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Title Match of the Innistrad Championship

December 06, 2021
Corbin Hosler

In some very important ways, both finalists at the Innistrad Championship were already winners. In Simon Görtzen's case, he was literally the winner of Pro TourSan Diego 2010, but just by winning a match to start the Top 8 he (and his opponent Yuuki Ichikawa) qualified for this season's World Championship.

Simon Görtzen

Not that it lessened the intensity for this final match, or at least what passes for intensity from the ever-stoic Görtzen. The champion-turned-commentator-turned-player again had returned to form with high level success over the last two years, now was seeking to add a second title to his impressive resume.

Yuuki Ichikawa

On the other side was Yuuki Ichikawa, also in his third career Top Finish and was the last player standing from the dominant Japanese team that had innovated in Historic with their highly tuned Golgari Food deck. Their metagame build bested all comers throughout the weekend and put four team members into the Top 8.

Of the most popular decks, it was the Golgari Food deck that boasted one of the best win rates, followed closely by Izzet Phoenix. So it made sense that the counterpart to Ichikawa's Golgari deck would be Görtzen's Izzet deck.

Arclight Phoenix Cauldron Familiar

And like they had all weekend, both players just kept finding ways to win – so much so that the title match went the maximum number of matches.

It was considered a bad matchup for Görtzen's Phoenix deck, but Ichikawa''s deck did risk drawing too many of the same pieces of its "combo" of Food effects like Cauldron Familiar, Witch's Oven, Trail of Crumbs and Gilded Goose.

Witch's Oven Trail of Crumbs Gilded Goose

That's exactly what happened in the first match, with a strong draw from Görtzen demonstrating why theory only takes you so far: sometimes you play the games and a pair of Crackling Drakes just get too big to handle.

A fortunate break for the German? Maybe, but his tight play with the explosive Phoenix deck had laid the groundwork to make the upset possible, and in two quick games he suddenly found himself just one match win away from a second championship trophy.

But it wouldn't come easy, and Ichikawa showed in the next game why his deck was considered advantaged against Görtzen. The fast start of Ravenous Squirrel plus Food synergies meant that even an early Delver of Secrets start from Görtzen was no match for the value engine generated so quickly.

Ichikawa had responded when his back was up against the wall, and he was now a game away from evening the series. But the second game was Görtzen's from the start. He had early Delver of Secrets backed by removal and Arclight Phoenix, while the Japanese pro had assembled pieces of his Food engine but flooded out on mana at the same time.

He went digging with Trail of Crumbs after falling to 5 life, and a huge smiled cracked his face as he finally found his key mythic from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt.

The Meathook Massacre was the key for the game to turn around, and with just the narrowest of windows open, Ichikawa's engine kicked into full gear. Soon his life total was safely out of range and the Arclight Phoenix that Görtzen had wasn't nearly enough.

Three days of competition and a double-elimination Top 8 bracket hadn't been enough to clearly separate Görtzen and Ichikawa, and now the pair would play a third and final match to determine the winner of the Innistrad Championship.

Görtzen struck first. He was able to weather the storm of value and removal from Ichikawa, who resolved a large The Meathook Massacre to stabilize at six life. Görtzen was able to return a pair of Arclight Phoenix from the graveyard and then piece together an intricate string of spells that ended in a fiery finish.

But this match was fated to go the distance. Ichikawa fought back in the next game to ride a set of early Ravenous Squirrel attacks to victory, setting the stage for one last game to decide the winner.

Both players kept opening hands on the slower side, and Görtzen was able to leverage early removal to keep the board relatively clear while making his land drops.

The problem was that he wasn't applying much pressure to Ichikawa, whose Food deck was built for the best late games in Historic. While Görtzen was working to build his board and keep pace, Ichikawa was able to deploy Trail of Crumbs then Witch's Oven to set up his own gameplan.

When Görtzen finally did find threats, it was answered by The Meathook Massacre from Ichikawa. That cleared the way for a pair of growing Ravenous Squirrels to begin attacking, Görtzen went to the final turn desperate to stop Ichikawa from completing the dream run.

Whatever he needed, his draw step didn't find it.

With that, Yuuki Ichikawa became the winner of the Innistrad Championship, capping off a marvelous individual run and an even-more impressive team performance that saw four players advance to the Top 8. Listening to Ichikawa after the title, there's no doubt this superteam will continue to be a force for tournaments to come.

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