Semifinals: The Side-Steppe

Posted in Event Coverage on August 29, 2012

By Steve Sadin

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (Zoo)
Yuuya Watanabe (Jund)

Semifinals: The Side-Steppe
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (Zoo) vs Yuuya Watanabe (Jund)

by Steve Sadin

Hall of Fame elect Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa currently has twelve Grand Prix Top 8s and a staggering nine Pro Tour Top 8s to his name. But despite being one of best players (if not the best) in the world for the better part of the last decade, Damo da Rosa has yet to earn the Player of the Year crown.

When Damo da Rosa started off the Players Championship with a 0-3 record, it seemed like he was doomed to wait another year for a shot at the prestigious title...

...but then he started winning. And winning. And winning some more. Now he's a mere two matches away from winning the inaugural Players Championship.

He's done a remarkable job to make it this far after his rocky start, but in order to get to the finals, Damo da Rosa is going to have to defeat 2009 Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe.

Like Damo da Rosa, Watanabe is on the short list of names that come up when discussing the best player in the world. But while Damo da Rosa is fighting to take the Player of the Year title to Brazil for the first time in the Magic's history. Watanabe needs to win exactly six more games to earn the honor for the second time in his career.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Yuuya Watanabe clash in a battle between two of the world's best.

Does Damo da Rosa's Domain Zoo deck have enough firepower to burn his way to the finals? Or will Watanabe's Jund deck be able to survive long enough to take over?

Game 1

Damo da Rosa kept an explosive opening hand that allowed him to cast two Kird Apes and a Steppe Lynx on his first two turns. However, Watanabe was ready. A Lightning Bolt and a Maelstrom Pulse left Damo da Rosa without a board, and the Japanese pro in a great position.

Damo da Rosa attempted to rebuild with Kird Ape and Geist of Saint Traft, but Watanabe was able to remain firmly in control of the game thanks to Kitchen Finks, Tarmogoyf and Lightning Bolt.

Watanabe was in the driver's seat of the first game.

Damo da Rosa made one last attempt to keep his head above water with a Tarmogoyf of his own and a Qasali Pridemage, but another Tarmogoyf and a Liliana of the Veil were all that Watanabe needed to take the first game.

Damo da Rosa 0, Watanabe 1

Game 2

Damo da Rosa immediately kept his opening hand in the second game. Watanabe, however, didn't have it so easy.

The 2009 Player of the Year had to spend some time deliberating over whether or not he would keep a hand of Kitchen Finks, two copies of Liliana of the Veil, two copies of Bloodbraid Elf, and two lands.

Watanabe ultimately decided that he would try his luck with the two-land hand.

"I kept because I knew that I would be very good if the game went long. If I drew lands, I would be able to cast Kitchen Finks, or Liliana of the Veil. If I didn't draw lands, then I might draw a removal spell or a Tarmogoyf to buy more time. If I just drew big spells, then I would lose, but I think the risk was worth it."

Damo da Rosa got off to another quick start in game 2, knocking Watanabe down to 14 with his two Kird Apes before the former Player of the Year had cast a single spell.

A mere two turns into the game and it was clear that if Watanabe stumbled even a little bit, then he would have no chance of getting back into the game. And even if Watanabe drew the lands that he needed to cast his spells, a lot would have to go right for him to stabilize.

Watanabe agonizes over how to turn a bad situation into a good one in the second game.

Watanabe did indeed find the land that he needed to cast Kitchen Finks on turn three, prompting Damo da Rosa (who had previously chosen not to cast the Tarmogoyf in his hand because he didn't want it to die Lightning Bolt) to Lightning Helix the Kitchen Finks so he could continue attacking with his Kird Apes.

After his attack, Damo da Rosa decided that he no longer had the luxury to play around cards that Watanabe might have, so he played out his Tarmogoyf and passed the turn.

With four lands at his disposal, Watanabe was then able to cascade into an Inquisition of Kozilek with his Bloodbraid Elf, knocking the last spell out of Damo da Rosa's hand. When Damo da Rosa attacked with all of his creatures, Watanabe decided to trade his Kitchen Finks and his Bloodbraid Elf for the Tarmogoyf, falling to 9 from the Kird Apes.

Watanabe then played out a replacement Bloodbraid Elf which cascaded into a Kitchen Finks, and put Damo da Rosa into a particularly dire situation.

he tables turned on Damo da Rosa.

Tribal Flames took out half of the Kitchen Finks, and the ensuing attack knocked Watanabe back to 9, but another Kitchen Finks, a Lightning Bolt, and a Liliana of the Veil allowed Watanabe to take the game before Damo da Rosa could draw out of the situation.

Damo da Rosa 0, Watanabe 2

Game 3

With his back against the wall, Damo da Rosa kept an opening hand without a red source, so he couldn't cast his Kird Ape until he drew an Arid Mesa on his second turn.

With only a 2/3 Kird Ape breathing down his neck, Watanabe put himself into the driver's seat by using a pair of Inquisition of Kozileks to leave Damo da Rosa with just Lightning Helix, Path to Exile, and a land in his hand.

At this point, Damo da Rosa needed a threat if he was going to have any chance of mounting a comeback... but when the Brazilian pro drew and cast a Geist of Saint Traft, suddenly it was Watanabe who found himself needing to draw out of a tough situation.

Watanabe had a Tarmogoyf, but with no third land, it was clear that he was in a lot of trouble.

Damo da Rosa's Zoo deck was perfect for capitalizing on a stumbling opponent.

Path to Exile took care of the Tarmogyf, the ensuing attack knocked Watanabe down to 10, and a second Kird Ape meant that Damo da Rosa was in a position to win the game on the very next turn.

A main phase Jund Charm dealt with the Geist of Saint Traft, but Watanabe still fell to 6 from the two Kird Apes. Kitchen Finks gave Watanabe a chance to get his head above water, but things still looked very grim for him. An end-of-turn Lightning Helix knocked Watanabe down to 5, Oblivion Ring took out the Kitchen Finks, and an attack from the Kird Apes left Watanabe on a meager 1 life.

Watanabe used Maelstrom Pulse to kill the Oblivion Ring (freeing his Kitchen Finks, and putting himself back up to 3 life), however a Lightning Helix was enough for Damo da Rosa to win his first game of the match.

Damo da Rosa 1, Watanabe 2

Game 4

Damo da Rosa opened the fourth game with a Steppe Lynx (a card which his teammates had been siding out against Jund during the Swiss rounds of the tournament) while Watanabe cast an Inquisition of Kozilek, taking a Tribal Flames and leaving Damo da Rosa with Tarmogoyf, Geist of Saint Traft, Geist of Saint Traft, Elspeth, Knight-Errant, and no green land.

Damo da Rosa didn't draw a green land either, so when Lightning Bolt took out the Steppe Lynx, he had to pass his turn without a single creature on his side of the board.

Watanabe's Kitchen Finks gave him some pressure, and when Damo da Rosa passed his third turn with no third land and no creature, the writing seemed to be on the wall...

Watanabe spent his next couple of turns playing a Liliana of the Veil and an Obstinate Baloth, while Damo da Rosa (whose third land continued to elude him) could muster nothing better than a Snapcaster Mage.

A few attacks later, and Yuuya Watanabe was off to the finals where he would face Shouta Yasooka.

Damo da Rosa put up an admirable fight throughout the week, but in the end, Watanabe's Jund deck prevailed.

Yuuya Watanabe wins 3-1 and advances to the finals!

After the match, Damo da Rosa explained his decision to leave Steppe Lynx in his deck.

"I think I have to keep in the early creatures. The long game is good for him, so I need to win quickly. Even if he has a Pyroclasm, I don't think it's going to kill many things, and if I have a fetch land, I can control it."

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

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Yuuya Watanabe

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