As soon as the Top 4 was announced, this became the talk of the event site. The two biggest teams in the Top 4 were poised for a Semifinals matchup that no one was going to want to miss. On one side, three of the best Japanese players the world has ever seen in Tomoharu Saito, Shouta Yasooka, and Katsuhiro Mori. On the other side, the foreign invasion force of Rich Hoaen, Alexander Hayne, and Mike Hron. Combined, the two teams have over fifty Grand Prix Top 8s, thirteen Pro Tour Top 8s, and five Pro Tour wins. This was set to be an epic match, and it certainly didn't disappoint.
It was very curious to see the two teams' decks after their draft. Somehow, the teams ended up splitting the colors such that Hayne, Hron, and Hoaen had no blue or green drafters, while Saito, Yasooka, and Mori had no black drafters. Such an extreme skew is rare to see, even in a six-man draft like this. In the end, both teams appeared quite happy with their decks.
Alexander Hayne (Black/Red) vs. Shouta Yasooka (Green/White/Blue)
Hayne and Yasooka were the first match to finish, though it took a full three games to get a result. Yasooka was the first up to bat, landing an early Fleecemane Lion, which he proceeded to turn into a monster on the fourth turn. Normally, this would signal an aggressive posture, but Hayne's deck had come out swinging, as well. Between Erebos's Emissary, Ill-Tempered Cyclops, and Felhide Minotaur, Hayne had quite an army, forcing Yasooka's Lion to play defensive duties. The role of offense was relegated to a Staunch-Hearted Warrior onto which Yasooka bestowed a Thassa's Emissary. The 7/7 got in for one hit before being cut down to size by a full defensive effort from Hayne, who lost his own monstrous Cyclops in the process.
With one 7/7 removed, Hayne was disheartened to see Yasooka tap eight mana to make a 7/7 Mistcutter Hydra to replace it. He had to take the hit before he was able to untap and kill it with Sip of Hemlock. These two massive swings ended up being too much, as it let the Lion begin to attack. Hayne's defensive efforts proved futile, as Yasooka added an Agent of Horizons and Wavecrash Triton on his next turn to seal the way to victory.
As exciting as the first game had been, the second was anticlimactic to the same degree. Hayne got rolling with an Arena Athlete wearing some big boy pants. Yasooka tried to set up defenses with Pheres-Band Centaurs and Mistcutter Hydra, but they both died to Sip of Hemlock. When Hayne used a third Sip to remove a Wavecrash Triton, Yasooka just laughed and picked up his cards.
"Ok," he said nodding.
That laughter died quickly in the final game of the match, as he found himself behind once again. This time, an Insatiable Harpy picked up a Dragon Mantle and began to drastically change both players' life totals. Yasooka looked to be getting back into the swing of things with a Fabled Hero with Feral Invocation, but a Sip of Hemlock sent it to an early grave. The same held true for a Nimbus Naiad-wearing Wavecrash Triton that Yasooka tried to use for defense. With his gas depleted and no answer for Hayne's troops, Yasooka conceded and turned to lend aid to his teammates.
Mike Hron (Black/Red) vs. Katsuhiro Mori (Blue/Red)
This match was not as quick as the one between Hayne and Yasooka, but it was certainly less interesting, mostly because both decks were so insanely defensive. Mori's deck featured two copies of Akroan Horse to spew out a neverending stream of defenders. Hron's deck, meanwhile, was a heavy black deck that tended towards longer games with his Gray Merchants of Asphodel.
In the first game, things played out just like this, with Mori finding both of his Horses, while Gray Merchant drained a large chunk of life for Hron once the board cluttered with tokens. With the ground stall looming, Hron peeled a Mogis's Marauder, allowing him to swing with his team and knock Mori down to 4. He followed up with an Insatiable Harpy, and Mori couldn't find an answer before the flier finished him off.
In the second game, the Insatiable Harpy and Gray Merchant once again set up the lifegain express, matched by a more aggressive board from Mori. A Crackling Triton with Ordeal of Purphoros was able to deal with the Insatiable Harpy, but the pressure soon came back in the form of Mogis's Marauder. Again down to 4, Mori was forced to sacrifice his biggest threat, the Triton, to kill a freshly-cast Blood-Toll Harpy in order to stay alive. Mori did manage to slightly stabilize with a second Akroan Horse, but a pair of regenerating Deathbellow Raiders were able to rip through Mihara's defenses and eventually finish the match.
Rich Hoaen (White/Black) vs. Tomoharu Saito (Green/Blue)
Though the match was already decided, and Hron, Hoaen, and Hayne were already headed to the finals, it would be unfair not to include the epic match between Rich Hoaen and Tomoharu Saito. Hoaen started down, forced to mulligan to six on the play. The board developed slowly, mostly due to Saito's reasonably defensive front. Sylvan Caryatid and Wavecrash Triton forced Hoaen to keep his team of small white creatures at bay, leaving him to just build up his board. This ultimately played into Hoaen's hand, as his ever-increasing number of white permanents allowed him to drop Heliod, God of the Sun, and animate it.
Saito kept things interesting, adding enchantment after enchantment to his Wavecrash Triton. This not only kept much of Hoaen's team intermittently tapped, it also gave him a potent attacker. Hoaen was forced to stop building his board at one point, needing to spend his mana to make tokens with Heliod to chump block with. Fortunately, he had already managed to sneak a Triad of Fates into play, giving him plenty of defensive options.
And he was going to need them. The attacks from the growing Triton had dropped him down to a meager 4 life before he was able to start chump blocking. This left a slight window for Saito to kill Hoaen, but the Limited master had a timely Ray of Dissolution to get rid of an attempted Nimbus Naiad, which would have been immediately lethal.
As things slowed down, and Hoaen drew more and more mana sources, he began to crawl into control of the game. He soon found himself able to make two tokens a turn, and his army began to actually grow. Within a few turns, he dominated the board. Still at a perilously low life total, Hoaen managed to generate enough offense that he could finish Saito off before he could poke through for the last little bit.
"That was impressive," Hayne congratulated Hoaen after the game. "I wasn't sure if you'd pull that out early."
After an intense first game, the second game was a more straightforward affair. Hoaen got on the board early, using a Triad of Fates and Cavalry Pegasus as a source of offense. It got even more dangerous when he bestowed a Hopeful Eidolon on the Triad. Thanks to the Pegasus, the Triad flew over for large chunks of life each turn. Saito tried to stop it with a Spearpoint Oread/Leafcrown Dryad combination, but a Battlewise Valor put an end to that plan. From there, Saito found himself unable to stop Hoaen from attacking a few more times to kill him.