Semifinals: Shaheen Soorani (Esper Stoneblade) vs. Nicholas Spagnolo (BUG Loam)
Shaheen Soorani, Blue Control Master
The mood seemed to be much lighter for the final four players after they got a win under their belt., but there was still a trophy waiting for the winner, and no one wanted to come up short after working so hard to get here.
Nick’s higher seeding let him play first with his BUG Control deck, but Shaheen sent the first hand provided by his Esper Stoneblade back before Nick could get started with Underground Sea. Ponder repaired some of the damage Shaheen’s mulligan had caused, and both players just had lands for their second turns.
Underground Sea, Underground Sea and Bayou tapped for Liliana of the Veil on Nick’s third turn, and Shaheen could only sigh “it resolves” after digging with Brainstorm. Nick made both players discard with him binning Force of Will and Shaheen losing Underground Sea.
Intuition for Lingering Souls was a big time answer for Shaheen, nearly assuring that Liliana wouldn’t be sticking around for long, but Night of Soul’s Betrayal trumped Shaheen’s plan before it could even get started. Shaheen tried to get back in it with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but Force of Will defused the bomb and Nick started in with Mishra’s Factory for a point.
Liliana ate more hands with Nick pitching Darkblast to get his dredge game going and Shaheen throwing away the now useless Lingering Souls. Night of Souls Betrayal is a backbreaking card for the newly-popularized Esper Stoneforge decks, and Shaheen was going to need his Batterskull to do a ton of work to get through for a win.
Stoneforge Mystic pulled in the Batterskull, but Nick seemed fine ignoring it, choosing instead to Counterspell Jace, the Mind Sculptor on the next turn before killing the Stoneforge Mystic with the Darkblast he was busy dredging up and discarding as he looked for a Life from the Loam.
Batterskull was taken care of by Liliana’s ultimate, binning a handful of lands and separating Batterskull from its germ token as Mishra’s Factory knocked Shaheen down to 12. It looked like Nick was going to ride his position to a victory, but Shaheen ripped the one-of Vindicate to take care of the Night of Soul’s Betrayal and suddenly we had a game.
Lingering Souls flew out of the graveyard and Liliana of the Veil plus Darkblast wasn’t quite enough to take care of all of them in addition to the Stoneforge Mystic Shaheen peeled that grabbed a second Umezawa’s Jitte from his deck. The spirit token knocked Liliana down to one loyalty while Mishra’s Factory got in the way of Stoneforge Mystic driving Batterskull.
Now Nicholas was on way behind as he kept looking for Life from the Loam and missing, and when another big topdeck of Snapcaster Mage let Vindicate blow up Nick’s Bayou, leaving him with just two Underground Seas, Nick had seen enough.
Shaheen 1, Nicholas 0
The first interaction of the game was a turn two Inquisition of Kozilek, to which Shaheen responded with Brainstorm to hide his best spells. He still revealed some sweet ones in Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Batterskull, Swords to Plowshares, two lands and two huge Lingering Souls. Nick let out a groan as he debated which of the horrible options was best, eventually deciding on an underwhelming Swords to Plowshares. Shaheen was perfectly fine with that as he played a second land to leave him with Island and Plains.
Life from the Loam finally showed up, digging back two of Nick’s used fetchlands and Shaheen gave him something to think about with an end of turn Brainstorm. It resolved and Shaheen maneuvered his Batterskull onto the top of his library, only to dig it out with Stoneforge Mystic on his turn.
Nick tried to get rid of the artificer with Maelstrom Pulse, but he let Force of Will counter the removal spell despite having a ready Spell Pierce. He seemed to have it all planned out anyway, using Innocent Blood on his next turn to prompt Shaheen to activate the Stoneforge Mystic and sacrifice it, then flashing the Innocent Blood back with Snapcaster Mage to leave the Batterskull empty.
The Spell Pierce finally did make its way onto the stack the next turn, countering Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and letting him tap out for his own copy of the planeswalker to find a way to secure the game. Lingering Souls presented some problems for Nicholas’ plan of riding Jace to victory, but with two Dread of Night and Night of Soul’s Betrayal still ready to be drawn, Shaheen couldn’t quite flood the board between all of the card drawing and filtering Nick had available.
Innocent Blood took care of one of the two spirit tokens, and Nick chose to Brainstorm with Jace instead of bouncing the other token, which turned out safe when Shaheen missed on his land fifth land. The spirit bopped Jace down to two loyalty, but Nick found Night of Soul’s Betrayal and protected it from two copies of Disenchant with Spell Pierce and Counterspell, letting Jace get to fatesealing Shaheen as Nick built up Jace’s loyalty for a win condition.
It was going to take a while for Jace to get to 12 as Shaheen kept him honest with Batterskull bounces and a Surgical Extraction on Life from the Loam, but Shaheen was left shaking his head as Nick showed him all the pieces he needed to keep his lock in place.
Vindicate on Jace, the Mind Sculptor got rid of his current problem, but a second copy of the planeswalker took its place immediately, shooting up to five then seven loyalty as it pushed Shaheen’s goodies down to the bottom of the deck. Creeping Tar Pit and Mishra’s Factory started getting in on Shaheen’s life total as Shaheen was stuck spending so much mana every turn to keep Batterskull loaded up.
Falling to 7, Shaheen realized that he was drawing either dead or very thin against Nick’s board and he packed it in for game three.
Shaheen 1, Nick 1
Inquisition of Kozilek plucked Counterspell from Nick’s hand, but Wasteland crushed the Underground Sea that powered the discard spell, and Shaheen was left to rebuild with Ponder. Stoneforge Mystic snuck in under Nick’s defenses and peeled Batterskull from Shaheen’s deck, and Nick was forced to scratch his head as he tried to devise a plan.
His current cards were left high and dry against the looming Batterskull, so he was forced to dig and dig with Brainstorm and Ponder, looking for a pair of removal spells that would give him the time he needed to set up. Liliana of the Veil was a decent start, but he would have to wait another turn and let the Stoneforge Mystic get active before he could even think about casting it.
Nick went for Dread of Night instead of Liliana right away, looking to pair it with Night of Soul’s Betrayal to clear the way for Liliana to get rid of the big germ token. He was going to have to act fast with the Batterskull smashing in for four every turn, but he did have some time to set up his plan. A second Stoneforge Mystic for Sword of Feast and Famine changed the equation, however, and the first Stoneforge Mystic cheated it into play at the end of Nick’s turn—a turn that was spent setting up even more with Life from the Loam for a trio of lands.
Batterskull bashed in, but Nick was ready to go with just five life left, landing Night of Soul’s Betrayal and Spell Piercing Jace, the Mind Sculptor. He was able to get the rid of the armed and armored germ token with Liliana of the Veil as he spent the last of his resources, but a second Jace, the Mind Sculptor from Shaheen put the pressure right back on him.
Nick Spagolo's BUG Loam deck is really making a splash here at the Invitational.
Mishra’s Factory set about taking a loyalty counter off of Jace every other turn in a role-reversal from game two, and Nick started digging in with Life from the Loam and Wastelands to put the hurt on Shaheen’s manabase. Shaheen shut that line down with Surgical Extraction and started fatesealing Nick to keep his Jace alive against Mishra’s Factory. It was a brutal grind that hinged on whether Nick’s deck could cough up a realistic solution to Jace, the Mind Sculptor before Shaheen could get enough loyalty on it to win the game with Jace’s ultimate.
An innocent-looking Nihil Spellbomb took care of Shaheen’s huge graveyard, clearing out a pivotal Disenchant before Snapcaster Mage could rebuy it, and cantripping Nick into a Ponder that found him Maelstrom Pulse. Liliana was keeping Shaheen’s hand dry, and when Jace got bit by Maelstrom Pulse, Shaheen seemed to feel it physically.
The board safe again, Nick’s Mishra’s Factory started getting in for a point every turn, but Shaheen was easily able to ignore it given his huge life boost in life from all those Batterskull hits. Still, the little manland plugged away through Night of Soul’s Betrayal and Shaheen was on 15 after a Thoughtseize and some fetchlands.
Liliana fired off her ultimate for the second time in the match, leaving Shaheen with two cards in hand and Sword of Feast and Famine, Karakas, Tower of the Magistrate and Swamp in play to go with two cards in his hand. One of those cards was Inquisition of Kozilek, but Brainstorm hid all of Nick’s good cards, letting Shaheen scoop a Spell Pierce from his hand. Scavenging Ooze and a second Mishra’s Factory leaped into play and suddenly all of Nick’s grinding paid off, his army turning into an overwhelming force against Shaheen’s empty hand and board.
The miniature army swooped in for five as Nick kept Liliana of the Veil and Scavenging Ooze fed. Shaheen was down to five and saw a chance to buy a turn with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but Liliana’s ultimate had left him without enough blue sources to play the planeswalker and he was forced to shake Nick’s hand after such an exhausting and exciting match.
Nick wins 2-1