There were whispers before the Round started of No. 13 Ranked Player Makihito Mihara doing some ridiculous, ridiculous things with his Kiki-Pod deck, one of them revolving around a pair of Summoning Traps allowing him to go off from an empty board when is opponent made the "mistake" of Remanding a spell.
Sitting down for his feature match against No. 3 Ranked Player Reid Duke, the former world champion Mihara assured me the story was quite true, that he had cast the first one to find a Spellskite, the second one to get an Eternal Witness to get back the Trap, that Trap got a Restoration Angel (conveniently resetting Witness to get trap back), and the final Trap found Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker for the full combo.
If that doesn't make you unreasonably excited for this match-up, I can't help you.
Oh, and did you catch the part where he's playing against Reid Duke, superstar, hair model, and all around nicest guy in the universe? And I should also mention that both players are 4-2 and poised to make a run deep into Day Two.
It's a clash of the titans and a match-up between two of the most talented teams in the tournament: Duke's CFB: The Pantheon and Mihara's Team Japan. Duke stuck with his trusty midrange Green decks, playing a straight Black-Green Jund-style deck with plenty of disruption, removal, and efficient threats. Mihara, obviously, was playing the Naya-flavored Kiki-Jiki Pod list that had largely been abandoned by most people in favor of Melira Pod.
Mihara, however, isn't most people. Then again, neither is Duke.
Duke led with Inquisition of Kozilek to see a spicy, land-light hand, with Restoration Angel, Birthing Pod, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Zealous Conscripts, and a Burning-Tree Emissary that was the only target for the discard spell. When a drawn Noble Hierarch died to Abrupt Decay, Mihara found himself asking his deck for land. He received it.
Eventually, he worked something out, attempting to string together Burning-Tree Emissary and Restoration Angel to get out of the jam with Birthing Pod. Slaughter Pact, however, broke up the combo potential and allowed Duke to force the concession the following turn.
For the second game, Duke once again led with a discard spell on the first turn, revealing Mihara's creativity along with two Birthing Pods, Spellskite, Restoration Angel, and a pair of lands...including a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx! The pioneer of the Standard Mono Green Devotion deck, Mihara just couldn't get away from the rare Theros land.
Duke followed up with Dark Confidant, but without another discard spell or removal, Mihara was able to start up Birthing Pod, changing a Birds of Paradise into Phantasmal Image to get his own Dark Confidant. The Image of Confidant wasn't long for the world, however, as Maelstrom Pulse forced it to trigger its suicide clause, letting Duke pull further ahead.
At least that's what it looked like for a hot minute. Duke had all the answers. Deathmark killed Restoration Angel, Slaughter Pact killed Deceiver Exarch, and Dark Confidant revealed...Phyrexian Obliterator!
But Mihara always had tricks up his sleeves, and virtually any creature would let him start doing some pretty crazy things. In this case, it was Wall of Roots into Kitchen Finks into a Murderous Redcap to finally kill Dark Confidant. He even went back up to 11 life in the process.
Phyrexian Obliterator pushed Mihara to 6 life, but Duke could only cast a second Obliterator and pass back, leaving up two mana.
He more than delivered.
Zealous Conscripts stole Phyrexian Obliterator from the first Birthing Pod activation and a second activation, using the same Murderous Redcap, found Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to copy the Obliterator and smash in for a whopping 13 damage seemingly out of nowhere! From being virtually dead to dealing a very certain death to Duke, Mihara's deck just kept surprising.
Surprising would be the best way to describe Mihara's keep for the third game. Thoughtseize revealed the, um, interesting hand that even Mihara said was "not a good keep": two Kiki-Jiki, Restoration Angel, Birthing Pod, Forest, and two Nykthos. It was, as they say, a little loose.
Another Thoughtseize revealed a hand of uncastable creatures, and Liliana worked its way back up to six counters while Duke's hand size shrunk in relation to the number on the side of Liliana's loyalty die.
Mihara looked down and out, but crossed his fingers and asked his deck very nicely for Kitchen Finks on the last turn it would matter.
So, his deck, naturally and very nicely, delivered Kitchen Finks.
Duke, however, was out of gas. He only hand Liliana to keep him company while Mihara again drew well, finding Scavenging Ooze to continue adding to his board.
That led Duke to fire off Liliana's ultimate ability, splitting Scavenging Ooze with one land and a persisted Kitchen Finks with two lands. Mihara chose the larger pile, but lost his Finks to Slaughter Pact. He did, however, resolve a Birthing Pod that could prove key again.
Then Duke slammed Dark Confidant, exactly the card he might have asked for, were he so inclined. Liliana, ominously, started ticking up again.
A second Dark Confidant and a Scavenging Ooze threatened to let Duke run away with the game. Slaughter Pact kept Deceiver Exarch from doing anything significant, but any creature from Mihara threatened to do something crazy.
The next creature in that lineup was Phantasmal Image, which copied Scavenging Ooze before being sacrificed for the greater good (and Birthing Pod) to dig up an Izzet Staticaster, causing Duke to both smile ruefully and to lose both of his Dark Confidants.
But there was still the matter of Scavenging Ooze and a graveyard full of creatures to snack on. One turn and a rather large, 9/9 Scavenging Ooze later and Duke had managed to navigate Mihara's weird world of Birthing Pod.
That Duke had played a Black-Green based deck was no surprise, but the inclusion of Phyrexian Obliterator certainly was.
"I played a lot of creature match-ups, and I was tired of my creatures getting trumped by a large Scavenging Ooze or Knight of the Reliquary," Duke said. "You can't really trump Phyrexian Obliterator."
And even though he died at the hands of his own 5/5 (and a copy!) in the second game, he emphasized its importance in Birthing Pod-style match-ups.
"I really like them against these kinds of decks because they have so many mana creatures and Kitchen Finks and you have to find a way to break through. Obliterator gives me a way to do that," Duke said.
To accommodate the quadruple Black casting cost, Duke had to play a few less typical lands in his deck, including Twilight Mire and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, both of which help accommodate his Treetop Village-mana base.
However he put it together, it worked against Mihara's crazy Pod deck just long enough to put Duke to 5-2 and right near the top of the standings heading into the last round.
(3) Duke 2 – (13) Mihara 1