Semifinals: Shots from the Gassy Knoll

Posted in Event Coverage on December 9, 2007

By Bill Stark

Two friends and testing partners sat down to match wits in the video-covered half of the semifinals feature. Both players were playing almost identical copies of the same deck that had brought nearly everyone who touched the concoction great success on the weekend. Though neither wanted to play the other, their relationship ensured the match would be lighthearted and fun even if technically precise and competitive.

Game 1

Patrick Chapin grins at his friend, testing partner, and Semifinals opponent. Chapin led off with a Spinerock Knoll hiding a mystery card after winning the die roll. The land, which few knew was a powerhouse coming into the Worlds weekend, has been a large part of the storm deck’s success. The other card that gets credit? Lotus Bloom, which Nassif suspended on his first turn. Chapin managed to find one on the top of his deck but being the second player to go off in this matchup meant nothing, and having a Lotus Bloom suspending the turn after your opponent’s meant that was in store for the Michigan native. Adding to the trouble was Nassif’s Molten Slagheap, which would allow him to potentially build an even larger mana advantage against his opponent.

Patrick untapped and ticked down to his final counter on Lotus Bloom. He suspended a Rift Bolt, then motioned to pass dejectedly. “Got it?” He asked.

Nassif was silent. He placed his Bloom into play, made a Fungal Reaches, then sat back to think. Should he try to go off this turn? After a few moments had passed he faced the facts: it wasn’t going to happen. He shipped it back to Chapin.

Chapin resolved his Bloom and Rift Bolt on upkeep, drew for the turn, then revealed his hand and the Dragonstorm hiding under Spinerock Knoll. Gabe quickly checked the contents and sighed.

Nassif: “So sick!”

Chapin: “Better lucky than good!”

Chapin 1, Nassif 0

Game 2

Both players sideboarded and shuffled in silence. Chapin, who’s known for shaking as though he’s nervous while playing, actually seemed to be nervous and it was difficult to tell for certain whether he tremored from excitement at being up a game or whether it was part of his normal ruse. Nassif, a trickster himself, shuffled his deck revealing Snow-Covered Mountains. Why play the Coldsnap reprints when he wasn’t abusing any snow effects? With no hate for playing the lands, Nassif was able to trick his opponents throughout the weekend into believing he was actually using a Skred Red deck instead of the combo deck he was actually playing.

Patrick: “Want to work together for the next Pro Tour?”

Gabriel: “You just got lucky with this list.”

It was Nassif’s turn to start on Spinerock Knoll which drew a response from Patrick Chapin: “Can you imagine if Mike Long played Spinerock Knoll?”

Nassif: “Yeah, Brainstorm for four cards?”

Despite their friendly banter, Chapin looked to be starting out behind. By turn two his opponent had managed to suspend a Lotus Bloom (albeit on his second turn), and was sitting on a charge land and a Spinerock Knoll. Chapin had only a Molten Slagheap for action which he charged up to one counter.

Nassif drew his card for the fourth turn and gave a nod of disapproval. After shuffling his hand around he was dismayed to pass without playing a land for the turn. It looked like Pat might have a chance after all as he made his land drop, a second charge land. Whether or not he was going to be in the game was going to be very apparent as he passed the turn. Nassif’s Bloom came into play and the Frenchman started counting.

A Rite of Flame made Nassif’s storm count two. A Dragonstorm used up all of his mana and put three total spells on the stack but yielded only two Bogardan Hellkites. That indicated he had drawn the other two, and Nassif had no choice but to pass the turn with his opponent at 10. Shaking his head he looked frustrated. While Chapin was dead on board if Gabriel got another turn, that prospect seemed improbable, and certainly not with the way the board was set up.

Chapin was able to Rift Bolt and Shock one of his opponent’s 5/5s saving him from apparent doom, but when Nassif untapped and attacked to put the scores at 20–5 he only needed to reveal his hand of burn to send it to Game 3.

Chapin 1, Nassif 1

Both players went back to their sideboards, but only Chapin seemed to change anything. He flipped in first one card, then another, before possibly switching them back. Finally satisfied with his decisions, he put everything back in order and began shuffling.

Chapin: “Winning the die roll is so sick!”

Game 3

Patrick, back on the play, quickly kept his opener but the decision was not so easy for his opponent. Pointing in the air and appearing to be counting up how quickly he could take Pat’s life total from 20 to 0 Nassif was lost deep in concentration. Eventually he shrugged and decided his hand was good enough.

Gabriel Nassif’s smile flags as the grueling match wears on. Both players started on Snow-Covered Mountain and then a charge land though it was Slagheap for Pat and Fungal Reaches for Gabe. A Spinerock Knoll promised a potentially free card for Patrick Chapin and it really began looking like the die roll was going to be the determining factor in the match. Nassif could only make another charge land before shipping the turn.

Patrick untapped and drew, apparently hitting a doozy as he put the card in his hand and smiled while nodding. A second Spinerock Knoll came down for him and it seemed he was very near going off. Nassif had but a mere Snow-Covered Mountain before shipping the turn back, and Patrick began counting. Slowly placing each card from his hand onto the table and tallying numbers and storm counts in his head, he tried to see if it was a good time to go off.

“Cards in hand?” he inquired. Nassif had nearly a full boat, and Chapin went back to cranking numbers. Not coming up with any he liked he simply suspended Rift Bolt and passed the turn.

Nassif had an opening. If he could manage to go off with his four lands (making up to six mana) they were on to Game 4; if not he was surely going to be killed as Patrick went off thanks to his suspended Bolt on the following turn. After doing some math Gabriel moved to his end of turn phase. Chapin stopped him to charge his Molten Slagheap, then Nassif discarded a Bogardan Hellkite and passed.

Both players tensed for the critical turn. Chapin’s Rift Bolt went off (20–17) putting the storm at one. A Rite of Flame gave him an extra mana and a storm of two. Pyromancer’s Swath made storm three, then a Shock made it four and put Nassif at 13. When Patrick revealed a Grapeshot with four copies, each worth 3 damage, Nassif nodded and moved back to his board.

“Probably should have mulliganed," said Nassif

Chapin 2, Nassif 1

Game 4

“What turn did you kill me? Five?” Nassif asked his friend and testing partner. Chapin thought for a moment then confirmed. Nassif went back to shuffling while tsk-tsking his circumstances. For the Frenchman it was all down to Game 4.

Gabriel quickly looked at his opener and sent it back. Chapin, hands still shaking, rubbed his head and covered his eyes.

As Nassif began shuffling, Patrick teased him by chanting. “U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A.!”

Nassif simply grumbled a response, and Chapin offered up an alternative: “Would you prefer if I started chanting ‘Five! Five! Five!’?”

The Frenchman considered his second hand for a long time before making the obvious choice. He sent it back for five after finally convincing himself that Pyromancer’s Swath, double Bogardan Hellkite, and Ignite Memories with two lands simply wasn’t going to be enough even if one of the lands was a Molten Slagheap.

Both players were all-in on Nassif’s five-card hand. Hesitantly the French player slid each card off the top of his deck, looking at them in turn while Patrick leaned over the table to get a look at his opponent’s face, trying to read what he was thinking. Nassif clearly didn’t like his five-card hand and after mentally preparing himself to draw a specific set of cards off the top, he did something never done before on the World Championships stage: he mulliganed to four.

“Please be four Lotus!” He said, trying to imagine a hand that would allow him to win from such a compromised position. “Come on, the four perfect cards! I’ve done it before!” he begged his deck. After considering, he amended the statement: “Well, I’m not sure if I have...”

In the background the audience clapped at Nassif’s hand. “Are they cheering because your hand is good?” Chapin asked.

Nassif replied, “They’re cheering because that’s what Americans do!”

Chapin, clearly playing to the crowd, said into his microphone, “Everyone in the audience cheer really loud if his hand is nuts!”

Nassif and Chapin listen for the crowd... After a slight delay for the message to reach the monitors in the viewing area a roar erupted from the peanut gallery. Chapin seemed unfazed, leading with Fungal Reaches after Nassif had finished with his first turn.

“Stop making fun of me! Why would you play that land first?” Nassif admonished, half-joking.

Gabriel continued trying to get there by drawing a Spinerock Knoll and a Lotus Bloom. He started charging his Molten Slagheap, but Pat was still ahead on the board and Tarfired his opponent in an effort to prepare for going off.

The banter and play continued to go back and forth. Patrick managed a Spinerock Knoll of his own but took some time to decide what card to put underneath it. Afterwards he ominously suspended a Rift Bolt before passing the turn. It looked like now or never for Nassif.

Berating himself for “messing up” somehow Gabriel started doing math. Unfortunately his Lotus Bloom was a full turn from entering play, so he’d have to kill his opponent “the fair way” by utilizing his actual lands. He did some math and couldn’t pull it off, instead suspending a Rift Bolt and passing the turn.

The crowd held its breath. Patrick’s Rift Bolt went off, putting the totals at 20–15 in his favor. He then made Rite of Flame taking storm to two. His mana count quickly climbed to eight, then a Tarfire and a Grapeshot put his opponent to 9. With only five mana left, what was Pat going to do? He didn’t have enough for Dragonstorm and he obviously didn’t have Pyromancer’s Swath or he would have played it first. Instead he revealed... Ignite Memories for five! It was all down to die rolls as the two agreed to split Nassif’s hand up and reveal cards from it based on rolling a six-sided die.

The first roll revealed Grapeshot (7). The second revealed Grapeshot (5). The third revealed... Grapeshot (3)! The crowd went wild in the background at the possibility that Nassif might squeak this one out. The next-to-last copy revealed... RITE OF FLAME! Nassif was on twolife, and Chapin was down to his final Ignite Memories copy to hit the only card he hadn’t revealed from his opponent’s hand. The feature match area had gone absolutely silent. Everyone’s breath was held tight, all down to a final die roll. The last copy revealed...


The crowd absolutely exploded from outside the feature match area as Chapin exasperatedly passed the turn. Nassif quickly untapped and resolved his Rift Bolt and Lotus Bloom, then began counting.

“If you have a Dragonstorm in your hand...” Chapin jokingly threatened.

“How many Rite of Flames do you have in your yard?” Nassif checked. Content with the answer of one, he began.

...who do not disappoint.

A Rite of Flame of his own made the storm count three. A Grapeshot put his opponent to 13 and made the storm four. Ignite Memories came down for a total of five spells. Then the unbelievable happened.

Chapin flipped over his three cards to reveal: Bogardan Hellkite, Bogardan Hellkite, Dragonstorm. No matter what combination of cards Nassif flipped, Chapin would be dealt lethal damage. Just like that, Gabriel Nassif had managed to win perhaps the most unbelievable World Championships game in the history of Magic: The Gathering.

Chapin: “Must be. No, it really MUST be.”

Nassif: “Million to one. Story of my life...”

Chapin 2, Nassif 2

Game 5

The energy level in the room was palpable, and it seemed Nassif’s hands had become the ones that were shaking. Both players opted to keep their openers.

“I’m pretty sure I’m kold to Thoughtseize, but I don’t think you have that many in your list,” Chapin joked, trying to cut through some of the tension surrounding the match.

Chapin opened on Fungal Reaches and Lotus Bloom. As amazing as the fourth game was, it looked like the fifth would be settled by a lucky Bloom draw on Chapin’s part. Of course, Nassif wasn’t going down without a fight as he echoed his opponent’s turn one land and a Lotus Bloom of his own... times three. The crowd let out a gasp of surprise and Chapin sank a little bit in his seat. The pressure was on for him to combo the turn his Bloom came into play. Failure to do so almost certainly meant his opponent would.

Aiding him in that fight was a missed land drop by Gabriel. It looked like it would be down to who was able to abuse their Lotus Blooms best, but Gabriel’s land screw didn’t last long as he hit his second Mountain one turn later and suspended a Rift Bolt. Chapin slumped in his chair. It was all down to his turn, and as the Lotus Bloom hit play it looked like the unthinkable might be possible: despite being up 2 to 1 against an opponent on just four cards on the play Patrick might not be playing in the finals.

He set his hand down on the table and asked his opponent how many cards were in his hand. “Four,” Nassif calmly replied. Chapin began concentrating while Nassif buried his head in his hands. The stress was thick enough to cut with a knife, and it looked like Pat was either figuring out how to kill his opponent or delaying the inevitable while wondering how he had managed to get himself into the situation he was in.

He re-checked Gabriel’s hand size (unsurprisingly, it hadn’t changed), then made a note on his notepad.

“All right, you had your fun? I might as well have mine,” Chapin said, and it began. Shock put Nassif to 18 and the storm at two. Grapeshot put him to 15 and the storm at three leaving Chapin just enough mana to Ignite Memories for four total copies.

Nassif was not very happy, having already indicated he had a Dragonstorm in hand. It was back to the die rolls to determine who would be the winner of the match.

The first die roll revealed... Shock. The crowd roared.

The second roll revealed... Dragonstorm. Chapin pumped the fist and the crowd lit up.

The third roll revealed... BOGARDAN HELLKITE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The crowd utterly exploded and one of the most unbelievable matches in the history of the Pro Tour came to a close. The friends shook hands and the visibly upset Nassif offered up a good luck before leaving the table.

Patrick Chapin win 3–2 and advances to face Uri Peleg in the Finals!

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