Paul Cheon is not only one of the best and most well known players at this tournament, he’s also one of the chattiest. He began right as he sat down across from his opponent, Sam Black.
"Have we ever played in a tournament before?" asked Cheon.
"You beat me in the Top 8 of a PTQ," said Sam Black.
"Oh yeah, you were playing some kind of weird deck with storage lands and Conflagrate," said Cheon.
And when Cheon flashed a Mistbind Clique while shuffling, Black returned the favor by blatantly shuffling his deck toward Cheon.
Paul Cheon and Sam Black are aiming for the Finals, and the only thing in their way is one another.
"What? You’re playing Thoughtseize?" Cheon deadpanned.
Cheon and Black were playing for the right to represent the 2008 U.S. team at Worlds in December, a change from the previous year when Two-Headed Giant necessitated larger teams.
"I wish it was like last year, Top 4 qualifies. I just want to be on the team!" said Cheon.
Standing between Cheon’s atypical Faeries list and that team membership was Black’s resilient Elf deck.
With no mulligans, both players were able to play the games they wanted to.
Ancestral Vision resolved and Cheon declined to play Mistbind Clique on Black’s upkeep. Testing the waters, Black laid Thoughtseize on the table, to which Cheon responded with the Clique, championing his Bitterblossom. Thoughtseize stole Cryptic Command and revealed three lands and a Shadowmage Infiltrator. Black declined to attack his now 4/5 Tarmogoyf into the Clique and token.
Mistbind Clique off the top changed Cheon’s plan completely and allowed him to attack Black down to 12. The second Clique shut down Black’s next turn.
"Must be nice," quipped Black.
Two turns later, Black tapped all eight of his lands for Profane Command, choosing to kill the Mistbind Clique and deal six to Cheon, who fell to two. The Clique, remember, had championed Bitterblossom, and suddenly Cheon was at 1 and on a clock.
"Come on, that was an announcement-worthy play, and you missed it," said Black to commentator Rich Hagon.
"Oh man. Really?" asked Black.
On Black’s upkeep, Cheon championed his Bitterblossom with the Clique and tapped Black out.
"Let’s see if I can match you on the topdeck and find a Slaughter Pact," said Black.
Paul Cheon 1, Sam Black 0
"That’s a lot of removal," said Black before taking the Remove Soul and attacking for 1.
"I was hoping you’d say yes," said Black.
Black paused while considering his attacks and ultimately decided to animate both Mutavaults. Cheon took full advantage by tapping Black’s army and bouncing Chameleon Colossus, setting Black way, way back. This gave Cheon the breathing room he needed to cast Razormane Masticore.
"That guy is bad times," said Black.
Black took his time on his turn, rearranging his lands a bit before eventually opting to re-play Chameleon Colossus. With Cheon down to one mana, there was no fear of a counter spell of any kind.
"Thoughtseize you?" said Cheon facing a lethal Colossus. "I just want to see what’s in your hand."
Paul Cheon 1, Sam Black 1
Meanwhile, Michael Jacob earned his trip to the Finals on the other table, prompting both players to question their deck’s ability to handle a Demigod of Revenge.
"Oh, I’m cold to Demigod," said Cheon.
"I’m pretty good against the non-Demigod part of his deck," said Black.
Of course, to even begin to worry about Demigod of Revenge, these two had to get through the person sitting right in front of them.
Cheon flashed his hand of six lands and a Razormane Masticore. "I don’t think I can keep that, do you?" he asked Black.
"I don’t know, Masticore is pretty good," Black returned.
Black, meanwhile played successive Treetop Villages on the first three turns. He did mix in a Wren’s Run Vanquisher on turn three, revealing Imperious Perfect. Cheon made Mutavault and Shadowmage Infiltrator on his third turn.
A Thoughtseize from Black gave Cheon pause.
"Please, Pact of Negation," Black joked.
Thoughtseize revealed Mistbind Clique, Cryptic Command, and the Slaughter Pact Cheon had contemplated. Black thought took the Cryptic Command and followed up with a Vanquisher attack and an Imperious Perfect.
Vision resolved and Infiltrator crashed in the following turn, supplying Cheon with a full grip to work with.
Cheon allowed Black’s upkeep to go through unmolested, choosing to keep his mana up instead. Black used his mana to try a Tarmogoyf, which resolved as a 2/3. Vanquisher was once again chump-blocked, and Cheon used the token as a Champion for Mistbind Clique.
Black, forgetting to make a token with Perfect, smacked himself on the head as he passed the turn back.
Despite being down on life 15-12, Black had quietly amassed a strong board position, with two Treetop Villages, Tarmogoyf, Wren’s Run Vanquisher, and Imperious Perfect all able to attack that turn. With 14 power worth of green men swinging in his direction, Cheon took his time contemplating his options and doing the math.
Cheon animated Mutavault hoping to block, but a Slaughter Pact not only changed the plans, but grew Tarmogoyf to a more imposing 3/4. Cheon had a Slaughter Pact of his own to take down the Tarmogoyf, and traded a Faerie token, with an assist from a Finkel, for the Perfect, taking 10 damage, which put him on 4 during his Bitterblossom-fueled upkeep.
Cheon paid for the Pact and chose to attack only with his two Shadowmage Infiltrators, continuing his barrage of card advantage.
Black also remembered his Pact and attacked only with his Vanquisher before making a Boreal Druid. Cheon Rune Snagged, but Black was able to pay. That play may have had something to do with the two other Rune Snags in Cheon’s hand.
Again, Cheon ran the math and moved around his creatures. He eventually attacked with only one Infiltrator.
The life totals stood at 9-3 in Black’s favor as Cheon passed the turn without any further plays.
Cheon’s still smiling.Then it was Blacks’s turn to think about his attack back. With Cheon at 3 and still with a Bitterblossom in play, Black animated two Treetop Villages and attacked with them alongside Wren’s Run Vanquisher. Before blockers, Black cast Nameless Inversion targeting the untapped Shadowmage Infiltrator.
And while most players would have reflexively spent their Cryptic Command tapping down the attackers, Cheon had it saved for just this moment. He used it to counter the spell and bounce a Village, allowing him to sacrifice a token to the Vanquisher and kill a Village with his Clique. Still, Bitterblossom continued to tick down his life total.
Finkle and Clique attacked to knock Black to 4.
The next turn, Cheon attacked with the team, noticing he was at one from Bitterblossom anyway. Sudden Spoiling, a valuable tool for some against Faeries this weekend, effectively Fogged Cheon and prompted the scoop.
Sam Black 2, Paul Cheon 1
Cheon and Black both quickly took trips to Paris. Black, in fact, took two.
For the fourth game in a row, Cheon had the turn one Ancestral Vision.
"I think that Visions will actually kill me," said Black as he stalled on two lands.
Cheon attempted to block an incoming Mutavault with his own, but a Nameless Inversion killed Cheon’s creature-land. When Black had another Civic Wayfinder, Cheon had another counter, this time Cryptic Command.
On Cheon’s next upkeep, Black attempted to Squall Line for three, but was thwarted by Cryptic Command. Three more Faeries attacked, putting Cheon ahead 11-9. Black tried Squall Line again on the following upkeep, and managed to resolve it for 1, taking out Cheon’s small army.
One Vision resolved, and a third was suspended before Cheon passed his turn. Terror took out Black’s only remaining man land when Mutavault attempted to attack the next turn. A few turns later, Cheon bounced Black’s second black source with Cryptic Command to shut off any possible Sudden Spoiling and let him attack for Black’s last 3 life.
"Just die, would you?" said Cheon.
Paul Cheon 2, Sam Black 2
Can you guess how this game started?
For the fifth time in as many games, Cheon started on Ancestral Vision.
"Did I do that every game?" he asked. "Still, I lost two of them."
Black made a Tarmogoyf on turn two, while Thoughtseize revealed Terror, Cryptic Command, Razormane Masticore and three lands on turn three, binning the Terror. This cleared the way for Black to resolve an Imperious Perfect on his next turn. Bets that he’ll remember to make tokens this time, anyone?
And he did the next turn when Cryptic Command tapped his team and bounced a Treetop Village, allowing Cheon to draw off Vision the next turn still at a relatively high life total. Cheon made a Razormane Masticore, tapping out to do so.
Hypothetically, that should scare off a group of smaller creatures, but Black, threatening Sudden Spoiling, simply attacked with his entire team. Cheon chose not to block and fell to 8. Black found a fourth land thanks to Civic Wayfinder after combat..
Black swung with Civic Wayfinder and Tarmogoyf. Cheon chose to block with his Masticore, and Black knowingly showed the Sudden Spoiling. Cheon tried to save his Masticore by bouncing the Tarmogoyf, but Black took the opportunity to kill the now 0/2 Masticore with Nameless Inversion.
Cheon, holding Remove Soul and Terror, employed Shadowmage Infiltrator to stand in the way of Black’s small men. Black animated his Treetop Village and forced an all-out attack. Faerie Conclave traded with Wayfinder and Terror killed the Treetop Village, drastically un-complicating the board. Black then made Tarmogoyf with the life totals at 17-5 in Black’s favor.
Another Terror took out Tarmogoyf while the lonely Elf token took Cheon to 4. A Thoughtseize from Black revealed Remove Soul and Mistbind Clique, stripping the Remove Soul and clearing the way for Black to summon Llanowar Elves and Wren’s Run Vanquisher.
In need of another small miracle, Cheon’s Infiltrator attack yielded the Bitterblossom he needed in order to champion for his Mistbind Clique and, hopefully, stave off death. Unfortunately for Cheon, Black had the Slaughter Pact to advances to the finals and clinch the spot on the national team that Cheon dearly wanted.
Sam Black defeats Paul Cheon 3-2 and advances to the Finals!