252 players kicked off the Innistrad Championship, and by the dawn of play on Day Three we were down to the final eight competitors. Each earned their way through 15 hard-fought rounds of Historic and Standard play to advance to stake their claim on the trophy.
There was plenty on the line in the Top 8. In addition to the title of champion, seven of the eight competitors were fighting for a seat at the World Championship at the end of the season as reigning world champ Yuuta Takahashi already had a seat guaranteed. The first match win in Sunday's Top 8 double-elimination bracket would qualify players for Magic World Championship XXVIII, making any victory matter even more.
The Top 8:
- Christian Hauck (Izzet Phoenix)
- Toru Saito (Golgari Food)
- Yuuki Ichikawa (Golgari Food)
- Zachary Kiihne (Izzet Phoenix)
- Simon Görtzen (Izzet Phoenix)
- Yuta Takahashi (Izzet Phoenix)
- Riku Kumagai (Golgari Food)
- Yo Akaike (Jeskai Creativity)
In the end, Pro Tour San Diego 2010 champion Simon Görtzen was dominant through the upper bracket, advancing to the title match against Japan's Yuuki Ichikawa. But it was a journey to get to the final two.
Securing Seats at the World Championship
But before the title match could be set, there was first the matter of World Championship seats.
Sunday's bracket was double-elimination, meaning that six players would win at least one match, and each of those players would earn a seat at next year's World Championship. Yuta Takahashi, making another Top Finish right after winning the World Championship himself, was already qualified so his invitation would create an at-large berth to be filled later.
But things started at the top of the bracket, with a few match wins things could quickly become an all-Japanese affair as several competitors had qualified for this stacked Top 8 thanks in large part to the dominant Golgari Food deck designed by the Japanese team at the Innistrad Championship. Along with an expertly built Izzet Epiphany deck in Standard, the team's dominance at the tournament was matched by only a few teams in Pro Tour history, and four members of the squad were still battling on Sunday.
But it was Jeskai Creativity in the hands of Yo Akaike that shined in the first quarterfinal match, displaying the breadth of the field in Historic and besting top seed Cristian Hauck's popular Selesnya Humans deck.
Next was a mirror between two players on the other deck with multiple Top 8 copies: Izzet Phoenix, played by both Simon Görtzen and American Zachary Kiihne. The spell-heavy mirror went to Görtzen, and then it was finally time for a showdown between the four Japanese players on the bottom half of the upper bracket.
Yuta Takahashi was the only player in the Top 8 to enter with a World Championship invite already secure, which was fortuitous considering his Izzet Phoenix lost in two successive games to Yuuki Ichikawa, becoming the third of six players to secure their World Championship spot.
The last upper quarterfinal match was between Riku Kumagai and Toru Saito in a long, and at times tedious, Golgari Food mirror where one of the most important considerations was managing the game clock. The engine that was built to grind out Izzet spells decks had a tendency to bog down against itself, and long
The teammates battled as they traded board positions in pursuit of building the most potent lategame engine involving
In the end, it was Kumagai who was able to go over the top and earn his seat at Magic World Championship XXVII.
With four matches decided, the next step was determining who would earn the first seat in the title match. It took another Golgari Food mirror, but Kumagai defeated teammate Ichikawa in the upper semifinal to advance to meet Görtzen, who had squeaked by Akaike's Jeskai Creativity deck in the other upper semifinal.
Görtzen had thus far avoided the Golgari Food deck that comprised three of the Top 8 decks, but in the upper finals with a spot in the title match on the line it was finally time for him to test his mettle against the undisputed king of the Food mirror in Kumagai.
Görtzen wasn't shy about his view of the Food deck, and admitted it was a deck poised best to take down his own. But Izzet Phoenix in the cerebral hands of the former Pro Tour champion is a different beast. In the matchup of the tournament's two best Historic decks, it was Görtzen who was able to pull away in the decider to narrow clinch the be the first seat in the title match to go along with his fresh World Championship invitation.
The Lower Bracket
With the upper bracket decided, attention turned next to the final pair of World Championship qualifier matches that kicked off the lower bracket: Kiihne's Phoenix deck matched up against Hauck's Selesnya Humans, while current World Champion Takahashi took Phoenix against Saito's Golgari Food.
Things started out with Hauck, who was the last remaining undefeated player in the tournament, showing off the power of the Selesnya Humans deck that made it the most popular Historic choice in the field.
But it was not enough for Hauck, and the Rivals League member suffered a disappointing early Top 8 exit after such a strong run to the elimination rounds. For Kiihne, it was another step in a trajectory that has seen him finally break into top of the Magic world, now onto greater heights at the World Championship.
In the other match, the quick 2-0 defeat Takahashi suffered was surely tempered somewhat by the fact that he would be still heading to the World Championshi and marked the second straight premier-level event Top Finish.
With Saito's win, the six seats for the World Championship had been set and all that was left was to find out who would meet Görtzen in the title match.
That began with a showdown between Ichikawa's Food and Kiihne's Phoenix deck, and just like it had throughout the entire tournament, the finely tuned Golgari deck was ready for
The other Golgari player left was Saito, who was attempting to fight his way through the
The result was a wild back-and-forth match that ended in what served as a perfect snapshot of Historic at the Innistrad Championship: all four copies of
The bracket sped to its conclusion, ending as it began with Food activations. First it was Ichikawa and Saito who faced off in a showdown of teammates whose shared brew had brought them both to the World Championship, and each were just a few matches away from a possible title as well.
In the end only one could win and it wasn't the player with the 61/61
It took three long games and dozens of triggers traded back and forth, but Ichikawa emerged from the mirror as victor.
His reward? Another mirror match against another teammate, Kumugai, with a spot in the title match on the line.
While Kumagai dominated the first match between the two, the second and third were more important. Ichikawa found his way to two relatively quick victories to set up the title match the tournament, the showdown that seemed destined to define the weekend.
Izzet Phoenix vs. Golgari Food. Choose your champion. Would the title match go to Simon Görtzen with Phoenix, or would Japan complete its dominant run with Golgari Food in the hands of Yuuki Ichikawa?