France, the first seed, faced Japan, the eighth seed, in the feature match area. This year, Japan was fielding one its strongest teams and had not only broken, but utterly destroyed, its curse of never making Day Two. Led by Yuuya Watanabe, one of the world's great players, and including the highly experienced Kenji Tsumura and Ryoichi Tamada and newer player Soyo You, the Japanese team had 10 Pro Tour and 38 Grand Prix Top 8s between them. In opposition stood France, each player new to the World Magic Cup, and while team captain Pierre Dagen and teammate Arnaud Soumet both had some Pro Tour experience, Hichem Tedjditi and Fathi Benaribi were relatively fresh faced.
While France was going for its second World Magic Cup title, Japan was crushing its World Magic Cup curse.
As France was the highest seed, they elected to play first.
Seat C: Hichem Tedjditi (Atarka Red) vs. Kenji Tsumura (Abzan Rally)
Tedjditi led off with a Lightning Berserker, which was soon followed by an Abbot of Keral Keep. Tsumura found early blockers in a Carrier Thrall and an Elvish Visionary. While Tedjditi attempted to apply pressure, Tsumura fired off an early Collected Company, finding a Zulaport Cutthroat and Nantuko Husk. Tedjditi struggled to find more creatures, while Tsumura kept drawing into more blockers. With the board stalled, a Rally the Ancestors from Tsumura brought back two Zulaport Cutthroats to the battlefield, which closed out the game.
Tedjditi summoned a turn one Zurgo Bellstriker, followed by a Dragon Fodder. Tsumura's first play was a Cleric of the Forward Order out of the sideboard. Tedjditi cast a Swiftspear and smashed in, using an Atarka's Command to keep his board and kill the Cleric. Tsumura tapped out to cast a Catacomb Sifter plus Eldrazi token. Tedjditi, recognizing his opportunity, swung in with the team. After blockers, the Frenchman flashed the combination of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage in hand, and Tsumura scooped.
Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura at the ready.
Game 3 began with Tedjditi going down to six cards, keeping a removal heavy hand with no creatures. Tsumura had a stacked hand, but only two lands, including a turn two Cleric of the Forward Order. The Cleric quickly died to a Wild Slash, and Tedjditi followed up with a top-decked Dragon Fodder. The Frenchman continued to draw well, using his starting removal to remove Tsumura's blockers while casting multiple Monastery Swiftspears. But the real undoing for Tsumura was never finding a third land, even after an Elvish Visionary. Unable to get off the ground, Tedjditi's little red creatures overwhelmed Tsumura.
Hichem Tedjditi 2 – Kenji Tsumura 1
Seat B: Pierre Dagen (Mardu Midrange) vs. Soyo You (Atarka Red)
Dagen started off with a first-turn Duress, forcing You to discard a Temur Battle Rage. You responded with a turn one Monastery Swiftspear, starting his offensive. Dagen's singleton Fiery Impulse picked off the Monastery Swiftspear when You tapped out for an Abbot of Keral Keep on the next turn. The two continued to trade creatures and removal, the Abbot dying to a Crackling Doom, and a Seeker of the Way providing a defense against You's Goblin tokens. As Dagen's defense became ever stronger, he started dashing in his Dragons, eventually devouring You.
Game 2 saw a slower start for Japan, with the first play a turn two Dragon Fodder against the man with all the dragons. Dagen tried to mount a defense with Soulfire Grand Master and Seeker of the Way, but You was having none of it, either eliminating or pumping his way through the blockers. However, Dagen found a Radiant Flames and reset the board.
You started to rebuild with another Dragon Fodder. Dagen used Duress to force a Hordeling Outburst to be discarded, but the Frenchman's side of the battlefield remained empty, and he remained trapped on three lands. You conferred with his teammates, and then decided to go all-in against Dagen, betting he wouldn't find another Radiant Flames. You cast a Hordeling Outburst and Zurgo Bellstriker. Swinging in, Dagen cast a Mardu Charm for some surprise blockers, but a Become Immense from You instantly ended the game.
Pro Tour Theros finalist Pierre Dagen is no slouch, and is looking to match his friend's finish from 2013.
Japan had clawed back into the round and needed one more game to take it to Match 3. France only needed this last game and they would go straight through. You had a seemingly slow hand, playing nothing but a Mountain on the first turn, but did use the mana to kill Dagen's second-turn Seeker of the Way. Japan then cast back-to-back Dragon Fodders, but another Seeker of the Way, followed by a Soulfire Grand Master, kept the goblin horde at bay.
Dagen cast Duress, to which Japan responded by casting a Titan's Strength on a Goblin, and then revealed a hand of only lands. The Seeker, now pumped by the prowess trigger, attacked in, helping to cushion Dagen's life total and trading with the strengthened goblin. Dagen played the next few turns carefully, being sure to keep open a black mana for Murderous Cut, should You happen to draw into the combo, but he didn't have to worry. You continued to draw nothing but lands while Dagen's Thunderbreak Regent smashed through the air for the win.
Pierre Dagen 2 – Soyo You 1
France advances, taking down some of the game's titans. They were now only two matches away from a second title.
By this time, Soumet and Watanabe had drawn even in games in the Esper Dragon mirror, but it didn't matter. France was through to the semifinals against Thailand.
"I feel very good now, much better than ten minutes ago," smiled Dagen afterwards. "It was really hard. We were particularly worried about the Esper Dragon's mirror. Our decklists split Duress between our Esper deck and our Mardu deck, and Duress is the key card in the Esper mirror, so Arnaud was going to have a hard time after sideboarding. It meant we had to make sure we won the other two matches."
"Now we'll be up against Thailand. I think, on paper, we have good matchups. Certainly I built my deck to beat Atarka Red, and I believe Arnaud will play excellently in the Esper mirror."
France defeats Japan 2-0 and advances to the semifinals!