Ruby Division Top 4 Preview

Posted in Competitive Gaming on September 12, 2019

By Rich Hagon

Rich Hagon combines a deep knowledge of the players of the Pro Tour with a passionate love of the game. He's a regular commentator for Pro Tour and Grand Prix live video coverage, and is the official Pro Tour Statistician. He has been covering Magic events since 2006.

It's our last week of Core Split action in the MPL, and as always it features tremendous players. Congratulations to your Top 4 for this week: Ben Stark (6-1), Andrea Mengucci (5-2), Reid Duke (4-3), and Rei Sato (4-3). Mike Sigrist missed out at 4-3, followed by a disappointing split for William Jensen and Lucas Esper Berthoud both finishing 2-5, and finally Jean-Emmanuel Depraz who must have wished he'd left Izzet Phoenix in the 'ago' deck pile, after a 1-6 record. Here's how the Top 4 made it to the playoffs:

Ben Stark – USA (6-1)

When you're labeled "The Best Limited Player in the World" the add-on "One of the Best Players, Period" often gets missed. That's been true of Ben Stark for several years, but it hasn't really been shown this season with a string of unspectacular results. So, this dominant performance with Mono-Red Aggro represents a welcome return to form. Now an important playoff awaits, with a great chance at claiming the automatic slot in Day Two of Mythic Championship V next month. After an opening match loss to Mike Sigrist, Stark was unstoppable this week and won many of his games in 2 to 3 minute blowouts. No. 1 seed and more time to draft on Arena then.

Andrea Mengucci – Italy (5-2)

The Mythic Invitational winner got off to a tremendous start with his Esper Control deck, reaching 3-0 at the expense of Berthoud, Duke, and Sato. That match against Sato is well worth a look, especially Game 2 where as the internet says "You won't believe your eyes!"

Mengucci stumbled when Veil of Summer got the job done for William Jensen, but the Italian was soon back on the winning path against Izzet Phoenix from Jean-Emmanuel Depraz. After Stark demolished him handily and speedily, Mengucci faced Sigrist in the deciding match, which was an Esper Control mirror. It wasn't close – Search for Azcanta can do that – and Mengucci advanced as the No. 2 seed.

Reid Duke – USA (4-3)

While much of the metagame chose between "zig" and "zag," Duke (and Mythic Championship Team Series teammate Jensen) went for neither maintaining the presence of Kethis Combo for another week. Duke has many strengths as a player, but his ability to compartmentalize each defeat and efficiently move forward mentally is a key component of his success. Here, in a very tough split, he was never ahead of the curve until the end. Losses against Mengucci, Stark, and Berthoud meant 0-1, 1-2, and 2-3 records along the way, while the Kethis Combo mirror match win over Jensen meant his last match against Mike Sigrist was live for Top 4. That's another one worthy of your inspection, with plenty of neat things going on throughout a match that ultimately saw Reid through as the No. 3 seed.

Rei Sato – Japan (4-3)

The man from Japan is our lone Top 4 competitor who already knows the success of a Day Two Mythic Championship bye, having cleaned up in the Sapphire division last time around. Playing Grixis Control, he opened 1-1 against the two other control decks, losing to Mengucci and defeating Sigrist, both of whose control strategy was the Esper flavor. Candidate for "Disgusting Moment of the Week" goes to Sato using Unmoored Ego against Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, sending all four copies of Arclight Phoenix to exile. Can you say value?

At 4-2, even a final round loss to Reid Duke couldn't prevent Sato reaching the top 4, and now his quest for a second successive Day Two bye continues.

The Race for Worlds

Eight points isn't huge, but it was enough to put Reid Duke level with Brian Braun-Duin at the top of the MPL standings. Rei Sato also claimed eight points, which put him in 7th place, four points behind Márcio Carvalho and Seth Manfield. That's negligible, with some huge events still to come. Mengucci is up to 8th thanks to his 5-2 record, while Jean-Emmanuel Depraz missed his opportunity: A good week would have seen him right in the mix, but he's currently sharing 12th in the standings. The big winner, of course, was Ben Stark but it's a mark of how horrible the season has been so far that he's still in 28th on the MPL leaderboard.

Metagame Then...

The metagame merry-go-round has been a true joy of the MPL. Watching so many talented players trying to find the right deck isn't something we can easily follow when hundreds and thousands of people are involved in a tournament. These boutique groups of eight make for a fascinating dance. Remember, it was all Kethis Combo all the time in round robin and the Top 4 last week.

From that, to this:

  • 2 Esper Control (Mengucci, Sigrist)
  • 2 Kethis Combo (Duke, Jensen)
  • 1 Bant Scapeshift (Berthoud)
  • 1 Izzet Phoenix (Depraz)
  • 1 Grixis Control (Sato)
  • 1 Mono-Red Aggro (Stark)

That's a varied, healthy, and entertaining metagame right there. In a moment we'll show you what everyone's playing for the weekend, but first play along at home: What would you do?

If everyone holds tight, there'd be Mono-Red Aggro, Grixis Control, Kethis Combo, and Esper Control. If you were Stark on Mono-Red facing Mengucci, would you want that Esper Control matchup? Do you think Mengucci would switch? Does that mean you should switch too? If you're Duke getting ready to face Sato, do you think you were a worthy winner in the round robin match? And, if you do, does that mean that Sato won't risk his Grixis deck again? If you're getting a headache never fear because our Top 4 did the thinking for us.

Metagame Now

Here's what the Top 4 decided to bring to the playoff battle:

Ben Stark - Mono-Blue Tempo - Ruby Top 4

Andrea Mengucci - Esper Control - Ruby Top 4

Reid Duke - Orzhov Vampires - Ruby Top 4

Rei Sato - Gruul Midrange - Ruby Top 4

I'll let Paul Cheon share some insights from the locked in playoff lists:

  • Duke swapped from Kethis Combo to stock Orzhov Vampires. It's presumably strong against Mono-Red Aggro with all of its life gain. Stark's list also didn't play Goblin Chainwhirler which is typically the best card against Vampires. It's also resilient against control decks' removal with Adanto Vanguard, Champion of Dusk, and Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord.
  • Stark swapped from Mono-Red Aggro to Mono-Blue Tempo. This swap makes sense as it's a way to dodge the expected hate if players put him on red again. Also, the other three players had submitted various combo or control decks, so a tempo deck with counter magic would be well-positioned against those decks. The switch makes sense if you're expecting control and Kethis Combo.
  • Mengucci stayed on Esper Control. He's had a lot of success with it recently, and with it being exactly in his wheelhouse it makes sense for him to run it back again.
  • Sato switched from Grixis Control to a Gruul Midrange build. His list has several interesting choices. Its got your typical Gruul shell with four copies of Llanowar Elves and various monsters but the thing that really stands out are some of his unconventional card choices: Unchained Berserker, Captain Lannery Storm, Cindervines, and Karn, the Great Creator all in the main deck, with more silver bullets in the sideboard. There's a lot of metagaming going on which will make his games exciting to watch.

Perfection

The MPL is still young, but words like "first" and "only" still apply. As the Core Split comes to a close, three of the four No. 1 seeds got there with a 5-2 record. That puts Ben Stark's 6-1 into context, but it also means that Brad Nelson's 7-0 from the Spark Split remains both the first and only perfect record. Quite the achievement, and if the evidence of the Core Split is anything to go by it might be some time before anyone else matches Brad's perfect run.

The Saturday Showdown

Our opening salvo on Saturday begins with Hall of Fame member Ben Stark against Andrea Mengucci. Both have a great chance of winning the crucial day two bye for MC V, since the winner of their encounter goes straight through to the Grand Finals. The loser is not done, however, since they'll get to face the winner of Reid Duke versus Rei Sato, before a potential rematch in the Grand Finals.

So, the stage is set. Join us for all the action on our MPL Weekly live show, this Saturday at noon PT/3p.m. ET/7 p.m. UTC on twitch.tv/magic.

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