Quarterfinals: Antoine Ruel vs. Tommi Hovi

Posted in Event Coverage

By Toby Wachter

Antoine Ruel

Newer players may not associate Tommi Hovi's name along with Pro Tour superstars such as Budde and Finkel. Those who have been following the Pro Tour since it started would tell you otherwise. Hovi was the first person to ever win two Pro Tours, and although he hasn't been a visible presence on the Pro Tour at times, his track record shows that he has what it takes to win a high profile event. Making Top 8 here also gives Hovi a chance to win his third Pro-level event, which is an achievement that only Kai Budde can hold claim to. If Hovi has his way today, Budde will no longer be the only player to accomplish this. Even though Hovi is accomplished and perhaps intimidating, Antoine Ruel shouldn't be underestimated. He has had a great year on the Grand Prix circuit. He won Cannes and Porto, and placed second at Cologne as well as sixth in Prague and fourth at Moscow.

Ruel is running a black-blue-red control deck, while Hovi has black-blue-white. There are a few items to note where matchup advantage is concerned. For the first game, Hovi has Dismantling Blow and Wrath of God, which aren't very good against Ruel's deck. Wrath of God is practically useless, and Dismantling Blow can at least be used to target a Web with kicker and draw into more cards. Urza's Rage could also be the deciding factor, since Hovi is running no Misdirections. Because of this, Hovi is helpless to do anything if a kicked Rage is played against him. Granted, Hovi does have life gain in the form of Gerrard's Verdict and Absorb, but ten uncounterable damage is still not a comfortable thought.

Game 1

Hovi played first, but had to mulligan his opening hand. Ruel drew and decided not to play a land, which allowed him to get Nether Spirit into his graveyard. Once Ruel reached two lands, he missed land drops for a few turns until he finally found an Urborg Volcano. Meanwhile, Hovi had a Nether Spirit of his own. He used Vindicate to destroy one of Ruel's lands, putting him back to two in play. Still, Hovi's deck didn't exactly have a clock out to take advantage of the situation, since both players had Nether Spirits staring down at each other. However, Hovi did have plenty of land out, while Ruel was stuck at three. This land advantage allowed him to cast a threat, and counter Ruel's countermagic, allowing his threat to resolve. Since Ruel only had three mana available, he could only play one counterspell at a time. The result was a chain reaction of card advantage for Hovi, as Fact or Fiction drew him into Gerrard's Verdict and Fact or Fiction, which resolved easily and put him ahead even more.

However, this was a control-on-control match, which meant that Ruel had plenty of time to catch up. Over the next turns nothing much happened, except for both competitors playing land. Ruel played a Fact or Fiction, which resulted in a massive counterwar that Ruel won. The piles presented were Tsabo's Web/Fire/Undermine and Nether Spirit/island. Ruel's Nether Spirit recursion would be nullified if the second Spirit hit the graveyard, so he had no choice but to take the Spirit/island pile.

The game now became all about card advantage supremacy. Hovi cast Probe with kicker, and Ruel responded with Fact or Fiction. Hovi then added a Dromar's Charm to the stack to counter the Fact or Fiction, and Ruel played Spite. This allowed Fact or Fiction to resolve, and it revealed Tsabo's Decree, Opt and three lands. Without hesitation, Hovi put the Decree into a pile by itself. Both players counted their opponent's libraries, and were obviously concerned with running out of cards to draw. Ruel decided to take the four card pile, and sent the Decree to the graveyard.

Ruel cast Duress a few turns later, and Hovi Counterspelled it. Hovi played Dismantling Blow with kicker on his useless Tsabo's Web on end step, and it resolved, allowing Hovi to draw two cards. Hovi played another Web on his turn, drawing into more cards. Both players had very few cards left in their libraries at this point, ad Hovi was obviously looking to draw into Dromar, the Banisher. Hovi played Probe with kicker, and Ruel responded by using Ice to tap the Spirit, looking for countermagic. He then played a second Ice on one of Hovi's lands. A third Ice on a land followed. Hovi's Probe then resolved, and left him with three cards left in his library. Hovi discarded a Nether Spirit, which would come back into play on his next upkeep. He did have a Spirit in play, but losing recursion didn't matter with only three cards left in the library. Hovi ran out of cards, and lost. The last card in his deck? Dromar.

Ruel- 0 Hovi- 1

Game 2-

Hovi skipped his first land drop, and put Nether Spirit into his graveyard. Ruel played Duress, forcing Hovi to lose Last Breath. Hovi used his own Duress, and saw a hand of two lands, Opt, Fire/Ice and Nether Spirit. He send Opt to the graveyard. Ruel then played a Nether Spirit, and Hovi used the opportunity to cast Gerrard's Verdict. This caused Ruel to discard a second Spirit and a land, leaving him with two cards in hand. Normally this would be dangerous, but Ruel did have an advantage at this point. Hovi had to get both Nether Spirits into the graveyard in order to stop the recursion, and targeted one with Dromar's Charm after the first had gone to the graveyard. It resolved, and Ruel's Spirits were now nullified. This cleared the way for Hovi's Nether Spirit.

The Spirit now went to work in the Red Zone, as Hovi went to work drawing more cards. Probe with kicker resolved, and Ruel discarded Urza's Rage and a land, leaving him with only one card in hand. Ruel tried to draw out countermagic with threats such as Duress, and got Tsabo's Decree to resolve. This meant that if Hovi had any Nether Spirits in hand, his recursion would be nullified as well. Hovi responded by playing Last Breath on the Spirit in play, letting the Spirit in hand head to the graveyard. At this point, Ruel realized he could not win, and conceded.

Ruel- 1 Hovi- 1

Game 3

Tommi Hovi

Continuing the pattern, Ruel put a Nether Spirit into his graveyard on his first turn instead of playing a land. Hovi cast Fact or Fiction on Ruel's end step, which was Undermined. This left Ruel tapped out, and Hovi used the opportunity to Duress Ruel. He saw two Tsabo's Decree, Fire/Ice, and two Duress. Hovi made Ruel lose a Duress. Ruel was stuck at three land at this point. He played his other Duress. Hovi responded with Fact or Fiction, which contained five good cards, and no land. Both players laughed a bit. Ruel shook his head while making the piles, and finally decided to split them up Memory Lapse/Counterspell and Nether Spirit/Duress/Absorb. Hovi took the three card pile. The Duress now resolved, and Ruel saw two Last Breath (which caused a look of pain to come across his face), Duress, Absorb, Wrath of God and Nether Spirit. Ruel made Hovi lose a Last Breath.

Hovi now took his turn, and Ruel used Ice during the upkeep to tap down Dromar's Cavern. With Ruel tapped out, Hovi played Duress, forcing Ruel to lose a Counterspell. All the while, Ruel's Nether Spirit was attacking for damage. Still, Ruel only had three lands in play. Hovi tapped out for Dromar, which Ruel could not believe. After some laughter from Ruel, Hovi asked "Do you have a counter?" Ruel responded with a clever "Yes . . . no." The 6/6 Dragon hit play, and the game was soon over

While shuffling up for the next game, Ruel questioned Hovi's play of tapping out to play the Dragon. Hovi simply explained, "If you don't have a counterspell, then I win."

Game 4

Ruel used Duress on turn two, and saw Fact or Fiction along with Nether Spirit, Dromar and lands. Hovi lost the Fact or Fiction. Hovi finally played a land that could produce black mana on turn five and cast Duress, which was Counterspelled. Ruel now got a Nether Spirit running, and Hovi only needed to find a second black land to play his own Spirit and keep up. Ruel played Fact or Fiction on end step, and Hovi separated the piles into Accumulated Knowledge and Salt Marsh/island/Opt and Duress. There were already three Accumulated Knowledge in Ruel's hand, so he was more than happy to take the pile of one. This meant that he could draw four cards when it was cast, but he still had to manage to make it resolve. Meanwhile, Ruel's Nether Spirit continued to attack. Hovi cast Probe with kicker, but Ruel countered it with Undermine. Hovi conceded a few turns later, bringing the match to a fifth and deciding game.

Game 5

Hovi dropped Nether Spirit into the graveyard on his first turn, and played Duress on turn two, which was Counterspelled. The Nether Spirit started to attack, while Ruel cycled his first Accumulated Knowledge. Hovi was now stuck at three lands, with two plans and an Underground River. A second Knowledge was played on the next turn, while Hovi's Spirit continued to ear away at Ruel's life total two points at a time. Ruel played Duress, which resulted in a counter war that Ruel won. Hovi's hand of Vindicate, two Dromar's Charms, and two Fact or Fiction was revealed. Ruel forced Hovi to lose a Fact or Fiction. On Hovi's turn, Ruel used Ice to tap down the Underground River.

Ruel now untapped and played Lobotomy. He saw the same hand as last turn, except Hovi now had a Probe in hand. Ruel decided to choose Dromar's Charm, and removed the two copies from Hovi's hand, as well as another one in the deck. Hovi tried to Vindicate Ruel's only black source, but it was Counterspelled. Ruel now untapped and played Accumulated Knowledge for four, commenting "that's how you become World Champion." Still, there was the issue of Hovi's Nether Spirit. If Ruel could find a way to handle it, the game would be his, since Hovi was still stuck at three lands. He eventually did, and things looked bleak for Hovi. Ruel had a hand full of cards and plenty of land on the table, while Hovi had few resources to work with.

Duress was cast by Ruel, and Memory Lapsed. Ruel added Malice to the stack, allowing Duress to resolve. Hovi revealed his hand of two Probe, Fact or Fiction and Last Breath, and Ruel forced Hovi to lose Last Breath. Ruel then ended his turn, but used Ice on Hovi's upkeep to tap down the Underground River. Hovi finally found a fourth land at this point, but still had a ridiculous amount of catching up to do. Consequent Fact or Fictions and Probes that Hovi played were shrugged off with countermagic. Ruel then played another Lobotomy, and saw Probe, island and Nether Spirit. The Probes were taken out, and Ruel now knew Hovi had nothing threatening in his hand. Ruel cast Tsabo's Decree on Spirits, which caused Hovi's Spirit to die, and be joined by the one in his hand. Ruel's Spirit went to work, and Undermine countered Hovi's next Nether Spirit, which was nothing more than a Gray Ogre. Fire and Urza's Rage finished up the job.

Final Result: Ruel- 3 Hovi- 2

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