Posted in Event Coverage on December 14, 2008

By Bill Stark

Game 1

Hannes Kerem had already dispatched one Faeries player as he sat down with his Kithkin deck to match wits with Antti Malin, the last of five Fae champions in the Top 8. As a member of the Estonian National Team he had not done so well in the team portion of Worlds, but thanks to his Top 8 performance, he was hot on the heels of Australian Aaron Nicastri for the title of Rookie of the Year. He even had a blazing start for the first game with a Figure of Destiny and Knight of Meadowgrain. Malin, the more seasoned Top 8 competitor of the two, fired back with a Spellstutter Sprite to counter his opponent’s second attempt at Figure of Destiny, though he was helpless as Kerem played a second one-drop in the same turn in the form of Burrenton Forge-Tender.

The Estonian National Team member didn’t hesitate to send his entire team in the following turn, setting the score at 23–11 in his favor. When his postcombat Knight of Meadowgrain number two resolved unhindered, it started to look like Malin just didn’t have any action. A second all-in attack from Kerem required resistance of some type. A 2/2 Figure of Destiny threatened to level up into a 4/4, and Malin couldn’t afford the hit. Antti tried to resist with an ambush Mistbind Clique, but Hannes had an Unmake to nail the Finnish player’s only other Faerie, and Malin plummeted to 4.

A Cryptic Command from the Faeries deck Fogged Kerem for a turn, but Hannes took the opportunity to finally grow his Figure to 4/4. With Antti tapped out, he knew he didn’t have to fear an Agony Warp. Malin appeared to have reached the point in the game when he had to draw Cryptic Commands back-to-back-to-back and somehow find a win condition in the meanwhile. When Kerem attempted to attack the following turn, Antti revealed the second blue instant, but fell to 3 on his upkeep after having played a Bitterblossom.

The third attack finally managed to commence successfully and Malin made two extra blockers by activating a pair of creature-lands: Faerie Conclave and Mutavault. Kerem tried to keep that from working by throwing a second Unmake at the ‘Vault, but Malin made a third blocker with Spellstutter Sprite to counter. He fell to 2 at the end of the attack, then 1 on his upkeep from Bitterblossom. When he found neither a solution to Bitterblossom nor the Kithkin horde staring at him from across the table, the two players were on to the second game.

Hannes Kerem 1, Antti Malin 0

“I’ll go first.” Antti Malin said before presenting his deck for the second game of the match.

“Of course....” Kerem answered, nervously pushing his hair from his brow in preparation for a big game.

Game 2

Bitterblossom was the first play from the Faeries deck in the second bout of the match, while Hannes Kerem continued a trend in the Top 8 of opening on Goldmeadow Stalwart into Knight of Meadowgrain. Malin used an Agony Warp to kill the 2/2 Knight and Fog an attack from the Stalwart while slowly accruing a Faerie Rogue army of his own.

Not wanting to be left out of the 1/1 flying token party, Hannes made a Spectral Procession. Unimpressed, Malin played Mistbind Clique on his opponent’s upkeep. When Kerem nodded and floated three mana, Antti championed a Faerie token, and Hannes used the floating mana to Unmake his opponent’s 4/4, killing a Faerie token for free in the process. That did impress Malin, who nodded his head, then fell to 11 on his opponent’s attack.

A second Mistbind Clique resolved unimpeded, and a Sower of Temptation soon after stole Kerem’s Goldmeadow Stalwart. The Estonian wasn’t happy about that, and used Unmake to get his 2/2 back, before bashing Malin to 10 with the score at 16-10 in his favor. Finn Antti Malin started to go on the offensive with his Mistbind Clique, dropping Hannes to 12, then 8 and using a Cryptic Command to counter a third Unmake from his opponent targeting the 4/4.

Malin wasn’t out of the woods himself, however, falling to 4 from his opponent’s attacks and being forced to allow a Cloudgoat Ranger to resolve. That seemed certain to keep Mistbind Clique home on defense, but left Hannes Kerem with three Kithkin Soldiers, a Spirit,Goldmeadow Stalwart, and the 3/3 Ranger to attack with. Mysteriously, Malin used Agony Warp to kill his opponent’s Spirit token at the end of turn, possibly indicating some grand reveal for an alpha strike.

It turned out now to be as spectacular as that when Malin used a Sower of Temptation to steal his opponent’s Cloudgoat Ranger while bashing Kerem to 4. With the tables firmly turned on him, Hannes had no choice but to attack all-in with his team, using Rustic Clachan to surprise kill Sower of Temptation and get his Cloudgoat Ranger back. He still needed some number of flyers to be able to chump-block what would be a lethal Mistbind Clique, and when he tapped three mana postcombat and revealed Spectral Procession, Antti offered up a “Nice.” After drawing his card for the turn, Malin considered his options, then packed it in for the third game.

Hannes Kerem 2, Antti Malin 0

Game 3

Hannes Kerem kicked the third game of the match off with a mulligan, a welcome beginning for Antti Malin who, in an 0-2 hole and playing for his tournament life, needed all the help he could get. “How bad?” he inquired of his opponent.

“Not too bad,” Kerem replied, disinterestedly. In the background of the match, Jamie Parke defeated Tsuyoshi Ikeda to earn a berth in the Finals making the 2008 Pro Tour season the first in recent memory boasting an American in the Finals of every single Pro Tour.

Figure of Destiny was the first creature on the board for the game courtesy of Hannes Kerem’s Kithkin deck. He had a two-drop as well in the form of Wizened Cenn, but Malin used Remove Soul to counter. Hannes looked almost confused by the play, apparently surprised to see a Remove Soul coming from his opponent this late in the match. A Knight of Meadowgrain was countered by Spellstutter Sprite and it looked like Kerem’s mulligan had stunted his ability to develop early.

Malin missed his fourth land drop but got to Time Walk as his opponent spent all four of his own mana in an attempt to grow his Figure of Destiny to a 4/4. When Malin revealed Agony Warp in response to the second activation, he got to kill the creature as well as tie up all his opponent’s mana for the turn. He allowed Ajani Goldmane to hit play, and worked on containing it by sending a Spellstutter Sprite into the planeswalker each turn.

Hannes Kerem’s board position was devoid of creatures, but Ajani gave him the lead in life. He tried to change things with a Ranger of Eos, but Malin had the Remove Soul. Malin found a Bitterblossom but still hadn’t found a fourth land, and tapping out for his tribal enchantment allowed Kerem to resolve a Reveillark. The totals were 24–15 in Kerem’s favor.

Sower of Temptation hit the board for Malin stealing the freshly summoned Reveillark after he had finally managed to find a fourth land. For what felt like the first time in the match, Kerem didn’t have an answer immediately and could only watch as his opponent killed Ajani with his own Reveillark and Spellstutter Sprite, while sending a Faerie Rogue token and Sower of Temptation at his head. When Malin had a Mistbind Clique to stymie further development from Kerem, it looked like the tides had shifted entirely in favor of the player from Finland.

“You actually did it,” Kerem said to his opponent, clearly shocked as Malin turned his growing army sideways for lethal. “Okay....” he shrugged, turning to his sideboard.

Hannes Kerem 2, Antti Malin 1

Game 4

Figure of Destiny was again the first creature of the game for the fourth fight of the match, and was quickly followed by Knight of Meadowgrain. Not wanting to fall behind, Malin dropped a Bitterblossom while Kerem was content to grow his Figure of Destiny while attacking the totals to 22–14 in his favor.

Malin spent a lot of time thinking on his third turn before finally opting to make a play he hadn’t yet in the match: Infest to wipe his opponent’s board clean. Kerem could only follow up with a Goldmeadow Stalwart, for which he paid full price, while watching Malin’s life total incrementally decrease in exchange for Faerie Rogue tokens.

Sower of Temptation seemed to rub salt in Kerem’s wounds, stealing his Stalwart, but he looked to have the last laugh by successfully resolving a Cloudgoat Ranger. Malin wasn’t willing to play along, however, using Agony Warp to kill the 3/3 and allowing him to bash Kerem to 17. When the Estonian drew for the turn, he let out an excited cry, quickly putting a Wizened Cenn into play. Malin usedSpellstutter Sprite to counter the 2/2, but didn’t have an immediate solution to Kerem’s follow-upKnight of Meadowgrain, falling to 10 on his opponent’s attack.

A second Sower of Temptation appeared just in time for Malin to steal the 2/2 Knight of Meadowgrain, and Kerem dropped a Reveillark to keep up. There was a surprisingly awkward exchange immediately after the 4/3 hit as Malin attempted to Cryptic Command, tapping his opponent’s team, in an effort to alpha strike. When he realized he didn’t have lethal damage from his attackers, he meekly reconsidered, passing the turn instead. As he had discussed the play and revealed Cryptic Command, but had not actually attempted to play the spell, Malin didn’t have to make any pleas to “undo” the mistake.

With the added information from Malin, Hannes Kerem knew he needed to do something about his predicament. He attacked with Reveillark, which ate a Faerie Rogue, but got a Knight of Meadowgrain Spellstutter Sprite. After some quick math, Malin determined he did finally have lethal damage and turned his team sideways after a Cryptic Command to take Hannes down and force the rubber game.

Hannes Kerem 2, Antti Malin 2

Game 5

The final game of the match started off with a mulligan for Kerem, who opened on a Figure of Destiny. The 1/1 quickly became a 4/4 and dropped Malin to 13 after Malin had played a second-turn Bitterblossom, which contributed to his decreasing life total. The Faerie Rogues served to chump the 4/4 Figure over the early turns, keeping Malin at a healthy -1 life each upkeep instead of -4 from the rampaging Kithkin Spirit Warrior.

When Kerem tried to increase the size of his clock with a Ranger of Eos Malin used Cryptic Command to counter it and bounce the Figure. Kerem had the mana to replay the creature, but it had to re-start the game as a 1/1. When Hannes sent the creature to the red zone the following turn, Malin activated a Mutavault to block. “Damage on the stack?” his opponent asked after pumping it to a 2/2.

“Before damage...” Malin said, trailing off while tapping Blue Mana and Black Mana and playing an Agony Warp. Kerem nodded, binned his Figure, and played a post-combat Reveillark. He was dismayed to find Antti sitting on a Remove Soul for the Reveillark. Things got worse as Malin’s army increased each turn, with a Mistbind Clique further disrupting Kerem’s plans by locking his mana down for a turn. His only attacker was a lonely Wizened Cenn, and the 2/2 was outmatched by the horde of Faerie Rogues from Bitterblossom and the 4/4 Clique.

Antti Malin was on the verge of the improbable, coming back against a bad matchup in an 0-2 hole. An attack for 8 forced Kerem to trade his Wizened Cenn for Mutavault and fall to 9. He paid full price for a Goldmeadow Stalwart, which was allowed into play, then had to watch his last-prayer Oblivion Ring get countered by Spellstutter Sprite. The next attack took Kerem to 1, and with Malin at 7, Hannes was left with no outs.

Antti Malin defeats Hannes Kerem 3-2 and advances to the Finals!

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