The World Championship every year features the best players from around the globe, the best decks in the chosen format, and some of the most dramatic moments in Magic history.
The players in the first semifinal of the 2018 World Championship had provided plenty of those themselves. On one side sat Shahar Shenhar, the two-time Champion of this tournament and the only two-time winner in the game's history. On the other was Javier Dominguez, seeking redemption after falling just short in a Finals loss to William "Huey" Jensen at last year's World Championship.
Dominguez was playing a deck very similar to the Ramunap Red deck he took to that finals. He had expertly piloted the Red-black Aggro deck that took Standard by storm after the printing of Goblin Chainwhirler, and he had rolled the Worlds field on his way here. Shenhar, meanwhile, was one of just two players in the field of 24 to register White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift, a "combo" deck of sorts that aimed to bring back its namesake card with a turn-four Refurbish, which meant that a steady stream of creatures—most notably Angel of Invention—would follow.
These were two great players with plenty of history on this stage, but only one would return to the finals.
It was the perfect Bomat Courter into Scrapheap Scrounger opening for Javier, who had won the critical right to go first, while Shenhar set up his graveyard with Strategic Planning dumping God-Pharaoh's Gift and Sunscourge Champion. Goblin Chainwhirler arrived for Dominguez, but he let out an audible sigh of exasperation when Shenhar's Chart a Course dumped Angel of Invention into his graveyard, setting him up for a possible fourth-turn Refurbish, which would return God-Pharaoh's Gift and then Angel of Invention to pull him back from the 6 life he had fallen to.
That's exactly what followed, and all Dominguez could do was shrug as the Angel crashed in for 6 damage to pull Shenhar back from the brink. With no Abrade in sight and a second Angel joining the fray, Dominguez scooped up his cards on the spot, a testament to the pure power of Shenhar's "combo" deck.
Shahar Shenhar (right) and Javier Dominguez look over their notes as they prepare for the next game.
Game 2 started much differently for Dominguez, who traded the raw aggression of the first game for a second-turn Heart of Kiran instead, which applied pressure as Shenhar dug into his deck with a pair of Strategic Plannings—though neither dumped God-Pharaoh's Gift into the graveyard. As Goblin Chainwhirler joined the team and Dominguez knocked Shenhar down to 8 life, all the Israeli could manage was a Sunscourge Champion from his hand that provided a small buffer.
With still no God-Pharaoh's Gift in sight, Shenhar needed something big to give himself a chance, and Fumigate was exactly that. It brought his life total back up to 9 and cleared the board, though Dominguez's Heart of Kiran continued its rampage on the next turn thanks to another Goblin Chainwhirler arriving to crew.
Down to his last chance, Shenhar tapped out for Lyra Dawnbringer, a high-upside play that nevertheless ran the risk of opening himself up to removal from the Spaniard. That's exactly what Dominguez had in the form of Magma Spray plus Abrade, and one attack later the match was knotted at one game apiece.
The sideboarded games started with a bang, as Dominguez Duressed a hand that had Baffling End, God-Pharaoh's Gift, two Strategic Plannings, and two lands. One Planning hit the bin, and a second Duress came soon after to strip away Baffling End. Doomfall was the next, exiling Chart a Course and leaving Shenhar digging for pieces with a Minister of Inquiries while Dominguez got onto the board with Pia Nalaar.
Of course, discard spells can only stop what's in a hand. They can't do anything about the top of the library, and that's exactly where a timely Refurbish arrived from, undoing all Dominguez's hard work and ending the game in short order as Shenhar swarmed the board to put himself one win away from a third World Championship final.
If Shenhar was going to lock up the semifinals in four quick games, he would have to do it on the back foot, as both players mulliganned but Dominguez curved Bomat Courier into Scrapheap Scrounger. Shenhar dumped God-Pharaoh's Gift into his graveyard with Chart a Course, and a Champion of Wits follow-up added two Angel of Inventions to the 'yard while putting up a roadblock at the same time. It was an imposing setup, and knowing he could be on the verge of seeing his tournament run ended, Dominguez had no choice but to tap out for Chandra, Torch of Defiance and clear away the blocker and attack.
That cleared the way for Shenhar to Refurbish—if he had it. He drew his card for the turn, and as Dominguez watched his tournament life hang in the balance, Shenhar whiffed; there would be no Refurbish this turn. Instead, he used Baffling End to take out Bomat Courier, a play that bought him time but only stemmed the bleeding. Glorybringer followed, and with Abrade backup from Dominguez the game ended one turn later.
That sent the match to a deciding Game 5, and it was Shenhar who would have the play. He took full advantage, discarding God-Pharaoh's Gift and Angel of Invention to Champion of Wits, with Refurbish in his hand for the fourth turn.
The most timely Duress from Dominguez ended that plan, while Scrapheap Scrounger crewed Heart of Kiran and knocked Shenhar to 16. A second Champion followed for Shenhar, but it was unable to dig him to his fourth land. Goblin Chainwhirler cleared the board on the next turn and sent Shenhar to 8 life, suddenly in danger of dying.
Baffling End removed one creature and gave Shenhar a chance—but Goblin Chainwhirler came for Dominguez and did what it did best. It pinged Shenhar down to 7, then crewed the Heart of Kiran, which swung in with Scrapheap Scrounger to end the game and give Dominguez his shot at the World Championship title.
Javier Dominguez (left) shakes hands with Shahar Shenhar after securing his place in the finals.
Javier Dominguez defeated Shahar Shenhar 3-2 to advance to the finals of the 2018 World Championship!