Finals: Ryohei Kirino (Mardu Ballista) vs. Qi Wentao (Mardu Ballista)

Posted in Event Coverage on March 19, 2017

By Frank Karsten

It all came down to this. The original field of 2,719 players had been cut down to just two, locked in one final battle to decide it all. The winner would walk away with the title, the trophy, and the first-place prize of $10,000.

The Players

On one side of the table sat Ryohei Kirino, a 27-year-old player from Okayama, Japan. This event marked not just his first Grand Prix Top was his first Grand Prix! He had only started playing the game with Eldritch Moon, and the tournament so far couldn't have gone better for him.

His opponent was Qi Wentao, a 29-year-old player from Beijing, China. He was no newcomer to Grand Prix success, as he had finished in eight place at Grand Prix Beijing 2015 (Team Sealed).

The Decks

The matchup was a mirror match of the deck that had put six players in the Top 8 and that had dominated the top tables all weekend: Mardu Ballista.

Kirino's list was identical to the one that No. 3 Owen Turtenwald had a strong showing with at Grand Prix New Jersey last weekend. Kirino decided on playing the deck when he saw a tweet from Shuhei Nakamura in which Nakamura shared Turtenwald's list. Sometimes, it's good to put your faith in Pro Tour Hall of Famers.

Qi's list was similar—like Kirino, he had Walking Ballista and Archangel Avacyn in the main deck, along with Shock and Painful Truths in the sideboard—but there were still small differences: for example, Qi had some copies of Veteran Motorist and Fumigate in his 75.

Ryohei Kirino's Mardu Ballista – Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017 (Spring Edition)

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Qi Wentao's Mardu Ballista – Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017 (Spring Edition)

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The players shook hands in mutual respect, and then the match got underway.

Game 1

In the first game, Qi had an amazing start, but Kirino managed to turn the game around with mana-efficient removal spells.

Specifically, Qi (who was on the play) had Toolcraft Exemplar on turn one, Walking Ballista on turn two, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar on turn three. This threatened a turn-five kill by itself. Kirino's two-drop, a Scrapheap Scrounger, couldn't block, and any new creature would enter the battlefield tapped due to Thalia.

But Kirino found the perfect way to get back: he played Walking Ballista, removed its single counter to rid himself of the opposing Ballista and to trigger revolt, and followed it up with Fatal Push on Thalia. This was the perfect turn-three play that he needed to stay in the game.

Afterwards, Qi just attacked for one as he didn't have an artifact for Toolcraft Exemplar, and he was unable to keep up the pressure.

Several turns later, after Kirino added more Scrapheap Scroungers to his board, he attacked for the win.

Ryohei Kirino 1 - Qi Wentao 0

For Game 2, both players transformed into a midrange deck. After they made their changes, they counted out their sideboards on the table to show that it held 15 cards, as is the usual custom in Japan.

Game 2

The second game was all about controlling Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

Both players had the powerful planeswalker on turn four, with Qi in an advantageous position because he was on the play. Still, Kirino was able to turn things around with a rarely-seen use of removal spells.

After Qi left back two Thraben Inspector to protect his Gideon, Kirino spent an Unlicensed Disintegration and Fatal Push—two premium removal spells—to destroy both creatures, even though they were only mere 1/2s. But the value of every Magic card always depends on the context, and in this particular game state, the 1/2s were protecting an important planeswalker. Kirino's removal spells cleared the way for his Gideon to attack Qi's Gideon.

So at that point, if we're keeping score in terms of Gideons, it was Kirino 1 – Qi 0. Several turns later, Qi evened the score via well-executed attacks and Unlicensed Disintegration damage. After the Gideon phase of the game ended, the players were back to parity, but not for long.

Qi added Ob Nixilis Reignited and Chandra, Torch of Defiance to the board, and Kirino was unable to deal with them. After several turns of plusing his planeswalkers, Qi's victory was academic. Eventually Gideon joined in, and although he wasn't necessary at that point anymore, he still showed that he's one of the best ways to close out a game with ease.

Ryohei Kirino 1 - Qi Wentao 1

Game 3

The final game largely came down to Release the Gremlins.

One month ago, players felt that the artifact destruction spell was one of the best cards in the mirror match. Over the course of the last few weeks, sideboard strategies had been evolving: many players had been boarding out their artifacts to reduce their vulnerability to the powerful sorcery, which prompted other players to leave the card in their sideboard.

But Kirino kept them in, and his turn-three Release the Gremlins on Qi's Scrapheap Scrounger was arguably the key play of the game.

Because of the board and tempo advantage created by the turn-three Manic Vandal, Kirino was able to deploy Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Nahiri, the Harbinger and keep them around for multiple activations.

Qi tried to come back, but after his early artifact was eaten by a hungry Gremlin, he was unable to achieve board superiority. Without the ability to pressure the planeswalkers, he eventually succumbed to repeated Gideon and Nahiri activations and extended his hand in defeat.

Ryohei Kirino 2 - Qi Wentao 1

I was going to write that it must feel incredible to win your first Grand Prix, but I'm not even sure that's true. After all, Ryohei Kirino doesn't know any better—right now, he has never played a Grand Prix that he hasn't won! I can't wait to see if he can repeat his performance at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in Kyoto later this year.

Congratulations to Ryohei Kirino, champion of Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017!

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