The host Canadian team looked in this matchup to show their guests what real Canadian hospitality is like, stereotypes be damned. Sweden has been one of the consistent success stories of the day, and of the tournament to date: the Swedes' collective effort was ranked in the Top 8 as of last night, and their only team loss today was to France, which was enjoying an undefeated tête-à-tête with the United States.
Canada's team, kicking off:
A: Terry Tsang
B: Elijah Pollock
C: Sam Lount
Sweden's team, receiving:
A: Johan Johannesson
B: Jimmy Oman
C: Tomas Rosholm
The draft started with Pollock cracking open his pack and gazing at an Agonizing Demise. Mise, eh? A Nomadic Elf went to Lount, who wanted to be fully prepared for a five-color bonanza. As smart as they were, those picks - and the next three packs - set up the Swedes for an excellent start: a Shivan Zombie, Smoldering Tar, Pyre Zombie, and Pouncing Kavu for Johannesson; a Razorfoot Griffin, Shackles, Zanam Djinn, and Stormscape Apprentice for Oman; and a Fires of Yavimaya, Soul Burn, Serpentine Kavu, and Stalking Assassin for the five-color Rosholm. As is typical with team draft, the group starting off got less quality, but still good enough to set up their decks. Tsang was perfectly content with Recover, Cinder Shade and Phyrexian Delver in the last few packs; as was Pollock with two Benalish Tappers and a Tower Drake; and Lount with another Nomadic Elf, Scorching Lava, and Pouncing Kavu.
In Planeshift, the quality of the cards was extremely high. The fourth pack alone contained a Flametongue Kavu (Johannesson), a Questing Phelddagrif (Lount), a Voice of All (Pollock), a Volcanic Imp (Tsang), a Stone Kavu (Rosholm), a Samite Pilgrim (Oman), an Aurora Griffin (Oman again), the mana-fixing Treva's Ruins (for Rosholm), a Nightscape Familiar (Tsang), and a Confound (Pollock). If you check your Gary Wise Draft Pick Analysis Decoder Ring, you'll see that any of the first three would make an amazing first pick; and none of them beyond the Ruins would be awful second or third.
Johannesson, in particular, absolutely cruised through Planeshift, picking up a Strafe, two Hunting Drakes, the Flametongue, and two Cavern Harpies. On the other side, Pollock did nearly as well, snagging two Voices of All, a Dromar's Charm, a Sawtooth Loon, a Confound, and a Sea Snidd. This would have been an amazing matchup; it's a shame these two decks didn't have the same letter on them. (The individual matches were, nevertheless, amazing. So don't punk out, yet.)
In Apocalypse, the big gainer was Sam Lount, who found five-color bombs like Illuminate, Captain's Maneuver, Consume Strength, and AEther Mutation falling into his hands. On the Swedish side of the aisle (or, as they call it here in Canada, "round table"), Lount's opposite Rosholm picked up Degavolver (the big "little sister" of the Volvers; you still don't want to sass her), Minotaur Illusionist, Savage Gorilla, and Desolation Giant. The other drafters did not dabble so much in enemy colors, as much as augment their already solid decks with cards like Quicksilver Dagger, Coastal Drake, and assorted Flagbearers (Pollock and Oman each got one).
When this reporter approached the Swedish deck construction table, the competitors, recognizing the stalwart good looks that grace every Sideboard reporter, invited him to sit down, and told him:
"Fan, vad vi draftade bra."
When this reporter explained that he had no "bra" to "vi," but that he'd thank them very much to "fan" their own business, they were kind enough to offer a translation:
"Damn, we drafted good."
With typical openness and modesty, the team explained that they had never drafted three decks that were this good, considered together. (Oman's deck from two rounds ago, which this reporter also brought you courtesy of Nestle Drumstick, the ice cream drumstick that never ever melts, was individually the most amazing Team Rochester deck of the past two years.)
Johannesson, apparently suffering from momentary blindness and/or insanity, actually complained quietly: "But my deck has no tricks!" His teammates then pointed to about 15 different cards, including Flametongue Kavu, Pyre Zombie, four Drakes (two Coastal, two Hunting), Nightscape Battlemage, and two Cavern Harpies, and quietly suggested in perfectly patient Swedish that if Johannesson went out on a limb and included creatures with broken Limited abilities, he might find a trick or two to pull off. This reporter doesn't speak Swedish nearly as well as these fellows speak English; but we can also be fairly certain that Johannesson's card pool also contained cards named "Open Your Eyes" and "Stop Embarrassing Us in Front of the Monolingual, Self-Absorbed, Idiot-President-Lovin' American, Homey." (Must have been Odyssey preview cards.)
Toward the end of construction, Johannesson deftly kept in Urborg Skeleton (to make Harpy gating easier), and left out Bloodfire Dwarf (to protect several one-toughness teammates).
Oman, with the B deck, started off stacking his cards in a r-w-u build, but then ended up in a more conventional u-w-r build. He commented that he had "exactly as many cards as I needed [for that build] - nothing good in the sideboard, nothing bad in the deck." He felt his deck matched up well against Pollock's, since it featured his patented Slingshot Goblin/Disciple of Kangee/Sisay's Ingenuity combo, Coalition Honor Guard, and better flyers (Zanam Djinn, Razorfoot Griffin) than his opponent had. He also expected the Quicksilver Daggers to make a difference in the long game, after the inevitable stall-out.
Rosholm's deck looked like a mess - a mess of fantastic cards, across the spectrum. From Stalking Assassin and Soul Burn to Desolation Giant and Degavolver, as well as two Battlemages (Thornscape and Sunscape), Tomas didn't set aside a single card he liked. He explained that he really preferred the mana-fixers he got (three excellent non-basic lands, and three different elves) to more conventional choices like Harrow, Lay of the Land, or Fertile Ground ("they take slots away from other cards"). If Rosholm could make the mana work, there was no doubt he had the superior cards to his Canadian counterpart . . .
Let's take nothing away from how Canada did in the draft. They were equally confident from their draft, noted they were on their own turf, and suggested that 3-0 would not be an unreasonable expectation.
Start with the C deck. Even compared to Rosholm's Deck of Madness, Lount's was stuffed with plenty of quality picks. Better yet, they were slightly more focused around the green-blue spectrum: Questing Phelddagrif, AEther Mutation, Ceta Sanctuary, and Repulse were all excellent fits for his deck. His fixers were even stronger than Rosholm's - the expected non-basic lands, two Nomadic Elves, Urborg Elf, and Reef Shaman - and he felt perfectly comfortable with a black dash for Consume Strength, Darigaaz's Charm, and Bog Down, as well as red for Illuminate, Lighting Dart, and Scorching Lava. (The Phelddagrif was the only white card.)
Tsang was sold on his own deck: "[My opponent] will need Pyre Zombie and Flametongue Kavu to win." He featured a fast black ground force (Nightscape Apprentice, Nightscape Familiar, Phyrexian Rager) and an impressive blue air force (two Coastal Drakes and a Doomsday Specter). Red was a splash, for Magma Burst, Cinder Shade, and Chaos. His deck was laid out and built the fastest; there was no question as to what he would build or how it would fit together.
Elijah felt the best about his own deck. "If [Oman] didn't have a Slingshot Goblin, he would have no chance." His u-w-x deck featured small black splashes for Agonizing Demise, Urborg Uprising, and Dromar's Charm. He felt his Voices of All would hold the air beautifully, until the moment was ready for attack. He was concerned enough about his mana mixture to run two Helionauts and his Reef Shaman.
There was no doubt that both teams drafted well, and constructed well. But how would they play?
MATCH A featured two exciting black-base decks, Johannesson's and Tsang's. But then one of those fun-hating judges stepped in and demanded a deck check, so we can't start with them. You'll have to wait about eight minutes, just like the rest of us did. Read slowly.
MATCH B, with Oman and Pollock, was a fight for the tiniest details of the board. Oman started off beautifully, with a Samite Pilgrim, Slingshot Goblin, and Disciple of Kangee all active by the fifth turn. (This, compared to Pollock's Helionaut. Even with all of that mana-fixing power, could any card look more pathetic when sitting on the board alone?) With Pollock needing the Helionaut active for color-washing, he found himself casting, and then gating back, the Sawtooth Loon in a frantic search for the right kind of land. Meanwhile, Oman enhanced his Disciple with Squee's Embrace and went into beatdown mode.
When Pollock put out a Sea Snidd and then played Dead Ringers on the Pilgrim and Disciple, Oman responded with Rushing River, throwing both his Pilgrim and Pollock's Snidd off the board. Since Squee lovingly escorted the Disciple to the graveyard, the creature ended up back in the Swede's hand, as well. Both white creatures came back down on the next turn.
The true stabilizer for Pollock came in the Voice of All (announcing blue, because of both the Disciple and the Stormscape Apprentice that had just hit the board). In an amazing board turn, a second Voice of All joined it; and Pollock won the first game in a hail of angels, with about 8 life to spare.
The second game was easier for Pollock, though it was much longer. An Agonizing Demise on Oman's Coalition Honor Guard, followed by two Benalish Trappers and a Flagbearer of his own (Standard Bearer), led to a lockdown of anything Oman could throw out. Oman really wanted to find his Disciple - Goblin combo; but never reached it. Pollock pinged with a Helionaut, then two Helionauts, then two Helionauts and a Galina's Knight . . . and then a Voice of All showed up, just in time for the victory dance.
All right, back to MATCH A. Even starting nearly ten minutes after the other matches, the first game actually ended before anyone else's. Tsang kept a borderline hand that couldn't feed the blue cards in his hand. His quick black drops met with Johannesson's red beef, and after a Halam Djinn and Pouncing Kavu slashed across the board to bring Tsang down to eight, he quickly conceded to get moving to the next game.
This second game went far better for Tsang, as his starting hand contained all the colors he needed. Even with a Swedish Pyre Zombie (the Zombie is Swedish, not the Pyre) out by turn five, the Canadian's steady pace of black ground pounders - Phyrexian Reaper, Phyrexian Rager, and Phyrexian Delver - forced out a Nightscape Battlemage without kicker, just to stop the bleeding. When Tsang played Rushing River to get the defenders out of the way, Johannesson scooped as quickly as Tsang had the first game.
The third game was the most intense, not least because it started as both teams were facing a 1-0, 1-1, 0-1 reality. Both teams obviously had good reason to feel their decks were strong builds, each with the capacity to take advantage of a slow start by an opponent.
Johannesson's Kavu Glider and Urborg Skeleton matched up well enough with Tsang's Coastal Drake and Nightscape Familiar for the Swede to find the time to play Flametongue Kavu, targeting an unprotected Familiar. He followed that up with Smoldering Tar, while a mana-crowded Tsang played out Morgue Toad with an eye to an eventual Magma Burst.
Johannesson then played a Hunting Drake, and put the Flametongue back on top of his own library. (Hey, was that a trick?) When the mighty 4/2 came back out, it hocked a big, fiery loogie at a Phyrexian Reaper. Once Tsang had enough open land, he did indeed trade the Toad and a Burst to see the Kavu gone once and for all.
After that, there was a bit of a standoff as Tsang's Coastal Drake occupied itself with keeping Johannesson's Kavu Glider from getting too feisty. But he couldn't mount an offense of his own; and meanwhile, the Smoldering Tar continued to smolder.
In desperation at less than 5 life, Tsang used Rushing River to put the Tar back in its owner's hand (things were moving fast across multiple matches, but this reporter is pretty certain Tsang was simultaneously saving his own Coastal Drake). Of course, the Tar came back down, and the Canadian could not find a solution before dying in most drawn out, painful fashion.
MATCH C, as you will have guessed if you were reading carefully enough earlier, started with a Swedish win. That game was almost all Rosholm and his Thornscape Battlemage, which together with a double-kicked Degavolver and a Stone Kavu forced through enough damage to counteract a Phelddagrif and Hunting Drake.
In game two, Lount absolutely buried his opponent in tempo cards. First putting out a Tidal Visionary and a Mire Kavu, he swung away, waited for Rosholm to put down a Treva's Ruins, and then played Temporal Spring on it. Two turns later, when the Swede eked out a Serpentine Kavu, Lount played AEther Mutation on it. Rosholm conceded.
That left game three as the decisive game. (Pollock and Oman were still playing game two at this point; but it was pretty clear that Pollock had a soft lock on.) Lount gamely fended off the first few threats Rosholm posed - Temporal Spring on a Pincer Spider, Lighting Dart on a Minotaur Illusionist, Hunting Drake on the above Spider, and then a Captain's Maneuver to finally end the exhausting life of same said Spider - but then his deck gave him no other answers, and Rosholm's deck had too many questions. Within ten turns, with ten land on the table and a few more in his hand, he extended his hand and conceded the match.
Final Result: Sweden wins, two matches to one. (2-1, 2-0, 0-2)