Over the past few years, Japan has risen to dominate the world of the Pro Tour with the once invincible United States nearly falling off the champion’s map. The 2008 season marks the culmination to that rise as the U.S. has roared back onto the scene, sitting in the Finals of every single Pro Tour championship this season, from Kuala Lumpur, through Hollywood and Berlin, and this weekend in both the Team Championship and Individual Championship. In fact, with Team USA’s victory in the team event earlier in the day, America had won every single Pro Tour title save one: World Champion. The weight on Jamie Parke’s shoulders was enormous.
Sitting across from the old school pro was Faeries player and Finland representative Antti Malin. A well respected pro on the circuit, Malin had quietly threaded his way to the Top 8 on the weekend before dispatching Akira Asahara and Hannes Kerem on his way to the Finals.
Antti Malin of Finland is one match away from the World Champion title. The first game started off slowly, which favored Jamie Parke’s Five-Color Control deck. He wanted a slow, Bitterblossomless game that would allow him to overwhelm his opponent with powerful spells like Cruel Ultimatum and Tidings. Oddly enough, the control player Parke was the first on the board with a Rhox War Monk, though Antti wasn’t far behind playing a Vendilion Clique. Jamie revealed a hand of Rhox War Monk, double Cryptic Command, Mulldrifter, and Esper Charm. Malin binned one of the Commands, then went about his fourth turn.
Sower of Temptation made for an excellent answer to the 3/4 War Monk but Jamie came right back by ripping a fourth land and playing his second copy of the Rhino. Malin used Thoughtseize to get another peek at his opponent’s hand and saw Mulldrifter, Esper Charm, Cryptic Command, and Remove Soul. The Tenth Edition counterspell was the only new addition, and Jamie lost his second Cryptic Command. Malin followed up by using Terror on his opponent’s War Monk, then played a Bitterblossom and attacked Parke to 7.
Though completely out of cards in hand, Malin had forced Jamie to come up with a big play on his own turn. He found one of sorts in a third Rhox War Monk, but when Malin didn’t forget about his Mutavault as an attacker, the two were on to the second game with Parke unable to put up enough blockers.
Antti Malin 1, Jamie Parke 0
The deckbox containing Jamie Parke’s deck had a nametag on it, but it was not his own. It read “Chris Pikula” and was a throwback to Jamie’s previous halcyon days on the Pro Tour when he teamed with the likes of the Meddling Mage himself. Antti Malin was the picture of poise, giving no indication whether he was intimidated to be in the Finals. The player from Finland was wearing a sharply pressed dress shirt and silk tie, but had hidden the outfit under a Lamar Alexanderesque red flannel.
A Thoughtseize from Malin dropped him to 17 life as a result of the Underground River he had to use to play the sorcery, and cost Parke an Esper Charm. Antti revealed why he had taken the Charm the following turn with a Bitterblossom, but Jamie had revealed a second Charm in hand when he had been Thoughtseized. The American hoped to have time to use it, but his “comes into play tapped” lands prevented him from doing so before Malin could untap himself and represent a host of possible counterspells.
Jamie Parke’s win would mean a U.S. sweep of the PT season. It wasn’t a counterspell but a second Thoughtseize that preemptively answered the Esper Charm, but Malin’s early mana troubles and playing two copies of the discard spell left him at 12. In a surprise move, Malin opted to make his opponent discard not Esper Charm but Cryptic Command, and revealed why by playing a second Bitterblossom.
“This won’t be a long game,” the Finnish pro said, referencing the fact that he would either die to his own enchantments as his opponent contained the Faerie Rogues from them, or quickly overrun Parke with the 1/1s.
Jamie was content to move into the all-in on Bitterblossom plan, using Esper Charm to target himself and drawing two cards. Antti fell to 10 on his upkeep and attacked his opponent to 19 with a Faerie Rogue. He considered his options carefully before finally deciding to play a Mistbind Clique on his main phase. He had already seen a Remove Soul from Jamie Parke and knew the 4/4 wouldn’t resolve on his opponent’s upkeep. The monster was a beatstick that would seriously increase his clock and got rid of one of the Bitterblossoms, but Jamie fired right back with a Mulldrifter for five that kept cards flowing to his hand.
The next attack from Malin left the totals at 13–7 in Jamie’s favor but Parke made no effort to change things on his own turn. Instead, he used Mulldrifter as a chump blocker on Mistbind Clique, falling to 10 from Faerie Rogues, then played an end of turn Jund Charm set to 2 damage to all creatures. That would wipe out Antti’s board entirely and leave him with two Bitterblossom eating away his depleted life total. Shockingly the spell resolved, and from the viewing crowd off in the distance cheers erupted. Unfortunately for Antti Malin, the spectators from the U.S. had no qualms about showing their bias in the finals.
A second Mulldrifter hit for Jamie but Antti played a Remove Soul to counter the 2/2, leaving a blue mana floating. When Jamie had no other plays for the turn, the floating mana was dumped into a Mutavault. Malin’s Underground River, his only source of blue or black mana to power up double copies of Sunken Ruins, had wreaked significant havoc for him this game, and he fell to 4 on his upkeep from Bitterblossoms after taking an extra sting from the River countering the Mulldrifter. Trying to maneuver a win out of the situation Antti activated Mutavault and attacked Jamie to 8, playing a second in the process. Malin fell to 2 during his next upkeep, but was exactly 2 short of lethal and was set to die on his next upkeep. With no miracle solution existing in Standard, the players were on to the third game.
Jamie Parke 1, Antti Malin 1
“It’s a game,” Malin said as the players shuffled, referencing the fact the match could have been a blowout for Faeries but looked to be a captivating back-and-forth affair instead. He got on the board first by running his naked Mutavault into Parke on the second turn. The Faeries player then successfully resolved a Jace Beleren on his third turn, drawing a card for free.
Looking to contain the planeswalker, Jamie Parke played a third-turn Rhox War Monk to start beating down. Unfortunately for him Malin was ready for the play dropping a Sower of Temptation for the steal. They began beating down while Jace kept Antti stocked up until he played a Thoughtseize. Jamie responded with a Cryptic Command, but not to counter. Instead he opted to bounce Sower of Temptation and draw a card, prompting a Cryptic Command from Malin to counter and bounce Jamie’s Vivid Grove. The discard spell revealed two Vivid Groves, a Bitterblossom, Remove Soul, and Oona, Queen of the Fae, with Remove Soul sent to the graveyard. Malin’s attack set the score at 17–13 in his favor.
Malin looks askance. Jamie Parke needed some help. He evoked a Mulldrifter taking a point from Underground River, then played Vivid Grove and passed. Whatever play he was looking to make, it was going to have to be huge to get himself out of the hole he was in. If he could get rid of the Sower of Temptation, he’d get his War Monk back and be able to regain some of his life, but that was a big if. Not willing to play nice, Malin played another Thoughtseize seeing a Cloudthresher he hadn’t seen the previous turn. That hit the bin, and Antti attacked Jamie to 7.
Parke evoked a second Mulldrifter on his own turn but failed to find the help he was looking for. When Malin remembered to activate his Mutavault as the final, lethal attacker the following turn, the match headed to the fourth game.
Antti Malin 2, Jamie Parke 1
“Grr....” Antti said, shuffling for the fourth game of the match with a quiver. “I think I drink too much Coke.”
“You a little caffeined out?” Jamie asked his opponent.
“Yeah, I usually only drink soda when I’m playing cards or eating a hamburger,” the Finn replied.
A first-turn Thoughtseize from Antti Malin earned an eye roll from Jamie Parke, who revealed his hand to contain Guttural Response, Cryptic Command, Rhox War Monk, Fire-Lit Thicket, and double Reflecting Pool. It was certainly a strong hand for the American, and Malin had to choose wisely. The War Monk hit the graveyard.
The players built up to four lands each before the second play of the game, again a Thoughtseize from Antti Malin. Parke tried to counter with Cryptic Command, but Malin used a Broken Ambitions to counter back. Jamie lost a second Cryptic Command from his hand, leaving him with two lands and a Guttural Response, but an Esper Charm quickly helped him refuel.
Catching Jamie tapped too low to counter after the Charm, Antti Malin ran a Glen Elendra Archmage on to the table. The 2/2 was a nightmare for Five-Color Control as it could counter not one but two critical spells. To his credit, Parke came right back at Malin, taking advantage of his opponent tapping out to play a Mulldrifter drawing even more cards and cluttering the red zone’s skies. The next creature to hit the table was a Mistbind Clique from Malin, a play that sent Jamie into the tank. Ultimately he decided to float a white, blue, and black mana before the 4/4’s “comes into play” ability resolved, then drew for the turn and played Esper Charm forcing Antti to discard two cards.
Parke makes a point of staying in the match. The game’s pace had become glacial, and the table judge leaned in to warn both players about the quickness of their play. When Antti attacked with his Mistbind Clique, Jamie used six mana to summon Cloudthresher, killing the 4/4 and putting the totals at 14–12 in Parke’s favor. Malin was going to need a Sower of Temptation pretty badly, but his returned Glen Elendra Archmage from the Clique’s champion ability would at least allow him to more easily force the Control Magic on legs into play.
Thresher rumbled to the red zone and dropped Malin to 5 life, but Parke just watched as his follow-up Bitterblossom was countered by a Spellstutter Sprite. Antti tried to keep up by attacking back with his 1/1 Sprite and Archmage, but only dropped Jamie to 11. On Parke’s upkeep Antti made a Cryptic Command to tap Jamie’s team and draw a card. Parke tried to counter with Guttural Response, but Malin had a second Spellstutter Sprite.
Malin was making a bad game into a hard-fought battle. He continued on the offensive, sending Jamie to 8, then played a fountain of Cloudthresher chump-blockers in the form of Bitterblossom. Because he was at 5 life, however, he didn’t have infinite time to mess around. He needed his Glen Elendra Archmage and Spellstutter Sprite to hold up in the red zone while Faerie Rogues contained his opponent’s 7/7 Elemental. Working around the plan, Jamie decided not to attack with his Cloudthresher, instead hoping to block by way of the creature’s reach ability and to kill his opponent with his own Bitterblossoms.
Malin was all-in and sent his team back to the red zone. Jamie blocked the Archmage and the game was tied at 3. Post-combat Antti played a second Glen Elendra Archmage and it started looking very bad for Jamie Parke. When he flipped a Jund Charm off the top that was unable to save him, Antti Malin won the game and match.
Antti Malin defeats Jamie Parke 3–1 to become the 2008 World Champion!