Quarterfinals: Coming Back from the Brink

Posted in Event Coverage on July 10, 2005

By Scott Johns

Game 1

Arnost Zidek won the roll for the opening game and chose to go with the play. His starting hand had only two lands, and both of them swamps, but it also had Nezumi Cutthroat and Kuro's Taken. He spent some time to weigh the options and decided to it was a keeper. As soon as this news was delivered, Tsuyoshi Fujita sent his hand back for another try. His six-card hand was declared a keeper almost as soon as he'd checked its contents, and it was time to get down to business. Arnost Zidek started the tournament 10-0.

Despite going second, it was Fujita with the quicker draw, playing out Child of Thorns followed by Shinen of Life's Roar. Zidek played his Cutthroat turn two and got that guy going in every turn, but had to play Kuro's Taken turn three rather than the Hired Muscle he probably would have played had the Shinen not been in play. Fujita took a moment to think, and evidently decided that he'd better kill off the regenerator while he had the chance. Both green creatures attacked, and Child of Thorns was sacrificed to help the Shinen take down the Taken and live to tell the tale. However, Fujita had no other creature to play, just dropping a land and passing the turn.

At this point Zidek drew into his first Island and decided it was time for the Hired Muscle to join the party. After another non-turn from Fujita, it was back on Zidek. Having no fifth land to drop and verifying that Fujita had just three cards in hand, Zidek decided it was go time and tapped out to cast a devastating Sink Into Takenuma for the Japanese player's entire hand.

Fujita drew a card for his empty hand, which turned out to be a pretty feeble Sakura-Tribe Elder. A Kami of Empty Graves joined Zidek's team and things were looking dire as Hired Muscle got promoted to Scarmaker. Still in topdeck mode, Fujita drew Commune With Nature, which turned into Sakura Springcaller. Fujita looked about ready to throw in the towel, and when Cloudhoof Kirin showed up on the other side of the table he quickly did just that.

Zidek 1, Fujita 0

Game 2

Going into the second game, Zidek spent quite a bit of time considering the Mistblade Shinobi option in his sideboard, but in the end decided to stick with the same deck as Game 1. Fujita also decided to stick with his original configuration, so it was game time again.

Callow Jushi

Zidek opened this one with a nicely curved-out draw, playing Kuro's Taken, Callow Jushi, Kami of Empty Graves, and then a Callous Deceiver plus Veil of Secrecy to make the Kami unblockable, drop Fujita to 12, and put a third counter on Callow Jushi, which then flipped to become the legendary Jaraku the Interloper.

Fujita's draw was coming out much choppier. His first two turns were blanks, and on turn three the best he could do was summon Kami of Twisted Reflection. Soratami Mirror-Guard improved things turn four, but on his next two turns he had to just leave five mana open and say go twice. At this point the first creature fight almost erupted, as Kami of Twisted Reflection tried to achieve Inner Calm, Outer Strength before tangling with Jaraku, but Zidek had other ideas.

He used another Veil of Secrecy, this time to counter the giant growth, so the Kami decided it wasn't quite feeling up to the scuffle after all. Fujita dropped to 8 with a fairly poor board in place and facing a triple countered Jaraku, but that wasn't the worst news. Playing land No. 6, Zidek showed the last card in his hand, the dreaded Sink Into Takenuma again. With three Swamps in play to Fujita's four cards in hand and such a poor board position, Fujita decided it was time to head to Game 3.

Zidek 2, Fujita 0

Game 3

As Zidek fanned through his opening hand it looked quite poor at first, showing five land and a Floating-Dream Zubera, but things improved with card No. 7, Soratami Cloudskater. Zidek paused a moment to make sure, but decided his hand was a go, as did his opponent.

For this one, Zidek opened with Cloudskater, Zubera, and then Kami of the Empty Graves, while his opponent did nothing but lay land until a disappointing turn-four Kami of Twisted Reflection. Fujita's turn five saw nothing at all come into play, though his sixth turn at least added a Sakura Springcaller to his board

Fujita began digging himself out of a hole in Game 3.

Meanwhile, Zidek had been continuing to draw land while using his Cloudskater to cycle it away to find something else more threatening, hitting for just one per turn with the Moonfolk while the Kami of the Empty Graves and Floating-Dream Zubera played defense. Having found some threats and working his way back up to five mana, he played a Kuro's Taken at four. However, when he went for Cloudhoof Kirin it ran into an Oppressive Will from Fujita, who also now had a Moonbow Illusionist.

Unwilling to trade his Cloudskate due to his need to find more threats, Zidek kept digging and kept coming up short, taking two a turn from the Illusionist in the process. When it at last looked like he might get something going with Scuttling Death, Fujita pounced with a vicious Overwhelming Intellect, drawing a devastating five cards in the process!

Zidek's position was sputtering, and now his opponent had a giant grip of cards to make things worse. Things did indeed get worse next turn, when Bounteous Kirin appeared, mocking the Devouring Greed that Zidek had been trying to set up. Zidek drew his next card, trying to find some way to salvage the game, but eventually decided this one was over when Fujita's next turn saw two more creatures come into play, taking Fujita's life total safely out of Greed range.

Zidek 2, Fujita 1

Game 4

Zidek took some time to reconsider his sideboard at this point, and decided to call his Mistblade Shinobi in from the bench, sending Murmurs From Beyond out to his sideboard. After putting his sideboard down he thought a bit more, then brought it back out and checked what other options he had. Villainous Ogre and Floodbringer both got a look, but after a quick glance through the deck nothing else seemed to offer itself as a good candidate for removal.

Bounteous Kirin

Fujita's draws had been choppy in some of the previous games, but this one was pure silk. Starting with turn two, the Japanese player summoned Shinen of Life's Roar, River Kaijin, Soratami Mindsweeper, Sakura-Tribe Springcaller, and then Bounteous Kirin.

Zidek was struggling with a hand flooded by mana, a Veil of Secrecy that wasn't doing anything, and two one-toughness creatures that really didn't like the Shinen in play, Kami of Empty Graves and Kami of the Waning Moon. By the time the Kirin came out for Fujita, things looked hopeless. Zidek stuck it out just in case, but when two more creatures joined Fujita's side of the table on the next turn enough was enough. Zidek entered his next draw step long enough to see what his next card was, and that was that.

Zidek 2, Fujita 2

Game 5

Both players were showing signs of tension. When Zidek checked his opening hand for the decider he didn't bother to hide his frustration. Irritated, he flicked back and forth through his hand, but no matter what he did to it nothing changed it from being three Islands and four black cards. Another shake of the head, and it was back to the deck for a shuffle and another try, hoping for something better to put this match away.

Unfortunately for Zidek, his six-card hand wasn't great either, but it wasn't so bad that he was willing to risk going to five. Chuckling a bit ruefully, he opened with a Teardrop Kami on turn two, followed by Callous Deceiver. On his fourth turn he had to decide whether to go for Kami of the Empty Graves, risking losing it to countermagic from Fujita, who had merely played his third land and said go. Zidek decided to wait, sent in with both his creatures, and revealed a land with the Deceiver to deal a total of three damage.

Oppressive Will

Fujita drew, then played his Springcaller, which was doing double duty of holding the ground and also accelerating his mana base, fueling up his giant monsters or allowing him to play mid-level spells with counter back-up.

With Fujita tapped out, Zidek had a choice. He could cast Kami of the Empty Graves, or Scuttling Death. He went back and forth on this, but ended up going with Kami of Empty Graves first, presumably because if it died he'd be able to try to get it back later with Scuttling Death. The problem with this plan showed up next turn, when Fujita played another land and used his Springcaller mana to play a Moonbow Illusionist while leaving enough mana for the Oppressive Will he'd been threatening since the third turn.

Now Zidek had a tough decision. He was falling behind in board position, and soon life would also start to become an issue. Worse, if he didn't make his move here he opened himself to the even scarier threat of Overwhelming Intellect, a card he almost surely couldn't overcome with this threat-light draw if Fujita were able to resolve it. After spending a long time ruminating over his situation, he decided to compromise, revealing another land with Callous Deceiver and attacking with it and the Kami of Empty Graves. Kami and Illusionist headed off to their respective graveyards, and Zidek used his last three mana to summon Hired Muscle, which ran into the expected Oppressive Will.

Fujita untapped, bashed in for two with his Springcaller, and played a very threatening Moss Kami. His opponent finally out of countermagic mana, Zidek went for Scuttling Death, but Fujita trumped it with Pithing Needle, converting the Scuttling Death into a dumpy five drop that was no match for the 5/5 trampler on Fujita's side of the table. Fujita further improved his position with Soratami Mirror-Guard, putting Zidek way behind in board development.

At this point things looked desperate for Zidek, and he spent a long time figuring out what his different options were. Eventually he decided that his best chance was to go on offense and see if he could find a way to force through lethal damage over the next couple turns before Fujita's advantage could be converted to a win. Teardrop Kami was sacrificed to tap the Moss Kami, Scuttling Death and Callous Deceiver came over for a visit, and it was 16-9 in favor of the Czech. Kami of Empty Graves No. 2 came into play, possibly with the idea of setting up a big Death Denied next turn to re-use Teardrop Kami to punch through even more damage.

Fujita ponders a bit too long for Japanese reporter Keita Mori.

It was a good plan given what Zidek had to work with, but Fujita just had too much to beat. By the time the Moss Kami and Mirror-Guard were done with the red zone Zidek was down to a perilous 8 life. The situation degenerated further when a Promised Kannushi and Scaled Hulk also came down, threatening Zidek with an avalanche of damage to deal with and providing that many more bodies to have to punch through to deal his own lethal attack.

Zidek took a big breath in, drew the Island he knew was coming from his Deceiver peek, and then hunkered down to get some quality thinking time in. In the end, he decided to go with the Death Denied plan, regrowing all three creatures in his graveyard and using his last mana to summon a very nervous Teardrop Kami. Saying go, on Fujita's turn he tapped the Moss Kami that threatened to trample right over all his toughness-challenged forces, but in the end it wasn't enough.

Fujita added another creature to his board, played it safe and attacked with just the flier to drop Zidek to 3, and said go. With only a Cloudskater on top of his library, there was no way for the Czech to climb out from underneath the board position under which he was buried. A handshake later and Tsuyoshi Fujita was officially on the way to his second Pro Tour semifinal match.

Final Score
Tsuyoshi Fujita 3, Arnost Zidek 2

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