Finals: "The Best Match I've Ever Seen"

Posted in Event Coverage on February 11, 2007

By Ted Knutson

Mike Hron and Takuya Osawa vie for different but equally impressive achievements.It has been 6 years and 7 days since an American won a Limited Pro Tour. It seems like it's been about 6 hours since a Japanese player won one, though Takuya Osawa was actually the last to do it back in Prague last season. Osawa has a chance to do it again here, while Mike Hron is looking to change American Magic fortunes and bring a new trophy home to the country that once dominated Limited events around the world. Even from an insider's perspective, the level of play in this Pro Tour has been some of the highest anyone can recall, especially at the end as players struggled to make the Sunday Draft. The Top 32 going into the final draft was practically a who's who of major players in the last two seasons, but Hron and Osawa managed to down all comers and are now the last two men standing. Hron, a 27 year-old American hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, is an old-timer who seems to win whenever he plays - but rarely plays. An excellent Limited player, he can usually be seen at Grand Prix in the Midwest and has a long association with Bob "The Great One" Maher. His last notable appearance was when his team finished second to :B at Grand Prix - Chicago 2004.

Hron kept his draft strategy relatively open as the tournament moved along, starting with heavy black builds and then shifting with the metagame as more players started to draft black. His player profile says that he tried to avoid green at all costs, but apparently that was a luxury not afforded to him in the final draft, as he has a three-color base green deck featuring fatties like Spectral Force and Stonebrow, some decent removal, and Tromp the Domains to finish off opponents quickly. Osawa's deck is a spicy meatball itself, consisting of a number of excellent blue morphs, two Errant Ephemeron, two Corpulent Corpse, and three Phthisis.

Game 1

According to the schedule, the finals got underway early, but spectators were kept in suspense a bit longer by the plays on turns one and two: suspended Search for Tomorrow by Hron, Corpulent Corpse and then Ephemeron by Osawa. Hron cast Darkheart Sliver on turn two, giving this match an action-packed debut. Osawa cast a morph on his turn and then took damage from Hron's Sliver on the attack before the American filtered some green mana through Chromatic Star and played Yavimaya Dryad. The Dryad then traded with Osawa's attacking morph and was replaced by Veiled Oddity, only to be trumped by Deadwood Treefolk from Hron, getting back his Dryad. Hron was clearly ahead heading into the middle game, but Osawa had evasive fat unsuspending just a turn away.

The Corpse and Ephemeron came into play and got aggressive, flanked by Viscerid Deepwalker on the outside. Hron chose to double-block the Walker and play Strangling Soot on the Corpse, leaving Osawa with the Ephemeron and Oddity to Hron's lonely Treefolk. On Mike's turn his Treefolk got busy, but Osawa flashed in Drudge Reavers and then regenerated them, keeping ahead in the damage race 15-11. An attack from a flashed Ashcoat Bear put him at 13, and Hron added Stonebrow, Krosan Hero and Darkheart Sliver to his army, threatening back. Another swing from Osawa's flying 4/4 put Hron at 7, and he cracked back for 5 trample on Stonebrow's back, making it 8-7 now, still in favor of Osawa. Hron even had the Giant Dustwasp to at least chump a turn of Ephemeron bashings. Unfortunately, that was not enough. Osawa swung with the Ephemeron to drop Hron to 3 and then flashed a smile before tapping seven mana and sliding Phthisis onto the table, winning a tense Game 1 in dramatic fashion.

Osawa 1, Hron 0

Game 2

Hron had to mulligan - not the start he was looking for against a deck that Katsuhiro Mori called one of the best he had ever seen in this format, though you might have to be as good as Katsu to see that. Osawa's deck certainly looks amazing when it hits suspended monsters on turns one and two and gets to Phthisis a fattie to end the game, that's for certain.

Hron stays focused.

Hron opened Game 2 with Essence Warden and Ashcoat Bear, while Osawa took early damage from the animals before throwing one of his many morphs onto the table, and then suspended Corpulent Corpse a turn later, preferring to wait for the Zombie and keep his mana free on instead of playing it outright. Hron added another bear to his team and the game stalled, with Hron hoping to pick up enough fat in the coming turns to start whittling down Osawa's remaining 14 life. Wurmcalling with buyback created a 1/1 for Hron, while Osawa again flashed Drudge Reavers into play, making Hron's eventual task that much tougher - though with three colors of land in play and four creatures, Tromp the Domains was now becoming a legitimate concern. Osawa laid another morph and sent it into the red zone for 6 a turn later, while Hron cast Search for Tomorrows for his missing sixth land. An untap later, Tromp might have been the hoped-for play, but instead Hron played Citanul Woodreaders with kicker, digging further through his deck and adding another creature to the cause.

At this point, Osawa sat back and chose to play it safe, with no attacks from either side for a couple of turns while they traded removal and struggled to find an edge. Gauntlet of Power for green things looked like it might be what the doctor ordered for the American, especially when it started letting him make multiple Wurm weenies with buyback each turn. This gave him inevitability, as Hron pushed six men across the board on the next turn, dropping Osawa to 7, and then won the next turn to even the match at a game apiece.

Osawa 1, Hron 1

Game 3

Osawa had to mulligan on the play, but Hron did the same last game and still won, so no worries, right? Sage of Epityr set up Osawa's next four draws, an excellent opening of card selection when facing a bit of card disadvantage. Turn two suspended Ephemeron was even better, while Hron underdropped on his turn, playing Essence Warden a turn late. Osawa even managed to curve out by casting a morph on his third turn before suspending Phthisis for his fourth, while Horn merely played a Deadly Grub and missed his fourth land drop. This put him in a strange situation where any added fat to the board would earn a smashing from Phthisis, while failure to add creatures could earn him a swift death regardless.

Double Vampiric Link on Ephemeron - one from each player, even - stopped the 4/4 from dealing useful damage, but it did still make a lifegain outlet for Osawa, so he kept sending it across. The game was essentially stable as Hron waited for Phthisis to fire off, trading Strangling Soot for Dunerider Outlaw, while Osawa's life total kept moving further out of reach in four-point chunks, and the realization hit the crowd that we could be here a while despite a fast pace of play. The black removal spell finally hit play, and Osawa aimed it at Essence Warden, trying to prevent Hron from sharing in his lifegain shenanigans. The plan worked, but Hron switched gears at that point, now creating a 5/5 with buyback (whee, Wurmcalling!) every turn while Osawa flipped up a Slipstream Serpent and braced for the eventual impact.

Hron stayed flexible, though, playing Stonebrow of the hill people and Trespasser il-Vec on his next turn, and Osawa answered back with Corpulent Corpse, giving him an evasive creature that could actually deal damage. Stonebrow attacked to give Hron a positive move in the life totals for once, and then Hron suspended Greater Gargadon, giving every indication that he planned to win the long game. Melancholy on Hron's Trespasser tapped it to open the door for Osawa's Corpse beatings, but the Corpse only dropped Hron to 16 before Strangling Soot made sure that nonsense disappeared without another attack. Another turn, another draw gave Osawa another Errant Ephemeron, and another evasive creature that could not only deal damage, but would not die to another Strangling Soot. In short, the goofy-looking blue flyer was practically perfect in every respect.

At this point, Hron felt he needed to step on the gas, pushing every creature he controlled (minus the tapped Trespasser) into a full frontal assault, losing three creatures while dropping Osawa to 28 vs. his own 16. He then added a 6/6 Wurm to his team, and shipped it back to Osawa. Osawa attacked one more time, dropping Hron to 12, and then died at 32 life when Hron finally found Tromp the Domains waiting for him on the top of his deck.

Hron 2 - Osawa 1

Game 4

Osawa suspended Viscerid Deepwalker on turn one, and we were again underway in this marathon of a finals. Hron hit the curve on turns one and two with Essence Warden and Ashcoat Bear, but so did Osawa with a suspended Ephemeron. Turn three for Hron brought two more weenies to the game, Darkheart Sliver and Greenseeker, while Osawa merely played Prismatic Lens. Hron used his Greenseeker on turn four to fetch his missing Mountain before casting Trespasser il-Vec, and Osawa flashed Drudge Reavers into play at the end of Mike's turn. Viscerid Deepwalker came online, and Osawa paused for some time in consideration. Should he send the Deepwalker on the attack, or should he hold back and play defense? He eventually decided to attack and ended up trading with Hron's Tresspasser. Then the earth shook and a mighty roar was heard, as Spectral Force went Nuke LaLoosh and announced its presence with authority. Phthisis? What's a Phthisis?

Hron's attack with the mighty beast dropped Osawa to 8, and Stonebrow's appearance was equally unwelcome. Of course, that wasn't as big a deal as it might have been normally, since Osawa did draw Phthisis exactly when he needed it, dropping an elbow on Hron's nugget and making the score 9-8 in favor of Hron. Stonebrow traded with Silpstream Serpent on the next attack, but Hron kept the line of fresh recruits piling up with Giant Dustwasp. Osawa then seemed to put the game away for good, adding Vampiric Link to his Ephemeron, as the crowd groaned.

Mike chumped with Dustwasp, shaking his head as if in frustration, and then finished off the flier after combat with a surprise Midnight charm. Strangling Soot then took down a new Corpulent Corpse in this incredible see-saw of topdeck action, leaving Hron at 6 and Osawa at 15 with Drudge Reavers staring down Essence Warden and Greenseeker in what had recently been a battle of giants. That only lasted until Osawa flashed in a Crookclaw Transmuter during Osawa's attack, again earning a huge sigh from Hron, and one turn later the players were again shuffling up for a new game. Hron's lament as the game ended was clear - if Osawa had drawn the Phthisis even a turn later or even possibly just hit a land any turn after, Hron might be holding a champion's trophy already.

Hron 2, Osawa 2

Game 5

Hron's frustration with his luck worsened as he was forced to mulligan his opening hand on the play, but at least he didn't have to go to five. Missing drops on turns one or two were rather unpleasant though, but for once Osawa missed his suspend engine, opening his action with a Prismatic Lens on turn two and morph on turn three. Search for Tomorrows gave Hron land number four, and Yavimaya Dryad fetched land number five as Hron built his forces. Meanwhile, Osawa kept hitting his land drops naturally and putting more morphs on the table. The next attack from the Japanese Pro Tour winner saw Aquamorph Entity die to Midnight Charm, and Hron followed that with Gauntlet of Power and Mire Boa, only to see the snake die immediately from Cradle to Grave. A new morph for Osawa kept the tension high, with two creatures on both sides of the board, though Hron's were both enhanced by his Gauntlet. The life totals were now Hron 17, Osawa 10.

Hron thought a long time about options on his next turn, eventually pushing both of his creatures into the fray. Osawa blocked the 3/3 with both of his morphs and then flipped up Shaper Parasite to kill Yavimaya Dryad before damage, with Hron losing both creatures while Osawa lost an unmorphed Serpent. Unfortunately for Mike, he had no follow-up… unless perhaps it was an Ashcoat Bear waiting to be flashed into play. Osawa read the situation in exactly the same way and chose not to attack, casting Corpulent Corpse and then passing the turn back. This match was incredible - every game exciting, every play a monster. With Osawa stuck at six mana sources, Hron finally went for it, putting Spectral Force on the table while Osawa had 3 cards in hand . Phthisis on the now-9/9 trampler still would not kill him from 20, but the subsequent attack surely would.

The Force rumbled forward, up-rooting trees, dislodging rocks, and crushing dreams on its way as Osawa paused to consider his options. 10 life. Six toughness of creatures in Shaper Parasite and Corpulent Corpse. A 9/9 trampler barreling toward him. He finally put the Parasite in front of the Force and took 6, dropping to 4. This was a clear mistake that would be compounded in following turns. Apparently Osawa somehow misunderstood or forgot what Spectral Force actually reads. Because Takuya had a black permanent in play when Spectral Force attacked, it would get to untap on Hron's next turn. Takuya seemed to think that it only untapped every other turn no matter what, which was why:

1. He blocked with the Shaper Parasite on that turn (instead of the Corpulent Corpse).
2. He attacked with his Corpulent Corpse on his own turn instead of leaving it back to block the Spectral Force along with his fresh Viscerid Deepwalker, which would drop him to 1 life instead of killing him.
3. He died with three Phthisis in his hand and a land on top of his deck (it was flipped over after Osawa conceded).

If he had played that turn differently, then the rest of it obviously would have flowed together: He draws his seventh mana source, slaps the Force with Phthisis dealing 18 to Hron, and attacks for the win. Because he didn't - and because Hron hit so hard and played so tight - the course of history was changed, and America crowned a Limited Pro Tour champion for the first time in six years.

Congratulations to Mike Hron, the Pro Tour - Geneva 2007 champion!

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