National Team Round 3: It’s All About the Math

Posted in Event Coverage on December 13, 2008

By Nate Price

A longtime member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage staff, Nate Price now works making beautiful words for all of you lovely people as the community manager for organized play. When not covering events, he lords over the @MagicProTour Twitter account, ruling with an iron fist.

As an American, I almost feel obligated to contribute to the stereotype that Americans have absolutely no idea how the world works outside the borders of my own country. Upon hearing that I would be covering a feature match between Team Malaysia and Team South Korea, I wracked my brain to figure out what I knew about them. Somehow, I got the idea that these two East Asian countries were fairly close together. Doing coverage for Magic has unfortunately made it really difficult for me to maintain my ignorance. A flash of a memory entered my mind. Last year, I hopped a plane bound westward and eased in for twenty hours of flying. This flight took me from Indianapolis to Kuala Lumpur, the capitol of Malaysia, with a stop in Seoul, the capitol of South Korea. The branch from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur was about six hours. That’s as long as a flight from New York to Los Angeles, also known as “not close.”

As the Malaysians took their seats opposite the South Koreans, the distance between their respective countries shrank. Here at Worlds, the distance between any two points on a globe is about two-and-a-half feet—the width of a table. Worlds tends to uncomplicate things.

Match One – Standard – Sung-Wook Nam (KOR) vs. Kin Leong Chong (MYS)

The Red-White Token mirror match—at first glance, it appears to be so simple. You play creatures, enhance them if you can, and attack until your hands fall off. From the perspective of a coverage writer trying to simultaneously cover three matches, though, it’s a madhouse. Walk away from the game for ten seconds, and, when you return, there are forty new creatures on the board.

On a positive note, the match plays out a great deal like a math problem. The player’s life totals are the minuend, creatures’ power and toughness are the subtrahend, and the Glorious Anthems and Ajani Goldmanes are the multiplicands (thanks for helping me sound pretentious, Wikipedia!). Eventually, things add up right and someone dies.

Nam started the match off first, adding a Figure of Destiny to his board. He didn’t get time to pump it since his deck saw fit to provide him with a Knight of Meadowgrain and a Glorious Anthem on the following turns. Chong, on the other hand, had a pair of Knights of Meadowgrain for his team. Nam was winning the problem on paper, but Chong’s double lifelink creatures added quite a bit to what would otherwise be a subtraction problem.

Nam exactly doubled his team on the following turn, though he chose to simply run his Knight of Meadowgrain in. It wasn’t worth losing a Figure from the equation if he would just be able to add to its power on a later turn. Chong played an Ajani Vengeant, immediately eliminating a Knight. Nam responded with a planeswalker of his own. His Ajani Goldmane came down and promptly added a +1/+1 counter to his entire team. He followed that up by sending the lone remainder of his Knights in on attack.

Ok, ok. Before you get too crazy on me at this point, the players both immediately realized that one Ajani plus another Ajani makes no Ajani. The judge backed them up to the point when the Ajani’s eliminated one another and continued play from there. Nam was still content to send his Knight in, and Chong took the damage.

The Malaysian Chong’s board multiplied exponentially on the next turn as a Cloudgoat Ranger was added to his team. That completely tapped him out, but was well worth the cost. Nam took advantage of his one untapped land to finally enhance one of his Figures. On his turn, he sent the greater of his Figures over, making sure to leave enough mana that he could level it up again if necessary. Chong chose to block it with his Cloudgoat Ranger and both of his Knights. Nam obviously pumped his Figure, and it traded with both of the Knights.

Chong integrated a few Spirit tokens into his team with a Spectral Procession and then found a multiplier of his own in a Glorious Anthem. Nam responded to this with a Glorious Anthem of his own, and the two cancelled each other out, simplifying the equation. Australian Nam’s Knight of Meadowgrain continued its crusade and took another bite out of Chong’s life. Unfortunately for Nam, Chong had a second copy of the enchantment and was free to attack back with his whole team. Chong’s Anthem advantage made blocking a tricky situation for Nam, and he ultimately ended up having to make an unequivocal exchange.

Nam refilled his team with a Cloudgoat Ranger, but the previous alpha strike had reduced him to 5, and the one that followed almost depleted Nam’s team. Chong had his own Cloudgoat Ranger, and Nam conceded before Chong could complete the difference.

For the second game, Nam made another first-turn Figure of Destiny, this time pumping it and attacking on the second turn. His third-turn increased his numbers with a Spectral Procession. Chong had a Knight of Meadowgrain to cancel out the Figure and a Stillmoon Cavalier to equal the Procession. Nam circumvented the Cavalier’s protection with a Moonglove Extract, and the ability-laden Zombie Knight was given its final rest.

Chong doubled up his Knight of Meadowgrain count on his turn and passed back to Nam. At this point, Kin Leong Chong had two Knights of Meadowgrain as his only creatures, while Nam had a 2/2 Figure of Destiny and three 1/1 Spirit tokens. Nam had an Ajani Goldmane to bolster his forces, and he sent his air force over to say hello. Chong dropped two Wizened Cenns into play, effectively doubling his Knight’s power as they attacked Ajani. Nam was happy to let his planeswalker bite it, and he simply replaced it with a new one on the following turn.

When Nam’s forces pounded in, Chong plopped his Wizened Cenns in the way of the 4/4 Figure of Destiny. The life Chong had gained from his Knights was beginning to offset the damage caused by Nam’s attacks. Chong dropped another Wizened Cenn and a Glorious Anthem into play, gaining a permanent multiplier as he had in the previous game. His freshly bolstered troops attacked Ajani. Nam threw a couple of tokens in front of one of the Knights, trading what had previously been 1/1s for the lifelinking first striker.

Nam struck back, now that his planeswalker had deserted him. First, he played Unmake to, well, unmake Chong’s Cenn. His remaining fliers then pounded across in an attempt to recoup the life gained by the Knights. After the dust settled, Nam was left with a lone Knight of Meadowgrain and five life. Chong sprouted an army out of nowhere as he added a Cloudgoat Ranger to play. He was a bit behind, but now had a decent board presence and the only Glorious Anthem. He sent his Knight over to hit Nam and recoup some precious life.

Nam played a Spectral Procession but chose not to attack. Chong took advantage of the reprieve to launch a vicious counterattack. His whole team came across. After Nam set up to exactly trade enough of his dorks to kill the Ranger, Chong used his Windbrisk Heights to put another Glorious Anthem into play. The devastating turn of events nearly wiped out both Nam’s team and life total. Nam had nothing on his turn, and the Malaysian team went up one match to zero.

Kin Leong Chong (MYS) defeats Sung-Wook Nam (KOR) 2-0.

Match Two – Legacy – Cynic Kim (KOR) vs. Terry Soh (MYS)

If I left that first feature match for more than a second, I invariably had to spend about five minutes sorting out how the bazillion tokens that were now on the table got there. This time, I didn’t have to worry about creatures in play, but every time I walked by, there seemed to be a fresh stack of cards in the graveyard. Keeping track of three matches is tough!

Kim tried to get out of the gates blazing, which is pretty much always the game plan for Lackey Goblins. Unfortunately for him, Soh, playing Tarmogoyf control, had a Force of Will to stop it before he had a land in play. Kim went for the more traditional route of a Goblin Lackey on the following turn and added a Rishadan Port to try and hamper Soh’s ability to interfere. Former Invitational champ Soh Brainstormed at the end of Kim’s turn and found himself a Swords to Plowshares for the Lackey. Kim just moved up the chain with a Goblin Piledriver.

With only the Piledriver in play, Soh brought the game to a Standstill and dared Kim to break it. Cynic was more than happy to oblige and doubled up on Piledrivers. Deciding it was time, Terry Soh Wastelanded the Rishadan Port, but he didn’t really have an answer for the powerful pair of Piledrivers. Kim sent the ‘Drivers in and they took a nice chunk out of his Malaysian opponent’s life. Terry knocked Cynic down to one land with a Stifle for Kim’s Bloodstained Mire, but he was going to have to deal with the creatures if he wanted to win the game. The Goblins kept coming, and eventually, after an Aether Vial made it to three counters, a sneaky Goblin Warchief made it into play and helped the Piledrivers finish things off.

The second game started in nearly the exact same manner—Aether Vial meet Force of Will. With the formalities and introductions out of the way, Kim made a Pyrostatic Pillar, which would hurt him as much as it would hurt Soh, but not before his Goblins put him ahead. Soh Wastelanded Kim’s Plateau, dropping the Korean back to one land.

That was all Kim needed for an Aether Vial, though, and the powerful artifact began to accumulate counters. Stuck on two lands, Soh was dismayed to find a Brainstorm that revealed none coming and no shuffle effects. He was forced to just snag another Brainstorm and try again after his draw. This time he found a Flooded Strand but was out of Brainstorms. His opponent’s Aether Vial began popping out creatures, the first of which was a Goblin Lackey.

Soh found another Brainstorm to try and dig for answers now that he had the Strand, and the Tundra he got enabled the Swords to Plowshares in his grip. The Pillar was taking its toll, though, and Soh was going to have to take a huge amount of damage from it to get back in control. Kim tried to put the hammer lock on the game with a second Pillar, and Soh went into a flurry of action. A Brainstorm in response got him a whole lot of nowhere, and a Swords to Plowshares got rid of the Lackey.

At the end of Soh’s turn, Kim used the Aether Vial to drop a Piledriver into play, and then he untapped, added a third counter, and sent the Piledriver in alongside a Goblin Warchief. The Warchief was hit with a Swords before it could be declared as an attacker and pump the Piledriver. Soh locked Kim in at two mana with another Stifle on a Bloodstained Mire, though it cost him. He had a Mishra’s Factory in play, effectively giving him a removal spell that didn’t trigger the Pillar. When he activated it to attack, Kim Disenchanted it. That was all Soh needed to see before packing it in. The match evened things up at one match a piece.

Cynic Kim (KOR) defeats Terry Soh (MYS) 2-0.

Match Three – Extended – Ji-Hoon Lee (KOR) vs. Wai Kin Au Yong (MYS)

This last match provided its own unique difficulty, though I admit it was a matchup I was interested in seeing before the individual Extended matches started. Ji-Hoon Lee was playing a nearly identical Blue-Black Tron deck to the ones I featured in the Japan/Australia match from yesterday. His opponent, Wai Kin Au Yong, from Malaysia, was playing the bane of the Extended format—Elves. The problem with trying to cover the Elves deck at the same time as two other matches is that it does an exorbitant number of things in one turn, from generating mana to bouncing creatures to simply attacking. The turns went a little longer than most games, but they were so rich that capturing everything became difficult.

Yong started off with the traditional Elves opening of Birchlore Rangers, followed by a Wirewood Hivemaster and a second Rangers. Lee wasted no time in Smothering the Hivemaster. On his third turn, with access to an absurd amount of mana for this stage in the game, Yong played Glimpse of Nature. With his temporary Recycle in place, he dropped an Elvish Visionary into play, drawing two cards. That was joined by a Wirewood Symbiote, which immediately returned the now-tapped Birchlore Rangers, and played a Llanowar Elves. His hand was now chock full of cards, and one of his Birchlore Rangers was safe in his hand.

Now that Lee had three mana, he was able to play an Engineered Explosives for one and leave activation mana up. Yong wasn’t threatened and just kept building things up in preparation for a big turn, regardless of the Explosives. He tapped his three Elves for mana, returned a Visionary to untap the Llanowar Elves, and replayed the Visionary. He attacked with his Symbiote and the Insect token he had made on the second turn of the game.

In the attack, Lee tried to Smother the Wirewood Symbiote. In response, Yong used Chord of Calling to fetch a Viridian Shaman to destroy the Explosives. The Symbiote died, but Lee was left with no visible answer to Yong’s forces. He did have an Engineered Explosives for one again on his following turn. Yong responded with a Chord of Calling to fetch another Symbiote, allowing him to prepare for a reset. When the reset came, Yong returned an Elvish Visionary and a Birchlore Rangers. They had served their purpose well, up to this point. Every turn, any available Elves attacked Lee ever lower.

Yong simply replayed his Elves on the following turn, ready to finish things off. All it took was some sideways swings from the swarm of little creatures and Lee went under.

The second game was another wicked fast start from the Elves deck. Llanowar Elves begat Nettle Sentinel while Yong’s Forests made a Wirewood Symbiote and Birchlore Rangers on the second turn in some sort of mass exodus from Yong’s hand. Lee was able to put a kibosh on the whole thing with a Chrome Mox powered Damnation. The Sentinel retreated to safety only to return bearing Umezawa’s Umezawa’s Jitte.

Lee followed his first devastating four-mana spell up with another—Gifts Ungiven. Gifts makes the Tron deck work, and it found Lee a Crucible of Worlds and Tolaria West, while putting an Urza’s Tower and Engineered Explosives into the bin.

The Nettle Sentinel sent and pumped itself with both counters from the Umezawa’s Jitte, knocking Lee fairly low. He followed that up with a Glimpse of Nature and a Birchlore Rangers, Heritage Druid, and Wirewood Symbiote. He then used a Summoner’s Pact to get a Wirewood Symbiote, which returned the Heritage Druid. He also handed his Umezawa’s Jitte to the Symbiote, which had somehow sprouted hands.

A second Gifts Ungiven got Lee a Damnation and an Engineered Explosives, which promptly Damned all the Elves but a Birchlore Rangers to an early demise. Lee transmuted his Tolaria West for an Academy Ruins and played a Crucible of Worlds. Yong was caught in a real catch-22. He had to pay for the Summoner’s Pact or lose, but now that Lee was effectively set up and in control, he had almost no time to finish things off. He paid for the Pact and dropped his Birchlore Rangers into play. He knew he was done for. All it took from Lee was the Engineered Explosives in his hand and Yong conceded the second game.

Lee inauspiciously mulliganned to six for the deciding game with time winding down. Yong got started with a Birchlore Rangers and an Elvish Visionary, but his lack of another one drop to play with the Rangers relegated them to attacking for one. Lee did manage to resolve a Chalice of the Void for one on the following turn, which could prove problematic in the future. Yong attacked for two, played another Visionary. He then played a Gilt-Leaf Palace revealing the Viridian Shaman he used to kill the Chalice. In response to that, Lee aimed a Smother at the Birchlore Rangers. Yong thought for a while, considering using the Chord of Calling in his hand to search out a Symbiote to save the Rangers, but decided against it. He’d rather save them for when he knew he was in danger. He did use the Chord after combat to fetch a Birchlore Rangers to replace the one he just lost. As he was searching his deck, time was called.

After mulliganing to six, Lee managed to naturally fill his Tron on the following turn which he used to drop a Triskelion into play. The Trike went gonzo at this point, sniping the Birchlore Rangers and Two Visionaries. He added insult to injury with a Smother for the Shaman. Now the only creature in the game was a 1/1 Triskelion. Lee had a Mindslaver on the following turn, but at this point it didn’t really matter. Both players realized they wouldn’t be able to win in the extra turns provided, and accepted the draw.

Ji-Hoon Lee (KOR) draws with Wai Kin Au Yong (MYS) 1-1-1.

Team Malaysia and Team South Korea draw 1-1-1.

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