Round 4: Canada vs. Scotland

Posted in Event Coverage on November 18, 2016

By Tobi Henke

Meeting in the feature match area in the fourth round, the first Modern round, were Team Canada and Team Scotland, both with a record of 2-1. Canada's roster featured well-known pro players Jacob Wilson and Alexander Hayne, but the Canadians had always fielded great teams at the World Magic Cup. However, only once did they manage to survive the first day of competition.

The Scots had done somewhat better. Famously, returning captain Stephen Murray had led the Scottish team to a Top 8 finish at last year's WMC. This was actually Murray's fourth time on the team, while all of his teammates were first timers.

For decks the Scottish had chosen Infect piloted by Marc Ferguson, Abzan in the hands of Brandon Balfour, and Blue Moon run by Stephen Murray. Their fourth, Kevin Pass, took a pass on this Modern portion and instead acted as a coach.

Facing Ferguson in the Infect mirror would be Alexander Hayne, Champion of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored and currently ranked No. 21 in the world. Brian Su and his TitanShift would take on Balfour's Abzan, with the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle combo deck very slightly favored against the midrange deck. The Canadian coach, Grand Prix Montreal 2016 semifinalist Felix Tse, sat down next to Su to give a bit of advice, leaving Hayne and Wilson to fend for themselves.

Murray and his Blood Moons might have had a better chance against Valakut, but he needed to defeat Jacob Wilson, a veteran of two Modern Pro Tour Top 8s, running Abzan. The blue control deck against the black-green based midrange deck was the most interesting matchup here and a classic battle that could easily swing either way.

Seat A: (21) Alexander Hayne (Infect) vs. Marc Ferguson (Infect)

Ferguson kept an opening hand with Wooded Foothills, Glistener Elf, Blighted Agent, Might of Old Krosa, Rancor, Mutagenic Growth, and Twisted Image, the latter being a card not usually seen in the main deck of Infect, but well-suited for a field full of Infect decks and the occasional Spellskite.

Hayne, meanwhile, mulliganed to five and kept a hand with Inkmoth Nexus and Noble Hierarch as his only mana sources. Thankfully, he found a Misty Rainforest on top of his library and, going second, didn't even miss a beat.

Ferguson cast Glistener Elf on turn one, then considered killing the opposing Noble Hierarch. He eventually decided to cast his own Noble Hierarch instead and attacked to put Hayne at 2 poison counters. Hayne cast Blighted Agent, passed the turn, and lost Noble Hierarch to Twisted Image. Ferguson put Rancor on his Glistener Elf and attacked. The Elf now was 4/2 thanks to Noble Hierarch...

As Hayne later told me, "That was the crucial moment of the match. I could have blocked with Blighted Agent, and I now believe I probably should have traded here, but I figured if he didn't have double Mutagenic Growth the Agent could have killed him on my next turn. Of course, he did have double Mutagenic Growth.

"In the second game he had Spellskite, I didn't have a way to kill it, and basically that was it," Hayne added. That was it. 1-0 for Scotland.

Marc Ferguson defeated Alexander Hayne 2-0.

Seat B: Brian Su (TitanShift) vs. Brandon Balfour (Abzan)

Scotsman Brandon Balfour never got enough of an offense going in the first game. Neither did he have enough discard to disrupt Brian Su's game plan. The TitanShift deck did what it often does in such cases: searched for some lands, killed a creature with Lightning Bolt to buy some time, and ended the game in one fell swoop by searching up a bunch of Mountains and a couple copies of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle with Scapeshift.

The second game proved more interesting. For one thing, Su missed his land drop on turn three. Also, the Abzan deck was on its best behavior now and by turn four Balfour had already cast Elves of Deep Shadow, Thoughtseize and Grim Flayer, Tarmogoyf as well as Scavenging Ooze, and finally Liliana of the Veil.

However, Liliana's first ability allowed Su to get a free Obstinate Baloth onto the battlefield, while a pair of Sakura-Tribe Elders helped with his mana. Still, Balfour's army came crashing in and Su was still in trouble.

Liliana of the Veil and Tarmogoyf have put Brandon Balfour (left) in a good spot against Brian Su.

Khalni Heart Expedition and a fetch land brought Su to seven lands yet, and he cast Primeval Titan. One triggered ability of Primeval Titan and one triggered ability of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle later, Liliana was gone, and in the absence of the planeswalker the Titan proved quite the roadblock.

Eventually, Su was able to deal 21 damage with Valakut once again, turning around a game which had seemed all but lost.

Brian Su defeated Brandon Balfour 2-1.

Seat C: Jacob Wilson (Abzan) vs. Stephen Murray (Blue Moon)

With the other two matches quick 2-0 affairs, it all came down to this one.

In the first game, Murray kept an opening hand with Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster Mage, and lands, whereas Wilson had to do without a third land for quite a while. Still, too few lands were preferable to too many lands, as Murray could attest to.

"It certainly didn't help that I failed to kill Tarmogoyf that one time," said Murray after the match. "I've never done that before. Harvest Pyre just short-circuited my brain or something. Like, I removed all instants from my graveyard. But of course Harvest Pyre is itself an instant, so I needed to remove one more."

Murray again kept five lands for the second game, but this time his spells were Ancestral Vision, which was suspended before Wilson could cast Inquisition of Kozilek, as well as Cryptic Command which was Inquisition-proof.

Jacob Wilson (right) considers his move carefully against Stephen Murray.

A long game developed where Wilson was pulling ahead with Lingering Souls tokens and Liliana of the Veil. But then came a brutal turn that changed everything. Izzet Staticaster killed all the tokens, Lightning Bolt struck down Liliana, and Blood Moon reduced Wilson to just one source of black mana and lots of red. Wilson never recovered and Keranos, God of Storms attacked for the win some time later.

More so even than the previous games, Game 3 was characterized by trades: Inquisition of Kozilek took Combust, and Spell Snare took Tarmogoyf. Wilson did make a little progress with another Tarmogoyf and Lingering Souls however. And when Murray's Ancestral Vision came out of suspension, he got surprisingly little from it. Wilson even had Abrupt Decay for Blood Moon.

This was not about some misplay or a brutal turnaround. This was about eking out small advantages. And the game showed that all-rounder Abzan was well equipped to defeat the blue-red control deck—at least when expertly piloted by Jacob Wilson and when not drawing too many lands.

Jacob Wilson defeats Stephen Murray 2-1.

Canada defeats Scotland 2-1 and improves to 3-1!

Alexander Hayne's Infect

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Jacob Wilson's Abzan

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Brian Su's TitanShift

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Stephen Murray's Blue Moon

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Marc Ferguson's Infect

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Brandon Balfour's Abzan

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