QUARTERFINALS: ARI LAX VS YUUYA WATANABE

Posted in PRO TOUR KHANS OF TARKIR - COVERAGE - EVENTS on October 12, 2014

By Ray “blisterguy” Walkinshaw

While 11th-ranked Yuuya Watanabe is considered to be one of the better players to come out of Japan in the last decade, he's still had less Pro Tour Top 8s that you'd think, getting his third here this weekend. Someone else who's been long overdue for a Pro Tour Top 8 is Ari Lax. Lax has a slew of Grand Prix Top 8s under his belt including a win at Toronto last year, but until today, the big Sunday Pro Tour stage has evaded him.

Lax has already defeated Watanabe once this weekend, beating him 2-1 during a Khans of Tarkir draft in Round 10. This time he'd be pitching his Abzan midrange deck against Watanabe's Jeskai Wins deck.

While Ari Lax is looking to make his first long-overdue Pro Tour Top 8 a memorable one, 11th-ranked Yuuya Watanabe was hoping his third Top 8 would lead to his first win.


The Games

"I am on the play," Lax announced.

"Good choice," Watanabe returned, with a smile.

"I think that alone gives me around 20% in this match-up," Lax added as they drew and kept their opening hands.

Watanabe was the first to open fire, playing an early Goblin Rabblemaster, but its efforts to create an army were stymied as the recruits kept running headlong into one of Lax's two Courser of Kruphix. You had one job, Goblin Rabblemaster.

A smile began to spread across Lax's face as he noted Watanabe had failed to draw a land that could produce blue mana, and it turned into an uncontrollable grin as his Coursers bumped his life total up to 24 and revealed a Wingmate Roc on top of his library.

The many faces of Ari Lax.


Watanabe finally drew an Island, and used it to Jeskai Charm one of the Coursers back on top of the Roc. At the end of turn, Lax brought the Rabblemaster to an Utter End, before he untapped and casting Thoughtseize. Watanabe was holding a pair of Mantis Riders, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. Lax threw away one of the Riders, and attacked with his remaining Courser, before playing a Siege Rhino.

Watanabe summoned Brimaz and pushed it and an attending cat soldier token in front of the attacking Rhino. Lax killed the King, and Watanabe finished the Rhino off with a Magma Jet. Mantis Rider joined Watanabe's cat token, but it was very much a pair of scissors to Lax's pair of Rocs.

Lax attacked with his birds, going up to 29. Watanabe tapped his team to Stoke the Flames under the Wingmate Roc before falling to 12 life. Lax closed out his turn with an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and three Soldier tokens.

Watanabe cradled his head in his hand as he worked through his options. He had a Cat token and a Mantis Rider facing down three Soldiers, a Courser, a Roc token, and Elspeth. Mantis Rider tagged Elspeth.

"He's really making me fight for it," Lax remarked, as Watanabe finished Elspeth off with yet another Magma Jet.

Lax replayed the Courser Watanabe had bounced earlier and played a land off the top, revealing a Thoughtseize. He attacked Watanabe down to 6, and passed the turn back. Watanabe drew and scooped up his cards.

Lax 1 – Watanabe 0

Lax sideboarded as quickly as he could before taking a brief restroom break. I promise you that this is not just a case of Too Much Information.

Lax was first to attack in Game 2, pointing a Thoughtseize at Watanabe and finding a Disdainful Stroke, a Jeskai Charm, and a Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. Lax selected the Jeskai Charm and passed back the turn. Watanabe then sacrificed a Flooded Strand at the end of Lax's turn.

"No Rabblemaster on top!" Lax called as he shuffled Watanabe's deck.

"Okay, Mantis Rider instead," Watanabe agreed with a grin.

"That's not allowed either," Lax laughed.

Watanabe drew and played a land and passed. Lax summoned a Courser of Kruphix revealing a Mass Calcify on top of his library, and let out a "whoops!"

Funny story: before the match, Lax told us backstage that they had tried every card in their sideboard in the match-up except Mass Calcify. Was he trying to next-level us? Nope, apparently he had sideboarded too hastily in his need to go to the restroom.

Watanabe played a land and passed. Lax played another Courser and another Thoughtseize. Watanabe had drawn a second Sarkhan, which Lax binned. The first Sarkhan came down and threw some of its loyalty at a Courser, the other attacking back to take the rest of it.

Yuuya Watanabe on the other hand, has only one face, and it's a Game Face.


Neither player found much else they wanted to commit to the board, so Lax began attacking Watanabe for 2 a turn. Courser revealed a Siege Rhino on top of Lax's library, which Watanabe noted. Knowing there was a Disdainful Stroke practically fizzing with anticipation in Watanabe's hand, Lax opted to hold on to the Rhino for the time being, attacking Watanabe down to 12.

Watanabe again drew, and passed, falling to 10 on Lax's following turn, before countering a Sorin, Solemn Visitor with the Stroke.

Watanabe pondered how he was ever going to get out of this game with a win. Knowing Lax could now play his Siege Rhino without fear, he summoned Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, and a Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Sarkhan called fire down on the Courser, and Watanabe passed the turn back tapped out.

It was Lax's turn to think. End of turn he took care of Sarkhan with a Hero's Downfall, before untapping and killing the King with a Bile Blight and a Drown in Sorrow. Watanabe again drew and passed, so Lax summoned Sorin, Solemn Visitor, and Sorin, Solemn Visitor summoned a vampire token.

Watanabe Stoked the Flames to take out the Planeswalker, but the vampire attacked him down to 8. Lax summoned yet another Sorin and made another Vampire.

"No burn spells for me on end step, I like it," Lax said as Watanabe drew for the turn.

Lax was down to just 11 life, largely thanks to his Thoughtseizes and a Llanowar Wastes, and Watanabe was capable of delivering rather a lot of damage from his hand at short notice. Kind of like express shipping but much more fiery. However, on 8 life and facing a Planeswalker who brought with it an entourage, it did not look good for Watanabe.

Lax gave his team +1/+0 and lifelink and attacked, one of the vampires falling to a Stoke the Flames, but the other putting Lax back up to 14 and Watanabe down to 5. Watanabe summoned a Mantis Rider and moved to attack Sorin. Lax showed him a Bile Blight, and Watanabe could only laugh, bow, and offer the congratulatory handshake of a man defeated.

Yuuya Watanabe is always gracious in defeat, it just doesn't come up all that often.


Ari Lax defeats Yuuya Watanabe 2-0 and advances to the Semifinals!

Ari Lax – Abzan Midrange Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir

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Yuuya Watanabe – Jeskai Wins Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir

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