This semifinals match showcased a couple of things that I was excited to see. First, there was the obvious inclusion of Ali Aintrazi's UB deck, the only non-CawBlade deck left in the Top 8 field. Despite the resurgence and success of non-CawBlade decks in the Standard portion of the tournament (it only made up four of the eleven top decks), six copies piloted by some of the more prominent names in American Magic made the Top 8 due to the mixed-format nature of Nationals. Getting something that didn't put a Sword on a Bird was refreshing. Also, Haibing Hu, though he was playing a CawBlade deck hiself, was running a version with a few interesting card choices in both the maindeck and sideboard.
"Sweet, a deck I don't have dead cards against for game 1," Aintrazi joked as he sat down to the table.
"Yeah, most people do against him," Hu said, nodding his head.
Hu started things off with a second-turn Squadron Hawk. The little birdie fetched up a few more copies, filling Hu's hand. Aintrazi answered with an Inquisition of Kozilek, taking Jace Beleren from a hand with Dismember, Mana Leak, Preordain, and three Squadron Hawks. On his turn, his Hawks started to take over the skies. The first started attacking while the second swooped into play. Aintrazi played a Jace Beleren of his own, using his second ability to take him out of danger, but giving Hu a card in the process. Hu added a third Hawk to his team and attacked with the other two, knocking Jace to three. Aintrazi realized he was done with his Jace, using it the second time to draw only himself a card. He also made a Solemn Simulacrum that resolved after a bit of thought from Hu.
On his turn, Hu went into thought. After a Preordain, he sent two of his three Hawks at Jace to finish him off and the last at Aintrazi. After combat, the final Hawk joined the skies. Aintrazi popped back with his Simulacrum, dropping Hu to 17. He made a second robot after combat, giving him a slightly better board, and a significant mana advantage. With so many lands in play, he felt content to Tectonic Edge Hu's Celestial Colonnade, dropping him to four lands. At the end of Aintrazi's turn, Hu paid the full amount of life to Dismember the newest robot.
Hu's Preordain to start his turn put him into the tank. He eventually decided to swap both of the cards for a better one off of his deck. At this point, his Squadron of Hawks started taking four-point chunks out of Aintrazi's life total. Aintrazi was giving back, swinging with his Simulacrum. He tried to get in with his Creeping Tar Pit on one turn, but Hu used Tectonic Edge to kill it. When Aintrazi played a second Tar Pit, Hu matched it with a second Edge. With one attack, Hu dropped Aintrazi to 2 life, while sitting at 7 himself. Aintrazi attacked with his Simulacrum and passed the turn. When Hu sent his Squad on the following turn, Aintrazi conceded.
Ali Aintrazi 0 – Haibing Hu 1
Hu started the second game with a pair of mulligans on the draw, which had to have Aintrazi feeling good about his chances this game. Hu made an effort to get back the cards he'd lost with a third-turn Jace Beleren, but Aintrazi had an Into the Roil to cap it at one card, as well as a Jace of his own to take the place of Hu's. Hu thought for a moment about his play before deciding to trap Aintrazi's Jace in an Oblivion Ring, trying to pave the way for his own. Aintrazi tried to prevent this with an Inquisition of Kozilek, but Hu had a Mental Misstep. After untapping, Hu made a Jace Beleren, drawing two cards and passing the turn. Hu only had access to one mana, so Aintrazi took the opportunity to cast a Consecrated Sphinx. Hu had nothing to say about it, and nothing to do either, letting Aintrazi draw a pair of cards not only during his draw step, but also off of a Jace activation. Hu used the rest of his turn to make two Squadron Hawks.
With a hand full of cards and a severe advantage, Aintrazi began his turn. His Inquisition of Kozilek met a Mental Misstep from Hu, but his Tectonic Edge locked Hu back down at three lands. Aintrazi attacked and then passed the turn with four lands up, content to coast on the wings (and cards) of his Sphinx. Hu decided that since Aintrazi was already drawing a bunch of cards, he might as well just use Jace's +2 ability, keeping him from going away. An Inquisition of Kozilek revealed a pair of Gideon Juras, a Consecrated Sphinx of his own, a pair of Spell Pierces, and a Sword of Feast and Famine. Aintrazi took the Sword, unafraid of the Spell Pierces thanks to his severe mana advantage.
He had an interesting decision to make on his turn. If he attacked with his Sphinx, and Hu drew a fifth land, Gideon would come down and kill it. But if he didn't attack, Hu would get two draws, one for his turn and one for Jace, to try to find it. Ultimately, he chose to cast Black Sun's Zenith for one to kill the Hawks, attack Jace, and Despise a copy of Gideon from Hu's hand.
While sitting at 7 life, Hu managed to find a Day of Judgment to kill the Sphinx. Aintrazi replaced it, but Hu found a fifth land, playing Gideon Jura and forcing Aintrazi to attack him. Aintrazi did so, animating his Creeping Tar Pit, as well, to knock Gideon to one loyalty. On the following attack, Hu was dead. Aintrazi had drawn well over a dozen cards off his Sphinx, and that crushing advantage combined with a severe shortage of lands thanks to his mulligans was enough to do Hu in.
Ali Aintrazi 1 – Haibing Hu 1
Aintrazi's attempt at a first-turn Inquisition was stopped by a Spell Pierce, and the one that followed two turns later was countered with Mana Leak. When Hu tried to make a Sword of Feast and Famine afterwards, Aintrazi stopped that with a Mana Leak of his own. To this point in the game, the story was more what hadn't happened than what had.
The first thing to happen was a Gideon Jura from Hu on turn five. Aintrazi kicked an Into the Roil at it and filled the space with a Consecrated Sphinx. Hu returned the favor of the previous turn, kicking an Into the Roil on the Sphinx during his upkeep. Aintrazi replayed it on his turn, and Hu once again cast Into the Roil. Before Aintrazi cast it for the third time, he cast Inquisition of Kozilek, stealing an Oblivion Ring from a hand with Sword of Feast and Famine, Gideon Jura, Day of Judgment, and Tectonic Edge. The Sphinx hit the table for the third time, and this time it actually got to draw Aintrazi a pair of cards. Hu used his Day of Judgment to clear it away, but Aintrazi was holding a second copy to replace it. Hu made a Gideon Jura, using it to force Aintrazi to attack. He had a Tectonic Edge in reserve, just in case Aintrazi tried the same maneuver as the last game and animated his Tar Pit.
Aintrazi got a glimpse of the lone Tectonic Edge in Hu's hand with Despise before dropping the bomb and stealing Gideon with a Volition Reins. At this point, Aintrazi had a severe advantage, especially considering the four cards in his hand. Hu had gotten a Sword of Feast and Famine into play alongside his Gideon, but he now had no creatures to hand it to. He drew his card and passed the turn. Aintrazi locked things up with a Liliana Vess, hitting the last card in Hu's hand, before swinging his team at Hu. One more turn and it was over.
Ali Aintrazi 2 – Haibing Hu 1
Aintrazi managed to resolve a first-turn Despise, revealing two copies of Day of Judgment, Preordain, Glacial Fortress, Oblivion Ring, and Jace Beleren, which he was forced to take. As though he wouldn't anyway. That made things clear for him to play a Jace of his own on the third turn, though he only got a single card out of it before Hu trapped him under Oblivion Ring. Hu then took the Planeswalker advantage with Gideon Jura, which caused Aintrazi to kick it back to Hu's hand with an Into the Roil. Rather than try for it once more, while Aintrazi had four mana open, Hu opted to pass the turn. Aintrazi took advantage of this window to cast his threat: the Consecrated Sphinx that had won him his last two games. Hu had an Into the Roil to kick at it during the end of turn, putting himself on the right side of the tempo this time around. He even used a Tectonic Edge to put Aintrazi back down to five lands, but Aintrazi had the sixth and was able to recast the Sphinx. He drew two cards off it before Day wiped it clear.
Aintrazi went after Hu's hand with an Inquisition of Kozilek, but just ended up looking at Emeria Angel, Gideon Jura, Day of Judgment, and a Seachrome Coast. Hu hadn't played the Coast on his last turn, and was dropped to three lands when Aintrazi used two Tectonic Edges to kill his lands. He also added a Grave Titan to the board, but Hu got to untap his new Coast and cast Day of Judgment to wipe it all away. An Emeria Angel and a land came down for Hu, giving him a little birdie, but Aintrazi had the Doom Blade for the Angel. He had another copy when Hu tried to make a Consecrated Sphinx. At this point, the attacking began. Hu sent for one with his bird, while Aintrazi sent a pair of Creeping Tar Pits after Hu. At two life, and facing lethal damage on the following turn, Hu made a Gideon Jura. Aintrazi sent his two lands, dropping him to two loyalty. Hu finally found a Squadron Hawk, playing all four of his Hawks in one turn before Aintrazi killed Gideon. Hu had a single turn left. He drew his card, surveyed the board, and shook Aintrazi's hand, sending him off to the finals and ensuring him a spot on the U.S. National team!
Ali Aintrazi 3 – Haibing Hu 1