Posted in NEWS on March 29, 2014

By Pip Foweraker

Zhiyang Zhang is one of China's better-recognised players, being a member of the winning Worlds team in 2009. This weekend, he's piloting a Mono-Black build against Da Wang's Esper control. The matchup is reminiscent of similar decks across formats dating back to Magic's infancy: the crux of the games will be whether Wang can stabilise against an efficient, disruptive strategy in time for his more-powerful-in-the-abstract control cards to take the match. With Mono-Black riding high in the current format, a lot will come down to the few 'free' slots that each player has tinkered with from the more common 'stock' lists, as drawn from the many recent events featuring both popular decks.

Both games would feature early aggression and disruption from Zhang, but Wang was able to stabilise in both instances, the power of multiple Planeswalkers being too much for even Pack Rats to punch their way through.

Game 1

Zhang had the first meaningful action with a Pack Rats. Wang was unfazed, Dissolving a Thoughtseize and calmly dropping lands to Detention Sphere the Rats. Zhang stalled on lands, casting an Underworld Connections but losing out on tempo by not being able to activate it immediately. Wang had a Jace, Architect of Thought to push himself further ahead on cards, while Zhang summoned another Pack Rats and offed the Jace with a Mutavault.

Wang used another Sphere to wipe out Zhang's Underworld Connections, giving Zhang a window to divest himself of a Lifebane Zombie. Wang's hand was full of gas: an Elspeth, a Sphinx's Revelation and a Dissolve stared down the Zombie. As the damage started to stack up, Wang fired a Revelations for 4 and summoning an Elspeth to clog the ground up.

Wang wistfully wonders, 'Whence will my Wrath wreak woe on these worrisome wretches?'

A Thoughtseize from Zhang nabbed a second Sphinx's Revelation, leaving Wang a window to summon a Jace. Zhang responded by casting a Hero's Downfall on the Elspeth before she got too out of hand. Wang had just shown a pair of Dissolves during the resolution of the Thoughtsize, and thought long and hard before letting it resolve, keeping his mana open for any further threats from Zhang.

Zhang elected not to cast anything and just bashed with his team, forcing Wang to sacrifice a Mutavault on defence and dropping him to 2 life. A suicidal Jace activation found him a Supreme Judgment to clear out Zhang's army. When he attacked with a Mutavault for lethal, Wang fired off a Sphinx's Revelation to keep himself alive for another turn. A second Elspeth looked to tie down a Zhang's Desecration Demon.

Stabilising at 1 life, Wang started to claw his way back into the game with an army of Elspeth tokens, while Zhang's library chose not to give him much gas for a couple of turns. Wang switched to an aggressive stance having accumulated an army of Soldier tokens. When he attacked, Zhang tried a Bile Blight to clear them out and (hopefully!) let his Desecration Demon take the first game. Wang had the counter, stopped Zhang's follow-up Gray Merchant of Asphodel cold, and took the game a few swings later.

Da Wang 1 - Zhiyang Zhang 0

An early Duress from Zhang saw a hand replete with lands, a Sphinx's Revelation and a Dark Betrayal. Zhang took the Revelation, leaving Wang looking to the top of his deck for something to stymie Zhang's game plans. Relentless, a Thoughtseize took theDark Betrayal and let Wang knocking the top of his deck.

Zhang's Lifebane Zombie started the clock ticking. Wang managed to draw aDissolve, but Zhang, either reading his opponent or just playing conservatively, merely animated a Mutavault and bashed for 5. Wang summoned a Jace, Architect of Thought and used his first ability, forcing Zhang to split his attacks or give the control player some breathing room. Zhang hit the Jace and summoned a Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

Zhang expresses mild frustration at not having either an alliterative surname or an answer to Elspeth.

Wang's Jace found him a Blood Baron of Vizkopa to shore up things on the ground and potentially gain himself some life back. Zhang had a Pack Rats, and then both players settled dow, their dudes staring across the battlefield at each other for a cycle of turns. Zhang drew something relevant and began his assault, Wang's Blood Baron gobbling the Lifebane Zombie . Wang failed to notice that the attacking creatures had been previously neutered by Jace's ability and mistakenly dropped his planeswalker in the bin. He recovered the following turn with a fresh one, who revealed a pair of Sphinx's Revelations, to Zhang's mild consternation. It was time for the Blood Baron to get to work, the powerful vampire rumbling in. Zhang returned fire by taking out the second Jace and threatening a pile of Pack Rats.

Time was called and, one game up, Wang switched strategies and held back with his Blood Baron during extra turns. Zhang had a Devour Flesh, but Wang tapped his sole remaining mana to activate a Mutavault. Once the land was animated, Zhang offed it with a Hero's Downfall and ended up clearing out the Blood Baron and knocking Wang down to a dangerously low life total. On his last turn, Wang found a Supreme Judgment, and that was enough to blow out Zhang's army and seal the match.

Da Wang 1 - Zhiyang Zhang 0