When the Top 4 of the 2014 World Championship was announced earlier in Worlds Week, there were several potential stories that could have emerged: the dominance of an all-Japan finals; the return of a previous World Champion; the called shot of a Hall of Fame member.
Two out of three was still unbelievably exciting.
Fourteenth-ranked Shahar Shenhar had a lot on his mind. Thanks to his victory in the 2013 World Championship, as well as his standout performances throughout the year, Shenhar was one of the many in the World Championship to also lead a team in the World Magic Cup. He has spent the last two days playing –working hard—with his countrymen to find a team Top 8. While they narrowly missed that result in the final rounds of the Cup, Shenhar's other friends in twentieth-ranked Josh Utter-Leyton, seventeenth ranked Tom Martell, and even more of the World Championship competitors had been playing out the Top 4 match-ups he might face. Right up until call time for the finals, they provided encouragement and information to the young champion.
"If you mill this, you can't lose," Utter-Leyton said emphatically, pointing at Soul of Innistrad.
"Well I drew them both," Shenhar said, recounting his position in another game.
"Well you don't want to draw them," said Utter-Leyton.
"I know that!" Shenhar was emphatic with those helping him in the final moments before he entered the feature match stage. Between his countrymen at home, friends abroad, and family at his side, Shenhar was poised to become the first back-to-back World Championship winner.
In contrast, Nineteenth-ranked Patrick Chapin sat for several minutes in the feature mate stage, checking the tokens provided by judges, and drinking water. Unlike the frenetic conversation happening thirty feet away, Chapin was in relative silence and ready to start immediately.
At the start of the year he made it his goal to play in, and win, the World Championship. Considering his victory at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx as just his qualifier for this event, he rose up undefeated on Day One to position himself well for a Top 4 run. He sailed through his semifinal match and was only a few games away from the potential dream he was after: to be called the World Champion of Magic.
Two incredible stories lived on until this point. Two stories. One winner. One dream realized. The other, put on hold.
What he had spent all year working for was now right before him.
Chapin's choice, Abzan Midrange, had won the last Pro Tour. Now, after defeating his semifinals opponent Kentaro Yamamoto, it had taken him all the way to the finals of the tournament he wanted to win most. In that game, Thoughtseize and removal kept the path open for an army of Siege Rhinos and soldier tokens from Elspeth, Sun's Champion to close games quickly. Chapin had defeated Yamamoto in three full games long before the other semifinal—featuring ninth-ranked Yuuya Watanabe and fourteenth-ranked Shahar Shenhar—had completed two.
Shahar's deck was similar to Chapin's vanquished semifinal opponent, a build of Sidisi Whip. For Shenhar, the ability to gain life and swarm the battlefield through repeated use of Whip of Erebos and Hornet Queen overran his Japanese opponent in their match, setting up the archetype rematch in the finals. With fresh tips from Utter-Leyton, Shenhar knew what he was looking for entering the match.
In the first game, Shenhar cast Thoughtsieze to reveal Murderous Cut, Siege Rhino, Thoughtsieze, and a Sorin, Solemn Visitor that he chose to take. Chapin aptly played the Siege Rhino on the next turn, though Hero's Downfall awaited it. Chapin returned the Thoughtseize favor to strip Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver from the Israeli. When Shenhar tried for Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, Chapin responded with Murderous Cut while its trigger was on the stack. There would be no zombies for Shenhar.
Chapin cast Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and it began to grow in loyalty as he looked at the top four cards of his library repeatedly. As Chapin sculpted his hand between Ajani and Courser of Kruphix, Shenhar made his move with Hornet Queen, a Whip of Erebos on top of his Library. He played the Whip and used his hornet tokens to halve Ajani's loyalty.
Chapin, with years of experience at the top level, was calm and collected.
However, Chapin was assembling an army of his own. Brimaz, King of Oreskos swung in, leaving behind a cat soldier token in exchange for killing the Hornet Queen, then added Wingmate Roc and companion token to the battlefield. His ally Elspeth, Sun's Champion was waiting on top of the library.
"Ah, yup. Kill this," Shenhar said as he pointed Murderous Cut at the real Wingmate Roc. When he untapped, Whip of Erebos brought back Hornet Queen, and all of the flying creatures that could attack swung in at Ajani. Chapin paused a moment and thought.
"That's game," Chapin said as he scooped up his cards. Despite being above 20 life, just like Shenhar, Chapin knew he couldn't climb back out from the hole he now found himself in.
Shenhar's hornets take a commanding lead in the first game of the World Championship finals.
The second game started on a different note, Shenhar beginning to fill up his graveyard with Satyr Wayfinder before adding and upping Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. Murderous Cut cleared away Chapin's Courser of Kruphix before Shenhar used Ashiok to cast a stolen one. It put Shenhar in a spot to leave up mana for Disdainful Stroke and attack, forcing Chapin to cast Elspeth, Sun's Champion into it.
Pharika, God of Affliction joined Shenhar's army, with a stolen Siege Rhino waiting in exile from Ashiok. Abzan Charm dug Chapin deeper into his library but didn't have another play. The Rhino was played off Ashiok on Shenhar's next turn, along with a Courser of Kruphix, to turn Pharika into an attacker.
Double Bile Blight let Chapin only take 3 damage on that attack. Killing a God let him spend two more points of life to draw cards with another Abzan Charm. When he didn't find End Hostilities, he decided it was time for a third game.
One dream began to fade under the bright lights of the feature match stage just as another dream emerged clearer: the third game began with a mulligan from Chapin.
"I like it!" Chapin couldn't resist agreeing on how good that was for Shenhar when he cast a second turn Satyr Wayfinder to sink two monstrous creatures to his graveyard: Hornet Queen and the key card Utter-Leyton pointed out before the match, Soul of Innistrad.
The young pro was close to cementing another title in his legacy.
Courser of Kruphix joined the fray for Shenhar before Chapin took 3 damage to cast an end-of-turn Abzan Charm for cards. Finding another land and casting Brimaz, King of Oreskos finally put Chapin on the battlefield. Hero's Downfall ensured there would be no cat tokens, however, and Chapin fell to 11 life on the next attack.
Shenhar was on three lands with Thoughtseize showing when Chapin cast a main phase Utter End to exile the Centaur, but Shenhar just cast another from his hand to play the Forest that was now on top of his deck. At six mana, Chapin passed back to Shenhar and cast Hero's Downfall during the draw step to kill Courser of Kruphix. Shenhar's Thoughtseize revealed what Chapin held and why he wanted Shenhar to be a step slower: two copies of Bile Blight and another Hero's Downfall. One Bile Blight was discarded before Pharika, God of Affliction came down. Chapin just added another land and passed back.
Chapin's dream of being a Magic World Champion was looking a grim, but the game wasn't over, and anything was still possible.
"Live by Plan A. Die by Plan A." Chapin was taking his on-the-back foot position in stride.
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant was hit by Bile Blight with its trigger on the stack, but Chapin had to pay 1 life for every black mana he used: two Llanowar Wastes were all he had in play to create it. At 2 life, Siege Rhino and Courser of Kruphix made the scores a slightly more balanced 6 life to Shenhar's 7.
Plan A was starting to look slightly better for the Hall of Fame player, but it wasn't enough.
Shenhar was counting the creatures in his graveyard, and Chapin took a long look as well from across the table. Chapin chose to attack into open mana and Shenhar's Pharika, and created the blockers he needed to stay alive at 5 life. The deathtouch snakes took the Siege Rhino with them.
Hornet Queen was Shenhar's next play and Chapin let out a sigh. Dropping to 5 life on his turn during the upkeep, Chapin was using a Windswept Heath and Courser of Kruphix to look at the top card of his library, changing it repeatedly. Abzan Charm took him down to 3 life, drawing him another copy of the spell and a land.
He paused to consider his options. He had only one left.
"Congratulations," was what Chapin said as he extended his hand. "Told you I had a read on you."
Shenhar laughed as he shook Chapin's hand, a grin erupting on his face.
Shahar Shenhar is not only the 2014 Magic World Champion, but the first player to win consecutive World Championship titles!