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Quarterfinals: Olivier Ruel vs. Mark Herberholz ($2,500): Divining a Victory

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Two Pro Tour veterans clashed at center stage in this quarterfinal. American Mark Herberholz is practically a rookie when held in contrast to Olivier Ruel, but he has been a fixture on the Pro Tour scene since making a splash at Grand Prix-Detroit with his first Top 8. He went on to see Pro Tour Sunday action as part of the class of San Diego '03. He is known mostly as a Limited specialist but put in a significant amount of work for this Constructed event with the supersquad. The hard work obviously paid off because this weekend marked the first time he had ever even reached the Saturday portion of play in a Constructed event.

This pair had both played on Sunday before.

Mark knew he was the emotional underdog coming into the match. "I was talking to a friend of mine from home last night. He is more of a casual player and when I told him I was playing against a Heartbeat deck he was like, 'Now I want you to lose. A Heartbeat deck with Sway of the Stars? I want that deck to win the PT, ' " relayed Herberholz.

Olivier Ruel was making his fourth appearance on the Sunday stage on the Pro Tour. He has been experiencing the greatest success of his long and storied career with wins at French Nationals and Grand Prix-Helsinki of particular note. This was his second straight Top 8 in a Constructed Pro Tour and he seems to be picking up where Gabriel Nassif has left off.

The only thing that is conspicuously absent from Olivier's impressive resume is a Pro Tour win. Ruel must not have liked his chances because he asked the event staff if he could start his match a few minutes early.

"If I lose this match quickly enough I can catch my flight," he said.

Oli did not seem confident that his deck matched up well and tried to gauge his opponent's assessment, "Did you playtest this?"

Mark shrugged, "Yes."

He had actually done overnight playtesting of the matchup extensively with Rich Hoaen and Sam Gomersall, two more Limited specialists who made serious contributions on the TOGIT list.

Oli fished for more details, "And?"

Mark shrugged again, "It all depends on the draw."

After about 30 games last night, Herberholz had determined that the match was pretty even and very much about who got to Cranial Extraction whom first. Olivier felt that the Game 1 match tilted heavily in Mark's favor.

After sideboarding he felt a little more confident but not much. "We played yesterday," explained Oli, referring to the final round of the Swiss where they were both assured of a Sunday berth but battled for $1,500. "I won but if he had access to my decklist I think he would have won. He Extracted me for Yosei after I played a Yosei but it was the only one in my deck."

While the two players shuffled, the subject of Andre Mueller came up. The German had demonstrated an uncanny ability to recite the flavor text of any Magic card on demand.

Mark looked over at the tall German, who was entertaining the judges and feature match reporters with his knowledge of Magic arcane.

"Honestly that just makes me sad. Did you know that I like to go out and socialize with other people?"

Game 1

Olivier kept his opening hand with two lands, Hero's Demise, Sway the Stars, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Sensei's Divining Top, and Kodama's Reach. He did not have a Forest but with Top. Mark sent back his opening seven but kept the next six. Before the match, Ted and I scrambled to make sure there was an adequate power supply for out computers. Both players opened with Sensei's Divining Top and that is exactly why we were worried about out three-hour batteries running down mid-match.

The players are given each others' decklists the night before, and Mark smiled at his Sensei's Divining Top that has been referred to as 'indestructible' by Kai Budde this weekend because of its ability to pop on top of a player's deck. "You are holding the Splinter?" he asked Ruel.

Ruel spins his Top, looking for goodies.

Oli was packing maindeck Splinter for aggressive White Weenie decks packing Jitte and they were dead cards in this matchup unless he could somehow catch the Top tapped. "Yosei into Splinter is nice but I have only seen that happen once."

Oli's land base started unfolding in front of him when he found Tendo Ice Bridge floating near the top. Mark briefly stalled on a Swamp and Plains. Mark went to shuffle Oli's deck after another Kodama's Reach but Ruel showed him that he was going to cast Time of Need and they cut out the middle step. Olivier found Kodama of the North Tree and then there was time for the shuffling.

Kodama of the North Tree was staring down two lands at the end of the next turn. Mark kept spinning his Top, but with no shuffle effects to get a fresh set of cards he was only seeing one new card per turn and they weren't lands. Finally he found a Forest but had no action since he had to tap a land to find it. The next turn he was able to cast Kodama's Reach and went to five mana. He was at 14 from the legendary spirit. He fell to 8 on the next swing.

Olivier had hit a land pocket in his deck and wanted to keep Mark off of six mana. He flipped up a Splinter with the Sensei's Divining Top and went after Mark's. Mark thought for about half a second and then activated the Top to draw a card.

Mark took a long time formulating his turn. He could afford one more hit from the legend He replayed the Top without hitting land number six, and tapped out to cast Cranial Extraction naming Cranial Extraction - ironically, he actually "destroyed" Olivier's Top by catching it on top his library.

It didn't matter; Ruel drew another Top and activated it. He attacked for six and Mark went to 2. Oliver flipped up a Yosei and played it. He passed the turn and during Mark's upkeep cast Hero's Demise on Yosei to tap out the American.

Ruel 1, Herberholz 0

Game 2

Mark had to laugh at the unlikely set of circumstances in Game 1, "I have to say…I really didn't see Hero's Demise being the deciding card in that game."

Olivier: "We had a couple of games in playtesting where we Hero's Demised Yosei and were able to Splinter a tapped Sensei's Divining Top."

Mark smiled, "That's living the dream. Usually the games just come down to whomever Extractions the Extraction first, winning."

Herberholz had never been this far in a Constructed PT before.

Olivier and Mark kept giving each other updates on the match between Kenji Tsumura and Ryan Cimera one table over. The two players were licking their chops at the prospect of playing Ryan's White Weenie deck in the semifinals. Olivier was practically drooling, "If I lose, I want Kenji to win, but if I am playing in the semis?"

Meanwhile both players started off with Sensei's Divining Top. Olivier followed with Sakura-Tribe Elder. Mark played Nezumi Shortfang on turn two. There were not many ways of dealing with that card in Olivier's deck that don't cost six mana. Of course, getting to six for these decks is not exactly very hard.

Olivier began the mana-ramping process with his own Sakura-Tribe Elder. Mark got his rat on and Olivier discarded a redundant Top. He cracked his Elder, activated his top, and untapped to cast Cranial Extraction naming Cranial Extractions and getting a peek at Mark's sideboard strategy. He saw Reach, Procession, Judgment, and Swamp in hand.

Mark took another card and Olivier flipped up his Top to put a Top in hand to pitch. It was his turn to be land tight. He looked for one on top, and when it wasn't there played Sakura-Tribe Elder and passed the turn. He was down to two cards in hand.

Mark took him to one card and played Hana Kami - with a Kodama's Reach awaiting a return engagement from the grumper. Final Judgment took out the Shortfang and Hana Kami jumped into the yard. Mark cast Kodama's Reach and grew himself Kodama of the North Tree.

Olivier found another Cranial floating near the top of his deck and used it to remove Soulless Revival from the game. Mark was still holding Eerie Procession, Final Judgment, and now Yosei.

Kodama munched on six points of Olivier's life total. Mark's Kodama's Reach took him up to 11 mana. Olivier, who was literally playing off the Top, found Time of Need for Myojin of Cleansing Fire. He looked at three lands with his Top and fell to eight on the attack. When the Myojin saw play a turn later, Mark had to clear the board with Final Judgment.

Olivier topped into a Meloku, but Mark's deck was devoid of anything but spells. He had spent an entire turn furiously working his Top and Kodama's Reach to find his deck's Psychic Spear for the Myojin. Along the way he cleared his deck of much of its chaff. He found another Final Judgment for the Meloku and followed with North Tree.

Now it was Olivier's turn to thin and top. He fell to one from the Kodama and had one last turn to draw an out. He led the turn off with Heartbeat of Spring and activated the Top with one blue floating. He knew the top two cards of his deck offered nothing but the third card down could be anything - he needed it to be Sway of the Stars, "C'mon deck!"

The third card down was a Plains.

Ruel 1, Herberholz 1

Game 3

Olivier led off Game 3 with Sakura-Tribe Elder. After Nezumi Shortfang hit play for Mark, Oli thought about sacrificing the snake but changed his mind, "I prefer the beatdown." He slammed the elder into the red zone and challenged the rat to block.

Mark pretended to think about it, "No ninjas?"

Oli cocked an eyebrow, "You are lucky." The French player ramped up with Kodama's Reach instead. Mark continued to develop his board along more traditional curves. He continued his assault on Oli's hand with the Shortfang but that didn't stop Olivier from smashing in with the elder and planting a North Tree on the board.

Mark went to 11 and Olivier banged down Yosei - Mark was two turns away from Judgment. When Olivier sent everyone in on the next turn, it added up to lethal no matter which way you did the math thanks to the trample of Kodama. Mark was one turn away from setting up the Ethereal Haze lock and if Oli had not gotten every single point of Sakura-Tribe Elder beats in the game could have very well turned out differently.

Ruel 1, Herberholz 1

Game 4

Mark rolled his eyes at the first seven cards and sent it back. His next six featured plenty of land but no action and he reluctantly sent that back as well. He was making things tough for Olivier, who was looking at a hand with two lands - Plains, Island - but no Forest, no Reach, no Elder, and no Top. "I almost kept that one but I realized I would not be winning," he said.

Oli stood pat on his next six and made a Sakura-Tribe Elder on turn two. Mark had Reach for turn three. Olivier also had a Reach as well as a freshly drawn Top. Cranial Extraction saw Mark name Final Judgment this time. He saw a hand with Forest, Reach, Myojin, and one Final Judgment - perhaps foretold by Olivier's choice of two Plains with his Reach.

Oli had help from a certain Clouded Mirror.

Olivier went for another Kodama's Reach and put tapped Plains and an Island into play. Mark played Yosei and Oli came back over the top with Myojin of Cleansing Fire.

Yosei swung in for five. Mark thinned his lands with Kodama's Reach and put Sakura-Tribe Elder in the path of the oncoming Myojin. Oliver munched the mana fixer and dropped Meloku. Mark played a repeat of the last turn with Sakura-Tribe Elder and Yosei swinging for five more. Oliver was tapped out and could only block with Meloku.

The Myojin was chumped again and Oli sat back on his mana and Meloku. Mark cast Extraction naming Cranial Extraction and saw Sway of the Stars in hand. He passed the turn with no other play. Olivier looked at his Sway and looked at his seven untapped lands. "I am tempted." Oliver grabbed six lands and the judge asked one of the other table judges for six tokens. "You might want more," advised Olivier.

Olivier sent in everyone, including Meloku. Mark had one card in hand. Yosei stepped in the way of the 2/4 flier. "I take 10?" asked Mark. With damage on the stack, Olivier picked up two more lands for two more fliers.

Mark had one chance to draw a land but showed off a pair of lands, which he used to scoop up his cards before congratulating Olivier on advancing to the semifinals $2,500 richer.




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