Tom Martell battled back to earn his spot in the semifinals, winning his last four matches after hitting his second loss (with a tie) early on day two. His four-color Counterbalance list had endured Goblins, Burn, and two feature matches to get where he was sitting now.
That loss? The man standing between him and a berth in the finals, Jason Ford, running Standstill.
With both decks relying on Force of Will and two-mana blue enchantments, the match threatened to last long into the night if neither player seized any initial advantage. And it didn't disappoint. Or it did, depending on how long you like your untimed semifinal matches.
Martell kicked off the action with a first turn Sensei's Divining Top, which he activated in his following upkeep, while Ford has his deck's namesake enchantment, Standstill, threatening to slow down what already was a pretty slow matchup. He even had the Mishra's Factory to make it threatening to let sit.
A few turns of "draw go" and "draw, Top, go" kept things moving along. Ford Wastelanded a Tundra and played a Pernicious Deed. Martell had multiple Tops on the table, but nothing else to worry about with Deed. He continued to activate Top to find an edge.
"Which one?" Ford asked. Martell simply pointed at one. Next time Martell Topped Ford simply asked "Same one?"
Ford then attempted to resolve Jace, the Mind Sculptor, tapping out to do so and kicking off a flurry of spells. Martell responded with a Vendillion Clique, which met a Force of Will pitching Spell Pierce. That, in turn, was met with Brainstorm/shuffle and Top draw and activate. Martell played Force of Will, targeting the original Force, which Ford let resolve, only to again attempt to counter the Clique with another Force of Will. Another Force of Will from Martell countered the Jace.
Follow all that?
When the dust settled, neither Jace nor the Clique entered the battlefield, and both of Martell's Tops were in his library.
After the carnage of the previous turn, Martell played a Tarmogoyf, possibly to bait the Pernicious Deed. Only Ford instead played Innocent Blood, then attempted to Wasteland Martell's black-bordered Tropical Island.
"Can you please target the white-bordered one? For the coverage?" Martell asked. Ford relented.
Still, the Counterbalance/Top was enough to convince Ford to activate the Deed for two, enabling him to resolve a Standstill Martell would have to break since he had no way to deal with the Factory otherwise. And he did with a Sensei's Divining Top followed by a Tarmogoyf.
The Standsill let Ford find yet another Pernicious Deed, which he activated for two. Martell flipped his Top to his library, then binned the Tarmogoyf. Ford then used his Wasteland to target Martell's Flooded Strand, which kept him from activating it for fear of losing the Top.
The reason was soon clear, as Innocent Blood killed the offending 5/6.
Martell continued to play threats, as a Jace began to use its plus-two ability to Fateseal Ford. Factory continued attacking, but now aimed at the Planeswalker. The pattern repeated itself for several turns as Martell used the time Jace bought to work his Tops.
Over, and over, and over again…
Meanwhile, Saito and Durward were in game three. It was that kind of match.
Eventually, approximately 87 turns later, Martell broke the virtual standstill (not to be confused with the actual card) with a Vendillion Clique, which revealed Life from the Loam, two Ghastly Demise, and an Innocent Blood. Ford hard cast Force of Will, and Martell countered with, well, Counterspell. The Clique took Life from the Loam, and then died to Innocent Blood.
And Jace and Mishra's Factory began their little dance again. However, this time Martell attempted to Swords to Plowshares the Factory. Ford chose to preserve it in his graveyard for a future Life from the Loam by Ghastly Demising his own land.
And then the players went back to doing a whole lot of nothing, Jacing, and Topping, not necessarily in that order.
After all the nothing, Martell finally found a Counterbalance which also finally prompted Ford to activate his final Pernicious Deed. Martell flipped both of his Tops to his library, but the Counterbalance fell.
Following the pattern of brief periods of action between the spaces of not much happening, Ford Brainstormed, followed by a Standstill and a Mishra's Factory. Meanwhile, Jace sat just short of ultimate at 11 counters. Factory was going to be in survival mode, keeping Jace from winning the game outright.
"One short," said Martell.
A second Mishra's Factory allowed Ford to pump for three damage to Jace, and he even had the Force of Will to stop Swords to Plowshares. However, a Tarmogoyf and the Top/Counterbalance lock was enough to finally convince Ford to move on to Game 2.
Tom Martell – 1 Jason Ford – 0
"I'm borderline going to fall asleep. I haven't eaten anything today, I'm tired of playing, and I'm still not convinced this deck is good," said Ford as he shuffled up after game one lasted over an hour.
The first action of the game was Martell's turn three Counterbalance after both players hit their first land drops. A Spell Pierce met Red Elemental Blast, allowing Martell the luxury of an early Counterbalance. Though any flips would have to be blind for the time being.
"Hold on, I'm going to think about what I'm going to do with him," said Martell.
Soon, Martell also had a Top active. With Jace, Top and Counterbalance all working, Ford was going to have to find some serious Magic to force game three.
Martell tried to find a clock with Vendilion Clique, but Ford had a Counterspell, one of the few spells he would resolve the rest of the game, as Jace began sealing Ford's fate. Pernicious Deed was countered by Counterbalance (Krosan Grip , but Ford did manage to find a Mishra's Factory, but the previously revealed Krosan Grip kept it from ever touching Jace. And a few turns later, Ford extended his hand.
Tom Martell – 2 Jason Ford – 0
Tom Martell advances to the finals against Tomoharu Saito.