Team Chinese Taipei
It's only Round 1, and we already get a fantastic matchup: Team China, headed by 2009 Worlds Team Champion Bo Li, against the defending champions, Chinese Taipei, headed once again by Tzu-Ching Kuo.
Li was quick to sing the praises of his teammates. Yi-Liu Liu is their backup ace, with over ten years experience and multiple stabs at the Pro Tour, most recently starting 6-0 at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. Han Bing is their journeyman looking to break through, still smarting from a disappointing Top 32 finish at Grand Prix Shanghai after starting out 9-0. Last is the youngster, Huaiyuan Mu, who's only been playing two years and is proud to have earned a national team appearance to start his resume.
Last year, team Chinese Taipei shocked the world by hoisting the cup. While they'll keenly feel the lack of the flamboyant Tung-Yi Cheng, Kuo is excited to be playing with his new teammates: Ryan Young, Jui Sheng Wan, and Yung-Ming Huang. They are local giants, players well known within their country who are looking to start carving out a legacy on the world stage.
Chinese Taipei didn't have the best pool to work with for the Magic 2014 Team Sealed rounds, but the region has proven itself after last year to have players that know how to make do.
They didn't have the greatest pool to build with, but split their cards into a Blue-Red Scroll Thief and fliers deck for Kuo, a mostly green deck for Huang, touching red for a handful of cards, and a Black-White deck with Auramancers to abuse Quag Sickness and other enchantments for Ryan Young. This last may be hampered by an unforgiving manabase.
China, meanwhile, came up with something quite special. Like his rival captain, Li built blue-red control. Mu took Green-White Beats. Lastly, Liu assembled a mono-black deck that is nothing short of magnificent. It starts with two Corrupts and two Quag Sicknesses to power off all those swamps, but then moves to Bubbling Cauldron with Festering Newts to abuse, and finishes of with two Dark Prophecy and two Tenacious Dead. I would be surprised if it lost a game today.
China's pool featured one of the most brutal decks to possibly come out of a Team Sealed event.
In the A Seat, Young was under pressure early as Liu opened with Festering Newt and Child of Night. His Corpse Hauler earned a Quag Sickness from Liu, and Young was down to eight life as he untapped for turn five. He had a double-whammy waiting: Liturgy of Blood into Mind Rot, leaving Liu with a board of three swamps, Newt, and only one card left in hand. Liu plucked the fourth swamp and put own the card he had saved: Liliana's Reaver.
Young had answered Liliana's Reaver quickly with a Corrupt, bolstering his dangerously low life total. Liu drew another Child of Night and hit. Young untapped and put a stop to all that with Tenacious Dead, and added a very scary Nightmare to go on the offense. Still, Liu had gained a lot of life from his Child of Night. The game was far from over.
In the B Seat, Li was starting off on the wrong foot thanks to a mulligan to five, hardly ideal in the blue-red mirror. Still, he managed to stop a turn three Scroll Thief when it attacked thanks to Young Pyromancer teaming up with Shock. He got the Shock back with Archaeomancer, working to grab his advantages where he could.
Li's shortness of resources had caught up with him as Kuo summoned Messenger Drakes and Li found himself unable to stop them. Chinese Taipei got to notch the first game win.
They didn't even get time to celebrate as Liu topdecked Corrupt to burn his opponent out.
Both teams turned to check in on their third match. Over in the C Seat, the battlefield had gotten cluttered in a hurry. Mu had a Rumbling Baloth with Trollhide on it but not much in the way of defenders. Huang had an army that included a Baloth of his own, Witchstalker and Scavenging Ooze, but still no profitable attacks.
Mu had finally started to put his 6/6 regenerating creature to work on offense, leaving the ranch supervised by just Deadly Recluse and Elvish Mystic. Huang felt the door was open, and went for a play of Deadly Recluse, cast Hunt the Weak to trade the Recluses for each other, and then swing in with his Briarpack Alpha, Rumbling Baloth and Witchstalker. Naturally Mu wasn't entirely without tricks. The Mystic blocked Witchstalker and Mu Giant Growthed to kill it.
Match Status: Liu 1 - Young 0, Li 0 - Kuo 1, with Mu and Huang back to a creature stalemate.
Li was quick to flip the script on Kuo, punishing a mulligan and a slow draw with an unopposed Scroll Thief. Kuo tried to stop with with a surprise Nephalia Seakite, but Li had Essence Scatter, and then another Scroll Thief. Kuo summoned a Scroll Thief of his own, and after blocking, both players used Shock to make it a trade. Still, Li was in a commanding position.
A quick check on Mu vs. Huang confirmed the stalemate. Mu was safe behind his regenerator and a Rootwalla.
Turning back to the captains, things had gone from bad to worse for Kuo. He was staring down Pitchburn Devils and Shivan Dragon, and all he could do was tap out for Air Servant, short on lands. Another turn and he was packing up his cards.
Liu again had a fast start, this time Festering Newt, Bubbling Cauldron, and Blood Bairn. Young had Corpse Hauler. Liu sacrificed his Newt to boost the Bairn and clear out the Hauler. Young had Celestial Flare to get rid of the Bairn, but Liu tapped all his mana and replaced it with Liliana's Reaver.
Meanwhile Kuo was going down to six, and both he and Li took some time to advise on their teammates' matches.
Young chose to Mind Rot, catching Nightwing Shade and Doom Blade, and play Festering Newt to chump. Liu had held on to Quag Sickness and decided to spend it to get through with the Reaver, stealing a card from Young and getting a 2/2. Liturgy of Blood killed the Reaver, and then Young went on the offensive with draws of Minotaur Abomination and Blood Bairn. Liu was stuck on four land with a saucy grip of Liturgy of Blood and Corrupt. He drew and played Blightcaster. Young hit with the Abomination and passed.
A Swamp for Liu! Liturgy of Blood took out the Blood Bairn and his creatures hit for four. That put Young down to just seven life. He drew a blank and held back his minotaur. Liu drew his card, then swung in with both his creatures. After Young took two, Liu flipped over his hand of Swamp and Corrupt for the win.
Team China 1 - Team Chinese Taipei 0
Liu and Young wasted no time relocating themselves at the other end of the table. Shortly after they did, there was a breakthrough in the green gridlock. Huang cast Enlarge on his already 6/6 Scavenging Ooze, then swung with the team. A Briarpack Alpha from Mu kept it from being a complete blowout, but he was still knocked down to 3, facing down a giant Ooze and a Megantic Sliver, with just Rootwalla, Elvish Mystic and the all-important regenerating Baloth.
Li and Kuo made it to the mid-game without incident in their match. They traded damage, Li with Pitchburn Devils, Kuo with Messenger Drake. But then a surprise Nephalia Seakite teamed up to take down the Drake, and Li's Scroll Thief with Haunted Platemail earned a chump block, and two Shocks took out Kuo's freshly-cast Air Servant. Kuo had nothing but a single Seacoast Drake. Though Kuo was still at fourteen, it looked like China would take the match before Mu and Huang finished a game!
Huang meanwhile had upped the ante with his own Trollhide for his Megantic Sliver, and now he was free to attack with both it and the now-9/9 Ooze. Mu put the regenerating Baloth in front of the Ooze and chumped the big Sliver with Elvish Mystic. Huang played an Elvish Mystic.
Now, you might think Huang was safe and 21 life with four creatures to feed to the Ooze and a Ranger's Guile in his hand. I certainly did. I'm sure Huang did.
But he was not.
Mu untapped, then played and equipped Fireshrieker to the 6/6 Baloth. Then he cast Enlarge on it, and attacked with both it and the Rootwalla. The Baloth was 26 damage all on its own, and they could finally move to a second game.
Kuo was still fighting against Li's overwhelming position. Claustrophobia took care of the Scroll Thief and he played one of his own. He was still taking damage from the Pitchburn Devils, and Li's next play was Shivan Dragon. Kuo took his turn and passed with all his mana open. Li sent in the Dragon and the Devils. Conflagrate took care of the Dragon, but Kuo was down to just 5 life. Li summoned Elite Arcanist.
Mu and Huang were taking their time shuffling for Game 2, their attention distracted by their Captains' battle.
Kuo untapped and thought hard before casting Opportunity with three mana left over. He passed the turn. Li gave the Plate Mail to his Arcanist and hit with it and Pitchburn Devils. Kuo chumped both, leaving himself with nine land and nothing. He played a tenth land and tapped out for Air Servant and Messenger Drake, crossing his fingers.
Huang and Mu got started, with Huang blazing out of the gates with Elvish Mystic into Witchstalker, then Lay of the Land for Mountain, Deadly Recluse and another Mystic. Mu played Predatory Sliver, and then Deadly Recluse, missing his third land drop. Hunt the Weak traded one of the Mystics for the Recluse and Huang added the unstoppable Scavenging Ooze to the board. Mu hit a third land and played Master of Diversion.
Li again attacked with Arcanist and Pitchburn Devils. Kuo blocked the Arcanist with his Drake and fell to just two life. Luckily for him, Li had no burn in hand. Kuo untapped and played Water Servant, the answer he needed to the Pitchburn Devils. Li went for an attack, but Frost Breath locked down his two big attackers. Kuo hit again, dropping Li to just six life, and showed him Clone for an extra Air Servant. Li needed to draw Archaeomancer, Flames of the Firebrand, or Shock to take the match for China. He slowly drew it up and peeked.
He had missed.
Team China 1 - Team Chinese Taipei 1
So it was all down to the green decks. While Kuo was completing his comeback the Scavenging Ooze had taken over the second game. Not even Howl of the Nightpack from Mu for five wolves could stand up to it.
Just six minutes remained for the deciding game.
Both players shuffled quickly and played their opening turns like lightning. They traded Predatory Slivers, and then Mu's Master of Diversion was followed by Witchstalker from Huang. Mu untapped and went to attack, but luckily for him Liu caught him, pointing out that Witchstalker had hexproof and attacking with the Master of Diversion would be suicide.
They kept up the pace, but soon the board was again littered with creatures, and there were no great attacks to be had. Still they played as fast as possible. Then came a crucial turn for Huang. He leaned in and consulted Kuo. Nearly a minute drained off the clock before they settled on a plan: Enlarge the Deadly Recluse and attack with it alone. Master of Diversion took one for the team, and Mu fell to eight.
Mu untapped and found Trollhide to go with his Ajani's Chosen, getting in an attack that put Huang to eleven. Huang untapped and time was called. Immediately both teams relaxed and took a couple minutes to seriously consider their situations. Unfortunately for both of them, they didn't have a way to punch through any more damage. When the five draw steps failed to deliver, they shook hands and wished each other good luck in the coming rounds.
Team China draws with Team Chinese Taipei 1-1-1
I had to ask Liu about their preparation for the event, and if they'd ever had a deck as powerful as this mono-black deck. He said that while they didn't play much of M14, they did at least twenty sealed builds for practice. As for the most powerful deck they'd had? "Actually, yesterday. We did a practice build and had six of the rare sliver." I wasn't sure I'd heard him correctly, but I had. Six Megantic Sliver. Out of twelve packs. "It was a four-color deck, but it had fourteen Slivers. I think it was our best deck ever."