Semifinals: He's Got the Touch

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The letter M!ichael Jacob earned his way to the semifinals by rallying to beat Conrad Kolos in the quarterfinals. Thomas Drake got past 2005 U.S. National Champion Antonino De Rosa to earn his seat at this table. While those victories earned each player a spot on the U.S. National Team, they still had eyes on the grand prize.

Before the match, the players talked about their earlier games, and the testing they did into the wee hours. When Michael presented his deck, Thomas admitted he received a warning in the quarterfinals for accidentally flipping up a card while shuffling his opponent's deck. He didn't want to have it happen again and lose a semifinal game because of that. Thomas was mollified by the table judge, though he did avert his eyes when shuffling Michael's deck. He would do this the entire match.

The pair of Regionals invitees were living the dream at U.S. Nationals.

Game 1

Both players kept their hands, and Jacob led things off with a Boreal Druid. He used it to play a Silhana Ledgewalker on the second turn, then dropped a Treetop Village. Drake suspended a Riftwing Cloudskate and passed the turn. The Ledgewalker took him to 19, and Jacob beefed up his army with a Troll Ascetic. The Troll picked up a Moldervine Cloak next turn, and joined the Ledgewalker in the red zone. Drake fell to 12, but had Lightning Helix for the Druid on his own turn. Jacob swung for 7 again, leaving Drake at 8, and played a pair of Llanowar Elves.

Riftwing Cloudskate bounced one of the Elves, then jumped in front of the Cloaked Troll when Jacob attacked. Drake laid a Nimbus Maze and played Court Hussar. Jacob animated Treetop Village and attacked with it, his Troll, and the Ledgewalker. Drake flashed in a Venser, Shaper Savant, bouncing the Village, and blocked the Troll with Court Hussar. When the dust cleared, he was at 7. Next turn, Michael played Loxodon Warhammer, but lacked the mana to equip it. He attacked with his Troll and Ledgewalker; Venser blocked the former and Drake fell to 6.

Drake played another Venser (bouncing the Cloak), but tapped his lands incorrectly and wound up mana burning for 1. This left him at a precarious 5 life, which was driven home when Jacob played Giant Solifuge and swung with the troublesome insect, Troll, and Ledgewalker. Drake played a second Venser with a grin, putting them both in the graveyard as he scooped up his cards.

Jacob 1, Drake 0

Game 2

While considering their sideboard decisions, the players talked about the first game. Jacob decided to change two cards, while Drake put in six of his reserves.

Drake kicked things off with a Hallowed Fountain, while Jacob had a first-turn Llanowar Elves. Drake ramped up his mana with Boros Signet, and Jacob used the Elves to play Silhana Ledgewalker, then laid Treetop Village. Thomas laid Urza's Factory and made a Lightning Angel, which flung itself headlong into combat right away. Michael answered with a Scryb Ranger, which can block the Angel all day long, and made it beefier with Moldervine Cloak. Drake had another Signet to help his mana, along with a tapped Steam Vents. The 4/4 Scryb Ranger knocked him to 16, but a pair of Aven Riftwatchers brought him back up to 20.

Jacob's mono-green deck brought quick beats game after game.

Michael further accessorized his Scryb Ranger with a second Moldervine Cloak, and the subsequent bash for 7 sent Thomas to 13. Drake only dropped a Boros Garrison on his turn, and quickly found himself under attack from the Scryb Ranger and a newly-summoned Giant Solifuge. Each Aven took on an attacker, both birds died in the exchange, and since only 1 damage tramped over, Drake ended the combat at 16.

The next turn was vital to the game. Jacob animated his Treetop Village and got in there with his entire team, including all of his mana creatures. With lands and Signets aplenty, Drake had enough mana to play Bogardan Hellkite. Jacob shook his head, criticizing his decision to send everyone into the red zone. There were many, many ways Thomas could have split the dragon's damage, but he chose to play around Might of Old Krosa and deal 4 to Scryb Ranger and 1 to an elf. The Hellkite blocked the 7/7 Ranger, and Lightning Angel blocked Silhana Ledgewalker. With 9 damage on it, nothing could save Jacob's Ranger from the call of the graveyard. Drake took 6 from the rest of the attackers, leaving him at 11, but the dire board position he was in a moment ago had brightened considerably.

Drake went back on the offensive, attacking Jacob down to 14 with Lightning Angel. Jacob dredged back a Moldervine Cloak for his draw, but with no untargetable creatures in play, his men were vulnerable to Drake's removal and tricks. He decided to animate the Treetop Village and Cloak it up. Thomas took a moment to confirm with the judge that the Cloak would fall off when the Village reverted to being only a land. He used Urza's Factory to make a 2/2 token, then was surprised to find out Treetop Village had trample and he was taking 4 because of that.

After another Angel attack, Jacob dredged back the Cloak again, seemingly content to play it on the Village and attack with a 6/6 trampler each turn. This time, though, Thomas had Lightning Helix for the Village in response to Moldervine Cloak. He played Aethermage's Touch at the end of Michael's turn, choosing a Court Hussar to put into play (albeit briefly). Drake attacked Jacob down to 8, and another end-of-turn Touch found Lightning Angel No. 2. The attack from both Angels left Jacob at 2, and Lighting Helix finished him.

Drake 1, Jacob 1

Game 3

Jacob mulliganed to 6, but had a first-turn Elf at the ready. He used the Elf to power out a second-turn Troll Ascetic, which Drake could only answer with Azorius Signet. Signets can't block, though, which mattered when the Troll put on a Moldervine Cloak and joined the Elves in bashing for 7. Signets can help play turn-three Lightning Angels, and Drake sent the erstwhile Miss America in for 3. Michael used Pendelhaven to make his Elf a 2/3, then dropped a Moldervine Cloak on it, making it a 5/6. Thomas put the Angel in front of the Troll, taking 5 and going to 6. An untapped Hallowed Fountain put him to 4, but Aven Riftwatcher brought him right back up to 6.

Unimpressed with the bird, Jacob swung again. The Aven blocked the Troll and Drake played Momentary Blink on it, gaining 4 life since it left play and came into play. That nullified the Cloaked elf's damage, leaving Drake at 6. Jacob played Silhana Ledgewalker after combat. Drake's only play was to suspend Riftwing Cloudskate, hoping he still had three turns to see all those time counters removed. Michael pumped his Ledgewalker with Pendelhaven and enchanted it with his third Moldervine Cloak of the match. Thomas blocked the Troll with the Aven, flashing back Momentary Blink and using the infusion of 4 life to cling on at 1. He played a Court Hussar, even looking at four cards, but found nothing there and scooped.

Jacob 2, Drake 1

Between games, Michael said that he had "punted Game 2." He changed one sideboard card; Thomas kept his 60 the same. While they players were shuffling, Drake said, "That's enough of that draw, Mr. Elf, Pendelhaven, Troll, Cloak."

"Whatever!" Jacob said. "If I don't have that draw, I mulligan."

Game 4

Drake kept on the play, but Jacob had to mulligan to five before finding a hand he reluctantly liked. Thomas played two lands and a Signet on his first two turns, while Michael's both consisted of land-go. His third land (and fourth mana source) allowed Drake to play another Lightning Angel, but Jacob flashed out Scryb Ranger to block it. He swung with the Ranger and played a Troll Ascetic. Without the pro-Blue Ranger on defense, Drake got in there for 3 with Lighting Angel, then decided not to worry about the Ranger anymore and Lightning Helixed it away.

Michael's draw was improving, as he played another Troll Ascetic and a Boreal Druid. Thomas had another Lightning Angel, though, and they knocked Michael down to 11. Jacob swung with his whole team and had four lands up. Drake thought for a moment and put both Lighting Angels in the path of the unimposing Boreal Druid. The reason was obvious soon enough, as Stonewood Invocation made the Druid quite large. One Angel went to the graveyard and Drake went to 16. He kept up the Angel offensive, though, and after finding nothing helpful atop his deck, Jacob packed it in.

Drake 2, Jacob 2

Game 5

"Your turn to mulligan to five," Michael said as the players shuffled up for the decisive game. Thomas seemed unwilling to participate in this turn-taking, with a worried I-hope-you-didn't-just-jinx-me groan as his only answer.

Michael pondered his seven cards before shipping them back for six that he liked better. Thomas kept his opening seven. Jacob's only turn-one play was Pendelhaven, but he had Scryb Ranger on turn two. Drake laid his second land and Helixed the Ranger. Jacob had no more gas forthcoming, allowing Drake a respite to drop Boros Garrison. Michael did find a Boreal Druid on his next turn, though. He swung with it a turn later, sending Thomas to 22. Jacob then played Loxodon Warhammer. Drake started to put a card into play in response, but looked at his lands-Steam Vents, Nimbus Maze, and Boros Garrison-and realized they didn't add up to the 2 ManaBlue ManaBlue Mana required for Venser.

Drake made a new friend in ightning Helix.

Those lands were fine for Court Hussar, though. After passing the turn, Drake realized he still had eight cards in his hand. He had to discard down to seven and received a warning. Jacob boosted his Druid with Pendelhaven and equipped the Warhammer to it, sending the 5/3 elf into the red zone. Life totals stood at 25-16 Jacob after that 10-point swing. Drake swung with his Hussar, played an Azorius Signet, and killed the Druid with Lighting Helix. Jacob played a Scryb Ranger and used it to bounce a land, giving him the mana necessary for Giant Solifuge. Court Hussar was there to block, leaving Drake at 18.

On his turn, Thomas had another Lightning Helix for the Ranger. "Must be nice," Jacob said as he exasperatedly binned his creature. Drake suspended a Riftwing Cloudskate, and Jacob found another creature in the form of Troll Ascetic. In the between-games banter, Drake had remarked about how he could have drawn Teferi's Moat in the earlier games and used it to keep Jacob's attackers at bay. This game, he did precisely that. Jacob played a Boreal Druid, but that wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Thomas played a Lightning Angel and attacked Michael down to 21. On his next turn, Riftwing Cloudskate came into play and bounced Jacob's Pendelhaven.

With two fliers and an opponent whose creatures had to stay at home, Drake pushed the Angel and illusion into the red zone, knocking Jacob to 16. An Aven Riftwatcher took Drake to 23. The parade of earthbound green men continued for Jacob when he played another Troll. This time, Drake had Aethermage's Touch at the end of his turn, finding a second Lightning Angel. On his turn, Drake laid a Sacred Foundry untapped and attacked with his 10 power worth of fliers. Jacob drew his card, again found nothing helpful, and extended the hand.

Thomas Drake defeats Michael Jacob 3-2 and moves on to the finals of U.S. Nationals, where he will take on repeat National Team member Luis Scott-Vargas. Even with 16 untargetable creatures in his opponent's deck (12 which are flat-out untargetable, and a set of the pro-Blue Scryb Ranger, which is immune to Riftwing Cloudskate shenanigans), Thomas Drake pulled out a hard-fought five-game victory.

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