Stage 1, Round 2: France vs. United States

Posted in Event Coverage on November 19, 2016

By Frank Karsten

On Day One, Team France went 3-3-1 and Team United States went 5-2. As a result, France had to battle it out against Peru in an elimination match first thing in the morning, while Team United States automatically advanced to the next stage. France won their early morning match, and now they were pitted against the United States.

This round marked the first of three rounds in a modified double-elimination system where, essentially, a team would have to win two out of three matches to make it through to the next stage. So a lot was on the line for both of the two teams involved.

Team United States

The team from the United States was one of the early favorites going into the event. Captain Owen Turtenwald, ranked third in the Top 25 and a recent inductee into the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame, led the team to its best World Magic Cup finish in 2014, where they finished in fourth place. Turtenwald was back for another try this year, and there was a lot of experience on his team: teammates Paul Yeem, Lee Marino, and Kevin Jones had all played at the Pro Tour multiple times before.

Their Unified Modern choices were heavily informed by Kevin Jones's experience with his signature Grixis Delver deck. "Kevin had a great number of tournament results with the deck, had a good list, and knew the deck very well," Turtenwald explained. "Before we made any other decks, that was set 100%." For Turtenwald's middle seat (where he sat so as to be better equipped to give advice to both other matches) they tried a number of decks but ultimately settled on Infect. Turtenwald had been playing it for a year, and the deck did really well at Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth recently. For the third deck, whose pilot would alternate between Lee Marino and Paul Yeem, they considered various Stomping Ground decks but eventually settled on Green-White Tron. A decisive factor was that Tom Ross had recently won a StarCityGames.com Open with it, showing the power of the deck.

Team France

The French team was captained by Raphaël Lévy, who managed to lead France to victory in 2013. This year he was joined by Jérémy Dezani, Kevin Sauvageon, and Guillaume Perbet. The biggest name among this group of WMCQ winners was Jérémy Dezani. Last weekend, in fact, Lévy and Dezani had made it to the Top 4 of Grand Prix Rotterdam alongside Tomoharu Saito, showing that they worked well together as a team. What's more, all the French players had put small French flags on their cheeks to celebrate their national pride.

Like the US, the French team also had one player who was very familiar with a certain Modern deck. "Kevin had Bant Eldrazi from the beginning; it's the deck he is most comfortable with," Lévy told me. "Then Dredge was an auto-include because we think it is too good not to play." Lévy had been playing graveyard-based decks in Modern long before the introduction of Prized Amalgam and Cathartic Reunion, so it was a perfect fit for him. The third deck was a bit trickier, but they ultimately settled on Affinity as a powerful strategy that has no overlap with their other decks.

Seat A: Kevin Jones (Grixis Delver) vs. Raphaël Lévy (Dredge)

In Game 1, Lévy got his dredge engine online early, netting him two free Bloodghasts and a free Narcomoeba before Jones cast his first creature. It was easy to see that this was not a good matchup for Jones. His deck simply wasn't equipped for this matchup in Game 1. Sure, Jones was able to cast several card draw spells and a Young Pyromancer, but they couldn't really compete with the power of Lévy's deck. Another Bloodghast and a Prized Amalgam soon joined the party, a flashed-back Conflagrate cleared the way, and the French Hall of Famer attacked for lethal.


Raphaël Lévy (right) consults coach Jérémy Dezani (center) during Game 1.

For Game 2, sideboards were available, and Jones added 4 Leyline of the Void. Meanwhile, Lévy didn't board anything because he wasn't sure what Jones would have in his sideboard, and he didn't want to add enchantment removal when it would potentially be dead. This meant that an early Leyline of the Void would be huge play, and Jones aggressively mulliganed in search of it, going as far as tossing back a perfectly reasonable seven-card hand without the powerful enchantment. He did eventually find it, but at that point he was already down to three cards.


Kevin Jones (center) consults with coach Lee Marino (left) and judge Steven Zwanger (right).

As the game started with Leyline of the Void on the battlefield, the large majority of Lévy's cards instantly became useless, but he was still able to mount an offense: A pair of Insolent Neonates and a Stinkweed Imp may not have been the most impressive beatdown team, but slowly and steadily they whittled down Jones's life total. Jones would almost surely have triumphed with a six- or seven-card opening hand, but his mulligans had hurt too much. When Lévy spent some time thinking on what to discard to Faithless Looting, Jones remarked, "I feel like this possibly can't be as tough as my situation is," and laughter ensued on both sides. Several turns later, Jones still hadn't found an answer to the evasive 1-power creatures, and he conceded the game amicably: "It was a pleasure; good match."

Raphaël Lévy defeated Kevin Jones 2-0.

Seat B: (3) Owen Turtenwald (Infect) vs. Kevin Sauvageon (Bant Eldrazi)

In Game 1, after Sauvageon won the die roll, Turtenwald took a mulligan down to six and bravely kept a no-land hand. He did have a scry from his mulligan and a Gitaxian Probe, giving him three chances at drawing a green source, but everything would come down to the top three cards of his deck. Fortunately for him, he found a Breeding Pool on turn one. This allowed him to cast Noble Hierarch, which enabled a Blighted Agent on turn two. Sauvageon didn't have a bad draw—he had eight permanents by turn eight—but the only card that could interact with an unblockable infect creature was Eldrazi Displacer. Having already taken seven poison counters, Sauvageon tried to blink the Blighted Agent twice on Turtenwald's upkeep, but Blossoming Defense and Vines of Vastwood said no and Turtenwald won the game.

In Game 2, a turn-one Gitaxian Probe from Turtenwald revealed the hand that Sauvageon, who was on the play, had kept: Temple Garden, Hallowed Fountain, Cavern of Souls, Yavimaya Coast, Noble Hierarch, Eldrazi Displacer, and Thought-Knot Seer. This gave Turtenwald full information on what to expect over the course of the next few turns. When Sauvageon cast Spellskite on turn three, Turtenwald knew that Sauvageon's hand was Thought-Knot Seer and Hallowed Fountain, which meant that he did not have to worry about Path to Exile. Safe and sound, Turtenwald tapped out for Dismember on Spellskite and two Might of Old Krosa on Blighted Agent. Adding a final power boost from exalted pushed the total up to ten poison counters.

Owen Turtenwald defeated Kevin Sauvageon 2-0.

Seat C: Paul Yeem (Green-White Tron) vs. Guillaume Perbet (Affinity)

This was the match where the coaches (Lee Marino for the United States and Jérémy Dezani for France) had set up their rolling chairs. Chronologically, it was the last one to finish, and the outcome of this match would decide the round.

In Game 1, Perbet had a fast draw with Mox Opal and Cranial Plating, allowing him to put Yeem down to 4 life very early on. Yeem did have World Breaker on turn four, destroying Cranial Plating and providing a reach blocker, but it wasn't enough. Perbet could have probably gone wide with Signal Pest, but a Galvanic Blast was deemed to be a cleaner way to deal the final 4 points of damage.


Guillaume Perbet won Game 1 in short order.

In Game 2, Yeem drew an opening hand with access to the full Urzatron (Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower) but without an early piece of interaction. The only non-mana card in his hand was the ten-mana Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. After conferring with Turtenwald, it was deemed a keep, and the match got underway. Perbet, meanwhile, got on the poison plan with two Inkmoth Nexuses and a Steel Overseer. However, Yeem found an important Oblivion Stone on the top of his deck to deal with Steel Overseer and buy enough time before Ulamog came down on turn five. The Eldrazi giant devoured both Inkmoth Nexuses and hungrily attacked for lethal shortly after.


Paul Yeem was stoic as his teammates looked on in Game 3.

It all came down to Game 3. Given that it was the last game of the match, everyone huddled behind the table, except for Lévy who had enough faith in his compatriots and didn't want to add another cook to the kitchen. The first big choice of the game happened on turn three for Perbet. Facing two Tron pieces and an Expedition Map, he could either activate Inkmoth Nexus and equip Cranial Plating to set up a two-turn poison kill, or he could equip Cranial Plating on Vault Skirge for a three-turn kill via regular damage. The later line would be more resilient to Ghost Quarter and would allow him to keep up Spell Pierce for Karn Liberated, but the French team collectively decided to go for poison and to stick with the plan even after Yeem had fetched Ghost Quarter.

It did not work out. Ghost Quarter took out Inkmoth Nexus, and now Yeem was still at a healthy 17 life because at no point had a regular creature connected with Cranial Plating. This gave Yeem enough time to play and crack Oblivion Stone and follow it up with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. In the end, Perbet got Yeem down to 3 life and six poison counters, which was a long way toward both victory conditions but not enough to complete either one. Facing a rampaging Ulamog with no outs, the French players extended their hands in defeat.

Paul Yeem defeated Guillaume Perbet 2-1.

Team United States defeated Team France 2-1!


An exuberant Lee Marino hugs Paul Yeem in celebration.

Paul Yeem received a huge hug from coach Lee Marino for his victory, and the United States now only needed one win out of the following two rounds to advance to the next stage. France would have to win both of their next two matches to stay alive.

Raphaël Lévy's Dredge

Jérémy Dezani's Affinity

Kevin Sauvageon's Bant Eldrazi

Owen Turtenwald's Infect

Kevin Jones's Grixis Delver

Paul Yeem's Green-White Tron

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