Gateway Round 6: Nicolai Herzog vs. Jin Okamoto

Posted in Event Coverage on May 2, 2002

By Aaron Forsythe

Norway's Nicolai Herzog showed up to Nice with no Extended deck; he figured he would either borrow one or else go sightseeing. Jens Thoren was nice enough to lend Herzog a mono-red Sligh deck, and to good effect: Herzog is one win away from qualifying for the main event. In his way stands Japan's Jin Okamoto, playing a blue/green hybrid Donate/Oath deck featuring Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor.

Herzog started off with a Mogg Fanatic, a Seal of Fire, and a Firebolt in the first two turns. Jin Brainstormed, but couldn't come up with green mana, and laid his third Island. Apparently blue mana was good enough. He then Intuitioned for three Donates, causing Herzog to raise his eyebrows. On turn four, the Illusions of Grandeur came down. Herzog played it out for sport, but Jin had the necessary fifth land – a Forest – and the Norwegian was "comboed out."

Okamoto 1 – Herzog 0

Herzog sided in four Pyroblasts, but seemes less than confident in his deck's ability to defeat the rogue Japanese monstrosity.

Herzog started in with the damage right away in Game 2 with a Mogg Fanatic and a Volcanic Hammer. On turn three he had a Ball Lightning in hand, but no third Mountain; he agonized for several minutes before opting to Volcanic Hammer Jin again, as opposed to leaving mana up for the two Pyroblasts in his hand.

Okamoto was having mana issues of his own – he had out a Sapphire Medallion but only two land. He was forced to Merchant Scroll for a Brainstorm to dig for land. He found a second Tropical Island, played it, and Merchant Scrolled again, this time for Force of Will.

Herzog drew a third Mountain and was faced with another tough decision – play Ball Lightning or brace himself for a permission war. Being the aggressive mage, he played the Ball Lightning, which Okamoto Force of Willed.

Jin played a Powder Keg and passed. Nicolai Firebolted, attacked, and passed. Jin end-step Intuitioned, and Herzog did not Pyroblast it, figuring he could just stop the inevitable combo. Oh man, was that a bad choice.

Jin let Nicolai choose between Roar of the Wurm, Roar of the Wurm, and Roar of the Wurm. Not a tough decision. "I should have scouted a little more," said the Norwegian, lamenting his decision not to Pyroblast.

The wurm tokens appeared, but one had to trade with a Ball Lightning. Jin played an Illusions, just to keep his life total high, and countered the first attempt to Pyroblast it. Herzog untapped and drew, Pyroblasted the Illusions, dropping Okamoto back to six life, and then played his last two cards – Seal of Fire and Fireblast to win what looked like an unwinnable game.

Okamoto 1 – Herzog 1

Nicolai sided in Powder Kegs to stifle any more roaring wurms.

Okamoto went first, but Herzog had the excellent turn-one play of Jackal Pup. Okamoto answered with Powder Keg, and blew it for one on his following turn. Herzog has three Pyroblasts in hand, but was struggling with only a Barbarian Ring and a Wasteland for mana. Once his Pup was kegged away, he was no longer applying any pressure to Okamoto, allowing him to set up nicely with a Sapphire Medallion, an Accumulated Knowledge, and a Merchant Scroll for the second AK.

Herzog did not draw a land, and was forced to pass the turn. Okamoto cast the AK, and Herzog destroyed his Yavimaya Coast with Wasteland in response. When Jin floated a blue mana, Herzog opted not to Pyroblast. Jin drew two cards and burned for 1.

Herzog finally drew his first Mountain and passed again, but was forced to Pyroblast an Intuition and its Counterspell backup at the end of his turn.

But that was all part of Okamoto's plan; he had been holding Illusions and Donate since the beginning of the game waiting for the perfect moment. He played his fifth land, dropped a second Medallion, and cast a two-mana Illusions and a one-mana Donate back-to-back. Herzog was flabbergasted, and could do nothing but scoop up his cards.

Okamoto just earned $2000 and the right to play for much more.

Final Result: Okamoto 2 – Herzog 1

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