Quarterfinals: Shuhei Nakamura (Colorless Eldrazi) vs. Jiachen Tao (Blue-Red Eldrazi)

Posted in Event Coverage on February 7, 2016

By Corbin Hosler

In a Top 8 loaded with big names, Jiachen Tao was the exception. He had never made it to the elimination rounds of a Grand Prix or Pro Tour before, and even though his deck had taken Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch by storm, there were many who would consider him an underdog to his formidable Top 8 opponent.

That opponent was Hall of Famer Shuhei Nakamura, who was making his sixth Pro Tour Top 8 appearance to go along with 27 Grand Prix Top 8s, including a record seven wins. He was a key part of the powerhouse ChannelFireball team that dominated the field, and was used to the nerves of playing on a Pro Tour Sunday. Not to mention he had handed Tao one of his only losses in the Swiss.

Not that it seemed to bother Tao, who was happy to joke and make conversation with Nakamura as the match began. If he was nervous about playing on such a stage, he wasn't showing it.

The Decks

Both players were playing variations of the tournament's breakout deck. Nakamura had opted for ChannelFireball and Face-to-Face Games' fully colorless Eldrazi list that featured Chalice of the Void in the main deck to shore up the aggressive match-ups, while still retaining the incredible top-end of Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher and Oblivion Sower. With access to plenty of mana in Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple, the Eldrazi decks were faster than anything else in the field in Atlanta.

Tao had an even more unique take on the deck, playing cards like Eldrazi Skyspawner and Vile Aggregate that are rarely seen outside of a draft. But thanks to the deck's explosive mana base, the cards combined alongside Eldrazi Mimic and Eldrazi Obligator to create a very aggressive shell that still retained the top end of the curve with Drowner of Hope, a key card to break board stalls. The deck, pioneered by Team East West Bowl, had sent two players to the Top 8, and was one of the more terrifyingly fast decks in the format.

Shuhei Nakamura and Jiachen Tao were the first to match up in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch.

The Games

As the Eldrazi clashed for the first time on Sunday, the tone for the match was set early. Both players led with Eldrazi Temple on the first turn, and while Nakamura couldn't match Tao's first-turn Eldrazi Mimic, he did follow with a second Temple and Thought-Knot Seer on the next turn. The Seer revealed a hand of double Vile Aggregate as well as a second Eldrazi Mimic, making Tao's plan over the next few turns obvious, and powerful. Nakamura removed one of the Aggregates and passed the turn. For his part, Tao simply laid the second Mimic and passed, unable to attack, but set up to present a threatening board on the next turn.

Unfortunately for Tao, he didn't get that opportunity. Nakamura's Eye of Ugin allowed both of his Temples to cast two more Thought-Knot Seer, and with Tao's hand stripped of the second Vile Aggregate as well as Drowner of Hope, all he could do was laugh quietly.

"All right, let's play the next one," he said as he picked up his cards.

The next game was much slower than the first, relatively speaking, though it was still plenty fast as Tao had a second-turn Eldrazi Skyspawner and Nakamura matched him with Matter Reshaper.

Things kicked into overdrive from there, as Eye of Ugin plus the Eldrazi Scion token allowed Tao to play Reality Smasher on the third turn and get aggressive. Nakamura had the Dismember for it and followed with a Reality Smasher of his own to even life totals at 12 apiece. A second Skyspawner arrived for Tao, though the Scion it brought with it was felled by a Ratchet Bomb.

Nakamura is one of the game's masters.

The players traded creatures over the next two turns, and the board ended up with a Spellskite on Nakamura's side and nothing but tokens for Tao. But that was before the American played one of the pseudo-mirror's ultimate trump card: Drowner of Hope. Sacrificing the tokens at the end of Nakamura's turn to help activate Eye of Ugin, the Reality Smasher the Eye turned up was enough to even the games at one apiece.

Game 3 saw Nakamura keep a hand full of removal but light on threats. That approach worked perfectly as the Hall of Famer removed Eldrazi Immobilizer with Gut Shot before taking down two follow-up Reality Smashers with Dismember. While the exchange left Nakamura's life total waning, it also meant that Tao was running out of pressure.

Finding a crucial fifth land, Nakamura exiled Simian Spirit Guide to cast Oblivion Sower, which turned up an Island and a Scalding Tarn to add to his side. It was followed by a 6/6 Endless One, and Nakamura was in firm control of the game.

That changed when Tao answered with Drowner of Hope, though he fell to 8 life on Nakamura's next attack. A second 6/6 Endless One joined Nakamura's board, and even though he fell to 5 life on Tao's attack, his board was filled. The next attack from Nakamura left Tao at 6 life, after Tomb of the Spirit Dragon gained Tao 3 life.

That presented Nakamura with an interesting decision: Thanks to the Scalding Tarn being all but useless in his deck, the Hall of Famer had access to exactly four mana, with two creature lands available to block alongside Spellskite against Tao's two lethal Drowner of Hope. After several moments of consideration, Nakamura opted to use Ghost Quarter to remove the Tomb, leaving back just one land to block.

Tao's deck has been taking down players all weekend.

That proved to be a fatal decision. Tao had the removal spell for the Blinkmoth Nexus, and Drowner of Hope ended the game and gave him his first lead of the series.

For someone who—in his own words—had "nothing worth mentioning" when it came to previous Magic accomplishments, Tao was one game away from taking down a Hall of Famer and advancing to the semifinals of Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch.

But the last one is often the hardest, so Tao was ecstatic when he found a pair of Eldrazi Mimic to go along with Eye of Ugin. The quick start meant that by the time Nakamura's Ratchet Bomb was able to handle the threat he had already fallen to 8 life from the attacks. Still, the Hall of Famer fought back with a fourth-turn Oblivion Sower, which turned up Eldrazi Temple and Cavern of Souls and put Nakamura on track for a big next turn.

But that next turn never came. Eldrazi Obligator stole Nakamura's Oblivion Sower and attacked for exactly lethal, ending the game in the blink of an eye and sending Tao to semifinals of his first-ever Pro Tour Top 8.

Jiachen Tao defeats Shuhei Nakamura 3-1 and advances to the semifinals!

Shuhei Nakamura: Colorless Eldrazi

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Jiachen Tao: Blue-Red Eldrazi

Download Arena Decklist

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