ROUND 9: (14) SHAHAR SHENHAR VS. KENTARO YAMAMOTO

Posted in 2014 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP - COVERAGE on December 3, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Nobody has become a repeat World Champion, but plenty have tried their best.

The latest is fourteenth-ranked Shahar Shenhar, the young (but not youngest!) World Champion from Amsterdam last year and current ranked fourteenth of the Top 25 Players. Coming in to the ninth round with a record of 6-2 put him firmly in control of his own destiny. While Constructed rounds loomed ahead, finding victory against the undefeated No. 19-ranked Patrick Chapin and sweeping the rest of the Draft rounds would put Shenhar in great position for a run at Top 4 again.

Kentaro Yamamoto hasn't been a World Champion, or represented his country on a national team. However, the Top 8 contender from Pro Tour Theros has delivered a standout season leading up to this year's show. As one of the several players invited as a top Pro Points earners at large, Yamamoto had the additional benefit of testing with former World Champion, the ninth-ranked Yuuya Watanabe, and the top Pro Points from Japan qualified twenty-fifth-ranked Yuuki Ichikawa. Japan, if you weren't aware, has produced the greatest number of World Champions in the game.

Fourteenth-ranked Shahar Shenhar was poised at supercharging his race to a second World Championship title. Yamamoto, however, has quietly proven his mastery of the game, and won't let the young champion stand in his pursuit of a win.

With the same record as Shenhar, Yamamoto too was poised to rise into contention.

The Decks

Shenhar had drafted a straightforward Mardu deck, packed with goodies like Ponyback Brigade, Rush of Battle, and Mardu Hateblade. Crackling Doom was his headlining rare, helping ensure the biggest blocker would fall away as even more damage was forced through.

Yamamoto, however, had a plan: avoid drafting white altogether.

"In Khans of Tarkir, I don't want to play white," Yamamoto said. "I saw a lot of white cards in the draft but I avoided them. I think I can still win some games." Yamamoto's deck was solidly blue and green, featuring hits like Jeskai Elder, Tuskguard Captain, Longshot Squad, and two copies of Incremental Growth. A dabble for red was needed for Temur Charm, his only red card.

Why avoid white? "When you consider the strength of white decks, there are lots of players that will want to draft it. I want to choose colors that aren't so popular, like green and blue. It's what I've found works in my own experience."

Experience was something Yamamoto brought for Limited. "I was confident for draft, both Vintage Masters and Khans of Tarkir. I'm pretty happy to be doing okay. I practiced a lot."

The Games

Mardu Hateblade let the way for Shenhar, which was effective early on at holding back Yamamoto's Jeskai Elder. Two morphs joined the Japanese player's side as Shenhar had no other play through his fourth turn. Singing Bell Strike cleared the way for Yamamoto to pile in, though Shenhar had a face-up Canyon Lurkers for five mana.

Yamamoto's blue-green deck splashing a Temur Charm has the capability of coming out very fast, thanks in no small part to his consistent mana.

However, it wasn't all rosy for Yamamoto. He discarded Incremental Growth, stuck on just three Islands, before finding a Forest for Tuskguard Captain. Shenhar refused to block throughout, falling to 5 life but was able to pay to untap his Hateblade.

Yamamoto calculated his next attack, using a second copy of Incremental Growth to supercharge his team. Since +1/+1 counters also gave trample, thanks to the Tuskguard Captain, that was enough.

In the second game Shenhar played first, but missed his second and third land drops. However, Yamamoto couldn't capitalize early as he didn't have another play until turn five: Singing Bell Strike for Shenhar's Seeker of the Way. A morph added to Yamamoto's side as the second mana let Shenhar cast another creature, Chief of the Edge.

Shenhar's Mardu deck packs a punch, but like most decks, still needs these things called lands to operate.

Kin-Tree Warden and Incremental Growth presented attackers too big for Shenhar to trade with, though with three mana online he had access to more of his deck: Suppression Field exiled the 5/4 Wetland Sambar.

However, Yamamoto's Savage Punch finished the lone blocker Shenhar had left.

"It was a greedy keep," Shenhar said after extending his hand.

Shenhar 0 – Yamamoto 2