Chris Fennell was never supposed to be here. The American had one Pro Tour Top 8 appearance—coming in 2014 at Pro Tour Born of the Gods—but with little preparation time for this event and a team in Lingering Souls that had few of the resources of the high-powered global superteams that had assembled in Nashville, Fennell was by all accounts an underdog to be in the Top 8.
His opponent was not. Yuuya Watanabe is currently No. 22 on the Magic Top 25 rankings, is perennially in the discussion of best Magic player alive, and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame just last year. Making his fourth Pro Tour Top 8 appearance here, Watanabe was in familiar territory.
Fennell was on what may well have been the best version of the breakout deck of Pro Tour Amonkhet: Zombies. His white-black version differed from the mono-black builds piloted by many of his peers, but it gave him plenty of unique options—including cards like Anguished Unmaking and Declaration in Stone that would be key in the matchup against Watanabe's Aetherworks Marvel deck.
Marvel has been a piece of the Standard metagame since its printing in Kaladesh, but the metagame that emerged here allowed it to find success that had been missing for months. It was the most popular deck in the Top 8, and the Temur build Watanabe was running had card selection in Glimmer of Genius, interaction in Kozilek's Return and Censor, and the always-potent combination of Aetherworks Marvel, energy, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
So began the quarterfinals of Pro Tour Amonkhet.
For a deck capable of blistering starts, not having a first- or second-turn play wasn't ideal for Fennell—especially not after a mulligan. His first play was Lord of the Accursed on the third turn, which ran headfirst into Censor. Under no pressure, Watanabe calmly resolved Aetherworks Marvel on his fourth turn and passed back to Fennell.
While Watanabe didn't yet have the energy to activate the Marvel, he wasn't far off and had plenty of time to get there, as Fennell worked to build a board of Zombies. As Rogue Refiner nudged Watanabe closer to Marvel energy, the American finally got to three Zombies in play for his Cryptbreaker, and began to draw cards to try to pull ahead.
But that was when Watanabe's particular version of Marvel did what it did best: cast an end-of-turn Torrential Gearhulk to "flashback" Harnessed Lightning, taking down Cryptbreaker and moving Watanabe to the requisite six energy to spin the wheel on Aetherworks Marvel. Glimmer of Genius isn't Ulamog, but it's not exactly a bad hit off Marvel, and the Japanese pro untapped with firm control of the game.
>Yuuya Watanabe had turned the tide, and he began to tighten his control over Game 1.
From there, he methodically worked over the Zombies deck. Torrential Gearhulk began the beatdown, and a second spin of the Marvel a turn later found Whirler Virtuoso. A huge Harnessed Lightning took down the 6/6 Diregraf Colossus Fennell had reloaded with. A third spin of the Marvel yielded only Woodweaver's Puzzleknot—no Ulamogs in sight—but thanks to the Gearhulk, Fennell had to worry about his own life total.
That is, until Watanabe played his tenth land and cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger the hard way. That elicited the scoop from Fennell and handed Watanabe the first game of the match.
The next game featured a flurry of activity in the first few turns. Fennell got onto the board quickly with Cryptbreaker and a Zombie token on the second turn, and while Harnessed Lightning took care of the Cryptbreaker, Lord of the Accursed allowed the token to continually chip away at Watanabe's life total even as Watanabe flung more lightning at Fennell's larger creatures.
The Hall of Famer found Glimmer of Genius to try and set up his long-term plan. He had fallen to 7 life after hits from the Zombie tokens Fennell had swarmed the board with off Dark Salvation, but Watanabe followed up his Genius with Aetherworks Marvel and had enough energy to activate it. Fortunately for Watanabe, the wheel of Marvel was much kinder this time around, finding Ulamog in the top six cards.
Less fortunate for the Hall of Fame pro was the Anguished Unmaking Fennell had at the ready. While the Eldrazi had relieved some of the pressure, its unmaking forced Watanabe to find another win condition before being overrun. Woodweaver's Puzzleknot wasn't exactly a win condition, but the life Watanabe gained by chaining a pair of them together gave him some breathing room while refilling his energy bar. That energy was put to great use, as the next spin of the Marvel found Kozilek's Return, which was enough to wipe out most of Fennell's board—though the 9/9 Diregraf Colossus Fennell followed up with was a major problem.
Chris Fennell may have lost most of his Zombies, but he wasn't out of the game yet.
Steadied but teetering on the verge of losing control, Watanabe needed a haymaker before Fennell had a chance to rebuild. Again a tenth land was the answer, and again a hard-cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger was enough to end the game.
After a weekend of beating Marvel decks, Fennell found himself down 2-0 to the Hall of Famer when the pair went to the sideboard. When they came out on the other side, Fennell was ready with an aggressive start: Dread Wanderer into Wayward Servant.
The beatdown began in earnest, and Fennell tried to push the advantage with a third-turn Lord of the Accursed. It ran into a Censor, but a pair of one-drops on the next turn knocked Watanabe down to 8 life thanks to the Wayward Servant's life drain. Fennell had finally found the aggressive start the Zombies deck is known for, and while Puzzleknot and Harnessed Lightning bought Watanabe some time, he was still on the back foot.
But even the best starts are vulnerable to a sweeper, and Watanabe had it in Kozilek's Return. Fennel had the perfect follow-up in Diregraf Colossus, but the lack of a fourth land forced him to play right into Censor, which is exactly what Watanabe had. Torrential Gearhulk was next for Watanabe, and although Fennell's Anguished Unmaking took care of the creature, the damage had been done. With a hand full of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Liliana's Mastery, Fennell was frustrated by a lack of mana while Watanabe made land drop after land drop.
This time around, Watanabe didn't need ten lands. Shrine of the Forsaken Gods gave him ten mana on turn nine, and when he tapped it all Fennell scooped up his cards and extended his hand before the Ulamog even hit the battlefield, congratulating Watanabe on advancing to the semifinals.
Yuuya Watanabe defeated Chris Fennell 3-0 to move on to the semifinals!