"You can only lose to CawBlade if they have Squadron Hawk on turn two, on the play," said one of Ali Aintrazi's pals as he waited around for the grueling mirror match between Ochoa and Nelson to play out. Ali nodded in agreement. He could not remember how many times he had played CawBlade on the weekend but he knew that the one game he dropped in the semifinals to it was the only game less he had taken against the archetype throughout the event.
For David Ochoa this had to fall under the category of just happy to be here -- not to say he would not like to win. He reached as far as the semifinals of last year's Nationals and then lost again in the playoff for the last slot on the team. This year he was the last member of the ChannelFireball squad in the Top 8 -- a lineup that included Luis Scott-Vargas and Owen Turtenwald.
Ochoa found a Squadron Hawk waiting on top of his deck and Ali slumped a little bit in his chair as his opponent announced: "I'll get the other two."
Aintrazi played Jace Beleren and drew a card. Ochoa attacked the Planeswalker down to one loyalty and played another Hawk. He had no fourth land to play the last one in his hand. Ali expended his Jace and played a fresh one. He made both players draw and pushed it to 5 loyalty with 2 Hawks out there.
Ochoa attacked Jace down to 3, played another Hawk and laid a Colonnade. Aintrazi played another planes walker -- Liliana Vess -- and plus-oned her to make Ochoa discard a Timely Reinforcements. Then he had them both draw a card. Ochoa attacked Liliana and played a Jace to nuke the Jace. Ali knew there was still a Mana Leak in his opponent's hand and played his sixth land and upped Liliana. Ochoa discarded Dismember. Then he offered up Solemn Simulacrum...
..."You are on how many cards?" asked Ochoa.
"I am on six."
Ochoa sighed and played Mana Leak. Ali used his Tectonic Edge on the Colonnade to keep him off of killing the Planeswalker in one turn. Ochoa attacked Liliana down to 1, played Emeria Angel and made a bird.
Liliana forced Ochoa to discard Mana Leak. He held onto one card. Ali played Sphinx and during Ochoa's upkeep the ChannelFireball player bounced the Sphinx and drew safely. He attacked Liliana to death and used Tectonic Edge on Aintrazi's sixth land. Ali had another and replayed the Sphinx.
Ochoa attacked with five 1/1 fliers and the Sphinx ate one of them -- Ali went to 11. On Ochoa's next upkeep he killed the Emeria Angel with Dismember and took four in the air from the birds. Ali got perilously low from the birds swarming him each turn but he was racking up insane card advantage while the Sphinx lived turn after turn.
Things looked grim when Ochoa stuck a Gideon Jura but a timely Karn Liberated nuked the opposing planeswalker. Ali was at three life but was pulling away quickly. Ochoa kept on fighting but there was little he could do at a three card to one disadvantage every turn.
Ali Aintrazi - 1 David Ochoa - 0
Ali went to five cards to start the game while Ochoa came out with a Hawk for two Hawks on turn two. Aintrazi's Inquisition of Kozilek saw the Hawks, Azure Mage, Gideon, Sword of Feast and Famine, and two lands -- one which was a Nexus. He took the Sword. Ochoa swung in with his Hawk and played the Azure Mage. Doom Blade took out the two-drop while Ochoa continued to peck away with his Hawk. He played two more and said "go" but asked judge if it was too late to search. The judge said it was too late.
A Despise from Ali revealed that the fourth Hawk was already in Ochoa's hand and Ali chided him -- "Sneaky" -- as he took Gideon. Ochoa played the fourth Hawk and over the next couple of turns the full air force managed to finish Ali off.
Ali Aintrazi - 1 David Ochoa - 1
Ali played Inquisition and saw Spell Pierce, Preordain, Into the Roil, Squadron Hawk, Emeria Angel, and two land -- as usual he took the Hawk. Preordain was crossed off Ali's little cheat sheet when Ochoa played the spell. Ali played his own Preordain to dig for cards -- there were 32 in the Top 8 so you will hear that quite a bit. To underscore the point, Ali played a second Preordain, laid a Swamp, and said go.
Ochoa played a fourth land and cast Sword of Feast and Famine -- with Spell Pierce in hand it was going to stick. The two players went draw-go for a couple of turns until Ali played Solemn Simulacrum. It resolved but it was returned to hand with a kicked Into the Roil.
Ochoa played a sixth land and went to cast something and then thought better of it -- it seemed like he was considering Consecrated Sphinx but wanted to leave Spell Pierce Mana up and finally played Gideon Jura. Ali dug with Preordain and passed the turn. He was holding a pair of Doom Blade and deployed them to kill a freshly cast Emeria Angel when Ochoa went to equip it with his Sword. The other went to take out the animated Gideon.
Ali untapped to play Consecrated Sphinx. Ochoa played a Sphinx of his own and defended it from Mana Leak with his long held Spell Pierce. Ochoa did not want to get into a card drawing battle with Aintrazi and chose not to use his Sphinx -- while Ali drew the extras whenever he could.
Ochoa did get the Sword equipped to it and managed to get a hit in. He had a second Sword and equipped that as well. Ali played Inquisition of Kozilek and drew out Mental Misstep -- the last card in Ochoa's hand. He played Karn Liberated and exiled the Sphinx. It left Ochoa in a bad spot. He did not want to use his Jace, he could not animate and equip his Colonnade because he was a mana short, and he did not really went to leave cards laying around in his hand to get exiled by Karn.
Again the game dragged on for several more turns but once Ali's deck had that kind of advantage it was hard for the Caw deck to finish it off.
Ali Aintrazi - 2 David Ochoa - 1
Jace came down on turn three for Ali and each player drew a card. Ochoa attacked it and played land number four. Ali stuck with the booth players draw plan and played another Despise to take another Gideon. When Ochoa drew a card with the Mage, Ali Doom Bladed the 2/1.
Ochoa played both Hawks and a Colonnade while Ali sent his Jace up to 5 loyalty. Ochoa dialed it back down to 2 and Ali bought some time by kicking an Into the Roil on a Hawk at the end of turn. He landed Grave Titan and they both drew a card with Jace. Ochoa played a kicked Roil on the Grave Titan at end of turn.
Ochoa played Sword of Feast and Famine and equipped a Hawk, played another Hawk, and attacked Ali who discarded a superfluous Jace. Ochoa untapped his lands and moved the Sword to his fresh Hawk before playing his last copy. Inquisition from Ali revealed Dismember and thee lands. He played land 7 and passed the turn after Preordain.
Ochoa animated Colonnade and attacked with everything. Ali used Doom Blade on the land and took 6, discarding Grave Titan. Another Inquisition said the coast was clear for Black Sun's Zenith for three.
Ali played Consecrated Sphinx and made a sound like Charlie Brown having the football yanked away at the last minute when Ochoa played a freshly drawn Mana Leak. He played Karn the next turn and proceeded to take over the game with the planeswalker. Other cards Ali played over the remainder of the game included another Sphinx, Volition Reins for the Sword, and Liliana Vess. The game was not close once Karn hit the table.
Congratulations to the new U.S. National Champion Ali Aintrazi and his two teammates David Ochoa and Haibing Hu!