Kai Budde looked quite animated and eager as he sat down to face the more sedate Dan Clegg. In an interesting twist of history (at least for this reporter), Kai Budde was 0-8 at last year's Invitational before I covered him in a feature match that he won. He then won the remainder of his matches and seemingly continued that winning streak throughout the season. One has to wonder - has he come full cycle? Now that he is getting covered again, will the streak end? Or will it be the beginning of an even greater year?
Budde and Clegg are playing for first place in this year's Invitational, with both of them at 8-2. As past Invitationals have only required 10-5 or 11-4 to make the finals, the winner looks to be in excellent shape to be playing right to the end.
Kai had an immediate advantage when Dan mulliganed and then was Duressed for Vindicate. A Vodalian Zombie followed by the second-best player in the world - Shadowscape Infiltrator, really put the pressure on Dan and his lonely two lands.
As Dan began his notoriously careful play, Kai looked around the room in order to stay alert and conversed with whoever wandered by. He revealed that the two have only played twice before - Kai defeated Dan at PT New York 2000, and they unintentionally drew at PT Barcelona.
A Meddling Mage came out to trade with the Vodalian Zombie, but the Infiltrator guaranteed that Kai would gain more and more advantage each turn. Another Mage came out for Clegg naming Duress, but like everybody else in Magic, it just couldn't stop Jon Finkel!
A Spectral Lynx made the game more of a race, but with a full hand of seven cards and a Merfolk Looter in play, Kai did not look worried. Of course, that's how he always looks - Kai has an excellent game face, neither revealing when he's winning nor when he's losing.
Drawing two cards a turn eventually gave Kai a Vodalian Zombie that he could block with and that allowed Dan to use the Absorb he had been holding since Kai Duressed him on turn one. Kai had a Memory Lapse waiting and the Zombie was in play facing off against the Meddling Mage. The Mage chose not to block the Zombie the following turn and the life race heated up as Kai discarded Duress to the Looter while playing a second of the thieving Merfolk.
Another Infiltrator was Absorbed but Kai had the Lapse again and Dan conceded game one as Kai would begin drawing three cards a turn.
Kai Budde - 1
Dan Clegg - 0
Both Dan and Kai are of the gentleman class on the Pro Tour as evidenced by their easygoing banter and friendly comments to the press. Unlike many players who would bitch and complain about a mulligan and heavy land draw; Dan just kept quiet until queried later. Both passed along their sideboarding strategy:
In: 2 Gainsay, 3 Divert, 2 Thieving Magpie and 3 Repulse
Out: 4 Opposition, 3 Static Orb, Memory Lapse and 2 Sleight of Hand
In: 4 Crusading Knights and 4 Duress
Out: 4 Recoil, 2 Spectral Lynx and 2 Absorb
There was much shuffling leading into game two but eventually both players were satisfied with their hands and Dan led with a Caves of Koilos and Duress, taking Divert. Kai's hand was all creatures and lands, but no turn one plays. After playing a Looter on turn two, Kai held back and looted where many players may have tried to follow up with creatures. Kai realized that the longer both players just sit there while Kai loots, the better his hand will get in relation to Dan's. Dan is on defence despite not taking any damage!
Eventually Kai was satisfied with his hand and he used Duress to bait out a Counterspell and then followed up the next turn with an Infiltrator protected by a Memory Lapse. No longer able to bluff having a counterspell of some sort, Clegg went aggressive and played an Infiltrator of his own along with a Spectral Lynx. The Infiltrators could now bounce off each other forever, but Kai decided to up the ante with a Thieving Magpie that can hit through the air.
As Clegg pondered his options for what seemed an endless amount of time, the normally quiet and subdued Budde becomes quite talkative to keep himself busy. Talking to spectators, press and Clegg himself, Kai looked for any distraction to keep him awake after a long day on Friday.
Suddenly, Dan STRUCK! Like an angry cobra, Clegg hands shot out to tap six mana and throw down a game-dominating Dromar. Kai only had one card, but it was . . . Memory Lapse! The next turn, Kai just drew and calmly waited for Dromar again with another . . . Memory Lapse!
Convinced that Kai would eventually run out of answers, Clegg tried a third time with the Dragon. Kai was drawing multiple cards with the Magpie and looting the bad ones away, so again he had an answer with Repulse. The Dragon just couldn't stay in play long enough to save Dan.
Another Infiltrator hit play along with two Nightscape Familiars before Dan finally played the Dragon for good. But now Kai has a handful of cards and a dominant board position, making it difficult for Dan to recover. All it takes is one hit from Dromar and all creatures would be unsummoned, but Kai had lots of cheap creatures that he could re-play while Dan already knew how difficult it could be to get a Dragon on to the board.
Dan played Fact or Fiction to help regain card parity and revealed Dromar, Fact or Fiction, Vindicate and two land. Kai studied the choices intently and split it into Dromar and the two lands versus the non-creature spells. As Dromar is a Legend, it seems like the choice is obvious (take the spells!), but it may well be that the lands are more important in what is developing into a control on control match-up. Dan apparently agreed and took the lands.
Dan plays a second Lynx and decided it was time to attack as he sent the Dragon into the Red Zone. Kai lets it through and Dan surprisingly chose not to activate its ability to return a bunch of creatures to everyone's hand. All was explained when Dan tapped six mana and played the second Dromar!
Both Kai and the press raised their eyebrows in surprise and there was a shocked silence as Dan finished tapping his mana. Eventually Kai mentioned that Dromar was a legend and the new one immediately goes to the graveyard. Now the earlier Fact or Fiction decision was explained, but not in a way that flatters Mr. Clegg.
With no big flying 6/6 blocker, Kai was able to attack with all his card-drawers and bring himself right back into a game that was somehow slipping away. Between the many cards he drew and the three Looters he had in play, Kai was able to attack and lose a Magpie, but then just draw another one and play it! Dan was already visibly upset with his error and this did not make him any happier.
Eventually Kai drew a Repulse and that allowed him to remove Dromar for a turn. At this point, Dan conceded, obviously disappointed with his earlier misplay. Kai on the other hand, now that he was in sole possession of first place, seemed very satisfied.
Final Result: Kai Budde 2 - Dan Clegg 0