Going for the Gold: Top 4 Pro Tour Feature Matches
Welcome back to Going for the Gold!
If you've read this column before, you already know that I'm a big fan of watching previous online coverage and observing the best players play the game. This is definitely one of the biggest tools that helped me improve my own game as I strove to understood what each player was thinking during each stage of the game. This week I'll be covering the top four Pro Tour Feature Matches I've ever watched, and what I took away from each.
Feature Match #1: Tiago Chan vs. Mark Herberholz @ Pro Tour Honolulu 2006 Semi Finals
This has got to be one of the most lopsided matches of Magic that I've ever watched. Tiago Chan was playing the Howling Owl deck that tried to win by stranding cards in its opponents' hands. Mark Herberholz on the other hand was playing a Gruul Aggro deck that aimed to empty its entire hand by turn four. Mark could not play his cards fast enough. At the start of my Magic career I would have just been totally resigned to losing; this was the nightmare match-up for Tiago.
Tiago is down 0-2 and you don't get to really see the match as they were highlighting Olivier Ruel versus Craig Jones, but they figured that they only had one last shot to show the match so the cameras moved to cover game three, and what a game it was!
Tiago opened up on a Kami of the Crescent Moon and was able to leverage that card along with his bounce spells on lands and Threads of Disloyalty to put himself in a position where an Exhaustion was enough to earn the concession from Mark Herberholz. Even watching that game now, it's incredible to see how he was able to adjust his game plan in such a way that he could leverage so called "dead cards" into sequencing winning plays.
Take-away: Always look for a way to win a matchup, no matter how horrible it looks, by adapting your strategy
Feature Match #2: Guilliame Wafo-Tapa vs Jon Finkel @ Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur 2008 Quarter Finals
In this match, you have one of the best control players ever playing against the best player ever. Period.
This Pro Tour marked Jon Finkel's return to the game and while he did eventually take down this entire Limited tournament, you can really see how incredibly well Wafo-Tapa played, even when he had probably a 2% chance to win the third game.
Jon Finkel is playing a very solid Kithkin deck against Wafo-Tapa's slow control deck, and you can quickly see the tide of the game turning as Jon continues to beatdown with his very aggressive deck. Wafo-Tapa is stuck on five lands with a bunch of powerful six drops in hand, and despite the frustrating situation he continues to play as if nothing was wrong. I know a lot of players, myself included back in the past, that would have let this frustration affect our play and start choosing sub optimal lines.
Wafo-Tapa finally stabilizes at two life and starts chipping in for damage against Jon, who continues to miss on his kinship trigger for his Serra Angel-like Kithkin. The only reason that Wafo-Tapa is able to start pushing his advantage is that he had never let his frustration make him play sub optimally.
Everyone who was watching live, myself included, had written the game off, and here Wafo-Tapa was putting Jon to five life and needed him to brick one last draw step. Unfortunately, Jon drew a Distant Melody, which let him draw a bounce spell that would allow him to sneak in the last few points of damage. Despite that, it was an incredible showing which taught me the importance of not giving up or getting frustrated at your draws.
Take-away: Don't give up or get frustrated, even when it seems like you've basically already lost or everything is going wrong.
Feature Match #3: Antoine Ruel vs Kenji Tsumara @ Pro Tour Los Angeles 2005 Semi Finals
Two of the strongest players of that era go head to head in this Psychatog mirror match. Antoine is playing traditional Dimir Psychatog while Kenji has gone a little deeper for a Sultai Psychatog deck.
I say they're Dimir and Sultai, but the guild and shard classifications didn't even exist yet! I digress - While the Sultai version was better against the Extended field, when it came to the mirror the UB version was favoured.
Despite the favourable matchup, Antoine still showed his mastery of the game by running one of the most sophisticated plays of all time in the second game of the match. He led off with a tapped Watery Grave after Kenji played a fetch land. Kenji plays a second land and passes the turn to Ruel, who plays his second land and casts Duress.
This is where it gets wild: Kenji replies with a Mana Leak, prompting Ruel to hesitate before he lets the Mana Leak resolve - despite having a Force Spike in hand. Along with the signal on turn one when he played the Watery Grave tapped, Kenji believed that Antoine must not have a Force Spike and slammed the most important card in the matchup onto the field... only for it to get Force Spiked.
In the video, you can hear the commentary from both Mike Flores and Randy Buehler, amazed at how badly Antoine was able to outplay Kenji in that situation. This made it very easy for Antoine to win the game approximately five to six turns later.
Take-away: There's more to Magic than just playing the cards in your hand. By understanding your opponent's perceptions you can walk them into making critical mistakes.
Feature Match #4: Mike Hron vs. Takuya Oosawa @ Pro Tour Geneva Finals
In game five of this incredible Draft finals between two heavyweights, Mike Hron is playing a Jund deck against Takuya's UB control deck that is highlighted by three Phthisis.
Mike Hron is sitting there with a Gauntlet of Power on a relatively empty board and a Spectral Force in his hand. Takuya has two creatures that will start to whittle down his life total. He knows that he loses the game on the spot if he casts Spectral Force and Takuya plays one of his three Phthisis on it. He recognizes that Takuya is just one Swamp away from being able to cast it, and at this level it's quite reasonable that he's holding the Swamp in his hand to not give away any information. Mike chooses not to cast the Spectral on his first chance, but when he draws another Swamp he goes into the tank and reluctantly casts the Spectral Force.
It is at this point that he realized that he can no longer play around Phthisis. Takuya commits a grave mistake, where he thought that Spectral Force would not untap the next turn. This lets Mike steal the win a few turns later after Takuya does not draw the Swamp in time. At the end of the match Takuya flips the top card of his library and sees that he would have drawn the fourth Swamp necessary to go with the three Phthisis in his hand. If Mike had even waited one more turn, he would not be the Pro Tour Champion!
People will typically do more to avoid pain than gain pleasure, and Mike broke the mold this one time and was rewarded in the best way that a Magic player can be!
Take-away: If you can't beat a card your opponent has, just play as if they don't have it / can't cast it.
That's all for this week. If there's one thing I could state over and over again, it's that you will improve a lot as a player if you continuously watch past MTG coverage of great players. Put yourself in their shoes by pausing the games and ask yourself, "what I would do in each of those spots?"
Next week, we're going to review the state of Standard with just a week left before Pro Tour Ixalan. Make sure you tune in then!