Italy and Netherlands had at least four things in common. First, both teams had two players with Pro Tour Top 8 experience: Marco Cammilluzzi and Andrea Mengucci on Team Italy, along with Thomas Hendriks and Jelger Wiegersma on Team Netherlands. Second, each team was a member of a different international alliance: Italy collaborated with Brazil, Canada, and the United States; the Netherlands shared information with Belgium, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Third, both the teams avoided Eldrazi Ramp in their Unified Standard lineup. Fourth and finally, both went into the round with a 3-1 record.
Beyond that, however, the way these teams approached the format was vastly different. Italy liked Atarka Red (which needs Wooded Foothills and Bloodstained Mire) and Esper Dragons (which takes up Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta) and paired these two decks with Temur Megamorph (which can fix its three colors of mana with Windswept Heath). The Netherlands, on the other side of the table, chose to go with Atarka Red, 4-color Rally, and an Abzan Control list which fixed its mana with Sandsteppe Citadel and Scoured Barrens. As a result of these enters-the-battlefield lands, the deck was designed to be more controlling, with a focus on Planeswalkers and sweepers.
The teams also had a different approach to the choice of coach. Italy chose to let the two most experienced players play their own match, with Francesco Bifero dedicatedly coaching William Pizzi in the middle seat. The Netherlands, on the other side of the table, put captain Jelger Wiegersma as their coach, sitting in between Erikjan Bogaard and Sebastiaan Tuinstra to give advice when needed.
Both Team Italy and Team Netherlands had plenty of Pro Tour Top 8 experience, making this a match between two heavy hitters.
All in all, this match featured two different approaches from two talented teams. Let's get to the games!
Seat C: Marco Cammilluzzi (Atarka Red) vs. Thomas Hendriks (4-color Rally)
In Game 1, Cammilluzzi had a fast start with Monastery Swiftspear and Dragon Fodder, but lacked pressure after that. As Cammilluzzi drew several lands in a row, Hendriks set up a good defense with multiple Sidisi's Faithful and maneuvered himself into a position where he had Sidisi's Faithful in the graveyard and three open mana at all time so that he could play Rally the Ancestors to bounce a potential Become Immense target. With his defense lined up, Hendriks was able to stall out long enough to eventually win with Nantuko Husk and Zulaport Cutthroat.
In Game 2, the key card was Cammilluzzi's Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh. She quickly transformed into a Planeswalker and started an assault on Hendriks' life total. Hendriks had a lot of good blockers such as Catacomb Sifter, but lacked an answer to the Planeswalker. What Hendriks did have, however, was a Zulaport Cutthroat and Arashin Cleric to gain life. This bought him enough time to eventually win with Rally the Ancestors.
Seat A: Andrea Mengucci (Esper Dragons) vs. Erikjan Bogaard (Atarka Red)
In Game 1, Bogaard used Monastery Swiftspear and several Goblin tokens to get Mengucci down to 7 life before the board was cleared with Crux of Fate. Soon after, Bogaard had two Atarka's Command in hand, which meant that he was 1 damage off. But that one point made all the difference. When Bogaard tapped out for a creature, Mengucci was able to cast Foul-Tongue Invocation (without having to worry about a Skullcrack in response) to get out of burn range. Eventually, Mengucci locked up the game with Dragonlord Ojutai.
Andrea Mengucci's Esper Dragons deck made winning look elementary.
In Game 2, Bogaard went wide with Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst, but Mengucci set up a defensive parameter with 2 Arashin Cleric. Without an Atarka's Command to take pump his stuffed board, Bogaard's attacks were largely ineffectual. Sitting comfortably behind his 1/3 blockers, Mengucci eventually played Dragonlord Ojutai and rode the dragon to victory.
With these first two matches completed, there was only one remaining that would decide the outcome of the round.
Seat B: William Pizzi (Temur Megamorph) vs. Sebastiaan Tuinstra (Abzan Control)
Game 1 was a lengthy and grindy affair, but eventually Tuinstra was able to resolve Ob Nixilis, Unshackled and Nissa, Sage Animist and protect them with a bunch of creature removal spells. Pizzi tried to fight back with Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor, but it was not enough to overcome the continual card advantage provided by Tuinstra's Planeswalkers.
In Game 2, Pizzi was on the play with a fast draw, while Tuinstra was slow to affect the board. Tuinstra's Hangarback Walker and Nissa, Vastwood Seer weren't the best blockers for Savage Knuckleblade, and a Disdainful Stroke from Pizzi push his tempo advantage. The nail in the coffin came when Pizzi cast Collected Company, found two copies of Bounding Krasis, tapped Tuinstra's blockers, and swung in for lethal.
Tuinstra was piloting the unusual choice of Abzan Control to a climactic third and final game of the team match.
Game 3 was reminiscent of the first and showed that Tuinstra's deck was better equipped for the card advantage game. It started with a Languish that swept Pizzi's board while leaving a swarm of Thopter tokens for Tuinstra. Next up was Nissa, Sage Animist, who ticked up for several turns in a row. Meanwhile, Italy didn't have luck on their side as Pizzi only hit a single creature off of Collected Company, which had already happened on several occasions today. Defenseless, Pizzi eventually succumbed to Tuinstra's two-for-ones and 1/1 fliers.
Italy 1 – Netherlands 2
The Netherlands moved to 4 wins and 1 loss, which meant that they almost certainly locked up Day Two as a result. Italy fell to 3 wins and 2 losses, so they would likely have to win at least one more match to make it to the Saturday competition.