Stage 1, Round 3: Japan vs. Mexico

Posted in 2015 WORLD MAGIC CUP on December 12, 2015

By Tobi Henke

This was just the third round of the day, but already elimination loomed on the horizon. After this 32 teams would be cut to 16. To really appreciate what was going on here we should first take a look at the unique structure of the World Magic Cup. Borrowing heavily from international sports events, this tournament featured two stages of group play. For this, teams had been assigned to pools of four teams each at the beginning of the day, based on the Round 7 standings. Within each pool, all teams played each of the other three, with the top two teams advancing to the second stage of pool play.

The pool we're concerned with here consisted of Germany, Japan, Mexico, and Greece. Of them, Germany and Japan had been the higher finishers on Day One, meaning that they would get the nod in case of a tie. And with four teams each playing each other, being tied on points wasn't exactly unlikely. In fact, over the past two rounds all four teams had won one round and lost the other, leaving everybody tied at 1-1.

What all of this came down to was: Greece needed to defeat Germany and Mexico needed to defeat Japan in order to advance, whereas Germany and Japan could both make it with a draw. We decided to take a close look at the match between the powerhouse team of Japan and the underdogs from Mexico.

Out of their twelve booster packs the Japanese had built three interesting decks: Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura piloted a black-green deck with a bit of token synergies and some giant Eldrazi, splashing for the power of converge. No. 16 Yuuya Watanabe, among many things winner of the 2012 Magic Players Championship, brought a particular strong flier deck in blue and white and Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar finalist Ryoichi Tamada came equipped with Red-Green Landfall, the highlights of which were Dragonmaster Outcast, Endless One, and two Rolling Thunders.

The Mexicans brought White-Blue Fliers with a splash of red, an aggressive red and white deck, and Blue-Black Devoid, piloted by Jose Menchaca, Marcelino Freeman, and Ramon Vazquez, respectively.

Japan and Mexico faced off in an elimination match at the end of stage 1 for pool play. The winner advances to the second stage, with Japan having the upper hand as a draw also allows them to move on.

Seat A: Kenji Tsumura (B/G+) vs. Jose Menchaca (W/U/r)

Tsumura got off to a somewhat slow start with Lifespring Druid and Giant Mantis as his first plays. Menchaca seized the opportunity and summoned an impressive airforce in Courier Griffin, Guardian of Tazeem, and Ghostly Sentinel. One Giant Mantis could only do so much, and thanks to Guardian of Tazeem it couldn't even do that reliably.

The second game was a much longer affair and saw several huge Eldrazi rear their heads on each side: Deathless Behemoth for Menchaca, Conduit of Ruin and later Ruin Processor for Tsumura. But Menchaca's fliers put the pressure on Tsumura and a sequence of Rush of Ice into Halimar Tidecaller into Rush of Ice sealed the deal.

Kenji Tsumura 0 - Jose Menchaca 1

Seat B: (16) Yuuya Watanabe (W/U) vs. Marcelino Freeman (R/W)

After some discussion among the team, Watanabe kept a hand with three white spells and four Islands. He had no problem drawing Plains, however, or rather he did because he just couldn't stop the Plains and Islands from coming. His Windrider Patrol and Angel of Renewal kept Freeman's creatures at bay for a while, but in the end even those two didn't match up too well against Freeman's two Valakut Predators.

For the second game, and the third game as well, Watanabe was able to showcase how his deck was supposed to run: Fortified Rampart to stop the onslaught of even the most predatory Valakut Predator; then an endless procession of fliers, from Eldrazi Skyspawner to Courier Griffin to Angel of Renewal; and a few tricks like Gideon's Reproach and Roilmage's Trick. He didn't even really need the Quarantine Field that he drew in the third game.

Yuuya Watanabe 2 - Marcelino Freeman 1

Seat C: Ryoichi Tamada (R/G) vs. Ramon Vazquez (U/B)

With the score split at 1-1, it all came down to the match between Tamada and Vazquez. In the first game, Tamada had to mulligan down to five. This especially hurt his Valakut Predator and two Makindi Sliderunners, both because he never was able to go on offense and because he ran out of lands way earlier than he would have with a regular seven-card hand.

Meanwhile, Vazquez's ingest/processor engine was working at full speed: Sludge Crawler, Dominator Drone, Murk Strider, and even Blight Herder. Tamada almost managed to stabilize anyway, thanks to Endless One cast for four mana and Rolling Thunder cast for five, but in the end Vazquez got there.

In the second game, Tamada's first two creatures met Complete Disregard and Murk Strider, but when he cast Undergrowth Champion with Retreat to Kazandu already on the table and then played Evolving Wilds things were definitely looking up. Unfortunately, Vazquez had the perfect answer in Grip of Desolation and tightened his grip on the game.

But this time Rolling Thunder came in time, killing three creatures and putting the Japanese back on the map. Tamada almost died to Cryptic Cruiser afterward, but it ran out of fodder before long and eventually just died in combat. Several Eldrazi later, after much back and forth, Vazquez was slowly losing most of his creatures to Valakut Invoker.

Time was running out, and Japan had the advantage as the final match moved towards its last game.

With the clock ticking, Vazquez tried one last attack, which didn't go well for him partly due to Tamada's Outnumber. He hadn't lost yet but decided to concede anyway to save time for a third game.

By now, all players on both teams had gathered to watch and advise this final and only game still in progress. Especially on the Mexican side, the discussions took quite a bit, however, and after an early game that was characterized by lots of trades, time was running out.

The players spent their extra turns alternately chump blocking their opponent's big threats—a Territorial Baloth with Slab Hammer on the Japanese side, a Sludge Crawler on the Mexican side—and turns ran out before blockers did.

Japan 1 – Mexico 1

With the match brought to a draw, Japan's higher seed at the end of Stage 1 pool play ensured their advance into the second stage, while Mexico found themselves on the wrong end of tiebreakers with an elimination from the tournament.