a Rune Snag from the Japanese player. Another Thoughtseize
on the following turn completed the decimation of Yasooka’s hand by removing a Remove Soul
. All Yasooka was left with at this point was an Underground River
and a Mystical Teachings
that, without anything to contribute to the board, may be too slow to do anything really useful. After leaving Yasooka with virtually nothing, Huber added another difficult threat to deal with via Kitchen Finks
The Finks are going to be one of the big stories this weekend. They’re an incredibly potent threat that is difficult for most decks to remove. They survive Damnation. They trade with everything at least once. They provide life gain and a blocker against the red decks that are perfect for wresting control of the game. They’re very reminiscent of Spike Feeders. They have an immediate impact on the game as well as a legacy that haunts the board after they’re first removed.
Turn five found another Mutavault for Huber, as well as a 5-point attack. All Yasooka could do was eat the damage and Teachings for a Terror to try to slow the bleeding. He managed to find a good card for his situation during his next draw step. Bitterblossom would provide him a new creature every turn without having to expend any resources other than his life. After playing the Bitterblossom, Yasooka had three lands back, one of which was a Mutavault, which would allow him to deal with two of Huber’s threats during the next attack.
Huber, unafraid of the potential trades he was forcing, sent his Mutavault and the Finks over to Yasooka’s side. As predicted, Yasooka activated his Mutavault and was poised to trade it with Huber’s, as well as Terroring the Finks. However, Huber had a Slaughter Pact to remove the opposing Vault before it could be declared as a blocker. Yasooka had no choice but to use it for mana and just Terror away the Finks. Even though the Finks made a second appearance for Huber, Yasooka’s blossoming Faeries would be able to send the Finks to the trash can for good when they next attacked. Huber continued to grow his army with another Kitchen Finks, as well as a second Mutavault. All Yasooka could do was take a tick from his Bitterblossom and suspend an Ancestral Visions that might never see the light of play.
Huber paid for his Pact, activated one of his Mutavaults, and sent his team into the red zone. The new Faerie Rogue token blocked the lowercase finks, and the resulting damage dropped him to 6. A Bitterblossom point then dropped him to 5. Things were not looking good. On his next attack, Huber went for the jugular. Both Mutavaults came online, ready to team up with the Capital Finks to finish the Japanese player off. However, a Mistbind Clique threw a wrench in the works. It allowed Yasooka to champion the Bitterblossom, removing the deadly clock as well as tapping the man-lands and keeping the Finks in the kitchen. Not a bad Time Walk, but there was still the little fact of being way behind to address.
After a few more turns of squat from Yasooka and more creatures from Huber, Shouta conceded.
Huber 1, Yasooka 0
Persist in an incredibly powerful mechanic, and in that last game it lived up to the hype it’s been generating. Having to deal with the Finks twice if he was going to at all forced Yasooka to Terror off Mutavaults, which was he would rather have kept around since it was less damage he would take, as well as a method of tying up Huber’s mana. Even when he did manage to kill the Finks, it just came back in a slightly smaller form—one that was still able to trade with most of Yasooka’s men.
The second game featured another mulligan from Huber, along with another first-turn Thoughtseize, which stripped Yasooka of his Damnation, leaving him a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, Terror, Secluded Glen, and Island. A third-turn Imperious Perfect stripped him of his Terror as well. Turn four brought Yasooka a Mutavault and a Bitterblossom that had managed to avoid being Thoughtseized. Early Bitterblossom with no real threats from Huber was definitely a point in Yasooka’s favor. All Huber had to match it was a Treetop Village. Yasooka also showed him his plan for dealing with the persistent Kitchen Finks: Remove Soul. You don’t get to return to the field if you never see it in the first place.
Thanks to Treetop Village, though, Huber was still able to get some threats into play. By turn seven, Yasooka had three Faerie tokens, and his mounting army was looking to take this game home. Huber’s Treetops were big, but with Yasooka always passing his turn with mana, it was too much of a commitment for him to try to race at this point. A timely Terror or Mistbind Clique would take this game and push it clean out of reach. Huber tried to get a permanent threat on the board, but his Chameleon Colossus got bogged down in a double Rune Snag.
Huber kept trying to add men to his army by playing a Bramblewood Paragon, leaving himself three mana open. When Yasooka used his mana at the end of turn to play his Teferi, as Huber was expecting, he took advantage of the opportunity to Squall Line for one, killing all the pretty Faeries. Teferi came across for some beats on the following turn, picking up where the blossomed Faeries left off. When Huber finally got a main phase, he killed the pesky mage with a Slaughter Pact. He then sent his Paragon and a Treetop Village in at Yasooka, who had his own Slaughter Pact for the Ape land. Yasooka was sitting at a comfortable 14, while Huber was sitting on a perilous 8, and facing down an ever growing army. After Oona, Queen of the Fae hit play on the following turn beside another Faerie Rogue token, Huber had had enough.
Yasooka 1, Huber 1
That game didn’t feature the best draws both players could have. Yasooka did manage to draw his Bitterblossom not too long after turn one, which was a huge benefit to him since he was able to avoid having it Thoughtseized while still getting it on the table in a timely manner. Early Bitterblossoms are incredibly difficult to beat. Add to that the lack of any real board presence from Huber in the early game, and the game firmly fell into Yasooka’s hands. Man-lands are incredibly powerful, but they’re an incredible investment, and against an early Bitterblossom, you need to be spending your mana on things that are going to stick around. It’s hard to win the race against Bitterblossom if your army doesn’t grow.
Both players mulliganed for the final game, which seemed to be a running theme for this feature match, and Huber’s draw was decidedly better. Playing Treetop Village, Bramblewood Paragon, and two Mutavaults over the first four turns was about as aggressive a start as his deck could spit out. Yasooka, meanwhile, couldn’t manage to find a third land. When one finally appeared on his fourth turn, he suspended an Ancestral Visions and evoked a Shriekmaw to kill the Paragon. He was at the halfway point, and 10 life might not be enough to see that Visions unsuspend.
Turn five brought an ImperiousPerfect for Huber, which served the dual purpose of giving him his own token generator, as well as making his man-lands a little more impressive. He sent one of his newly ‘roided Mutavaults in to drop Yasooka to 7. Things were looking grim. After finally drawing his fourth land, Yasooka took a few minutes to examine his options. After some deep deliberation, he finally sent the turn back to Huber.
Huber decided to take it a little slow, and opted to merely send his Perfect and a Mutavault at Yasooka. The Japanese player used Cryptic Command to bounce the Perfect and draw a card, which shrunk the damage he would take down to 2. Huber replaced his Perfect with a Chameleon Colossus and passed the turn back.
Yasooka was still unable to find a fifth land, and was facing down what seemed like too many threats to deal with. When Huber sent his Chameleon in the drop Yasooka to 1, a Cryptic command bounced it back to Huber’s hand. Yasooka stayed at 5, and Huber just played a Bramblewood Paragon and redropped the Colossus. On his turn, Yasooka just drew his card, played a land, and said go. When the lethal attack came next turn, Yasooka was forced to Cryptic Command again to tap Huber’s team and send the Colossus back up to his hand. Huber decided that since Yasooka was more or less tapped out, he’d go for the kill with a Squall Line for the last 5. A Pact of Negation did little more than delay the inevitable. Yasooka could either lose the game to his Pact, or to lethal damage on the next turn to being tapped out. He chose the honorable path, and succumbed to Huber’s army, which had sent just enough guys to kill Yasooka even if he had a Slaughter Pact.
Huber 2, Yasooka 1
I talked to Christoph a bit after the match about his deck. I had come into this event believing that his deck’s matchup against Faeries tended to favor the fae, but he was confident. “The matchup is pretty decent; that’s why I played it. Bitterblossom isn’t all that good against this deck. I have a lot of cheap 2/2 or bigger creatures, and creatures with trample.” Thoughtseize also played an important role in the match, since it effectively crippled Yasooka every time it resolved. “They have Damnation after the first game, which isn’t too bad to take. But Cryptic Command is by far the worst card for me, so I’d love to take one of those.”
Pro Tour-Hollywood 2008
Pro Tour-Hollywood 2008