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Quarterfinals: The Swedish Gambit

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The letter I!n David Larsson's very first Pro Tour he has been a phenomenon, tearing his way into the Top 8 in his first attempt. A graduate of Magic Online and its endless draft queues, he has successfully made the transition into real-life Magic. His opponent in the quarterfinals is fellow Swede Johan Sadeghpour, ensuring that one way or another Sweden will have a player in the top four. The two know each other from the Pro Tour Qualifier circuit level, but any sense of national solidarity will have to be put to one side for this match.
Sweden was well represented in the Top 8.

Each player has white as his primary colour, with Larsson having gone green to eschew the big fight for black cards that was going on at the draft table, while Sadeghpour chose to wade right on into it, and by all accounts did pretty well, netting himself a very powerful black-white deck sporting double Scuttling Death, a Horobi's Whisper and a couple of Okiba-Gang Shinobi, whose value has rocketed with the inclusion of Saviors of Kamigawa to the block.

Game 1

Sadeghpour won the die roll and chose to play first, and took the early initiative with a Kitsune Diviner who allowed a Skullsnatcher to be nijitsu'd out on turn two. The only answer from Larsson was a Hand of Honor, whose protection from black seemed to be potentially very important in the matchup.

While Sadeghpour curved out neatly without incident, Larsson's opening was slightly stilted by a missed fourth land, and he faced down some early pressure from his countryman, whose team swelled. A ground stall seemed inevitable when David made a Split-Tail Miko to stand alongside his samurai squad. The potential for early beats gone, the tempo of the match would likely be dictated by who had the superior collection of tricks to hand.

Split-Tail Miko

Larsson's deck brought him Ayumi, the Last Visitor, the size of the legend being potentially a concern, but for the Kitsune Diviner that Sadeghpour still held on to. A Moonwing Moth from Johan gave him too a method for getting some more damage through as Larsson languished without fliers. Only a Split-Tail Miko stood in the way to keep things level.

The aggressor proved to be Larsson, who ran into the fray with Lifespinner, Samurai of the Pale Curtain and Kitsune Blademaster with all his lands untapped and enough cards in hand to be of concern. All three were blocked, and with damage on the stack, and Otherworldly Journey saved the Samurai of the Pale Curtain from a nasty demise. In a Nietschien twist, that which didn't kill the fox samurai made it that little bit stronger, and Torii Watchward felt the taste of it's steel.

This small victory was enough to give Larsson a bit of momentum which he capitalised on with further large attacks. Sadeghpour made a bid to take out the Lifespinner with a triple block, but again there was a trick, in the form of Shinen of Star's Light to give the big spirit first strike. The first chink showed in the play from Larsson as he missed a Split-Tail Miko activation to keep his Lifespinner alive, but he was still looking pretty good on the offensive.

With the onus in the matchup being on big combats at this point, each player took a little time to rebuild, and it appeared that Larsson might be out of gas. Sadeghpour on the other hand was able to nip in with Moonwing Moth to bring Okiba-Gang Shinobi to the party, and like the dirty rat he was, the ninja took all of Larsson's toys which included a Cage of Hands.

The race was now very much on, and Larsson moved in, presumably in the hope of ending the game before Sadeghpour's card advantage from the rat became and issue. The defence from Johan was sufficient to make this a tricky proposition though and with Kuro's Taken and a Kitsune Loreweaver, it was all David could do to squeeze out a few points here and there. With Sadeghpour on only 8 to his opponent's 17 though, each point stung that little bit more.

Horobi's Whisper

By now a pair of Split-Tail Mikos were more than enough to keep alpha strikes from being a major concern for Larsson, but the ground was stalled enough that getting through the final points became a real issue. He barrelled in again, and found himself staring down the tricks of Sadeghpour which had previously been hiding. A Horobi's Whisper on Split-Tail Miko splicing both Blessed Breath and Hundred-Talon Strike dealt with two of Larsson's creatures, while Sadeghpour's board remained almost unchanged, with only a Moonlit Strider falling in the battle.

A Ghostly Prison from Sadeghpour further strengthened his defence, and all of a sudden it appeared that the tempo may have changed, a fact as apparent from the body language of each player as from the board position.

Moonwing Moth attacked into Larsson, and its twin showed up to play defence for a turn. A Genju of the Fields was the reply for David, but with the Kitsune Diviner about, it didn't appear too large a threat. The pair of Moths maintained their assault, only slightly blunted by a single Split-Tail Miko. A Kemuri-Onna got a little chuckle from Larsson, who was playing empty handed Magic and drawing a little thin. The very next attack step it was all over as the fliers took it home.

Sadeghpour 1, Larsson 0

Game 2

Larsson was forced to mulligan on the play but looked to have a good draw regardless, as he hit Genju of the Fields on turn one and a Kitsune Blademaster on three. For Sadeghpour it was a Kitsune Diviner and a Moonwing Moth. Equal-opportunity beatings came from each side of the board, as did subsequent creatures, which served to clog up the ground while the Moth merrily flew high. A Cage of Hands on Moonlit Strider allowed Larsson to sneak through a few more beats, which Sadeghpour replied to with moth swings of his own, and a Kitsune Blademaster to match his opponent's.

David Larsson was competing in his first Pro Tour.

Healers on each side of the board compounded whatever stall had previously been in place, and it became tough to see how either player was going to break through. David Larsson's plan was Eiganjo Free-Riders, whose size seemed a concern, but with Sadeghpour having more creatures on the board (a fact compounded by the big white flier) the race was far from decisively in anyone's favour. Larsson was stuck without green manner thus far, but his powerful white cards seemed to be happy enough on their own. Never one to see his opponent too happy, Sadeghpour played Horobi's Whisper on Larsson's Split-Tail Miko, hoping to win in short order.

Kitsune Blademaster attacked for Sadeghpour into a world of pain where he was triple blocked. An Indomitable Will let the samurai take down some Freer Riders, but when Moonlit Strider was used to "save" Sadeghpour's fox, it actually didn't help at all, with the first striker falling to the first-strike damage it had already taken when the pro-white caused the Will to fall off.

The Moth plan continued oblivious of such ground based setbacks, bringing Larsson down to a precarious four, and looking to end the game altogether. Truly a deadly insect.

Larsson's riposte consisted of Samurai Enforcers and an end of turn Otherworldly Journey on Kitsune Diviner to allow him a big swing including Genju of the Fields, a tricky spirit when it comes to a race. Larsson went "all in," hoping to pull it out before he would have to worry too much about bothersome fliers. At the end of the fight, with the Genju's help, it still wasn't enough for Larsson, and the swing back was enough.

Sadeghpour 2, Larsson 0

Game 3

A turn-one Lantern Kami from Sadeghpour met with a smile and a nod from his opponent, who made a Kitsune Loreweaver. When the Kami then showed it had Indomitable Will, the smile faded slightly though, as Sadeghpour effectively played Time Walk on his opponent by making him pump the defence of the 2/1 by blocking.

Kitsune Palliator was replied to with Order of the Sacred Bell, the interesting first pick of Larsson's. Faced with a pack replete with strong black cards, Larsson had elected to avoid a fight for a colour he doesn't really favour. Here, its quality would be tested.

Sadeghpour had a Moonwing Moth, the death that flies, again, but a Cage of Hands on the Lantern Kami, and an attack from the big green guy seemed pretty strong. The Moth blocked and tried to take it down with a Hundred Talon Strike, but a Shinen of Star's Light made it a trade.

Kemuri-Onna

Sadeghpour cast a Kemuri-Onna, forcing his opponent to discard.

"You're going to laugh at this," he quipped, discarding an Otherworldly Journey that would have been very hot to keep the Order alive.

He cast an Eiganjo Free-Riders, and passed with a shake of the head. A Hand of Honor joined in, and they proceeded to get their beat on against Johan.

Sadeghpour made Kami of the Empty Graves and returned the powerful Kemuri-Onna to his hand. Soon he would be forced to make a move if he wanted to make the match a sweep. As Larsson's big flier came over relentlessly, this dream seemed to be slipping away with Johan on just 8 to his opponent's 17. Even with Kitsune Palliator keeping the damage down, the clock was very much on. A Kitsune Healer slowed it further, meaning that it would be a point by point assault from the soldiers.

When Larsson untapped and swung in with the help of Inner Calm, Outer Strength though, the clock stopped for Sadeghpour and it was on to Game 4.

Sadeghpour 2, Larsson 1

Game 4

For Game 4 Johan was confident in his keep

"You always keep!" Larsson pointed out with a smile

"That's because I'm the best," Stated Johan matter-of-factly. This is as savage as Swedish trash talk gets, and Larsson was quietened for now.

Early in the game it was all action for both players. Kuro's Taken and Kitsune Blademaster established an early set of beats, while Kitsune Palliator and Kitsune Healer tried to keep the damage down for Sadeghpour and Larsson respectively.

Lifespinner

Kemuri-Onna got a chance to pick at Larsson's hand for two consecutive turns when it was bounced by Torii Watchward, but as his hand diminished Larsson appeared to be having no trouble making threats, with a Lifespinner coming out to play and looking pretty threatening. Larsson also had a Mothrider Samurai, so the potential for little fliers to spoil his game seemed slightly diminished. When he made a Split-Tail Miko, it looked like he could be in quite a powerful position, with both evasive beats and a solid team back on defence.

Samurai Enforcers and second Split-Tail Miko reinforced this defence, but the attack from Larsson was slowed slightly by Ghostly Prison, and a Moonwing Moth from Sadeghpour, providing answers to both swarm and flying attacks.

A flying attack came nonetheless, and with a Plow Through Reito returning all but one of Larsson's lands he attempted to overpower the pump ability of Moonwing Moth. He was successful, but at the cost of not having more than two land in play at the end of his turn. Of course Sadeghpour had a trick other than the Moth's ability to keep it alive, something that the Plow was never stopping. Moonlit Strider sacrificed itself for the team, keeping the defences of Johan strong, and his hopes of winning alive.

Sadeghpour had a look at the top of his library with a Harsh Deceiver prior to his draw, he saw an Indomitable Will, and when he looked again after the draw, there was a Horobi's Whisper. With ample lands in play this was no doubt perfectly fine for the Swede, who was drawing into the sort of gas he would need to break things up within a fairly short space of time. Lantern Kami allowed another Kemuri-Onna casting which hit the Inner Calm, Outer Strength that had killed Johan last game. Clearly there must have been something else in Larsson's hand that was even saucier.

As Anton Jonsson's playing partner, Sadeghpour is used to playing the best.

When Cage of Hands grabbed Moonwing Moth it became clear what Larsson's plan was. The ground would be uncontested, while the important battles took place in the air. Little did he know that a Horobi's Whisper was waiting for the right time to stop this plan, but given the glut of creatures on the ground, it was certainly a reasonable plan.

At this point Sadeghpour went to count each player's library, and saw that he was one card ahead should the game go to decking. With so much defence on either side this seemed a likely way for the game to end unless Larsson could punch through more damage with his Mothrider Samurai. Lantern Kami blocked it for a turn, and the clock on Sadeghpour seemed even slower. When Sadeghpour played a Kitsune Healer it appeared to have nearly stopped, forcing a larger attack from David, which was not enough to actually start it again.

While the board filled even further, to the point that the table was barely visible, there remained little in the way of real threats to the brick wall that Sadeghpour was maintaining.

Kami of the Honored Dead got a little hello from Johan, while Larsson cursed the fact that it had come rather late if he was ever going to get the kill before losing to decking. With Kitsune Diviner on Sadeghpour's side of the board, it remained largely irrelevant that there was another flier, but earlier it could have been a challenge to defeat. Eiganjo Free-Riders also finally made an appearance, but as Larsson went to draw his final card Sadeghpour showed the Horobi's Whisper and a Blessed Breath which would be more than enough to stop any threats he could pose on the final turn.

Johan Sadeghpour wins 3-1 and advances to the semifinals.

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