Team Czech Republic
Team South Africa
t was the last round of the last pool of the day, and there was a lot on the line: the Czech team needed a win to advance to the Sunday playoffs, but team South Africa stood in their way. There were two main stories to the match. First, the story of the Czech team trying to sidestep Burning Earth with their deck configuration. Second, the story of team captain Stanislav Cifka trying to play three matches at once.
The Czech Republic and South Africa, facing off.
Let's get on to the games!
Kristian Janda from Czech Republic (Bant Hexproof) vs. Craig Leach from South Africa (Junk Aristocrats)
In Game 1, Janda had a pretty nutty draw with Invisible Stalker, Unflinching Courage, and double Ethereal Armor. "Nothing I could do," Leach said afterward.
In Game 2, Leach played Lifebane Zombie on turn 3, revealing Spectral Flight and Unflinching Courage, but no hexproof creature in sight. However, Janda promptly drew Geist of Saint Traft directly the turn after Lifebane Zombie came down. But Leach wasn't dead yet. When Janda dumped his enchantments on his hexproof creature, Leach had an Abrupt Decay at the ready. Although it couldn't target Geist of Saint Traft itself, it could target Spectral Flight. The creature fell to the ground, and fell to a double block. A couple turns after that decisive play, Leach had taken the second game.
In Game 3, Janda stared at the seven card hand of three Ethereal Armor, Avacyn's Pilgrim, Temple Garden, Breeding Pool, and Sunpetal Grove. After consulting with his team captain Stanislav Cifka, as he had been doing all match long, he decided to take a mulligan. He received a good hand featuring Geist of Saint Traft and an Unflinching Courage, but Leach quickly got Skirsdag High Priest and a slew of other creatures. This meant that Janda could not profitably attack: If Janda would attack with his Geist of Saint Traft, Leach would just chumpblock with Doomed Traveler and get a 5/5 Demon for his troubles. Janda couldn't break through, and when Leach assembled Blood Artist and Cartel Aristocrat, the game was over. "I don't think he has any answers to High Priest in his deck," Leach said afterward.
South Africa rises above the power of hexproof to take an early lead.
First match to Team South Africa. Now let me tell you what happened in the second match, which happened simultaneously.
Michal Mendl from Czech Republic (Red-Green Aggro) vs. Bruce Raw (Blue-White-Red Control)
In Game 1, Janda put on early pressure with Flinthoof Boar and Hellrider. Raw had Supreme Verdict to get them off the board, but he had already taken too much damage. Several hasty creatures later, the game was over. Haste matches up well against sorcery speed removal, it seemed.
In Game 2, Janda again came out of the gates quickly with Strangleroot Geist and Hellrider, though Leach had Azorius Charm to temporarily stop them. On turn five, Mendl had a difficult call to make. He was holding Strangleroot Geist, Scavenging Ooze, Hellrider, and Thundermaw Hellkite. He had five lands in play and was facing three untapped lands. The question was: which card(s) to cast? Team captain Stanislav Cifka was consulted once again, and he advised to cast both two-drop creatures to play around Syncopate. Raw indeed had Syncopate in hand, so that was good advice. Raw tried to fight back with his other spells, but he was squeezed a bit tight on mana, sitting on only four lands for most of the match. Eventually, he succumbed to the red and green creatures. "It was not to be. Well played; it was close," Raw saw as he extended his hand in defeat.
The teams were now tied at one match apiece.
Stanislav Cifka from Czech Republic (Blue-Black Control) vs. Andrew Wright from South Africa (Red-Green Aggro)
It all came down to this.
In Game 1, Cifka was trading his countermagic and removal spells one-for-one for all of Wright's creatures. Flinthoof Boar? Doom Blade! Hellrider? Tribute to Hunger! Eventually, Wright stuck a Domri Rade, which started ticking up and up. This netted Wright a steady flow of fresh creatures. Cifka was unable to keep up with that rate of card advantage, and was quickly overwhelmed.
While shuffling up for game 2, Cifka was coaching his teammates left and right. Cifka then presented the same sixty cards as in his first game and...wait, what? Yes, you read that correctly. Cifka was advising on both sides and forgot to sideboard for game 2!
With so much coaching action, Cifka forgot to sideboard for his own match! Would it matter?
It didn't matter; he won the second game anyway. Although it took him some time before he could destroy both parts of Wright's Strangleroot Geist, Cifka had Snapcaster Mage and Augur of Bolas to attack Wright's Domri Rade, and Cifka's card-advantage creatures gave him access to more Doom Blades to clear the way. It took many turns before Cifka's low-powered creatures could close out the game, but he was holding a grip full of countermagic and removal spells and was never in any real danger. On to the deciding Game 3 it was.
Cifka didn't forget to pick up his sideboard this time around and make the necessary swaps. In the meantime, I snuck over to watch the South Africans figure out their sideboard choices. "Is this one really worth it against his deck," Wright asked of his teammates while pointing at Burning Earth. To give you some context: Burning Earth was mainly meant against the Blue-Red-White flash deck that almost all teams in the Top 16 were running. Against that deck's three-color manabase filled with nonbasic lands, Burning Earth is an absolute beating. However, Cifka specifically crafted his team's three decks to sidestep Burning Earth. Specifically, he chose to play a blue control deck without a third color. This allowed him to play more basic Swamps and Islands, which means that Burning Earth was not all that good against him. Despite that, Team South Africa decided to keep the red enchantment in.
Game 3 got underway in the same fashion as the previous two: black removal spells trading off against green creatures on turns two and three. On turn four, Wright cast Burning Earth. Cifka, still at 18 life and with three basic lands in play, let it resolve. The enchantment was not as good as the South African team had been hoping. When Wright cast Thundermaw Hellkite on the next turn and Cifka cast Dissipate in response, it was Wright who took two damage, not Cifka. Indeed, there was Rootbound Crag and Kessig Wolf Run on Wright's side of the board, whereas Cifka was mostly looking at basic Islands and Swamps. Burning Earth was not looking so hot for the South Africans.
A couple turns later, the game had progressed to the following situation. Cifka had two Augur of Bolas and one Snapcaster Mage in play and was making short work of Wright's life total. Wright had a 2/1 Strangleroot Geist in play and cast Thundermaw Hellkite. Cifka, who was holding three Tragic Slip and Devour Flesh, took some time to discuss with his teammates how he wanted to deal with that. Between a bunch of Czech words, I overheard "boom, boom, boom," while Cifka was sequentially pointing to three different cards in his hand. The South African team had picked up on this as well. When Cifka made his decision (he played Tragic Slip to kill the one-toughness Strangleroot Geist, then Tragic Slip to give the two-toughness Geist -13/-13, and finally Tragic Slip for -13/-13 on Thundermaw Hellkite) the South Africans understood what it meant and said in chorus "Aaah, boom, boom, boom!"
After that, Cifka's creatures could attack unopposed. The defenseless Wright got down to 2 life, and his South African teammates advised him to keep the honor to themselves. "Burn yourself with your lands," they said, and that's what happened. At least they lost in style.
"Good games," the South Africans said, congratulating their opponents on making it to the Top 8.
Czech Republic 2 - South Africa 1