Semifinals: Playing Champions for a shot at the Championship

Posted in Event Coverage on February 17, 2008

By Nate Price

A longtime member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage staff, Nate Price now works making beautiful words for all of you lovely people as the community manager for organized play. When not covering events, he lords over the @MagicProTour Twitter account, ruling with an iron fist.

Game 1

Both players jockeyed for the early lead with a couple of quick creatures. Xu had a Tideshaper Mystic on the first turn, while Pascoli had a Fire-Belly Changeling and Seething Pathblazer on consecutive turns. Xu dropped the first bomb of the game with a turn three Drowner of Secrets. Pascoli had a quick return salvo himself as Eyeblight's Ending ended the Drowner before more than a single card could be milled. He also chose to Tarfire the Mystic out of the way, clearing the ground for his two creatures.

Xu started rebuilding with a Streambed Aquitects and Stonybrook Schoolmaster. Pascoli was recruiting for his army as well, and War-Spike Changeling answered the call. By this point he had blown most of his load and, while sporting a nice little army, had only one card left in his hand. Xu dropped a Stonybrook Schoolmaster into the war zone, I'm sure wishing he still had the Drowner around to give him a reason to turn sideways.

The Changeling Berserker Pascoli played on the next turn didn't need a reason other than his five power to turn sideways. He came down, pushed the Fire-Belly Changeling to the side, and dragged the Seething Pathblazer along for the ride. Xu decided to toss his Aquitects in front of the Pathblazer, the Elemental took offense and ate the War-Spike Changeling to take the Aquitects down.

Xu took advantage of the clear lane to send his Stonybrook Schoolmaster at Pascoli. He followed that up with an Ethereal Whiskergill that was large enough to eat any of Pascoli's men. Pascoli really needed the lane clear and used a Lash Out to take the big flier down. He then sent his team across the table, which forced Xu to chump block the Berserker with his Merfolk token. This left the Schoolmaster as his lone creature and put him down to a mere six life.

Xu attacked with his Schoolmaster to grab himself another token and then played an Aethersnipe returning the Seething Pathblazer to Pascoli's hand. Pascoli sent his Berserker in for more beats on the following turn, and Xu's Aethersnipe stepped in front and took one for the team. Pascoli just replayed his Pathblazer and followed it up with a Release the Ants to kill Xu's token, again leaving him with solely a Schoolmaster.

Xu tapped out on his next turn to play the rarely seen Knowledge Exploitation. After thumbing through Pascoli's deck, Xu snapped up a Violet Pall to kill the Seething Pathblazer, but Pascoli was smart enough to sacrifice the Elemental Shaman to its own activated ability, denying Xu the Faerie token. Pascoli didn't have a play on his next turn, and he was left very little in the way of offense. It was just his Fire-Belly Changeling against Xu's Stonybrook Schoolmaster. With Xu at six Pascoli couldn't kill him and decided to just pass the turn back to Xu.

Xu smashed in with his Schoolmaster, nothing too special there, but he raised an eyebrow when Pascoli blocked with his Fire-Belly Changeling. Pascoli pumped the Changeling enough to trade with the Schoolmaster, but with damage on the stack, he reinforced the Changeling with a Brighthearth Banneret. That left nothing in play except a lone Merfolk token for Xu, and a Fire-Belly Changeling with an important two toughness for Pascoli. Xu had no other play, and sent the game back over to Pascoli.

Pascoli attacked in with his Fire-Belly, and Xu declined to block. Pascoli pumped his Changeling twice, knocking Xu to two. Xu had nothing on the following turn, and sent the turn back to Pascoli with many lands open, and a few cards in hand. Pascoli wasn't about to chance losing the game to a Neck Snap or Coordinated Barrage, especially since he had no replacement for his Changeling if it died. So, instead of attacking, he just passed the turn content to wait on a burn spell.

A Paperfin Rascal from Xu showed a Coordinated Barrage on top of his deck, and allowed Pascoli to put a Swamp on the bottom of his deck. Xu was almost completely stabilized now. Unfortunately, board stability means nothing when your opponent draws and plays a Shard Volley to finish you off, which is exactly what Pascoli did to take the first game.

Pascoli 1, Xu 0

Game 2

Pascoli managed to deal enough early damage the last game that he could scrape his way to enough damage to put the game away. Even with the barrage of early damage and removal spells, Xu was almost able to stabilize and turn the game around.

This game, his Amoeboid Changeling was slightly trumped by Pascoli's turn two Festercreep. Festercreep can be huge against Merfolk decks since they tend toward a swarm of one-toughness creatures. Unfazed, Xu dropped another turn three Drowner of Secrets which, with a little support, could make short work of Pascoli's deck since it came down so early. All Pascoli could do was play a Sunflare Shaman on his next turn and let Xu start the milling.

Sadly for Xu, it was going to be hard to add more reinforcements since he was unable to draw a fourth land. Not only that, but all of his lands were Islands. Fortunately, his Paperfin Rascal revealed that help was on the way in the form of another Island. However, it was slow coming, especially in the face of Pascoli's Changeling Berserker. You only have so many five-point chunks of life.

Xu's fourth Island, while not allowing him access to his white cards, did allow him to drop a huge blocker in the form of Ethereal Whiskergill. By this point, all of Xu's milling was playing into Pascoli's Sunflare Shaman, and he casually picked up his graveyard to count the Elementals. He decided to aim a Shard Volley at the Whiskergill at the cost of a Swamp. This let him send his Changeling Berserker in for a beating. Xu couldn't really block thanks to the Sunflare Shaman, so he let the Changeling drop him to ten.

The next turn sent three more cards into Pascoli's graveyard. Xu sped through his next turn as it passed without a Plains. He finally managed to use a Disperse to deal with the Berserker during the next attack, and Broken Ambitions killed it for good. Pascoli left the Fire-Belly Changeling on top rather than risk losing a better card to the Drowner's hit crew, as well as feeding his Sunflare Shaman. A second Sunflare Shaman hit play, which might actually end up being the death of Xu since, with five Elementals in play, Pascoli could just aim both of his Shamen at Xu's head to do the last ten points of damage.

Xu finally drew his Plains, but he was in a tight spot staring down at those two Shamans. He declined to do anything on his turn, though, and just played the Plains and passed the turn to Pascoli. Pascoli threw the first of the Elemental firecrackers at Xu's head before untapping and throwing the second. Xu had nothing he could do about the second activation and packed his cards up.

Pascoli 2, Xu 0

Game 3

Pascoli's first play of the third game was last game's all-star—Sunflare Shaman. Unsurprisingly, Xu had a Drowner of Secrets for the third game in a row, and, as we learned last game, that could lead to some very interesting things down the road. When Pascoli sent his Shaman in to attack on the following turn, Xu hesitated before blocking, perhaps fearing the Brighthearth Banneret he saw the previous two games. Instead of the Banneret, though, Pascoli had a Peppersmoke in hand to shrink the Drowner to a manageable level.

Festercreep made another appearance for Pascoli, perhaps serving as Berserker Changeling fodder on a future turn. Xu made a Paperfin Rascal on the following turn, which revealed an Eyeblight's Ending on top of Pascoli's deck. Pascoli didn't want to wait on his Sunflare Shaman to become useful, and just sent him into attack. The Rascal traded with him, which I'm sure both players were content with, especially since Pascoli just replaced it with a War-Spike Changeling.

Xu had an Ethereal Whiskergill on the following turn. Whiskergill thus far has been nothing more than a removal magnet for Xu, but this time Pascoli didn't need to kill it immediately since it couldn't block the War-Spike without dying. It couldn't, but the Neck Snap Xu had waiting for it could, and the Changeling went down hard.

Xu had another Drowner of secrets on the following turn, which he played right into Pascoli's Eyeblight's Ending. When Pascoli tried to end the Drowner, though, Xu calmly Dispersed it back to his hand. All Pascoli did on the following turn was draw his card and pass the turn with a huge number of lands open. He only had two cards in hand, and it appeared that he may be running out of steam. Xu added a Streambed Aquitects to his team, which would give his Whiskergill a way to finally get over and attack Pascoli. Since Xu was still at 16 and all Pascoli had was a Festercreep, the race was well in his favor. He made it even more so after combat by championing the Whiskergill with a Changeling Hero.

Pascoli played a Sunflare Shaman that could eventually be a problem, but for now its potential damage was too small to kill the Hero. When Xu played an Aethersnipe on the following turn it seemed that he would put the game away in short order. All Pascoli could do was replay the Shaman and play a Pathblazer.

Xu went on the offensive, sending his Changeling Hero at Pascoli and knocking him to eight. It also put him up to 24 so there would be very little chance for any Sunflare shenanigans like last game. When Xu sent his Changeling Hero in on the following turn Pascoli chump blocked with his Sunflare Shaman and then tossed the Shaman at Xu's Aquitects. That prevented Xu from gaining any more life, as well as getting rid of the pesky creature-pumper. He tried to add some fat of his own to his team, but Xu was ready for his Axegrinder Giant with a Sage's Dousing.

Xu kept sending his Changeling Hero in to attack, but this time Pascoli was able to get rid of it by blocking with his Pathblazer and sacrificing his Festercreep to give it first strike. However, he was down to a lonely Pathblazer and facing a giant army with no gas left in his tank. He peeked at his next card and packed the game in.

Xu 1, Pascoli 2

Game 4

Xu got on the board quite quickly with a turn two Deeptread Merrow. Pascoli started the game off quite laboriously and didn't get to play a creature until turn 5, which let the roguish Merfolk get in for a hefty chunk of damage. The toll looked like it would continue to rise, too, when Pascoli's attempted Thundercloud Shaman got hit with a Sage's Dousing.

Pascoli wasn't too deterred though, and used Makeshift Mannequin to bring the Thundercloud Shaman back, killing Xu's Merrow. The following turn Xu paid the full amount to play a Latchkey Faerie which combined with a Cloak and Dagger he had played earlier to make a pesky five-powered clock.

Pascoli was set with a clock of his own, though, and played an Inner-Flame Acolyte pumping itself, and sent his two creatures across to smack Xu for eight. Xu wasn't having any of that though, and his Disperse proved lethal to Pascoli's makeshift Thundercloud Shaman. The Acolyte still got in for four, and then Pascoli passed the turn.

Xu had another Drowner of Secrets, which served the dual purpose of providing an alternate kill condition in case Pascoli found a way to kill his Faerie and, more importantly, providing a little wall that the Acolyte couldn't attack through. The Latchkey Faerie turned sideways a few more times and there was nothing Pascoli could do to stop it as his life total dwindled away to nothing.

Xu 2, Pascoli 2

Game 5

Time for the rubber game, boys! Pascoli got a much faster start for the final game, and his turn two Sunflare Acolyte was able to get in for a quick couple of beats. Xu didn't have the third-turn Drowner of Secrets this game. In fact, he didn't have anything until he played a Stonybrook Schoolmaster the following turn. By this point the Shaman had eaten four of his life and had even managed to pick up a Blind-Spot Giant buddy along the way.

Pascoli didn't have another Giant to go with it on turn five, but he did have something better—Chandra Nalaar. The fiery red-head immediately sautéed the Schoolmaster to a crisp. Xu evoked an Aethersnipe on the following turn to bounce Chandra. He left two mana open, signaling that he had the Negate to deal with her permanently. Rather than indulge him, though, Pascoli simply played a War-Spike Changeling, allowing his Blind-Spot Giant to attack, and dropping Xu to eight. Xu was forced to Negate a Lash Out on his lone blocker the following turn, which let Pascoli get his Chandra back into play. Xu had nothing he could do at this point and conceded the match.

Pascoli 3 – Xu 2

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