Quarterfinals Stage 2: Liu Yuchen (Mardu Vehicles) vs. Eduardo Sajgalik (Mardu Vehicles)

Posted in Event Coverage on February 5, 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.

Every Pro Tour, a player or two comes seemingly out of nowhere to make the Top 8, often on the back of a risky deck, a breakthrough performance, or strong, up-and-coming play. These players intrigue audiences who see themselves in the novice—stand ins for the "you, too, can play in a Pro Tour Top 8" fantasy.

Liu Yuchen, however, is no novice.

You might not have heard of the 25-year-old player, but he's certainly on that "up-and-coming" list. With five Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, the 2016 Chinese National Champion title, and this Pro Tour, he might even be on the "already there" list.

And he's certainly demonstrated his prowess this weekend. While everyone was paying attention to César Segovia, the first-timer story of Day One, Liu was also undefeated on Day One and just kept right on winning in Day Two. He was so far ahead that he drew his last two rounds and still ended up in third seed, while everyone else just had to keep winning around him.

However, those draws kept him out of a potential first or second seed, which would have seen him skipping this round entirely. Instead, he's now paired against another player on the "you really should recognize his name by now" list, Eduardo Sajgalik. While Sajgalik isn't a household name—though his name is fun to say—the Team MTG Mint Card player already has one other Pro Tour Top 8 to his name (Return to Ravnica) and four Grand Prix Top 8s.

And like virtually everyone else in this Top 8, these two players drove their way to the top of the standings with Mardu Vehicles. Their decks have a few key differences—Sajgalik has four Fatal Push (which were key in his Quarterfinals match against Martin Juza) whereas Liu has four Shock, for example—but they're essentially employing the same strategy: play under-costed creatures, crew up under-costed vehicles, and deal a ton of damage in big chunks.

While Liu Yuchen and Eduardo Sajgalik both had great results to their resumes, neither had achieved the success that the game's top had reached. Today, that was very likely to change for one of them.

The Games

As the higher seed, Liu had the "choice" to play first (it's never really a choice in a matchup like this—more like he "gets" to go first, with glee), and he used it to his advantage. It also didn't hurt that Sajgalik was forced to mulligan to five. For his part, Liu sportingly went to six cards. All in all, Liu looked to be advantaged.

And he was. The first game was a bloodbath.

Liu had two Toolcraft Exemplars and a Thraben Inspector by the time he passed his second turn, and an Aethersphere Harvester after his third. One Unlicensed Disintegration later and we were quickly on to a second game. Sajgalik played some cards and made some blocks, but even he said his choices were limited:

"I could basically choose how I die. I could make the game longer and die or I could die faster," the Canadian mused.

The second game was a bloodbath in the other direction. Sajgarik ran Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran into Scrapheap Scrounger on the play. Liu was at 10 before he played his third land.

In his second Pro Tour Top 8, Sajgalik displayed a calmness and poise that were signs of a true veteran.

"Nice deck, nice games," Sajgalik mused while absolutely pummeling his opponent with a 4/4 flying, vigilant Heart of Kiran and a first striking Toolcraft Exemplar. Liu wasn't strictly dead on turn five, but he didn't need much prompting to concede after falling to 1 during just Sajgalik's fourth attack step.

Meanwhile, during the other quarterfinals matchup between two other Mardu Vehicles decks, their games weren't lasting much past the 5th turn either. We were certainly setting some kind of land-speed record for a Top 8, and the absurdly fast draws these two players had put out were only fueling the fire.

At least we're all going to be able to take a nap before dinner.

Or were we?

Things slowed down significantly after sideboarding. Instead of trading damage, they started trading removal.

Sajgalik didn't even have a one-drop, and his first Heart of Kiran was hit by Fragmentize. Liu, for his part, just played a Veteran Motorist and was content to hit for chunks of 4. Liu even had Metallic Rebuke—a purely reactionary spell—at the ready for Sajgalik's removal. Eventually, an Unlicensed Disintegration from Liu—roughly the twelfth removal spell played that game—dealt the final points of damage.

Oh, and all of this took place within about the first seven turns of the game. The Mardu mirror is weird.

The fourth game was just as weird. Neither player had a one-drop, and Liu even passed on playing a two-drop. Instead, both players tried to resolve "stickier" threats like Pia Nalaar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, all while jostling over a plethora of removal flying back and forth.

In one fantastic play, Sajgalik had an opportunity to Spell Queller away an Unlicensed Disintegration, but instead chose to let it resolve and use the Queller as a surprise blocker instead, taking out Mrs. Nalaar. He could have saved his creature and had the Queller, but instead chose to prioritize the surprise block over a creature that would likely die at some point anyway.

Liu finally overcame the Pro Tour hurdle to remind the world that he is one of China's best.

This fourth game was playing out more like a midrange or control mirror with the occasional small creature thrown in.

Another key moment was Sajgalik casting Gideon and debating whether to take it to 5 loyalty or make a 2/2. He chose to make a 2/2, leaving Gideon at 4 loyalty. Unlicensed Disintegration killed Spell Queller and the 1/1 Thopter Mrs. Nalaar made flew over to finish off Gideon, and we were back to square one.

Back and forth they went in a suddenly long game. The top card of both players decks was at a premium, and when top decks are at a premium, Veteran Motorist is an all-star. Sajgalik drew several Motorists, Liu flooded out, and we were on to a fifth and final game.

Liu started down several cards after a mulligan to five, but made a game out of it, holding back the first few of Sajgalik's creatures while countering a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar with a Metallic Rebuke. He even had Fragmentize for Sajgalik's first Cultivator's Caravan.

But there was a second. And a Fatal Push. And many Clues. And, and, and…those two cards Sajgalik started the game up, and the extras he drew thanks to three Thraben Inspectors, essentially made Sajgalik invincible as the game wore on. Liu could only hold his head in his hands and try to feign weakness in the right areas, to try to squeeze some kind of advantage out where he could.

It wasn't enough. Sajgalik had too many options and Liu too few.

But I bet you know his name now.

The two displayed the utmost respect for one another with the end of the match, as Sajgalik advanced.

Eduardo Sajgalik defeats Liu Yuchen 3-2 and advances to the semifinals!

LIU, YUCHEN - Mardu Vehicles

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Sajgalik, Eduardo - Mardu Vehicles

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