Semifinal: In the Balance

Posted in Event Coverage on October 14, 2007

By Bill Stark

Head judge Jaap Brouwer flipped a coin to determine which player would play first, and young Frenchman Remi Fortier correctly posited "heads" as his guess. Opting to play Fortier and his opponent, Giulio Barra, both turned to their pregame shuffling rituals. The feature match area was silent as the players, both newcomers to the Top 8 scene, quietly went through the motions. Behind them, a language barrier kept Japanese player Shuhei Nakamura and German Andre Müller equally quiet. Before presenting, Brouwer interceded to verify that both players had fifteen-card sideboards (they did).

Game 1

Giulio Barra and Remi Fortier battle in silence. Neither player needed a mulligan, and Remi led with Flooded Strand. Giulio parried with Duress seeing a hand of Stifle, Counter, Trinket Mage, Hallowed Fountain, and double Venser, Shaper Savant. He opted to nab Counterspell, and Remi cracked his Strand for a tapped Watery Grave. The Frenchman followed up with an untapped Hallowed Fountain for... a topdecked Dark Confidant! The Wizard was an excellent draw for Fortier, threatening to help him overwhelm his opponent with card advantage.

After untapping and playing a Forest, Giulio had to think about his play. He opted for a Sakura-Tribe Elder, but spent some time thinking before shipping the turn. Fortier's Confidant revealed Flooded Strand, which he played, and when his opponent tried to Tribe Elder an additional land into play at end of turn, Remi "countered" by using his Stifle.

Giulio untapped and went into the tank. Was it possible he would miss his third land drop?

The answer was no, and a Windswept Heath found him a second Forest and put the life totals at 19-17 in favor of the Italian. He then made Pernicious Deed and passed the turn. Fortier cracked his second Strand for a Breeding Pool, providing him with all four colors for his deck. He then attacked with his 2/1 and returned the Deed to owner's hand with Venser, Shapr Savant.

Giulio came right back with a Temple Garden that enabled a Loxodon Hierarch. Fortier signaled no fear of the 4/4 or his opponent's Pernicious Deed and played a second Dark Confidant when the turn came back to him; in conjunction with Venser the two would trade for the Hierarch the following turn. A Barra Therapy on Counterspell whiffed, but did reveal Stifle and Thirst for Knowledge. After a Bob attack from his opponent, the totals stood 16-12 in his favor.

Remi decided to quit fooling around and go for the throat, dropping a Trinket Mage for Seat of the Synod, which he then played and tapped for Sensei's Divining Top. Another Barra Loxodon Hierarch met Counterspell, but Fortier's Confidant revealed Thirst for Knowledge, sending him to 9 and potentially posing a relevant threat to his life total if he couldn't get his Divining Top to cover his tracks. He countered Pernicious Deed with Venser, and Barra played Chainer's Edict to take off some of the heat he was facing from his opponent's three bears.

Fortier had Top/Bob going during his upkeep, revealing an Academy ruins and making it unlikely he would be taking damage from the Wizard. His opponent tried for Pernicious Deed for a third time, and was met with a Thirst for Knowledge in response. Fortier found nothing useful, so Topped to see if anything else of relevance was on top. Nothing was, the Deed resolved, and Barra added Sakura-Tribe Elder to the board while Remi played his second copy of Thirst for Knowledge at end of turn.

Confidant revealed Polluted Delta and though he was staring down a Pernicious Deed, things looked good for Remi Fortier. His grip was filled with cards to his opponent's singleton and he had Top, Bob, Academy Ruins, and plenty of lands. Barra seemed to agree, opting for a Deed at four on his next turn immediately instead of waiting for a more opportune moment. Fortier bounced his Top from play to his library, then allowed the sacrifice to occur. Barra had nothing else and passed.

A third Thirst for Knowledge proved to be juicy: Fortier hit a Tarmogoyf. The life totals stood at 8-8, but things weren't looking good for Giulio Barra. The Goyf was going to be causing huge problems for him, provided his opponent didn't forget about the binned Chainer's Edict, and he was running out of options. Things got grimmer as Fortier untapped and played both Top and Counterbalance before playing the Lhurgoyf.

Barra pulled the trigger on his Chainer's Edict flashback, but Fortier calmly revealed the Umezawa's Jitte on top of his library to counter (even though Edict costs seven to flashback, it still has a converted mana cost of two). Equipping the Jitte allowed him to bash his opponent to 2 and all but lock things up. When Giulio Barra's second Chainer's Edict met a Dark Confidant from the top of his opponent's library via Counterbalance, he packed it in for Game 2.

Fortier 1, Barra 0

While sideboarding, Fortier asked his opponent if he would play first. Barra responded "Um... how do you say... before sideboarding?" It was apparent they hadn't completely understood each other, and a judge was called over to explain that a player didn't have to declare whether he or she would play first until after they had sideboarded. Hearing that his opponent would wait to declare, Fortier laughed.

"Okay... but it is not a secret!"

Game 2

The second game started in similar fashion to the first, though with the Italian player opening on the play: Barra had Duress seeing a Flooded Strand, Polluted Delta in duplicate, Thirst for Knowledge, Counterbalance, Counterspell, and Putrefy. He opted to take Counterspell, but didn't seem to know whether that was right or whether he should take Counterbalance more seriously even if his opponent didn't have Sensei's Divining Top. His second turn play was simply a tapped Overgrown Tomb, while Fortier cracked a Polluted Delta at end of turn for a Watery Grave.

Fortier's draw step revealed a Trinket Mage and he sacrificed his second Polluted Delta for Breeding Pool into another topdecked Dark Confidant from turn one. This one proved to not be quite as good as Barra had the Smother on his turn, but Fortier's follow up in Counterbalance promised an interesting game. Though he didn't have Top in play, each time Giulio Barra played a spell, Remi would get a free chance to counter it.

Barra immediately tested the waters with a Duress. Fortier thought for a moment, then remembered to reveal the top card of his library. Hallowed Fountain failed to counter the discard spell, and with a sigh the French player revealed his hand again: Counterspell, Putrefy, Thirst for Knowledge, and Trinket Mage. Barra went into the tank, pointing at Counterspell but not putting it in the graveyard. After some consideration, the table judge informed Giulio he needed to make a decision. He opted to nab the Thirst for Knowledge instead.

A Pernicious Deed followed up the land-kill spell and Fortier opted to sacrifice an untapped Flooded Strand with his Counterbalance trigger on the stack. That let him shuffle his library to remove the Hallowed Fountain, potentially giving him a second shot at countering the three-drop. An Island meant he whiffed, but it also meant he was able to Trinket Mage for Pithing Needle the following turn, turning the Deed off anyway.

Barra remains confident. Giulio didn't seem concerned. He added a Loxodon Hierarch to his board, putting himself to 23 while Remi was at 15, and Counterbalance revealed not a four-drop (Thirst for Knowledge). Barra's attack made things 23-11, but he had no play despite having five lands. An end of turn Putrefy put an end to the pachyderm shenanigans, and when Barra drew for his turn, played a land, and passed, it looked like he was getting mana-flooded.

Remi end-of-turned a Thirst for Knowledge and revealed a juicy hand by discarding Dark Confidant, in addition to Polluted Delta. His opponent managed a third Duress, and when Venser was revealed for Counterbalance Giulio nabbed Remi's Counterspell before passing. That allowed Fortier to play Thirst for Knowledge, and he continued on the offensive with his Trinket Mage, putting his opponent to 17 while still sitting at 11 himself. Giulio's Loxodon Hierarch was met with Venser after Counterbalance whiffed yet again, and for the second game in a row things were not looking good for the Italian.

Remi's bears came in to put Giulio to 13, and when Barra replayed his Hierarch Fortier revealed he had topdecked his third Counterspell, though he missed an opportunity to Counterbalance for free first. Jitte off the top entered play for him but he didn't equip, instead leaving up three lands. The reason? The fourth Counterspell was sitting in his hand.

Giulio took note of the play and asked his opponent how many cards he had. Fortier responed, "three," and Barra looked far less worried about the game state than seemed appropriate. On his turn he revealed why: Krosan Grip on the Pithing Needle set to Deed. Fortier again forgot to reveal for Counterbalance, a triggered ability that can still nab the split second spell, and his board was wiped. He did muster a solid follow-up with Trinket Mage into Sensei's Divining Top, but a game that had been firmly in his grasp had become slightly less so.

Barra came back at the Top / Trinx combo with Pernicious Deed, which ate the Counterspell. He then made Treetop Village before passing. The Top action had been good to Remi, however, and he played Counterbalance and Tarmogoyf with the life totals at 10-6 in his favor. Barra evened the scores up on his turn with a Hierarch that managed to dance through the Counterbalance plus Top, and his two creatures, the 4/4 and his Treetop, threatened to be able to kill his opponent's Tarmogoyf. Fortier didn't seem to mind, attacking with both the Goyf and Trinket Mage.

Giulio had to think. Double-blocking the Goyf might potentially kill it, but unless Fortier had completely missed the Treetop Village being in play, he surely would be prepared for the play. That indicated a Putrefy in hand, which would enable him to 2-for-1 his opponent, removing all the opposing threats from the board. Barra ultimately decided to activate his 3/3, but only opted to block the Trinket Mage with it. The Tarmogoyf's 6 damage dropped him to 4, and he looked to be setting up a Chainer's Edict, having removed his opponent's only other creature.

He wasn't planning the Edict for his turn, however, as he opted not to attack with his Hierarch before chumping Goyf with Treetop Village. When his Vindicate the following turn was met by a three-drop on top of his opponent's deck, he conceded.

Fortier 2, Barra 0

Barra went back to his sideboard in between the games. He needed to find some way to overcome the massive card advantage machine that was Remi Fortier's deck in order for his "fair" Aggro Rock list to go on a 3-0 streak. When he wiped the sweat from his brow it was hard to tell whether it was from the hot lights of the Top 8 stage or the pressure of how much rested on Game 3.

Game 3

Giulio got some help for Game 3 as his opponent had to take the first mulligan of the match. Fortier's six were good, and Barra led with a tapped Overgrown Tomb. His opponent cracked a Flooded Strand for an untapped Watery Grave, then played Chrome Mox and Dark Confidant. If the French player could continue drawing his Invitational cards this well, he seemed a lock for the title.

Barra offered up a simple "Okay" to the play, then cracked a Windswept Heath on his turn for an untapped Godless Shrine. He then played Sakura-Tribe Elder; he really needed a Smother or Chainer's Edict as his two-drop to take control of the game right out of the gates. Instead Bob revealed Umezawa's Jitte, and a third land allowed Fortier to Trinket Mage for a Sensei's Divining Top. Despite mulling to six and losing a card to his Chrome Mox, Fortier's card advantage machine was threatening to take control of the game again, and it was only the second turn!

His opponent had to think about whether he would sacrifice his Tribe Elder or hold it to keep his opponent's forces at bay. He opted to save it for potential blocking duty, then made Vindicate on his opponent's Confidant on his own turn. Fortier crashed in with his Trinket Mage, which was blocked by Tribe Elder, then played his Divining Top. His opponent Duressed, seeing Putrefy, Island, and Umezawa's Jitte. The Jitte went to the graveyard and Barra made Eternal Witness. That garnered a Top activation in response, but the 2/1 resolved, returning Vindicate.

At that point in the match, Jaap Brouwer interceded to urge both players to play faster. They were playing very methodically, but both agreed to speed up.

Fortier manages to look even less concerned. Barra spent his turn Smothering his opponent's Trinket Mage, then attacking for two with his Witness and playing another Tribe Elder. The life totals stood 16-13 in favor of Barra, and Fortier was slightly behind. Still, he had managed to draw and play an Academy Ruins, ensuring he could return his Jitte if it became relevant. His draw yielded no play, and he passed the turn after playing a Polluted Delta that would enable him to assemble the green mana he needed to cast his Putrefy.

Giulio's attack with his 1/1 and 2/1 put Remi to 10, and post-combat Giulio moved to play a spell before stopping. He counted the cards in his opponent's hand, counted his mana, then opted to hold back and pass the turn instead. A Krosan Grip from Barra drew a pouty lip from Fortier, who had tapped his Ruins to activate Top. When his opponent attacked him, he Putrefied Eternal Witness. Naturally Barra played a Loxodon Hierarch, and it was finally Remi Fortier's turn to be on the ropes.

He sacrificed another sac land to put him at 7, then put his Top back on his library with Ruins. Nothing good seemed to be there, and with a resigned "Go," he passed the turn before dropping to 2 from his opponent's attack. After drawing his card for the following turn and Topping to see one additional card, he conceded.

Fortier 2, Barra 1

In between games, Jaap Brouwer again returned to the table, whispering in secret with Giulio Barra. Whatever the two discussed, no penalties were assessed and the players began Game 4.

Game 4

In typical fashion Fortier led with Watery Grave, Mox, Dark Confidant, leaving up on turn two in the event his opponent had Smother or Chainer's Edict (the Mox had Counterbalance imprinted on it). Barra simply sacrificed his Windswept Heath at the end of turn for a Temple Garden before drawing, playing and saccing Bloodstained Mire for a Swamp, and playing Tarmogoyf, the first time he'd seen the creature all match.

Still, with only two lands in either player's graveyard, the Goyf was a measly 1/2. Worse still, Fortier matched it with a Loxodon Hierarch. That certainly dampened the punch of Barra's next turn Duress, especially considering the Italian was stuck on just two lands. A Venser from Fortier allowed him to bash for 6 after removing the Tarmogoyf, and when Barra still didn't have enough lands the following turn, he conceded the game.

Fortier 3, Barra 1

Remi Fortier advances to the Finals!

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