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Semifinals: Olivier Ruel vs. Kenji Tsumura ($5,000): The Fracas of Far-flung Friends

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A hat makes a man.

Kenji Tsumura and Olivier Ruel have been jockeying for control of the silly pink hat all weekend long. If Jeroen Remie is an honorary American, Ruel has to be an honorary Japanese. He got to know Kenji while he was on his Asian jaunt that took him from Grand Prix to Prerelease to Pro Tour-Nagoya earlier this year.

Olivier told me earlier that Kenji Tsumura currently might be the best player in the world. He has made quite a splash with a string of terrific finishes, but Olivier knew there was one area that he had a tremendous advantage over the softspoken young man from Hiroshima. The two players patted down their pockets for a die or a coin to choose who would go first. Olivier leaned in and suggested a different method, "Junken?"

Junken is the Japanese word for Rock, Paper, scissors and apparently it would be very good for Olivier who is nearly undefeated against Tsumura at the game. "I stayed in Hiroshima for several days with him and Oiso and I think I paid for drinks once - maybe once."

Olivier sat there with his hand behind his head - that's how they play in Japan - and Kenji laughed and continued looking for a die. Olivier shook his head and insisted, "Junken for choice!"

Tsumura acceded to Olivier and they prepared to play. Apparently Olivier did not get the Rock memo and his Scissors were smashed.

Game 1

Olivier didn't have a good reason to look so relaxed.

If anyone has any doubts about the power of Sensei's Divining Top in this format, you only need to watch Olivier pleading with his deck to deliver him one in his opening set of seven. He seemed inclined to draw but he flashed his Top and decided to play it out, "I have the Top, I have the lands…keep."

They smacked a ringing high five across the table and kicked things off with a pair of Sensei's Divining Top. There were four players in the feature match area and they all had a Top in play.

Turn three saw a Kodama's Reach for Kenji whose deck seemed to be functioning as billed. Nothing seemed amiss on the other side of the table as Oli used Time of Need for Meloku and made his land drops. Olivier mugged for the camera sporting an ugly grimace as he looked at his hand. "Sometimes your deck just tells you, 'you have had enough luck for the weekend.' "

Kenji cast Gifts Ungiven end of turn. He found the Hana Kami suite with Cranial Extraction as the card to recur. Oli tossed Hana Kami and Cranial Extraction binward. Kenji untapped and Kodama's Reach returned Hana Kami from his yard. Oli untapped to extract the Hana Kami and took a cursory glance through the deck before shuffling. What really held his interest was a hand that included the black Myojin and at least two ways to get it back.

Kenji continued to develop his mana. Olivier looked for cards. He had no shuffle effects going on so he was just flipping down to the third card to see his next 'draw.' He laughed and showed off Heartbeat of Spring. He played it and a Sakura-Tribe Elder and asked for Kenji's concession.

Kenji felt pretty good about his chances and even better about the extra mana. He played the blue and black Myojin on his turn and sent it back to Oli. Oli had to lose his whole had during upkeep including a crucial Sway of the Stars. Olivier was impressed with the disappearing trick and showed one off one of his own. He took the Myojin and held it in one of hands under the table. He asked Kenji to guess which one it was in. When Kenji guessed, he showed off two empty hands and took off the pink monstrosity on top of his head and pulled a Myojin out of his hat. He still had no cards in hand, though.

Kenji drew 14 cards but still had to Top into Meloku. Kenji Time Stopped during upkeep to secure the win.

Tsumura 1, Ruel 0

Game 2

Kenji sided in a suite of Nezumi Graverobbers, Kodama of the North Tree, and two more Cranial Extractions. Olivier took out the Splinters, Heartbeats, and Hero's Demise for Hisoka's Defiance, Yosei, and Minamo's Meddling.

As Olivier drew each card from his deck he would announce, "Top? Top? Top?" like an old lady at a slot machine. He must have gotten paid off on one of those draws because he led off with Top. There was no top from Kenji.

Olivier missed land number three while Kenji had Kodama's Reach on turn three. Olivier found Sakura-Tribe Elder but not land number three. Kenji made him feel less than thrilled about the Elder with Nezumi Graverobber. He had to suck it up and crack the Elder so he could get to four lands for Extraction. Kenji opened up his Nighteyes by eating the Sakura-Tribe Elder in response.

Kenji bashed with Nighteyes and Hana Kami. He activated his Kami and cast Kodama's Reach again. Olivier's mana was on the comeback trail with his own copy of Kodama's Reach. He was still getting banged for four by the Graverobber. Kenji had also played Sakura-Tribe Elder which could equal two extra lands a turn with the Nighteyes.

Olivier called for the white Myojin in a Time of Need and attempted Cranial Extraction but it was prevented with Time Stop. He fell to six on the next attack but put a stop to the bleeding with Final Judgment. Kenji sacrificed his Elder and then reanimated Hana Kami and sacrificed it for Kodama's Reach. He untapped to play another Graverobber and Kodama's Reach.

Olivier looked at the top of his deck and then shuffled for some new ones with Kodama's Reach. He topped and found Cranial Extraction and used it to remove Hana Kami from the game. He saw a handful of lands. Kenji went to work on his graveyard with the Graverobber.

Kenji finished off his graveyard and the freshly flipped Nighteyes took Olivier down to 2. Olivier topped into Myojin of Cleansing Fire.

Kenji could not get around the monster and passed the turn. Oli attacked and Kenji activated his Nighteyes. Oli responded by removing the counter from his Myojin in response. Kenji put his rat in the graveyard and then put his Sakura-Tribe Elder into play. Olivier had made a timing miscue by not letting the Elder come into play before using the ability. By doing it in response, the ability was still on the stack and Nighteyes was buried. The Elder then came into play and chumped the Myojin. Olivier scrunched up his face and used Time of Need for Meloku.

Kenji played another Graverobber and Sakura-Tribe Elder. A turn later, Ink-Eyes walked in the front door without any of its normal machinations for Kenji. He took seven in the air from the fliers. Kenji was dead in one turn but got to get an extra one with Time Stop. He peeled back his next card and it was Final Judgment, followed by Graverobber.

Olivier had a Final Judgment right back but Kenji played Soulless Revival for Graverobber and promptly flipped it. Olivier topdecked another Meloku and tapped out to play it. Kenji reanimated Ink-Eyes and then used Sensei's Divining Top to find Meloku to kill Olivier's Meloku and swing in for the win.

Tsumura 2, Ruel 0

Game 3

Olivier mulliganed into Sensei's Divining Top and Sakura-Tribe Elder and had five mana in play by turn three. Kenji was missing the Top and Sakura-Tribe Elder portion of the draw and he only had four mana in play by turn three. Olivier had the mana now but not the cards to keep it going. He dug with his Top but could not find any action or at least a shuffle effect to keep it going.

When Kenji announced Cranial Extraction, Oli thanked him for the shuffle. Kenji took all four Cranial Extractions from the deck and drew up a to-do list of cards to extract in the future - a future that was likely only a Gifts Ungiven away.

Oli had a whole new set of cards to work with and topped into Kodama's Reach and played Meloku. Kenji went for Gifts end-of-turn and offered the package with Myojin of Night's Reach standing in for an Extraction that was already in the bin. Oli tried to look for the least optimal route to send Kenji down - there was no way to split it so that Kenji could not begin recurring cards. Oli let him have Stir the Grave and Hana Kami.

Kenji used Final Judgment on the Meloku and passed. Oli tried his best evil laugh as he played Yosei, but he was being outclassed at every draw and his laugh was as hollow his chances for victory. Oli's eyes bugged at the sight of Kenji playing Meloku. He was being pressed on every front.

Oli had no attack and Kenji returned Cranial Extraction and cast another Gifts, offering Sakura-Tribe Elder, Reach, Time of Need, and Graverobber. He got to keep Graverobber and Time of Need.

He tried to do the brain surgery but Oli was ready with Hisoka's Defiance. "Ha ha," came the flat laugh from the Frenchman. Kenji used Stir the Grave to return the Hana Kami. Yosei swung in this time and Kenji put a token in the way. He activated the Hana Kami end-of-turn and picked up Soulless Revival. I am pretty sure that Oli's only out was to cast Sway of the Stars, even if all it did was reset the game.

Kodama's Reach splicing Soulless Revival returned Myojin of Night's Reach and Kenji played it. He made Olivier discard his hand after drawing, but as long as Oli had a Top he would still have a card. "I have one chance."

Olivier had been prepared to have his tournament come to an end, but he had one fresh card to look at. He was as surprised as anyone when he was counting up his mana and announced "I have one green floating." Sway of the Stars was the mystery card.

Olivier drew his unmulliganable hand and lingered over his seventh. "Top or Elder!" He played a Forest and burned for one. Kenji played a pair of Tops over his next two turns. He followed up with Kodama's Reach and Nezumi Graverobber.

Olivier went straight to five and played Meloku. Kenji made a Sakura-Tribe Elder. Oliver attacked and the Japanese fell to five. Oli played a sixth land and passed the turn. Kenji flipped one Top and sacrificed his Elder to give the deck a shuffle - and find a Plains. He looked at his next three and saw nothing but land. He played a Tendo Ice Bridge and attacked with Graverobber. Oli went to 4.

Ruel went all in on his Meloku during the end of Kenji's turn and he was Time Stopped during his upkeep. Kenji untapped and activated his top. The third card down was Final Judgment. He flipped the Top and made Oli utter what I can only assume were French swear words.

Tsumura made relatively quick work of his friend.

Olivier had gone down to one land with his Meloku tokens and he tried to rebuild before Nezumi Graverobber and Hana Kami could beat down for those final four points of damage. His Kodama's Reach left him one mana shy of being able to cast either Yosei or Final Judgment, and he was suddenly knocked out in three convoluted games.

After the match, Olivier was unable to explain why he committed so many of his lands to the Meloku. He would have killed Kenji on the same turn if he held back one more land. Admittedly, he could not have known that Kenji would have the Time Stop and then manage to rip Final Judgment off of his deck.

But that's what Kenji did, tearing into the finals $5,000 richer at Olivier's expense.




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