Semifinals: Andrea Mengucci (Bant Company) vs. Shota Yasooka (Esper Dragons)

Posted in Event Coverage on April 24, 2016

By Marc Calderaro

Andrea Mengucci sat in the feature match area. The cameras weren't ready yet. As he lightly bounced up and down in his chair, he needed something to do with his hands. He looked at the pile of tokens next to him and began riffling through them.

The Pro Tour Journey into Nyx Top 8 finisher had made it into Pro Tour Sunday again, but unlike his Hall of Fame opponent, Shota Yasooka, the Italy native didn't yet feel at ease here. The semifinals were the furthest he'd made it.

On the opposite side of the table, there was nothing but controlled, quiet confidence exuded from Yasooka. Not only was this his third Pro Tour Top 8, but he was a former Player of the Year, Players Championship finalist, and Pro Tour Charleston Champion. A naturally quiet person, he has a home under the hallowed Sunday lights, and it's clear he enjoys it.

This matchup, Bant Company and Esper Dragons, is a battle of attrition. If Bant Company can get the better end of the early removal of Esper Dragons and stay efficient to not overextend into Languish, it can take the game out from underneath. But if Esper can establish a strong board presence without being disrupted, the planeswalkers and Dragons will brute-force a victory, backed up by countermagic and removal.


The difference in poise was clear, as Andrea Mengucci sat down against Hall of Famer Shota Yasooka for their semifinals.

The Games

The first game started at a slower clip than any of Yasooka's before. Mengucci was taking extra care with each play, and was determined to make the correct move at each step. His pace remained consistent throughout the early game, as Yasooka used one-for-one removal spells on his early plays, trying to exhaust Mengucci's cards. Mengucci was assertive in his deliberateness.

It was into an empty board where Yasooka cast his Dragonlord Ojutai. And though Mengucci had an end-of-turn Collected Company, it didn't stop the first Dragonlord hit. This would be Yasooka's opening salvo.

Yasooka had shifted the tempo of the matchup, putting a clock on Mengucci. And from his body language, he was projecting Languish, unconcerned when Mengucci both added more creatures to the board and bounced Yasooka's Dragon with Reflector Mage.


Mengucci's nervous energy was clear in the match, but it did not diminish his concentration.

The Languish cleared the board, but Mengucci had been precise about keeping a number of cards in his hand. Yasooka would have to do more than that to get this game. The Italian flashed back a Collected Company via Jace, Telepath Unbound, and along with a spell for his turn, he passed back with a whole litany of creatures. It was like the Languish never happened. Mengucci had two Sylvan Advocate, a Tireless Tracker, and a Lumbering Falls awaiting animation.

Yasooka thought hard. With more than six lands in play, Mengucci would be swinging for approximately 800,000 damage next turn. Yasooka cast Dragonlord Silumgar, taking Jace, upticked his loyalty, and shipped the turn. But Mengucci had the game won. Two Advocates meant the Lumbering Falls was a 7/7. And with each Advocate a 4/5, it wasn't hard for Mengucci to win from there.

Between games, because Mengucci was so preoccupied with playing optimally, he immediately reached for his sideboard. He was about 20 seconds into changing up his cards before Yasooka reminded him that he couldn't alter his deck yet.


Yasooka maintained his calm, stoic nature under the lights of Sunday.

Slightly embarrassed, Mengucci tried not to let it show, but he apologized profusely, if stone-faced. He was, again, just looking for a nervousness outlet.

The second game saw the same early-turns strategy from Yasooka. He tried to keep the board clear with cheap black spells, while maximizing mana usage each turn with cards like Painful Truths.

Mengucci's first break in the game was when his second Tireless Tracker survived long enough to actually attack. It netted him multiple Clues and was swinging for 4 damage from the first swing. He took Yasooka to 11 life before the Japanese player took it with Dragonlord Silumgar.

Mengucci bounced his Tracker and reloaded the board, but again Languish wiped it all away. He reloaded again. Mengucci's meticulousness extended to which art his Clue token had, off the Tireless Tracker replay. But again, Languish wiped it all away.

It was that third Languish that had exhausted the creature spewing. Even then, Mengucci had a Lumbering Falls and a Nissa, Sage Animist. He still found ways to get the most out of his cards and his board position.

But while Mengucci was scrapping to keep it together, Yasooka was in the lap of luxury. In the interim, he had found a Dragonlord Silumgar, transformed his Jace, Vryn's Prodigy into a planeswalker, and found another baby Jace to replace it. His sequence of plays was to use and reuse Foul-Tongue Invocation, combined with Ultimate Price, exhaust his first Jace, then do it all over again. This stopped Mengucci from mounting any real offense.

Each step of the way, Yasooka had enough to quell any uprising. Yasooka had turned the corner.


Mengucci's impressive play got him this far. He wasn't about to let up now.

As a last effort, Mengucci cast an Ojutai's Command. He began announcing his modes. "Draw a card, and then..." but Yasooka interrupted him by laying a counterspell on the battlefield. Without missing a beat, Mengucci continued his sentence. "...concede the game."

The players had split the pre-sideboarded matches, and now it was correct for Mengucci to reach for his extra fifteen cards.

In between games, after drawing his hand, Mengucci again fell into nervous habits. His moves weren't twitchy, but rather controlled. Nonetheless, it betrayed his unease and slight discomfort. This match clearly meant a lot to him.

In the third game, Yasooka started with a mulligan and kept a speculative six cards, containing only two lands. His second-turn Duress didn't get any cards, but revealed Tireless Tracker and four lands, to aid the Sylvan Advocate already in play.

Normally this would be a great sign for Yasooka, but not yet having drawn his third land, aggressive hands were bad for him. Mengucci saw this opportunity and he pounced. He cast a Duskwatch Recruiter and transformed it, laying down a Lumbering Falls in the midst. He looked to strike quickly.

The following turn, all three creatures crashed in for 8 damage, and again Yasooka failed to find land number three. It only took one more draw step for him to pack in his cards.

It was 2-1 and this was potentially the final game of the series.

Yasooka had an early Jace, Painful Truths, and Read the Bones. He was hand-sculpting like a man on a mission. He knew he'd need to hit every land drop on time, up through at least turn six, if he wanted any chance in this match. By turn five, he had a Jace, Telepath Unbound with 6 loyalty counters and an untapped Dragonlord Ojutai when he passed the turn.

Mengucci untapped with a Krallenhorde Howler and a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in play. His grip of cards was full, and he wanted to keep it that way, but the Dragonlord pressured both the life race and the card race. If Mengucci let Yasooka match him one card for one, he'd be unlikely to win. Knowing this, he cast just a Duskwatch Recruiter and left up mana to activate its ability.

Over the next few turns, Mengucci kept his hand size up and eliminated the Ojutai, thanks to Declaration in Stone. But that was only one of his problems. The other was managing all the removal and keeping up some form of pressure. Mengucci had solved the former, but did nothing to change the latter.


Yasooka observes, taking in info as quickly as he plays.

Yasooka still had his Jace, and a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet joined it, making a bunch of Zombie friends. Mengucci had no ability to attack into a Vampire-led Zombie army. I have no clue why Jace would be helping these apocalypse-bringers, but you know, his motives are mysterious sometimes.

Mengucci was despondent, with the life totals at 2-25 against him. We knew that because he said, "2 to 25" quite despondently. But he was using the cards he'd been accruing over the course of the game and cashed them in for a sizeable squad of compatriots.

Sadly, it was for naught. With an additional creature in Shambling Vents and instant-speed removal to make sure something got through unblocked, Yasooka marched his imposing army into the red zone and evened the game scores at 2-2.

This series was the first in the Top 8 to need all five games. The previous four games had been battles. And this was the final showdown.

In this game, Mengucci got the best of Yasooka early, though the first three turns looked similar. One turn four, Mengucci used Ojutai's Command on Yasooka's Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, while returning one of his own from the graveyard. Mengucci already had Sylvan Advocate and Lumbering Falls.

Yasooka currently had, well, nothing.

On the next turn, Mengucci hit Bounding Krasis off Collected Company and double-drew with Jace. Yasooka had only a slight color stumble, but it appeared to be costing him.

Once Mengucci hit the six-land requirement, Sylvan Advocate and Lumbering Falls came a-rumblin', Mengucci swung all-out for 12 damage and sunk Yasooka to 1.

Mengucci started slight furtive movements, betraying his nervousness. He could see the win closing in. He shook just a little more than he had yet in the matchup.

When he saw that Yasooka couldn't save himself and extended his hand, Mengucci shook it vigorously. He knew what he'd accomplished and he was proud of it.


Andrea Mengucci defeats Shota Yasooka 3-2 and advances to the finals!

Andrea Mengucci: Bant Company

Shota Yasooka: Esper Dragons

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