This was the more amateur of the semifinal bouts, but that doesn't mean both players were new. Sam Batarseh has two Grand Prix Top 8s under his belt, going pretty far back too.
"My first Pro Tour was Junior Pro Tour in '96 . . . . I have a twenty year career with no good results."
Batarseh jovially conversed with his opponent Chris Woodall before the match. Woodall explained that he was new to tournament Magic and this was his first Top 8. He flew in from Madison, Wisconsin.
"Oh are you a Packers fan?"
"Hell yeah." Woodall beamed at Batarseh.
"Well, I'm a Bears fan."
"Oh." He stopped. "Then it's on."
And the games began.
Woodall went first, but Batarseh cast the first stone with Borderland Marauder, followed up by a Phyrexian Revoker. Woodall soon gummed the ground with an Invasive Species and a Typhoid Rats (which he saved from Inferno Fist with Gather Courage). Then he slammed a follow-up Siege Wurm to press in.
Batarseh was all low-cost spells and had no way to deal with the 5/5 Trampler. It started taking life points away five at a time. From 19 to 14 to 9. He held his chin in his hands, then decided it was time to cast the Genesis Hydra building steam in his hands with X set to 5. He hit a Shaman of Spring and all of a sudden, he was back in business. It was 16-9 in Woodall's favor, but Batarseh could see an end game.
After a turn Woodall, now with only Siege Wurm and Ancient Silverback to his name, sent them both crashing in. The wurm and hydra traded, while the ape ate the elf. Woodall doubled down on apes with a Kird Chieftain and shipped the turn. It was closer, but Woodall still had the life advantage—and he certainly had the ape advantage (2 to 0 for those counting at home).
Batarseh answered the Chieftain with a Hoarding Dragon (removing Meteorite), but sunk to 3 on the next attack from Woodall. With Haunted Plate Mail out now for Woodall, and mana to give 'dem apes trample, three life was not going to be enough. A couple taps later Batarseh had lost the first game.
Sam Batarseh 1 – 0 Sam Woodall
Game 2 started slower. No one cast anything until turn three. Batarseh's Invasive Species with Inferno Fist was much more impressive than Mr. Frog, Witch's Familiar. Woodall changed that with a Living Totem +1/+1 counter, and apparently the frog was large enough to threaten Batarseh. He passed his next turn without attacking.
Woodall continued to evolve his things thanks to Invasive Species bouncing the Living Totem, and then he summoned Typhoid Rats. This jostling made Batarseh's board seem paltry—even after a Meteorite and a Forge Devil combined to defeat the Totem. After Woodall beat, it was 10-15 still in Batarseh's favor, but the evidence against the Utahn was mounting. He had no way to block the Accursed Spirit that had just been cast. And there was less mana to take advantage of his Genesis Hydra.
The green monster came down with four counters and nabbed an extra Borderland Marauder, but it still didn't quite swing the board back in Batarseh's favor. Woodall had the deathtouch blocker, and an intimidating attacker that were doing work.
Batarseh got lost in his thoughts trying to decide how best to use the Heat Ray and Inferno Fist sitting in his hands. After a nudge from the judge, he put the Fist on an already-juiced Scrapyard Mongrel and swung in with the now 7/3 trampler, two Borderland Marauders, the 4/4 Hydra and the 5/3 Invasive Species. He left back a lonely Forge Devil.
Woodall threw the 3/4 frog on the 7/3, the Siege Wurm on a marauder, the 4/4 plant on the 5/3 plant, and the Typhoid Rat on the hydra. One Marauder was getting through as an Ancient Silverback and Accursed Spirit declined to get involved in the conflict. This caused more Batarseh musing, deciding again if and how to use either Inferno Fists or the Heat Ray in his hand.
Batarseh used both Fists to kill off the wurm and the rat, made the totals 6-9 in his favor, and passed a much cleaner board to his opponent. All that thought paid off.
It was 6-3 for Woodall, and he thought he had it all sewn up on his next Accursed Spirit attack, but Batarseh had other plans. He cast yet another Inferno Fist on his Marauder and attacked with both creatures into a lone Silverback.
"Oh boy," said Woodall. If he didn't have anything, he was toast. One creature would get through, and throwing the fiery fist would deal the final points of damage. Woodall had nothing and died a fiery death.
Chris Woodall 1 – 1 Sam Batarseh
In the last game, Woodall hoped his early Black Cat and Typhoid Rats would hold down the fort, but Batarseh showed no mercy, using an Inferno Fist to kill the rats and a Borderland Marauder crashed right into an untapped cat. After a couple initial damage, the board immediate clutered with ground-pounders as had each game before.
After more cloggers came and went, Batarseh tried his Hoarding Dragon to fly over the muck, but it quickly met a Covenant of Blood and we were back to the groundlings. Over many turns were slight backs and forths, but no damage was exchanged until the finger in the dam was released. Woodall's Typhoid Rats, that was singlehandedly holding off Batarseh's 6/6 Genesis Hydra and others like him, was killed by a Forge Devil.
That was the move that turned the tides. After that, Woodall lost creatures in some bad, but necessary trades, then a Sacred Armory from Batarseh made future trades even worse.
Within two turns, the wall of Woodall's creatures had turned to mush—a wall of mushy. Woodall's life totals that had held at 15 for so long, quickly slipped lower and lower.
He could race and he paid the ultimate price.
Sam Batarseh 2 – 1 Chris Woodall
Local player Sam Batarseh has earned himself a spot at the final table!