Semifinals: Gerry Thompson vs. Ken Yukuhiro

Posted in Event Coverage on May 14, 2017

By Frank Karsten

The two players in this semifinal match were no newcomers to the Top 8 stage. Team Mutiny's Gerry Thompson, well-respected not only for his playing skill but also for his prowess at building decks and writing quality articles, had made a Top 8 at Pro Tour Gatecrash before. His opponent, team Musashi's Ken Yukuhiro, found himself in his third Pro Tour Top 8.

The Decks and Matchup

Thompson was piloting Mono-Black Zombies, a synergy-driven tribal deck that aims to deploy a good curve of Zombie creatures. Between Metallic Mimic, Lord of the Accursed, and Liliana's Mastery, the deck contained an abundance of "lords" to boost its creatures.

Yukuhiro had entered the tournament with Black-Green Energy. Via Attune with Aether and Winding Constrictor, this deck could potentially attack with a 6/6 Longtusk Cub as early as turn three. A new Amonkhet addition unique to Yukuhiro's deck was Bone Picker. In fact, among all Standard decks at this Pro Tour, there were only four Bone Pickers in total—all in Yukuhiro's deck. The Japanese Gold pro, who loves rogue brews and always plays with a passionate smile on his face, never fails to disappoint in the deck building department, and the fliers would prove useful to break through board stalls.

For one of these players, the tournament would soon end. The other would fight for the title of Pro Tour Amonkhet Champion!

But on the whole, it seemed like the matchup was in Thompson's advantage. "For a while, we were thinking of playing Black-Green Energy [at the Pro Tour]," he told me before the match, "but then we started playing against Zombies, and we just could not win in a million years. Black-Green Energy has the better early game, but after the first three turns, Zombies takes over with a bunch of lords, and it's hard for the energy deck to contain all that stuff because they're light on removal."

The only things that Thompson was scared of were a mana stumble, the Winding Constrictor–Walking Ballista combo, and Heart of Kiran. But even then, he had Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness to kill Yukuhiro's most problematic creatures.

The Games

Yukuhiro, who was on the play as he had the higher seed after the Swiss, had one of the best possible starts that his deck could provide. On turn two, he Fatal Pushed Thompson's Cryptbreaker, allowing him to cast Bone Picker for one mana. One mana for a 3/2 flier with deathtouch is a fantastic deal, especially on turn two, and Yukuhiro found himself firmly ahead.

Thompson was able to take care of the Bone Picker with Dark Salvation, but in the meantime Yukuhiro had added Winding Constrictor and Rishkar, Peema Renegade to the board. The 4/5 and 4/4 towered over the battlefield, and Thompson made a misstep by targeting the 4/5 Constrictor with Grasp of Darkness.

Ken Yukuhiro took advantage of Thompson's mistake in Game 1.

But in the end, it didn't really matter. Yukuhiro added two Bone Pickers to the battlefield, and Thompson would have succumbed to the fliers no matter how he had used his removal spells.

"Occasionally mistakes happen," Thompson explained after the match. But he didn't dwell on his mistake and was able to immediately move past it: "I just tried not to think about it. It's over and done with, you can't do anything about it, and you have to keep trying to play well."

Game 2 started with a double mulligan from Yukuhiro, while Thompson's first main action was discarding Dread Wanderer to Cryptbreaker's ability. It represented a little bit of synergy, as he would be able to bring back the 2/1 later in the game, and it also meant that his Diregraf Colossus entered the battlefield as a 3/3.

Cryptbreaker and Diregraf Colossus then traded for Yukuhiro's Walking Ballista and Fatal Push, but this only made the next Diregraf Colossus bigger. As a 6/6, it was bigger than any of Yukuhiro's creatures, and Thompson used Dark Salvations to prevent Yukuhiro from setting up any favorable blocks.

Facing an-ever growing horde of Zombies and without a good line of defense, Yukuhiro picked up his cards.

Game 3 in this best-of-five set was the first one played with sideboards, but they wouldn't really change the matchup. Yukuhiro's sideboard was biased more toward Mardu Vehicles, control decks, and combo decks, while Thompson's sideboard options, such as Aethersphere Harvester and Gonti, Lord of Luxury, were unlikely to drastically change the overall strategy of his deck.

As the game got underway, both players cast Grasp of Darkness to deal with each other's early creatures, but Lord of the Accursed and Rishkar, Peema Renegade survived on opposite sides of the board.

Thompson then made a good decision by opting not to use his remaining Grasp of Darkness on Yukuhiro's Rishkar. Since Yukuhiro passed on turn four without a play, Thompson guessed there was a good chance that one of the many cards in Yukuhiro's hand was another copy of the legend. Possibly for that reason, or perhaps because he wanted to retain an answer to any flier that Yukuhiro might draw later, Thompson did not spend his remaining Grasp of Darkness on Rishkar.

The decision worked out well for him, as several turns later, Thompson was able to point that Grasp of Darkness at Winding Constrictor, leaving Yukuhiro without enough blockers to stay alive.

In the fourth game, Yukuhiro's third turn was somewhat unusual, as he Fatal Pushed Thompson's Dread Wanderer. Usually you don't see a premium removal spell cast on a small creature that can return from the graveyard, but in this case it allowed Yukuhiro to cast Bone Picker ahead of time.

Soon enough, the board got flooded with creatures, and the game threatened to dissolve into a board stall where Bone Picker's evasion could prove to be the deciding factor.

But Thompson got himself out of it. First, he made the seemingly unfavorable trade of Lord of the Accursed against Hissing Quagmire just to turn on Fatal Push. As a result, Bone Picker hit the graveyard.

Gerry Thompson found a way to prevent Yukuhiro's Bone Pickers from taking over the game.

And then everything happened as Thompson predicted before the match, when he said that Zombies takes over in the late game. The key cards for the job were two copies of Liliana's Mastery.

The first Liliana's Mastery made it so that Yukuhiro didn't have great attacks, and the second one gave Thompson an unassailable board state full of 4/4 Zombies tokens. Foil ones, I might add.

Yukuhiro was defenseless. Given that his biggest creature was a 3/4 Greenbelt Rampager, he saw no way out and extended his hand in defeat.

The entire four-game match only took 29 minutes, which was an astonishingly fast pace. "It played out kind of how I expected," Thompson said in his post-match interview, "minus the me making some really bad mistakes in the first game. Still got there anyway; kind of embarrassing, but . . . scoreboard!"

Gerry Thompson defeated Ken Yukuhiro 3-2 and advanced to the finals of Pro Tour Amonkhet!

Gerry Thompson - Mono-Black Zombies

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Ken Yukuhiro - Black-Green Energy

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