Semifinals: Rally Caps

Posted in Event Coverage on April 22, 2007

By Tim Willoughby

Both Mark Herberholz and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa had beaten red-green big mana decks in the Quarterfinals, and they found themselves in a pseudo-mirror for the semis. Each of their decks focuses on getting maximum value out of Mystical Teachings, finding the appropriate answer at the appropriate moment, and eventually grinding out a card-advantage win.

Game 1

Neither player had a mulligan, and Guillaume was on the play, leading with Islands and a Dreadship Reef, along with a turn-three Prismatic Lens. The start from Herberholz was identical, if a turn behind. The first point of difference was an extra Prismatic Lens from Wafo-Tapa, while Heezy had a second storage land, which in the long run would mean even more mana.

Guillaume's eighth land was an Urza's Factory, and he passed the turn. Mark played Mystical Teachings for another Mystical Teachings and charged his lands some more before untapping and passing. It was now that Wafo-Tapa's Urza's Factory started to spit out 2/2 Assembly-Workers, for the first damage of the game.

Mark used his second Mystical Teachings to find Haunting Hymn at the end of turn, then played it targeting his opponent. A great test spell for counters, it met a Cancel, by way of Mystical Teachings. Cancel came back from Herberholz. Guillaume showed another. Mark too had a second Cancel. The Haunting Hymn resolved and stripped the Frenchman's hand down to nothing. In this control mirror, that could be enough to end it all.

To reload, Wafo-Tapa flashed back Mystical Teachings to find another. He continued his quiet assault with a single Assembly Worker. At the end of turn, Mark flashed back Mystical Teachings, finding Extirpate. He chose to charge his Dreadship Reef rather than playing it immediately, waiting for juicier targets than those Guillaume already had in his graveyard. On his turn, Herberholz used Careful Consideration to restock and played an Urza's Factory of his own, though without the mana up to use it.

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and Mark Herberholz, contenders for the PT-Yokohama crown.

Wafo-Tapa beat Mark down to 10 with an ever-increasing army of Assembly-Workers. At the end of this turn Herberholz used that Extirpate, targeting Cancel, and finding one in his opponent's hand along with Careful Consideration, Mystical Teachings, and Aeon Chronicler. Herberholz had cited his three copies of Extirpate as being key in the matchup. He could clearly use them to make counter battles easier, but they were also useful for information-concerning both his opponent's hand and, in future games, sideboarding strategies.

A flashed back Mystical Teachings found Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, and Mark was not hesitant to put the legend right into play; Wafo-Tapa was virtually tapped out, and Mark knew what was in his hand.

Guillaume used his Careful Consideration, then Mystical Teachings, to find Sudden Death as a sure-fire way to kill the legend-which was done immediately, before he could potentially be forced to lose it (for example to an Extirpate on the Sudden Death already in his graveyard).

Mark played another Mystical Teachings, finding Careful Consideration, which was immediately played, discarding a land and Teferi's Moat. This card-drawing spell finally yielded the Damnation required to clear the immediate danger to Mark's life total on the board… for now.

Wafo-Tapa used another Careful Consideration, shortly followed by yet another. In spite of the hot studio lighting in the Top 8 area, both players were wearing fleeces and appeared quite chilled-relaxed and ready to play their respective best games. Herberholz had 12 mana sources (including 3 storage lands, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Urza's Factory), while Wafo-Tapa had "only" 10, with just one storage land.

What Guillaume did have was a pair of suspended Aeon Chroniclers, though, each suspended for just one turn. Mark didn't seem too keen on this, and used Pull into Eternity on one at the end of turn, letting the other one hit play for just long enough for a 10-point Tendrils of Corruption. Suddenly Mark was at 15 again, with huge amounts of mana at his disposal. Wafo-Tapa went back to the Assembly-Worker plan.

Sudden Death did for the first of Wafo-Tapa's Assembly-Workers, and for the first time, Mark got to make one of his own. In fact, the Assembly-Workers came thick and fast from both sides for several turns, though neither player could stick any real creature advantage in the matchup, with trades being frequent between the 2/2s.

In order to break the stalemate, Wafo-Tapa tried for Teferi, only to see a Cancel from Heezy waiting. A Draining Whelk allowed it to resolve, but ultimately it was all for nought, as Mark had the Damnation to clear things once again. Slowly but surely, Mark was answering Guillaume's threats, without committing too much himself. The next threat from the Frenchman looked a good one, in the form of Triskelavus, who made it in just fine. Immediately, Wafo-Tapa removed all the counters from his flyer, to diversify the threats on his board.

Mark played Damnation. He took three from Triskelavites on the way out, but he was still at 12. Mark made an Assembly-Worker at the end of turn and attacked with it. Guillaume's deck was looking significantly smaller than his graveyard now, and it seemed that Game 1 might come down to decking. While Guillaume had Academy Ruins in his deck, Mark could use Extirpate to remove the Triskelavus and break up the natural decking potential in Wafo-Tapa's build.

Mark did now have a second Urza's Factory and was trying to run the beatdown where he could.

Guillaume snuck through some damage by using Snapback on the potential blocker for his 2/2 token, before playing his Ruins, threatening infinite Triskelavus. Mystical Teachings for Teferi was allowed to resolve, but the legend itself met Draining Whelk, giving Herberholz a 6/6 flyer with which to beat.

With storage lands having gotten fat over the course of the game, each player had access to reserves of over 30 mana in a single turn if necessary. At this point, Draining Whelk becomes a counter that can come from nowhere. The other consequence of having so many lands out is that spells like Tendrils of Corruption become thoroughly out of hand. Guillaume used his on Draining Whelk to go up to 29 life. So much for beatdown.

Wafo-Tapa returned his Triskelavus with Academy Ruins and replayed it, again turning it into four creatures at the earliest opportunity. Mark made two Assembly-Worker tokens and untapped, drew and passed for his turn. Now it was Wafo-Tapa's turn to make tokens and in turn to attack with them. Herberholz used a Temporal Isolation on Triskelavus and dropped to 7 on the attacks. Return swings took Wafo-Tapa to 25. At the end of turn, Guillaume used a Triskelavite to kill his own Triskelavus, such that he could put it on top of his deck again, and he a Draining Whelk to protect it against Cancel when he played it. From there, he could make and sacrifice enough tokens to win an epic first game.

Wafo-Tapo 1, Herberholz 0

Game 2

On the play, Mark had a mulligan to six and an opener short on action. Now, this in itself is far from a surprise for the matchup, but in the context of this match it meant no storage lands or Prismatic Lens. Wafo-Tapa had both, though admittedly he didn't have the Urza's Factory yet.

More concerningly for Wafo-Tapa, he missed a land drop, which forced him to discard on one turn, electing to ditch a Draining Whelk from what was presumably a very strong hand. Mark's Prismatic Lens came later, but tapping two lands to play it meant that he wasn't able to stop an accelerated Triskelavus.

He did have an Extirpate, though, seeing Mystical Teachings, Teferi, two Pull from Eternity, and two Detritivore. Tendrils of Corruption did for Triskelavus before it could do any shenanigans with removing counters. As soon as he could, Wafo-Tapa used his Mystical Teachings to find an Extirpate of his own, stripping Mark of one of the weapons that was his best in the matchup. Mark's hand was Cancel, Careful Consideration, Sudden Death, and two Mystical Teachings. All Extirpates aside, the match would now be a broadly fair one, though the number of sideboard cards in Guillaume's hand must have been a worry for Mark. He played Careful Consideration and passed.

There was much slow building of position from this point, using card drawing and search through Mystical Teachings, before finally Mark went for it with Teferi when Guillaume was low on available mana-not so low that he couldn't Cancel, it would seem, but low enough for Mark to go for it. It did not work. Back to draw, go.

Take it, Heezy.

The next bullet was again fired by Herberholz, in the form of a main-phase Haunting Hymn, causing two Detritivore, Teferi, and Urborg to be discarded by the Frenchman, who put Triskelavus on top of his deck at the end of turn with Academy Ruins. The Triskelavus was stopped by Cancel, but it remained a clear and present threat moving forward in the game while the legendary land was on the board. At the end of a quiet turn from Guillaume, Mark flashed back a Mystical Teachings to find another Cancel. While the life totals had yet to be troubled in the game, he was in a slightly awkward position. Guillaume, meanwhile, had the luxury of being able to Mystical Teachings for Mystical Teachings, then Mystical Teachings for Cancel.

Somewhere nearby, a writer lost the use of a limb thanks to repetitive typing injuries.

Triskelavus was back again, and Herberholz was running low on answers. His Draining Whelk ran into a Cancel, which ran into another Cancel. There was damage on the board.

Sudden Death killed the Triskelavus but could do nothing about the two Triskelavites that had already been created by Wafo-Tapa. They flew in for the first damage of the game.

When Guillaume tried to flash back Mystical Teachings, it was met by a Cancel from Herberholz, who was well ahead on mana but in a tight position when it came to win conditions. When Guillaume tried for Careful Consideration, a flashed back Mystical Teachings found Dismal Failure. Card advantage was there, but at the expense of not actually winning the game.

Herberholz suspended an Aeon Chronicler for one, into the face of the Plains and Pull from Eternity he knew to be under Guillaume's command. Wafo-Tapa played the Pull, but also Triskelavus, who got countered by Draining Whelk. The Whelk never got large, as with its trigger on the stack, a Triskelavite got revenge and killed the Illusion. At least the clock had been slowed for a while.

Herberholz flashed back Mystical Teachings, finding a Mystical Teachings, which found a Cancel. The lone Triskelavite continued to beat both its mechanical wings and its opponent's face. Guillaume forced the Cancel from Mark with a Haunting Hymn, while Herberholz played yet another Mystical Teachings, this time finding Sudden Death.

After a little thought, Mark suspended two copies of Detritivore, each for two turns. While one got hit by Pull Into Eternity, the other one would be able to destroy both Academy Ruins and a Dreadship Reef of Guillaume's before hitting play as a sizeable monster.

Sensing he had to get full value from his Triskelavus while he could, Guillaume it and making three Triskelavites. Attacks from Guillaume the following turn took Mark to 11.

Mark, for his part, was able to take out Dreadship Reef with Detritivore before it came into play as a 3/3. It attacked, along with an Assembly-Worker token, to make the Frenchman's life total 15. The return swing put Mark to 7. He ran in with Detritivore and 2 tokens to take Wafo-Tapa to 8, then played Careful Consideration, no doubt digging for Damnation or Tendrils of Corruption to help him in his race. Guillaume attacked again, putting Herberholz to 3, with 3 Triskelavites on the board. The Frenchman did not sacrifice his 3 Triskelavites though, for fear of Tendrils of Corruption. He made an Urza's Factory Token to prevent one 2/2 from getting through, and dropped to 4 on the swing back. Wafo-Tapa won it by waiting to attack with his tokens, forcing the Tendrils of Corruption from Mark, which in turn could be responded to by sacrificing the three tokens for exactly enough.

Wafo-Tapa 2, Herberholz 0

Game 3

For Game 3, the fleece came off and the cap went backwards for Herberholz. From here he meant business, as he was in a situation where he had to win all three remaining games.

This was made all the tougher by a mulligan to six on the play for Heezy, but the Pro Tour-Honolulu winner seemed focused and alert as he briskly led off for Game 3. The pace of the game was faster, and it was with decisive motions that Herberholz made each of his plays.

A Careful Consideration drew Mark out of his mulligan and seemed like such a good idea that it was mirrored the next turn by the same play from Wafo-Tapa. The Frenchman discarded a Triskelavus to his card drawer-leaving him open to losing his best win condition from the first two games if Mark had an Extirpate. Guillaume suspended an Aeon Chronicler, only for it to be hit by Pull from Eternity, but didn't seem fazed-he had an Academy Ruins and a Detritivore to suspend for one.

Mark played an end-of-turn Mystical Teachings for Extirpate and wasted no time removing Triskelavus from the game, and looking through the two Cancel, Mystical Teachings, Sudden Death, and Teferi in his opponent's grip. Finally, he got a little look at Wafo-Tapa's sideboarding plan for the game. In a game of imperfect information, Mark suddenly had a lot to think about. In his own turn, Mark used another Pull from Eternity to get rid of the troublesome Detritivore and passed, allowing Teferi to get into play.

Seeing four cards in his opponent's hand but no lands untapped, Mark was quick to play Haunting Hymn, forcing those two Cancel, Mystical Teachings and Sudden Death to all go away. The Mystical Teachings did get flashed back (to find another) anyway, but the play still put Mark in great position going forward. Facing down Teferi, he cast an Aeon Chronicler as a 4/4 blocker. This led Guillaume to play a Mystical Teachings for a Haunting Hymn, which he used, turning the game into a topdeck war and Aeon Chronicler into a deader. Before the discard spell resolved, Mark used Extirpate to hit Mystical Teachings, taking all remaining copies from the game.

Not everyone knows Wafo-Tapa's face, but many more know his name, which graced a blue-red control deck in last year's Standard.

Herberholz's next trick was a Mystical Teachings for Sudden Death with which to kill Teferi. He was on a precarious 8, but fighting back like a man cornered. His removal spell was good and his demeanour confident. When Guillaume tried for Careful consideration, Mark had the Draining Whelk. When Guillaume tried for Tendrils of Corruption, Mark had the Cancel. Draining Whelk ran in, and Mark gave a little grin. Now he was having fun.

Guillaume suspended a Detritivore for four-the exact number of nonbasics that Mark controlled. Mark simply beat in. He flashed back Mystical Teachings to fetch Extirpate, and used it on Tendrils of Corruption. Detritivore ate a Calciform Pools, but Mark didn't seem to mind too much. His Draining Whelk smashed Guillaume down to 5.

Wafo-Tapa was forced to play a Draining Whelk as an instant 1/1 blocker, but it never got a chance to do its job. Mark killed it with Sudden Death, and hit for the final 5 points. It was on to Game 4.

Wafo-Tapa 2, Herberholz 1

After the game, Head Judge Sheldon Menery came to the table and issued Mark a warning for game play error-game rule violation for playing Extirpate in response to Haunting Hymn while Teferi was in play. This had been caught far enough after the fact that it was not possible to reverse the game state, but it was not deemed to be intentional. Wafo-Tapa also received a warning for failure to maintain the game state, which is the responsibility of both players.

Game 4

Guillaume led off for Game 4. This time he had taken his fleece off too, not to be outdone by Mark's cunning play at the start of Game 3. Each had Prismatic Lens on turn two, and Guillaume used his to power out a turn three Careful Consideration. Mark could not match that.

To follow up, Wafo-Tapa suspended Aeon Chronicler for one, which saw Mark using Mystical Teachings to find Pull into Eternity, in order to keep things fair. Once the Pull had been used, Wafo-Tapa felt relatively safe to suspend a Detritivore for one. He had no intention of keeping things fair.

The Detritivore ate Dreadship Reef, which added blue mana before hitting the bin. When Detritivore came in, Mark tried to Mystical Teachings, only for it to be hit by Draining Whelk. Wafo-Tapa was somehow being both the beatdown and the control. Mark used Careful Consideration but didn't find anything to immediately stop himself dropping to 11 on the next set of attacks. Wafo-Tapa suspended another Detritivore for one and passed.

Detritivore #2 ate a land and then tried to come in, only for a Dismal Failure to make things difficult. On the attack step, Mark used Extirpate on his own Terramorphic Expanses in order to save a point of damage, and took a good look at his own hand into the bargain. He dropped to 2, drew for his next turn, and scooped them up.

Wafo-Tapa 3, Herberholz 1

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa advances to the Finals!

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