SEMIFINALS: ARI LAX VS THIAGO SAPORITO

Posted in PRO TOUR KHANS OF TARKIR - COVERAGE - EVENTS on October 13, 2014

By Marc Calderaro

Grand Prix Toronto champion Ari Lax came to the feature match area and asked the Judge Riki Hayashi an interesting question. "Can I have a copy of my decklist, please? I don't know where mine went." Lax looked at his opponent Thiago Saporito, one of the most known and feared players on Magic Online, and then said, "After that last match, I'm going to need some help sideboarding."

Lax was referring to the already infamous card, Mass Calcify, that he had mistakenly sideboarded in during the quarterfinals. "It was the first time in the entire tournament I sided it in, and it was by accident." He added later, "I'm never going to live that down."

He smiled and looked at Saporito again. "Don't worry, when we go to Game 2, I will make sure Mass Calcify is not in my deck. It will be face up on the table the entire game."

Lax was doing his standard talk-em-out strategy. Getting the table talking was how he felt the most comfortable. It kept him on his game, and could also get his opponents off theirs. Saporito was refusing to engage. Coming from the hallowed halls of MTGO, Saporito was used to being silent and stony.

Lax tried once again. "Are you bolov0 online?" Lax asked.

"Yes." Those were the first words Saporito spoke. Then he was silent again.

"Just wondering."

The banter continued from one side of the table, but Saporito was in game-mode already, and this mirror match would be a slog for both players. Saporito had told me earlier that even though there are some different card choices, he believes it will come down to the opening hands and the first turn.

"I already played him in the Swiss." He elaborated no more than that. But we all know what that means.

Ari Lax, longtime player with his first Pro Tour Top 8, goes up against Thiago "bolov0" Saporito in the Semifinals.


Lax got to go first in the first game, so in Saporito's mind, he was already at a disadvantage.

The Games

When Lax decided to mulligan, and Saporito joined him, Lax thanked his opponent for keeping it equal and shook his hand. Saporito smiled—a little chink in the armor.

In a surprise to no one, the early game was all Siege Rhino and mana helpers. Both players even doubled their Rhino counts, while the life totals bounced up and down like a baby rhino in a bouncy chair. This trend continued but was upgraded to Wingmate Rocs (the board, not the bouncy chair analogy).

Lax,'s table strategy morphed into narrating the match as it happened. Sometimes he would even anticipate Saporito's plays. "You going to Hero's Downfall a bird?" "Now you're going to exile my Roc?" Saporito did as Lax foretold with a Downfall and Abzan Charm. "Now it's 8-17?" After a double-bird attack, it was indeed 8-17.

Lax is one of the more animated players in this Pro Tour Top 8.


But the amount of life gain in each of these decks is astounding, and a Sorin, Solemn Visitor basically reversed the life totals the next turn. This continued for about a column of life pad.

"I will draw, and reveal a Temple of Malady; play it and gain a life; then reveal Elspeth, Sun's Champion." Lax's narration was getting more explicit, precise, and intense as the game tensed—though the totals were still bouncing up and down. Just remember that baby rhino image.

The big turn came once Saporito was without a hand. "You're hellbent'? I believe it's the term," Lax quipped. He then cast an Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. Lax's build had more Planeswalkers in the maindeck than his opponent, which could help skew the long game. The next turn found an Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Saporito didn't have the right removal spells.

The advantage gained from +1/+1 counters, tokens, and card draw was too much for Saporito. Though he had a Whip of Erebos—which is kinda like a Planeswalker—there ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.

Lax 1 – Saporito 0

Lax wasn't happy with his seven cards. As he threw them back into his library, he said to Saporito, "I see you smirking." Saporito was keeping up his wall, but a brick would drop every now and then.

Saporito went off to the races in the second game and didn't let up. He had a turn two Fleecemane Lion, which soon became larger, thanks to monstrosity, and it took Lax all the way to 7 life. A follow-up Thoughtseize continued to clear the way, stripping a Wingmate Roc from Lax's hand—one of two in his deck.

Lax had turned much quieter now. When Saporito's Courser of Kruphix revealed an End Hostilities, Lax had only a soft "Okay," in response. It was a tell for the game as a whole.

Saporito had just enough disruption to let his 3/3 hexproof go the distance and pounced all over Lax. It was all up to the last game.

Lax 1 – Saporito 1

Two early Thoughtseize rattled Lax slightly—he began tapping his feet beneath the table and exhaling, while fiddling with his deck box. A Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino hit his yard, and he was left with a Wingmate Roc and an Elspeth, Sun's Champion in his grip. Saporito's double Coursers helping his life total amidst the black sorcery.

Saporito, calm and collected, does not anything faze him. His play is as tight as his expressions.


Lax just laughed when he saw yet another Thoughtseize on the top of Saporito's deck. When it came down and Lax splayed the two white spells, Saporito for the first time engaged conversationally with his opponent.

He sighed. "I have to think further."

He eventually took the Elspeth. Though Saporito was only pressuring with Coursers, he had Wingmate Rocs for days in his hand.

But then there was a moment. We all knew it was a moment because Lax immediately perked up. He hopped in his seat and clapped his hand when he revealed a Duneblast on the top of his library. Along with a new End Hostilities and Hero's Downfall, Lax could slow the game down to a crawl. And that he did.

For turns and turns the players went one-for-one. When Lax was losing control, he wiped the board. Each player eked out what damage and virtual card advantage when they could, but they sat opposed, like a cat pawing against a mirror.

Lax gained the upper hand thanks to Liliana Vess, which found what Lax would need and got rid of what Saporito would want. Once a tutored Utter End destroyed Saporito's only copy of Whip of Erebos, he was out of gas. Just when it looked the worst, he silently top-decked a Thoughtseize to match his End Hostilities and wiped everything away.

Each player was now without cards in hand, and without nonland permanents in play. It was up to the top-deck gods.

Then, like a shot in the dark, Lax's hand-clap rang throughout the convention hall. His draw step found him an Elspeth, Sun's Champion. It slammed onto the board with a resounding thud. There was nothing Saporito could do. Tokens for days, kids. Tokens for days.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win a Pro Tour semifinals. As Ari Lax walked away from the feature match area, after about ten seconds he burst out laughing. He had made the Finals.

Ari Lax defeats Thiago Saporito 2-1 and advances to the Finals!

Ari Lax – Abzan Midrange Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir

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Thiago Saporito – Abzan Midrange Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir

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