"There's nothing more terrifying than a determined Huey Jensen," commentator Marshall Sutcliffe said days before the World Championship even started. According to the Magic players closest to him, Jensen had prepared harder for this weekend than anyone they'd ever seen.
For Sutcliffe, Jensen's focus and resolve leading into this year's World Championship was matched only by the year Jensen made his return to professional Magic, when he was determined to prove he belonged in the Hall of Fame. Over the next year, Jensen made the Top 8 of nine Grand Prix and a Pro Tour. "Terrifying" seems like an appropriate word.
Jensen was battling Javier Dominguez, who had just made quick work of one soon-to-be Pro Tour Hall of Famer in the semifinals. A full-time pro Magic player from Spain, before the start of the weekend Dominguez said he felt like an underdog, and that he'd be happy with a record of 7-7. He felt as though any time a truly great finish was on the horizon, things just didn't quite work out for him, so he was going to keep his expectations in check. It was probably a fair way to feel for a player who's gotten ninth at two Pro Tours in the last two years.
In Round 14 of the World Championship, Dominguez made things work out, as he became one of only two players to defeat Jensen in the Swiss rounds. His victory secured his place in today's Top 4.
The matchup was between Jensen's Temur Energy and Dominguez's Ramunap Red. These were the two most-played decks in the entire field, and the players were surely familiar with the ins and outs of the matchup. Most of the World Championship competitors agreed that although it would be close, Temur Energy held a small edge.
Jensen's list had several innovations, such as Commit // Memory, Confiscation Coup, and Essence Scatter in the main deck. While these cards were mainly meant for the Temur Energy mirror, Jensen and teammates Owen Turtenwald and Reid Duke discovered that they were also quite good against Ramunap Red, as the deck's best threat is often Hazoret the Fervent.
Dominguez's Ramunap Red deck was standard, with eight one-drops and twelve burn spells. Dominguez felt that the deck was the best match for his skill set, as he felt more comfortable with aggro than with midrange or control. Teammate Christian Calcano called Dominguez "a red mage, all the way." Today, Dominguez certainly is a red mage all the way, as he's piloted Ramunap Red all the way into the finals of the World Championship.
Javier Dominguez. William Jensen. Two players. One trophy. Who would make it through to take it home?
Jensen had five games to avenge his loss from yesterday. Dominguez had five games to repeat his victory. The players shook hands and wished one another good luck.
Dominguez started out with a turn one Soul-Scar Mage, a strong aggressive play against a creature-based deck, since the Mage's prowess discourages opponents from blocking. Dominguez didn't have a third land, however, and his Soul-Scar Mage and Bomat Courier were both met with removal spells from Jensen.
While Jensen's first Whirler Virtuoso didn't stick, his Longtusk Cub ate two burn spells from Dominguez's hand, which in turn meant Dominguez didn't have an answer for Jensen's second copy of Whirler Virtuoso. The Virtuoso can be a particularly problematic card for Ramunap Red, since it can generate a nearly endless supply of blockers for the red deck's attackers.
Dominguez had hope, however, as he finally started hitting lands and was able to cast a Hazoret the Fervent, one of his most potent threats that can also turn useless cards in hand into damage to the opponent.
Dominguez still had three cards in hand when he cast Hazoret, meaning the Amonkhet God couldn't stride into battle quite yet. But on his next turn, Dominguez cast a Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and used her second plus one ability to generate two red mana and cast an Ahn-Crop Crasher.
Dominguez, comfortable with his deck, kept the pressure on.
Jensen had a Harnessed Lightning for the Ahn-Crop Crasher, which meant no good attacks for Dominguez, except with Hazoret. The God wouldn't get through, but it would force Jensen to start using his energy to make Thopters to block with. Over the next few turns, Hazoret continued to attack, and Whirler Virtuoso continued to make Thopters to throw in her way.
Meanwhile, Jensen was able to get Chandra off the table with a critical mass of attackers, including a few Longtusk Cubs. Dominguez couldn't muster enough of a board presence to push through damage, while Jensen continued to add creatures, eventually overwhelming Dominguez and taking the game.
"I had to keep a hand that was short on lands," Dominguez mused as the players shuffled for game two.
"I get it, sometimes that's mono-red," Jensen agreed.
When Dominguez cast a Hazoret on turn five and attacked for 10, the game was nearly over, though Jensen had a block that kept him at 3. Next turn, Dominguez activated Hazoret's ability and then attacked for the final point of damage, ending the game on turn six.
The early turns of the game were a flurry of creatures and removal spells, at the end of which Dominguez had a Rampaging Ferocidon, a Kari Zev, and an Earthshaker Khenra, while Jensen had a Rogue Refiner, a Servant of the Conduit, and a Longtusk Cub. That Cub began to grow, fed by a steady supply of energy, and outsize Dominguez's team. A Chandra gave Dominguez some hope for constructing a win out of his dwindling resources, and on turn six, Dominguez attempted to cast a Glorybringer that had the potential to turn the game around. But Jensen had an Essence Scatter for it, and Jensen's board continued to dwarf Dominguez's.
Jensen found himself in multiple situations where one wrong step would spell a loss.
The Chandra did become a buffer for Dominguez's life total, as Jensen had to split up his attackers to keep Dominguez from using the planes walker's ultimate. When Dominguez added a Hazoret, a Kari Zev, and a Bomat Courier to his board over the span of two turns, it looked like he would have the chance to make a final big attack before dying to Jensen's relentless Thopters.
By eternalizing an Earthshaker Khenra and using Chandra to kill another blocker, Dominguez had engineered a single attack that would kill Jensen only if Jensen didn't have removal in hand. He made the attack, swinging with all his creatures and hoping.
But Jensen had the Magma Spray, and Dominguez couldn't quite get there. Jensen took the game to put the match to 2-1 in his favor.
Dominguez had a great mono-red start, with a Soul-Scar Mage on turn one into a Kari Zev on turn two. Jensen had his own one-two start, with a Magma Spray for the Soul-Scar Mage, followed by a Servant of the Conduit.
Unfortunately for Dominguez, Jensen had a pair of Whirler Virtuosos, and while the red player could answer the first one, he couldn't kill the second. Dominguez was also taking a point of damage for nearly every spell he cast, as he didn't have a mountain in play and his only source of red mana, Ramunap Ruins, dealt him damage every time he used it. Dominguez did have a Rampaging Ferocidon, but even that couldn't do much against the Longtusk Cub that Jensen cast on his next turn. With his greater mass of creatures, Jensen began to chip away at what was left of Dominguez's life total.
With Ramunap Ruins and deserts, Dominguez put Jensen to one, but he sacrificed his fifth land to do it. He needed to draw a land or any burn spell that he could point at Jensen's life total in order to win the match.
Dominguez drew what would be his final card, whether he won the game or Jensen did, ever so slowly. He pulled it across the table, then lifted it into his hand.
He couldn't quite get there. Dominguez extended his hand.
Congratulations to William Jensen, the 2017 Magic: The Gathering World Champion!