Stage 2, Round 2: Panama vs. Italy

Posted in Event Coverage on November 19, 2016

By Tobi Henke

This round saw two very different teams playing to secure a spot in the Top 8 early. With their wins in the previous round, both Panama and Italy each only needed one more win to advance to the playoffs.

Cesar Segovia (left) and Mattia Rizzi (right) face off for their countries.

The Italian roster for this stage consisted of three experienced pro players: Mattia Rizzi who had three Grand Prix Top 8 finishes to his name, Alessandro Portaro who had previously reached the Top 8 of one Pro Tour and one Grand Prix each, and No. 21–ranked Andrea Mengucci, the Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad finalist and the defending World Magic Cup Champion.

The Panamanians weren't entirely unexperienced at high-level Magic. Their captain, Saul Alvarado, was a veteran of eleven Pro Tours, three World Magic Cups, and two Grand Prix Top 8s. But going by the list of previous accomplishments, Panama was clearly the underdog here.

Cesar Segovia was playing Affinity, and Mattia Rizzi was playing Infect. Manuel Succari and his innovative Blue-Red Kiln Fiend deck were up against Alessandro Portaro's Lantern Control. The two captains, Alvarado and Mengucci, met in a battle of Bant Eldrazi against Ad Nauseam. One could easily see these matchups going either way, although Mengucci claimed that Ad Nauseam was favored against almost everything. "You just need to dodge Infect."

Seat C: Saul Alvarado (Bant Eldrazi) vs. (21) Andrea Mengucci (Ad Nauseam)

Indeed, this was the first match to finish. However, at first, things didn't go exactly as Mengucci had planned. The Italian didn't draw a second land for ages and took forever to find an Ad Nauseam despite casting three Serum Visions and two Sleight of Hands. Instead, he drew enough copies of Lotus Bloom, Angel's Grace, and Phyrexian Unlife for three games.

Alvarado didn't have the most aggressive or disruptive start, though, and Mengucci also found a creative use for one of his Angel's Graces, saving himself after countering one Thought-Knot Seer with Pact of Negation. Eventually, Ad Nauseam was found, cast, and resolved. Mengucci moved his library to his hand and ended the match with Lightning Storm in short order.

Andrea Mengucci (right) and coach Alessandro Casamenti (right) made short work of Saul Alvarado in Game 1.

The second game was a much faster affair, as Alvarado curved out with Noble Hierarch and Reality Smasher, putting Mengucci on 13 as early as turn three. The Italian had two more turns to assemble his combo (possible) or to find a solution (unlikely). This time he had multiple copies of Ad Nauseam as well as Lotus Bloom queued up for the important turn, but was missing the other piece of the puzzle. He went to 7 and had no choice but to try to find Angel's Grace via Spoils of the Vault. He slowly flipped over the top cards of his library, one after another. "One, two..."

Well, that was as far as he got. The third card was the saving Angel's Grace and once again Alvarado had nothing to stop the combo.

Andrea Mengucci defeated Saul Alvarado 2-0.

Seat A: Cesar Segovia (Affinity) vs. Mattia Rizzi (Infect)

In the first game, Segovia didn't have an answer for Rizzi's Blighted Agent. For the second game, he kept a dubious draw of three lands, Memnite, Mox Opal, Ornithopter, and Thoughtseize. Could this be the end of it already?

Well, Rizzi had kept a hand light on threats too, and obviously lost his Glistener Elf to Thoughtseize. This left him with two pump spells and four lands, including Inkmoth Nexus and Pendelhaven. While Segovia didn't draw a meaningful threat immediately, he did topdeck the ultimate answer to all Rizzi's threats in Ghirapur Aether Grid. It took a while for this game to end, but it was decided on turn two.

Mattia Rizzi was undaunted by the combined brainpower of Cesar Segovia and Panamanian coach Sergio Bonilla.

The match ended in an anticlimax. For the third game, Rizzi mulliganed twice and kept a hand with Breeding Pool, Natural State, Might of Old Krosa, Become Immense, and Blighted Agent. He took the opportunity to scry a card to the bottom, then proceeded to draw no land and no Noble Hierarch or Glistener Elf for the next four turns. When he finally summoned his Blighted Agent, a triplet of Galvanic Blasts were already waiting to end the game.

Cesar Segovia defeated Mattia Rizzi 2-1.

Seat B: Manuel Succari (Blue-Red Kiln Fiend) vs. Alessandro Portaro (Lantern Control)

So it came down to the match between the two most interesting decks in the feature match area this round...

The match between Manuel Succari (right) and Alessandro Portaro (left) would decide the entire bout!

The first game was close because Portaro drew too many lands and couldn't quite empty his hand fast enough. This allowed Kiln Fiend and Monastery Swiftspear to cross the Ensnaring Bridge one final time. Temur Battle Rage meant the 1-power creatures attacked for 10 damage, leaving Portaro at 5. With the Bridge closed, Portaro could still lose to burn spells, but Inventors' Fair changed that, and multiple Codex Shredders and Ghoulcaller's Bells along with Lantern of Insight locked up the game soon enough.

"Do you have a solution?" asked Portaro when he was confident he was in full control. Succari didn't understand. It took him a couple of turns still to see that there really was no way to escape.

Uncharacteristically, the second game was all about trades. Portaro never came close to establishing his lock, but managed to protect himself against Succari's first wave of threats just the same using Inquisition of Kozilek, Collective Brutality, and two copies of Abrupt Decay. For a while both players were essentially empty-handed—Portaro quite literally, while Succari was holding Vapor Snag. Then Portaro hit a block of lands, whereas Succari found Bedlam Reveler. In a game of trades, that was of course the ultimate trump.

For the deciding game, things were back to normal for Portaro, at least with regard to the cards he had available. After two mulligans, he had only five in hand, but they were a good five: Academy Ruins, Lantern of Insight, Glimmervoid, Mox Opal, and Ensnaring Bridge. He found Welding Jar on top of his library and had all the aforementioned cards on the battlefield by turn two!

Succari, meanwhile, had drawn a Shattering Spree in his opening hand, which was poised to be quite the problem for Portaro later on. Later came soon though, as Lantern of Insight revealed Inquisition of Kozilek to be the top card of Portaro's library. Succari did the shattering while he still had the chance and pointed two copies at Ensnaring Bridge to circumvent Welding Jar. This only set Portaro back a turn, as the Italian simply used Academy Ruins to restore the Bridge.

Following that, Young Pyromancer entered the battlefield and created a number of tokens—none of which could attack currently. Succari was waiting for an answer to Ensnaring Bridge and this time Portaro had no way to control either his own or Succari's draws, save for one Lantern of Insight which could be sacrificed in an emergency. Worse yet, when Bedlam Reveler was summoned, Portaro got to see all the cards drawn but couldn't interfere with the process. He watched in horror when the second card was revealed to be Hurkyl's Recall.

Both teams crowded around the table and sought to assist their teammates.

By now, most players on both teams had crowded around the table and discussed the game. The Italians in particular were involved in heavy debate, seeing as they were on the brink of losing. However, the hive mind got their next play wrong. Portaro cast Ancient Stirrings and took Codex Shredder instead of a land.

This meant he couldn't recast his Ensnaring Bridge after Hurkyl's Recall had sent all of his artifacts to his hand...and Glimmervoid to his graveyard. Otherwise Succari would have needed to wait with Hurkyl's Recall until he had enough power to win in one attack. This way, two attacks ended the game and match.

Manuel Succari defeated Alessandro Portaro 2-1.

Team captain Mengucci admitted to the error, although Hurkyl's Recall would likely have won the game at a later point just as well. Meanwhile, Panama was celebrating and could only laugh at their sideboarding error.

"I forgot to take it out!" Manuel Succari said about the Vapor Snag he had drawn in the second game. Teammate Saul Alvarado chuckled, "That's the truth. He could have said that he wanted to save his own creatures from removal spells."

Panama defeated 2015 World Magic Cup Champions Italy 2-1 and secured a spot in the Top 8 with one round to go!

Panama, Seat A - Blue-Red Kiln Fiend

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Panama, Seat B - Bant Eldrazi

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Panama, Seat C - Affinity

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Italy, Seat A - Infect

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Italy, Seat B - Lantern Control

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Italy, Seat C - Ad Nauseam

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