Round 12: Jiachen Tao (White-Black Tokens) vs. (18) Oliver Tiu (TitanShift)

Posted in Event Coverage on September 3, 2016

By Corbin Hosler

It may have been chilly on the feature match floor entering Round 12—seriously, both players noted it—but nonetheless, things were heating up at the 2016 Magic World Championship. With Jiachen Tao sitting at 7-3 and his opponent, Oliver Tiu, at 6-3-1, a Top 4 appearance and shot at the World Champion title was still very much in sight, making their seats at the Round 12 Feature table as hot as possible despite the chill.

Both Jiachen Tao (left) and Oliver Tiu hoped to keep their Top 4 aspirations alive with a victory.

Tiu's run to the World Championship is one the eighteen-year-old will remember for the rest of his life. While locking up the Rookie of the Year title, he was also finishing high school, and his trip to the World Championship overlaps with his first year of college. It's been a whirlwind year all around, but none of that stopped Tiu from putting himself into position to advance to the elimination rounds of the tournament.

Tao rolled into the Modern rounds with confidence high considering it was the same format in which he won Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. Of course, that was before the Eye of Ugin ban that Tao himself helped precipitate. Still, he was happy with his deck choice for this event.

The Decks

"I've played White-Black Tokens in a few Grand Prix, so I'm pretty comfortable with it," Tao explained as he shuffled up for his games.

The White-Black Tokens deck Tao feels he has perfected looks a bit different than some of the other versions of the deck floating around. Eschewing heavy token makers like Spectral Procession, Tao opted for more disruption and removal in his build, allowing his deck to play out like a white-black control deck that uses tokens as a win condition rather than the tokens being the central game plan. In a field of Tarmogoyf and Grim Flayer decks, it was a sound plan.

Unfortunately for Tao, Tiu's TitanShift deck is not the matchup he was looking for. The Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle deck went so far as to use Khalni Heart Expedition to put as many lands into play as possible, and Summoner's Pact for Primeval Titan gave the deck ways to win without ever drawing Scapeshift.

The Games

The first game got started lightning fast, as an Inquisition of Kozilek took one ramp spell from Tiu, but that didn't stop him from having six lands in play on turn three thanks to Search for Tomorrow, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Farseek. All it would take was a land and Scapeshift to deal 18 to Tao.

Unfortunately for Tiu, finding that card would be difficult given the Liliana of the Veil that Tao was ticking up steadily as he sat on a Spellskite for protection. Tiu found the card a few turns later, but with the threat of Liliana stripping it from his hand he was forced to fire it off with only seven lands in play. That represented 18 damage, but Tao sent it all to his Spellskite, taking 12 damage in the process but ultimately surviving. That allowed him to resolve Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and begin spitting out tokens. As the tokens began to accumulate for Tao, Vault of the Archangel allowed him to gain life back as Tiu desperately searched for another Scapeshift to finish the job.

No such topdeck came for Tiu, and Tao managed to snatch a Game 1 victory in a bad matchup to take control of the match.

Jiachen Tao was more than happy to secure the victory in Game 1.

Hand disruption again led the way for Tao, who nabbed both an Explore and an Anger of the Gods from Tiu. With no Scapeshift in hand and no longer able to sit around and sweep away Tao's board, Tiu began to get aggressive. A pair of Obstinate Baloths came down to help him gain control of the ground, while Tao still had the air with Lingering Souls tokens. After the dust settled on both players' attack steps, the life totals stood with Tiu at 16 and Tao at 25 thanks to Vault of the Archangel.

Still, with Khalni Heart Expedition sitting on two counters, Tiu was threatening to possibly win the game at any moment. A Scapeshift off the top looked like it would do just that as Tiu began doing math.

And yet. With seven lands in play Tiu counted again as he cast the spell. Realizing he could do only 18 with the Scapeshift and then 6 with the Expedition, Tiu couldn't end the game. Instead he used Scapeshift to just pull a Valakut out of his deck, triggering the Expedition and using the damage to clear away most of Tao's board but leave him alive. Tao tried to stay that way, putting more tokens on the board and passing back. On the ropes, sure, but still alive.

Primeval Titan ended that chance, though, and the pair were off to the third and deciding game.

Again discard spells ripped apart Tiu's opening hand in Game 3, stripping Engineered Explosives and Scapeshift from the reigning Rookie of the Year's hand. But while option A was off the table, Tiu had plenty left in the tank. A Sakura-Tribe Elder looked like it would lead to a third-turn Obstinate Baloth, but instead Tiu opted to hard cast a Search for Tomorrow and another Elder. That maximized his mana output, and while he focused on his lands Tao focused on the board. A pair of Asylum Visitor plus Spellskite meant Tao had the lead in on-board power and threatened to end the game if Tiu couldn't find a payoff for all of that mana production.

Oliver Tiu needed to find a win condition, lest his lands sit forever untapped.

Fortunately for Tiu, he did exactly that, finding Summoner's Pact to fetch up Primeval Titan to put a pair of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles into play. While it was a big play, it wasn't enough to end the game immediately. Again Spellskite did work for Tao, eating the Valakut triggers on the next turn to allow the Asylum Visitor and tokens to trade off for the Titan. Again, Tao had survived what was often a game-ending play from the ramp deck. That put the onus back on Tiu to find another haymaker as Tao went back up to 8 life thanks to Vault of the Archangel.

Calm as ever, Tiu quietly untapped for his turn and revealed exactly what he needed: Scapeshift to end the game and put him into position to make a run for the Top 4.

Oliver Tiu defeats Jiachen Tao 2–1.

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