Japan vs. Team America

2008 Worlds Team Semifinals: No Help There

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Standard – Michael Jacob (USA) vs. Yuuya Watanabe (JPN)

From front to back and left to right, Michael Jacob vs. Yuuya Watanabe, Sam Black vs. Masashi Oiso, and Paul Cheon vs. Akihiro Takakuwa.
The last time the Japan Team met the U.S. Team in this tournament, the Japanese were victorious 2–1. Yuuya Watanabe, who will pass on his Rookie of the Year crown later in the day, was a key part of that victory sweeping American captain Mike Jacob in two. He looked to do the same in the semifinals, opening on a Thoughtseize that earned a sly comment from his opponent.

“That card is so bad for me!” Jacob mock complained.

Watanabe found himself looking at two Cloudgoat Rangers, two Bitterblossoms, a Tidehollow Sculler, and two lands. He decided to steal the Sculler from Mike, but the American just drew a second and used it to steal a card right back. Jacob was being quite talkative under the bright lights of the Sunday stage, a bit of a change for him. The national champion is known for running a pretty challenging mental game against foes, but it was also possible even a seasoned veteran like Mike was just excited to be playing on Sunday.

Bitterblossom was the second play of the game for Yuuya Watanabe, and the players were off to a race. Michael Jacob figured if the tribal enchantment was good enough for his opponent, it was good enough for him echoing the play. Unfortunately for him Yuuya had the better backup plan as he landed back-to-back Mistbind Cliques. The 4/4s champion ability stunted Michael’s development significantly, and that was mitigated by the fact he was missing land drops.

Looking to put the first away, Watanabe pressed in with his Cliques, a Faerie Conclave, and two Faerie Rogue tokens. His American opponent traded a Faerie Rogue of his own for the creature-land, but took a massive wallop. Mike found a Marsh Flitter waiting for him on top of his deck, but he needed far more help than that. When the next attack dropped him to 3, he was all but done. Peeling the last card from his library, he found no help and conceded.

Standard – Watanabe (JPN) 1, Jacob (USA) 0

“Down one!” Mike said while sideboarding for the second game.

“Down one?” team captain Paul Cheon asked incredulously.

On the play for the second game, Jacob could only watch with a laugh as his opponent again opened on a first-turn Thoughtseize. The sorcery again took Tidehollow Sculler from Mike’s hand, but he had a backup that hit play a turn later. His Glorious Anthem beefed the 2/2 up to Hill Giant size, and Yuuya Watanabe needed to find a way to catch up.

The way he found was Bitterblossom, but the pings from the enchantment as well as occasional connects from Tidehollow Sculler had dropped him to 9 life.

Standard – Watanabe (JPN) 2, Michael Jacob (USA) 0

Japan 1, USA 0

Legacy – Akihiro Takakuwa (JPN) vs. Paul Cheon (USA)

Akihiro Takakuwa’s Mono-White Stax aims to keep things slooooow.
Akihiro Takakuwa had been struggling all weekend long to win matches in Legacy. His deck choice, an anti-creature Mono-White Stax build, had fared particularly poorly against former U.S. National Team champion Paul Cheon. Playing a control deck named Dreadstill, he focused on using Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top to control the flow of the game, Brainstorm and Standstill to keep his hand full, and Phyrexian Dreadnought with Stifle as a win condition (giving the deck its other name, StifleNaught).

The two players got underway with Akihiro dropping a powerful threat on his first turn: Chalice of the Void set on one. His deck possessed a number of ways to pull the play off, including City of Traitors, Ancient Tomb, and Mox Diamond. The Chalice was very important against Paul; on one, it would lock out a high number of important spells Cheon needed to play to keep up and get ahead. Takakuwa tried to further tilt things in his favor on the second turn with a Trinisphere, but it was countered by Cheon’s Daze.

Ghostly Prison from the Japanese side of the table was met with Standstill from the American side, and there was an enchantment standoff. Unfortunately for Paul, he wasn’t drawing lands and actually spent a few turns of draw-go discarding. A second Trinisphere from Takakuwa broke Standstill and, after considering things for a moment, Cheon allowed the artifact to resolve. He would soon make it apparent he was having trouble finding counterspells, as his opponent’s second attempt at Chalice of the Void, again on one, resolved successfully.

Still, the wily pro had tricks up his sleeve. He could remove the Chalice with an Engineered Explosives, but because Trinisphere required Paul to spend three mana on the Explosives, he would need to find some combination of three Wasteland and Mishra’s Factory to be able to play Explosives with just colorless mana. That would meet Trinisphere’s requirements and also see the Fifth Dawn rare hit play with no counters, allowing Cheon to use it on Chalice of the Void. He played a second Standstill, but Akihiro mitigated its gains for Cheon with Enlightened Tutor. He played the instant at the end of Cheon’s turn, forcing Paul to sacrifice his Standstill. Takakuwa’s own Chalice of the Void then countered the Tutor, but with a full hand, Cheon was forced to discard. Instead of drawing three cards from the Standstill, Cheon essentially filtered the top three cards of his deck thanks to Akihiro’s heads-up play.

The play was techy, but Akihiro still didn’t have any meaty fights to force, passing his turn. Paul happily dropped a third Standstill, which was broken when Takakuwa tried an Armageddon. Cheon was sitting on a counter, then finally managed to resolve an Engineered Explosives on 0 with a pair of Mishra’s Factory and a Wasteland. When he sacrificed it, the artifact blew up not only Chalice of the Void but also his opponent’s Mox Diamonds, leaving Takakuwa thoroughly short on mana. A turn later Cheon landed Sensei’s Divining Top, then Counterbalance, and it was only a matter of time before he found a Phyrexian Dreadnought with Stifle to mop things off. When the 12/12 hit, Takukuwa wisely conceded.

Legacy – Cheon (USA) 1, Takakuwa (JPN) 0

Paul Cheon points the way.
Akihiro Takakuwa kicked off the second game of the match with a bang, playing a first turn Pithing Needle set to Sensei’s Divining Top. Cheon had a Standstill in his opening hand, but opted not to play it on his second turn. He used Force of Will to counter an Akihiro Chalice of the Void on one, then made a Phyrexian Dreadnought with Trickbind. It looked like Paul wanted to be the beatdown in the second game.

His opponent had other plans as Takakuwa revealed an Oblivion Ring to knock the giant robot out of commission. Cheon finally played his Standstill and Akihiro promptly broke it with Trinisphere. The troublesome artifact resolved, and Paul followed up with a second Standstill, paying an extra mana for it as a result of the Sphere. Nonplussed, Akihiro broke the second Standstill with Chalice of the Void, this time set to two instead of one. That would lock out Counterbalance and Standstills, as well as Daze and Trickbind should they come up. When Takakuwa played an Aura of Silence a turn later, Paul had to verify with a judge how the timeshifted enchantment interacted with Trinisphere. The judge clarified that the cost modification of Aura of Silence would satiate the Trinisphere’s need to impact cost, and Paul returned to focusing on the game.

At five mana, Cheon finally strated to go on offense with Mishra’s Factory. The three mana left over allowed him to play Force of Will for “free” should Akihiro try anything on his own turn. He didn’t, and a second Factory joined the attack to set the totals at 17–9 in Paul’s favor following the creature-land attacks and early pings for Akihiro from his own Ancient Tombs and Horizon Canopys. Looking to stem the bleeding, Takakuwa played a Wasteland and used the land and his Aura of Silence in an attempt to blow up the two Factories the following turn. Cheon had a Stifle to save one, and played his third Factory of the game, still on the rampage.

Akihiro had one more chance to hit an out, either an Armageddon and praying Paul didn’t have a counter, or Wasteland. He peeled his card for the turn and found ... nothing of any help.

Legacy – Cheon (USA) 2, Takakuwa (JPN) 0.

USA 1, Japan 1

Extended – Masashi Oiso (JPN) vs. Sam Black (USA)

Japan team captain Masashi Oiso had already taken Sam Black’s ElfBall deck down in the Swiss, but sitting down to the semifinals of the team championship it was a whole new card game. Black gave no indication whether he was intimidated by the previous loss, and sat right down to business. His opponent’s Blue-Black Tron deck wasn’t a good matchup, but ElfBall is the type of deck that can sometimes get “those draws” and invalidate a deck’s edges.

As expected, Black was first on the table with Heritage Druid and Elvish Visionary. When Oiso tapped out for a Dimir Signet, Sam capitalized with Glimpse of Nature into Heritage Druid, Wirewood Hivemaster, and Elvish Visionary. Oiso calmly played Damnation and undid all of his American opponent’s handiwork. Sam reloaded with a morph, presumably Birchlore Rangers.

Oiso took the time to transmute a Tolaria West for Chalice of the Void and quickly set it to one. Black simply played a second morph, looking to be locked out of the game already. Japan’s National Champion used Engineered Explosives to blow up his opponents’ creatures, but lost his Chalice of the Void in the process. That essentially reset the board, but Sam Black’s hand featured Chord of Calling, Orzhov Pontiff, and Regal Force. Having all of the Chord cards in hand was more than a little awkward, and when Oiso used Spell Burst to counter an Elf, showing a counter lock, it was only a matter of time until the Japanese pro found a win condition and took things down.

Extended – Oiso (JPN) 1, Black (USA) 0

Oiso feels it out.
Black came right out of the gates for the second game trying to mini-combo on his second turn. He had opened on a Llanowar Elves, then played Glimpse of Nature and Heritage Druid on turn two. He had access to another green mana and, if he drew a one-cost Elf, would be able to play it, cantrip, and make up to three more mana. Instead he whiffed and was forced to pass.

His opponent wasted no time with a main-phase Smother targeting Heritage Druid to put an end to those shenanigans. By the time Sam’s fourth turn had rolled around, he was ready to attempt going off again by playing Glimpse of Nature, then Nettle Sentinel. In response Oiso played a second Smother targeting the Birchlore Rangers Black had played on his third turn, shutting off Sam’s access to copious future amounts of mana. It looked like Black was stuck with the beatdown plan, playing a Wirewood Symbiote and passing the turn.

Oiso attempted to dig himself out of trouble playing a Gifts Ungiven for Engineered Explosives and Triskelion, which he got to keep, as well as Damnation and Night of Soul’s Betrayal, which he didn’t. Masashi played the Explosives for one and popped it, with Sam bouncing his Llanowar Elves in response via Wirewood Symbiote. He passed to his American opponent, who prepared another big turn.

The first play Sam made was using Summoner’s Pact to find Elvish Visionary. He played it, then played Viridian Shaman to blow up a Chrome Mox. That stunted Oiso’s mana development just enough to prevent him from activating Academy Ruins to return Engineered Explosives and playing it for anything other than zero, a number that wasn’t helpful. When Sam played Llanowar Elves and attacked for 2, Oiso did some quick math, checked his hand, and conceded.

Black (USA) 1, Oiso (JPN) 1

With the match evened at one game a piece, the Japanese and American teams were down to the wire. Whichever teammate proved victorious in the third game would decide the fate of both teams. Oiso started on the play, but it was Sam Black who had the first actual play, making a Nettle Sentinel. He followed it up the following turn with a second copy.

Sam Black cracks a smile.
Masashi Oiso, not interested in going down without a fight, played a Chrome Mox imprinting a precious Damnation, and blew an Engineered Explosives set to one. Sam binned his twin Nettle Sentinels, but started to build right back up by playing Glimpse of Nature and Heritage Druid. His Japanese opponent played his third Tron piece of the game, but unfortunately for Oiso it wasn’t enough to go big; instead he made a duplicate Urza’s Mine and passed the turn with only two cards in hand.

The beatdown path looked to be the plan of action for Sam Black and his Elves for the second time in the match, and he attacked Masashi to 17 before playing a Viridian Zealot. Oiso played a Gifts Ungiven to search out Deathmark, Damnation, Academy Ruins, and Triskelion. Sam gave the national champion the black cards and Oiso promptly blew up Black’s Zealot with the Deathmark.

Sam capitalized by mini-comboing using Glimpse to play Heritage Druid, Wirewood Hivemaster, and Viridian Shaman blowing up Oiso’s Chrome Mox. The teams were entirely focused on this final game and it was very nearly a three-on-three matchup. Masashi was shy of colored mana and needed to come up with a solution. He found some help in an Engineered Explosives, but it left his opponent with the Hivemaster, and Insect token, and Viridian Shaman, a 4-power attack force that was nothing to sneeze at.

Oiso drew, failed to find a land, and passed. Sam Black bashed on in, played an Elvish Visionary, then a second, and sent the turn back with Oiso on 13. Masashi again drew, failed to find the land he needed, and passed. Sam played more Elves, dropped his Japanese opponent to 5, and passed. When a peek at the top card of his library revealed no help, Masashi conceded.

The United States defeats Japan 2–1 and advances to the team Finals!

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