As I sat to begin covering this match, Thomas summed up what both players were feeling quite well.
"Whoo! Playing for Top 8. . ."
Sure, they were playing for Top 8, which should have been exciting, but they were playing for Top 8. No freebies here.
Before the match, Thomas noticed that some of Shuhei's sleeves had begun to get fingernail marks from shuffling, and Nakamura had to replace a few of his sleeves. Remember kids, replacing your sleeves is a lot easier on you than getting a game loss. After spending a few minutes re-sleeving his deck, Shuhei sighed and smiled at the peanut gallery that was starting to form.
Thomas Refsdal of Norway and Shuhei Nakamura of Japan fight hard to make Top 8.
Thomas began this marathon match with an ideal first-turn Cephalid Illusionist courtesy of a Chrome Mox
. Shuhei applied the brakes immediately with a Tormod's Crypt
before Thomas could even get a chance to target his Illusionist once. A single Crypt wasn't going to be enough to stop Thomas's deck, though, and on his next turn, he Living Wish
ed for a Harmonic Sliver
. He also slung a Cabal Therapy
at Shuhei naming Cabal Therapy
. All Thomas had seen from Shuhei thus far was a Hallowed Fountain
and a Tormod's Crypt
. He knew that a portion of the Japanese players were playing Scepter-Chant, and he decided to take a swing. When he saw the Urza's Power Plant
in Shuhei's hand, he knew he had been wrong.
Shuhei played a Skycloud Expanse on his next turn and used it to play an Engineered Explosives for two. Now, Shuhei had Thomas's graveyard on lockdown with his Crypt and was threatening to clear away his Cephalid. Thomas had a difficult decision to make, and eventually he decided that he would have a better chance of winning the game by keeping his Cephalid around and used his Sliver to destroy Shuhei's Explosives. His Sliver served double duty by helping to flashback a Cabal Therapy aimed at the copy of Thirst for Knowledge in Shuhei's hand.
Thomas's next turn had about the worst draw he could have: Sutured Ghoul. It didn't prevent him from winning (though Crypt was going to make things tough), but it didn't help him get out of his bind in the slightest. When Shuhei played Thirst for Knowledge during Thomas's end of turn the turn after having one Therapy'd away, all Thomas could say was "good draw."
The first piece of Shuhei's 'Tron came down on the following turn, and he played a Chalice of the Void for one to keep Shuko off the board. He furthered his dominance over Thomas's combo with a Meddling Mage naming Dread Return. With his combo pretty effectively shut down for now, Thomas rolled with the punches, changed gears, and started to get his beat on. Tarmogoyf hit the table and drew a Wrath of God from Shuhei.
A Simian Spirit Guide came down for the Norwegian on his next turn, springing forth to replace the fallen Goyf. Shuhei had a 2/2 of his own, and his new Meddling Mage came to lock Dread Return down again. The next few turns saw Thomas attempting to build his army with a Living Wish, but a Condescend from Shuhei stopped a Phantom Centaur before it could have any kind of impact on the game. After Shuhei played a Decree of Justice (I said played, not cycled) for one, Thomas played through another turn before conceding to the unstoppable clock.
Nakamura 1, Refsdal 0
Shuhei's early Tormod's Crypt really set the tone that game. Thomas could have had all the pieces he needed thanks to Living Wish, but he was unable to get his combo going because of the Crypt. Instead of spending his first Living Wish on a creature with a repeatable ability, like an Outrider en-Kor, he was forced to grab the Harmonic Sliver instead. Then to make matters worse, the following Engineered Explosives forced him to kill it instead of the Crypt, which would have been almost meaningless to Thomas with no Cephalid. He correctly abandoned his combo and started to try to apply pressure with large creatures, but Shuhei was always ready with some sort of answer. This was a perfect example of having all the answers at the right time, and having redundancy to boot.
A doubleLeyline of the Void from Shuhei was serious business to start the next game, especially considering that Thomas had the perfect turns one and two. Shuko and Cephalid Illusionist were going to need a bit of help to get out from under the Leylines' lock. Thomas had answers to a single Leyline available to him, but the second was going to be trouble.
Shuhei played a morph on his turn and then passed the action back to Thomas. Thomas thought for a good amount of time before coming to the conclusion that he had nothing he could do right now. He sighed a bit and let Shuhei get in the first attack. Nakamura was more than happy to oblige and drew first blood with his still facedown morph, as well as playing a Tormod's Crypt. This seemed like a depressing repeat of Game 1 for Thomas with the ability to go off there, but with Shuhei having the perfect answers again.
At the end of Nakamura's turn, Thomas started the process of getting through the sea of hate to find a way to win, with an Eladamri's Call fetching a Harmonic Sliver. The Sliver came into play, but rather than destroying a card aimed at Thomas's graveyard, he chose to kill Shuhei's Chrome Mox. Shuhei had not been able to find a land drop for his previous turn, and since his only lands were a Tolaria West and an Urza's Tower, his access to colored mana was shaky at best.
Thomas revealed his master plan next turn. Eladamri's Call got a Daru Spiritualist, which, combined with his freshly played Starlit Sanctum and first-turn Shuko, would put his life total out of reach. After deciding that the best way for him to represent his life total was in scientific notation, Thomas let Shuhei have a crack at finding an alternate way to win.
"And now the beating begins."
Shuhei did manage to find a way out of his mana slump, but he was going to have some work cut out for him. Without a Mindslaver, it would be near impossible for him to win the game. Thomas went on the offensive, if you can call it that. Dragon's Breath on his Illusionist and a Shuko on his Sliver made his tiny men in to, well, slightly less tiny men. Still, Shuhei had nothing in play and wasn't fortunate enough to have a bazillion life, so the clock started ticking.
A Fact or Fiction from Shuhei netted him two more pieces of his 'Tron (though he was still an Urza's Mine short) as well as an Academy Ruins and a Meddling Mage, as opposed to another Fact or Fiction. The Meddling Mage locked down Living Wish and was too valuable to be sacrificed frivolously in combat. Thomas's subsequent swing knocked Shuhei down to single digits for the first time. Honestly, four permanents combining for 4 damage is pretty funny to me. At least Thomas could pump his Dragon's Breath for a couple extra points. Unfortunately, Thomas had to go and ruin my fun by playing a real threat—Phantom Centaur.
Shuhei kept digging to try and get some answers. Another good Fact or Fiction
split gave him three lands and a Threads of Disloyalty
instead of a Wrath of God
. When Thomas sent his team in, Shuhei traded his new Meddling Mage
and the morph from earlier that he had yet to be able to flip (it was an Exalted Angel
) for Thomas's Sliver and a counter from Phantom Centaur
. That Centaur was going to be a problem, especially with Shuhei at a mere 6 life.
Shuhei finally managed to grab the mine needed to finish off his 'Tron on his next turn, and he used his new surplus of mana to play a Sundering Titan and steal Thomas's Cephalid with Threads of Disloyalty. An Eladamri's Call fetched him a Tarmogoyf, who was actually quite big despite only being able to use Shuhei's graveyard. Thomas fleshed his team out nicely over the next few turns with another Tarmogoyf and a Simian Spirit Guide. Shuhei managed fairly well, for his part, with a morph sure to be an Exalted Angel and an Engineered Explosives for two.
At this point in the game, both players were just stalling the ground out, and, with time rapidly expiring, it seemed as though it would be possible for Shuhei to win this match 1-0. Thomas had to find a way to punch through the giant Sundering Titan shoring up the ground defense, as well as deal with an Exalted Angel that had just come online and put Shuhei on 10.
As appears to be a common trend in my feature matches, things then got very interesting, very fast. On Thomas's next turn, he played a Living Wish for a Harmonic Sliver and Shuhei played a Meddling Mage the turn after. About this time, my computer died (feature matches today were done without access to power), and I had to have a pad of paper brought to me so I could finish my notes. While all of this was happening, Shuhei seemed to have picked the card for his Meddling Mage. When Thomas tried to play his freshly Wished for Harmonic Sliver, Shuhei stopped him and pointed to his Meddling Mage.
At this point, a judge had to be called over. Apparently, depending on which spectators you talked to, Shuhei either named a card or didn't, either pointed to the Eladamri's Call in Thomas's removed from game pile or didn't, and either said "Harmonic Sliver" or didn't. Being the consummate reporter I am, I was so busy catching up on what I missed by not having a computer that I missed exactly what had happened. Bad coverage reporter!
As expected, Head Judge Jaap Brouwer came over for the second time to visit a feature match I was covering. I get all the interesting matches! After an eternity of pulling aside all potential witnesses inside the feature area, Jaap pulled Shuhei away from the table and began a judge conference. After a great amount of deliberation, Jaap and Shuhei returned to the feature match with Shuhei visibly upset. Jaap's ruling in this situation was that the most consistent and conclusive evidence he could collect was that Shuhei had indicated the Eladamri's Call, and that was what the Meddling Mage was going to be set to.
For the second feature match in a row, an important rules issue has been brought to light that I hope you readers have learned something from. If there is ever a question involving a language barrier, make absolutely sure that both players are in agreement about intentions. As Magic's international presence continues to be strong, the potential for a language barrier is always going to exist. It is the players' responsibility to make sure all parties agree on any potential points of discrepancy. Judges can be of great use here. When in doubt, just call them over early. The reason the Pro Tour is equipped with so many bilingual judges is to prevent issues like this from affecting the spirit of the game.
Sorry for the tangent, but I think things like this are very important to know for any of you that plan on playing even at the Grand Prix level. Now, back to the action.
The Harmonic Sliver that Thomas was now able to play came down and shattered the Sundering Titan that was plugging up the ground. Now that the monster was gone, Thomas began his attacks. Shuhei used his Tormod's Crypt on himself to clear all graveyards and negate the two Tarmogoyfs on Thomas's side. Even still, he had no choice but to trade his two blockers for Thomas's Simian Spirit Guide and his Phantom Centaur's next to last counter. Since he took no damage, Shuhei was able to attack Thomas, bringing himself up to 14, and play another face-down Exalted Angel. It appeared that Shuhei would soon be able to gain enough life to pull away.
Thomas used another Living Wish to get a Darksteel Colossus that he had no intention of ever playing. In fact, it created a situation I've become all too familiar with over the last few days. Thanks to the perpetual nature of the Colossus, it was now impossible for Shuhei to win (with both his life total and his deck now unable to run out), provided the game was able to beyond the time limit. However, Magic has a time limit put in place for situations like this (thank God). It's kind of unfortunate to be able to set up a situation an opponent can't escape but still be unable to win in time, but just try and imagine the implications of a world with no time limit (feel free to use that for the next "What If?" Week).
Shuhei was now gaining a positive amount of life each turn, which was going to take him to a load of life, though much slower than Thomas had. Due to his steadily growing life total and Thomas's drained artifact and enchantment removal, there was no way to finish the second game in time.
Nakamura 1, Refsdal 0