Two players from two different continents, with what is now a combined eight Pro Tour Top 8s between them, shuffled up as they got ready for their quarterfinal match.
On one side of the table sat Eric Froehlich, Pro Tour Hall of Famer—inducted in 2015—and member of team Channel Fireball Ice. This weekend marked his fifth lifetime Pro Tour Top 8, an achievement that had only been accomplished by 29 other players before this Pro Tour in the last two decades.
On the other side of the table sat Ken Yukuhiro, a long-time Japanese pro in his third Pro Tour Top 8 appearance. As a member of Musashi, Yukuhiro has helped propel his team to the top of the Team Series standings with this finish. A Gold-level pro with 27 Pro Points coming into this weekend, Yukuhiro possesses the chance to guarantee himself Platinum for 2017–18 with a win in this match.
Would Ken Yukuhiro (left) continue pushing Musashi up the Team Series standings, or would Hall of Famer Eric Froehlich continue adding wins to his impressive career?
The first game was over in a flash, as Froehlich's draw did not line up well against Yukuhiro's incredibly powerful curve of Attune with Aether, Heart of Kiran, Longtusk Cub, Longtusk Cub, and Bone Picker. The curve required Froehlich to blow through multiple Magma Sprays just to dispose of one Cub, and he played the game in a way that left him with exactly six energy for his sixth-turn Aetherworks Marvel. Unfortunately for Froehlich, when the Marvel turned up nothing to help him escape an already precarious position, he picked up his cards for the second game.
Ken Yukuhiro jumped to an early lead, winning Game 1.
Game 2 was a similar affair, although not as brutal. Winding Constrictor met a Harnessed Lightning, but Yukuhiro once again had a large and threatening battlefield, with Bone Picker and Heart of Kiran as a powerful follow-up, and Rishkar, Peema Renegade and a Walking Ballista for three in the turns following.
Froehlich dug for options with Glimmer of Genius, and a Woodweaver's Puzzleknot kept him in the game until he could land a Marvel. At that point he found himself in a similar situation as the first game, in need of a good spin from the legendary enchantment. With Froehlich at 6 life, Yukuhiro made a lethal attack with Heart of Kiran and Bone Picker, and while a first Marvel activation found a second and enough energy for another go, the lack of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger left Froehlich once again picking up his cards for another game.
Eric Froehlich would need to turn the tide quickly to salvage his hopes in the match.
Going into the third game, Froehlich took one quick look at his cards before throwing them back for a mulligan. While he had Rogue Refiner to match the Longtusk Cub and Attune with Aether Yukuhiro had started with, a second Attune and Winding Constrictor let the Cub pummel in for 6, immediately putting Froehlich on the defensive.
Blossoming Defense in response to Aether Meltdown ensured that the Cub remained as powerful of a clock as it was, and a second one threatened to wrap up the match even faster. Walking Ballista matched Froehlich's Whirler Virtuoso, trading with the two Thopters that were made, and an attack from the Constrictors and two Cubs forced Froehlich to chump-block the two Cubs with his only creatures.
And just like that, the match was over. Froehlich extended the hand, and players packed up and left the feature match in relative silence. Sometimes, even in best-of-five, the discrepancy in power level amongst two player's opening hands is just too much, and it leads to fast, lopsided games. That's exactly what happened in this match, and there's not much a player can do about it other than to keep spirits up and hope for the best in the next event.
Ken Yukuhiro defeated Eric Froehlich 3-0 and advanced to the semifinals!