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Quarterfinals: The Battle for Black-Green

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Nicolai Herzog has been drafting aggressive green- or white-based beatdown strategies all weekend. He prefers a large number of two-drops, backed up by Earthbrawns, Burrenton Bombardiers, or Surge of Thoughtweft. For the final draft of the Pro Tour, Nicolai drafted a heavily green Elf strategy.

His deck's first potential plan is for two Elvish Handservants lead the way for Woodland Changeling, two Skeletal Changelings, Ghostly Changelings, and Game-Trail Changeling. The one-mana Handservants could easily be attacking as 3/3s on turn three, and potentially even bigger if the opponent played changelings or Giants. And everybody is playing changelings.

The second pillar of his deck is having Imperious Perfect, Jagged-Scar Archers, Winnower Patrol and Lys Alana Bowmaster with tons and tons of Elves, including Wren's Run Vanquisher.

The two pillars also intertwine, since the Elvish Handservants also serve as cheap Elves to pump up all the "Elf Matters" cards quickly. And all the changelings that count as giants for Nicolai's Elvish Handservants also count as Elves for his "Elf matters" cards.

Hall of Famer Nicolai Herzog brings Elves to the table.
Marcio Carvalho is also playing green-black, but with a very different strategy. That color combination also houses a very different tribe from the Elves: the Treefolk, of which Marcio is taking full advantage. Marcio's deck combines about fourteen Treefolk cards with about five "Treefolk matter" enablers including Thorntooth Witch, Leaf-Crowned Elder, Bosk Banneret, Treefolk Harbinger, Everbark Shaman, and Black Poplar Shaman. Bramblewood Paragon, often used to benefit Elf Warriors, is used here by Marcio to power up his many Treefolk Warriors.

Marcio is also splashing for two Oblivion Rings off of a Fertile Ground.

Game 1

The first game was a testament to the danger of splashing for a third color. Marcio Carvalho opened up with Swamp and a splashed Plains, but couldn't find any of his main-color Forests, or even any more lands at all, and quickly fell to Nicolai's Elf assault.

Herzog 1, Carvalho 0

Game 2

Now the two Top 8 competitors rolled up their sleeves for a classic green-on-green brawl. Marcio's turn-two fertile ground led into a turn-three Leaf-Crowned Elder, a fantastic guy to accelerate to, because it raises the possibility of cranking out free five-mana Treefolk from turn four onwards. Nicolai invested in Cream of the Crop, then was happy to turn the Elder into a less threatening 0/4 textless Treefolk with Lignify.

Marcio rebuilt with Bramblewood Paragon and the "Elf Treefolk Skeleton Warrior Shaman" known as Skeletal Changeling, adding a +1/+1 counter from Bramblewood Paragon. The regenerators in both players' decks are at their best in primarily green-on-green matchups, where they can block big green 4/5s and 7/7s and survive.

Nicolai summoned Imperious Perfect and started filtering through his deck with Cream of the Crop. Marcio came back with Oblivion Ring, and Nicolai motioned for his Imperious Perfect, but Marcio shook his head and Oblivion Ringed the Lignify instead, bringing his Leaf-Crowned Elder back online. Marcio had decided he was happy to pit his Leaf-Crowned Elder against Nicolai's Imperious Perfect, rather than have both creatures effectively out of play. Marcio's Changeling and Paragon attacked past Nicolai's Imperious Perfect.

Nicolai rebuilt his defense with Bog-Strider Ash, a Skeletal Changeling of his own, and two of Imperious Perfect's Elf tokens, filtering by twos with Cream of the Crop along the way. He filtered off of the tokens coughed up by Imperious Perfect too. But Marcio made a turn-six Thorntooth Witch. With the Witch and Leaf-Crowned Elder out, any topdecked Treefolk card would turn into a "play for free and kill your guy." In decks with just five Treefolk, these two "Treefolk Matters" cards would be powerful, but with Marcio having over a dozen Treefolk, they would be devastating.

While Marcio didn't topdeck a Treefolk on his next turn, he didn't need to. Weed-Pruner Poplar from Marcio's hand proved to be a Treefolk Assassin in more than ways than one, allowing Thorntooth Witch to pick off Nicolai's Imperious Perfect. Nicolai killed the Treefolk Assassin with Nameless Inversion, just barely unable to kill the nasty 3/4 Thorntooth Witch or the 3/5 Leaf-Crowned Elder. Nicolai also gained life from his Bog-Strider Ash noticing the Nameless Inversion.

On Marcio's turn eight, the Treefolk engine he'd been building really paid off. Leaf-Crowned Elder's kinship revealed a Seedguide Ash, which he played for free, triggering Thorntooth Witch to kill Nicolai's Skeletal Changeling, opening the way for Marcio's chunky Treefolk to go to work.

With no play from Herzog, Marcio followed up with Elvish Harbinger to put his own Nameless Inversion on top of his deck. Since both Leaf-Crowned Elder and Thorntooth Witch care about Treefolk spells, not Treefolk creatures, putting Nameless Inversion on top set Marcio up to play Nameless Inversion for free on his next turn, also triggering Thorntooth Witch to subtract three toughness from a second creature.

Nicolai played Boggart Loggers to start to pull the Treefolk engine apart. While Boggart Loggers isn't normally a superstar, in this matchup, he was an unblockable 2/1 Nicolai could sacrifice to destroy any huge creature in Carvalho's deck. Deciding on the Loggers' target was difficult—was it more important to stop Leaf-Crowned Elder's free extra creatures or Thorntooth Witch's free extra +3/-3s? Nicolai thought and killed the Leaf-Crowned Elder. In all the card plays, an optional Cream of the Crop trigger slipped by,

By this point, Marcio had blown away most of Nicolai's board, and Marcio attacked with Skeletal Changeling, Thorntooth Witch, and Elvish Harbinger, holding Nameless Inversion (with its additional Thorntooth Witch trigger) to deal with any unexpected problems.

The one unexpected problem they couldn't deal with was Cloudthresher! Just when Nicolai had looked defenseless, he was actually feigning weakness to lure Marcio into attacking with Thorntooth Witch, so that Nicolai could flash out Cloudthresher to block and kill the deadly Thorntooth Witch. Even the Nameless Inversion in Carvalho's hand and the Thorntooth Witch activation it brought with it weren't together enough to overcome the Cloudthresher's massive 7 toughness before combat, and the Thorntooth Witch finally died, using Nameless Inversion to take the Cloudthresher with it. Nicolai also used Cloudthresher to filter through his top seven cards with Cream of the Crop.

The filtering paid off, and Nicolai untapped and played Game-Trail Changeling and filtered again, then played Ghostly Changeling and filtered again on the following turn. Nicolai was low on life, but fighting to come back. Against Marcio's Skeletal Changeling with counter, Elvish Harbinger, and a freshly played Black Poplar Shaman.

Nicolai started to go on offense, but his Game-Trail Changeling charged into a Gilt-Leaf Ambush, empowered by Clash to gain deathtouch.

Marcio soon added Weed-Prunar Poplar and another treefolk to his team, and the often late-picked Black Poplar Shaman began to dominate the board. Again and again, Marcio sent his Treefolk on the attack, and the Black Poplar Shaman's tribal regeneration ability stopped Nicolai's from having any good blocks. Soon Nicolai had to start making blocks that turned into chump-blocks with the Black Poplar Shaman on the board, and Marcio brawled through for victory.

Herzog 1, 1 Carvalho

Nicolai sideboarded in Spring Cleaning against Marcio's two Oblivion Rings, while Marcio sideboarded in his own Spring Cleaning against Nicolai's Lignify and Cream of the Crop.

Game 3

Nicolai went first and started with Skeletal Changeling and Winnower Patrol. Marcio's first play was turn-three 0/3 Treefolk Harbinger, but it allow him to play a powerful turn-four Leaf-Crowned Elder.

Nicolai made an end-of-turn Gilt-Leaf Ambush, which was quite dangerous against Leaf-Crowned Elder, because the clash greatly increased the chance that Marcio could filter into having a Treefolk or Shaman on top of his deck to play for free with Leaf-Crowned Elder. However, Nicolai had kinship of his own to power up with the clash, even though it was only the common Winnower Patrol. As it turned out, Nicolai filtered into a visible Imperious Perfect, while Marcio found nothing important.

Nicolai untapped and drew the Imperious Perfect, then immediately pounded the table when he realized he had forgotten to use the Winnower Patrol's kinship to get a counter from the Imperious Perfect. As Nicolai demonstrated, the key to reacting to a mistake in a key match is to avoid going on tilt and to maintain concentration.

Nicolai sent his Winnower Patrol bravely attacking into Leaf-Crowned Elder,doing so before playing Imperious Perfect to represent having Earthbrawn or Briarhorn. Marcio took 4, rather than risk his Elder, and Imperious Perfect came down afterwards. If Winnower Patrol's kinship had triggered, the Imperious Perfect could have come down before the attack to let Winnower Patrol attack as a 5/4 into the Leaf-Crowned Elder (with the Perfect's bonus and the counter combined) without needing to keep mana up for the pump spell, resulting in dealing 5 damage total instead of 3.

Marcio Carvalho sees the forest for the treefolk.
Marcio's Oblivion Ring turned off the Imperious Perfect while Nicolai's Lignify turned off the Leaf-Crowned Elder before either got out of hand. Fortunately for Marcio, he played another creature with the ability to get totally out of hand: turn 6 Thorntooth Witch. Nicolai attacked into Thorntooth Witch with a 4/3 Winnower Patrol and smaller creatures, again representing Earthbrawn or Briarhorn, and Marcio again did not block, giving up more points of life to preserve his awesome longterm card advantage engine.

A follow-up Black Poplar Shaman from Marcio told Thorntooth Witch to target the now 4/3 Winnower Patrol, but Nicolai finally had a good opportunity to use his Earthbrawn, sending the Patrol up to a permanent 5/4.

Nicolai sent in his two Elf Warrior tokens and the 5/4 Patrol. Thorntooth Witch stepped up to block a token and Nicolai's Briarhorn jumped out to pump the token and try to kill Thorntooth Witch. But Marcio had his own Briarhorn to return the favor and keep the crucial Witch alive. Nicolai was up 20-8, but the Witch could still tear Nicolai's board apart.

Marcio did exactly that with Weed-Pruner Poplar, triggering Thorntooth Witch to kill the Briarhorn. Nicolai sent in his 5/4 Winnower Patrol, and Marcio chumped with a 3/3 Briarhorn. When Nicolai played Woodland Changeling and passed the turn, Marcio showed it wasn't just a chump block with a totally sick end-of-turn Nameless Inversion to finish off the Winnower Patrol, triggering Thorntooth Witch to kill the Woodland Changeling, tearing Nicolai's board down to just a couple of tokens.

Nicolai stalwartly used Spring Cleaning to free his Imperious Perfect, but it was too late to stand up to all of Marcio's treefolk, and they soon clambered over for the Game 3 win. Marcio had built a deck to maximize all his Treefolk enablers, played this game to defend his Thorntooth Witch at all costs despite a dwindling life total, and it brought Marcio Game 3 victory.

Carvalho 2, Herzog 1

Game 4

Nicolai mulliganed into turn-two Skeletal Changeling and turn-three Winnower Patrol, while Marcio opened with Treefolk Harbinger, Black Poplar Shaman, and the Leaf-Crowned Elder he fetched with his Harbinger.

On Nicolai's fourth turn, he kinshipped and missed, but Imperious Perfect from the hand still allowed the Winnower Patrol to attack for 4. Nicolai commented "Desperate measures..." and played a sideboarded-in Pulling Teeth, hoping to pull out some of Marcio's bombs, but this time just hitting a Forest.

Once again, Nicolai Lignified the Leaf-Crowned Elder, and once again Marcio Oblivion Ringed the Imperious Perfect. The difference was that this time Nicolai could Spring Cleaning the Oblivion Ring to bring his Imperious Perfect back to the game in time to be a major player.

Nicolai hit his kinship on Winnower Patrol, pumping it up to a 5/4 with his Imperious Perfect's help, and kept trucking it in to Marcio's life total. Jagged-Scar Archers for Nicolai formed another powerful combo with Imperious Perfect, getting pumped by both the Imperious Perfect's +1/+1 ability and is token generation ability. The beatdown Elf synergies Nicolai set up in his draft were really coming together in this game.

Marcio tried to stabilize with the 3/5 Everbark Shaman, but by this time Nicolai's Jagged-Scar Archers was 6/6, his Winnower Patrol was 5/4, and his Elf tokens were growing rapidly. Marcio set up Black Poplar Shaman, Weed-Pruner Poplar, and Everbark Shaman to block Nicolai's next mass attack, but a surprise Briarhorn from Nicolai killed the Everbark Shaman and ended Marcio's hopes to survive.

Herzog 2, 2 Carvalho

Game 5

Carvalho makes his move.
The players wished each other good luck as they waited for the arrival of the cameras before they could play their match-deciding duel, with thousands of dollars riding on the next game.

Marcio started with a 2/2 followed by Black Poplar Shaman, while Nicolai played Cream of the Crop and a 1/1 Jagged-Scar Archers. Nicolai took 2 from Marcio's 2/2, then not-so-innocently sent the 1/1 Jagged-Scar Archers into Marcio's 1/3 Black Poplar Shaman. Marcio smartly declined to block, and Nicolai's offensive Gilt-Leaf Ambush pumped his Archers into a 3/3 before dealing damage.

Marcio played Elvish Harbinger for the Elf card Nameless Inversion and killed the Jagged-Scar Archers before they got any bigger. Quick tech: Since Nameless Inversion also strips creature types from its target, it prevents Jagged-Scar Archers from counting itself, and effectively gives it +2/-4.

With the board pretty quiet, Marcio played Everbark Shaman and declined to send a creature into Nicolai's full hand and five unapped mana, thinking about potential Briarhorns or additional Gilt-Leaf Ambushes. Nico played a sixth land and said go again, now also representing the possibility of Cloudthresher.

Marcio made Weed-Pruner Poplar and passed it over, happy not to attack into potential flash creatures as long as he could build up his triggered-ability Treefolk engine. Holding back Everbark Shaman also meant Marcio could activate it. At end of turn, Cloudthresher indeed rampaged out to Hurricane everyone for 2, showing Marcio was wise not to send in his 3/5 Everbark Shaman.

Nicolai attacked with his 7/7, giving Marcio the opportunity to gang up a bunch of Freefolk to kill it. But with Black Poplar regeneration mana down and fearing Nicolai's many giant growths, Marcio kept his Treefolk to himself and sent out an Elf Warrior token to chump block the huge Elemental.

Nicolai followed his attack by playing Wren's Run Vanquisher, showing Nameless Inversion, then playing Nameless Inversion to kill the crucial Black Poplar Shaman that can be so dominating in green on green matchups. But as soon as he passed the turn Nicolai realized he had forgotten a Cream of the Crop trigger on the Vanquisher. Nicolai had been outdrafting and outplaying his opponents at the Pro Tour all weekend, with all the necessary attention to detail to make Top 8, but jetlag-induced lack of sleep was finally starting to take its toll. Nicolai shook his head "I've been playing tight for fifteen rounds and now this..." He looked over at Cream of the Crop and added "I should have left it out of my deck!"

At end of turn, Marcio's Everbark Shaman ate his Nameless Inversion to fetch two more Forests out of his deck. Marcio's Weed-Prunar Poplar began to clean out Nicolai's Gilt-Leaf Ambush tokens, and Marcio played the Thorntooth Witch that has been so amazing in his Treefolk-heavy deck.

Nicolai came back with Lignify on the Thorntooth Witch. While overall inferior to something like Eyeblight's Ending or Oblivion Ring, Lignify is about as good spot removal as green gets, and Nicolai had included one in several of his base-green decks throughout the weekend. Lignify had definitely been a crucial player in this match, neutralizing both Thorntooth Witch and Leaf-Crowned Elder on more than one occasion. Wren's Run Vanquisher and Cloudthresher stormed over to bring the life totals to Herzog 16 – 12 Carvalho.

At end of turn, Everbark Shaman fetched out another two Forests for Marco from another dead Treefolk. Carvalho attacked with Everbark Shaman and Weed-Pruner Poplar to bring the score to Herzog 10 – 12 Carvalho, and used all of the extra Everbark Shaman mana to play Seedguide Ash and Gilt-Leaf Seer on the same turn. Carvalho had built his deck with an intense Treefolk focus, and the concentration on theme had really paid off, with not-high-profile cards like Everbark Shaman firing again and again.

The forces pulled back into a détente, with neither side attacking for a few turns. Nicolai played a Ghostly Changeling and pumped it in response to its own Cream of the Crop trigger to look at three cards instead of two. That filtering led to Nicolai into an Imperious Perfect and another filter on the next turn, and Herzog sent in Cloudthresher. Marcio had Gilt-Leaf Seer, Weed-Pruner Poplar, Everbark Shaman, and Seedguide Ash, and thought carefully about how to block while still playing around Briarhorn and Earthbrawn.

Carvalho decided to block with Seedguide Ash, Everbark Shaman,and Weed-Pruner Poplar. Nicolai tried to kill the 4/4 and the 3/3, but Carvalho played a previously unseen Fistful of Force to save his Seedguide Ash, then surpassed it with a techy Spring Cleaning on Herzog's Lignify to rerelease Carvalho's dreaded Thorntooth Witch!

Carvalho untapped and played the Skeletal Changeling he had stacked on top of his deck from the Spring Cleaning clash to trigger the Witch and kill Imperious Perfect, but Nicolai has Earthbrawn to keep the Elf lord alive, having carefully saved Earthbrawn during the Cloudthresher fight so that he could keep the more long-term-important Imperious Perfect alive.

Nicolai made a Game-Trail Changeling and filtered with Cream of the Crop. Throughout the match, Herzog made notes on his gamepad detailing the order of the vast numbers of cards he was stacking under his deck with Cream of the Crop. Not only would these notes let him know how soon he could expect to filter into his best cards again, but they would also him to setup a clash at the perfect time to win it with a previously stacked card.

Carvalho turned up the heat with his Treefolk, playing a fresh Weed-Pruner Poplar to kill Imperious Perfect. This time, there was no Earthbrawn to save it. Despite his filtering, Nicolai had no play on his turn, and Carvalho followed up with a humongous Guardian of Cloverdell with three Kithkin Soldier buddies, triggering the incredibly nasty Thorntooth Witch to kill Herzog's Wren's Run Vanquisher as well. In a drawn-out game, Carvalho had so many Treefolk and there was so much clashing going on that his Thorntooth Witch was consistently totally crushing. In addition, Carvalho had been carefully pulling all the Forests out of his entire deck with Everbark Shaman, leaving nothing left in his library but a few Swamps and tons of Treefolk to ensure that Thorntooth Witch would trigger almost every singly turn, and ensure Carvalho would keep drawing a healthy supply of creatures.

Having spread enough Thorntooth destruction, Carvalho sent in his army, attacking with Seedguide Ash, Skeletal Changeling, Everbark Shaman, Guardian of Cloverdell and 3 kithkin tokens, leaving only the Witch behind. Herzog has to block with his whole army, and has only his Game-Trail Changeling survive. A postcombat Leaf-Crowned Elder finished off the Game-Trail Changeling with a Thorntooth Witch trigger, and Carvalho's huge army of Treefolk n' triggers faces nothing left to stop it from taking the game and the match.

Carvalho 3, Herzog 2

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