"The first time I ever played Antti Malin was at Friday Night Magic in 1998, where I was beating him pretty badly with my Draw, Go deck," recollected Walamies. "The next day I played in a prerelease and lost in the first round because my deck was terrible. I even threw the deck in the trash, it was so bad. I told the Tournament Organizer to drop me from the tournament, but he thought I was kidding.Tomi Walamies was back under the spotlights after a long absence.
"So the pairings go up for the next round and I see that my name is still up there and I have to play Antti. I didn't have my deck anymore, so figured I'd have some fun with him and grabbed my Draw, Go deck out of my bag to play. I sat down across from him and the first thing out of his mouth was, 'At least I won't have to see you cast Impulse this match.' Turn two passes and I have two Islands on the table with my 60-card deck. At the end of Antti's turn, I cast Impulse… you should have seen his face. He had no idea what was going on."
"That tournament never went on the records either," frowned Malin.
Malin, a 22-year-old Finnish business student, is playing in his first premiere event Top 8, though if you look at his record you can see a steady improvement in his play results over the past year. His opponent is the well-known Tomi "Jelly" Walamies, a standout name on the Pro Tour for many years - but one that disappeared about 18 months ago as he pursued his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. Apparently the dream has been somewhat successful, because Tomi has a gig at 8 p.m. that most of the writing staff is going to watch after the event ends. First, however, he has to concentrate on defeating his countrymen and moving on to the semifinals, something he has done in both of his previous Pro Tour Top 8 appearances.
"I have two money finishes in Limited events, one in 1997 and one in 2001," Walamies said. "Before the tournament I said that I figured I'd money here as well because it fits my four-year cycle. It's nice to have some security in your life. I consider it a stable income."
Walamies was forced to mulligan a one-land hand on the play, but kept the second set, throwing down a turn 2 Budoka Gardener. Malin trumped that with Raving Oni-Slave, while Tomi answered back with Kami of the Hunt and Shuriken on his turn. Malin cast Waking Nightmare to get rid of Tomi's last card in his hand, but passed without attacking, choosing to play the defensive game early.
Malin stalled on two lands while Tomi flooded, losing his Kami of the Hunt to Horobi's Whisper as Malin began to beat down with his Slave. Walamies got up to nine lands in play or hand, while Malin actually had to discard a Devoted Retainer at the end of his turn, though he was ahead on life 13-6. Tomi finally found an Elder Pine of Jukai, but that just made a fine target for Kagemaro's Clutch, and Tomi was now feverishly clutching his last point of life.
Tomi cast Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch and then put the equip trigger from his Shuriken on the Kaijin before killing Malin's Skullsnatcher and passing the turn. The Slave offed the Kaijin on the next attack, and Yukora, the Prisoner thundered onto the board, giving Tomi only the grimmest of hope in pulling this one out.
Keiga, the Tide Star provided exactly that and Malin was briefly stymied as he tried to figure out how combat would play out. He attacked with both his men, Tomi blocked Yukora with Keiga and the Slave with his Gardener, ending up with the only creature after combat, a tapped Slave equipped with a Shuriken technically controlled by Malin. Nice little wrinkle there. Malin played a Nezumi Ronin after combat and then passed the turn.
Tomi cast Haru-Onna on his next turn and began to pull away, drawing and casting Stampeding Serow as well. Rend Spirit got rid of the Onna, meaning the Serow was on strict blocker duty until Tomi could find another Green creature. The Slave kept dropping Malin's life total by three a pop and Tomi added a Mistblade Shinobi as well, making the score 5-1 in favor of Antti when he finally drew his first Plains of the game, casting Araba Mothrider to give him the win on the next turn.Malin opened up to an early lead on Walamies.
"Veil of Secrecy," said Tomi, targeting his ninja. "That's nasty," Malin admitted, seeing his hope of killing Tomi slowly slip away. He blocked with the Mothrider, losing it to the slave, but his face totally fell when Tomi recast the Serow and revealed that he's finally drawn another green creature to go with it - a Sakura-Tribe Scout. Malin wasn't out of tricks himself though, blocking the Slave with his Mothrider, using Mending Hands to prevent four damage, and then Blessing of Leeches to block and regenerate his flyer, dropping to one life during his upkeep and then killing Walamies on the counterattack.
Malin 1, Walamies 0
"That was considerably close…" observed Walamies. "Keiga kept you alive a long time."
Walamies was again forced to mulligan his first hand, throwing back six lands and a Shimmering Glasskite in search of more action.
"Second turn Plains?" said Malin, scoffing at his good fortune. Antti got out to a quick start again with an early Skullsnatcher and Shinen of Stars' Light, but Shimmering Glasskite effectively shut down Malin's attack phase, and Tomi's equipment (Hankyu and Shuriken) began to come on line. Rend Spirit took out Shinen of Flight's Wings, and Horobi's Whisper offed a Kami of the Vanishing Touch, as Malin was spending removal to maintain board parity. Tomi attacked with his Glasskite, switching it out for Ninja of the Deep Hours, but Malin had a Curtain of Light to blunt the attack and any card advantage Tomi might gain.
Ninja like to throw Shuriken though, and that's exactly what Tomi started doing, pinging away at Malin's small men while the Glasskite slowly whittled away Malin's life through the air. Kagemaro's Clutch stopped that silliness, but now Malin had to contend with Stampeding Serow and Dripping-Tongue Zubera. Except that's not the play that Tomi made, instead choosing to equip his Zubera with Hankyu and Shuriken in order to better kill Malin's new Skullmane Baku before it wrecked his board. Stampeding Serow entered the game a turn later along with Budoka Gardener, but now had to deal with a Torii Watchward bearing O-Naginata. A Watchward attack lopped six off Tomi's life total, dropping him two 12 life, and did it again the next turn to drop Tomi to 6 as he used his life total as a way to buy enough time to kill the Watchward via Hankyu alone.
The Watchward attacked yet again, but this time ran afoul of a block by the Zubera and the Glasskite, dying for the cause, soulshifting back a Shinen, and dropping Walamies to 5. At the end of Tomi's turn, Malin used rat offering to put Patron of the Nezumi into play, only to see it countered by Minamo's Meddling, leaving Malin with an empty board. The hits didn't stop for Antti, because on his next turn he tossed down a Gutwrencher Oni and equipped it with the big sword.
Tomi's deck proved up to the challenge, delivering Soratami Mirror-Guard to bounce the big demon before he attacked for six and cast Budoka Gardener. Once again, Malin struck back, recasting the Oni and then adding Moonlit Strider as a bodyguard. On Tomi's turn he tried to bounce the Oni, forcing Malin to protect it and then responded by bouncing it again, attacking for nine, and earning a concession from Malin on his turn.
Malin 1, Walamies 1
Tomi's deck finally gave him a keeper for Game 3, sporting all three colors of land plus a two-drop and a three-drop. Malin again started things off with a Skullsnatcher, following that with Moonlit Strider to contend with Tomi's spirit army of Kami of the Vanishing Touch, Kami of the Hunt, and Shimmering Glasskite. Cage of Hands on the little wall let Malin start attacking back while Walamies again proved his ability to pluck lands, drawing five more to go along with his opening five, though Malin was matching him drop for drop.
A channeled Shinen gave Malin's Skullsnatcher first strike, shipping the first body to the graveyard in Game 3, the lowly Kami of the Hunt. Malin cast a Patron of the Nezumi, and suddenly things looked very bad for Tomi. He drew a Pull Under, but with Moonlit Strider protecting the rat god, it was going to be very hard to force through the combat trick, especially since Tomi didn't have big enough men to matter.
At the end of Malin's turn, Walamies cast Pull Under targeting the Strider. He countered a Torii Watchward with Minamo's Meddling, but just kept drawing land, eventually succumbing to the giant black beater having drawn 13 lands that game.
While Malin was off using the restroom, Walamies told me, "I have played single elimination for thousands of dollars seven times before this and I have never lost the first round. That's very fortunate, and I was wondering when it might happen. I still think I can pull this one out."
For Game 4, Tomi boarded in a Vine Kami, going up to 41 cards in his deck.
Malin 2, Walamies 1
Tomi again chose to play, keeping his hand and starting off with a Hankyu followed by Elder Pine of Jukai, while Malin went beatdown with a Raving Oni-Slave. Rend Spirit whacked the Elder Pine before it became active, so Tomi dropped a Dripping Tongue and Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch. Malin pondered his options on turn four before casting Cage of Hands on the Kaijin and getting wrecked on the return attack from Mistblade Shinobi, which quickly gained a Shuriken as well. Torii Watchward made another appearance in the match on Malin's side of the board but was kept at bay by the thought of losing it to a weenie, even after Malin played Moonlit Strider to stand beside it.The 'rivalry' between these two dates back to 1998.
"Hankyu's broken," Malin observed, noting just how good the bow can be when the game devolves into a stall. Horobi's Whisper killed Tomi's ninja, taking Shuriken offline, and the Strider stepped in to save Malin's Watchward from Hankyu. Malin's next attack dropped Tomi to 8 before he finally drew his seventh land to cast Vine Kami causing Malin to return Cage of Hands to his hand. Antti again sent with his team and Walamies was forced to block the Slave with his Kaijin, chump the Watchward, and take three from Nezumi Ronin, making the life totals 5-6 in favor of Malin post-combat.
Hankyu pinged off the Ronin on Tomi's turn, while Malin's next attack dropped Walamies to 2, after which he sealed the deal by casting Yukora, the Prisoner and recasting the Slave for about the millionth time in the match. I'm quite certain Malin has handily defeated Walamies in the damage race this match, both to himself and to Tomi.
Malin 3, Walamies 1
After the match, Walamies gave word to his mother, saying, "I would like to send my mother Helja greetings."