Round 4 Feature Match: Kenji Tsumura vs. Jon Stern

Posted in PRO TOUR FATE REFORGED on February 6, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

The phrase "went undefeated through Draft" is a common one you can apply to Pro Tour Top 8 competitors. As the Pro Tour has grown in size over recent years, the importance of starting one, or both, days with Limited perfection has risen. That's where two of the many 3-0 players found themselves, including Jon Stern and Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura.

Tsumura, an inductee of the Hall of Fame Class of 2012, was a longtime competitor that helped lead the dominance of Japanese Magic players in the early 2000s. Kenji quickly amassed an impressive set of stats in his career, including 13 Grand Prix Top 8s and a whopping 6 Pro Tour Top 8s.

Stern, a Canadian standout and two-time Grand Prix winner, was looking to earn his own bragging right. As a long-time player on the Pro Tour, Stern's near misses made him a player to watch out for. There were plenty of players looking to break through at the Pro Tour, and defeating a Hall of Fame player to remain perfect was the next step he needed to take.

The Decks

Both players had brought the popular, and powerful, Abzan decks for the weekend. Siege Rhino had charged the deck up a level, pushing out Jund as the favorite way to play Thoughtseize and Liliana of the Veil. Path to Exile, Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence, and many other tools that had filled the former Birthing Pod decks found their second life in Abzan.

Built for the long battles, the most interesting tweak coming into the weekend was the addition of Tasigur, the Golden Fang to many lists. Pulling back extra cards—virtually any card the deck played, really—was powerful, and Tasigur pushed the long game even farther. That was Tsumura's plan, though Stern and some of his teammates moved toward Wilt-Leaf Liege and Loxodon Smiter for a more aggressive approach.

The Games

Stern led off with Thoughtseize to reveal an Abzan hand with Thoughtseize, Path to Exile, and Abrupt Decay for Tsumura, and the discard spell went away. Off the top of his library, Noble Hierarch appeared as Tsumura's first play, and he used his Path on Stern's Voice of Resurgence as his next. Stern found Birds of Paradise and Lingering Souls, which led to Abrupt Decay from Tsumura.

It was a war of attrition, and Tsumura was drawing well.

A flurry of Abzan action took place in Round 5 between Jon Stern and Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura.

Scavenging Ooze took care of the Lingering Souls for the Hall of Famer, but Stern cast and immediately flashed back a second copy to rise up to five flying Spirit tokens. Liliana of the Veil made Stern sacrifice one, but it kept his Birds of Paradise at ready to threaten a Gavony Township activation. Instead, Stern was content to take out Liliana with just one Spirit, putting Tsumura at 12 life before resolving Siege Rhino.

Tsumura's good draws had run dry as Stern took command.

Tsumura had a Rhino of his own but it didn't answer Stern's Spirits or Gavony Township. Stern jammed in with all of his creatures and added +1/+1 with Gavony Township. Surviving to draw another card, Tsumura didn't find what he needed against Stern's army.

The second game was a similar affair with different creatures. Tsumura led the way with two copies of Tarmogoyf and Thoughtseize, while Stern tried to keep up with Kitchen Finks and Birds of Paradise as well as a second copy of Path to Exile (that quickly cleared a Tarmogoyf).

Loxodon Smiter was Stern's roadblock, keeping Tsumura's 3/4 Tarmogoyf at bay. Batterskull, however, could. Stern's Siege Rhino put Tsumura to 8 life, but Tsumura took it right back to 11 with a Rhino of his own. Neither side could find a way through.

Tsumura's shields were up.

Lingering Souls, again, was Stern's plan to go over the literal top of Tsumura's army. Tsumura tried Thoughtseize, and Stern paused to cast Path to Exile on the opposing Siege Rhino before revealing a hand of just Thoughtseize back. Stern's Spirits went to work again, and two more appeared thanks to flashback. One Batterskull might have kept Tsumura afloat for a little while, but the second made math difficult for Stern. The next Spirit attack put Tsumura at 5 life, but the Japanese player struck back with both well-equipped Germ tokens.

Seige Rhino blocked one, Smiter blocked the other: Tsumura was back up to 13 and Stern had lost an Elephant. Liliana of the Veil forced Stern to sacrifice Kitchen Finks, and Siege Rhino completed the lifegain round for Tsumura by making it 16 all.

Attrition is what Abzan decks do. Finding the crack in the armor to push through was a more nuanced operation.

The Spirits crashed in to finish off Liliana and nip at Tsumura, then Stern played his own second Siege Rhino. Putting Batterskull onto his Siege Rhino, Tsumura struck in. When Stern blocked with both his Rhinos and Kitchen Finks, Path to Exile made it terrible for the Canadian. Down to just four Spirit tokens and Birds of Paradise, Voice of Resurgence was all Stern mustered.

Tsumura rose to 46 life on the next attack as Stern fell to just 6.

A rally might have been possible until Tasigur, the Golden Fang appeared for Tsumura. Stern made four more Spirits with Lingering Souls as Tsumura's Tasigur began to give him extra cards, but that wasn't the clincher: It was Batterskull equipped to Treetop Village that pushed the last damage through.

In the third game, Tsumura led off with Thoughtseize that found nothing it could discard in Stern's hand.

"It was a sketchy keep," Stern admitted later. The Canadian tried to rally by drawing Kitchen Finks and Siege Rhino thereafter. With two copies of Tarmogoyf in play, Tsumura added a Siege Rhino of his own to begin the stalemate phase of the game. Like the other two games in the match, Stern and Tsumura jockeyed to find an edge to capitalize on.

While Tsumura's Abzan strategy plays for the late game with Tasigur, Stern's goes over the top with spirits and Gavony Township.

Stern sent his lone Rhino in on the next turn, with three Noble Hierarchs granting exalted triggers and Gavony Township to activate. Tsumura had to sacrifice his Tarmogoyfs to kill the Rhino, but a second one wasn't a bad consolation on the next turn. Stern was at 8 life after that, but Lingering Souls would buy him some time.

Tsumura's Rhinos continued to siege Stern, but blocking with everything and activating Gavony Township again left Stern ahead with two 2/2 Spirit tokens, two 2/3 Noble Hierarchs, and just two normal-sized Spirits across the way after Tsumura cast Lingering Souls. Stern pressed his advantage with an attack and another round of Township counters. Tsumura fell to 4 life.

Batterskull, tapping himself out, looked to buy some time but Stern attacked with everything anyway. Gavony Township one last time was enough to push 8 damage though the Spirits unblocked in the air, getting big enough to negate the 4 life Batterskull was gaining Tsumura.

"I think Gavony Township is so important," Stern said after the match. "That's why."

Stern 2 – Tsumura 1

Kenji Tsumura - Pro Tour Fate Reforged

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Jon Stern - Pro Tour Fate Reforged

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