Quarterfinals: "Not Again"

Posted in Event Coverage on May 25, 2008

By Bill Stark

Marijn Lybaert and Yong Han Choo sat down for the Quarterfinals of Pro Tour-Hollywood well rested and, if they had worked hard enough, well tested. Scouting reports indicated Marijn's Red-Green Ramp deck was a big underdog to Choo's Reveillark Combo deck. Yong's list sought to play out like a normal Reveillark control strategy but could string a combo together using Greater Gargadon, Body Double, Reveillark, and any 2-power creature that did something when it entered or left play. His options for that included Venser, Aven Riftwatcher, and Mulldrifter. By suspending Greater Gargadon, Yong could abuse the sacrifice ability of the 9/7 to loop Body Double copying Reveillark into continually entering play and creating a huge stack of enters-play and leaves-play abilities, all before any counters had to be removed from the Gargadon. That would then allow him to bounce an arbitrarily large number of permanents, draw an arbitrarily large number of cards, or gain an arbitrarily large amount of life. Choo got the list from Makihito Mihara, though before Sunday the two had never met. Choo had managed to find the list on a small Japanese web site Makihito had posted it on after winning a local box tournament. It had served the two players well, as they were both sitting under the bright lights of the Sunday Pro Tour stage.

Game 1

Marijn Lybaert keeps his sunny disposition despite facing the worst matchup in the Quarterfinal matches..The Belgian Lybaert was behind in the matchup statistics but managed a speedy start, accelerating his mana with two Edge of Autumns and playing a Chameleon Colossus and Kitchen Finks. His plan was to be aggressive enough fast enough to prevent his opponent from comboing and establishing control, but with numerous suboptimal anti-beatdown cards in his deck like Firespout it was going to be an uphill battle.

Choo managed to clear his opponent's board with a Wrath of God, though Lybaert got to see his Kitchen Finks return to play thanks to persist. Because the Singapore native had managed a turn-four Mulldrifter on the back of a Mind Stone, and a Careful Consideration as well, Yong's hand was very full. An evoked Reveillark to return a single Mulldrifter added to the cause, and it wasn't looking good for Lybaert. Still, Marijn did his best to make a game of it, continuing to grow his manabase with Wall of Roots and Into the North while beating down with a Treetop Village and his 2/1 Kitchen Finks. The Finks traded for Yong's reanimated Mulldrifter, and the life totals stood 24-15 in favor of the Belgian.

With plenty of life to work with, Yong took the time to play a Body Double targeting his Mulldrifter and netting him two cards. That allowed him to hit Coldsteel Heart as the red source of mana he needed to suspend Greater Gargadon, but he had to pass the turn before attempting to go off thanks to the Heart coming into play tapped. Marijn took the opportunity to attack with his Treetop after using Firespout to kill Choo's Body Double. The totals were 24-12 when the Belgian passed.

With a grip full of cards, Choo promised a big turn. He suspended a Greater Gargadon, then played Reveillark threatening to go off but instead passed the turn. Marijn attacked with two Treetop Villages and things got tricky. Reveillark blocked one, and the two players agreed to put damage on the stack. A Momentary Blink tried to save the 4/3 Elemental but Marijn had a Skred to kill it. That simply put a Mulldrifter and Body Double targeting Reveillark into play, though Yong dropped to 9 life.

On the following turn, Choo made an Aven Riftwatcher and went through the cycle of gaining 1,000,000 life.

"One million?" Lybaert grinned, verifying the number his opponent had decided upon.

"Yes," Yong replied stoically.

"Okay..." Marijn said, smiling in recognition of the fact things were looking very bad for him and being powerless to do anything about it.

Following the combo, Yong was able to accrue a force of flyers and a 9/7 Gargadon in addition to a number of creature-lands. The horde of random 2/2s and 4/3s wore down on Marijn's defenses, and two turns later, the Belgian conceded.

Yong Han Choo 1, Marijn Lybaert 0

"I have a plan now!" said Lybaert as the two players sideboarded for the second game of their match. Reveillark was one deck the Belgian was surely hoping he wouldn't see in California this weekend, but he was banking on a Magus of the Moon from the sideboard to buy him the time he needed to beat his opponent down.

"Come on Magus!" Marijn chanted while pile shuffling. "And no Coldsteel Heart..." he added, after considering things. His opponent nodded politely and focused on shuffling, slight nerves clearly showing through in his first premier-level Top 8. Lybaert, a veteran of both the Pro Tour Top 8 and Grand Prix Top 8 stage, comfortably joked with the staff around him.

Game 2

On the play, Lybaert again managed to accelerate his mana with an Into the North before attempting a three-drop. Fortunately for Yong, it wasn't the Magus of the Moon he was fearing, but a Kitchen Finks. With two nonbasics on the board, the Singaporean player was in trouble if his opponent managed to play the 2/2 Magus. A Rune Snag ate the Finks, but Choo was forced to tap out to evoke a Mulldrifter on his third turn. That gave Lybaert exactly the chance he needed to play Magus of the Moon.


Magus of the Moon

"That's my friend," Marijn said excitedly.

Yong looked resigned at seeing the 2/2 on the board but managed a Coldsteel Heart set to blue.

"That's my enemy," the Belgian grumbled.

A Snow-Covered Island meant Yong had access to two blue mana, which he used to play Careful Consideration looking for an answer to the Magus. Marijn continued to beat down, dropping his opponent to 15 while remaining at 20 himself. A Mulldrifter for Yong netted him an Aven Riftwatcher that he was able to play, and the duo seemed assured to put a damper on Marijn's plans to attack. The Cloudthresher Lybaert had been holding since the beginning of the game would provide a wrinkle in that plan for Choo, but only if the Belgian could find a fourth source of green mana in time. His own Magus of the Moon had turned his Grove of the Burnwillows into a plain old Mountain, keeping the 7/7 from joining the field of battle.

Two Skreds from Marijn removed both blockers, and an attack with a Chameleon Colossus and Magus of the Moon left Yong at 9 life thanks to the Colossus' ability to double its power. Still, because Yong had managed to find a second source of white mana in the form of a third Coldsteel Heart, Marijn knew a Wrath was very probable and sure enough Yong Han Choo was able to clear the Magus with the Tenth Edition rare, suspend a Greater Gargadon, and hardcast a Reveillark threatening to combo out.

Fortunately for Marijn, Choo didn't have the Body Double. Instead he went on the beatdown path with a Mutavault and the Reveillark. That let Marijn jump his Cloudthresher onto the board, putting the life totals at 14-6 in his favor and killing the offending Mutavault. His opponent didn't seem concerned however, making a Teferi's Moat set to green and a Sower of Temptation stealing the Cloudthresher post-combat. With no cards in hand, Marijn Lybaert wasn't looking good. When Yong countered a second copy of Magus of the Moon, Lybaert scooped, recognizing that his opponent had enough lands to unsuspend the 9/7 Gargadon and attack for the win.

Yong Han Choo 2, Marijn Lybaert 0

"I don't want to be the first one out of the Top 8 again," Lybaert lamented while shuffling. "In my last Top 8 I was the first one done. Don't want to do that again."

When the Belgian pointed out that his opponent had drawn a lot of basic lands that game, Choo gave a slight smile and said, "Yes, I think I drew all of them."

Game 3

The third game of the match started similarly to the first two, with Lybaert accelerating his mana and Choo countering a third-turn Kitchen Finks. Choo had also managed to suspend a Gargadon on the first turn and play a Coldsteel Heart set to white, which drew a groan from Lybaert. Fortunately for the Belgian, none of Choo's lands were basics, meaning that a Magus of the Moon would be particularly painful. Marijn played a Harmonize in an effort to find the 2/2, and even threatened to play it counter-free when Yong tapped out for a 4/3 Reveillark. Instead, on six mana, Lybaert simply passed the turn.

If Choo was perplexed by that play, he didn't let on, simply attacking with his Reveillark before playing a second 'Lark and yet another nonbasic land. A Magus from Marijn would leave Choo with access to just a single white mana, and Marijn looked to capitalize by playing a Cloudthresher at the end of his opponent's turn, putting the life totals at 16-14 in Choo's favor. Lybaert moved to go on the offensive, playing a Skred to kill the untapped Reveillark, then activating two Treetop Villages and attacking with both of them and the Cloudthresher.

Yong Han Choo is the first player to represent Singapore in a Pro Tour Top 8 since Ding Leong at Worlds 2005.Choo had to think. His opponent was at just 14 life, and he had accrued enough permanents to bring the Greater Gargadon into play at will. He was at risk of taking 13 damage, which would leave him at 3 against an opponent who was tapped out. Or he could all-in on his Gargadon, saccing most of his lands and not being able to play additional spells for the duration of the game, but killing a Treetop and dropping his opponent to 1 on the return swing. Eventually Choo decided to simply take the damage, falling to 3.

With the turn back, the Singaporean made a Sower of Temptation to steal Marijn's 7/7, then played a Coldsteel Heart for access to his second white mana should a Magus hit. He kept his forces back, however, knowing he needed to block every attacker Marijn might throw at him or risk losing the game. With a Greater Gargadon at just four suspend counters, that seemed unlikely and it looked like Marijn Lybaert would be going home early from yet another Pro Tour Top 8.

Marijn considered his options carefully on his own turn, but eventually decided to simply play a Snow-Covered Forest and pass back to his opponent. Yong attempted to move his stolen Cloudthresher into the red zone, but Marijn backed him to pre-combat, doing some further calculations. Satisfied with the numbers he came up with, he opted to allow the 7/7 into the combat zone. From there he sacrificed a Mouth of Ronom targeting his opponent's Reveillark. In the background, the match between Charles Gindy and Nico Bohny ended, relieving Marijn of the ignominy of being done first in both of his Pro Tour Top 8s. The Mouth's ability resolved, and Yong opted not to sacrifice the creature to his Greater Gargadon. Marijn simply took 7 damage from his Cloudthresher and fell to 7, leaving the totals 7-3 in Yong Han Choo's favor.

Lybaert made no play on his turn, and it was Yong's time to start doing calculations. He found numbers he liked and moved both the Cloudthresher and the Sower of Temptation into the red zone. Marijn activated a Treetop Village and blocked the Cloudthresher. but before damage, he tapped all of his remaining mana, including the blocking Treetop, to play a second Cloudthresher. Yong looked to the sky to determine what his correct plan of action was. If the attacking Cloudthresher switched sides before damage was assigned, the blocking Treetop Village wouldn't die, and Marijn would have plenty of attackers for the following turn.

Yong came up with a course of action that allowed him to live. His Sower was killed by the Thresher's comes-into-play ability and the life totals fell to 5-1 in Marijn's favor. All of Marijn's creatures survived, but only until Yong played a post-combat Wrath of God to kill both Cloudthreshers and the activated Treetop. His follow-up Aven Riftwatcher nudged his life total to 3 and Choo had managed to stay Marijn's attempt to steal the game.

Still, neither player was out of the woods just yet. Marijn made a Chameleon Colossus, leaving his Treetop Village up for blocking duties, while Yong's Riftwatcher lost a vanishing counter and his Greater Gargadon came one counter closer to hitting play. With no cards in hand, Choo reached for the top of his deck and revealed... Reveillark! He quickly evoked the 4/3, returning a Sower of Temptation and stealing Marijn's 4/4 Colossus.

"That's unreal, man," the Belgian teased. Yong shrugged at his good fortune before bringing his Gargadon into play by sacrificing the Colossus and attacking with both the 9/7 and his Aven Riftwatcher. That left Marijn at 3 via a Treetop Village chump-block on the Gargadon, and Yong passed the turn. Lybaert had to get a little luck of his own to get through the third game of the match.

He drew for the turn, played a Harmonize, and carefully surveyed the board. Using a Grove of the Burnwillows for a green mana and allowing Yong to crawl to 4, Marijn made a Kitchen Finks, putting himself at 5 and able to survive one more turn.

That didn't seem likely to happen, however, as Yong revealed the top card of his deck again and found more help in the form of a Sower of Temptation. Fortunately, Marijn had a Skred to kill the 2/2 and get his Finks back in time to block the 9/7 Gargadon charging in, gaining 2 life in the process and staying at 3. His opponent was tapped out, giving Lybaert the opportunity to get ahead in the match. He did exactly that by attacking with the 2/1 Finks to put his opponent at 2 then making a Chameleon Colossus and Magus of the Moon.

"Not again!" Marijn said as he grimaced at what his opponent's fortunate top of the deck might provide this turn. Apparently nothing, as Yong knocked the table in slight frustration before considering his attacks. His Aven Riftwatcher had removed its final vanishing counter during the upkeep, putting him at 4 life but costing him the second flying attacker that would have allowed him to swing for the win. After checking the life totals and reconsidering the math, he used Momentary Blink on his Sower of Temptation to steal his opponent's Magus of the Moon. That forced Marijn to chump-block the Greater Gargadon when it attacked and left him unable to swing back for the win. Instead he simply played a 4/5 Tarmogoyf and passed.

Choo and Lybaert shake on it as Choo heads to the Semis.Choo moved in again with Greater Gargadon and Sower of Temptation. Marijn shrugged and chumped the 9/7 with his Kitchen Finks, falling to 1. Lybaert then attacked with his Tarmogoyf, which died to a block from Greater Gargadon that Choo effectively untapped using the flashback on Momentary Blink. With his own Magus of the Moon preventing him from using Mouth of Ronom to kill any of Yong's creatures, Lybaert finally had to concede.

"Good luck in the next," Marijn offered, less disappointed than many players who find themselves out in the quarters of a Pro Tour. "And don't be so nervous," he encouraged. "You don't need to be. Your deck is good." While not the result Lybaert presumably had hoped for, it seemed evident by his laid back, easygoing nature that it was the outcome he had anticipated. Yong Han Choo, meanwhile, continued demonstrating a strong stage presence that had served him well on the weekend and lent credence to the idea he might be an exciting new force on the Pro Tour stage.

Yong Han Choo defeats Marijn Lybaert 3-0 and advances to the Semifinals!

Marijn Lybaert

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Yong Han Choo

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