Chinese Taipei vs. Slovak Republic (Team Contructed)
Chinese Taipei has not had an easy path to get them through to the Top 8. Thanks to a virtuoso performance by Tzu-Ching Kuo, who went 7–0 on Day One, he and his team of Tung-Yi Cheng, Yu Min Yang, and Paul Renie were well poised for the second day of play, ending the first in 4th place. Their first pool was filled with danger, however, as they were grouped with three strong teams from Portugal, Austria, and Sweden. Despite the adversity, they seemingly breezed through the Team Sealed stage, not dropping a match. This put them all the way into 2nd place. Then, after defeating the Uruguayan and American teams, their spot in the Top 8 was secured; a difficult road, but one they proved more than capable of traveling.
Their opponents in the Quarterfinals of the Top 8 were the Slovak Republic, who had a similarly impressive Day One performance to set up their road to victory. Rather than riding on the backs of one person, the entire Slovakian team put up a solid performance on Day One, with captain Robert Jurkovic putting up the best record with a 6–1 finish. Together with Ivan Floch, Filip Valis, and Patrik Surab, the Slovakians were heavily favored as one of the more experienced teams in the field. As they plowed through the first day of play, finishing 2nd only to the Croatian team, it really looked like their spot in Top 8 was guaranteed. After a loss to Ukraine in Round 1 of Stage 2, however, their backs were against the wall. Fortunately, after a win in the next round and a dream-crushing French win over Ukraine, they avoided the upset elimination.
Meeting in the Quarterfinals, the matchups were as follows:
Innistrad Block Constructed
Filip Valis (Jund) vs Tung-Yi Cheng (Jund)
Robert Jurkovic (Sun Titan U/W) vs Yu Min Yang (R/B Zombies)
Ivan Floch (R/U/G Delver of Secrets) vs Tzu-Ching Kuo (U/W Tempo)
Having already spent a good deal of time covering Standard in this tournament, the focus on this match was placed on the Modern match, with an eye kept toward the other two.
Kuo started with a mulligan to six on the play, initially appearing dangerous against Floch's quick Delver of Secrets and transformation. Fortunately, before the Delver of Secrets could get in even once, Kuo had a Path to Exile to stay safe. The next few turns progressed quite slowly, both players adding nothing but lands to the board. When Floch tried to break the standstill with a Tarmogoyf, a fight ensued, although Floch won in the end, his Spell Snare stopping Kuo's Remand. With Floch now tapped out, Kuo decided to make a Geist of Saint Traft, taking advantage of the window he was given. Floch once again decided to add a creature to the board, using a Vendilion Clique during Kuo's next draw step. The Clique resolved, revealing Remand, Sword of Feast and Famine, and a Snapcaster Mage. Floch chose the Sword, and Kuo drew a Mutavault to replace it.
Despite the appearance of creatures on both sides, neither player felt like committing too much to an attack. Kuo didn't want to lose his Geist, and Floch didn't want to get cracked on the swing back. The only creature that swung was the Clique, which had the skies to itself at this point. After taking the hit, Kuo made a Snapcaster Mage during Floch's end step, which resolved and allowed a second Path to Exile, removing the Tarmogoyf, Floch's only blocker, from play.
Now the attacking could begin in earnest. Kuo sent his team, comprised of an Angel token, Geist of Saint Traft, and Snapcaster Mage. Floch tried to slow things down with a Burst Lightning, but Kuo Remanded with a Snapcaster Mage. Flock dropped to 9. Fortunately, he got the two-for-one on the following turn, using Forked Bolt to kill both Mages while Kuo was tapped out. This evened things up a bit more, and the game once again slowed back down.
While this slowdown was occurring, Chinese Taipei went up a game, taking down the first in Innistrad Block Constructed, with Cheng winning the Jund mirror.
Kuo tried to hasten the pace of his game, attempting to play a Restoration Angel during Floch's end step, but it was met by a Mana Leak that Floch had been holding for most of the game. With Floch down to only two lands untapped, Kuo decided to attack with his Geist of Saint Traft into the Vendilion Clique. Before blockers, Floch added a wrinkle with a Snapcaster Mage, which Kuo allowed to hit play. It quickly jumped in front of the Geist, and Floch let the Angel through. Kuo thought for a minute while Floch deftly tried to entice him to hurry through his decision. Kuo decided that things were fine as they were, and Floch dropped to 4. After combat, Kuo replaced the Geist and passed the turn with two mana available.
Floch dug some more with a Serum Visions, choosing to put both cards on the bottom. He passed the turn with four mana up, looking at a very bad attack for him on the following turn. Kuo thumbed through Floch's graveyard before deciding on his attacks. He had a Mutavault and a Geist of Saint Traft that could potentially be lethal, but Floch did have four mana available and a few cards in hand. Kuo played a Celestial Colonnade, which likely influenced his thinking, since he had exactly enough lands in play to activate it on the following turn. If he lost his Mutavault, his next attack would be less than ideal. Despite this, he chose to activate the Vault and send his team.
Before blockers, Floch flashed in a Snapcaster Mage, traded it with the Geist, chumped the Angel with his Clique, and let the Vault through, dropping to 2. He survived in a reasonable spot, but didn't have a play for his turn and was facing down a pair of man-lands. Kuo activated his Vault and attacked, choosing to leave mana up rather than tap out for a Colonnade in the face of a potential Burst Lightning. Floch instead had an Electrolyze, and Kuo tried to deny him the card with a Restoration Angel, but Floch Deprived it. Kuo was now unable to activate his Colonnade for the attack, but he found an alternative, resolving a Kitchen Finks. Floch found a blocker in Tarmogoyf. Kuo Remanded it, but Floch just replayed it.
Things had gotten tense, with Kuo knocking on the door but understanding how quickly things could change. He went for the win with a Cryptic Command to bounce the Tarmogoyf and draw a card, but Floch used Burst Lightning to kill the Finks for the first time, preventing them from attacking that turn. Kuo's card ended up being another land, giving him enough to start activating the Colonnade. Floch kept trying to muster a defense; his attempt at a Tarmogoyf met by Spell Snare, prompting a long conversation with team captain Jurkovic, seated at the neighboring table. Eventually, they accepted, and the 'goyf hit the graveyard.
When Kuo tried to finish things off on the next turn with a simple attack from his Finks, Floch used a Cryptic Command to try and bounce the Finks and draw a card. Kuo had a Snapcaster Mage for it, though, choosing to Cryptic it back, resulting in a concession from Floch.
During that marathon Game 1, the Slovakians had evened up the score in the Block Constructed match, but Jurkovic had dropped his first Standard game to Yu Min Yang. Now down one game in two matches, the Slovak Republic was up against the wall. Jurkovic started quite well in his second game, dropping some early Lingering Souls tokens into play and then clearing the board with Wrath of God before things got out of hand, eventually getting up to Sun Titan while still at a reasonable life total. Things looked to be under control, but that's as much observation as I got before the Modern match resumed.
Despite stepping back to the Modern match for coverage, it appeared that I could have stuck around a little longer at the Standard match. Things started off incredibly slowly in Modern. Neither Floch nor Kuo had much to do over the first turns, with the first play being Floch aiming an Electrolyze at Kuo's head. The reason for Kuo's failure to play anything became quite apparent when he failed to play a third land. Floch complicated matters by adding a Blood Moon to the board, shutting off the two lands Kuo did have. Kuo tried to stop it with an Annul, but Floch had the Dispel to push it through.
With Kuo's board locked down, and him floundering to catch up, Floch resolved a pair of Tarmogoyfs and a Delver of Secrets. It took almost no time for Floch to take the second game and end what was surely a miserable experience for Kuo. The match was now evened at one game apiece.
Despite starting down three games, the Slovakian team had battled back admirably, evening up two matches and looking very strong in Game 2 of the third. The Block game was winding down, which would give one team the first win of the match, so I rotated over to check it out.
Cheng and Valis were locked in a Jund on Jund match, deep into Game 3. There were slight differences in the lists, including the presence of Restoration Angels in Cheng's list. They made their presence known as he used them to save his blockers during a particularly one-sided attack. Valis had a Wolfir Silverheart enhancing a Borderland Ranger, and Cheng didn't seem to have a way to deal with them except throwing a creature in the way and using an Angel to save it. He was dropped to 8 during the attack, and Valis complicated matters by adding a Huntmaster of the Fells to an already dominant board. Cheng cleared the Huntmaster and the Wolf token from the board with a Bonfire of the Damned, but he was still facing down a 6/6 and an 8/8. All Cheng could do was chump block, leaving him with one Angel to survive the next turn. When Valis showed him a Zealous Conscripts, Cheng offered his hand, giving the Slovakians a 1–0 edge in the match.
During the course of this final game, Jurkovic managed to complete the game against Yang, evening that match up as well. Back to Modern, this time with Chinese Taipei against the wall, things began much as the first game did, with very little early commitment to the board. At the end of Floch's third turn, Kuo aimed a Vendilion Clique at him, prompting a long pause from Floch. He ultimately let it happen, revealing a hand of two Vendilion Cliques of his own, Deprive, Mana Leak, Tarmogoyf, Nature's Claim, and a Snapcaster Mage. Kuo scanned the hand for quite some time after recording its contents, eventually settling on Mana Leak, which ended up being the card Floch drew to replace it.
The game was temporarily paused as the Standard match next door drew to completion. Yang employed a pair of Blood Artists to quickly whittle away at Jurkovic's life, eventually getting him to 1 life with Geralf's Messenger. Jurkovic cleared the board with a Day of Judgment and managed to stay at 1 life as opposed to die due to a Nihil Spellbomb that removed the Messenger before it could return. Being at only 1 life is not a particularly stable position against a Zombies player, however, and Yang finished Jurkovic off with a Mortarpod on the following turn, evening the match up at one apiece.
Now, everything rested on the outcome of this game. Kuo resumed where the pause had happened, drawing his card and proceeding with his turn. He tried to play a Geist of Saint Traft, which drew a Mana Leak from Floch. Kuo smiled and looked at his list of cards in Floch's hand, confirming that he had drawn it from the Clique. "Lucky," Floch said with a smile. Kuo just smiled and stopped the Leak with a Spell Snare. Floch stemmed the bleeding some with a Vendilion Clique of his own to kill Kuo's, replacing a card in his own hand. Still, he was tapped out and Kuo got to swing with his Geist, knocking Floch down to 9.
Floch had a handful of cards, but he was stuck on three lands. He made a Tarmogoyf to block the Geist, but that only left him one available mana. Still, one was all he needed to Spell Snare Kuo's attempt at an end-of-turn Snapcaster Mage. Kuo had a second to cast, dropping it in play next to the Geist. He chose to go beat down rather than try to get extra value out of flashback. He even had a Cryptic Command to bounce the struggling Floch's Tarmogoyf, clearing a path for an attack that dropped Floch to 1. With three lands in play, it was a virtual impossibility that Floch could survive the next turn, but he drew his card and looked for an out. When that didn't work, he tried to search deeper with a Sleight of Hand. When that didn't work, he conceded the deciding match of this Quarterfinals, sending Chinese Taipei to the Semifinals of the first World Magic Cup!
Chinese Taipei 2, Slovak Republic 1