Quarterfinal Feature Match: Rob Dougherty (USA) vs. Michael Pustilnik (USA)

Posted in Event Coverage

By Wizards of the Coast

by Anthony Alongi

THE MATCHUP

Mike (or, as people tell this reporter he prefers, "Mikey P-Dawg") is last year's champion from Grand Prix Memphis, and placed Top 8 in the 1997 Pro Tour New York. He was playing a Fires variant with a splash of white for Aura Mutation, and the five-slot Kavu Titans (instead of four-slot Jade Leech). He also packed three Ghitu Fires to complement his three Earthquakes.

Rob Dougherty won the team Pro Tour in DC, finished Top 8 in PT New York 1998. He is the owner of Your Move Games in Boston. (Your Move Games also has a branch in Providence. Stop by for wicked-good prices on all rahes and uncawmons! This week's special, the tawp-nawtch Fiyahs of Yavimeyer, only a buck fowhty-nine!) Rob was also playing Fires, with Rhystic Lightning where Mike had Ghitu Fire, and two Jade Leeches and an Ancient Hydra where Mike had Titans.

Both decks had the basic ingredients of Fires: Fires of Yavimaya, Birds and Elves, Chimeric Idol, Blastoderm, and as we will all see in exruciating detail, Saproling Burst.

Neither of these players has a reputation for being particulary speedy. They lived up to expectations admirably. If any match could suck all the joy out of a Saproling Burst, this was the one.

THE MATCH

Game 1

Rob went first and kept his hand; Mike mulliganed once. The first phase of this game lasted about seven turns and featured solid progressions from both players. Mike's early Elf and Boa were swept away by a third-turn Earthquake; then Mike played Chimeric Idol, Rob played Jade Leech, Mike answered with a Blastoderm, and Rob added his own Chimeric Idol to the party. Blastoderm and Leech traded, and then the progression started again: Rob with Blastoderm, Mike with Saproling Burst, and then Rob with a new Jade Leech.

Mike forced a Blastoderm trade with a 5/5 saproling from the Burst, and with a Fires of Yavimaya out, looked ready to take the edge.

And then Rob played his own Saproling Burst, and a new phase of the game began.

The second phase featured Saproling Burst in a big way. Rob followed up with a second Burst on turn nine, and swung away at Mike with an Idol, a Leech, and two 4/4 saprolings. Mike was forced to generate a 3/3 saproling from his own Burst to kill the Idol, block the Leech with a regenerating Boa, and trade a Fires to kill one of the tokens with his own Idol, an, four damage still came through.

While Ghitu Fire scorched the Leech the following turn, Rob's saproling advantage off of two different Bursts was clear. He generated three new 3/3's to complement the survivor from last turn, and Mike sportingly offered a different squirrel token card - "left-handed squirrels," he suggested - to represent the newcomers. They attacked quickly and, after some frantic blocking from Mike, dealt six net damage to bring Mike down to 8 life.

The next few turns took an amazingly long time, as shrinking saprolings and Boa regeneration calculations went into every combat phase. Rob rid the board of Mike's Chimeric Idol with Rhystic Lightning, and was able to bring Mike to 3 life, and then the game stalled.

The last phase of the game was Mike's desperate struggle to hang on and find the blockers and tricks that could turn things around. Beyond a River Boa, that answer never came. Five turns later, Mike ran out of blockers, and conceded in the face of lethal damage.

One innocuous play that revealed a terrific awareness of an opponent's deck (all Top 8 decklists were distributed last night, but this was still impressive) involved Rob's fading Saproling Burst. With only one counter on the Burst during the end phase of his opponent's turn, Rob removed a counter and "made a 0/0 token." This allowed the Burst to fade out completely during his upkeep, rather than remaining useless on the board for a turn, where Mike might play Aura Mutation on it.

Game 2

By the time Mike was done mulliganing twice, and Rob once, and they actually began to play, two other quarterfinal MATCHES were complete (Kibler had won in four games, Budde in five). The presiding judge urged both players to speed up the pace of play. Perhaps this game was what he had in mind.

Even after two mulligans, Mike found himself with no lands in hand. He kept five cards anyway, and then drew four straight non-land cards while Rob laid out Elf, Chimeric Idol #1, Chimeric Idol #2, and Saproling Burst. He conceded as the Burst hit the table.

Game 3

And like that, we were on to game three. Mike went first again, and both players gratefully kept their opening hands. Early Llanowar Elves for each side were followed by competing fourth-turn Saproling Bursts...and the stalemate was back. These Bursts did not generate many saprolings, as neither side had the slight advantage that Rob had carried in game one. To make things even more drawn out, both players had two Rishadan Ports, and so a typical turn series consisted of Mike "porting your Ports" and then Rob passing on to Mike, who would then elect to keep his mana available so that he could continue to port Ports. (Who loves ported Ports? WE love ported Ports!) This was, irony aside, an excellent strategy and Mike thoughtfully explained his purpose after the match: feeling more like the control deck, his goal was to lock down the ground and, well, let's just see what happens.

The lock on the ground did indeed happen, but it took a while. Mike's pair of River Boas and kicked Kavu Titan squared off against Rob's Ancient Hydra and Chimeric Idol. After Mike played a Saproling Burst and Rob's Hydra faded away, Rob played a five-point Earthquake to clear out the Titan. Mike replaced it with two 6/6 (5/5 for his turn) saprolings during Rob's end step.

Faced with a Port lockdown of his lands during Mike's upkeep, Rob cast an early Tangle, and so Mike wisely kept his creatures untapped and simply waited a turn.

A Jade Leech for Rob met up with a Ghitu Fire and survived by a Fires pump. Mike put the pressure on with an attack...and saw Rob's second Tangle. Rob followed up with a Saproling Burst, and for a moment it looked as if Rob would sweep Mike from the series.

But Mike had two more Ghitu Fires in his hand, and played a Saproling Burst and Chimeric Idol in successive turns to lock down the ground. With the board effectively stalled, Mike played successive Ghitu Fires in turns 17 and 18 to deal lethal damage.

Game 4

Rob went first; both players kept their opening hands. This was another frustrating game for Mike, who found no non-pain green mana the entire game. Within seven turns, Rob had played out a Bird of Paradise, Fires of Yavimaya, Chimeric Idol, and Rhystic Lightning (for four)...and had attacked with the Idol five times. Having only played Simoon and Chimeric Idol to any effect, Mike conceded with the fifth swing.

Final Result: Rob Dougherty wins, 3-1

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