U.S. Nationals Semifinals – David Ochoa vs. Brandon Nelson

Posted in Event Coverage on August 6, 2011

By Steve Sadin

This time last year, David Ochoa was playing in the Top 4 of U.S. Nationals. Unfortunately for Ochoa, he lost his Semifinals match, and his 3/4 playoff match to end the tournament in fourth place. While this was still an excellent finish, Ochoa was understandably disappointed that he wasn't able to represent the United States as a part of the National Team at Worlds.

Today, David Ochoa again finds himself in the Top 4 of U.S. Nationals, and again needs to win (at least) one of his next two matches to earn a slot on the U.S. National Team. Will Ochoa find redemption this year, or will he again be forced to watch the team competition at Worlds from the sideline as the U.S. Team's "alternate".

Brandon Nelson is a veteran of the Midwest grinder scene, who has the ability to qualify for events seemingly at will, but has (up until this point), been unable to get the finishes necessary to keep himself from going back the PTQ circuit to earn his invitations.

Nelson qualified for the first two Pro Tours of the season via PTQs and came into this weekend with 8 Pro Points on the year. Consequently, Nelson has a lot more at stake here than "just" a spot on the U.S. National Team, as a win here would put Nelson on (at least) 16 Pro Points for the season – bumping himself up to Level 3 in the Pro Player's Club, earning himself an invitation to Pro Tour Philadelphia, and will need to pick up only the bare minimum two points from attending Philadelphia and Worlds to insure himself Level 4 status, and the automatic qualification for every Pro Tour that comes with it, for the remainder of this year, and next year.

Game One

Ochoa mulliganed to six on the play, but was able to refill his hand when he resolved a turn two Squadron Hawk fetching up three more copies of the format defining two drop. Ochoa then stuck a second Squadron Hawk on turn two, but he had no third land to go with it.

Nelson cast a Jace Beleren on his third turn which he ticked up to 5 counters – this both insured that his planeswalker would live through Ochoa's attack, and let the mana-light Ochoa draw into a third land.

Rather than cast a third Squadron Hawk, Ochoa (no doubt respecting the possibility of Day of Judgment) activated his Inkmoth Nexus and attacked Jace Beleren down to two counters.

Nelson's Squadron Hawk got bounced by a kicked Into the Roil, allowing Ochoa to kill his opponent's Jace Beleren with his attack.

The players then went back and forth playing lands, and hawks, for a number of turns – but the formerly mana-starved Ochoa drew several more lands than his opponent giving himself a huge advantage going into the late game.

Ochoa waited until he had seven lands in play before casting his first non-Squadron Hawk, non-Into the Roil Spell of the game, a Emeria Angel. Nelson used two Mana Leaks to counter the flier, untapped, and passed the turn back to Ochoa.

Ochoa, safe in the knowledge that Nelson had already used two of his three maindeck Mana Leaks (the players were given a chance to review each other's decklists before the match) cast a Consecrated Sphinx which got bounced by an Into the Roil.

Ochoa recast his Consecrated Sphinx, but this time Nelson was ready with a Day of Judgment.

Emeria Angel followed by Arid Mesa gave Ochoa five power worth of fliers, and left him with a bunch of untapped mana to discourage Nelson from trying anything too impressive. Nelson simply resolved a Timely Reinforcements and passed the turn.

A Scalding Tarn gave Ochoa two more fliers, and when he tried for a Gideon Jura, Nelson attempted to counter it with a Spell Pierce. Ochoa, who had five additional mana available, thought for a while before ultimately allowing his planeswalker to get countered – feeling content to continue riding his fliers to victory.

An Into the Roil bounced Ochoa's Emeria Angel, and after combat Ochoa again attempted to resolve a Gideon Jura. Nelson once again attempted to counter it with a Spell Pierce, but this time Ochoa had no problem paying the two mana to make sure his planeswalker would resolve as it set up a lethal attack a turn later.

David Ochoa 1 – Brandon Nelson 0

Game Two

Ochoa started game two with a mulligan, but made the first play of the game when he cast a Squadron Hawk on his third turn. Nelson tried to up the ante with a Timely Reinforcements, but it got countered by Ochoa's Spell Pierce.

Ochoa missed his fourth land drop, but kept the pressure on by adding a Sword of Feast and Famine to his side of the board. Nelson laid a fifth land and calmly passed the turn. When Ochoa equipped Sword of Feast and Famine to his Squadron Hawk, Nelson was ready with an Into the Roil bouncing the artifact.

A fourth land allowed Ochoa to cast a second Squadron Hawk post-combat, and Nelson again passed his turn with no play despite having enough lands to cast every spell in his deck.

When Ochoa added his third Squadron Hawk to the board, Nelson decided that he had had enough, and wiped the board with a Day of Judgment.

Ochoa's Emeria Angel got countered by Mana Leak, and with only a single white mana available, Ochoa could do nothing to stop Nelson's Gideon Jura from hitting play.

Ochoa spent his turn re-deploying his Sword of Feast and Famine, and summoning his final Squadron Hawk. Nelson used a Dismember to take out the hawk before casting a Sword of Feast and Famine of his own which he equipped to his animated Gideon Jura.

While Ochoa was able to briefly get his opponent's Gideon Jura off the board, he was never able to come up with a permanent answer for the planeswalker, and wound up dying to a combination of Gideon Jura, and Celestial Colonnade a few turns later.

David Ochoa 1 – Brandon Nelson 1

David Ochoa

Game Three

Ochoa got things started with a Squadron Hawk followed by a Sword of Feast and Famine, while Nelson cast a couple of Hawks of his own.

On his fourth turn Ochoa moved to equip his sword, and Mana Leaked Nelson's Dismember – forcing Nelson to chump block with one of his Squadron Hawks.

Nelson's Oblivion Ring took out the sword, but it also left him tapped out – giving Ochoa an opportunity to resolve something big. Ochoa missed his fifth land drop, so instead of slapping a Gideon Jura onto the board, he had to spend his turn casting a Preordain (which he found a land off of) and two more Squadron Hawks.

Ochoa cast a Jace Beleren, and used a Mana Leak to counter Nelson's Mana Leak.

With Ochoa tapped out, Nelson cast and equipped a Sword of Feast and Famine to force a block. Ochoa's Consecrated Sphinx got countered by Deprive, but the Emeria Angel that Ochoa cast on his next turn resolved – giving himself a steady stream of blockers for his opponent's sword wielding Squadron Hawk.

Nelson drew a Jace Beleren to stop Ochoa from drawing any more additional cards, but Ochoa's replacement planeswalker, a Gideon Jura, was able to hit the board.

Nelson's first attempt at Into the Roil got countered, but his second attempt to bounce Gideon Jura resolved. After bouncing the planeswalker, Nelson attacked in with his equipped bird. Ochoa activated a Celestial Colonnade, which got killed by a Dismember, forcing Ochoa to continue chump blocking with his Emeria Angel tokens.

Nelson's Sun Titan brought back a Squadron Hawk, but Ochoa wiped the board clean of creatures with a Day of Judgment, and attacked in with his Gideon Jura. On a mere 2 life, Nelson had to chump block the 6/6 Gideon with an Inkmoth Nexus.

A post-combat Tectonic Edge gave Ochoa a lot of protection, as it prevented Nelson from being able to kill Gideon Jura with an attack from Celestial Colonnade.

While Nelson was able to stay alive for a few turns, by chump blocking with his Inkmoth Nexuses, and Celestial Colonnades, he didn't draw anything that could deal with his opponent's GIdeon Jura, and consequently found himself with his back against the wall going into game four.

David Ochoa 2 – Brandon Nelson 1

Game Four

Nelson and Ochoa spent the first six turns of the game casting and trading Squadron Hawks, until there were none left in either player's deck.

Nelson's was a bit light on colored mana, as his first five lands were an Island, a Seachrome Coast, a couple of Inkmoth Nexuses, and a Tectonic Edge (which he used to destroy Ochoa's Celestial Colonnade). Nelson's Jace Beleren got Spell Pierced, and with only a Inkmoth Nexus untapped, Ochoa was able to resolve a Gideon Jura without any fear of counterspells.

Nelson (who was holding a Gideon Jura, that he was clearly itching to cast as it would legend rule away Ochoa's Gideon Jura and get the two players back to more even footing) didn't find a fifth land on his turn, and instead had to use two Dismembers to attempt to kill Ochoa's Gideon. Ochoa was ready with a Mana Leak, and – even though Ochoa had the mana to pay for it – Nelson immediately used a Spell Pierce to get his opponent to tap low (giving himself a better chance of resolving his Gideon Jura if he drew another white source on his next turn).

Ochoa's played a post-combat Tectonic Edge, and immediately used it to take out Nelson's Seachrome Coast, leaving Nelson with only an Island and two Inkmoth Nexuses for mana.

A few attacks, and an Emeria Angel later, and Ochoa was on to the Finals!

Final Result: David Ochoa 3 – Brandon Nelson 1

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