Semifinals: Luis Salvatto vs. Ken Yukuhiro

Posted in Event Coverage on February 4, 2018

By Chapman Sim

This was Ken Yukuhiro's fourth visit to the Sunday Stage, having made the Top 8 three previous times. He was also the Grand Prix Singapore 2013 Champion, and part of team Musashi, the reigning Team Series Champion. His performance this weekend bumped up team Musashi's Pro Tour Team Series leaderboard significantly.

Yukuhiro is mainly renowned for two things—a bubbly personality, and his bubbly deck creations. He designed an Angel of [autocard]Glory's Rise[/autocard] combo deck and made his first Pro Tour Top 8 with it. He believed in Bone Picker, Lone Rider, and even Tukatongue Thallid when nobody else did. This weekend, he convinced Team Musashi to run along with Black-Red Hollow One, an unusual but effective beatdown deck.

For Luis Salvatto, two more wins would mean locking up the Platinum Pro Club status that he barely missed out on in the 2016-17 season, and a huge boon to his team—Hareruya Latin—in the Team Series leaderboard. His Lantern Control deck had Ensnaring Bridges to beat creature-based matchups, just as he demonstrated all weekend.Since his opponent's primary route to victory was combat, what did Salvatto think of this matchup?

"Interesting, and maybe funny games, but I think that I have the edge here," he answered.

I asked Yukuhiro about it, and all he did was to give me a sad (but cute) pouty face as he drooped his head slightly. I assumed he was trying to tell me that the matchup was horrible. With no artifact removal for Ensnaring Bridges in the main deck and only two Ancient Grudges in his sideboard, Yukuhiro feared that this might be an uphill battle.

Let's find out if the matchup was as genuinely lopsided as he had implied.

Luis Salvatto and Ken Yukuhiro squared off in what both players expected to be a somewhat lopsided semifinal match.

The Games

In Game 1, Salvatto opened with Botanical Sanctum into Codex Shredder. Yukuhiro's turn was more interesting, as he fired off Burning Inquiry to radically alter both player's hands. He passed the turn with no further action, not having drawn any Hollow Ones.

He did assemble an army consisting Flamewake Phoenix and two Flameblade Adepts, but that was hardly enough pressure. Salvatto had the Ensnaring Bridge, which Yukuhiro had no solution for. Yukuhiro verified the board state, smiled, and scooped up all his cards.

"I told you it was bad," Yukuhiro chuckled, referring to his chances. Just like that, the first game was in Salvatto's bag.

In Game 2, Yukuhiro summoned Flameblade Adept, then used Faithless Looting to discard Flamewake Phoenix and Gurmag Angler. Not finding a second land, Yukuhiro could only attack for 3 and pass.

Yukuhiro is one of Japan's least reserved players at the Pro Tour, and cards like Burning Inquiry play well into the bubbly atmosphere he brings to his matches.

Meanwhile, Salvatto got busy sculpting his hand with Ancient Stirrings and two Mishra's Baubles, followed by Inquisition of Kozilek (taking Goblin Lore) and Lantern of Insight. The dreaded Ensnaring Bridge ensued, and Yukuhiro verified with Salvatto that he had three cards in hand. The next turn, Salvatto offloaded the cards in his hand, stabilizing at 8 life.

Knowing that Yukuhiro had Lightning Bolts in his hand, Salvatto immediately cast Whir of Invention for Witchbane Orb, stopping all burn spells indefinitely.

"GG," Yukuhiro murmured as he reached for the sideboard. With his back against the wall, Yukuhiro would need to win all three sideboarded games.

After some modifications to his main deck, Yukuhiro inhaled deeply as he saw his opening hand and sank into deep thought. After much contemplation, he kept it, immediately cycling a pair of Street Wraiths to view new options. Fetching up Stomping Grounds with Wooded Foothills, he cast Burning Inquiry. He discarded five cards this turn, but there was still no sight of Hollow One.

"Where are you, my friend?"

No matter, as Yukuhiro delved away six cards to enable a one-mana Gurmag Angler on his second turn, before firing off a second Burning Inquiry to enable Tasigur, the Golden Fang! Salvatto did not have Ensnaring Bridge, so in a few attacks, the game was over.

Was this the beginning of Yukuhiro's unlikely reversal?

In Game 4, Salvatto's had a great start. He used Thoughtseize to deny Yukuhiro of Hollow One, and then Pithing Needle to lock down Bloodstained Mire. Grafdigger's Cage joined in, and it looked like the doors were closing on Yukuhiro.

Nonetheless, Yukuhiro tried his very best, quickly deploying a pair of Flameblade Adepts to chip away at Salvatto's life total. Including the 2 life lost from Thoughtseize, a few attacks from Flameblade Adepts, and Yukuhiro's escalated Collective Brutality, Salvatto was down to 7 life by the time he emptied his hand and landed Ensnaring Bridge.

Yukuhiro's only path to victory at that point was direct damage.

Four activations from Grim Lavamancer would suffice, but he only had three cards in his graveyard. Or, if he could find Lightning Bolt or Collective Brutality, that would make things so much easier.

Salvatto had plenty of experience with Lantern Control, knowing how much time was necessary in each game to assemble his lock.

This caused a little bit of tension, because Salvatto had Codex Shedder on his side, but could not use it on Yukuhiro without bringing him closer to death.

"End of turn, 2 damage," Yukuhiro murmured as he activated Grim Lavamancer, leaving one card in his graveyard.

Salvatto could see Burning Enquiry on the top of Yukuhiro's deck thanks to Lantern of Insight, and he opted for the lesser of two evils and milled it away. That allowed Yukuhiro to activate Grim Lavamancer again, reducing Salvatto to 3 life. Two more activations from Codex Shredder, removing two more dangerous cards, helped Yukuhiro ping Salvatto down to 1 life.

Another Burning Inquiry showed up at the top of Yukuhiro's deck, and Salvatto was forced to shred it again. If Yukuhiro could get just one final card into his graveyard, he would be able to steal the win. What was the next card on the top of his deck?

"My friend! Cycle, okay?" Yukuhiro confirmed.

Salvatto nodded and scooped up his cards, falling to the final Grim Lavamancer activation. Despite Salvatto's best attempts, he was unable to find his (Pithing) needle in a haystack. Against all odds, Yukuhiro had evened the score, coming back from a 0-2 start.

In the rubber game, Salvatto had Spire of Industry, Mox Opal, Lantern of Insight, and Codex Shredder. Before Yukuhiro could even take his first turn, Salvatto was ready to manipulate Yukuhiro's draw steps.

Nonetheless, Yukuhiro had Flameblade Adept on turn one, and Faithless Looting plus Hollow One on turn two. Next turn, Yukuhiro used Goblin Lore to fill up his graveyard for Gurmag Angler.

With creatures totaling ten power, the game could be over in a matter of seconds. However, as Yukuhiro tried to declare attackers, Salvatto revealed his final card to be Whir of Invention. Tapping a total of six lands and artifacts, he was able to tutor for Ensnaring Bridge and put it onto the battlefield at instant speed.

That was it.

Not even Ancient Grudge could get Yukuhiro out of his fix, due to the presence of Grafdigger's Cage. Yukuhiro accepted his fate, took a deep breath, and extended his hand graciously and wished Salvatto best of luck in the finals. With this result, Yukuhiro crossed over 30 Pro Points and was on track towards yet another Platinum season.

Luis Salvatto defeats Ken Yukuhiro 3-2 and advances to the finals!

Luis Salvatto - Lantern Control

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Ken Yukuhiro - B/R Hollow One

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