ne of the best parts about competing on Sunday is that the day's rounds didn't begin until 11, which means the players here had the best shot yet at sleep coming into this morning, if they wanted it.
Max Bracht's first Pro Tour Top 8 started against a Level 6 mage
Well, okay, that's actually not a big deal for the players. I suppose competing for loads of cash and the chance at a champion's title may be on their mind more than how much bonus sleep they got.
Okay, fine. One of the best parts about writing event coverage is that Sunday's rounds don't begin until 11, which means us writershad the bet shot yet at sleep coming into this round.
There we go. Scott 1, Intro 0. (Though the fact that most of us were at a bar on the beach called Lulu's until well past midnight doesn't strengthen that angle very much, but how could you know about that?)
Which brings us to the matchup about to unfold before me and thousands of webcast watchers around the world. This one pits Olivier Ruel's aggressive Orzhov deck ("aggrorzhov" anyone? Anyone?) against Maximilian Bracht's Heartbeat of Spring combo deck.
From this point on it's single-elim, so it's win or go draft with the audience from here on out. These players have actually faced each other once already in this event: Bracht swept Olivier 2-0, though Olivier points out that he had to mulligan to five in one game, and six in the other.
As the players shuffled up and checked for mulligans we chatted a bit about the event. Bracht was pretty quiet, concentrating on his match, but Olivier was predictably chatty. As far as this matchup goes, he felt it could definitely go either way:
"It's so hard to say with this one. After his sideboard I have no idea what his plan will be, so the games could be very different. It's very hard to say how it could go."
For the first game it would be Olivier on the play, but it was Bracht with the first non-land card on the table: Sensei's Divining Top. Olivier had his own card advantage engine for turn two, playing out Bob Maher's Magic Invitational card, Dark Confidant, followed by a second copy of Bob after taking three from Bob 1 when it revealed Teysa. Bracht chuckled: "Maybe I don't have to do anything for the win!"
Bracht continued developing his mana a land and a Sakura-Tribe Elder. Olivier revealed Paladin en-Vec and Castigate, taking five and swinging with both. He joked with his opponent, "If you take them both and attack me back with the elder to try and race me I will definitely respect you." It was a joke, but Bracht went for a closely related strategy, blocking a Bob and sacking his Elder for a new land before damage was on the stack, keeping both Bob's in play, clearly committing himself to the plan of going straight for the French player's life total. Bracht got his fourth land, dropped to 16, and was hit by Castigate, revealing a healthy hand of Island, Recollect, Early Harvest, Invoke the Firemind, Drift of Phantasms. Early Harvest left the game, the Top continued to spin, and for his own turn Bracht went with land 5, Recollect and replay the Elder.
Down to 12, what would the Bob team reveal this time? The first one brought a sigh of relief from Olivier as a Swamp showed up. Smiling, he flipped the next one, and winced painfully as Okiba-Gang Shinobi jumped up to knock him down to a precarious 7 life. Olivier thought a bit, then sent his team in against the lone Elder, merrily spinning a face down card from his hand around in the red zone. Once blockers were declared, the card was revealed to be the ninja - of course.
At 16 life before damage, Bracht spent a long time thinking about this one, then decided to continue with the plan of sacrificing his Elder before damage to keep at least one Bob around for the possible win. Elder went to the 'yard, another land came into play, Top went back on his deck, and a Top and Drift of Phantasms joined the elder.
Bracht played land 7 and pointed Invoke the Firemind at his opponent's face for 4, dropping Olivier to just 3 life. Olivier called out the dire situation to his brother on one of the other quarterfinal tables, untapped and gingerly pulled down the next card like it was made of spun glass. An excruciatingly slow turn, and… Swamp! All of the air came out of Olivier, Jitte slammed onto the table, equipped the Ninja, used Castigate to get the last card from his tapped-out opponent, and in came with the team.
Excited to still be alive, Olivier misplayed here, since he could have used the mana to make another creature instead. (Castigate was basically useless, due to the Okiba-Gang.) As soon as the creatures attacked Olivier sheepishly acknowledged the play with a grin. Out of cards and down to 8 life, Bracht drew and cast Weird Harvest for everything he had, getting a fist of Walls and a Maga, but Olivier had the better answer with three Ravenous Rats, Okiba-Gang, and a Ghost Council. At the end of Bracht's turn Olivier made the most important play, using Jitte to off his Bob, at which point Bracht scooped 'em up and headed to his board.
Olivier 1, Bracht 0
Olivier mused over his deck and sideboard, looking at Bracht. "So now the match gets cool."
Surprising nobody, Bracht continued to be relatively quiet, letting Olivier do the talking for both of them. The French player pulled up his cards one by one and got to five with no land. "Ok, only if these last two are lands… They are! Keep!"
This game started off like the last, with Bob facing an Elder, with only the Top missing from the part. Elder thought about blocking Bob and Olivier couldn't resist. "Going for the same plan?" But this time Elder just sat there as Bob went charging by. Bracht untapped, dropped out a Top for turn 3, and passed the turn.
A second Bob was revealed, Ravenous Rats yanked a card, but no attack came this turn. Elder did his thing, followed by the Top doing its thing. With access to , Bracht went for Mountain. Olivier quipped "Hmm… looks more like the Savage Twister plan than Maga" … but it was Pyroclasm that reset the board. Land number five came out for Bracht, and so far everything looked to be going according to plan.
Stuck on three land, Olivier played out his next Bob, but this time it was Savage Twister lighting the little guy on fire. Next into the fray was Teysa, with Bracht still at a luxurious 20 life plus a Kodama's Reach to keep that mana ramping up.
At this point the action started up. Still desperately waiting for land No. 4, the best he could do was Castigate, taking Drift of Phantasms over Heartbeat of Spring. Bracht had to hold the Heartbeat, passing the turn after using a Savage Twister to clear the board, since it would help his mana-slow opponent too much for now. Land No. 4 showed up at last for Olivier. Okiba-Gang was no longer an option, but Cranial Extraction was. After a long pause, Olivier decided to go with Heartbeat, taking the opportunity to get a good long look at his opponent's current deck configuration, paying special attention to transmute options were available, kill spells left like Meloku, and the removal and counter tricks to play around. Bracht had nothing but a Reach.
Olivier played Dark Confidant and grinned. "Once again, your best chance is Dark Confidant."
"No, my best chance is twoDark Confidants."
"Hmm…Unfortunately you killed two already then."
Next came another Extraction. Counting all the lands on his opponent's side of the table, he pondered. "Which scares me the most?" This time it was Invoke the Firemind.
But during all this, Bracht continued working that Top like mad, slowly setting up the big turn if he could just get there. It swung back and forth, playing land and chump blockers, and the occasional mass removal or transmute for mass removal spell. Then, out of nowhere, it happened all at once, just the way this deck wants it to happen.
Thinking very long after a Ghost Council joined the table and very low on life, Bracht determined that he had it all set now. He tapped all his land, sent the Top to his deck, transmuted Drift of Phantasms to Early Harvest, transmuted Muddle the Mixture to Weird Harvest, untapped, cast Weird Harvest for 3 getting Drift, Drift, and Maga. Transmute the walls to more harvests, run the whole set of untaps, and go in for the kill with Maga for 29, leaving a smoking crater where a frustrated Olivier had just been sitting.
Olivier 1, Bracht 1
You're not surprising anyone, Olivier
This one started with Top for Bracht too.
"Sure, I play 4."
But this time it was Bob vs. the Vinelasher Kudzu. Teysa came out, and a 3/3 Elder swung in backed up by an Elder. Bob revealed a land. "Nice play that one."
"I have some points to compensate from that first game!"
It was a good old race. Both creatures charged in, Elder blocked and killed Bob, a land joined Bracht's side and a spirit token joined the Olivier squad, followed by Ghost Council, putting it at Olivier 16, Bracht 15.
Another land plus Elder and the 4/4 Vinelasher stayed on D as the Spirit token flew over, joined by Hand of Cruelty after Shrieking Grotesque ran into Remand. Vinelasher grew to 5/5 and ran in for a haymaker, followed by a sick Savage Twister clearing everything but the Kudzu. But Olivier had Seize the Soul, wiping out the threat and making a haunted token in the process.
He looked decent, but then it happened again a couple turns later. First it was Invoke the Firemind to draw a few cards, then transmute Muddle to for Pyroclasm to wipe the board. Meloku was summoned, making three tokens after falling to Mortify, but next came a Jitte and Olivier had no answer as the spirits charged in and put this one out of reach. As they went for their sideboards Olivier leveled up on the frustration scale, clearly going from headshaking to self-muttering.
Bracht 2, Olivier 1
For this one Bracht deliberately spread out his opening 7 in a smiley face.
For Game 4, it was Rusalka against just an Island, no Top this time.
Olivier had to win the next two to advance
"Yes, I'm not a top player after all."
Castigate came next, and Bracht could only reply: "That's very strong," revealing a hand of 2xRemand, Muddle, Reach, 2xForest and an Island. Muddle left the game. Next came Ravenous Rats, with Reach on the other side. Then Olivier played Arena, which looked very strong in this slower game, with little to no pressure coming from Bracht. Bracht was envious: "That's a nice one."
This one managed to swing back and forth a bit as Olivier struggled to get his game going stuck on four land for a very long time despite the Arena, while Bracht's deck managed to put out threats and removal. However, once Olivier's land starting rolling Bracht's game quickly collapsed as his creatures were destroyed and Olivier continued to convert his extra cards into answers and more pressure. Slay even made an appearance, wiping out a Kudzu, and in combination with cards like Seize the Soul it looked difficult indeed for Bracht to keep any kind of creature threat in place.
Olivier kicked it into overdrive, trying to put it away before it was too late by adding a Bob to his team. It was close as Olivier's life began dropping as well, but thanks to Ghost Council and careful management he was able to keep the pressure up without dropping too low. On the final turn Bob revealed another Ghost Council, dropping Olivier to 3. But, swing with everything, sac a guy to flip Council, play Council No. 2, Council No. 1 comes into play, and that was enough to put Bracht out of his misery.
Olivier 2, Bracht 2
And so, over two hours into the match, it was time for the finisher!
Going through his deck, a very relaxed Bracht smiled and said "I think I'm going to roll a die. I'm not going to tell you why." Olivier watched on with interest as a 14 came up. Bracht smiled and both players went back to their sideboards.
During the extensive shuffling and sideboarding, Olivier's brother came over to watch from the sidelines, fresh from getting creamed in his own quarterfinal match against Craig Jones. He gave his brother an exaggerated smile and a corresponding frowny face for Bracht. And, at last, it was time to play.
This game it was Olivier who had the smiley face pattern. "Hey, don't copy my moves!" Olivier started with the mouth, which revealed four spells. A sharp hiss, but the eyes and nose revealed only more spells, so it was back to shuffling.
Top again led the play for Bracht, with Castigate from Olivier after an Elder hit. The options were Top, Drift, or Reach. Reach went to the yard, and the second Top came out. Olivier looked slow too though, playing a Jitte and a tapped dual land, passing the turn. Bracht started doing his shuffle and Top dance, leading to a Meloku at 5 mana, but Seize the Soul stopped that plan.
Things looked scary when Heartbeat came out and Drift transmuted for Reach, with Bracht's last mana going into the top to set up those three new cards. But the game whipped around the other direction dramatically when Olivier sent his Spirit in and Okiba-Gang Shinobi leapt into play, against Bracht who had only two cards and had clearly had a plan all set in place.
The German player agonized terribly on this one, and it was clear as day he'd been all set if he'd just had the chance. With a Top in play, he had the option to move things around a bit to keep a card, if he needed it. Bracht took the longest turn of the match trying to figure out the best move for this decision. He ended up Topping, sending Reach and Heartbeat to the yard, but then Castigate came in too, a wrecking ball that stole the Early Harvest, Bracht's last card, as the German player's shoulders slumped about three inches. Now he was down to just whatever lay under his Top on the top of his deck. Almost an afterthought, with his final two mana, Olivier's Shinobi picked up the Jitte.
And more than two hours after they started, Ruel advanced to the semis
Draw, play Top, go. In comes the Shinobi, joined by a Ghost Council, putting the life at 13-17 in favor of Olivier.
Another draw, more Top spinning, and then Bracht spent so much time thinking and trying to figure out his options that he got confused how much mana he had, thinking he had cast the Top this turn. When it was confirmed he did have a in his pool still, he transmuted Muddle the Mixture to get Sakura-Tribe Elder, then used Top again. Out came Elder, peek again to get rid of the extra mana, go.
One of Jitte's counters encouraged Elder to head towards the nearest graveyard, sending a new Island into play for Bracht. In came Ninja and the Ghost Council (coming this Summer to a theater near you), putting Bracht at 4. Teysa hit the table, but far more crushing was Mortify for the Heartbeat. On his final turn Bracht put another Heartbeat out. With 3 land left he peeked at the last 3 on top with nothing in hand at all. A moment later he was extending the hand to congratulate Olivier on making the semis from a very hard-fought battle.
Olivier Ruel 3, Max Bracht 2