"My opponent is trying to make it easier on all of you -- he's only running two Sensei's Divining Tops," said Steve Wolfman, commenting about how long each of the untimed quarterfinals might take and the toll it would wreak on the writing and judging staff. This happened while we were still waiting for Mueller to show up in the Feature Match area, since Andre needed to track down a couple of cards to make sure his sleeveless deck was unmarked.The affable Mueller entertained the table.
Wolfman told Mueller that because he was a little late getting to the table he had received a game loss. Mueller's eyebrows shot up briefly before he just laughed it off.
"Don't taunt Andre," I told Steve "Germans have no sense of humor."
"Clearly you have been hanging around Kai too much," said Mueller. "Many other Germans are actually quite funny."
"Kai can be very funny when he wants to be, " I noted.
"Yes, but it seems he often doesn't want to be," Mueller shot back, "though he's a great guy. He just have me this Final Judgment!
"Speaking of Germans, if I win, I already called Dirk Baberowski and he's got other travel arrangements set up for me. My flight back home leaves at 2:30, and I have a feeling the semifinals won't be done by then. Thankfully, Dirk might be the only travel agent around that you can call at like 5 o'clock on a Sunday night and still expect them to be helpful. It's nice having a Magic player that owns a travel agency. Actually, I should have thought about that before -- if you know 300 guys who make like six trips a year, it's gotta be good to own your own travel agency."
As you can see, Mueller is not the stereotypical, stolid German -- he's quite funny and charismatic, and he talks really fast.
"Let's see if you can last longer than the last German I faced in the Top 8," challenged the Wolf. "I played Dirk Baberowski in the finals of the Team Pro Tour and he lasted about five minutes."
Mueller won the dice roll and jubilantly said, "Drat, I wish you'd won that -- now I have to make a decision. I guess I'll play."
Both players kept their hands, Mueller starting the action with a turn-two Umezawa's Jitte, while Steve cast Sakura-Tribe Elder. Both players quickly played out Sensei's Divining Top, one of the, if not the, defining cards of the format, and Mueller's eyes bugged out when he saw his next three draws were Cranial Extraction, Hokori, and Yosei -- a lot of gas against Wolfman's deck.
He put the Hokori back on top, cast Kitsune Blademaster and passed the turn. On Wolfman's turn he played Time of Need for Yosei and then cast a Jitte of his own, clearing the board of Toshiro's Pointy Sticks. With Wolfman tapped out, Mueller took the opportunity to cast Hokori, giving him four power of beats on the board and a one land advantage.Wolfman fell in a deep hole early in the match.
Two untap steps later, a previously cast Genju of the Cedars came online for the Wolf, effectively shutting down Mueller's attack steps until the German decided Hokori was expendable. Kitsune Blademaster got in there for two in the meantime, as Wolfman decided not tapping out under the legged Winter Orb was worth taking the two damage.
Mueller cast Yosei on his turn, amping up the level of beats that would be applied next turn rather dramatically. Wolfman managed to find a Hokori of his own to finally earn a real untap step. Mueller attacked again with the team to drop Wolfman to five, and then made a very interesting play, casting Cranial Extraction for Final Judgment instead of the Yosei he knew was already in Wolfman's hand.
If he just goes for the Yosei at that point, it means that Wolfman has to have Final Judgment in hand to survive and he can't even use his Top to find it that unless he had another land in hand. With the way he chose to play it, he mad sure that Wolfman got to remove Yosei, but not before dropping to three as part of the bargain.
Myojins of Cleansing Fire traded, but Mueller's Top delivered Meloku right on time, and even a tutored Patron of the Kitsune was not enough to keep him alive, not with Shizo, Death's Storehouse on the board and Wolfman only at one life.
Mueller 1, Wolfman 0
Between games, Mueller entertained us with his ability to recite some flavor text for old cards, fun winning Prereleases, his extra hobbies, and he also explained how Kitsune Blademaster ended up in his deck.
"Originally this deck was a snake deck, but the guy that designed it kept taking out the legendary snakes when he played it and he finally just ended up with Orochi Sustainers, Sakura-Tribe Elders, and Sosuke's Summons," Mueller said. "We still had just enough snakes in the deck to keep bringing the Summons back, bit without Seshiro, they little snake tokens didn't do anything. He thought about it for a bit and then realized just how good the bushido and first strike on the Blademaster where, particularly when it's equipped with a Jitte. So that's why I'm playing four Kitsune Blademasters here this weekend."
"You know what's more fun and more profitable than winning Prereleases?" interjected as Mueller segued this way and that. "Playing in Type One tournaments. I look forward to at least bettering wherever I end up here when I play in Rochester in June.Mueller was up a quick two games.
"Type One is crazy in Europe as well. Have you seen that Paris tournament that Wizards is giving next weekend? The prizes are ridiculous!"
Wolfman grimaced twice, as his first two hands let him down forcing him to mulligan to five. Mueller once again cast Top on turn 1. "You only have two of them, how do you keep drawing and playing them on turn 1?" queried the Canadian. Wolfman's five cards gave him a turn-two Jitte but little more, while Mueller pushed ahead with Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach, and Top activations. Turn-five Meloku and a turn-six Kodama of the North Tree led to the turn-seven scoop from Steve, putting the Wolf in an ugly 0-2 hole.
Wolfman tried to muster some energy with, "Alright, come one. Three in a row!" Mueller's response was a merciless, "It can't happen."
Mueller 2, Wolfman 0
"I'll keep this hand," said Wolfman for Game 3.
"Really, is it a good hand with land?" answered Mueller. "Huh, I have to consider mulliganning this hand... but no. Go ahead. Oh look what I drew again? Land, Top go."
Wolfman's only response was a brief roll of the eyes, as Andre was clearly enjoying himself. Mueller's start may have been a bit slow, but his hand was filled with gas, and a third land combined with Kodama's Reach set him up to play out any of the white legends in his hand or Cranial Extraction.
Wolfman's Sakura-Tribe Elder picked up a Jitte and bashed for one, but the far more important thing was that the pointy stick gained some counters. Cranial Extraction from Mueller named Final Judgment, finding two of them to the removed from game pile as Andre picked apart Steve's deck looking for the third while checking Wolfman's sideboarding tactics. Genju of the Cedars and the Elder brought the beats on the next turn, doing nine to the German and dropping him to 10.
Mueller finally got enough lands to throw down Yosei as an obstacle for Wolfman's beatings the next turn. Wolf activated the Genju and equipped it with the Jitte before sending, forcing another pause from Mueller while he pondered the possibilities. He chose to keep Yosei around and blocked the snake, dropping to four.
Yosei bashed Wolfman for five and then Mueller cast a second white dragon, explaining that he needed to buy some more time, basically casting two Time Walks in succession against the Canadian. Mueller's first turn gave him Time for Need and North Side in play. His play on the next turn was merely to cast Hokori as a method of removing counters from Wolf's Jitte. Unfortunately for him, Wolfman had been loading up on Yoseis while waiting to untap and only one of the white flyers was need to get Wolfman back in the match.
Mueller 2, Wolfman 1
This game threw a curveball into the normal proceedings of this match, as Mueller did not find one of his two Tops at the start. Time of Need on turn two fetched North Side for the German, but he'd need to draw at least one more land or a Sakura-Tribe Elder to get his mana engine rolling.
Turn three brought no extra land for either player, and now the race was on to see who could pull out of their mana screw first. Time of Need for his own North Side plus a Forest was the play for Wolfman, while Mueller finally found his third land and cast Kodama's Reach. Oddly enough, at this point in the match Wolfman had still not cast a Kodama's Reach, providing at least a partial explanation for why he was down in the match.
Cranial Extraction from Mueller landed a huge blow to Wolfman's chances, stealing two North Sides from his hand while revealing Hokori and Yosei. Hokori came into play for Wolfman and grabbed a Jitte, but Wear Away made that sort of nonsense disappear. Mueller was forced to discard a Cranial Extraction while waiting for enough lands to untap to cast the fat in his hand, but a two-point clock was nothing to worry about. Yet.
Mueller cast Yosei for his own double-plus good clock (at least when compared to Hokori), and the race suddenly became Wolfman 15, Mueller 10. Another attack from Yosei made it 10 each, as the Wolf tried to figure out how to fix this losing battle. He could cast Yosei and lock both players under the Orb again, but Mueller would rebuild faster.
Four other cards in his hand also presented themselves as possibilities, but could they solve the riddle of the life totals? Eventually Yosei was deemed the right play, resetting the board at no mana. Mueller cast a second Tribe Elder to give him the ability to block Hokori, but Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers complicated things. Orochi Sustainer gave the Wolf a fresh and reusable source of mana, while Mueller kept drawing cards and shaking his head as his life dissipated, point by excruciating point.
Muller actually pounded his leg in frustration briefly before scooping up his cards, lamenting, "Everything would have been fine if I had just drawn a land last turn."
The Wolf had just won a game that looked unwinnable and pulled even in the match.
Mueller 2, Wolfman 2
"I will play I guess," said Mueller.
"That hasn't worked out for you the last two games," Wolfman prodded the slightly less chipper German. "Are you sure you want to do that?"
Mueller's opening hand for Game 5 was deemed solid, with Cranial Extraction, Hokori, and an Elder greeting him plus four lands. Extraction on turn three put Wolf in a tough spot, but Hisoka's Defiance made sure he got to keep his Final Judgments this game. Okina, Wasteland of the Grandfathers from Wolfman destroyed the only real green source for both gentlemen, as Mueller kept his slight advantage.
"Did you draw the Reach?" asked Andre. Wolfman just shrugged, still stuck on three Plains and a used Ice Bridge. Mueller cast Time of Need for Meloku, but stalled on lands himself for a turn before using his last Ice Bridge counter to cast the Clouded Mirror. Wolfman used the tap out from Mueller as a pleasant excuse to cast Hokori, creating an interesting match of dueling legends.Wolfman's comeback started with Yosei.
"Guess I shouldn't have countered the Extraction," admitted Wolfman, still lacking a source of green mana. "What else could you have countered?" asked Mueller. "Meloku is not a spirit… ah, but then you would have had the mana for the Reach. I see."
Sakura-Tribe Elder sat in the way of Hokori plus a Jitte for a turn, but the next turn finally added counters to the Jitte, giving Wolfman at least a chance in this game, but the chance once again disappeared on Mueller's turn as he finally got to four untapped mana and chose to cast one of the two Hokoris staring at him in his hand, thus putting Wolfman a couple untap steps away from death, provided he didn't cast Final Judgment.
Wolfman's first Kodama's Reach of the game quenched his desert-like thirst for mana, and an attack from a Jitte-equipped Elder finally took down the Clouded Mirror, creating breathing space for Wolfman, but only until Mueller cast a Hokori of his own, leaving Wolfman with a lonely untapped mana source to Mueller's two Forests and an Ice Bridge.
"Oh no, I forgot about that!" Mueller then grabbed his head and said, "Oh my God! Well, I could have played better, that's for sure."
Meloku for Wolfman looked to turn the tide with the Canadian at four life, but Final Judgment one again cleared the board of beaters. As is often the case in Magic and particularly in control matchups, the life totals only told a small part of the story, since Wolfman had six cards to Mueller's two. Wolfman's second Kodama's Reach pushed his mana to even with Mueller, and Yosei, the Morning Star made a welcome appearance on Wolf's side of the board.
Kodama of the North Tree immediately threatened any security Wolfman might feel, but Myojin of the Cleansing Fire brought it right back. Yosei swung into the red zone and made it 10-4 Mueller.
It was Mueller's turn to look savaged now as he drew his next card and noticed that he only had two white mana on the board, prohibiting him from casting the Myojin of Cleansing Fire in his hand. He thought about the board situation for a while and realized that it was now hopeless, congratulating Wolfman on his remarkable comeback win.
"If I had just cast Wear Away on my own turn, would I have won?" asked Mueller.
Wolfman nodded, and noted that he only had one available mana at that point and could not have countered the spell. Andre's face fell once again as he realized his semifinal chances had been dashed by a simple mistake at the end of a five-game thriller and some very good play from his Canadian opponent.
"Oh well, at least I will make my flight now."
So while Mueller would avoid any urgent calls to his travel agent, Wolfman flew into the semifinals with a 3-2 victory -- and a $2,500 addition to his winnings.