Sunday, Feb 25: 6:20 p.m. - Quarterfinals: Mark Herberholz vs. Raphael Levy
by Julien Nuijten
This will probably be a match at this year's Invitational. Raph has been making Top 8 at a lot of Grand Prix lately, and was the only player still active to get inducted into the Hall of Fame at last year's World Championships. His Grand Prix quest has taken him all over the world and will take him to Singapore and Amsterdam in the next few weeks. Mark isn't as active on the GP Circuit as Raph, but he recently won Pro Tour--Honolulu to make up for it and has made it to the Top 8 in two other Pro Tours.
The matchup is the Domain Zoo mirror, but the decks are somewhat different. In this match, Mark will probably play a more controlling game style because of the card advantage he can gain with Dark Confidant and Sensei's Divining Top. He would also like to note that Pat Chapin designed his particular version of the archetype. Raph's deck has got more aggressive creatures and pump spells to back them up. I think Mark has a slight advantage because he's got the Top to outdraw Raph, and he's got the 4 maindeck Lightning Helix whereas Raph has only two in the sideboard. Raph does have a few cards that can be very dangerous when they get active though; both Armadillo Cloak and Umezawa's Jitte can turn board positions around completely.
Mark won the roll and both players kept their hands. Mark lead out with Grim Lavamancer and Tribal Flames on Raph's 2/3 Kird Ape, but Raph just replaced it while Mark played and used Sensei's Divining Top. Sudden Shock took out the Lavamancer and Isamaru came down for Raph, while Mark searched for spells with the Top and a fetch land. He found Vindicate for Raph's Kird Ape but Raph played Armadillo Cloak on the lone Isamaru and time was running out for Mark. Another fetch land gave him three new cards on top of his deck, but none of them were useful, and the combination of Gaea's Might and Tribal Flames sealed the game for Raph.
Levy 1 - Herberholz 0
Mark started but Raph took the initiative with Grim Lavamancer and Wild Mongrel. Mark tried to take the Mongrel out at end of turn with a Lightning Helix, but Raph shrugged and discarded two Wooded Foothills to save it. Mark made sure of it this time with Tribal Flames, and Raph added Kird Ape to his board. Another Tribal Flames for Mark took out the Grim Lavamancer, and after all the lands and Lavamancer shots the life totals were 14 for Mark and 13 for Raph. Raph took another three but regained four life with Loxodon Hierarch, and the board was now 4 lands each, Hierarch and Kird Ape for Raph against Mark's Grim Lavamancer, but he quickly added Isamaru and a Kird Ape of his own to the board. Raph broke the stall with Umezawa's Jiite, as he put it on Kird Ape which was blocked by Isamaru and finished off by Grim Lavamancer. A Jitte counter traded for the Lavamancer and it was looking very bad for Mark, facing a Jitte and Hierarch with a lone Kird Ape. Mark's life total was so low at this point that he had to Vindicate the Hierarch, leaving himself with no cards in hand. The top of his deck was not another Vindicate and Mark packed it up.
Levy 2 - Herberholz 0
Sunday, Feb 25: 6:46 p.m. - Quarterfinals: Jim Davis vs. Kenji Tsumura
by Nate Price
Both of these players are experienced Magic professionals, so this Top 8 stage should be nothing new to them. Jim Davis is a real grinder from Long Island, New York. He went to most of the Pro Tours in the last couple of years, and even paid his way to some of the more expensive Pro Tours that he qualified for on rating. However, he was only able to accumulate 16 pro points last year, and has recently fallen off of the Pro Tour train. He's playing a Goblin deck that he calls Charlie's Angels, testing it primarily online. He decided on Goblins because he really wasn't comfortable with any of the other decks in the format. So he found a deck that he felt had good matchups against the major decks and ran with it. His opponent this round is Kenji Tsumura.
Kenji Tsumura-where to begin? He's recognized as one of the best players on the planet by every Magic player, and is called by his "other head" Richie Hoaen "better than Kai." That's quite a statement, but you'd get a decent number of people backing the claim. Kenji is a rare talent, someone who is capable of applying himself and raising his game to near unheard of levels. When his Limited game wasn't strong, he took some time and learned to draft. The results? He was a Top 8 machine during the Limited Pro Tours and Grand Prix of 2006. Kenji was already a powerhouse in Constructed before he devoted his time to Limited. Apparently, his shift in focus hasn't dulled his edge.
Jim won the die roll with a little pump of the fist. "That's step one, right," he joked as he went to continue shuffling his deck. Jim's aggressive Goblin deck was looking forward to starting things off as quickly as possible, but he wasn't too happy with the first seven cards his deck provided him. After settling on a better six card hand, Jim started the rush with a turn 1 Goblin Sledder. He uncharacteristically passed with just an attack on the second turn, which put him in a tight spot due to his mulligan. Kenji added to the frustration by playing a turn 2 Wall of Roots. Now he had an almost permanent blocker for Jim's little red army.
Jim got back on the horse with a Goblin Warchief on turn 3, which he would soon use, in conjunction with Rite of Flame, to bring out a Siege Gang Commander. Kenji's third turn Birds of Paradise and Dark Confidant were now dwarfed by Jim's army of six goblins. Kenji thought long and hard about his next play, and ultimately decided on a Burning Wish for Life from the Loam. When Jim drew his next card and sent his men in, Kenji didn't have enough blockers to stop the goblin army from doing him in.
Jim Davis 1 - Kenji Tsumura 0
After the game, the event organizer announced over the intercom that they would be giving away free ice cream sandwiches to all players in the room. Jim's eyes got wide as he started to look around for a judge or someone to go get him one. When the judge told him that there was no food in the feature match area, he asked what kind of penalty it caused. "Is it a game loss? Because I'm up a game, and it would be totally worth it."
The second game started off as textbook as you would expect, with some mana acceleration into some dudes by Jim, and some land searching and a Dark Confidant and Wall of Roots for Kenji. Jim continued to build his goblin army with a Mogg War Marshall, while Kenji found a good tool to slow him down in Darkblast. While Kenji was eating away at Jim's board with Darkblast, Jim got even by cycling a Gempalm Incinerator to kill Kenji's Dark Confidant. Kenji got the upper hand, though, when he dropped a large Terravore.
Next turn didn't go too well for Jim. A couple of Darkblasts thinned Jim's army out and allowed Kenji to reduce Jim to only a single goblin token. He then replaced his dead Confidant with a brand new one. As goblins is very capable of, Jim replaced his army with a timely Siege-Gang Commander. Kenji answered this with an earth-shattering Seismic Assault. However, Kenji didn't have a grip full of lands and was forced to kill the Siege-Gang, but let his minions live.
Jim continued the rebuilding process with a Goblin Matron and a Mogg War Marshall. On Kenji's next turn, though, he drew the Burning Wish for the Life from the Loam that sealed the game.
Jim Davis 1 - Kenji Tsumura 1
Jim got to play first in the deciding game, which definitely works to his advantage. He started with a first turn Prospector, but on the second turn, he stumbled a bit, and had to play a Chrome Mox and sacrifice his Prospector to get a warchief into play. He drew the land on the next turn and got to put a second Warchief into play. By that time, Kenji already had a blocker in the form of a Wall of Roots, which was soon followed up with a second. A Burning Wish for a Devastating Dreams seemed to unnerve Jim. "This is definitely stressful."
On the following turn, Jim tried to go for it by playing a Goblin Ringleader, which turned up a Matron, which he then used to get a Mogg War Marshall. He used his last red mana to play a Skirk Prospector. That allowed him to sacrifice his matron to play the Marshall, and then used it and another token to power out a Goblin King. This allowed Jim to get through for 13 unblocked damage. However, Kenji was at 15 and would still get a turn to Dreams away the board. Not only did he Dreams away all of Jim's permanents but a Mox, but he followed it up with a massive Terravore. When Jim's deck failed to cough up a Barbarian Ring to do the final points of damage, he extended his hand and congratulated Kenji.
Jim Davis 1 - Kenji Tsumura 2
Sunday, Feb 25: 7:18 p.m. - Semifinals: Kenji Tsumura vs. Raphael Levy
by Ted Knutson
Welcome to our semifinal feature match here in Dallas, Texas. The player and deck matchups are both spicy ones. For the players you get the best all-around player in the world versus the best the Hall of Fame currently has to offer. Tsumura has been on a tear in Limited of late, posting Top 8s in the last two Limited Pro Tours, but everyone who has followed his career knows that the mini master cut his teeth on Constructed formats and is always a sure bet to Top 8 a Constructed GP. For his part, Levy has also been racking up points and victories, including a 14th place finish at Worlds last year. In fact, he had a quietly stellar season in 2006, allowing him to achieve the same Level 5 status as Tsumura.
The deck matchup is Tsumura's particular version on the popular Loam deck. While it has morphed quite a bit since Mihara first designed the engine of CAL back in Kitakyushuu, the Life from the Loam/Seismic Assault combination has proven devastating since its inception. Players of the deck originally dropped the Solitary Confinements from the original in favor of more aggressive beatdown to go with the flaming rocks that come from the AL part of the acronym. They have since dropped the Wild Mongrels that merited the "Aggro Loam" label from last year, and now pretty much everyone just calls the deck Loam. Levy is playing Olivier Ruel's take on the Domain Zoo deck that came out of the Norwegian camp for Worlds 2006. Designed for pure, unadulterated aggression, the deck exploits the synergy between Boros Swiftblade and Gaea's Might while providing consistent pressure with efficient creatures and some burn.
Both players kept their opening hands and Tsumura opened the game with Cabal Therapy for Tribal Flames, whiffing but revealing Kataki, War's Wage, Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Watchwolf, and Sudden Shock plus 3 lands. Levy earned a chuckle from Kenji on his turn by laying a Stomping Ground and his freshly drawn Kird Ape. Kenji cast Burning Wish on turn 2, grabbing Life from the Loam out of his sideboard, preparing perhaps the most efficient engine in Pro Tour Magic to rev. Levy beat down on his turn before adding Konda's pup to his animal army. Tsumura cast Life from the Loam on his turn, returning two fetchlands, while Levy's attack on his own turn dropped Tsumura to 10 before Raph plopped Watchwolf on the table as well, giving Tsumura two 3-toughness creatures to deal with.
Devastating Dreams for 3 looked to be the right answer, but a defensive Gaea's Might saved the Wolf, keeping the pressure on. Levy had no land on his turn, just an attack, while Kenji was force to chump with a pair of Dark Confidants before dropping to six and then five from a fetchland. The margin for error on Tsumura's side of the board was razor thin. Life from the Loam got back 3 more land for Kenji and a third chumping Confidant appeared on the board, forcing Raph to shake his head - he still had not found another land. At this point Levy thought for some time about what the right play was going to be - with Kenji at only 5, maybe he should just sit back and see if the Confidant would whittle away those last few points for him? Eventually Levy laid a fetchland he had just drawn, brought a Sacred Foundry into play untapped, and cast Isamaru before passing the turn sans attack. Kenji's Dark Confidant flipped over Seismic Assault, dropping him to 3 before he dredged back Life from the Loam, cast it, and chucked 5 land directly at Raph's head, killing him from exactly 10.
"Lucky Masta…" was all Levy could mumble, done in by a very tight Judgment call, though if he had played it differently, he likely still would have lost, but a turn or two later. Kenji was more than willing to admit he was right.
Tsumura 1 - Levy 0
There was further grimacing from Raph when he looked at his opening 7 before shipping them back and digging for a fresh 6. The second set were deemed sufficient, though they lacked a one-drop, which was less than optimal. Turn 2 brought Watchwolf from Levy, with Boros Swiftblade to follow on turn 3, while the Frenchman played an untapped Breeding Pool to leave defensive Might mana up as a possibility. Seismic Assault on Tsumura's turn and a large rock thrown at the member of the Boros revealed that as (probably) only a bluff. Jotun Grunt from Levy was a couple of turns late, but a very welcome site from Raph, as it would force Kenji to spend a lot of resources to kill both it and the Wolf, and Life from the Loam had yet to make an appearance. Tsumura did throw two lands at the Grunt on his turn, but Levy ha been waiting on using the Might earlier and played it this time. Kenji finished his turn with a Terravore to hold the ground.
Meddling Mage from Levy showed just how far his metagame could bend, forcing Tsumura to kill to with a land, should he want to cast any Devastating Dreams, while Firebolt dropped Kenji's life total to 9. Tsumura cast Birds of Paradise on his turn to chump, but the Grunt did its job the next upkeep, killing the Terravore and giving Kenji only one more draw before he died. That draw yielded nothing and it was on to game 3.
Tsumura 1 - Levy 1
Kenji started off well for game 3, casting a first turn Birds of Paradise. Tribal Flames from Levy killed Kenji's Confidant, but through turn 2, Levy had no creatures in play - surely a win for Kenji, right? A nearby Magic 8 Ball said "outlook uncertain" at this point, clearly hedging its bets because it knew Levy would throw down a Wild Mongrel and Kird Ape on turn 3 prepared to crack some skulls. Burning Wish from Tsumura grabbed Cabal Therapy this time around, naming Gaea's Might and whiffing, but grabbing Boros Switfblade on the getbacks. Nonplussed, Levy smashed on his turn and then cast his freshly drawn Jotun Grunt as the game momentum seesawed back and forth.
Tsumura struck back with Terravore and Dark Confidant on his turn, but then made an uncharacteristic mistake on Levy's upkeep. Levy signaled his Jotun Grunt trigger and Tsumura did not respond, so Kenji was unable to cycle a land to dredge his Life from the Loam back into his hand. This meant he lost his Terravore to Sudden Shock, saw Dark Confidant die to Lightning Helix, and dropped to 2 on Levy's attack. Tsumura sacrificed his fetchland at the end of Levy's turn to go to 1 life, and then conceded when he drew his card, unable to stop the Hall of Famer and his animal parade.
Levy 2 - Tsumura 1
Sunday, Feb 25: 8:22 p.m. - Finals: Paul Cheon vs. Raphael Levy
by Nate Price
This is it-the match for all the marbles. In one corner we have a U.S. National Champion, in the other we have a Hall of Famer. These guys are the cream of the crop, and it was unsurprising to see two players of their caliber sitting across from each other at the end of the day. The crowd started to gather as Cheon awaited Raphael's arrival at the table. Raph had just finished his last match moments before, so he needed a few minutes before the match got underway. Once he arrived, the stage was set. Paul was running the Loam deck that showed up in dominating numbers on Day 2. Raphael actually just beat Kenji Tsumura, who happened to be running a similar Loam deck, with his own Domain Zoo deck.
Raph won the roll, and his highly aggressive deck would be the first to play. Paul was forced to throw his first seven back into the deck and seemed a bit resigned to keep his second hand. Raphael led off with a turn 1 Stomping Grounds and Kird Ape followed by his trademark Boros Swiftblade. Paul kept the bleeding to a minimum with an Engineered Explosives set to one. Raphael continued to pound, though, and added an Armadillo Cloak to his double-striking Swiftblade.
Paul shook his head as he drew his next card and then simply played a Ghost Quarter and passed. This left him with two Tranquil Thickets and the Quarter as his only mana sources. It was going to be rough to deal with Levy's men with the lands his deck had decided to cough up. During Raphael's next attack, however, Paul used his Ghost Quarter to destroy one of his Tranquil Thickets to search out a swamp so he could Smother the monstrous Swiftblade. He was still low on life, though, and Raph put him even lower with a Tribal Flames for four to Paul's head. After Paul tapped out to clear the board with Explosives, Raphael showed him the other Tribal Flames to end the game.
Paul Cheon 0 - Raphael Levy 1
For the second game, Paul was far happier about his initial holding, and, after some serious deliberation, Raphael decided to keep his hand as well. Both players lead out at the game fairly strong, with Cheon playing a Birds of Paradise on both turns 1 and 2, while Levy made two grande-sized Kird Apes on his first two turns. To battle this, Paul managed to get two Wall of Roots into play on his next turn. Raphael dealt with those, though. Thanks to Gaea's Might for four and Sudden Shock, both of the Walls fell.
Paul outdid himself on the next turn, though, as he managed to not only play the Seismic Assault that would cause Levy some serious trouble, he managed to cast a Life from the Loam to get the engine running. Raphael managed to stifle Paul for the time being, though, with a Meddling Mage on Life from the Loam. Paul had burnt all the land in his hand to kill a Kird Ape during Raphael's attack, so the Mage should have bought him some time. However, Paul had a Burning Wish to get a Deathmark to off the pesky mage. This allowed Paul to get the ball rolling again, and Levy couldn't stop him as he discarded a hand full of lands to even the match up at one game a piece.
Paul Cheon 1 - Raphael Levy 1
"That last hand was a one-lander," Raphael admitted. "You got there," Paul reminded him. "Yeah, it was pretty good for a one-lander," Raphael conceded.
Raphael was on the play again for the deciding game. He seemed fairly pleased with his opening draw, and Paul shared the sentiment. While Raphael knew he wanted to keep his hand, he had to go into the tank a bit to decide how he'd play his first couple of turns. Ultimately, he decided on the good old standard-Stomping Grounds, Kird Ape. He followed that up with an Isamaru, Hound of Konda and the menagerie began to do their job. A Wall of Roots from Cheon, though, gummed the ground up and forced Raph to deal with a big blocker. Raphael had a Gaea's Might and soon made the Wall nothing more than dead weeds.
After combat, Raphael immediately played a Meddling Mage naming Devastating Dreams. This left Paul facing a board of three creatures with none of his own. He replayed another Wall of Roots and sent the turn to Raphael to do his worst. Raphael played Tribal Flames for the full five to burn the wall and sent his whole team in for six. This dropped Paul to nine, scary when your opponent has six points of damage on the board and your board sweeping spell is locked under a Meddling Mage. However, as in the second game, Paul had a Burning Wish to get Deathmark to off the Mage, and then the Devastating Dreams to put both players to zero permanents.
In the race off the top of the deck, Raphael was the first to draw blood with a Boros Swiftblade, which knocked Paul first to six, then to four. Raphael followed that up with a Meddling Mage naming Smother. Unfortunately for Paul, his post-apocalyptic draw hadn't been as kind. He had managed solely an Overgrown Tomb. His deck didn't provide an answer to the damage on the table, and Raphael attacked for the final four points of damage.
Raphael Levy defeats Paul Cheon 2-1 and is the Grand Prix-Dallas champion.