Quarterfinals: The Big Topdeck

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The letter A!ntonino De Rosa is a five-time Nationals Top 8 competitor, three times in the U.S. (back-to-back-to-back) and twice in Italy. In addition to being a former National Champion, De Rosa has a Pro Tour Top 8 from Prague. Thomas Drake, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to professional play, with this tournament being his first major finish. The question stood whether he could overcome relative anonymity to overcome the star power of his Quarterfinals opponent.

Game 1

Threepeat U.S. Nationals Top 8er Antonino De Rosa faces Sunday first-timer Thomas Drake for a slot on the National Team.

De Rosa won the die roll, but the two players were forced to wait for permission from the judges before beginning match play. Table judge Chris Richter gave the word, and the two got under way. Neither player needed a mulligan, and De Rosa came out of the gates right away with a Scorched Rusalka. Aggressive draws were exactly what his Rakdos 10 deck was going to need if he wanted to escape this bad matchup in the Quarterfinals.

After De Rosa made his first attack, Drake took a moment to record the life totals. One problem: in his nervous excitement for the match, he had forgotten his pad of paper somewhere. Sheepishly turning to the judge, he said, "Judge, I'm an idiot and forgot my life total pad. Could you get me one?" De Rosa paused to wait for Judge Richter to return with the pad, but a prodding from Gerard Fabiano in the peanut gallery returned him to playing.

Drake had a suspended Riftwing Cloudskate, then added a second. His board position, in addition to his two suspended spells, was Nimbus Maze, Shivan Reef, Azorius Signet, and Steam Vents. De Rosa on the other hand had a Scorched Rusalka, Epochrasite counting down from suspend land, and a Mogg War Marshal with token. He had missed his fourth land drop, however, and was sitting on only three Mountains. Drake had no turn four play outside a land, but when De Rosa attacked all-in he showed why: Venser, Shaper Savant. The 2/2 hit the board, bouncing the Goblin token, but De Rosa used a Char to make sure that was all it would do.

Drake's upkeep brought him his first Riftwing Cloudskate, and he hesitated before bouncing a target with it. Finally he decided on Scorched Rusalka, and De Rosa opted not to sacrifice it, returning the 1/1 to his hand. Unfortunately, that was Drake's only play for the turn, and he shipped things back to Ant.

De Rosa also got a creature during his upkeep, his Epochrasite with three +1/+1 counters. His attack brought a chump block from Drake, who binned his Cloudskate. Post-combat, De Rosa added a Dark Confidant. At the end of Antonino's turn, Drake made an Aethermage's Touch and Ant buried his head in his hands.

"No Hellkite no Hellkite no Hellkite…" De Rosa said, peeking between his fingers. Drake obliged, merely turning up another Venser, which attemped to return Epochrasite. The little artifact that could was sacrificed to Rusalka, dropping Drake to 10. His upkeep brought him his second Riftwing Cloudskate, which bounced the Dark Confidant, and an attack with the newly summoned 2/2 flyer brought De Rosa to 16.

The two players parried for a few turns, De Rosa trying to stick his Dark Confidant while Drake made attacks with his Cloudskate, though he wouldn't attack with his 1/3 Court Hussar into a field of two 1/1s. At eight mana, however, he had the threat De Rosa had feared in Bogardan Hellkite. The 5/5 came down threatening to take out all of Ant's army, but De Rosa had enough red mana to sacrifice each creature targeted to his Scorched Rusalka. The damage dropped Drake to 7 and De Rosa to 11, facing Drake's formidable field of Hellkite, Hussar, Venser, and Cloudskate.

Sure enough, on his turn Drake turned all of his creatures sideways, dropping Antonino to 3, then revealed a Lightning Helix for the win.

Thomas Drake 1, Antonino De Rosa 0

While sideboarding, the two players discussed their thoughts on the matchup. "I really needed to get Game 1. You have a lot of your tricks in your sideboard," said Drake.

"Yeah, it's really close," replied the Florida resident.

Game 2

De Rosa had another turn-one play to start Game 2, this time a Greater Gargadon suspension. His follow-up was an Epochrasite while Drake simply answered with his first two land drops, a Hallowed Fountain and Steam Vents. On his fourth turn, however, he spiced things up a bit dropping a Signet as well as suspending a Riftwing Cloudskate. De Rosa, who had played a Mogg War Marshal, simply shrugged then echoed his Goblin and attacked for 3 with the help of a Pendelhaven.

Drake needed some time to think on his turn. He managed a fifth land, then finally decided on Aven Riftwatcher but hesitated before adding counters to it. "Is that good?" he asked his opponent, but the former Champ simply said, "Sure." Antonino's upkeep brought him his Epochrasite, complete with +1/+1 counters, and he quickly turned all three of his threats sideways in the Red Zone. The Riftwatcher hopped in front of the Epochrasite and De Rosa opted to pump his War Marshal with his legendary land. After combat, the totals stood 20-18 in De Rosa's favor.

Drake doesn't blink, but his deck does.

The Riftwing Cloudskate Thomas Drake had suspended on his third turn dropped to its final suspend counter, threatening to make an interesting upkeep the following turn, and Drake played a Sacred Foundry untapped before passing. The 2 life he paid to make his land drop seemed odd, and things got even odder when he had no effects during De Rosa's combat step. At the end of the turn, however, things became more clear. He made Aethermage's Touch, leaving Lightning Helix and Momentary Blink mana up, and De Rosa threatened to close his eyes again. He didn't need to, as the instant flipped four mana sources and simply went to the graveyard.

Cloudskate targeted the Epochrasite on upkeep, and De Rosa sacrificed it to his Gargadon. Drake made an enhanced Court Hussar and a sixth land drop, then passed the turn back to De Rosa. Antonino, whose Greater Gargadon spun all the way down to just two counters left, considered his options during his main phase. Eventually he settled on playing a land, then sacrificing two lands to his Gargadon, which entered play. That let him attack with the 9/7, the War Marshal, and a Goblin token, sending Thomas into thought. A newly played Venser, Shaper Savant before blockers returned the 9/7 to De Rosa's hand, and after combat the life totals stood 20-9 for De Rosa, who had a suspended Gargadon and Epochrasite with a 1/1 Goblin. Drake still had his Venser and Court Hussar.

A Cryoclasm from De Rosa targeting his opponent's Steam Vents dropped Drake to 6, but not before a Bogardan Hellkite punched De Rosa for 5. He had the Terror, however, and looked to be in control of the game. An ill-advised attack from Drake with both his Venser and his Court Hussar allowed De Rosa to kill the 2/2 legend using his Goblin token and Pendelhaven. It looked like Drake hadn't considered the play, and De Rosa's Epochrasite and Goblin token both got into the Red Zone on his turn, the artifact newly hitting the field during Ant's upkeep.

Drake separated a Sacred Foundry and Steam Vents from his lands, then Lightning Helixed his opponent after blocking the 1/1 with his Court Hussar. The combat left the life totals at 8-5 in favor of De Rosa. Drake played another untapped dual land on his turn representing Bogardan Hellkite but leaving himself at just 3 life. De Rosa took his turn to move his Gargadon to seven counters, then considered his plays. With seven lands in play he could easily sacrifice enough permanents to play the 9/7 and force Drake into a tough situation with his Hellkite, but any misstep that didn't kill his opponent this turn meant he would die to his opponent's Dragon.

Finally De Rosa decided to go for it. He suspended a second Gargadon, pumped his Goblin with Pendelhaven, sacrificed all his lands to put his first Gargadon into play, and finally turned all of his creatures sideways. The Hellkite came down, punching De Rosa for 5, and Drake blocked the Gargadon with Hussar and the Epochrasite with Hellkite, leaving De Rosa at 3 and dead on the board. When Drake didn't forget to attack, De Rosa conceded.

Thomas Drake 2, Antonino De Rosa 0

Before the start of the third game, both players asked the table judge if they could use the bathroom. He obliged, and they stepped away from the match. After returning, De Rosa went to his sideboard, probably looking for help with his back up against the wall. Anything less than 3-0 from this point onward meant the amateur would be joining the National team, while Ant would be catching his Sunday flight home.

Before beginning play, table judge Chris Richter stepped in to encourage the two players to speed up. De Rosa, pointing at his opponent, said "If we were playing on MODO, he would have timed out already." Only a moment later Drake accidentally flipped one of De Rosa's cards, meriting a quick call from his opponent for a chiding from the judge. A warning was given, and De Rosa asked if the judge could verify whether or not Drake had any previous warnings for the infraction on the weekend. He pointed out he did not, and apologized to De Rosa who looked to be squirming for any amount of breathing room in the match, psyching his opponent out with some not undeserved badgering.

De Rosa has his back against the wall.

Whatever he did, it worked as Drake pitched his opening. He kept on six, however, and neither player had a turn-one play for the game. De Rosa quickly made up for things with a Mogg War Marshal on turn two, matched by his opponent's turn-two Signet. Ant opted not to pay echo, netting him a second Goblin token, then bashed in for 1 before playing a Nantuko Husk.

Thomas drew for the turn and played an enhanced Court Hussar, netting him a fourth land drop in Boros Garrison. Sure enough, the play backfired on him as De Rosa made an Avalanche Riders before combat, acing the Karoo and charging in with all four of his creatures, the Husk, Riders, and two Goblin tokens. Hussar quickly jumped in front of a Goblin, which was sacced to the Husk leaving the life totals at 20-12 in favor of De Rosa. Down to just two mana sources in play, Drake needed some time to think on his turn. He finally opted to Lightning Helix his opponent's Nantuko Husk, which was saved when De Rosa sacrificed his Avalanche Riders to make it a 4/4. Drake simply played a dual land and passed.

De Rosa began doing some math before using a Shattering Spree to take out Drake's Boros Signet. A quick Nantuko Husk attack from De Rosa, after playing an Epochrasite, dealt 4 to Drake, putting him at 11 and giving De Rosa an Epochrasite counting down from out of play. Thomas had a Signet into suspending Riftwing on his turn, while De Rosa answered with a suspension of his own: Greater Gargadon. He also had a Threaten for Thomas' Court Hussar which was sacrificed to Nantuko Husk during an attack that dealt 6 damage, leaving Thomas at just 5 life. De Rosa was doing everything in his power to make sure the match wasn't going to be a sweep.

His next turn's attack brought a Venser from Drake, who targeted the Goblin token. That was sacrificed to Nantuko Husk, and Thomas spent a lot of time thinking before declaring blockers-so long, in fact, that the judge gave him a second caution for slow play. Drake finally settled on no blocks, dropping himself to 1, then suspended a second Riftwing Cloudskate on his turn. De Rosa looked to the top of his deck for some help, then considered his options after playing Epochrasite on his upkeep. The two creatures crashed into combat, and Drake moved his Venser, Shaper Savant to block Husk. De Rosa moved for damage but Drake stopped him, Momentary Blinking his Venser to bounce the Epochrasite. Antonino sacrificed it to his Gargadon instead, then played a Dark Confidant, which was bounced when Drake's first Cloudskate came into play on his upkeep. His main phase brought him a Lightning Angel, and all of a sudden it looked like Drake was starting to gain control.

Dark Confidant came back down for De Rosa, as well as Magus of the Moon, while Drake was tapped too low to do anything and had just a single basic land, a Plains, on his board. His Azorius Signet, however, promised to make things less trying for him, and De Rosa passed with no attack. Drake drew for the turn, then considered his options. He attacked with his Lightning Angel and the life totals were 13-1 in favor of De Rosa. Drake passed, and on Ant's upkeep he fell to 11 from Dark Confidant. The Bob promised to help keep De Rosa in the game, but a Greater Gargadon flipping would mean almost immediate death.

He played the War Marshal before combat, then the final card in his hand, a land, possibly looking to bring his Greater Gargadon into play early. The Beast still had five counters on it and Drake had access to Momentary Blink in his graveyard, so the trick would be dangerous. At the end of De Rosa's turn, Drake flashed back his Blink on Venser to bounce his opponent's Magus of the Moon. De Rosa hesitated before finally allowing the 2/2 to come back to his hand. The second Riftwing Cloudskate came into play, bouncing Ant's Nantuko Husk, and Drake threatened 7 damage in the air on his turn. An enhanced Court Hussar pre-combat gave him more options, but he still decided to attack with just his Lightning Angel and one of the Cloudskates.

Antonino sacrificed his War Marshal at end of turn, then revealed Scorched Rusalka for his Confidant, with Drake at 1. Drake refused to concede until De Rosa informed him he wouldn't forget to sacrifice a creature.

Thomas Drake 2, Antonino De Rosa 1

Game 4

It proved to be De Rosa's turn to mulligan after Drake declared he was happy with his opener. His second hand was fine, and Drake opened with an Adarkar Wastes. De Rosa matched with a Mountain but had no turn 1 play. A Signet was canned by a Shattering Spree and Drake again had a Karoo in the form of Izzet Boilerworks. Since he was on the play, however, it actually served to prevent some landkill by bouncing his only Island, Steam Vents, before De Rosa could Cryoclasm. A second Signet, suspended Cloudskate, and Aven Riftwatcher joined Drake's side of the board while De Rosa merely had a Cryoclasm. The life totals stood 18-15 De Rosa.

A second Cryoclasm cost Drake his basic Plains before De Rosa made his first threat, a Scorched Rusalka, which was bounced when Thomas's Cloudskate finally came into play. His attack with two flyers left De Rosa at 14, and the two players had themselves a race. Unfortunately for De Rosa, a Momentary Blink targeting Aven Riftwatcher left things looking bad for him. De Rosa made his Rusalka again then used a Threaten on Aven Riftwatcher. He attacked with his new 2/3 and then sacced it to his Rusalka. That left the totals at 15-13 De Rosa, though Drake failed to note the change in life and was chided by his opponent.

Ouch.

Down to just two cards in hand on his turn, Thomas tried to figure out what his best play was. He took a point of mana burn to Lightning Helix his opponent's Scorched Rusalka while De Rosa had no red mana available, then attacked to put things at 13-all. De Rosa suspended a Greater Gargadon, but neither player was drawing very many threats. De Rosa finally broke the chain with Dark Confidant, but two attacks from Riftwing Cloudskate had put him down to 9, possibly lethal if he was unlucky enough to flip a Gargadon to his Confidant.

Drake ran through plays post-combat and considered flashing back his Momentary Blink on his Cloudskate. De Rosa had Terror, then flipped a land for his Bob. The 2/1 attacked to make things 13-9. Drake drew, then shipped the turn and it looked like De Rosa might be able to force a rubber game.

Unfortunately for him, the next card on the top of his deck was a Greater Gargadon and that, as they say, "is."

De Rosa shrugged, then wished his opponent good luck at Worlds.

Thomas Drake defeats Antonino De Rosa 3-1 and advances to the Semifinals.

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