As much as I had hoped that the last match of Magic that these two had played against each other would have come at the Players Championship here in Seattle over a month ago. I hoped even harder that it was also in Modern. Unfortunately, all my hoping got me was a headache. Somehow, these two masters of the game managed to avoid each other through twelve rounds of play.
Lucky for them, I suppose. Not so lucky for me. Oh well, so much for the sweet connection. At least both players were spotted this weekend wearing the awesome monogrammed hoodies they got there.
As the higher seed, Ochoa had earned the right to go first. After passing his first turn without a play, Ochoa was hit by a Thoughtseize, revealing a hand of Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Bloodbraid Elf, and three lands. Watanabe chose the card advantage engine, and Ochoa had to shift his turn two play from Confidant to Tarmogoyf.
In a stroke of luck, Ochoa's deck coughed up a second copy of the Dark Confidant, allowing him to get it into play alongside the Goyf on the following turn. Watanabe used his turn to play a Liliana of the Veil, forcing Ochoa to choose between his creatures, making the obvious choice to keep the Confidant around. On the following turn, he drew a land off the Confidant and added a Bloodbraid Elf to his team. The Elf brought a Deathrite Shaman along with it, and Ochoa attacked Watanabe with the Elf while the Confidant finished off Liliana.
Watanabe closed the gap some with a Bloodbraid Elf/Deathrite Shaman cascade of his own, and Ochoa dropped to 17. A second Bloodbraid from Ochoa grabbed a Lightning Bolt, finishing off Watanabe's copy. Ochoa thought hard before sending in his entire team. Watanabe blocked the Confidant with his Shaman, dropping to 5 in the process. When Ochoa played a Thoughtseize after combat, Watanabe laughed as he splayed his four-land hand on the table, drawing a chuckle from Ochoa as well. After the humor of the situation had passed, Watanabe decided that he'd had enough, picking his cards up.
David Ochoa 1, Yuuya Watanabe 0
Between games, Ochoa consulted a list of notes compiled by he and Team ChannelFireball during the course of their late-night testing session. Watanabe silently stared at his deck as he added his sideboard cards to his deck and plucked out the chaff with surgical precision.
For the second game, Watanabe would get to play first, and he led off in a fairly slow-starting manner. Neither player had a play through the first couple of turns, the first real addition being a turn three Fulminator Mage from Ochoa. Considering the Jund deck's reliance on non-basic lands to support the insane mana requirements for the deck, Fulminator Mage can be potentially back-breaking.
Considering that Watanabe's opening lands were Overgrown Tomb, double Treetop Village, and a Blood Crypt, the Mage looked like it could really do some harm. Still, Ochoa chose not to fire it off, waiting for a better circumstance. When Watanabe fired of a Bloodbraid Elf into a Liliana of the Veil, he appeared to take a slight lead. Rather than attack with the Elf, he left it back to defend, wanting to keep Liliana safe. Watanabe activated Liliana's first ability, discarding a Lightning Bolt to Ochoa's Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Despite his best attempts to defend Liliana's dishonor, Watanabe lost his Bloodbraid to a Lightning Bolt, clearing the way for Fulminator Mage to knock her down to two loyalty.
Watanebe continued to activate her first ability, hitting lands from Ochoa while pitching removal spells himself. Afterward, he added the terribly relevant Batterskull to his side. An absolute monster in this matchup, the Batterskull would surely win the game for Watanabe unless it was dealt with soon. Ochoa fired a Lightning Bolt to finish off Liliana before playing Bloodbraid Elf and cascading into a 4/5 Tarmogoyf, which Abruptly Decay'd into dust. Watanabe attacked with his Batterskull, and Ochoa blocked with his Mage, sacrificing it before damage to destroy Watanabe's Treetio Village and deny him the life gain. After combat, Watanabe added a Deathrite Shaman to play and passed the turn.
Ochoa made a second Fulminator Mage on his turn, providing yet another damage shield. When Watanabe activated his last Treetop Village and attacked, Ochoa wasted little time before putting the Mage in front of the living weapon and sacrificing it to kill the animated land. For his turn, Ochoa drew and cast a Lightning Bolt, destroying Watanabe's Deathrite Shaman, another incredibly powerful card in this heavily attrition-based matchup. Watanabe continued to attack, gaining life this time around. He also made a Liliana of the Veil to remove Ochoa's last creature. The game seemed like it could soon be seeing its final turns.
Ochoa found an Ancient Grudge to kill the Batterskull, but it may have been too late. Watanabe kept forcing Ochoa to play off the top of his deck, and Watanabe kept adding creatures to his side of the table. Kitchen Finks was followed by Dark Confidant and ultimately a Bloodbraid Elf, all combining to end the game, sending things back to Ochoa tied up at one apiece.
David Ochoa 1, Yuuya Watanabe 1
I noticed the Azorius pin on the lapel of Ochoa's shirt while he was shuffling up between games and thought it was pretty hilarious that he's supporting a guild that doesn't share any colors with his Modern deck. At least Watanabe was sporting an Izzet pin for one color of overlap.
Watanabe made a Deathrite Shaman to open the game, but it didn't last long. As a Jund player himself, Ochoa knows how foolish it is to ignore the Birds of Lavamancer. A Lightning Bolt dispatched it with a tremendous amount of haste. With the Shaman dead to a Lightning Bolt played off of a fetched out Blood Crypts, the Tarmogoyf Ochoa added to his team on turn two was a 3/4. Not a terrible way to open the game.
Watanabe thought for some time about how to best play his turn. With a Thoughtseize in hand, he opted for a scouting mission, aware that adding a sorcery would add another point of power and toughness to the Goyf. When he saw Terminate, Bloodbraid Elf, Obstinate Baloth, and Batterskull, he jokingly moved the Baloth far away from the other cards in Ochoa's hand. Despite not wanting to turn the Goyf into a 5/6, Watanabe wisely chose the Batterskull from Ochoa's hand, resigning it to the graveyard.
Ochoa's Goyf smashed, in every sense of the word, dropping Watanabe to 13. Watanabe had Abrupt Decays in his deck, but no green mana with which to cast it. He found some in the form of a Treetop Village, but it was going to be one more beat before he could cast it. Fortunately, he had a Terminate to kill it instead, staying safe. Ochoa didn't have a fourth land, and things looked like they may be starting to turn. He couldn't get either the Baloth or Bloodbraid into play, and it looked like Watanabe was going to get the important first crack at a Bloodbraid.
Or at least so I thought. Watanabe simply untapped, added a fourth land to play and cast a Kitchen Finks. When Ochoa failed yet again to play a fourth land, he simply tried for a Deathrite Shaman to serve as a proxy, but it was killed with Lightning Bolt. Watanabe pressed his advantage with a Tarmogoyf, threatening to kill Ochoa in two turns. The Californian still failed to find that fourth land, and he looked in dire straits. When Watanabe cast a Bloodbraid Elf on the following turn, the game was over, Watanabe having broken serve, going up two games to one.
David Ochoa 1, Yuuya Watanabe 2
Ochoa was not unfamiliar with the position of being down in a Jund mirror match. He had come back from a 0-2 deficit against Willy Edel to take his Quarterfinals match and reach this level. Still, playing against the reigning Player of the Year had to be an even more difficult position for Ochoa than normal in this spot, knowing for virtually certain that his opponent would be playing virtually mistake-free Magic. Fortunately for him, while this is his first Pro Tour Top 8, this is by no means the first time that the former US National Team member has been playing under a lot of pressure, as his win against Edel shows.
Ochoa decided to play first, but chose to do so with a hand he didn't seem incredibly pleased with. Still, he opened with a Deathrite Shaman, losing it to an immediate Lightning Bolt. He followed that with a second, but not a second land. When Watanabe used a second Lightning Bolt, things started to look problematic for Ochoa. Fortunately, Ochoa found himself a second land with which to cast his Dark Confidant, hoping it could dig him out of his early resource hole. Watanabe matched it with his own, accompanied by a Deathrite Shaman. Showing why he refers to his deck as Jund(stice), Ochoa found himself able to aim a pair of Lightning Bolts at Watanabe's creatures, clearing his side of the board. After combat, a third Deathrite Shaman came down for Ochoa hoping to avoid the same fate as all of the others.
Unable to keep his Confidant, Watanabe decided to generate his card advantage another way. Olivia Voldaren, a key sideboard card in this matchup, came down and threatened to clear Ochoa's board. With one shot at removing it, Ochoa quickly aimed a Terminate at the Vampire. The Geralf's Messenger Ochoa added to his board cemented the advantage he now possessed. Watanabe unloaded his hand in a repeat of a couple of turns ago, adding a Shaman and another Confidant to his side, but he was significantly behind. When Ochoa attacked with his team, Watanabe went to trade Dark Confidants, and this dropped Watanabe to 4. Combined with another Geralf's Messenger he held and the Deathrite Shaman, Watanabe died, sending this match to the fifth and final game.
David Ochoa 2, Yuuya Watanabe 2
The tenet of this match so far had been that the player that gets to keep either their Deathrite Shaman, Dark Confidant, or Batterskull wins. Considering the deck's reliance on both card advantage, utility, and acceleration, this is unsurprising. Erik Lauer seemed a bit surprised yesterday as he perused the lists of the Top 8 players and noticed the seemingly innocuous Deathrite Shaman, yet all of the ChannelFireball members playing Jund joked throughout the course of the tournament that no one seemed to understand how important it is to deal with the little powerhouse. Given the number of fetch lands and the prevalence of flashback in the format, it isn't hard to understand why the tiny man is so good. He accelerates, fixes mana, and can either gain or cause the loss of life when needed. He is a veritable Swiss Army knife that also serves to remove potent cards from opponents' graveyards at the most opportune times. He just does work.
Ochoa was faced with the difficult decision to mulligan on the draw in the final and deciding game of this Semifinal match. A hand overloaded with lands and nothing to do early simply does not cut it when you have to be able to react to an early Shaman or Confidant. He found his second slightly more appealing, with a Thoughtseize and a Dark Confidant, yet he still seemed to be slightly unhappy to keep.
Watanabe started off with a first-turn Deathrite Shaman, using a Verdant Catacombs to fetch out a land. Ochoa sighed as he drew his card, eventually deciding to cast a Thoughtseize off of an Overgrown Tomb, removing Tarmogoyf from a hand with two lands and two Liliana of the Veil. Watanabe drew his card and played the first Liliana, using it to force discards. Watanabe discarded the second Liliana while Ochoa let go of a Fulminator Mage. Ochoa offered up a Deathrite Shaman for sacrifice on his turn and then passed back to Watanabe. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Watanabe dropped Lilly's loyalty to finish the Shaman off. A Misty Rainforest from Watanabe allowed a freshly-drawn Bloodbraid Elf to come down and explode Watanabe's side of the board. The Elf cascaded into a 4/5 Tarmogoyf, giving the Player of the Year an incredible amount of damage on his side of the board.
Ochoa was without a third land and in need of options. He dropped his Dark Confidant, but it was not going to be enough. Liliana finished off the Confidant, and then Watanabe's massive team smashed over to drop Ochoa to 5. One more turn, and Ochoa was unable to create a miracle, making to the Semifinals but no further in his first Pro Tour Top 8.
Watanabe, meanwhile, continues his absolute dominance of late, making it to the finals of his second consecutive top tier event, looking to add his first Pro Tour win to his already dazzling resume.
Yuuya Watanabe defeats David Ochoa 3-2 and advances to the Finals!