Semifinals: Taking on Goliath

Posted in NEWS on August 4, 2013

By Frank Karsten

One of the big surprises of the tournament was Team Iceland. Despite having only 12 lifetime Pro Points between them and coming from a relatively small country with only 300,000 inhabitants, they carved a path through the tournament this weekend, making it all the way to the semifinals.

Standing in Iceland's way is Team France, championed by Pro Tour Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy, one of the game's longtime greats. To illustrate the difference in experience between the two teams: Raphaël Lévy alone has more than forty-five times as many lifetime Pro Points as the four members of Team Iceland combined. So, if Magic cards would work in real life and you could use Progenitor Mimic to make 44 copies of every Icelandic team member, then even that gigantic group of 190 Icelandic players would lose against Raphaël Lévy on lifetime Pro Points.

It was a true David-versus-Goliath match, and Goliath knew it. Before the match, Raphaël Lévy looked confident. He mentioned that France had beaten Iceland in the swiss rounds before and that the matchups looked fine to him. Then again, anything could happen. The two teams sat down, shared hugs and high-fives to get pumped up for their matches, and shuffled up.

Iceland goes up against the Goliath of the day, Team France. Would David conquer Goliath, or would France reach one match away from claiming the only title is has not won in Magic history?

Alvin Orri Gislason (Red-Green Aggro) vs. Raphaël Lévy (Mono-Green Aggro)

This match pivoted all around Predator Ooze.

In Game 1, the key play was a turn two Predator Ooze. Thanks to a first-turn Elvish Mystic, Lévy was able to start attacking with his Ooze as early as turn three, growing it into a bigger size every turn. Gislason had no way to remove the Ooze once it entered the battlefield, so his only game plan was to go for a damage race. That's what he tried, but he fell short: his Flinthoof Boars and Hellriders were easily blocked by Lévy's creatures, especially once Wolfir Silverheart came down. A couple turns later, Predator Ooze swung in for the kill.

In Game 2, Lévy had the turn two Predator Ooze once again. However, Gislason (who was on the play this game) had an aggressive draw with Scavenging Ooze and Strangleroot Geist, forcing Lévy to hold back his Predator Ooze as an indestructible blocker. It acted as a brick wall against Gislason's ground creatures, but it was unable to block creatures with flying. Thundermaw Hellkite came down, and Lévy was in trouble. He tried to make a damage race out of it with Rancor and Scavenging Ooze, but Gislason had Hellrider and Ghor-Clan Rampager to win the damage race, tying the match at one game apiece.

Lévy and Gislason clashed and traded off in games. The conclusion to their match, however, would have to wait for the other matches to finish.

The third game of this Ooze-filled match was held while the players waited for the other two matches to conclude.

Ragnar Sigurdsson (Junk Aristocrats) vs. Timothée Simonot (Jund Midrange)

The first game was all about Olivia Voldaren. Jund is playing some of the best creatures in Standard, and the black-red Vampire is one of them. In particular, it handily pecked off the flimsy creatures in Junk Aristocrats, such as Blood Artist and Young Wolf. The important thing that Simonot did was to not expose his Olivia Voldaren to removal. After the match, he mentioned the importance of waiting until he had six mana so he could immediately turn his Olivia Voldaren into a 4/4. That way, he made sure that his crucially important Olivia Voldaren would not fall to Garruk Relentless. It worked, as Olivia Voldaren stayed in play, and took over the first game.

France feels confident about their chances, but sometimes, upsets can happen.

The second game was all about Bonfire of the Damned. Lifebane Zombie from Sigurdsson revealed that Simonot was holding a hand of Olivia Voldaren, Tragic Slip, Bonfire of the Damned, and lands. A pretty stacked hand, which would ensure that Jund would pull ahead in the long game. An interesting point came a couple turns later. Simonot had Huntmaster of the Fells and five lands on the battlefield, with all the cards previously seen by Lifebane Zombie still in his hand. Facing Lifebane Zombie, Young Wolf, and Voice of Resurgence on the other side of the table, Simonot had several options. He could pull the trigger on Bonfire of the Damned; he could rush out Olivia Voldaren; or he could pass the turn to kill Lifebane Zombie with a Ravager of the Fells trigger. Simonot thought for a while and chose the last line, saving Bonfire of the Damned for a more opportune time. "Bonfire of the Damned is the most important card in this matchup," the Frenchman told me after the match. "If you have it, just only have to pick a good time to play it." That time came a few turns down the road, and it was a beating. Sigurdsson lost all of his creatures, and had no comeback.

One match to France. What was going on in at the third table in the meantime?

Hedinn Haraldsson (Blue-White-Red Flash) vs. Yann Guthmann (Blue-White Flash)

Although this was a near-mirror match, there were small differences, and they ended up mattering a lot. Haraldsson splashed red for Pillar of Flame, a card that is pretty good against Voice of Resurgence and the like, but pretty mediocre against Augur of Bolas and Restoration Angel. In place of the red cards, Guthmann had Thought Scour and Runechanter's Pike. And that little equipment turned out to be incredibly important.

Game 1 was a long, drawn-out affair in which both players had a lot of mana and were just passing the turn, careful not to tap out and give their opponent a chance to resolve Sphinx's Revelation. Nevertheless, a few Augur of Bolas entered the battlefield on both sides of the table. The 1/3s on Guthmann's side of the table were much better because he had a Runechanter's Pike in play. His graveyard had filled up with Thought Scour, Azorius Charm, and the like, which meant that Augur of Bolas suddenly turned into an imposing ten power threat. Haraldsson fought back with Supreme Verdict, but that only turned on Moorland Haunt, which started churning out a never-ending stream of 1/1 Spirit tokens. Err, 10/1 Spirit tokens. It took a while, as Haraldsson had some red burn spells to stay alive, but Runechanter's Pike eventually took over when Haraldsson was out of removal for Guthmann's creatures. Moreover, Guthmann had enough countermagic, Snapcaster Mages, and lands to stop Haraldsson from resolving Sphinx's Revelation, and that was good enough to win the game.

Early on in Game 2, Guthmann flashed in Restoration Angel, and started attacking. Feeling the pressure, Haraldsson eventually had to do something. He cast Oblivion Ring, hoping to remove the 3/4 Angel. Guthmann, who didn't want to lose his threat, started a counter-war over it. His Negate and Dispel beat Haraldsson's Dissipate, so Restoration Angel stuck around. More importantly, the counter-war left Haraldsson tapped out, opening up a window for Guttmann to resolve the Jace, Memory Adept that he had been saving for the opportunity. After that, Guthmann could pressure Haraldsson on two fronts: Restoration Angel attacks and Jace activations. On top of that, the Frenchman still had a Dissipate in hand to stop any shenanigans, and it didn't take long for him to close out the game.

Having won two of the matches, France was through to the finals, and the good-natured Icelandic players offered their congratulations.

France ends Iceland's phenomenal run in the World Magic Cup, and puts themselves only a single win away from their only unclaimed title.

"It was David versus Goliath," Icelandic team captain Gislason said afterwards. "No one expected us in Day Two, no one expected us in the Top 16, no one expected us in the Top 8, and no one expected us in the Top 4. We just wanted to play Magic, and kept on winning, but we can't win them all," His compatriot Haraldsson agreed: "I think we just lost to a better, more experienced team. They played very well."

France 2 - Iceland 0