Quarterfinal: The Long Road to Victory

Posted in Event Coverage on December 3, 2005

By Ted Knutson

Frank Karsten is in his second Top 8 this season and he has never looked more confident. He tested all day Saturday and came to the conclusion that he has a pretty good matchup against the entire Top 8, but as Frank noted, percentages mean nothing. He still has to win three matches in order to take home the World Championship trophy.

Karsten is playing Greater Gifts, a combo-control deck that is almost as fun to play as it is devastatingly good. He even wrote about his Standard deck ahead of time, but was one of only a handful of players to run his version of a Gifts deck in the field.

Leong and Karsten settled in for a long quarterfinal.

Ding Leong is a 22-year-old Singaporean who came in fourth in his Nationals and is playing under the bright lights of a Pro Tour Top 8 for the very first time. He'll be playing Critical Mass Update, similar to the deck that Antoine Ruel used to go 6-0 on Day One of Worlds. If what Karsten has said is true, Leong will need a bit of luck and a lot of skill to come out of this match with a win.

Game 1

Karsten won the die roll and predictably chose to play. He then looked at his opening hand of Shizo, Brushland, Recollect, two Goryo's Vengeance, Yosei, and Gifts Ungiven and shipped it back. Temple Garden, Tendo Ice Bridge, Okina, two Gifts, and Greater Good was deemed keepable. Leong kept his seven and they were off.

A turn-two Sakura-Tribe Elder from Karsten was the first spell of the game. The second was Gifts Ungiven from Karsten during Leong's third-turn upkeep, resolving and fetching Yosei, the Morning Star, Greater Good, Recollect, and Goryo's Vengeance. Yosei and the Vengeance ended up in Frank's hand. Leong's first play was turn-three Wood Elves, matched by another mana snake from Karsten. Leong passed his next turn with no action, leaving three blue sources open, so Frank passed as well, choosing to be cautious. The pace of the match had settled into "deliberate" territory and showed no signs of leaving any time soon.

Meloku the clouded mirror

Draw go, draw go, Sensei's Divining Top go, Kodama's Reach go is how the next few turns progressed, with Karsten commenting, "Exciting game so far." The sarcasm in that observation would be wiped away a turn later when Leong cast Meloku the Clouded Mirror, leaving Hinder mana up. Frank also sprung into action at the end of Leong's turn, casting (and resolving) a second Gifts that he'd been holding since the early turns of the game, fetching … … … (it took about three minutes for the actual fetching to occur) Goryo's Vengeance, Yosei, Greater Good, and Gifts Ungiven. The dragon and the reanimation spell ended up in hand and Karsten Reclaimed Greater Good from his graveyard to his library before letting the turn end. He even did a little hop when he drew his card, saying "Ooo, a nice one."

Greater Good on Karsten's turn met the obvious Hinder, but that left Leong tapped out so Yosei resolved. Leong merely cast more Wood Elves on his turn and recruited an illusion token, which was used to block Yosei a turn later. After his attack, Karsten then cast Yosei, with his only danger being a possible Hinder to the bottom to foul up his plans.

The Caucasian dragon resolved and its oh-so-annoying "leaves play" ability went on the stack. Leong had now entered Morning Star hell, where Hiro Izawa's beautiful, radiant art had now become the object of a cruel form of Magic torture and untap steps are as precious as drops of water in the desert. He was able to create three illusions, but aside from that his entire board was tapped and his next two untap steps were gone. On Leong's turn he attacked with two illusions, marking the first change in life of the game. One gets the sense that we could be here a little while.

goryo's vengeance

His path now cleared, Karsten stumbled a bit as his deck started coughing land at him. Sensei's Divining Top arrived to let Karsten dig a bit, but after producing a Kokusho, all his deck did was mocking him by flashing more lands. Karsten was able to tap Leong another two turns, but he needed a splice vessel and soon, or else he'd be forced to deal with Meloku and mana, a deadly combination.

Kodama's Reach gave Karsten a splice vessel to use, and now both Kokusho and Yosei were in flight, crossing the red zone merely to repress the illusion population. Actually casting Goryo's Vengeance kept both copies of Yosei in the game, and it ate Frank's final copy of Goryo's Vengeance in the process. Another turn, another illusion, another revelation of more lands from the top of Karsten's deck. At this point Frank would soon be taking up a career in real estate management.

Sakura-Tribe Elder changed Frank's options and finally displayed some action spells on top of Frank's deck, showing one of each dragon to go along with the Wrath of God he had drawn last turn. Wrath made Meloku and his infernal spawn disappear, and Yosei followed directly behind, ready to bring the noise on a cleared field next turn.

However, at this point Leong actually got an untap step, earning a cringe from Karsten, one that deepened when Moonfolk Wizard No. 2 plopped himself into play. Just when you thought it might be safe to go back in the water … Sensei's Divining Top gave Frank another Kokusho, but Leong was once again free to untap with impunity, having thrown off the harsh reign of the white man. Er, spirit dragon.

Keiga, the Tide Star arrived on Leong's turn and all Karsten's hard work seemed to be crumbling to dust. Umezawa's Jitte two turns later further complicated the situation. Attacks from Leong built up counters on the Jitte and dropped the Dutchman to 16 when he finally found Greater Good from his deck and it surprisingly resolved.

And merely 90 minutes later, Karsten had a Game 1 win.

"Now I need to win somehow," observed Karsten, "and that's a whole different story."

Yosei hit the bin, drawing Karsten five cards and once again tapping Leong out. Karsten then played and sacrificed Yosei, tapping the rest of Leong's board, attacking with Kokusho for five and dropping Leong to 10.

Putrefy on a created token a turn later dropped Leong to five, then a sacrifice of Kokusho dropped him to two with three counters left on Jitte, then Kodama's Reach splicing Vengeance and a hardcast Goryo's Vengeance ended Game 1 in favor of the redheaded Dutchie.

Time for Game 1: 90 minutes.

"When I finally found the Greater Good there, I knew he didn't have Hinder because he hadn't had it two turns earlier either. From that point it was just figuring out how to win. I'm really surprised I won that game though."

Karsten 1 - Leong 0

At this point, the Feature Match area was entirely empty save this match.

Game 2

Dueling turn-two Tribe Elders kicked off the action for Game 2, with Hinder countering Cranial Extraction from Karsten a turn later. Kokusho two turns later also met a Hinder, taking out two "hard" counters in the first five turns of the game. Yosei resolved a turn later, then Kagemaro, First to Suffer as Karsten began wondering exactly what Leong was up to, verbally trying to pick up clues in his body language and reactions to questions Leong simply didn't answer.

Regardless, the beatings continued, though morale briefly improved with the arrival of Kodama of the North Tree. Dosan the Falling Leaf ended any counterspell possibilities allowing the second Yosei to resolve and forcing Leong to enter the scoop phase about 75 minutes earlier than he did with Game 1.

Karsten 2, Leong 0

Game 3

Karsten kept a five-lander with all his colors plus Wrath of God and Kokusho to begin and Leong once again kept his seven. Sakura-Tribe Elders on turns two and three for Leong kept him from being mana screwed, since he clearly didn't have any extra lands in hand, while Karsten drew into Farseek and cast it, snagging a Swamp from his deck.

A turn-five North Side from Leong simply gave Karsten a reason to cast Wrath, but Leong had another one a turn later to keep the pressure on. Gifts Ungiven from Karsten at the end of that turn gave Leong a set of tough choices - which instruments of his demise did he really want to pick. On one hand he could choose the cruel regime that did him in for game 1, or he could switch things up and possibly die a new way, since Karsten sideboarded Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni and Meloku of his own in. He eventually gave Karsten the two black cards, and then countered Kokusho with a Mana Leak.

Kodama bashed Frank once, and a second Kokusho was Hindered to the bottom, letting Kodama trample through the red zone again on the next turn to bring Karsten to 8. He then cast Wood Elves and then Cranial Extraction for Ink-Eyes, leaving him tapped out so that Karsten could once again Wrath the board clean. Meloku a turn later found Frank with only more lands in hand and Leong attacked for the win, climbing back into the match.

Karsten 2, Leong 1

Game 4

Karsten had to mulligan to start Game 4, perhaps something he should have done in Game 3 as well, though I'm sure he didn't want to see the five spells and one land that greeted him with hand No. 2 either. Hand No. 3 held three lands, a Wrath and Gifts Ungiven and was deemed acceptable. Karsten then breathed a sigh of relief when Leong also had to mulligan, though only to six.

Leong fought back in Games 3 and 4.

Leong cast the first beater of the game with a turn-four Kodama of the North Tree, but he just died to Wrath before getting to rumble. Jushi Apprentice from Leong made its first appearance of the match and Karsten chose to snatch more lands from his deck, casting Kodama's Reach and a Farseek.

Jushi died to Wrath a turn later, and two turns down the line Karsten cast and resolved Defense Grid, adding an interesting wrinkle to this complex match - one that deepened with the appearance of Meloku on Leong's side of the board. Gifts Ungiven from Karsten gave him Goryo's Vengeance and Kagemaro in hand, and Karsten resolved Loxodon Hierarch right behind it.

Meloku got his beat on, and Karsten's Yosei wound up Hindered to the bottom, with Karsten dropping to twelve on Leong's next attack. A second Hinder for Kagemaro then put Karsten in a very tough spot, since his primary method of dealing with the blue legend had now disappeared. More draws of lands for Karsten and the match was now even, with one more game for a place in the semifinals.

Karsten 2, Leong 2

Game 5

Both players kept their hands for Game 5 and Karsten kicked things off with Sensei's Divining Top, matched by Llanowar Elves from Leong. Leong cast Kodama two turns later, while Karsten used his Top during his own upkeep to make sure he drew Meloku and then Wrathed the board clear. Leong began the rebuilding process with Sakura-Tribe Elder and then countered a Kodama's Reach from the Dutch player, leaving him stuck at five lands. Frank's hand was absolutely filled with gas, stocked to the brim with burly legends and Gifts Ungiven, but he needed a couple of lands to make Leong's mana Leaks irrelevant.

Yosei the morning star

Farseek found what he was looking for, allowing him to cast Yosei with only two cards in hand, but one of those was Hinder, so the game of cat and mouse continued. Leong upped the ante, casting Meloku on his turn, the one spell in Leong's deck that Karsten didn't want to see at that point. It did, however, let Karsten get Yosei onto the board and the stalemate continued, but for how long?

Wood Elves gave Leong a source of black mana on his next turn as he made a token and replayed the land, passing the turn back to Frank. Karsten cast Yosei No. 2 and finally found Leong without a counterspell, earning him two Time Walks and freedom from the tyranny of the counterspell.

His first turn was spent using Gifts Ungiven to get Goryo's Vengeance and Kagemaro in his hand while putting Hana Kami and Wrath of God in the grumper. Kagemaro resolved on the second turn, wiping the board clear during Leong's draw step and presumably taking us one step closer to ending the suffering of anyone who has been seated during the entirety of this match.

Kagemaro, first to suffer

Leong wasn't finished yet though, casting Kodama of the North Tree as he finally got to untap. Soulless Revival on Hana Kami splicing Goryo's Vengeance on Kagemaro gave Frank the full lock, and the game was now only a couple of turns from completion unless Leong could find a miracle.

Leong perhaps thought deliverance had come with a Cranial Extraction from the top of his deck, removing all the Goryo's Vengeances from the game, but in the process revealed Meloku, Death Denied, and Gifts Ungiven in Karsten's hand. Meloku came down for the Dutchman this time and was immediately forced to contend with Keiga. Karsten received a warning for slow play on his turn (as the match passed the 3:15 mark) and then cast Cranial Extraction on Keiga splicing Soulless Revival, revealing Arashi and Naturalize in Karsten's hand.

"Hmph, didn't think you would board in Arashi…" admitted Karsten, wondering whether he still had the victory in hand.

Leong swatted Meloku and the kids from the sky, letting Keiga get in there and dropping Karsten to 9. Death Denied returned Meloku, Kagemaro, and Hana Kami to Karsten's hand and then he cast Kagemaro with no black open to clear the board next turn. Keiga plus Miren stole the black legend, but Karsten cast Cranial Extraction to remove Leong's final card in hand and from that point forward, the match action only came from Karsten's side of the board. Meloku once again entered play, Yosei arrived a turn later, and Frank Karsten was in the semifinals only three and a half hours after the match started.

Final Score
Frank Karsten 3, Ding Leong 2

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