Kenji Tsumura vs. Hannes Kerem

2008 Worlds Feature: Quarterfinals: Broken Ambitions

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Hannes Kerem and Kenji Tsumura both have a lot on the line.
On the far side of the Magic Worlds Top 8 stage sat six-time Pro Tour Top 8er Kenji Tsumura and Rookie of the Year candidate Hannes Kerem. Tsumura, one of the most heralded names in modern-day Japanese Magic, was playing a swan song of sorts. With school forcing him to focus his attentions elsewhere, he told many this weekend that the 2008 World Championships would mark his last seriously competitive event for some time. The Estonian Kerem, meanwhile, was playing one more round in what has been a spectacular run for him this weekend. Depending on how the team portion of the event shakes out, and how leading Rookie of the Year candidate Aaron Nicastri fares as captain of the Australian team, Kerem could very well lock up the rookie title. To do that he’d need to win against the seasoned pro Tsumura.

Game 1

Kerem had a very solid start from his Kithkin deck opening on Goldmeadow Stalwart and Knight of Meadowgrain. The 2/2s would allow him to be very aggressive early, and the Knight of Meadowgrain’s lifelink would give him extra leverage in the long game by padding his life total. Tsumura had nothing over the first few turns, but finally found a Scion of Oona to start coming back with. The 1/1 is one of the marquee cards in Blue-Black Faeries, the deck of choice for Tsumura and five other members of the Top 8.

Kerem moved all-in with an attack, but Kenji had a surprise in the form of Mistbind Clique. The Japanese wonderkid had saved the 4/4 until his opponent’s combat step instead of using it as a Mana Short on upkeep, and by doing so was able to take out the Knight of Meadowgrain. Since Kerem hadn’t played anything prior to attacking, Kenji got the Mana Short for free.

Hannes’ next play, a Ranger of Eos, met Broken Ambitions, but he revealed Elspeth, Knight-Errant upon clashing, and it looked like the Estonian wasn’t going anywhere just yet. When Kerem played the planeswalker, Kenji answered with his own in the form of Jace Beleren, then used an Agony Warp to force through Mistbind Clique and Faerie Conclave to deal with Elspeth.

The game was truly a grind, and just as it looked like Tsumura was starting to stabilize, Hannes landed a Cloudgoat Ranger. Seemingly out of nowhere, his army had become quite formidable. Kenji didn’t back down, using the final counter from his Jace to draw a card, then playing a second and adding one more to his lead in the card count. He then turned his 4/4 Clique sideways to send the totals to 13-10 in his favor. Still, whatever extra cards he had seen, they weren’t enough. He lacked a counter when Hannes played a second Ranger of Eos, then deployed both tutored one-drops (a Figure of Destiny and a Goldmeadow Stalwart). Kenji drew his card for the turn, did not find a miracle Cryptic Command, and conceded the game.

Hannes Kerem 1, Kenji Tsumura 0

Game 2

The two players shuffled in silence for their second game while newly crowned Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura watched from behind, taking notes for the Japanese press corps. The two players made their first turns of the game, Kerem opening on Goldmeadow Stalwart for the second time and then playing a follow-up on Turn 2. What he didn’t have was a second land, however.

Hannes Kerem is skeptical.
From across the table it didn’t look like it was going to matter. Kenji opened on Island, Swamp, Mutavault, Mutavault, but didn’t play a single spell. When Hannes attacked with his two Stalwarts and a 2/2 Figure of Destiny, the wily Japanese player finally sprung his trap. He activated Mutavault, blocked Figure of Destiny, then used Agony Warp to reduce Figure’s power to 0 and kill one of the Stalwarts. Kerem didn’t give any indication of disappointment in the play, instead hitting a third land and playing Knight of Meadowgrain. When his opponent made the exact same play the following turn, wiping Kerem’s board to zero creatures, he couldn’t help but cluck his tongue in dismay.

Firmly stabilized, Kenji worked on turning control into a win. He blocked a second Figure of Destiny, pumped to 4/4, with Mistbind Clique, but didn’t have a counter for a follow-up Spectral Procession. When the three 1/1 Spirits attacked, the totals fell to 20–9 in Kerem’s favor, and a post-combat Cloudgoat Ranger from Hannes somehow met no resistance from Kenji at all. What had been a stabilized board position for the Japanese player had quickly developed into a second quagmire.

Tsumura revealed why he didn’t seem concerned the following turn as he used an Infest to wipe the Estonian’s board clean of everything but the Cloudgoat Ranger. Hannes refueled with a Ranger of Eos searching up two Figures of Destiny, but when he tried to play one it was met with Spellstutter Sprite. The following turn Kerem attacked with his 3-power creatures, and Kenji played a Mistbind Clique to block. His opponent had other plans, using an Unmake to kill the 4/4, and a second to kill Kenji’s un-championed Spellstutter Sprite. Running out of options, Tsumura had no choice but to activate a Mutavault to trade with the 3/2 Ranger.

He made the same play the following turn, using two of the creature-lands to kill Cloudgoat Ranger, but Kerem kept reloading, playing a second Ranger of Eos. Now too low on lands to counter after losing back-to-back Mutavaults during combat, Tsumura had no choice but to allow it to resolve. He was now staring down a Ranger of Eos, two Goldmeadow Stalwarts, and a Windbrisk Heights to boot. The only card he could hit to save him was ...

... Infest. The sorcery dropped into play for the second time in the game and devastated Kerem’s board. Tsumura even had enough mana to Spellstutter Sprite a follow-up Figure of Destiny from his opponent, and quickly went on the offensive. Scion joined his team, and alongside Spellstutter and Mutavault began making quick work of Kerem’s life. A Mistbind Clique prevented Hannes from using a turn’s worth of mana as well as seriously increasing Kenji’s clock, and two combat steps later Tsumura evened up the score.

Kenji Tsumura 1, Hannes Kerem 1

Game 3

A Thoughtseize from Tsumura stole Wizened Cenn from Hannes Kerem’s hand to start the third game, but the Estonian rookie quickly came out of the gates anyway with back-to-back Goldmeadow Stalwarts. Not intimidated, Kenji used an Infest to answer both of the creatures. Kerem rebuilt with an uninspiring Knight of Meadowgrain, but watched as his Ranger of Eos was countered with Broken Ambitions.

Kenji Tsumura plays with the Player of the Year over one shoulder and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll over the other.
While the first two games of the match had seemed like back-and-forth grinds, the third was developing into a blowout for Kenji Tsumura. He used a second Broken Ambitions to counter an Ajani Goldmane, then fell to 8 after his opponent’s attack. Hannes, meanwhile, was at a lofty 24. When he tried to play a Reveillark, his opponent was ready with Cryptic Command, just the second time Tsumura had played the card during the match.

The Knight of Meadowgrain continued bearing Hannes Kerem’s standard through the red zone. The Kithkin tribe member looked like it was the little Kithkin that could, valiantly wearing Kenji’s life total to 6 nearly unaided. Finally Tsumura’s hand was forced and he used Agony Warp to deal with the 2/2. When Hannes played a second Reveillark, however, Kenji revealed he was out of counters and the control he had had just a moment ago had suddenly disappeared.

Scion of Oona hit play for the Faerie horde, alongside a Spellstutter Sprite that had countered a Figure of Destiny. Kenji went on the offensive with two Mutavaults joining the flyers, and a Cryptic Command to keep his opponent fogged for a turn. Kerem just kept playing creatures, using Ranger of Eos to deploy two Figure of Destinies. It was back to miracle time for Kenji Tsumura.

He drew his card for the turn, then thoughtfully shuffled the cards in his hand back and forth. He finally opted to pass, giving Kerem the chance to swing for the win. With the score at 15–2 in his favor, he needed just a single creature to go unblocked to move ahead in the match. When he turned the entire team sideways, Kenji nodded and scooped his cards up. Hannes Kerem had pulled off the improbable turnaround.

Hannes Kerem 2, Kenji Tsumura 1

Game 4

Kerem shows what he’s got.
The first mulligan of the match struck Kenji Tsumura at the onset of a must-win game. He needed to win back-to-back in order to stay alive in the tournament, as Hannes Kerem’s Kithkin had firmly put Tsumura’s back against a wall. Kenji was able to keep his six-card hand.

First on the field was Hannes’ Figure of Destiny, and Kenji Tsumura answered with Bitterblossom for the first time all match. Kerem didn’t seem worried, playing a Wizened Cenn and swinging, but may have been too greedy the following turn as he attacked with both the Figure and Cenn into a single Faerie token from Tsumura. The Japanese player immediately placed the 1/1 in front of the Crusade with legs, then played Scion of Oona before damage. That killed the 2/2, and Hannes’s postcombat Spectral Procession didn’t seem to compensate.

Tsumura used Broken Ambitions to keep an Unmake from resolving on his Scion, revealing a second copy of the Crusade with wings waiting on top of his deck. That one would lock out future Unmakes, as well as protecting Bitterblossom (also awarded shroud as a Tribal Enchantment – Faerie). Clearly ahead, Kenji turned a number of creatures sideways and set the score to 11-10 in his favor.

A Cloudgoat Ranger from Hannes Kerem as well as a Figure of Destiny and Wizened Cenn threatened to make it interesting, but Kenji had Agony Warp to kill the Cloudgoat Ranger, then had two more to kill the remaining Spectral Procession tokens on his own turn. With no flyers available, Kerem scooped to lethal damage from Kenji’s air force.

Kenji Tsumura 2, Hannes Kerem 2

Game 5

It was all down to one final game. Kenji’s swan song and Hannes Kerem’s run at the Rookie of the Year title; both were on the line, and only one player could walk away with the chance to continue playing. On the play and running an aggressive strategy with a slight edge against Faeries, Kerem was definitely the favorite. Still, you couldn’t count the inimitable Tsumura out just yet; there is a reason he’s respected the world over as one of the very best.

Tsumura holds off an army.
Kenji mulliganed for the second time in the match, but considering he was batting a thousand in games with mulligans so far today, he didn’t seem too concerned. The second hand was fine for Tsumura, though he was quickly under the gun as Kerem played Figure of Destiny and Wizened Cenn. If the Estonian could follow-up with Spectral Procession, he might out-tempo Tsumura so badly the Japanese player would need an emergency Infest simply to stay alive.

Instead Hannes decided to pump his Figure of Destiny to 2/2—3/3 with help from Wizened Cenn—and sent the score to 20-13 in his favor. Kerem had no follow-up play, however, and Kenji was content to use Terror at the end of turn to kill the Figure. The Wizened Cenn continued getting in, and Hannes made a third play of the game finally with Knight of Meadowgrain. Tsumura answered with an end-of-turn Scion of Oona, which got into the red zone on his own turn.

It looked probable Kenji might play a Mistbind Clique to ambush his opponent’s Knight of Meadowgrain during the next combat step, but instead Tsumura took the damage falling to 6. When Hannes tried for Reveillark, Kenji was happy to use Broken Ambitions to counter. Still, at a precarious single-digit life total, Kenji needed some help.

What he found was Infest, which wiped his opponent’s board. Kerem rebuilt immediately, however, with Spectral Procession and Tsumura did not have a second Infest to answer. He fell to 3 on the next attack, but was able to keep a Cloudgoat Ranger off the table with Broken Ambitions. The clash revealed Agony Warp for Kenji and Ranger of Eos for Hannes and both players agonized over where to put their cards. Kenji finally decided on the bottom of his deck, while Hannes kept his on top. When Kerem attacked the following turn, Kenji had a Spellstutter Sprite to chump, but Hannes revealed a Rustic Clachan to sneak in the extra damage, ending Kenji’s heroic run at his “last” event, and keeping his own hopes of Rookie of the Year title alive.

Hannes Kerem defeats Kenji Tsumura 3–2 and advances to the Semifinals!

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