Semifinals: Brian Braun-Duin (Bant Humans) vs. (8) Shota Yasooka (Bant Company)

Posted in 2016 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP on September 4, 2016

By Frank Karsten

Well, that was quick. We were settling in for a long, grindy match involving Duskwatch Recruiter activations and Tireless Tracker triggers on both sides, but as it turned out, the match only took three games and 32 minutes.

The Players

The player with the best record after the fourteen Swiss rounds was Grand Prix Master Brian Braun-Duin, a 30-year old Gold-level pro and popular content creator. Several years ago, he started at the bottom of competitive play, and he ground up his way one level at a time. His Magic schedule this season has been grueling—having taken flights all over the world to score the most points at the Grand Prix circuit, he hardly had time to catch his breath. But he did succeed in his quest, secured his invitation to the World Championship, and dominated the event up to this point. He was running hot.

Making Top 4 was beyond where he had envisioned himself at this stage in his career, but he made it clear that now he was here, he wanted to go all the way. "Winning would be the culmination of what I always wanted to do in Magic."

The second player in this semifinals was Hall of Famer Shota Yasooka, who earned his invitation as one of Asia-Pacific's top Pro Point earners in the 2015–2016 season. Undeniably, Yasooka was the more decorated player in this match. With 469 lifetime Pro Points, over $250,000 in lifetime earnings, and the 2006 Player of the Year title, his resume dwarfed Braun-Duin's.

Matching his accomplishments, Yasooka was held in extremely high regard by his peers, not just for the perfection of his play but also for the speed at which he makes his decisions. What's more, Yasooka had one of the best all-time win rates across the World Championships he'd attended. In 2012, he went 11-1 in the Swiss before losing in the Top 4. This year, he went 9-5, locking up another Top 4. He was very happy that he was back, and was hoping to win the trophy that he couldn't attain last time.

The Decks and the Matchup

Braun-Duin didn't lose a single match in Constructed and had a 4-0 run in Standard with Bant Humans. "Brad Nelson nailed it," he said in regard to his deck choice. For this event, Braun-Duin had prepared together with Brad Nelson, Martin Müller, and Joel Larsson, and Bant Humans did really well in their testing, especially against delirium decks. Between Lambholt Pacifist and Thalia's Lieutenant, Bant Humans overloads on cheap Humans and is fast enough to win before Emrakul, the Promised End comes down.

However, Yasooka was not playing the 13/13—he was playing a traditional Bant Company deck. And according to his teammates, that would not a favorable matchup for Braun-Duin, generally speaking. After all, many Bant Company lists have access to fliers (Selfless Spirit, Spell Queller, and Archangel Avacyn) to break through a board stall, as well as Tragic Arrogance from the sideboard to come back from behind.

However, Yasooka's version only had 2 Selfless Spirits and 2 Spell Quellers in his main deck and no Tragic Arrogances in his sideboard. This would make the matchup much closer than it would otherwise be, even taking into account that Yasooka had shown his prowess at playing Bant Company with a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Rimini just a few weeks ago.

Moreover, if Braun-Duin could have a fast start with Thalia's Lieutenant, possibly backed up by a double Frost Breath from Tamiyo, Field Researcher, then he could easily secure a win before Yasooka's card advantage engine—his version included 4 Tireless Trackers and 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigys, revealing his penchant for taking the control role—would give him the edge in the late game. This match could easily go either way.

The Games

After a grand entrance on the spectacular stage at the Paramount Theatre, beautifully outfitted in Kaladesh stylings, the players sat down at the table. They put on headsets to prevent them from hearing any commentary, and then they could draw their opening hands.

In Game 1, Braun-Duin got to play first due to having a higher seed after the Swiss, which was quite valuable for his more aggressively slanted deck. After the initial exchanges, by turn five Braun-Duin had two Reflector Mages, a Lambholt Pacifist, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar on the battlefield, which looked much better than Yasooka's board of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Selfless Spirit.

Yasooka fought back with Reflector Mage on Thalia, allowing him to present several untapped indestructible blockers on the next turn, but it was not enough. Thanks to a timely Thalia's Lieutenant and Dromoka's Command, Braun-Duin beefed up his creatures, swung all-out, and cleared the way for a lethal attack.

In Game 2, Yasooka had a much better start with a crucial Declaration in Stone on Thalia's Lieutenant. By turn five, he was ahead on board and ahead in the damage race: Yasooka had a 4/3 Tireless Tracker, Sylvan Advocate, and a Selfless Spirit on the battlefield, while Braun-Duin merely had Knight of the White Orchid and a 2/3 Thraben Inspector. In other words, Yasooka had more power, more toughness, and more creatures on the battlefield, and the life totals were 12-10 in his favor.


Shota Yasooka hoped to stabilize in Game 2 and put Braun-Duin on the back foot.

But on the next turn, Braun-Duin turned the corner: Reflector Mage bounced the opposing Sylvan Advocate to clear a path, Thalia's Lieutenant made his creatures bigger, and an all-out attack put Yasooka down to 6 life. What a swing!

In the process, Braun-Duin had put Yasooka on the defensive, but it was mainly a temporary advantage made possible by Reflector Mage. Braun-Duin needed a way to push that temporary advantage. Fortunately for him, his deck contained two copies of Tamiyo, Field Researcher, and Braun-Duin had the planeswalker in hand, ready to go. It tapped down two creatures, and that was enough to take down the game before Yasooka had a chance to recast his Sylvan Advocate and leverage the clues from his Tireless Tracker.

For the third game, the players got to improve their configurations via their sideboards. Braun-Duin had access to another Knight of the White Orchid, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, and Tragic Arrogance. Yasooka could add Archangel Avacyn, Selfless Spirit, Dromoka's Command, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar.


Up two games to none, Brian Braun-Duin hoped to secure his seat in the finals with a Game 3 victory.

Yasooka, on the play this game, had to start off with a mulligan in search of a keepable hand, and Braun-Duin had the first play of the game in the form of Lambholt Pacifist.

Due to a mana stumble on Yasooka's part that left him unable to cast a spell on turn three, Braun-Duin's 3/3 Human Werewolf transformed into a 4/4 Werewolf. This may have seemed really bad for Yasooka, but in the end that transformation didn't matter much, as Braun-Duin's next turn featured a Thalia's Lieutenant that would have turned his creature into a 4/4 no matter which side was showing.

Braun-Duin solidified his position with two spells on the next turn: a Thalia's Lieutenant to boost his creatures and a Dromoka's Command to take down the freshly cast Tireless Tracker on Yasooka's side.

Yasooka was squarely on the back foot here, and he would need a good Collected Company to claw back. A Reflector Mage and a Sylvan Advocate, for instance, would have been able to turn the tide of the game. But luck was not on Yasooka's side; the top of his deck contained only one Jace, Vryn's Prodigy as the single creature, and that would not be able to stop Braun-Duin's assault.

Yasooka extended his hand in defeat, and Brian Braun-Duin earned his spot in the finals.


Shota Yasooka shakes Brian Braun-Duin's hand and congratulates him on making the finals.

Brian Braun-Duin defeats Shota Yasooka 3–0 and advances to the finals!

In summary, that was one of the Bant mirror matches where one of the players just runs away with the game, and we got to see that three times.

"Last night, I tested with Seth [Manfield] and he was beating me 80% of games or more," Braun-Duin said in his post-match interview. "But I learned a lot about how I was supposed to play, and I was able to use some of that in this match. Not trading off creatures when I can, just trying to build a giant board, and playing as aggressively as possible. I was pretty happy with how these games played out, and it kind of went all according to plan."

One match now to go for Brian Braun-Duin—the pinnacle of Magic achievement was within reach for him, and he had trouble wrapping his head around that himself. "It's been completely unbelievable," he said. "I've had so much fun playing in this tournament. Even though it is supposed to be stressful, I've been having a blast, playing as well as I can, and things have just gone really well for me."

Brian Braun-Duin's Bant Humans

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Shota Yasooka's Bant Company

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