With six Bant Company decks in the Top 8, it didn't come as a surprise that one of the semifinals was a mirror match. According to Arne Huschenbeth, one of the two Bant Company players in this semifinals, "the deck is extremely strong and, with a tuned sideboard, it can beat everything. I won a lot of games two and three."
A 19-year old Magic grinder from Hamburg, Germany, Huschenbeth had made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Paris earlier this year. Here in another Top 8, he was quickly making a name for himself.
One the other side of the table sat Marco Dolazza, a 32-year old game store owner from Beragmo, Italy in his first Grand Prix Top 8. Having demonstrated his skills in the Bant Company mirror by dismantling Jaroslav Boucek (who had been playing at Table 1 as the sole undefeated for most of the day) in the quarterfinals, he had his eyes set on the trophy.
Game 1 came down to having more and better Collected Companies. Huschenbeth had two copies of the instant, hitting Sylvan Advocate and Tireless Tracker on turn 4, followed by Reflector Mage and Tireless Tracker on turn 5. Dolazza, meanwhile, hit only a single creature (Sylvan Advocate) off of his only copy of the instant. With the board squarely in favor of Huschenbeth, Dolazza wasted no time. He simply packed up his cards and moved to his sideboard.
Arne Huschenbeth 1 - Marco Dolazza 0
Dolazza, who would be on the play in Game 2, sideboarded as follows:
Huschenbeth, who would be on the draw in Game 2, had the following sideboard strategy:
The key play in the second game came around turn 6 or so, with a board full of creatures. Reflector Mages, Duskwatch Recruiters, and Sylvan Advocates littered both sides of the battlefield, but that was just the start. Both players controlled a Selfless Spirit, which would make attacking a daunting proposition. But the most important creature was Dolazza's Archangel Avacyn.
After chumpblocking one of Huschenbeth's attackers, Dolazza's Angel triggered, prompting both players to sacrifice their Selfless Spirit in response. Nothing else died, but the end result was that Dolazza had an evasive 6/5 flier while Huschenbeth had no air defense. Avacyn, the Purifier soared to victory in two quick attacks.
Arne Huschenbeth 1 - Marco Dolazza 1
Huschenbeth amassed a superior board presence early in Game 3, but in a game with sideboard cards, that doesn't guarantee a victory.
"Tragic Arrogance?" Huschenbeth asked, fearing the worst.
Dolazza didn't disappoint and cast the sorcery right on cue. In response, Huschenbeth sacrificed his Selfless Spirit to give Dolazza fewer options, but it still wrecked his board. Equalizing things, Dolazza chose to leave both players with a Sylvan Advocate only. Huschenbeth's Spell Queller died as a result, and Dolazza happily played his exiled Tamiyo, Field Researcher for free.
But Hushenbeth, who still had plenty of cards in hand due to an earlier Tireless Tracker, rebuilt quickly. What's more, Subjugator Angel came down several turns later, tapping Dolazza's board. This allowed Huschenbeth to take down Tamiyo, get in for a few points of damage, and cement his board position with a 4/3 flier.
While potential ways to lose were racing through Huschenbeth's mind—perhaps some sequence involving a quick Avacyn transformation, like in the second game—Dolazza saw no way out after that devastating Subjugator Angel turn.
"It's over," he said, extending his hand. With a surprised, yet relieved look on his face, Huschenbeth accepted the congratulations and shared his disbelief with his friends who were watching the match from the sidelines.
Arne Huschenbeth 2 - Marco Dolazza 1
"It's pretty incredible," Huschenbeth said. "I started playing competitively only about a year ago, and now I'm in the finals!"