Prior to this weekend, (3) Paul Rietzl mentioned that, of the players he most wants to beat in the finals, it's (10) Owen Turtenwald. That prophecy wasn't going to materialize, as they've been paired against each other in the semifinals.
Turtenwald stated that Standard is the format that matters the most since it will determine who the Champion is. The rewards for doing well here are spectacularly higher than in any other format. Rietzl echoed that sentiment, and spent much more time preparing for Standard compared to Modern and Limited.
Despite their focus, both players posted average results at the Standard portion, winning only two out of their four matches on Friday. Regardless, it was sufficient to grant them their very first Top 4 appearance at the World Championship, where they will now face off for two Pro Points, a spot in the finals, and a shot at becoming the 2015 World Champion!
Would this match go to Paul Rietzl's Hangarbaack Abzan, or Owen Turtenwald's Abzan Control?
Both players are sporting Abzan staples, such as Siege Rhino and Abzan Charm, along with Sandsteppe Citadel and assorted Theros scry-lands to cast these sweet gems. However, their game plans were slightly different.
Rietzl's Hangbarback Abzan deck is better built for assuming the role of the aggressor, even if it's not particularly speedy. If that's the case, Turtenwald's plan is to slow him down with his diverse removal suite from his Abzan Control deck. This promises to be a grind, and players will be wrestling for any scrap of card advantage that they can get.
It's hard to say who would outlast in this war of attrition, since both players have access to Elspeth, Sun's Champion at the top of their curves alongside other tools that will offer some form of resilience in the mid to late game.
Turtenwald has the full set of Den Protectors, while Rietzl only has two. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes seems like the perfect machine for Rietzl, so Turtenwald will need to be a little careful with his Hero's Downfalls.
With only two Dromoka's Command in Rietzl's main deck (in addition to the fact that they might be sideboarded out), Turtenwald's Coursers of Kruphix are more likely to survive, which will further his advantage in the long run. Nissa, Vastwood Seer is another such card capable of rewarding a prolonged game.
Languish will likely be profitable for Turtenwald, even though Rietzl has Hangarback Walker as a hedge. The pesky Construct will prove to be a mild annoyance, unless Rietzl somehow chooses to put a third +1/+1 counter on it and runs it within Abzan Charm range.
Turtenwald opted to play first in the first match, thanks to his higher Swiss standings. He kept his initial seven with little hesitation, an indication that it was a great hand. Rietzl had to think about it for a moment, but eventually kept his opening hand as well.
Dropping to 14 by casting two copies of Thoughtseize via Llanowar Wastes, it was revealed that Rietzl had Fleecemane Lion, Anafenza, the Foremost, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and four lands. Fleecemane Lion first hit the bin to relieve Rietzl of early pressure, while Elspeth, Sun's Champion was the next to go. That paved the way for Turtenwald's Nissa, Vastwood Seer.
Rietzl has plenty of experience. Would it be enough?
Rietzl responded with Murderous Cut of his own, resulting in an exiled Nissa, Vastwood Seer. This was a relevant play considering Turtenwald's Tasigur, the Golden Fang in his hand. Sure enough, this move prevented Turtenwald from summoning both Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang on his next turn, since he only had six lands and three cards in his graveyard.
Siege Rhino it was.
Turtenwald swapped out Dragonlord Dromoka, Ultimate Price, Courser of Kruphix and the full set of Thoughtseize, bringing in two Valorous Stances, two Read the Bones, two End Hostilities, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
Both players spent their first two turns fixing their Abzan mana base in the second game, ensuring that they had all three colors from then on. Turtenwald's first play of Nissa, Vastwood Seer netted him an additional Forest, while Rietzl drew two with Abzan Charm.
Turtenwald has been seeking a win at the top for so long. Would it come today?
Rietzl's Siege Rhino was quickly exiled by Turtenwald's Abzan Charm, and he rebuilt his board with Fleecemane Lion and a 1/1 Hangarback Walker. Rietzl kept up the pressure, using Self-Inflicted Wound and Hero's Downfall to kill Nissa and Siege Rhino. This forced Turtenwald to cast Languish, relieving himself of some pressure but granting Rietzl a pair of Thopter tokens in the process.
Despite having Bile Blight to kill a trio of Soldier tokens and another Languish (returned from the graveyard via Den Protector) to buy some time, Turtenwald found no way to rid himself of the pair of Planeswalkers that were causing him so much agony.
When Rietzl reached for the Elspeth emblem, Turtenwald decided it was enough.
Turtenwald chose to play in the third game, not wanting to fall behind. Rietzl took the first mulligan of the match, wisely remembering to scry after going down to six.
Rietzl's Fleecemane Lion appeared right on time, as did Turtenwald's Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino. A pair Hero's Downfall cleared the path for Fleecemane Lion to connect twice, reducing Turtenwald to 14. Since Rietzl was about to arrive at his fifth land, Turtenwald decided to cast Hero's Downfall to avoid the possibility of an indestructible, untargetable lion.
Rietzl evaluates his options.
Solemn, Solemn Visitor was the replacement, and Rietzl opted to create a Vampire token to face off against Turtenwald's pair of morphs. The duo of facedown Den Protectors signified that Turtenwald would not be running out of gas any time soon.
To help combat that, Rietzl put a 2/2 Hangarback Walker into play, and gave his team +1/+0 with the help of Sorin's first ability. Now that he had a three-powered creature on the board, it was able to fend off one of the two megamorphed Den Protectors.
Turtenwald had a huge seventh turn though.
Dropping Nissa, Vastwood Seer to find his seventh land, he was able to transform it immediately. Nissa, Sage Animist called forth the help of Ashaya, the Awoken World, and Turtenwald even had four mana leftover to flip up both Den Protectors. That allowed him to attack and take down Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Hangarback Walker, while picking up Siege Rhino and Hero's Downfall from the graveyard.
With the demise of Hangarback Walker, Rietzl was now armed with an air force of a Vampire token and two Thopter tokens. He also had Siege Rhino to hold back Turtenwald's Siege Rhino, Den Protector and the 4/4 Elemental, but that fragile line of defense crumbled quickly, owing to Turtenwald's previously regrown Hero's Downfall.
Rietzl pointed Ultimate Price at the Ashaya and took seven, evening both players' life totals at 7 each. Not wanting to take 4 damage from the fliers and risking death from a possible Siege Rhino trigger, Turtenwald played it safe and used Languish wipe Rietzl's board while keeping his own rhino intact.
Rietzl replied with Ajani, Mentor of Heroes to find Tasigur, the Golden Fang, which he was able to cast using his final land by delving a bunch of cards in his graveyard. When it blocked the incoming Siege Rhino, Bile Blight shrunk it and a post-combat Hero's Downfall on the Ajani reduced Rietzl to nothing.
With Rietzl's back against the wall, the only away he could turn it around was to win the last two games. Otherwise, his dreams of becoming the 2015 World Champion would evaporate.
Unfortunately, he was forced to mulligan again. In the midst of the tension and due to the fact that it was a relatively new rule, Rietzl forgot to scry. Thankfully, that didn't punish him at all because he wanted the top card of his deck anyway, as evidenced by a turn one Temple of Silence.
Turtenwald stays focused.
With Rietzl at now at 9 life—taking 4 damage from Nissa, 3 from Rhino trigger, 4 from Rhino attack—it was looking to be a very quick game. Thankfully, Rietzl drew an untapped land to balance the board a little, with Siege Rhino of his own.
However, it would seem like the match was over, when Turtenwald tapped all six of his lands to plop Elspeth, Sun's Champion into play. That was more than enough to hold back even the toughest of lions.
Failing to draw Hero's Downfall, there was simply no elegant way for him to kill Elspeth, Sun's Champion. To make matters worse, Turtenwald played his seventh land to transform Nissa, Vastwood Seer and it was only a matter of time that Rietzl crumbled to the never-ending horde of Soldier tokens and the constant flow of cards granted by Nissa, Sage Animist and a pair of Courser of Kruphix.
Rietzl tried to threaten both Turtenwald's Planeswalkers with a raided Wingmate Roc and piled on three +1/+1 counters on one of them to create a 6/7 Bird tokens. However, Turtenwald was ready with Valorous Stance and Hero's Downfall to convince Rietzl to extend his hand.
"Good luck in the finals, buddy," said Rietzl.
Owen Turtenwald defeats Paul Rietzl 3-1 and advances to the finals of the 2015 World Championship!