Quarterfinal Feature Match: Royce Chai vs. Jun Nobushita

Posted in Event Coverage

By Alex Shvartsman

Royce Chai vs. Jun Nobushita

Fires vs. Blue-White control has become a signature matchup of this format. Conventional wisdom is that Blue-White control has a solid advantage in this matchup. However, it is not all clear cut. Trevor Blackwell managed to sweep Hegstad 3-0 in the finals of the U.S. Nationals. Would Chai be able to repeat the upset, or would Nobushita show exactly why the control deck is favored in this matchup?

Game 1

Both players had difficult opening hand decisions to make. Chai had no mana acceleration, but chose to keep his hand regardless. Nobushita also took a risk, keeping a hand with no blue mana.

Chai played Fires of Yavimaya on turn three, and followed it with Thunderscape Battlemage without kicker. Jun let him attack before casting his Last Breath - a possible misplay that cost him four life. Chai saved his creature by sacrificing Fires of Yavimaya. Had Nobushita used Last Breath during Chai's main phase, Chai would either have to let the creature go, or be unable to attack that turn since Fires of Yavimaya would no longer be in play.

Nobushita drew a Coastal Tower but failed to find a second source of blue mana for a while. Chai did not have a good way to take advantage of this - he just kept attacking with the Battlemage. Nobushita cast Wrath of God once his opponent summoned a second creature - Bird of Paradise. With the first Wrath already in the graveyard, Chai summoned Blastoderm. Nobushita's next turn was game-breaking. He cast Tsabo's Web, shutting down his opponent's Rishadan Port, drew Story Circle off the cantrip effect, and cast it naming green and leaving one Plains open.

Through all this, Nobushita was operating off a single source of blue mana. He had plenty of plains though - Chai was not holding a way to destroy Story Circle and, with his Rishadan Port tapped, was one mana shy of summoning Kavu Chameleon. On the next turn Chai finally cast the Chameleon, Nobushita cast Fact or Fiction, revealing Plains, Island, Misdirection, Fact or Fiction and his second Accumulated Knowledge. Chai made a dangerous split, offering Nobushita all four cards or an Island. Nobushita took the four cards and drew an Island on the following turn anyway. He also cast Wrath of God, getting rid of Chai's Chameleon. The game was all but over at this point. Nobushita was holding a hand full of countermagic, Misdirection for the potential Urza's Rage, and another Fact or Fiction. You do not concede games at this level though. Chai could still hope to draw Kavu Chameleon for example, and have it go all the way before his opponent found another Wrath of God. The game went on.

Nobushita actually discarded one of his two remaining Wrath of Gods. Competitors were given each other's deck lists last night, and he knew that there are only two Kavu Chameleons in Chai's deck. The fourth Wrath was utilized to destroy the last Chameleon once Chai did summon it. Nobushita just couldn't seem to find his Millstones, but with three in the deck, he was still relatively safe despite there being far fewer cards in his library. Or was he? Nobushita counted his library, realizing there are only sixteen cards left. He counted Chai's library, coming up with twenty-nine cards.

With fourteen cards remaining in his deck, Nobushita finally drew a Millstone. He used several Absorbs to end up at 21 life, so even double Urza's Rage was no longer a danger. Chai's only chance was to somehow deck his opponent - a proposition that was not looking very likely. Chai summoned several green creatures, trying to tie up Nobushita's mana in using Story Circle - but the Japanese player had sixteen lands in play.

Nobushita drew and played a second Millstone. It was now mathematically impossible for Chai to win the match and he conceded, saving a few minutes' time. Although time constraints are virtually never a problem in the single elimination rounds (the round lasts 90 minutes), in a best out of five match against a control deck it could conceivably become an issue.

Sideboard

Nobushita: +1 Rout +4 Mahamoti Djinn +1 Disenchant -3 Millstone -1 Fact or Fiction -2 Last Breath
Chai:+1 Terminate +1 Obliterate +2 Kavu Chameleon +1 Blood Oath +3 Yavimaya Barbarian +1 Tsabo's Decree -2 Shivan Wurm -2 Ghitu Fire -1 Flametongue Kavu -4 Saproling Burst

Nobushita's strategy in this matchup is to replace his win conditions with cards that can also act as solid defense. Fires deck can do very little to take out a Mahamoti Djinn, and so this large monster comes in. An extra Disenchant is there to deal with Fires' many enchantments, while Last Breath does not kill nearly enough creatures in a Fires deck to keep it in.

Chai's plan is to take out his non-recyclable enchantments altogether, as he might expect his opponent to board in more Disenchants, which become a lot weaker. He brings in Yavimaya Barbarian for an additional burst of speed - they are in the sideboard mostly against the Opposition/Orb deck, but any speed boost is helpful. Kavu Chameleon is self-explanatory, while Terminate and Tsabo's Decree are there to deal with Mahamoti Djinns - Chai was confident that Nobushita would make the switch. A single Blood Oath and a single Obliterate can keep an opponent guessing - and playing around these cards once he sees one - but it is a strategy that is less effective in the single elimination rounds, since each player got to see all the deck lists.

Game 2

Jun Nobushita

Both players agonized over their opening hands once again. Chai had plenty of mana but no acceleration and no cards that are good early, holding four lands, Urza's Rage, Flametongue Kavu and Fires of Yavimaya. Nobushita kept a one-land hand on the strength of going second and holding a Tsabo's Web in hand - a dangerous move.

Once again, keeping their hand worked out for both players. Chai drew and cast a Bird, able to get some acceleration. Nobushita's first draw was an Opt, allowing him to find a second land and proceed to not miss any land drop over the course of the first five turns. Chai cast Flametongue Kavu, taking out his own Birds of Paradise. Nobushita pondered countering it, but chose not to. Instead, he took twelve points of damage from it, before bringing Story Circle: Red online.

With Nobushita down to eight life, Chai summoned Kavu Chameleon. Although it is not possible to counter it, Nobushita did have the option to target it with Absorb in order to gain three life - an option he chose to exercise. Nobushita went down to seven, then summoned Mahamoti Djinn on his turn, leaving one mana up to prevent Flametongue Kavu damage. Chai summoned Blastoderm and a Llanowar Elf and attacked with all of his creatures, winning the game.

In retrospect, Nobushita would have almost certainly won had he countered Flametongue Kavu. He died with plenty of countermagic in hand and a Mahamoti Djinn on the table. Sometimes a control player goes too far in his wish to conserve card economy - uncounterable spells like Kavu Chameleon and Urza's Rage mean that the control player should attempt to stabilize while at a higher life total than common wisdom previously suggested.

Game 3

Chai got a turn 2 Fires of Yavimaya into play, prompting Nobushita to counter Blastoderm that followed. Chai cast Llanowar Elf and Yavimaya Barbarian. This time around, Nobushita used Dismantling Blow to take out Fires of Yavimaya before his opponent declared an attack. Wrath of God cleared the board on the following turn and bought Nobushita plenty of breathing room, as Chai was stuck at three mana for several turns. On his seventh turn, Nobushita tapped out to cast Mahamoti Djinn, trying to outdamage the mana-hosed opponent. Chai was holding his single Terminate, eliminating the threat.

Nobushita allowed a Blastoderm to resolve next turn, then cast a devastating Fact or Fiction, revealing two lands, Accumulated Knowledge, and a pair of smiling Mahamoti Djinns. Having picked up two lands and a Djinn, Nobushita cast the large flyer. Tapped out, he opted not to block Blastoderm.

Chai tried to outrace his opponent, casting a Thunderscape Battlemage with black kicker (Nobushita was all too happy to dump a pair of cards after a successful Fact or Fiction) and Kavu Chameleon. Chai chump-blocked the Djinn with Birds of Paradise, getting ahead in the damage race. Holding Misdirection and a pair of Absorbs, Nobushita was willing to attack his opponent down to eight and go down to two life himself during the next turn. Nobushita hoped to Misdirect a direct damage spell at that point, but Chai cast none.

Nobushita attacked, bringing Chai down to three life points, and cast Wrath of God. He was down to a single Mahamoti Djinn as a win condition. However, he could also Misdirect an Urza's Rage for the win if Chai ever cast one. Nobushita made a crucial mistake at this point. He decided to Absorb his own Wrath of God in order to gain some life and win next turn. After casting Absorb he realized that he would only go up to five life, rather than eight as he thought, which means he would die next turn! Nobushita was forced to use Misdirection pitching the second Absorb to counter his own Absorb, allowing Wrath to resolve and going down to a single card in hand!

Nobushita hung on for deal life, using his last card - a Wrath of God - to eliminate Kavu Chameleon, then using the Counterspell he top-decked to stop a Flametongue Kavu. A second Kavu came into play, and Nobushita was out of answers. Nobushita took his mistake in stride, laughing at it along with spectators, rather than getting upset. "You are very lucky," he said jokingly to Chai.

Sideboard

Chai: -1 Thornscape Battlemage +1 Flametongue Kavu

Game 4

Chai managed to get Fires into play on the second turn yet again. Nobushita cast a third turn Story Circle: Green. Chai sneaked in a hit with a Blastoderm while Nobushita was tapped out. Rather than casting Kavu Chameleon, Chai bided his time, hoping to catch Nobushita with a Blood Oath for a lot of damage. Nobushita cast Fact or Fiction, but a ton of instants Chai was secretly hoping for was not there. FoF yielded a pair of lands, Mahamoti Djinn, Tsabo's Web and Accumulated Knowledge. Chai gave his opponent lands or spells, and Nobushita naturally chose spells. At that point, Chai cast his Blood Oath naming Instants. He only got to deal six points of damage.

Chai tried to gain a few turns by using his Rishadan Ports one at a time to keep Nobushita under six mana - a losing proposition with Tsabo's Web in play. He also summoned Kavu Chameleon, bringing Nobushita down to five life points. Nobushita cast Wrath of God, clearing the table and gained control of the game.

Several turns later, Nobushita was sitting pretty with Story Circles for both of his opponent's colors on the table as well as a hand full of counter magic in hand. It was only a matter of time until he drew enough lands to play a Mahamoti Djinn safely. Chai was not ready to give up at all - he got his opponent down to four life, using his Ports sparingly (he drew three and recycled one by returning it to his hand with Darigaaz' Caldera).

Chai has the tendency to hum music tunes while he is pondering his next move. His repertoire was surprisingly rich, varying from the Star Wars theme to the Christmas Carol. The music was not helping though. Chai just could not seem to reduce his opponent's life total below four. Meanwhile, Mahamoti Djinn finally entered play and Chai was now on a four-turn clock. Chai's last-ditch effort to kill Mahamoti by casting two Flametongue Kavus did not work out, as Nobushita countered a second one. The match would proceed into the fifth game.

Sideboard

Chai: -1 Tsabo's Decree -2 Thornscape Battlemage +1 Artifact Mutation +2 Ghitu Fire

Game 5

Amazingly, this entire five-game set featured no mulligans. Both players started with solid hands again. Chai summoned Yavimaya Barbarian on the second turn, but Nobushita was finally able to counter Fires of Yavimaya when the Singaporean player attempted to cast it. A second Barbarian made it into play, but Nobushita already set up Story Circle: Green and had enough mana to prevent the damage. Loathe to get wrecked by a Wrath of God, Chai would not summon his third Barbarian or a Blastoderm.

Chai summoned a Llanowar Elf with his opponent at twelve life, and was forced to separate a Fact or Fiction pile of Island, 2 Accumulated Knowledges (with one already in the graveyard), Absorb, and Tsabo's Web. Chai made the split, allowing his opponent to end up with a pair of Accumulated Knowledges. Chai cast his third Barbarian, but it was too late - Nobushita drew into a Wrath of God and was able to clear the table of Barbarian-Elves.

Royce Chai

Story Circle: Red entered play, followed shortly by a Mahamoti Djinn. Chai's only Terminate got Misdirected at a Llanowar Elf. Chai ran his Blastoderm into the Djinn (it had no fading counters remaining anyway). He now had two options - summon Kavu Chameleon and race, or attempt to kill off the Djinn via Ghitu Fire. Chai opted for Kavu Chameleon.

Determined not to repeat the mistake from game 3, Nobushita counted the life totals very, very carefully. He was at ten, facing a Chameleon, with his opponent at eighteen, facing the Djinn. Chai attacked, and passed the turn. Nobushita did not attack back, and passed the turn. Score: six to thirteen. The two were now at an impasse. Nobushita needed to draw another Djinn, while Chai was looking for a Rage or another Chameleon - the only cards capable of breaking the stall for him.

Nobushita drew the card he needed first. After several turns of both players doing the "draw-go," he attacked with a Djinn and tapped six mana to summon another one. Chai had a single turn left to somehow salvage the game - but his hand was not up to it. Nobushita came out the winner of a two hour long grueling match and will advance to the all-Japanese top 4 of this year's APAC.

Final Result: Nobushita 3 - Chai 2

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