Semifinals: Hard-Knock Life

Posted in Event Coverage on December 3, 2006

By Tim Willoughby

Makihito asked 'high roll?' as the way to determine who would play first. He then proceeded to roll snake eyes, compared with Nassif's seven, a number that matches his total number of Pro Tour Top 8s. Nassif has been Player of the Year, but the title of World Champion has thus far eluded him.

Mihara is known as the designer of the CAL Solitary Confinement deck in Extended. He played it this weekend and went with Dragonstorm in Standard, citing the deck as being easy to play and explosive. Given that the deck has a mathematical chance of winning on the first turn, he's certainly not wrong there.

Game 1

Gabriel Nassif and Mikihito Mihara play a tense, quiet match.

Both players kept their openers, and while Gabriel started with Urza's Power Plant, Mihara had a turn-one suspended Lotus Bloom. Gabriel built his Urzatron for the first couple of turns before successfully playing Martyr of Sands on turn three. Makihito played a Telling Time at the end of turn, trying to build the perfect turn to go off with Dragonstorm, but was thwarted by Nassif's Remand on his Bloom the following turn.

Martyr of Sands went beatdown for a while, but it was the Muse Vessel that Nassif tried that really caused a wince from Mihara. It was Remanded, but seemed very likely to come back and make life troublesome.

Gabriel had many Urza pieces, but no Urza's Tower, so when his Muse Vessel was again hit by Remand, he couldn't play it again. He seemed unconcerned, as while Lotus Bloom was still suspended it looked unlikely that Makihito would be trying to go off just yet.

The following turn, Nassif's Muse Vessel finally made it down, along with Urza's Tower to make using it pretty cost effective. During Nassif's end step, Makihito played Seething Song into Bogardan Hellkite. Unfortunately for Mihara, though, there was another Remand waiting.

Martyr of Sands was sacrificed by Nassif to go up on life just in case, revealing amongst other things the Proclamation of Rebirth that makes the little one drop so powerful in his deck.

On Mihara's turn, his Lotus Bloom was hit by Spell Burst, but he was still able to play Bogardan Hellkite thanks to a Rite of Flame. On Nassif's turn he got back his Martyr, and used both his Martyr and Muse Vessel, getting a Hunted Dragon.

After a swing with Hellkite, it was back to Nassif's turn, who was gaining life faster than Mihara was taking it away. While Mihara did his best, it was not long before Bogardan Hellkite was swinging for five, and Nassif was simply declaring his life total. It went from 50 to over 60, being dropped by 5 but increasing by 16 each turn.

When Nassif's Condemn took the life totals to 63 and 20, it looked that it was all over. A flashed Spell Burst was enough to prompt Mihara's concession.

Mihara 1 - 0 Nassif

Shame on you for gaining all that life.

If Game 1 was tough for Mihara, it was not going to be any easier in the second. With Circle of Protection: Red and Evangelize likely coming in, it would be very tough for Dragonstorm to get through sufficient damage. Against Nassif's deck, reducing an opponent from 20 to 0 requires a few extra steps. In the quarterfinals, Nassif's life total in a single game got to over 15 times what it began at. The key would be to get a very quick win, as without speed, Mihara's deck had little at all.

Game 2

Mihara stared with a Lotus Bloom suspend, while Nassif had a turn one Martyr of Sands, who got to go beatdown, and was backed up by a Circle of Protection: Red on turn two. This alone would likely force a Gigadrowse before going off for Mihara, unless he could go off well in the very next turn.

On turn four, the Lotus Bloom came in, and was joined in acceleration by Rite of Flame and three Seething Songs. This made a storm of five. The first Bogardan Hellkite took Nassif to 14 and killed Martyr of Sands. The next one's damage was prevented by Nassif's Circle. The third worked, taking Nassif to 9, while the fourth's damage was prevented. Two Hunted Dragons then came in, of which only one could be halted by Nassif's CoP. Nassif needed to draw Urza's Mine in order to have a full Urzatron - allowing enough activations to stop all of the dragon attacks, as the big Dragonstorm had taken him down to three. He did not draw it though, and had to scoop them up.

Mihara 1 - 1 Nassif

Game 3

For the third consecutive game, both players had opening grips deemed good enough, and this time Nassif took the lead, playing a turn-one Martyr of Sands. Mihara again had Lotus Bloom.

On turn two, Nassif had an Azorius Signet, which allowed for a Muse Vessel to be powered out on turn three. The following turn, Nassif completed his Urzatron and used his Muse Vessel just by tapping Urza's Tower. The following turn, when Lotus Bloom unsuspended, it was countered by a Spell Burst, with buyback.

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

Mihara had to go with a different plan, and this he did in Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. Each turn, though, he was losing an extra card to Muse Vessel, and things started to look dangerous when a Mountain went under there, potentially meaning that the Bogardan Hellkite that had been bottled might be let out by the Frenchman.

Attacks on successive turns from Mihara took Nassif down to 12, but with Martyr of Sands in play, Nassif didn't seem immediately concerned. Teferi had stuck, but the legend had a lot of work to do. All the while, Mihara was building counters on Dreadship Reefs in order to potentially storm up some more damage.

With the help of a Rite of Flame and these counters, Mihara successfully got a Bogardan Hellkite into play, killing the Martyr - who couldn't help out Nassif - and, in turn, killing Yellow Hat himself.

Mihara 2 - 1 Nassif

Game 4

Neither player had a mulligan, and Nassif led off with an Adarkar Wastes. For the first couple of turns all Mihara had was back-to-back Sleight of Hand, while Nassif accelerated with an Azorius Signet.

Gabriel used Compulsive Research, discarding Adarkar Wastes, which found him the first part of his Urzatron, an Urza's Tower. For Mihara it was all build-up, with Telling Time digging to improve his 'one big turn' whenever it may happen.

Nassif got up to three Azorius Signets but was running a little light on actual lands. He stopped and thought carefully before playing a Martyr of Sands. Makihito simply drew and passed the turn.

Nassif thinks carefully.

In an effort to slow Makihito's mana development, Gabriel played a Faith's Fetters on Calciform Pools. It looked that Mihara was looking to go off though, as he used Gigadrowse to target Nassif's lone untapped land. He responded with a sacrifice on his Martyr - revealing two Proclamation of Rebirth and Faith's Fetters - only to have the ability stopped by Trickbind.

It was time for Mihara to go for it. Thanks to double Rite of Flame, he got up to nine mana, tapping all his available lands, and played three Dragonstorm to fetch three Bogardan Hellkites. This took Nassif to just 9, while his opponent remained relatively safe on 17 with three dragons.

The pundits had Mihara as a bit of an underdog in this matchup, but judging by the troubled look on Nassif's face following his draw, this match could have been decided by the three dragons. The Faith's Fetters in his hand would take him to 13, and stop one of the monsters facing him, but that would not get him far enough.

Compulsive Research

Instead, Nassif went for Compulsive Research. This literally drew him the perfect cards for the situation; with 3 mana sources up, he drew a fourth and a Wrath of God. The roar from the crowd in the other room could be heard all the way over here, and Nassif turned to look disparagingly toward the commentator booths. Don't you people realise he has a World Championships to win?

With the immediate pressure off, Nassif used the forecast on Proclamation of Rebirth to bring back Martyr of Sands. It seemed that Mihara wasn't about to let his chance slip away, though. He had an end-of-turn Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, followed up by a Hunted Dragon. These took Gabriel to a precarious 3, which soon became a lot safer when he sacrificed his Martyr to get to 15 life again. The following turn, Faith's Fetters on the hasty Dragon made it 19. Nearly back where we started. Nassif played Martyr #2 and passed.

The Dragonstorm deck seemed to be out of gas, with Mihara playing draw spells and little else for a turn or two while Nassif worked his Proclamation of Rebirth tricks to outpace anything his opponent could do. Gabriel had an Urza's Factory, but was in no hurry to use it, instead putting himself further and further out of reach so that he could buy time to build a win. By now Nassif was revealing three Proclamation of Rebirth with every Martyr activation, and even the arrival of Hunted Dragon and Bogardan Hellkite off a one-storm Dragonstorm was not enough to put serious pressure on a life total that was shooting up every turn. After 11 points of attacks, Nassif was on 19, and there seemed no danger of Nassif dying to damage in any great hurry.

Eventually Nassif started attacking with his martyrs and the Knight tokens from Hunted Dragon, dropping Mihara to 8.

Nassif explained that he was now gaining more per turn than his opponent could possibly deal, having all the creatures in his deck exhausted. After a brief pause for translation, it was on to the deciding game.

Game 5

For the first time in the match, Mihara was forced to mulligan, and on the play no less. He did have a suspended turn 1 Lotus bloom in his opening six though, so there still looked likely to be a game. Nassif went with a turn one Weathered Wayfarer, and chose to use it on turn two following Mihara's Dreadship Reef to make it two lands. He played a Hallowed Fountain for the turn, and cast Martyr of Sands.

'…judging by the troubled look on Nassif's face…'

The following turn, Mihara declined to play a land, and indeed the only play he had was to put a counter on Dreadship Reef as Nassif attacked.

For Mihara's turn, Lotus Bloom did arrive, but then before the Japanese draw step Nassif used Disenchant on it. Mihara sacked it in response, floating three mana. Following the draw, unsatisfied with his ability to go off, Mihara put another counter on his Reef, and used it as a sink for the Lotus mana.

Just from attacks with 1/1 creatures, Mihara was down to 14. Nassif couldn't pile on the pressure, but each little plink did work Mihara from, now to 12. Makihito just continued to build counters on his land, looking to kill all in one go.

He was taken down to 10 by the next swings, and with a Proclamation of Rebirth, Wrath of God and another Martyr in hand, Nassif gained 9 life with a Martyr before playing the second.

Now it was time for the Japanese player to go off. Mihara played Rite of Flame with 6 remaining cards in hand, followed by a second, which met a Spell Burst from Nassif. Mihara played Remand targeting his own spell in order to be able to resolve it again and looked to rebuild his mana, with storm already looking pretty good. Unfortunately, he couldn't quite get up to Dragonstorm, just playing a Bogardan Hellkite, which, given Martyr of Sands' little dance, only took Nassif to 30. Nassif's Wrath of God soon followed to clear the board.

Another Rite of Flame allowed for a second Hellkite the following turn, taking Nassif to 25, but with Proclamation of Rebirth bringing back the Martyr, it seemed unlikely to stay that way.

The Bogardan Hellkite took Nassif down to 20 on a swing, and on Gabriel's turn he tapped out to use Proclamation of Rebirth's forecast, getting a second Martyr.

Mihara checked Nassif's life total on his turn, as Nassif was fully tapped out from the forecast on Proclamation of Rebirth. Upon confirming that the total was 20, Mihara went for a blistering double Seething SongDragonstorm to get the remaining two Bogardan Hellkites and Hunted Dragon. 10 damage from the new Hellkites and 11 from attacks were enough to finish Nassif off. Mihara's incredible finish took the game and the match.

Mihara 3 - 2 Nassif

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