(20) Makihito Mihara
Jeremy Dezani asked as his opponent entered the feature-match arena, "Hall of Fame this year?". It was a question people had been asking since Friday. The No. 20 ranked player Makihito Mihara has put up stellar results this and last year, adding three Grand Prix and a Pro Tour Top 8 to his already impressive resume, including both a World Championship and a Team World Championship victory. His innovative Colossal Gruul deck, combined with his Top 8 berth, has cemented for many the idea that Mihara is indeed worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame. If he can close out this Pro Tour, he will surely convert even more to the cause. But to do that, he would first have to get through Frenchman Jeremy Dezani. And it wasn't going to be easy.
While Jeremy Dezani was making a name for himself this weekend, Makihito Mihara was cementing his status as one of the prime pros to consider for the Hall of Fame class of 2014.
Both Dezani and his Mono-Blue Devotion deck have made big splashes this weekend. Though the Frenchman has one Grand Prix win in four Top 8 appearances, this is his first time making it to the Sunday of a Pro Tour. And he and his team's Mono-Blue deck is capable of exploding quickly and surfing through decks with a critical mass of blue creatures. Additionally, the deck was built to prey on green-based midrange decks. Earlier this weekend, fellow Mono-Blue Devotion Top 8 competitor Sam Black said it was his dream to play nothing but red and green decks all weekend. Though Mihara's deck was better suited than most other similar decks to beat Mono-Blue—as he was playing a full suite of Polukranos, World Eater and both Mizzium Mortars and Mistcutter Hydra out of the board—it was still an uphill battle.
There was a lot of talk of Mihara being advantaged post-board, but it was still very draw dependent. If Dezani could disrupt the Japanese player early, while still providing the requisite amount of pressure, he had a good chance of advancing into the finals. Though the deck plays only one Disperse and two Cyclonic Rift in the main deck, the sheer amount of scrying can find the disruption when they are needed most, and the Tidebinder Mages are the perfect combination of aggressive creature and strong disruption in one two-mana package. This light-disruption-plus-heavy-pressure game plan was on display in force in the first game.
Jeremy Dezani started with Cloudfin Raptor, Judge's Familiar, Tidebinder Mage locking up an Elvish Mystic, and the single Disperse bouncing his opponent's third-turn Polukranos. Though the disruption didn't cause anything to actually go to the graveyard; it was effective. Dezani just needed to lay the groundwork, dealing early damage in small chunks, to allow the heavy hitters like Master of Waves to clean up with ease.
Mihara has an uphill battle to face, with his green and red creatures particularly rough against a deck full of Tidebinder Mages.
Master of Waves can play a crucial role in this match-up. It's one of the more aggressive creatures in this aggro-control deck. This pressure allows Dezani to get in a ton of damage before Mihara has the ability to cast too many gigantic things and completely wipe the board with Polukranos. If Dezani could follow up strongly like this, he would likely take this game.
Makihito Mihara had started with Elvish Mystic, then Burning-Tree Emissary into Voyaging Satyr. And despite the Tidebinder Mage locking up a mana, Mihara still able to cast a third-turn Polukranos. And then re-cast it on turn four (thanks, Disperse). Untapping with Polukranos, World Eater can be trouble for any deck, and with Mihara at 16 life on turn four, he was going to untap with it.
But it wasn't meant to be. Though Mihara wanted to begin taking five-damage, world-eater-shaped chunks from Dezani's life total, five Elemental tokens came down when Dezani cast his first Master of Waves, then six more joined with the arrival of the second. Dezani had 37 power worth of creatures on the field. Mihara's board, even with an eater of worlds, looked like pittance in comparison; that was just the heavy pressure Dezani wanted.
Dezani's disruption shines in his match-up against Colossal Gruuls.
Mihara went into the tank – not the think tank, mind you – the shark tank. And Dezani took the first game.
In the second game Mihara had his first crack at his sideboard. Dezani stuck to his plan from the first game, again going one-drop, two-drop with Judge's Familiar and Frostburn Weird. However, unlike last time, Mihara's sequence of plays went Sylvan Caryatid into a Polukranos, World Eater – an untargetable yield sign, followed by a stop sign. The game would not be as easy as the last one. And though the fight was only a few turns, either player could have taken it from the other. It would come down to whether or not Mihara activated a clutch monstrosity trigger from the legendary 5/5.
The stop sign to Dezani looked like a go sign to Mihara and his Polukranos made the totals 15-16 in Mihara's favor. But when Dezani turned on Thassa, God of the Sea repeatedly through removal, he knocked Mihara to 8, then down to 3. The two players built their boards back and forth, and though Dezani's side looked impressive, Mihara had just about mustered enough mana to threaten death with an activation and attack from the Polukranos.
It was 9-3 when Dezani locked down the Polukranos with a Tidebinder Mage, but Mihara barely blinked. He simply laid a second one, and put the useless one in the trash bin. This earned a slight eye roll from Dezani. He would be have to find another way to deal with the colossal beast. And with proper timing and sequencing of mana and effects on his turn, Dezani was able to use the Disperse in his hand to get through for the final points.
After he set up for the third game, with his hand face down in from of him, Jeremy Dezani fought to contain his anxiety and potential excitement when Mihara had to mulligan down to five cards.
Mihara's opening turns in the third game made it look like he was playing a different deck. His first play was an Elvish Mystic, like usual, but on turn three instead. He was able to stem the bleeding from Dezani's curve of creatures with a Mizzium Mortars on the menacing Nightveil Specter. However, another quickly replaced it.
Dezani had been able to replicate his plan for the third game in a row: His early drops applied consistent pressure, and the hateful Tidebinder Mage and Cyclonic Rift provided just enough disruption to make stopping him impossible. This plan got Mihara quickly into single digits, then even quicker to zero.