by Lan D. Ho
While shuffling his deck before the match, Nicolai Herzog accidentally flipped over a Rebel Informer. He quickly put it back in, hoping that Jinni Hassaku, his 13th round opponent, did not see it. "That would be the wrong card for him to see," Herzog said.
Nicolai Herzog has an impressive Magic resume; a Pro Tour regular, he placed top eight at Worlds 1999 in Tokyo and was the 1999 European Champion, and has a number of high Pro Tour finishes to his credit. Jinni Hassock is a relative newcomer, finishing ninth at Grand Sapporo.
Both Herzog and Hassaku played Rebels, and stakes are high - the winner plays for top eight in the final round, and the loser is eliminated from top eight contention. Herzog is splashing blue, mostly for Coastal Towers and Adarkar Wastes, which provide some protection from Flashfires. He is also starting Rebel Informer, which is incredible against other Rebel decks. Hassaku is playing a more aggressive version, running Longbow Archers and Chimeric Idols in addition to the Rebel chain.
Herzog won the die roll and elected to go first. Going first is very advantageous in this matchup since it gives that player first chance at getting Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero, into play. Lin Sivvi, the most powerful Rebel card in existence, defined the environment at Pro Tour New York 2000 and was banned from the Masques Constructed Block format. She is also a legend, giving the player who gets her into play first a considerable advantage as the other Rebel player is unable to cast their own Lin Sivvi until they deal with the opposing one.
After a lengthy shuffling period, Hassaku decided to mulligan. He kept his six card hand. Hassaku played Longbow Archers on his second turn, showing no 1- or 2-casting cost searchers and setting an aggressive tone for the game. Turn 3 Nicolai laid out Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero. Hassaku realized that the game would not be won by early beatdown, and played two Ramosian Sergeants. After Hassaku's next turn, Herzog searched out Rebel Informer. Hassaku just looked on with an expression of amused helplessness as he watched Herzog play lands on turns 5 and 6, which allowed him to return up to two of Hassaku's rebels to the bottom of the library each turn. Eventually Hassaku casts a Chimeric Idol. Herzog continues to search out Rebels every turn, getting Steadfast Guards and Sergeants and Falcons, and he cast a Crusade somewhere in the midst of this. Eventually, Herzog gathered enough of a force that he felt he should go for it; Hassaku had only a Chimeric Idol and a Longbow Archers in play - every Rebel that he had brought into play now rested at the bottom of his library. Herzog cast Parallax Wave and faded out Hassaku's Longbow Archers, and then cast Crusade, and attacked with three Steadfast Guards and a Defiant Falcon. But Hassaku had two Disenchants, destroying the Wave and the Crusade and returning his Archers into play. He blocked two of Herzog's Guards, and was knocked down to 17. Things still didn't look good as Hassaku was bereft of a searcher and Herzog had Informer in play still. Herzog searched out another Guard, and attacked again on his turn. Hassaku had a third Disenchant and proceeded to block more Guards. On Herzog's next turn, he cast Reverent Mantra and sends the entire team to alpha strike, dealing 18 to Hassaku and enough to kill him.
Both players side out their Crusades. Herzog played on the fact that his Parallax Waves were just too powerful that Hassaku could not ignore them and sided out every disenchant target in his deck - making the (correct) assumption that Hassaku would not only keep his enchantment removal in but would also side in additional cards to deal with Waves. He also sided in three Mageta, the Lions, three Wrath of Gods, two Power Sinks, and an island. "If I had to build this deck all over again, I would play 26 land, maybe 27 - in a matchup like [Rebel on Rebels], and in a deck like Rebels in general, [not stalling on land] is really important." Hassaku sided in Wrath of Gods, four Afterlifes, a Rebel Informer, and two Seals of Cleansing.
Game two begins with Herzog taking a mulligan. Hassaku decided to play, and began very aggressively, laying two Sergeants, a Longbow Archers, and a Lin Sivvi all in the first three turns. He knocks Herzog down to 13 before Herzog casts Wrath of God. A slight look of worry on his face, Hassaku cast a Defiant Falcon and laid a Dust Bowl. Herzog seemed to be in pretty shape when he hard-cast Lin Sivvi the next turn, but Hassaku then searched out a Rebel Informer, which seemed to concern Herzog a bit. Hassaku had six lands in play and a Rebel Informer, and Herzog had five land and a Lin Sivvi. Hassaku attempted to put Lin on the bottom of Herzog's library; in response, Herzog searched out a Rebel Informer of his own, but he lacked the mana to activate him. Hassaku then targeted Herzog's Informer with his own, leaving the Norwegian with nothing in play other than land. Herzog tried to develop a board, but everything he cast was quickly sent to the bottom of his library. Meanwhile, Hassaku cast an Idol, which threatened to quickly knock down Herzog's life. Herzog cast a Mageta that cleared board of everything but the Idol, whose continued attacks knocked him down to 4. At the end of Hassaku's turn Herzog tried to Disenchant the Idol, but the newcomer had the answer, Hassaku activated Chimeric Idol, and then cast Reverent Mantra naming white. Things didn't seem so bad for Herzog as he was accumulating a hand, to play with and around Mageta. At the end of Herzog's turn Hassaku cast an Afterlife targeting Mageta, leaving 3 mana untapped. Herzog cast Power Sink for 4; Hassaku came right back with another Afterlife. Herzog cast two Sergeants, in a weak effort to chump block for several turns, but Hassaku Wrathed away the board, leaving only the Idol, which came over for the win.
Herzog chose to play game 3, and Hassaku chose to mulligan. In every game in this match, whoever has gone first has won, and whoever went second mulliganed and lost. This would remain true in game 3. Hassaku once again went for aggression, casting a turn 2 Longbow Archers and a turn 3 Idol. Herzog though was set, having a third turn Defiant Vanguard which blocked the Archers and searching out a second Vanguard with his Defiant Falcon to block the Idol. Hassaku's shoulders slumped slightly as he watched Herzog search out a Rebel Informer followed by Steadfast Guard after Steadfast Guard; Hassaku was doing nothing other than laying land and passing every turn. At 2, Hassaku tried to show some resistance, casting a Defiant Falcon, a Ramosian Sergeant, and a Steadfast Guard, all in a vain effort to survive one more turn. Herzog cast Mantra naming white, and Hassaku cast a Mantra in response, and conceded, smiling.
Final Result: Herzog wins 2-1.