Quarterfinals: (18) Andrea Mengucci vs. Pascal Vieren

Posted in Event Coverage on February 4, 2018

By Frank Karsten

Pascal Vieren's Pro Tour debut was Berlin 2008, where he finished 49th. He played a handful of Pro Tours in the year after, but then remained absent from the Pro Tour scene for seven years straight. This all changed in 2016 when his brother Peter clinched the Belgian team captaincy; Pascal figured that he might as well try his best to join his brother by qualifying for the World Magic Cup.

He succeeded in winning a World Magic Cup Qualifier, joined the Belgian team, and "things got a bit out of hand after that," he said with a large smile on his face. Team Belgium made it to the finals of the 2016 World Magic Cup, and Pascal followed up with multiple individual finishes: Top 8 of Grand Prix Bologna 2017, a chain of Pro Tour invites, and a legendary run this weekend here in Bilbao.

Impressively, Vieren had not lost even a single match all tournament! He did rack up two unintentional and two intentional draws, but that's still technically undefeated, reminiscent of Luis Scott-Vargas' epic 16-0 run at Pro Tour San Diego 2010.

But if anyone could put a stop to Pascal Vieren's run, it would be his quarterfinal opponent No. 18 ranked Andrea Mengucci. Currently ranked eighteenth in the Top 25, the Italian Gold-level pro was in his third Top 8, playing Five-Color Humans—the breakout deck of the tournament that seemed to have a good matchup against Vieren's U/R Pyromancer brew.

The Human tribe had always had access to Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant as payoffs in Modern, at least for the past two years, but the five-color version of the deck didn't really exist before Ixalan brought Unclaimed Territory and Kitesail Freebooter. With the addition of a five-mana land and a disruptive creature, the Human tribe reached a critical mass. It was the most-played deck at the Pro Tour, and two of its pilots made it to the Top 8. (The other Human player in the Top 8, besides Mengucci, was his Connected Company teammate Javier Dominguez.)

Pascal Vieren, on the other side of the table, played the novel U/R Pyromancer deck designed by his brother Peter. The draw-go control deck contains a lot of interactive cards, ranging from burn to countermagic, and eventually wins the game with Young Pyromancer or Thing in the Ice. These creatures were fueled by Serum Visions, Ancestral Vision, and another Ixalan addition to Modern: Opt.

As both players sat down for the match, they chatted amicably about various topics. At some point, the topic of which Opt had the best picture came up. Both players' favorite was the Invasion version. "The old cards are always the best," Vieren said.

The players also discussed their deck lists. Mengucci specifically asked Vieren about his split between Island and Snow-Covered Island. Vieren explained that it was to bluff having Gifts Ungiven in his deck and to potentially represent a Storm deck in the early turns. "If I confuse even one person who may play differently as a result, it's worth it," he explained. It's the little edges that matter.

The matchup between the two decks slightly favored Five-Color Humans on paper. Vieren told me that he expected things would get better for him after board when he could replace some of his countermagic (which is fairly useless against a deck with both Æther Vial and Cavern of Souls) with game-winning sweepers in Anger of the Gods, but he didn't like in chances in the pre-board games.

Andrea Mengucci may have earned his third Pro Tour Top 8, but he'd have to get through Pascal Vieren—the sole player in the event who had yet to lose a match—if he wanted to continue onward.

Mengucci told me that Æther Vial was one of the key cards in the matchup. A turn one Æther Vial could indeed make all the difference, both in terms of speed and as a way to dodge Vieren's countermagic. Æther Vial on two counters could also allow Mengucci to flash in Thalia's Lieutenant at instant speed to potentially save his Mantis Rider from a Lightning Bolt.

The Games

In Game 1, Mengucci had the dreaded turn one Vial, but Vieren had an immediate answer in Abrade. He followed it up with Young Pyromancer, but it looked like he would have a hard time triggering it, given Mengucci's disruptive creatures.

Specifically, Mengucci's second and third turn consisted of the Kitesail Freebooter-Meddling Mage tag-team. Kitesail Freebooter exiled Spell Snare and provided information on what Vieren was holding. This allowed Meddling Mage to name Roast, which Mengucci had just seen in Vieren's hand.

But Vieren had the tools to break up Mengucci's disruptive creatures. First, Abrade (flashed back by Snapcaster Mage) killed Meddling Mage. Second, Roast (freed up after the death of that Meddling Mage) destroyed a Human that was Mengucci's turn four play.

Mengucci still had a Kitesail Freebooter, but that was the entirety of his Human team by now. To make maters even worse, he was stuck on two lands, one of which was a painful Horizon Canopy.

Meanwhile, Vieren had two 2/1s and an ever-growing number of Elemental tokens on his side of the battlefield. They started attacking, and eventually Vieren used a Cryptic Command to tap down Mengucci's creatures, taking the first game.

Out of habit, Vieren reached for his deck box after picking up his cards, but Mengucci quickly stopped him.

"No sideboard, no sideboard!" Mengucci laughed.

"Oh, yeah," Vieren groaned, still not quite used to playing a best-of-five match where sideboards are only allowed for Games 3, 4, and 5.

Vieren's success has propelled him to a level in the Pro Club alongside his brother Peter.

For Game 2, Mengucci got to be on the play, but he had to mulligan down to six and, after some deliberation, kept a one-lander without any one-mana spells. He scried to the bottom, missed, and failed to play anything on turns two or three.

When he still hadn't found a land by turn four, he simply scooped up his lone permanent and conceded. Mengucci surely knew the risks involved with keeping—there was a 33.7% probability of not finding any of his remaining 22 mana sources by turn two, and 19.2% by turn three—but he felt this six-card hand gave him a better chance to win the game than going down to five. It just didn't work out as he had hoped.

After the players sideboarded for Game 3, for real this time, Mengucci's deck operated as it was designed to do. Starting with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to put a tax on all of Vieren's spells, Mengucci followed up with two Kitesail Freebooters and two Meddling Mages, seemingly leaving Vieren without an ability to cast any of his interactive spells.

The Freebooters managed to take Roast and Electrolyze, while the first Meddling Mage named Cryptic Command (which Mengucci had seen in Vieren's hand). For the second Meddling Mage, Mengucci named Lightning Bolt in the dark. Mengucci then boosted his team with Thalia's Lieutenant and attacked with all his creatures.

It seemed like there was no way out for Vieren. Meddling Mages prevented him from casting his most important interactive spells, and Kitesail Freebooter had exiled his other removal spells. He merely had a tapped Young Pyromancer and two Elemental tokens. And yet, he found a way out.

While Mengucci's 5-Color Humans had ways to battle through countermagic, he knew that post-board games could present more hurdles to clear.

It started with an Opt that produced a surprise blocker, allowing Vieren to take down the Meddling Mage naming Cryptic Command in a triple block. On the next turn, he cast Cryptic Command to tap Mengucci's board, bringing him one turn closer to casting his suspended Ancestral Visions.

The card draw spell yielded Roast, which took out the Meddling Mage naming Lightning Bolt. Next, two Lightning Bolts dealt with the Freebooters, giving Vieren back the Roast and Electrolyze that were exiled previously. Finally, Anger of the Gods swept the board in full.

By then, Vieren had a hand full of cards, an Ancestral Vision still on suspend, and full control of the game. Mengucci was flooding out, and Vieren never let the game slip away. Vendilion Clique eventually dealt the final points of damage.

"Good games," Mengucci said as he extended his hand in defeat. "Good luck in the rest, and it was a pleasure to meet you."

Pascal Vieren defeats Andrea Mengucci 3-0 and advances to the semifinals!

"Before the match, I thought that if I could win one of the of the two pre-board games, I would be favored," he told me after the match. "Luck was on my side."

Well, you can't go undefeated at the Pro Tour without at least a little bit of fortune, but Vieren also showed his mastery of the blue-red control deck in Game 3 when he found a way to claw back into the game from a tough spot.

Pascal's quarterfinal win, in addition to the points he would get by attending the next Pro Tour, also secured Gold level status in the Pro Players Club for him. Soon, his brother Peter would not be the only Gold-level Vieren on the Pro Tour.

Pascal Vieren - U/R Pyromancer

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Andrea Mengucci - 5-Color Humans

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