Quarterfinals: Austria vs. Japan

Posted in Event Coverage on December 3, 2017

By Blake Rasmussen

Blake is the content manager for DailyMTG.com, making him the one you should email if you have thoughts on the website, good or less good (or not good). He's a longtime coverage reporter and hasn't turned down a game of Magic in any format ever.

Coming into the World Magic Cup, three teams looked to be truly stacked, a cut above the rest. There was Brazil, who fell by the wayside on Day One after going 2-4. Then there was the United States, which fared significantly better. They made it all the way to the final round before a loss to Wales kept them stuck with a mere Top 16 finish.

And then there was Japan. Wait, scratch that, there is Japan.

Unlike their two fellow behemoths, Japan more-or-less cruised its way to the Top 8, only facing one elimination match along the way. But can anything short of a championship title live up to the billing of a team with two Hall of Famers—Yuuya Watanabe, who is, by some counts, one of the top five players of all-time, and Shota Yasooka, whose technical skill is the sort that even other Hall of Famers marvel at—as well as National Champion Kenta Harane, who has two Grand Prix Top 8s and absurd win-rates at the few high-level tournaments he's participated in?

If you didn't quite track that spectacularly constructed sentence, the short version is that anything short of a trophy is probably below expectations for Japan.

And then there was Austria.

Captain Oliver Polak-Rottmann is certainly no slouch, and National Champion Elias Klocker has two Grand Prix Top 8s under his belt. Finalist Adrian Johann Schrenk is less well-traveled. The one thing they do have over Japan is that they always seem to do well at this tournament, with multiple Top 8s.

You see what I'm setting up here, right? David vs. Goliath. Tortoise vs. the Hare. Mom and Pop vs. Superstore. That-one-guy-at-the-gym-who-dribbles-with-his-mouth-open-but-can-dunk-and-always-hits-3s vs. Michael Jordan. My pained similes vs. James Joyce's allegories.

Japan was the last remaining super-team in the World Magic Cup, and while Austria had its work cut out for them, they have something that Japan doesn't: A proven track record at this tournament.

The Games

The lineup:

Seat A: Elias Klocker (Four-Color Control) vs. Shota Yasooka (Ramunap Red)

Seat B: Adrian Johann Schrenk (White-Blue Gift) vs. Yuuya Watanabe (Four-Color Energy)

Seat C: Oliver Polak-Rottmann (Ramunap Red) vs. Kenta Harane (White-Blue Gift)

For the purposes of this story, let's ignore Seat B. Things happened there. They split the first two games. But in the end, only Seats A and C—the matches with Ramunap Red—mattered. And they showcased the mastery that got Japan where they are now.

On the C seat, Polak-Rottmann was stymied at every turn, but how he was stymied was an incredible display of utilizing your Plan B. Polak-Rottmann started off quickly—as Ramunap Red does—and quickly pushed Harane to single digits while the Japanese pro drew some cards and discarded some cards. It looked like Harane could have won quickly with a turn four Refurbish, but none were to be found. Instead, he had a Cast Out to keep Hazoret the Fervent off his back.

Austria looked to take down the Goliath country in the quarterfinals.

From that point on, it was all Harane. And that includes the second game. Angel of Invention was Harane's turn five play, followed by a flurry of card draw and a single Sacred Cat, while Polak-Rottmann simply ran out of gas. Finally, around turn eight, with the board mostly clear, Harane finally found his Refurbish, returned a God-Pharaoh's Gift, and an Angel of Invention and locked the first game away firmly under the steely gaze of a 6/6 lifelinking Angel.

Meanwhile, back on the A Table...

Shota Yasooka wasn't having nearly the troubles Polak-Rottmann was. His Hazoret got to hang around for a few turns, and Elias Klocker had no Angel of Inventions to lean on. Vraska's Contempt and Whirler Virtuoso eventually did buy Klocker time, but he found himself at 3 life facing an active Ramunap Ruins. It only took a few turns for a player as skilled as Shota to find that single point of damage.

Now look at Table C, now back to B, now back to me, now back to Table C.

While Yasooka was busy squeaking out the final points of damage, his teammate Harane was busy not taking much. Polak-Rottmann found himself flooded after a mulligan to six, and then stymied by the awesome power of Sacred Cat. Polak-Rottmann had an Abrade in hand should God-Pharaoh's Gift ever make it on to the battlefield, but Harane knew better and instituted his Plan B of just playing creatures that kept him alive. Fairgrounds Warden, a couple Cast Outs, and an Authority of the Consuls before Harane even fell below 13 life left Polak-Rottmann just shaking his head as he drew more and more Mountains. It took a number of turns after that Authority of Consuls hit the board, but eventually a few embalmed Angel of Sanctions took it home.

Meanwhile, on Seat C, Yuuya Watanabe and Adrian Johann Schrenk were tied. Not that it mattered.

Finally, everyone gathered around Seat A to watch Yasooka—widely regarded as a control master—simply be a master.

Let's set the scenario. On turn four, Klocker was still at 20 life, had a Whirler Virtuoso and six energy, and was actually attacking Yasooka, who had a single creature (Kari Zev, Skyship Raider) in play. That seems like every control deck's dream against Ramunap Red.

Both Yasooka and Harane on Team Japan carefully and skillfully navigated their matches.

But an Abrade on the Virtuoso followed by two Earthshaker Khenra suddenly took a chunk out of Klocker's life. Another attack the following turn dropped Klocker even lower, even as he cleared Yasooka's board of creatures before an embalmed Earthshaker Khenra jumped back into play.

Here's where Yasooka's mastery came in. Where most red players would have attacked in, Yasooka was patient, playing around Torrential Gearhulk by refusing to tap his Scavenger Grounds or attack into a potential 5/6. He did this for multiple turns, even as his deck gave him land-after-land. He was flooded, much like Polak-Rottmann had been, but was milking it for all it was worth.

Eventually, Yasooka had enough mana to embalm his second Khenra and still leave up Scavenger Grounds, prompting Klocker to make a move. That move wasn't Gearhulk (he actually never had one), but it was Deathgorge Scavenger. He attempted to gain some life, but Yasooka still had that Scavenger Grounds available, and was able to essentially negate the attempt.

That, finally, prompted Yasooka to start attacking. Patiently he made strong attacks over the next few turns, still careful with his mana. He had multiple Ramunap Ruins in play and extra Deserts, meaning he only needed to get Klocker a little lower and the Deserts would take care of the rest.

And they did. With the last few points and a handshake, Japan was clear on to the semifinals, two matches to none.

Anti-climactic, no? Did it feel like I was building to something?

I wasn't. There is no climax here. Just the cold, hard precision of the best team in the tournament doing what it was made to do—winning.

Team Japan defeats Team Austria 2-1 and advances to the semifinals!

Kenta Harane: Japan—White-Blue Gift

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Yuuya Watanabe: Japan—Four-Color Energy

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Shota Yasooka: Japan—Ramunap Red

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Elias Klocker: Austria—Four-Color Control

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Oliver Polak-Rottmann: Austria—Ramunap Red

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Adrian Schrenk: Austria—White-Blue Gift

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