The Dutch and Japanese National Teams are closely matched.
aving met in a close-fought and ultimately inconclusive match in Round 21, the Dutch and the Japanese had been in agreement then that they would rather draw than face each other. That match had provided a tantalizing taste of what was destined to be an intense and tightly played Finals round.
How do you cover a teams match comprehensively? With a team of reporters, of course. With Tim "Wallaby" Willoughby watching Seat A, blisterguy on B, and Hanno Terbuyken in our C seat, we were ready to catch the action.
Seat A - Julien Nuijten vs Hidenori Katayama
As each player looked at his hand during resolution of mulligans, Julien made the powerful psychological play of asking Hidenori how his hand was in Japanese. The former World Champion has a few tricks up his sleeve, and knowing his relative experience at the professional level compared to his opponent, the simple act of confirming the relative prize money levels for winning and losing could well have had a powerful effect on Katayama.
If Hidenori was nervous though, it didn't show, as he calmly prepared for the match in hand.
The first play of the match was Ghostflame Sliver from Katayama, while Nuijten built his mana base with a Prismatic Lens. Julien didn't get a monster on the board until Castle Raptors, but unfortunately, Katayama's red-black deck was being very aggressive - he was already down to 13 from a Sangrophage and the Sliver, and there was also Urborg Syphon-Mage to worry about.
Hidenori continued to barrel in with everyone in spite of the Raptors, potentially threatening a burn spell to remove them after combat. The flyers blocked Urborg Syphon-Mage, and Julien fell to 8, while his birds fell to Tendrils of Corruption for 3.
Things looked very bleak for Julien, the former World Champion, until Fiery Justice Cleared the board entirely, albeit at the cost of some life for Katayama. Coal Stoker and mana burn was the next Japanese play, which was met with a Flickering Spirit and Knight of the Holy Nimbus from Julien.
Sudden Death was enough to nix Nuijten's double block on the Stoker, but when Akroma, Angel of Wrath came into play for the Dutchie next turn, it seemed that little of that mattered. From here victory looked to be a few short swings away, with the red-black deck powerless to stop the colossal flyer.
With Katayama at just 9, Julien played Ashcoat Bear at the end of turn and just kept swinging with his timeshifted legend. It only took one more swing for Hidenori to scoop it up.
Nuijten 1 - 0 Katayama
Seat B - Kamiel Cornelissen vs. Katsuhiro Mori
In a team situation, it's the captain that holds everything together, and this is especially true here with the new team communication rules. Any player can turn to another and confer over this play or that mulligan decision, and when you're smack dab in the middle of your team, it's you your wingmen will turn to. Sure enough, throughout the match, one player would often be left waiting for the other to be done being quizzed by a teammate.
Cornelissen got the match off to a resounding start by pounding out a 6 on the die to trump Mori's 1, not that a 1 takes much trumping. To make matters worse, Mori then dipped his hand in the mulligan tank and came out with what amounted to no more than a passable six cards (six lands and a Prismatic Lens became five lands and an Ashcoat Bear).
Team Captain Katsuhiro Mori feels the weight of responsibility.
Mori drew out of his mulligan well enough, deploying a Herd Gnarr and a Sprite Noble that were both eventually swallowed by the gradual certainty that was Cornelissen and his Giant Oyster. The Dutchman held a Spike Tiller at bay with an Ivory Giant and applied pressure with a Lightning Angel. Ultimately, Mori's army could not compete in the air thanks to Cornelissen's Oyster and Fledgling Mawcor back line support, and they were soon shuffling up for Game 2. With two games packed away and the third looking good based on the decks, Kamiel had to be feeling in control.
Cornelissen 1 - Mori 0
Seat C - Robert van Medevoort vs. Shouhei Yamamoto
The Dutch fully anticipated that this match would be a walkover, with van Medevoort's red-black wrecking ball (no, not that kind) expected to score an easy victory over Shouhei's white-green-red deck. Shouhei had taken one for the team, so to speak, drafting a weaker deck to help out his teammates and keep the Dutch decks under control.
Shouhei hit things off with a suspended Search for Tomorrow and an Amrou Scout, which Robert quickly dispatched with a Grapeshot. Strangling Soot hit the second Scout that Shouhei had hoped would stick. Robert had answered Shouhei's first turns in compelling manner, suspending a Phthisis to take out the next threat when it came down.
That threat was a hardcast Durkwood Baloth, and Robert needed to hold off the big guy until his Phthisis could deal with it. But holding off is what Empty the Warrens does, creating two chumpblockers. Shouhei laid down Weatherseed Totem - not a problem for Robert, who had a Strangling Soot to flash back.
Pentarch Ward for black on the Durkwood Baloth was a huge problem, though. Robert thumped his chest, taking the damage and going down to 13 life. The Phthisis that had just one counter left would not fend off the big beast, but Robert had a second and a third Strangling Soot in his hand to deal with the others. The first one killed Celestial Crusader, and the other one targeted Weatherseed Totem when it attacked in tandem with the warded Baloth.
'Your move, Mr. Yamamoto.'
But Shouhei had Fortify to save the Totem, and suddenly, the matchup that the Dutch had thought easy became a hard-fought battle. Phthisis killed the Thallid Shell-Dweller. And when Robert's deck failed to deliver any chumpblocker besides Deathspore Thallid, Robert would gladly have traded the impressive trio of Strangling Soots in his graveyard for a single Lightning Axe. The protected 5/5 tore Robert's life total apart until nothing was left of it, and they went to Game 2. The Dutch were up two games to one, but the unexpected loss for van Medevoort had them nervous.
Robert van Medevoort 0 - 1 Shouhei Yamamoto
Seat A - Nuijten vs. Katayama
Unsurprisingly, there were few sideboarding decisions to be made for either player, as they already knew their opponent's card pool from the draft.
Julien briefly consulted with team captain Kamiel Cornelissen for advice on his opening hand, choosing to keep it on the draw.
Hidenori had a turn one-suspended Corpulent Corpse to Julien's suspended Search for Tomorrow. Sangrophage faced off against Gemhide Sliver the following turn, as the Japanese player went for the throat while the former World Champion played for the later game.
Beats ensued on both sides (in effect) as Katayama raced his own Sangrophage, and Trespasser il-Vec joined the party on his side as well. For Julien, a Plains came off his Search for Tomorrow, followed up by Wormwood Dryad, which could trade with any one of the creatures Katayama had in play.
As Kamiel won his first game against current world champion Katsuhiro Mori, Julien had a few quick words with him in Dutch. Julien traded his Dryad with Sangrophage and soon found himself faced down by a second Trespasser, albeit only having to worry about a single card in his opponent's hand.
The life totals were 14 to 16 in Japan's favor when Julien played a Castle Raptors. There was only one suspend counter left on Corpulent Corpse, and with a discarded Assassinate, one of the Trespassers got in for another 3 unimpeded.
Nuijten, faced with potentially unblockable creatures, elected to go on the offensive, attacking with his Raptors and then playing a Spike Tiller. The Tiller died to Sudden Death, and in a split second this second game looked very rough for the Dutchie.
On Katayama's turn, Corpulent Corpse unsuspended and the black monsters reduced Julien to 2. He had kept back his Sliver in the hope of being able to play something to bring things back under control, most likely Fiery Justice, if he drew it. It was not to be, though, and Julien scooped up his cards following his draw step.
While this table shuffled up for the third, Kamiel finished off Katsuhiro Mori with a board of Lightning Angel and suspended Errant Ephemeron, Ith, High Arcanist, Ivory Giant. There was a quick high five between Kamiel and Nuijten, before Cornellison was all back to business, offering some thoughts on a small amount of sideboarding from Julien for the third game where he would be on the play.
Seat B - Cornelissen vs. Mori
It was as if the first game had been a warm up for Cornelissen, and he was just getting limbered up for the main event. Mori was a mere spectator as the Dutch National Champion came out guns blazing, suspending an Ivory Giant on his first turn, Ith, High Arcanist on his second, and an Errant Ephemeron on his third, prompting a disbelieving scoff from the reigning World Champion. Mori answered with Crookclaw Transmuter on his fourth turn, and could only stare in horror as Cornelissen dropped a fourth land into play and promptly thumped him about the face with a Lightning Angel. With a bewildered shrug, Mori offered his hand to Cornelissen to give the Dutch the first match.
There was a quick high five between Kamiel and Julien, but soon things were back to business. The Dutch were up a match, and now they had to bring the rest of the table home.
Cornelissen 2 - 0 Mori
Netherlands 1 - 0 Japan
Seat C - van Medevoort vs. Yamamoto
Robert played first with the goal of establishing his manabase and getting his removal online. Shouhei had a second turn Amrou Scout, but Robert already knew how to get rid of those. This time, it was Nightshade Assassin that provided the necessary kill, but it was not the Scout who bit the dust. Robert decided to kill Shouhei's other creature instead, an Icatian Crier, and revealed Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder with the Assassin.
Robert ran the Master Breeder in his turn, and Shouhei's Amrou Seekers looked mighty hideous compared to the thrill of thrulls Endrek was about to unleash. Shouhei tried to put pressure on with Savage Thallid, but Robert had the Endrek Sahr and six mana. The Master Breeder made thrulls like the madman he is when Robert tapped four for Coal Stoker, followed that up with Deathspore Thallid, and Grapeshotted two thirds of Shouhei's team away, leaving only the puny Amrou Seekers in play and the life totals at 14 to 14.
Shouhei rebuilt with Pendelhaven Elder and Scarwood Treefolk, only to have the Elder killed by another Grapeshot. Robert attacked with everybody. When the Japanese player tallied up the score and saw 15 damage, he simply picked up his cards. This was more like the Dutchies had envisioned it!
Robert van Medevoort 1 - 1 Shouhei Yamamoto
Seat A - Nuijten vs. Katayama
Julien had just mulliganed once for Game 3 when the third match began in Seat C. In order to get the deciding game on camera for the webcast, the Seat A game was held pending the results of the third game between van Medevoort and Yamamoto. If Yamamoto could bring it home for the Japanese, it would come down to Julien and Katayama for the deciding game.
Seat C - van Medevoort vs. Yamamoto
With the Nuijten - Katayama game on hold, the six sets of eyes at the table (and a whole lot of other ones elsewhere) turned to the rubber game in Seat C.
There had been almost no communication between the teams about their games up to this point, each player being immersed in his own fight. But when Shouhei drew his opening seven, he consulted Katsuhiro Mori in the middle seat first before deciding to keep. Kamiel had just won his match and nodded approvingly as Robert showed him the hand he had kept.
Mori and Yamamoto confer.
Shouhei kicked off on the play with Thallid Shell-Dweller and Amrou Seekers, Robert suspended Keldon Halberdiers. Both team captains, Kamiel and Katsuhiro, were now leaning over to this match, free to give advice and help to their teammates out.
Robert passed the turn with four lands untapped and let Shouhei's attack take him down to 13. Shouhei got Scarwood Treefolk and Seekers in for damage and played Magus of the Disk. Grapeshot off the Halberdiers dealt with the Seekers, and Robert declined to chump-block the Scarwood Treefolk that came over next.
The now-untapped Magus of the Disk posed problems for the Netherlands team, and Robert leaned over to get Kamiel's advice. Coal Stoker came in and powered up a two-point Grapeshot, which took out Shouhei's Saproling token and dealt one to the dome, with Robert burning one mana on his life total and going down to 9.
Now it was Katsuhiro's turn to provide assistance. Shouhei brought out Pentarch Ward for red on his Savage Thallid, and not being able to block it took 5 life from the Dutchie. He was balancing on a precarious 4 life now, and the Savage Thallid was potentially lethal.
The solution presented itself in the form of a Skittering Monstrosity, actually able to block the offensive Thallid, but not kill it. Thallid Shell-Dweller was there to keep the monster alive, so the Monstrosity took five for the team. Shouhei moved to attack but hesitated to wait for Mori's advice. He then powered out Sarpadian Empires, Vol. VII, naming green Saproling as his color / creature type of choice.
Robert played Endrek Sahr, but the legendary legend would have to throw itself in front of the savage Savage Thallid. Robert was forced to put his Endrek away without ever making a thrull. Robert dropped Nightshade Assassin on the next turn, and two black cards - Kaervek among them - were revealed to reduce the Savage Thallid's toughness to zero with no possibility of regeneration.
But the Dutch player was still on defense, and Shouhei came in for a big strike with Scarwood Treefolk, Magus of the Disk, and two Saprolings. His tokens would be boosted by Pendelhaven Elder, that much was sure. If Shouhei had the Fortify, Robert might just have been dead right there.
The first-striking Keldon Halberdier blocked and killed the Magus of the Disk, and Coal Stoker and Nightshade Assassin bumped off the rest, leaving van Medevoort at a nail-biting 2 life. Shouhei made Icatian Crier after combat. Robert attacked with his Halberdier, and it was clear that something was up. Why else would the player on two life attack with his 4/1? It was Subterranean Shambler waiting in the wings that took out the entirety of Shouhei's board except for Scarwood Treefolk and the artifact. Shouhei had chosen to block the first-striker with his Shell-Dweller, so that also died - an unnecessary loss at that point, and one that might come back to haunt the Japanese player.
The Scarwood Treefolk fell victim to Dark Withering, but Shouhei played Durkwood Baloth, and as in Game 1, Robert would need chumpblockers. He found Deathspore Thallid and Empty the Warrens in his hand, making four Goblins and facing the decision next turn: Should he try to block the Baloth dead with his five 1/1s, or did Shouhei hold the Fortify that would make that block very, very bad?
The team decided on just one chumpblocker in fear of the white enhancement spell. Still on 2 life, Robert had Kaervek, who had a long job ahead of him, slamming away at Shouhei's 19 life. Robert swept in with the Coal Stoker and one Goblin, after listening closely to an elaborate comment from Julien.
The three-headed giant in action.
Shouhei still had the token-producing book, and of course his Baloth. But he was under pressure, and Deathspore Thallid geared up to kill tokens. The outcome of the match was riding on this game, even if the Dutch did have a second chance. Robert emptied his hand, playing out Coal Stoker and Eron the Relentless. Trying to kill the Japanese opponent and taking the team title had now become a collective effort, and the three-headed giant of Robert, Julien, and Kamiel decided to send in Eron the Relentless to rock the Japanese. They chump-blocked with a Saproling.
Again, Eron came in, and this time Shouhei took it to the chest, going down to 10 life. His white-green-red deck contained but a single burn spell, Rift Bolt, and Robert had two creatures more - and the Kaervek looming large behind his effort.
Now both teams were in heavy conversation. How to stop Eron the Relentless, relentlessly attacking every turn, became the crucial question for the Japanese, who again did nothing and went down to 5 life. Katsuhiro considered and decided, and Shouhei came in with the alpha strike. "Okay," said Julien, and the Dutch Three-Headed Giant went to figure out van Medevoort's blocks.
Making a Saproling with Deathspore Thallid was the easy part. Five Saprolings and Durkwood Baloth were attacking, and Shouhei had a full hand. Katsuhiro left the area. The Dutchies had three Goblins, two Coal Stokers, the Deathspore Thallid, Eron, and Kaervek to work with. They blocked every creature and put both Coal Stokers and a Goblin in front of the Baloth. What did Shouhei hold?
Strength in Numbers on the Baloth! That give it +6/+6 and trample for the win, but the Dutchies played it right and tight. The damage from Kaervek took Shouhei to 3, preventing him from playing Fortify. With Strength in Numbers still on the stack, the Dutch Team used the Saproling from Deathspore Thallid to kill one attacker, played Strangling Soot from Robert's hand to kill a second attacker, and flashed back the Strangling Soot to kill a third attacker. That reduced the Strength in Numbers to a +3/+3 bonus, taking Robert van Medevoort to exactly one life and the Dutch National Team to the team title!
Robert van Medevoort 2 - 1 Shouhei Yamamoto
Netherlands 2 - 0 Japan