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Quarterfinals: Into the Maw

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Kotaro Otsuka and Christoph Huber meet in the Quarterfinals.
Two tired-looking Magic players sat down bright and early to play their first round of single elimination cards. Kotaro Otsuka, a Japanese player, had made it to the table on the back of his Makeshift Mannequin deck. A States creation, the pile of 60 sought to generate a long-term advantage by repeatedly abusing the evoke and comes-into-play abilities of cards like Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw with Makeshift Mannequin. Christoph Huber, from Switzerland, was playing one of two breakout decks on the weekend: Black-Green Elves. The most populous deck in the Top 8 Huber had distinguished his version by featuring not one planeswalker but two in the form of Garruk WildspeakerandLiliana Vess.

Game 1

Huber won the roll and took a moment to consider his opening hand. Not finding it satisfactory he was forced to send it back for six. The stoic Otsuka simply looked on, giving no indication of what he was thinking or what his hand looked like. The Swiss player’s second look was fine and when Kotaro indicated he was happy with his opener, they were off.

Huber led with a turn-two Thoughtseize revealing two Phyrexian Ironfoots, Undergound River, Snow-Covered Swamp, Riftwing Cloudskate, Mouth of Ronom, and River of Tears. Christoph opted to remove his opponent’s turn two play by forcing him to discard the Cloudskate. A second Thoughtseize on Huber’s following turn revealed Kotaro had drawn a Snow-Covered Swamp and the Japanese player finished Huber’s third turn with one less Phyrexian Ironfoot in his hand. Otsuka probably didn’t mind all that much considering his opponent had failed to make a third land drop. Things were exacerbated when he did not find one on his fourth turn.

Instead he had to watch as Otsuka started attacking with the second copy of Phyrexian Ironfoot, which he had played on the third turn. That took the totals to 20-13 in favor of the player from Japan, and Huber continued missing land drops, watching Otsuka get further ahead with an Epochrasite and a Faerie Conclave. Even though he hadn’t drawn a third land yet, Huber still managed the occasional play opting to Nameless Inversion his opponent’s creature-land, taking 4 damage and dropping to 9.

Otsuka continued untapping his snowy 3/4 at the end of each of his opponent’s turns, and Huber finally managed to hit a third land drop of sorts in Llanowar Elves. When his opponent tapped out to untap his Ironfoot again Huber responded with Eyeblight’s Ending on the artifact leaving Kotaro with a second Faerie Conclave and the Epochrasite as attackers. When those put Huber to 2 and were followed up with a Shadowmage Infiltrator, Huber could painfully see what was happening. After a look at the top card of his library, he quickly conceded.

Otsuka 1, Huber 0

Game 2

Though he had just lost a first game in his highest profile match to date due to mana screw, Christoph Huber gave no indication of being frustrated while sideboarding. His opponent remained emotionless too, and it seemed Otsuka could probably withstand winning the $40,000 top prize without so much as flinching.

Huber got to start the second game with a full grip and made two land drops on his first turn in the form of Gilt-Leaf Palace and Llanowar Elves. Kotaro had only a Snow-Covered Island before a Thoughtseize from Huber revealed a hand of Shriekmaw, Nameless Inversion, Swamp, Liliana Vess, two Shadowmage Infiltrators, and Mouth of Ronom. The Swiss player rested his chin in his hand to consider his options before selecting a Shadowmage Infiltrator, then he made another two land drops by playing a second Gilt-Leaf Palace and Llanowar Elves.

Otsuka quickly played a Snow-Covered Swamp on his turn before considering the rest of his options. Were the 1/1 Elves worth using a Shriekmaw evoke or Nameless Inversion on? Apparently he thought they were as he opted to spend his turn taking one out with the ‘Maw. When Christoph missed a land drop on turn three the play looked even more ingenious, and the Japanese player was happy to repeat on his fourth turn, burning the second Elf with a Nameless Inversion. Huber continued missing land drops for the second game in a row.

Joining the match are planeswalkers.
Liliana Vess and Garruk Wildspeaker.”]To get his beat on, Otsuka added an Epochrasite and Shadowmage Infiltrator to the board before showing a small sign of excitement or nerves: he began shuffling his cards quickly back and forth in his hand. Christoph managed a Nameless Inversion to stop Shadowmage Infiltrator, then found a third land to Profane Command back one of his Llanowar Elves, leaving the life totals at 17–14 in favor of his opponent. The Swiss player wasn’t going down without a fight and, finally at four mana thanks to the Elf, he managed to make a Masked Admirers on his next turn drawing into an actual fourth land.

Otsuka in the meanwhile was busy drawing some cards of his own with a Mulldrifter after finding a second Epochrasite. That particular play had merited a “Nice job!” from his opponent, who would have to struggle to actually kill the 1/1 in any permanent fashion. He did, however, have a good draw of his own: Liliana Vess. He immediately opted to use the tutor effect to search up a card to the top of his library and, after mulling through his options, he settled on Extirpate. The question was what Otsuka was going to do about the planeswalker staring him down from across the board. Would he attack his Mulldrifter into it, keeping it from going big?

The Japanese player sat back and considered his options. The moments seemed to crawl by until finally he came up with his play. Tapping all of his lands he activated his Mouth of Ronom targeting Masked Admirers. That give him two Epochrasites and a Mulldrifter able to attack with just a Llanowar Elves to block for Huber. Otsuka indicated he was attacking the planeswalker with his entire team. Christoph decided not to chump with his Elf, as the team would take out his planeswalker regardless of whether he did so or not.

Kotaro Otsuka’s face betrays little emotion.
A Shriekmaw from the Swiss player took care of Mulldrifter, and after attacking with his Llanowar Elves things stood at 15–14 in favor of Kotaro. Given the turn back Otsuka took the opportunity to copy his opponent’s play by summoning a Liliana Vess of his own, forcing Huber to discard a Profane Command. Huber had a plan, however. On his turn he announced his Shriekmaw would attack Liliana. Kotaro quickly placed both of his Epochrasites in the way of the 3/2 with fear, ready for them to enter play as more sizeable 4/4s. Huber would have none of it, letting the triggers hit the stack and using his Extirpate to knock all four copies out of the game.

Post-combat he played a Garruk, making a token, then Llanowar Elves, but Otsuka quickly dealt with the second planeswalker using Riftwing Cloudskate to bounce it to Huber’s empty hand and activating his Vess to make him discard it. Huber drew his card for the turn then went deep into the tank before opting to Profane Command for 3, killing his opponent’s creature and making him lose 3 life, and attacking the Japanese opponent to 7. The play seemed questionable considering Vess was about to go up to 8 counters and hit critical mass and Huber knew his opponent was sandbagging a Damnation. When Otsuka untapped and wiped the table then moved his Liliana up to 8 loyalty and passed back, Christoph took one look at the top of his deck and conceded after finding no help there.

Afterwards the player revealed why he had chosen to attack Otsuka instead of Liliana, explaining that because his opponent had Shriekmaw and Mulldrifter in the graveyard he wasn’t going to be able to win on the ground. Attacking Liliana would have dropped the planeswalker to four counters but it would have been able to rebuild itself quickly and, facing a cavalcade of advantage from the 187 critters in the graveyard in conjunction with Otsuka’s Makeshift Mannequin in hand, the game would end by way of Liliana going big anyway, albeit in a few turns.

“By attacking him to 7,” Huber continued, “I let myself draw back-to-back [Profane] Commands to win.” The odds of that happening weren’t good and the play obviously didn’t pan out, but it’s that type of heads-up thinking that gives pros the edges that make them so successful.

Otsuka 2, Huber 0

Game 3

The two players continued showing little emotion despite the fact Huber’s back was up against the wall in the worst way. Well, almost the worst. When he opened his first seven-card hand he had to take a second mulligan in the match and a bad situation had gotten worse for him. Could he power back through a mulligan after two games of mana difficulties?

Huber ran a Thoughtseize onto the table on turn two, seeing Liliana Vess, Snow-Covered Swamp, Loxodon Warhammer, Damnation, Nameless Inversion, Mind Stone, and Persuasion. He opted to take the Inversion, and Otsuka ran out the Mind Stone on his turn. Fortunately for Huber he had managed to find a Viridian Shaman and took the opportunity to blow up the potential cantrip, apparently valuing restricting his opponent’s card draws and early mana more than saving the 2/2 Elf for a possible Loxodon Warhammer. The ensuing turn brought an attack with the Shaman and a Treetop Village that took his opponent to 15.

Otsuka wasn’t going down without a fight, however, as he played a Loxodon Warhammer and then followed up with Pithing Needle shutting off Treetop Village. Unimpressed, Huber played Garruk Wildspeaker and made a 3/3, which elicited Damnation from his opponent. Huber still had enough counters to make another Beast on his following turn before catching a bit of fortune: it was finally Otsuka’s turn to miss a land drop doing so even after evoking a Mulldrifter. It wasn’t looking good for the Japanese competitor as Huber attacked him to 7 with the Beast then used Garruk’s untap ability to generate seven mana for a Profane Command for 5. The Command drained 5 of Otsuka’s life and brought back a Viridian Shaman, which quickly munched on the Pithing Needle that was keeping down Treetop Village.

Otsuka, facing lethal damage, hit a land and tapped out to play Liliana Vess, quickly forcing his opponent to discard. After seeing the tiny bit of additional information from the move when Huber binned an Extirpate, Otsuka conceded.

Otsuka 2, Huber 1

Game 4

Christoph Huber was top seed coming int the Top 8.
Kotaro had a bit of breathing room left, needing to win Game 4 or a possible Game 5 while Huber was still entirely out of room with which to maneuver. He needed to force a fifth game and win that to continue his run in the individual portion of the day’s events and still neither player let on what they were thinking. Kotaro was so still it seemed he might fall asleep at any moment but when he said, “I play” to indicate wanting to start the fourth game, the two were off again.

Otsuka quickly kept his opener but, as was becoming par for the course in the match, Huber had to go to six. Fortunately for him he’d have the benefit of an extra draw step in Game 4.

“It’s great!” he said, looking at his new grip. Otsuka wasted no time playing a turn two Epochrasite while his opponent went for comes-into-play tapped lands in the form of back-to-back Gilt-Leaf Palaces. A second Epochrasite hit for Kotaro then an evoked Mulldrifter and Huber had no plays until a Viridian Shaman binned one of the Epochrasites. Unfortunately he had no Extirpate and was forced to watch the artifact suspend itself.

In the background, applause erupted as Uri Peleg and Pat Chapin each managed to win their matches. Things weren’t looking good for the Swiss player, however, as a Persuasion from his Japanese opponent convinced Viridian Shamans to switch sides and the suspended Epochrasite dropped to one counter. An attack with the second Epochrasite and a Riftwing Cloudskate put the totals at 20-17 Japan.

Liliana Vess hit play for Huber and quickly dropped to 3 loyalty counters to tutor for an answer. If he had a solution to the present game state it would have to be a good one, though the planeswalker might buy him some time if Otsuka felt its presence threatening enough to attack it instead of Huber. After putting his Epochrasite into play as a 4/4 on his upkeep he did exactly that, activating a Faerie Conclave and sending that and the 1/1 Epochrasite to Liliana while his 4/4 Epochrasite went to his opponent’s head, putting thing 20–13 in favor of Otsuka.

What had Huber tutored for? The crowd leaned in to find out. He tapped five mana and played... Profane Command dealing 3 to his opponent and returning his Viridian Shaman to play. That killed Otsuka’s largest Epochrasite before he untapped and used a Shriekmaw to kill the Viridian Shaman. After combat Otsuka simply passed the turn. Huber used the opportunity to Thoughtseize revealing Riftwing Cloudskate, double Nameless Inversion, and Damnation. Things were not looking good for Christoph Huber at all, and he took the Cloudskate hoping for some help from his deck.

An activated Treetop Village bashed his opponent to 17 while Kotaro was tapped too low for Nameless Inversion, and a post-combat Riftsweeper forced Otsuka to reshuffle his suspended Epochrasite back into his library. Otsuka used one of his two Nameless Inversions to remove the potential chump-blocker and Faerie Conclave, Shriekmaw, and Epochrasite bashed in to make it 17–4.

Looking at one final card from his deck, Huber dejectedly extended his hand in defeat.

Kotaro Otsuka wins 3–1 and advances to the Semifinals, where he will face Uri Peleg’s black-green Rock deck.

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