Semifinals: Belgium vs. Italy

Posted in Event Coverage on November 20, 2016

By Tobi Henke

With six Grand Prix Top 8 finishes across the careers of three of their players, the Belgians certainly were among the more accomplished teams to make it to the playoffs this weekend. But just as surely, their previous achievements were dwarfed by those of the Italians.

Admittedly, they only had four GP Top 8s between them. Their three Top 8s at the Pro Tour, however, were quite a bigger deal. No. 21-ranked Andrea Mengucci alone accounted for two of those, and had played for Italy at the World Magic Cups in 2014 and 2015 as well, famously winning the tournament last year. This time, he was the captain of the Italian team, and decided to spend the Top 8 coaching his teammates rather than playing himself.

Would Italy be able to keep alive the dream of defending their title with back-to-back victories? Would Italy become the first country to claim two titles in the history of the World Magic Cup? Or would they fall against Belgium, a nation that had once made it to the quarterfinals, but never advanced to the semifinals of the WMC?

Two largely noninteractive combo decks met in seat A: Jerome Bastogne's deck was all about getting Griselbrand onto the battlefield as fast as possible, either via Goryo's Vengeance or Through the Breach. Once that was accomplished, Bastogne would draw most of his library, recouping life through Nourishing Shoal exiling Worldspine Wurm. Cheating Borborygmos Enraged onto the battlefield, again with the help of Goryo's Vengeance or Through the Breach, wouldn't be hard from this position, and would of course be lethal. However, he was facing Italian Mattia Rizzi, who was piloting the well-known combination of infect creatures and pump spells that could easily win just as fast.

Seat B saw another interesting battle, with Italy's Alessandro Portaro on Lantern Control and Belgium's Branco Neirynck on Naya Burn. Portaro's Ensnaring Bridge could shut off all attacks, but Neirynck's deck only relied on creatures to deal the first few points of damage, with no fewer than 23 burn spells bringing up the rear.

Finally, in seat C, Alessandro Casamenti was playing Ad Nauseam. Mengucci had told me earlier that he considered Ad Nauseam to be favored against almost everything, making one exception: "You just need to dodge Infect." Not that they could have known when they made that decision, but naturally the Belgians had Peter Vieren on Infect at this table.

Seat C: Peter Vieren (Infect) vs. Alessandro Casamenti (Ad Nauseam)

Particularly before sideboarding, Casamenti couldn't do much here. Ad Nauseam was very good at winning on turn four but offered little interaction, whereas Infect simply won on turn three.

Alessandro Casamenti (center) was pretty well contained in Game 1.

The second game was quite a different story. After a somewhat slow start by Vieren, Casamenti was in position to go off, just missing one piece to the puzzle. He looked for it with Spoils of the Vault, losing 15 life in the process. If only Vieren had attacked with and pumped Noble Hierarch instead of Inkmoth Nexus...Of course, he couldn't have known. In any case, Casamenti cast Angel's Grace and Ad Nauseam; Vieren responded with Spell Pierce; Casamenti exiled two Simian Spirit Guides and paid for it.

This forced a third game, with Vieren back on the play. On his turn four he declared a lethal attack with Glistener Elf, Inkmoth Nexus, and Blighted Agent. Casamenti cast Darkness. Vieren cast Dispel. Casamenti cast Slaughter Pact. Vieren cast Mutagenic Growth for the win.

Peter Vieren defeated Alessandro Casamenti 2-1.

Seat B: Branco Neirynck (Naya Burn) vs. Alessandro Portaro (Lantern Control)

Neirynck started strong with a pair of Goblin Guides plus Wild Nacatl. Portaro had Spellskite to block some damage, but quickly fell to 8 anyway. Inventors' Fair made that 9, one Collective Brutality killing Goblin Guide made that 11, and another Collective Brutality killing another Goblin Guide made that 13. Neirynck was by no means out of gas yet, though he was out of creatures just in time for Portaro's Ensnaring Bridge. Topdecking a string of burn spells allowed the Belgian team captain to get Portaro down to 5. But then Portaro had the trio of Lantern of Insight, Ghoulcaller's Bell, and Codex Shredder active and prevented further incineration. Inventors' Fair brought him back out of burn range, and when Portaro began recurring Pyrite Spellbomb with Academy Ruins, Neirynck packed in his cards.

Branco Neirynck (left) got Alessandro Portaro's (right) life total to 5 before Portaro stabilized.]

"Now the only problem is your four Destructive Revelry," said Portaro while sideboarding. Neirynck gave away nothing with a noncommittal: "Maybe..."

"Well," Portaro chuckled, "this problem is not a maybe."

Artifact destruction turned out not to be the problem, after all, although it certainly might have been if Game 2 had progressed past turn four. As it was, Wild Nacatl, Monastery Swiftspear, and Lightning Bolt brought Portaro to 12 on Neirynck's second turn. Pyroclasm killed the smaller creature, but the Nacatl supported by Atarka's Command brought Portaro to 5, and another turn sealed the deal.

At this point, the players paused their match and everyone's attention shifted to...

Seat A: Jerome Bastogne (Goryo's Vengeance) vs. Mattia Rizzi (Infect)

The first game was as devoid of interaction as advertised. It was a race that Rizzi's deck won.

However, once Bastogne sideboarded in Sudden Shock and Rizzi brought in Spell Pierce and Ravenous Trap, it was hard to find a more interactive match. Rizzi wasn't able to win the second game in a simple race, but left one Breeding Pool untapped to signal Spell Pierce. He didn't actually have Spell Pierce, but Bastogne was forced to respect the threat.

After some Faithless Looting, Bastogne assembled a board of three lands and a hand of two Simian Spirit Guides, Desperate Ritual, Through the Breach, and Griselbrand. He then drew Sudden Shock, which meant he was in no danger of dying next turn, so he decided to wait. After all, another source of mana could have made his hand Spell Pierce-proof.

Jerome Bastogne (left) and his teammates hoped their patience would pay off.

He only drew another Faithless Looting, though, and cast it. No harm in that, since he still had enough mana for Through the Breach afterward, right? Unfortunately, Bastogne drew and had to discard his second Borborygmos Enraged, and simultaneously activated Rizzi's Ravenous Trap. This forced Bastogne's hand. He cast Through the Breach and went to draw cards with Griselbrand. Fourteen cards included one Nourishing Shoal and more than enough Worldspine Wurms; another fourteen cards didn't include another Nourishing Shoal, and also not enough Simian Spirit Guides to cast Manamorphose and Goryo's Vengeance for the Borborygmos Enraged kill.

So Bastogne let Ravenous Trap resolve, played an untapped land, let his Griselbrand die, and discarded down to Swamp, Simian Spirit Guide, Goryo's Vengeance, Worldspine Wurm, Through the Breach, and two Sudden Shocks. Sudden Shock paid for by an exiled Simian Spirit Guide allowed Bastogne to survive another attack.

Over the next two turns he reanimated different copies of Griselbrand with different copies of Goryo's Vengeance, attacked, and drew all but two of the cards in his library. In between he killed yet another infect creature with Sudden Shock, whereas Rizzi had no way to stop the incoming Demon. Its second attack was lethal.

Mattia Rizzi (left) and coach Andrea Mengucci (right) carefully considered the options before them.

This game had been one long rollercoaster ride, with several unexpected highs, lows, and sudden turnarounds. Naturally, the third couldn't quite compare. Bastogne had enough Sudden Shocks to kill all Rizzi's infect creatures. Rizzi attempted to get some real damage in with Noble Hierarch for a change, which ultimately proved fruitless. Before long, Griselbrand attacked for the win again, giving the game, match, and chance to play in the finals to an overjoyed Belgian team.

Jerome Bastogne defeated Mattia Rizzi 2-1.

Team Belgium defeated Team Italy to advance to the finals!

"I never drew a single Spell Pierce," Rizzi noted after the match. But the smile on his face suggested that he wasn't actually complaining. "Still, a great finish. I'm really happy about it."

Belgium, Seat A - Jerome Bastogne, Goryo's Vengeance

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Belgium, Seat B - Branco Neirynck, Naya Burn

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Belgium, Seat C - Peter Vieren, Infect

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Italy, Seat A - Mattia Rizzi, Infect

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Italy, Seat B - Alessandro Portaro, Lantern Control

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Italy, Seat C - Alessandro Casamenti, Ad Nauseam

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