Round 7: Ben Rubin vs Alex Shvartsman

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Largely regarded as the current best drafter in the U.S., “J.T. Money” Neil Reeves didn’t seem exactly optimistic about his chances against Psychatog deck innovator Noah Weil. “Don’t embarrass me too much”, pleaded Neil in a southern twang.

“Did you say play or draw?”, asked Neil. “Play”, responded Weil. “My last round opponent made me play play first. I was happy about that. I won on the fifth turn because of that. Kill ya!”

Then the matches were repaired due to an error in scoring from the previous round, and the new feature match pair up became Ben Rubin versus Alex Shvartsman.

“Superman” Ben Rubin and Your Moves Game representative Alex Shvartman are both known for multiple high profile finishes. Many call Ben the best deck builder on the Pro Tour, while many call Alex the most traveled and Russian on the Pro Tour. They debated about who had more lifetime Pro Tour points (both well over a hundred, with Ben’s seven this season beating Alex’s six).

Game One:

Alex won the die roll, but Ben get the ball rolling with a second turn Glory Seeker. Alex, light on mana, Smothered the soldier, but failed to draw a third land. Ben Rubin cycled Chocking Tethers, hoping to draw some men to take advantage of Alex’s mana screw. He could only play a morph creature the next turn, but by then Alex had drawn a third land and played a morph creature of his own.

Shvartsman came out strong, drawing a fourth land and playing Screeching Buzzard. Ben Rubin shifted back and forth on his seat, wincing at his cards. He decided to attack and morph Daru Lancer, dealing three back to Shvartsman. He ended the turn by playing a Mountain (his third color), but didn’t use the mana as Alex attacked for four and summoned forth the best zombie insect in Magic, Nantuko Husk.

Ben neutralized the pumper with a Pacifism. “It’s usually better when I can use him to sacrifice a Pacified creature, not get him Pacified himself”, joked Shvartsman, as Rubin played a foil Clone to give himself a second 3/4 first striker.

Alex flew over for another two, bringing the life totals to 14-12 in his favor. He hard cast Spitting Gourna, leaving the board filled with entirely too many 3/4 creatures. Ben drew, shrugged and played a morph creature, unimpressed by Alex’s attacking Buzzard. Alex joined the morph parade with a second face-down creature of his own.

Ben contemplated his next move. Hands cradling his head, face down studying the table, Rubin shook his head “no” sporadically, seemingly contemplating the best play. Alex sat across the table staring at the cards in play, unmoving in his stoicism. Finally, Ben cycled a second Choking Tethers, tapping down the Gourna. This allowed him to swing for six damage, though he drew a land off the cycling card. This gave him two lands in hand and eight lands on the board, while Alex had drawn all business after stopping at exactly five lands.

Ben Rubin confirmed which of Alex’s morph creatures came first before drawing…yet another land. He once again stared at the board in contemplation, rubbing his temples and shaking his head again in disbelief at his horrid draws. Alex was winning the game, albeit slowly, and Ben could do nothing to stop it given his lack of tools. He finally decided to try to go on the offense, but he ran one Lancer into the Gourna, and the other into a freshly morphed Venomspout Brackus.

Alex decided he’d had enough of this game, and attempted to enchant his flyer with Improvised Armor. “It resolves”, sighed Ben, deciding how to survive the turn while faced with the attacking Buzzard, Venomspout Brackus, and Spitting Gourna. He blocked the Gourna with his morph creature, and turned it into a Crude Rampart-it was not enough to stop the lethal damage. Alex revealed a Crude Rampart of his own as the last mystery meat left in the game.

Alex Shvartsman 1 - Ben Rubin 0.

Alex seemed content with his current deck configuration, shuffling up in anticipation of game two. In stark contrast, Ben Rubin threw his entire deck together with his sideboard, and began retooling the whole thing. Out went his entire blue, and in came green, with a Centaur Glade, multiple large morph creatures, and a few elves.

”I’m going to try to shuffle quickly”, apologized Rubin. “I’m sorry I took so long to sideboard.” “It’s ok”, replied Alex. “I just played Conan Blackwell two rounds ago and he’s super slow.” “I like that guy”, replied Rubin. “He used to be a tournament organizer, but I don’t know if he runs PTQ’s any more.”

Game two:

Rubin started the game by playing a tapped Forgotten Cave, and let his sideboarding be known with a third turn play of Forest/morph creature. Alex, by contrast, went on full defense with a combination of turn two Battlefield Medic, turn three Daru Healer. Rubin’s hand contained Centaur Glade (which would likely be a win given the pace of the last game), but lacked a second Forest to cast the enchantment. Instead he settled for a Wellwisher.

Alex played a Gustcloak Skirmisher on the following turn, and what would come off the top of Rubin’s deck but Forest number two, allowing him to drop down the Glade. Alex didn’t seem to happy at this turn of events, playing Daunting Defender on his own turn.

Ben made a rare mental error the following turn, hard casting Crude Rampart for five mana. “That only costs four mana to cast,” Alex informed his opponent. “I take a burn”, replied Ben, disheartened at his mistake. On the following turn, Alex turned his 3/3 cleric into a 5/8 monster with Improvised Armor. Ben turned it into a 5/8 monster that couldn’t attack or block with an enchantment of his own.

The ground stalled completely with Ben able to churn out one centaur a turn, as Alex hard cast Venomspout Brackus. Alex sent his flyer in for one damage a turn against the Wellwisher, but even this offense came to a crashing halt as Ben brought forth Wirewood Herald. Both players thought long and hard about how to break this stalemate, but Alex’s only answer was to play a Crude Rampart of his own, as Ben gained two life off of his elves.

“How much time is left in this round?” questioned Rubin, concerned about the result of this game. Ben’s hand contained Wave of Indifference, with Alex still at twenty life. Alex began doing one damage a turn with Festering Goblin + Gustcloak Skirmisher, as Rubin declined to block to keep his Wellwisher alive and kicking.

Alex cast Festering Goblin number two, as Ben played a morph creature and created Centaur number seven. Rubin then cast Wave of Indifference on Alex’s six untapped creatures (sans the Pacified Daunting Defender), and attacked for twenty-eight*.

Alex died.

Ben Rubin 1 - Alex Shvartsman 1

“Which deck will he play?”, joked Rubin, regarding his sideboarding. Alex simply shrugged, all business.

Game Three:

Alex kept his hand, playing first. With fifteen minutes left in the round, he brought the pain with a first turn Festering Goblin, which got to hit once before being halted by Elvish Warrior.

Ben winced as Alex dropped a third turn Rotlung Reanimator, a very fine card given the number of clerics in Alex’s deck. The game came to an immediate crawl earlier than ever, with both players summoning morph creatures. Ben gave chase with a second morph creature, his first slipping through Alex’s ranks for first blood.

Neither player seemed too confident in this match finishing as Alex increased the stall with a Battlefield Medic. The only advantage Ben had was land stall--the Russian New Yorker on a Boston team had stopped a three lands. Ben warily played a fifth land and sent all three of his creatures into the brink. Alex blocked Ben’s first morph creature with his Festering Goblin, and blocked Ben’s second morph creature with his own morpher.

Here, Alex made a huge error. Ben morphed his Daru Lancer, first striking the Festering Goblin to death. Alex used the Goblin to give the unblocked Elvish Warrior -1/-1, instead of giving it to Ben’s second morph creature. This would have allowed Alex to keep his own morph creature (a Spitting Gourna) on the board, but instead it traded with Crude Rampart.

Alex summoned Gustcloak Skirmisher as Ben cast Glory Seeker and Thoughtbound Primoc. Ben swung with his flyer and first striker, with Alex blocking the Lancer with both his Reanimator. “I’ll bite”, said GP master Shvartsman, losing his Reanimator to an unimpressive four point Tribal Unity naming soldiers.

With only three minutes remaining in the round, each of the players picked up their pace considerably, hoping to avoid a draw. Alex cast a second flyer (Screeching Buzzard) while Ben swung his entire team into the red zone and hard cast Treespring Lorian. Alex blocked the flyer with the Buzzard, and the Glory Seeker with the zombie token generated by the dead Reanimator. Battlefield Medic kept the 2/2 alive, but Ben likewise saved his 2/2 soldier with a Piety Charm, making it a 4/4.

Alex completely shut down the ground on the next turn with Daunting Defender, and the game looked hopeless to end in anything other than a draw as Cabal Archon hit play. Ben played Centaur Garden, capable of making two centaurs a turn on his following turn, but Alex stood at ten life. He returned Rotlung Reanimator to his hand via Misery Charm, used Smother to kill Ben’s flyer, and brought in his flying guys for four, bringing the life totals to 13-10 in Rubin’s favor. Time ran out, and the two went into extra turns.

Turn One (Ben Rubin):
Ben’s board: Eight lands (including four forests), Centaur Garden, Glory Seeker, Treespring Lorian, Elvish Warrior, Daru Lancer, and a centaur token.
Alex’s board: Six lands (including three swamps), Cabal Archon, Daunting Defender, Gustcloak Skirmisher, Screeching Buzzard, and Rotlung Reanimator.

As things stood, Alex would be able to gain six life and do six damage on the following turn via the Archon, allowing his to both chump block and generate zombies thanks to the combination of Reanimator and Archon. Combined with his four power in flyers, this put Rubin on a two turn clock (which is all Alex had left since Ben started the first of the five extra turns).

Play came to a complete standstill as Rubin contemplated his first move. Ben finally swung with his entire team. Alex took an equal amount of time to decide his defenders. The archon blocked the Glory Seeker, the Rotlung Reanimator blocked the Elvish Warrior, the Daunting Defender blocked a centaur, and Battlefield Medic blocked Treespring Lorian. This attack left the Lancer unblocked, so Alex took three. None of Alex’s creatures died, as the Medic prevented four to itself, and all the clerics took one less damage thanks to Daunting Defender. This killed only Glory Seeker on Ben’s team.

Turn Two (Alex Shvartsman)
Alex drew, and immediately set his sights upon whether he could win this turn. Ben’s hand contained only a single card, and his blockers consisted of two possible centaurs. It seemed as if Alex swung with his entire team, the best Ben could do on-board would be to block the Defender and a random 2/2 cleric, allowing Alex to deal seven points of combat damage plus six points of drain life damage, winning him the game exactly. The only thing that stood between him and victory was the sole card in Ben Rubin’s hand.

Finally, after much debate, Alex turned all his guys into the red zone. Ben made two Centaurs, and chose to block the Reanimator and Archon. Alex followed the plan outlined above, and won the game on the strength of the Archon.

*=At the end of this game, Ben had one white untapped and a Piety Charm in hand. I asked him after the match why he had decided to not use the Charm to make all his creatures not tap to attack, as he seemed slightly concerned before the attack that Alex might have enough removal in hand to stay alive and alpha strike for the win. He and Alex agreed that there was nothing Alex could have had to stay alive, hence no need for the Piety Charm.

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