Round 20: Hungary vs. Sweden

Posted in Event Coverage

By Anthony Alongi

Team Sweden

The Draft

This draft featured excellent communication and few intrateam spats on both sides. The Swedish team (Johan Johannesson at A, Jimmy Oman at B, and Tomas Rosholm at C) "kicked off" to the Hungarian team (Michael Durham at A, La'za'r Szabo at B, Zsolt Tokoli at C).

Oman opened an Exclude for himself and a Thunderscape Master for Rosholm; and when the Swedish C player opened another Master - the Sunscape - he was happy to see two bombs tapping into his green base. The Hungarians, meanwhile, must have been thrilled with Michael's Ancient Kavu, Duskwalker, and Assault/Battery; La'za'r's Crimson Acolyte, Tidal Visionary, and Rout; and Zsolt's Kavu Climber, Goham Djinn, and Wash Out, all within the first three packs.

As the kickoff team, the Swedes saw their decks develop more slowly. Oman gave a hint of his u-w-r strategy when he snagged Zap in addition to his Benalish Lancer and Prison Barricade. Tomas already had the Masters, but struggled to find a playable pure green card until Fertile Ground in the fourth pack. Johannesson found three playable creatures early, but had to wait until later to find his Invasion removal in Tribal Flames, Plague Spores, and Cursed Flesh.

One example of the excellent communication that marked this draft came in the fifth pack, which Szabo opened. Durham and Szabo signaled to Tokoli that his green-based deck would probably enjoy the Sulam Djinn. But Tokoli showed them (as is legal when a pack is first opened) the two Djinns he already had - Goham and Halam - and all three quickly agreed that Harrow was the correct first pick. As a result, the Sulam Djinn swung all the way through the Swedish team (Rosholm, their green mage, preferred to pick up his second Fertile Ground), and as Durham picked up a card he could use in Recover, Szabo neatly picked up the green beast on his bounce so that Durham could also snag an Urborg Volcano. This kind of unselfish drafting easily made the Hungarians' position stronger as a whole, for at least the Invasion packs.

That said, the last Invasion pack treated the Swedes extremely well, providing an Urborg Shambler to Johannesson, a Scorching Lava for Oman's red-splash concept, and a Verdeloth the Ancient to give Rosholm some desperately needed green beef. (After all, it's what's for green dinner.)

In Planeshift, there was canny strategy on both sides. Sitting in late position, Zsolt was able to hate-draft a Nightscape Familiar and Slay away from Johannesson, while Rosholm decided to take advantage of his Sunscape Master's blue splash and invest in earlier-than-usual picks of Hunted Drake and Treva's Ruins. After consulting with his teammates, Rosholm also first-picked a Phyrexian Scuta so that Johannesson could pick up a Terminate guilt-free.

In that same pack, the Swedes had their single miscommunication: with their team owning the last six picks, Johannesson took a Horned Kavu despite strong and repeated signals from Rosholm (the only player who could use it). Other than that mishap, Planeshift went smoothly for both teams.

Apocalypse, predictably, threw some curves at both teams. But the first thing both teams must have noticed were the near-identical first and second packs. Over those packs:

Rosholm picked up two Penumbra Kavu;
Durham picked up two Consume Strengths;
Tokoli picked up two Living Airships; and
Johannesson picked up two Phyrexian Ragers and two (hate-drafted) Savage Gorillas.

In addition, Oman picked up the first of what would end up being three Coalition Honor Guards. This reporter imagines the Swede neither remembers nor cares what else he got in Apocalypse.

Rosholm, meanwhile, did some much-needed shoring up of his creature base, picking up the Kavus, a Penumbra Bobcat, two Coastal Drakes, and a Savage Gorilla.

Johannesson used this last expansion to pick up a couple of game-breakers, including Bloodfire Colossus and Order/Chaos. But most of his deck was already built through Planeshift, and the two early Phyrexian Ragers.

On the Hungarian side, Tokoli seemed to commit to five-color whole-heartedly, first picking a Legacy Weapon eleventh, and then Cromat third in the next pack. With those creatures, his green base, two Airships, and then a Dead Ringers and Prophetic Bolt, observers had to wonder if the Urborg Elf he got in his last pack would be enough (combined with his Harrow, Quirion Sentinel, and Quirion Explorer) to run these game-breakers.

Szabo, meanwhile, got a u-w-r dream, picking up Suffocating Blast, Fire/Ice, and Raka Sanctuary in successive packs. (No Jilts were opened during this draft.) He also picked up a Quicksilver Dagger and Kavu Glider.

Durham made startling gains for his deck in Apocalypse, taking advantage of a green splash to find Life/Death, and his third Consume Strength. He also picked up an Urborg Uprising, Zombie Boa, and two artifacts - Emblazoned Golem and Dodecapod - that promised to give his opponent (Johannesson) fits.

Construction: Hungary

Team Hungary

After the draft, the Hungarians were, on balance, content. Durham was inexplicably subdued about his own deck's chances: "If I'm lucky, I win 2-1. Maybe I go 0-2. No way I go 2-0." He felt his deck would have great trouble against Johannesson's Volcano Imp, and the regenerators. With those creatures in mind, he let his teammates convince him to run Planeswalker's Scorn, which even an expansion later, still is debated by Limited experts. (Really, it is. This reporter asked about twelve respected Limited specialists here in Toronto, and got about thirteen different answers.) His approach to creatures was decidedly high-end: with Zombie Boa, Mire Kavu, Phyrexian Scuta, Ancient Kavu, Duskwalker, Phyrexian Reaper, Emblazoned Golem, and Dodecapod, he had eight creatures with power 3 or greater.

Szabo felt pretty good about his chances, if Oman's Honor Guards stayed off the board: his u-w-r deck had great tools at its disposal, ranging from Raka Sanctuary to Quicksilver Dagger. While his creature quality was not high, it was respectable; and in any case, doesn't Rout work a whole lot better if the creatures you kill on his side look better than the ones on your own? Szabo saw Oman pick up two Slingshot Goblins, but felt confident that with only three blue creatures (one of them a Tidal Visionary), the Swede would be wasting slots if he tried to play them against him. More on this below.

Tokoli's construction, unsurprisingly, took the longest. His initial deck (before any but the most obvious cuts) included about 35 playable cards. He quickly thinned out some early black (for example, he had considered running the Nightscape Familiar that he had hate-drafted), and let his deck develop into a green-blue with late black, possible red, and "Hail-Mary" white. His mana fixers included the excellent Harrow, and a decent trio of elves: Quirion Explorer, Urborg Elf, and Quirion Sentinel. But he was working them hard. He would need white - his least used color - for a Treva's Charm, Cromat, and the activated ability costs of Mirrorwood Treefolk, Cromat, and Legacy Weapon.

Late cuts for the Hungarian were set up to provide better early consistency with green - Root Greevil came in for Wash Out, and Aggressive Urge came in for Temporal Spring. While this reporter was very surprised by the first substitution; the second one made a great deal of sense, as decent cantrips are golden in any deck that needs to get to five colors.

All in all, the Hungarians felt Durham would squeak one out, Tokoli would "handle [Rosholm's] great cards" and win, and Szabo would only win if Oman's Honor Guards had a nice, long, coalition lunch somewhere outside the city limits of Toronto.

Construction: Sweden

The Swedes were far more optimistic about their chances. They felt their least favorable matchup was Johannesson against Durham (b-r near-mirror), since they remembered the three Consume Strengths Durham picked up. To ensure mana consistency, Johannesson removed all green cards (Aggressive Urge, Life/Death, and a couple of briefly considered Savage Gorillas) from the deck, and prepared for a fast battle using his smaller, but faster, army: Phyrexian Ragers, Rogue Kavu, and two Lava Zombies. He was also counting on his removal cards, including Magma Burst and Terminate, to remove a black-on-black deadlock, and his single unadulterated beast - the Bloodfire Colossus - to finish the job, if the game went long.

Oman was, in a respectful way, absolutely certain he would win. What the Hungarians (and this reporter) had forgotten was that in addition to the Coalition Honor Guards and Slingshot Goblins, Oman had also picked up two Disciples of Kangee - so he had the means to slow the game down, turn any creature blue, and then shoot it down. (Usually, players only see this trick if they see a Tidal Visionary or Blind Seer drafted.) He also thought to have an Orim's Thunder maindecked against the Raka Sanctuary and Quicksilver Dagger, and had plenty of white stallers (Prison Barricade, Benalish Lancer) to make sure the game went long enough for his strategy to work. "We go into this with one match win," he predicted.

Rosholm, who had started the draft with two Masters, couldn't help but feel optimistic. "I'm slightly concerned about Cromat and the Legacy Weapon," he admitted, but also pointed out that the mana base in his opponent's deck would be tricky to work. His job was easier: he was confining himself to three and a half colors (leaving out black, and not too serious about red), and focusing on as aggressive an offense as he could mount, based on his Gaea's Skyfolk, two Coastal Drakes, and three Penumbra creatures. Verdeloth and the Masters were there, in case things went wrong; but if the games lasted too long, a late-game Legacy Weapon might be devastating.

The Matches

Match A, between Michael Durham and Johan Johannesson, started and finished first. Durham spent two games tearing through his opponent's defenses with Consume Strength. In a game where the size of the creatures would be the deciding factor, this green-black cardboard advertisement for devastation simply ruled.

The first game saw a Dodecapod drop out of a Bog Down, and the beast joined forces with a Reaper and Emblazoned Golem to win. Here, a single Consume Strength merely hastened the end.

But in the second game, it was key. Durham drew two, and used the first as a tempo card, giving an early (unkicked) Duskwalker illusions of 3/3 grandeur and sending it straight through the dust of a Morgue Toad. When a Trench Wurm and Grave Defiler replaced the Toad, and a (kicked) Scuta joined the Duskwalker, Durham sent them both, saw the Wurm block the Duskwalker, and had a choice: consume on the Defiler and Duskwalker, or wait? (Doing it now would represent 3-for-2 card advantage.) As he was doing five damage, Durham decided he could wait, and let the Duskwalker go. He then slapped down a Zombie Boa.

A turn later, after Johannesson called out a Nightscape Familiar and Rogue Kavu, Durham swung again, and saw the Wurm block the Boa (no color called) and the Rogue Kavu block the Scuta. This time, Durham acted, letting the snake consume strength from the regenerating Zombie, and getting 2-for-1 card advantage, a better ratio. (Nitpickers will point out that the Duskwalker might also count as a debit; but Durham could have held back one turn earlier and gotten the same result. In any case, both players agreed after the game that Durham was right to wait a turn with the Consume Strength.)

While the Swede was able to use two solid removal cards - Tribal Flames on the Boa, and then Plague Spores on the Mire Kavu that replaced it (and that nasty, lone Forest that kept producing Consume Strength mana) - Durham came right back with an Urborg Uprising, keeping the pressure on until he had his opponent to five life and a four-to-one creature disadvantage. At that point, showing Life/Death was enough to force the concession.

Match C (yes, we've skipped B and gone right on to C . . . don't argue; you weren't the one scrambling around with a pad of paper and a slightly deranged brain, trying to cover three distinct mirror matches while identifying the proper players and cards . . . ) was the green-blue-x clash between Zsolt Tokoli and Tomas Rosholm. Here, the choices Tokoli made in deck construction came back to haunt him.

In game one, Tokoli actually served as the early beatdown, firing off two quick Living Airships and a Mirrorwood Treefolk. Rosholm had a Sunscape Master out, but even a Master can feel awfully lonely when facing down three creatures with no support.

But support did come - in the form of a Hunting Drake, which flipped the Treefolk back over, and in the form of more blue and green mana, which threatened both Master abilities. Additional reinforcements came: a Penumbra Kavu, and then Verdeloth the Ancient.

At this point, Tokoli may have felt frustrated that his hand held Cromat, Dead Ringers, and Treva's Charm, with no white or black mana to cast them. He could not stop the relentless pounding, in his head or on the board. About the same time the first game in match A ended, so did this one, with a Gaea's Might on an unblocked creature.

Game two was a slightly different story. While the Swede appeared to have early advantage with a Llanowar Knight, Savage Gorilla, and Hunting Drake over a Kavu Climber and Urborg Elf, the Hungarian played Slay on the Gorilla (with Rosholm tapped out), and shot out the rest of his elf base to give him access to every color . . . except white. Since he was holding a Legacy Weapon in his hand, this once again meant a (technically) dead card.

Fortunately, Tokoli also had another card in his hand . . . Aggressive Urge. This deck construction decision paid off, since he felt he could attack more aggressively with his Kavu Climber and Root Greevil. He did punch his opponent down to 8, and decided to lay down the Weapon, since the mana was available.

With two Coastal Drakes and a Penumbra Bobcat (token) in play, Rosholm decided to swing away with his flyers, bringing Tokoli to four as well. When the Hungarian swung back with lethal damage the following turn, Rosholm's Pollen Remedy clinched the win, as next turn's would bring six damage, only two preventable by the tardy Legacy Weapon.

Match B now had the weight of the match on its shoulders; and this is precisely where the Hungarians did not want it. While La'za'r Szabo played perfectly (based on what this reporter could see from the board and both players' hands), he and his two very cool apostrophes were all fighting uphill. The tale of both games was the same: La'za'r would cope with some early creatures, the removal would run out, Oman would lay down a Coalition Honor Guard, and through some trick - the Goblin/Disciple combo, or Orim's Thunder on a Quicksilver Dagger enchanting a 2/2, or just an Angelfire Crusader run amok - would control the board with enormous creature advantage. La'za'r's silver bullet, Rout, sat on the top of the library, ready for the very turn after he took lethal damage, both games.

Wrap-Up

Both the Hungarians and the Swedes drafted extremely well, communicating swiftly and surely and getting the right card in the right player's hand, nearly every time. Where the Hungarians may have backed themselves into a corner was the construction of the green/x deck, which had more five-color bombs than its mana base could reasonably support. The actual game play on both sides was solid, with the better deck winning the way it should, 2-0, every time.

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