Pro Tour–Austin Quarterfinals: March of the Crabs

Posted in Event Coverage on October 18, 2009

By Marc Calderaro

Naoki Shimizu (Dredge) vs. Martin Juza (Domain Zoo)

Czech pro Martin Juza, is in an exciting position for sure. Sitting pretty with least 54 Pro Points after this stellar Top 8 finish, he is the only player who can overtake Yuuya Watanabe’s lead in the Player of the Year race. When asked about his Player-of-the-Year hopes, Juza said, “You know what we call him? Yuuya ‘Match-Loss’ Watanabe.” I can only assume that moniker doesn’t refer to Watanabe’s inability to light cigarettes.

And though Juza’s got a lot to gain, his competitor, Japan’s Naoki Shimizu, certainly wasn’t going to lay down arms. Shimizu, well known as a coverage writer, was running a homebrewed version of the powerful Dredge deck. And though Shimizu felt Juza’s Naya Zoo has a good Game 1 (“I’d better win the die roll”), the veteran writer had a few tricks up his sleeve in the sideboard. Well, they’re not really “tricks,” as players have access to each other’s deck lists, but Tombstalker and Darkblast are tricksy enough even with prior knowledge. Juza’s Gaddock Teegs, Tormod’s Crypts, and Yixlid Jailers, however, prepped for all games after the first, could all be one-card trumps to Shimizu’s delicate graveyard-based combination.

Game 1

Martin Juza and Naoki Shimizu both have sideboard tech for this match-up, but they’ll have to get through Game 1 first.Shimizu won the die roll to an exhausted sigh from Juza. It looked like Shimizu could have just gotten the first lucky break he needed to take Game 1. Though he kept keeping a questionable seven, his opponent had to go just a bit more.

“So I lost the die roll, and I mulligan to four,” said Juza. “That wasn’t my plan.”

“It’s OK,” replied Shimizu. “My hand is not very good.” (He was bluffing a little. He had two Hedron Crabs, but only one land to go with them.)

Water Grave helped Shimizu lay Hedron Crab, and was answered by a Scalding Tarn / Stomping Ground combo into a Wild Nacatl. Both are classic turn ones for the decks—except Juza was already down to three cards; that part’s unusual.

A sigh of relief came from Shimizu during his draw step. A second Hedron Crab and a Misty Rainforest (after the Crab, of course), took him to 15, but also milled twelve cards off the top of his deck. (In the stack of milled cards: 2 Nacromoeba, Stinkweed Imp, Magus of the Bazaar, 2 Bridge from Below, and a Dread Return. Jeez.)

Shimizu traded in both Narcomoebas and a Crab for a Magus of the Bazaar (thanks to Dread Return). He then laid out a Greenseeker and passed, Juza had had enough. Well, at least he got one turn.

Shimizu 1, Juza 0

Knowing both their sideboard strategies cold, the two competitors methodically swept up their cards, made requisite changes, and readied for the second game. Gaddock Teeg is a great catch-all for Naya Zoo in this match-up, but Juza had better have Path to Exile for the 5/5 flying Tombstalker out of the Dredge deck.

Game 2

Who could resist a face like that?It was Shimizu this time who went to six, as Juza repeated his first game opening of Tarn-into-Ground-into-Nacatl. However, this time the Player of the Year hopeful still had five more cards to follow. And when he answered Shimizu’s tapped Overgrown Tomb with a Gaddock Teeg and an attack, this game had already swung decidedly more in his favor.

From all the fetch land / Ravnica dual shenanigans, the scores were already 15-14 as Shimizu laid a second-turn Magus of the Bazaar. Juza paused at the sight of the 0/1, but then confidently attacked, making the totals 15-9. He then Lightning Bolted the Magus, cast a Steppe Lynx, and laid an Arid Mesa, politely waiting to pump the Lynx for 2.

Shimizu could only respond with a Hedron Crab and no third land. Juza had those coming of his ears (ok, maybe his hands), and laid another Fetchland (Marsh Flats). When Shimizu blocked the Lynx with the Crab, Juza flashed the Tribal Flames and initiated Shimizu’s scoop phase.

Shimizu 1, Juza 1

Noting that between land-searching and mulligans, they’d spent more time shuffling than playing, Juza made a declaration of: “No More Mulligans.” Shimizu immediately agreed.

Game 3

Wild Nacatl, Steppe Lynx, Goblin Guide, Lightning Bolt, and Tormod’s Crypt prompted muted relief and a quick keep from Juza. But again, for the third game in a row, Shimizu had to stare at his cards, burning a hole in the table underneath, before breaking his pact with Juza and shipping, eventually, down to five.

Shimizu had a dual land and a Hedron Crab, and Juza opted to Lightning Bolt the Crab instead of lay out any of his one drops. Shimizu followed with a Magus of the Bazaar, and after fetching a Sacred Foundry, Juza cast the now-3/3 Wild Nacatl, Steppe Lynx, and Tormod’s Crypt in one fell swoop (with priority passing in between, of course).

On Shimizu’s upkeep, he tapped the Bazaar, ditching two Stinkweed Imps and a Bridge from Below. Juza promptly removed them with Tormod’s Crypt, and after Shimizu drew and laid a Dryad Arbor, he passed the turn back to the awaiting European.

Another land-drop and another one-drop from Juza—this time Goblin Guide—came down and attacked the Kamakura native to 10.

An upkeep Magus activation for Shimizu ditched a relevant Grave-Troll and Bridge from Below (and an irrelevant Ideas Unbound), while the Grave-Troll dredging yielded only a Narcomoeba. On the next turn, Juza made an important miscalculation: He forgot about the newly binned Bridge and attacked. When the Illusion and the Arbor both tagged out for Zombie tokens, Juza realized his blunder. Though his opponent was now at 8, thanks to a Goblin Guide, the board had become more stable than Juza wanted.

Juza made his fourth dual land (taking himself to 11) and cast another sideboard killer, Yixlid Jailer. Shimizu audibly groaned and drew for his turn. Unless he had the Darkblast—which he dug for using the Bazaar—the game might yet again shift back into Juza’s hands. Though he was only holding a Mountain, Juza’s four creatures, Wild Nacatl, Steppe Lynx, Goblin Guide, and Yixlid Jailer, could easily take the remaining 8 points from Shimizu, who was rendered helpless by the 2/1 Jailer. He tapped out for a Stinkweed Imp and passed back with three blockers up: two Zombies and a flying, smelly Imp. Shimizu hadn’t found his -1/-1 answer quite yet, but unless Juza had burn, he had at least another turn.

Juza drew into a Kird Ape, and attacked with just the Goblin Guide, not willing to lose anything else to the Imp. A Zombie chumper left the battlefield, and after the 2/3 Ape came down, Juza passed it back. But Shimizu demurely passed the turn back for Juza to draw a Marsh Flats. His beaters came in, leaving back the Jailer, and Shimizu had little choice but to Imp away the 3/3 Warrior Cat and block the non-Warrior Cat with a Zombie. Shimizu sunk to 6.

Instead of tapping his Magus of the Bazaar (because he had only one card in hand), Shimizu tapped himself with his lucky fan and counted up the cards in his graveyard and in the exile zone. On his draw step he had found the Darkblast. But with the Marsh Flats unused, and a Mountain in his hand, Juza threatened with lethal damage next turn. It was calculation time.

A legitimate judge call to be sure, but a great slow-roll as well.Shimizu left the table to ask about the interaction between Yixlid Jailer and Bridge from Below. Would killing the Jailer with Darkblast remove the currently neutered Bridge from Below or not?

When he came back Juza inquired, “Am I dead?”

“That’s a difficult question to ask,” Shimizu politely responded. After awaiting the Head Judge’s response, Shimizu calmly cast the Darkblast.

“All that for a Darkblast?!” Juza exclaimed.

“I checked,” said Shimizu. “It will not remove the Bridge.”

Juza slumped, placing the game-breaking Yixlid Jailer into the graveyard. Juza got the turn back, staring at an untapped Bazaar, Watery Grave and an Island. After popping the Marsh Flats on his upkeep, he could only shake his head in disbelief when he saw that there had been a Tribal Flames on top. It was the right move to pop the land statistically, but sadly the wrong move with perfect information. With Stinkweed Imp, Golgari Grave-Troll, Darkblast, and Bridge from Below all active in Shimizu’s yard, this was going to be close.

Steppe Lynx and Kird Ape red-zoned, prompting a Magus block plus activation, and boy was that activation was epic. Dredging two Grave-Trolls to his hand and a Narcomoeba to the battlefield, Shimizu struck gold: Iona, Shield of Emeria and Dread Return. When the damage resolved, Shimizu had gained one more blocker than before: a Illusion and a Zombie.

Another Narcomoeba entered the battlefield briefly on his upkeep before disappearing into the graveyard (along with his buddy and the undead 2/2) to bring forth Iona (naming red) and four zombies. Shimizu tapped out to cast Stinkweed Imp. And Juza, with only three attacking creatures, and unable to cast his red burn, didn’t draw a Path to Exile on his turn, and scooped them up.

Shimizu 2, Martin Juza 1

Juza bemoaned the last game. Attacking into an active Bridge from Below, the judge unintentionally slow-rolling Darkblast, and then shuffling away the Tribal Flames was too much for him to handle. Now a game down, Juza was on the ropes as he shuffled up for, potentially, the final game.

Game 4

... But anything potential is not necessarily so. Juza’s hand of Yixlid Jailer, Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt, Tarmogoyf ... well, that looked like keeper. And Shimizu again went to five cards.

Juza’s turn-one Kird Ape met a Greenseeker, and he sunk Shimizu to 18 before Lightning Bolting the dredge enabler into the ‘yard. The Ape was soon joined by a Tarmogoyf as Shimizu simply passed the turn right back, pen in hand to change his life totals. But he didn’t even get that far.

All it took was a Goblin Guide aiding a three-pronged attack from Juza for the already shorthanded Shimizu to pack up for the actual final game.

Shimizu 2, Juza 2

Game 5

Shimizu brings casual favorites Hedron Crab and Glimpse the Unthinkable to a Pro Tour Top 8, admittedly aimed a little differently.This was the first time both our combatants started the game without at least a one-card handicap. And what a great match to start that way—Game 5: The Final Frontier.

They both laid the requisite dual land, but Juza had a Goblin Guide to accompany his, and gave Shimizu a Scalding Tarn while sinking him to 18. That extra land could prove fatal, as a turn-two Hedron Crab immediately milled Shimizu for six. Dread Return, Iona, Bridge from Below and a Grave-Troll made for a good pile of six. And this time, Martin Juza wrote “BRIDGE” in very large, very underlined letters on his life pad.

The second Goblin attack revealed a second Crab for Shimizu, and the score evened up at 15 when Juza played an untapped dual into his Gaddock Teeg. Soon Nacromoeba, Stinkweed Imp, and Tombstalker went to the ‘yard, and Shimizu removed seven cards to cast another Tombstalker already in his hand. He then laid a Misty Rainforest to begin refilling his most valuable resource, his graveyard.

A 5/6 Tarmgoyf joined Juza’s team, and the race was on. He had the Tribal Flames and the Lightning Helix, but Shimizu still had the terrible combo of Dread Return and Iona waiting in the wings—and oh, is that a Darkblast?

Shimizu dredged the repeatable removal into his hand, then used his fetch land to, this time, mill Juza for six cards—a tricky play that aimed to limit Tribal Flames damage by hitting a key land) He then case Ideas Unbound to add cards to both his hand and graveyard. He ended up drawing two Darkblast and Stinkweed Imp, while binning two more Narcomoebas—more free fodder for his Dread Returns and three Bridge from Below. A Tombstalker plus Illusion attack equaled 9 for Juza. And Shimizu Darkblasted his own tapped Narcomoeba for three Zombies and passed.

Juza drew and shipped, keeping mana open for his Lightning Helix and Path to Exile, but he would have to crack two uncracked fetch lands to do it; a predicament indeed. The next attack step forced the exiling of the 5/5 flyer, and now at 7 life, Juza was going to have a tough time pulling this one out—even when his next draw step netted a Yixlid Jailer.

At the end of Juza’s turn, Shimizu again Darkblasted a Narcomoeba for three more deadites. Then he calmly attacked, holding but a single Narcomoeba and a Hedron Crab, eliciting a Helix to his dome. Shimizu then destroyed his third flyer and gained, this time, four 2/2s. Juza was at 2, and now unable to even crack his own lands without dying.

When Juza attacked back with Gaddock Teeg and Tarmogoyf, and Shimizu properly blocked, Martin Juza’s Sunday came to an end. He’ll have to be content with a strong Quarterfinals finish and a full 12 more Pro Points, and knowing that writing “BRIDGE” really largely never hurt anybody.

Naoki Shimizu defeats Martin Juza 3-2 and advances to the Semifinals!

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