Mihara’s $36500 Misplay

And how he turned it into the victory of a lifetime

Our podcast has a weekly feature called Back in’t’day, in which Rob chooses a tournament that happened the same week as the podcast going up and we talk about the event, the decks, the format, the draft strategies of the time, and all the exciting stories we remember from when the event took place. Of all the features, this is the one for which we receive the most positive feedback – people, no matter how long they’ve been playing, love to hear about Magic’s rich and illustrious history.

This gave me the idea of creating a weekly feature, titled Magic Monday Moments, in which I take a look at an iconic moment from Magic’s history, seeing what we can learn from it and what it says about Magic as a game.

That’s not quite rite

For the first of these articles, we head back to 2006, a clash between two of Magic’s greats: Brazilian hall of famer and Pro Tour champion Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, and Japanese Hall of Famer and former World Champion, Makihito Mihara. Paulo recently wrote an article in which he discussed how a good player isn’t necessarily one that makes fewer mistakes, but rather one who can fully understand the important bits when they’re not making mistakes. Whether or not he had this particular moment of history in mind when he wrote the article (he’s admitted it’s still a memorable moment), it’s certainly a shining example of exactly that. Nobody’s perfect, but it’s only a certain type of player that can take a lemon and turn it into a lifetime supply of lemonade.

Paulo and Makihito met in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Makihito was playing a powerful combo deck, whose aim was to cast rituals such as Rite of Flame to power out a big Dragonstorm and kill the opponent in one turn. Paulo’s deck couldn’t have been more different: a blisteringly fast red-white aggressive deck full of small creatures and burn spells. It was a big match, going the full five games, but it’s the fifth and deciding game that we’re interested in here.

On his 6th turn, Makihito started casting spells. Rite of Flames to be precise. This, as Paulo well knew, was never good news. The first Rite of Flame came down. Then the second. The writing was on the wall. But something wasn’t quite right. Makihito paused briefly, after playing the second ritual, and then quickly pulled it back into his hand.

Next came the great meditation. “Did Mihara miscount?” says Randy on commentary. “This ritual sends him to eight, right?”. Eight, quite crucially, being one less that the amount of mana it takes to cast Dragonstorm. Mihara had messed up, and he knew it. He was one mana short of the crucial nine. What’s worse: Paulo was representing nine damage on-board, with Mihara at only twelve. This mistake could cost him tens of thousands of dollars and the World Championship title. He’d messed up, big time. And now he had to think of a way out of it.

Paulo, on the other side of the table, was starting to realise that he may have just been handed the victory on a plate. He is, and always has been, the consummate professional. But even professionals can lose their poker face from time to time. As the concrete facade began to slip, a tiny smile shone through.

(Re)Peeling the right card

As you might have expected, things are never that simple. It was looking grim for Mihara, but it wasn’t over. A slow-play warning from the judge prompted him into action – Repealing Paulo’s only 1-drop creature, a Savannah Lions. This lost him two mana out of the already-shallow pool, but crucially opened up the opportunity he wouldn’t have had if he’d just accepted the hit and passed the turn. This gave him a chance, albeit small, to draw out of his predicament. As the commentators discuss, not even Seething Song would do it (Seething Song, with a net mana gain of +2, would simply bring him back to a total of eight). He needed a card with a +3 net mana gain. He needed the third Rite of Flame. And he had one draw to get there.

You might have guessed where this is going. If not, Paulo’s face will fill in the blanks for you.

R floating in the pool, with three lands untapped
Cast Rite of Flame number two. RRR (3R) in the pool.
Cast Rite of Flame number three. RRRRRR (6R) in the pool.
Tap remaining three untapped lands. RRRRRRRRR (9R) in the pool.
Cast Dragonstorm.

And, with that, Mihara had sealed his position in history. Everyone makes mistakes, but only some of us know how to fix them.

Two rounds later, Mihara hoists the trophy. Photo: archive.wizards.com

Two rounds later, Mihara hoists the trophy. Photo: archive.wizards.com

You can watch the full video here: