Posted in Event Coverage on February 28, 2004

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Gabriel Nassif vs. Ben Stark

Gabriel Nassif was glum after a long night of play testing this matchup, "He wins." Gabriel was playing the TwelvePost deck that he designed with the imput of six other French players. The deck relies on the explosive mana provided by multiple Cloudposts to fire off an entwined Tooth and Nail for such fatties as Platnum Angel and Darksteel Colossus. To ensure the deck's consistency he was playing with four Sylvan Scrying and four Reap and Sow which could be used to search for the Coloudposts.

Ben Stark--also up late testing for this match--was more skeptical, "I don't think it is as bad as he makes it out to be." Ben Was playing Ravager Affinity wit only sixteen lands. The deck relied on explosive affinity draws backed up by the insane card drawing of Skullclamp. His deck was also packing the Fireball-esque combination of Acrbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault.

Ben Stark has been tearing up the Grand Prix circuit of late and was playing in the first Pro Tour Top 8 of his career. His opponent was on something of a tear of his own and Ben was duly impressed, "Is this your third constructed Top 8 in a row? Plus ninth at Worlds? That's pretty good."

Although it was Ben's first Top 8 it was far from his first Pro Tour, "Not like these Italians who both Top 8 their first Pro Tour--both of them! Not Lo Moro obviously--the other two." The combination of his high GP finishes and strong Day Two performances have left Ben within shooting distance of the Pro Player of the Year race depending on his final result this weekend.

"I'm going to play at Hong Kong," Ben explained when asked about the Player of the Year race. "I wasn't going to Sendai but I might depending on how I do here. If I win I'm not going and if I lose this round I am not going." A win would give Ben a comfortable enough lead and a loss would leave him too far back. If he advanced to the semifinals and lost there he would be stay abreast of the pack and Grand Prix Sendai could be a significant factor.

Game 1

Tree of Tales into Arcbound Worker was how Ben kicked off the match.. Gabriel Oxidized the land and said "Go."

Ben played a Seat of the Synod and cast Skullclamp. Gabbriel had a Cloudpost.

Ben played a Vault of Whispers and attacked for one. After combat he played an Arcbound Ravager and a Frogmite. He was holding Thoughtcast and Disciple of the Vault. This had all the makings of a quick game.

Gabriel played a Shaman and tried to take out the Skullclamp--Ben ate it with the Ravager in response. Ben paid one to draw two cards with Thoughcast instead . He played another Skullclamp and a Myr Enforcer. He sent all of his men into battle. Gabriel nudged his Shaman in the way of the rArcbound Worker and Ben gave his Ravager +2/+2 before damage.

Gabriel played a Forest and dropped Oblivion Stone. Ben played a Disciple of the Vault. He also played a Chromatic Sphere and popped it for black--he smirked at the Thoughtcast he drew. He used the black to move his Skullclamp onto the Frogmite and attacked with everyone. The two seasoned veterans smiled at each other as Ben went through the motions of deliberately sacrificing artifacts for the final five points of life loss needed to secure the Game 1 win.

Ben Stark - 1 Gabriel Nassif - 0
Game 2

Ben shook his head as the two players pored over their sideboards looking for some insight they might have missed in playtest sessions that lasted long into last night. Ben laughed as Gabriel agonized over his decisions, "You have to know what you are boarding in and out--you had the decklist."

The sideboarded games made Ben nervous, "I have to say I like my chances in a two out of three much better than a five game set."

When asked who he expected to emerge from the elimination process with the $30,000 check Ben was unsure, "The format is really unpredictable. It's fifty-fiftyish. I would have to say that anyone could win it but I would give the advantage to the better players. Nassif or Jelger…" He would not go so far as to include himself in that category. "I'm not going to say I am better than Nassif. I think the deck match-up favors me. I can just dump my permanents into play and sacrifice them all to win but Nassif is the better player."

Nassif has been told all weekend that his deck cannot beat Affinity. Nassif had only a small sample to judge for himself. "I only played Affinity three times during the Swiss. I won two of them but I lost to a French player in the first round."

Gabriel winced as he peeled up his opening seven. He continued peeling cards eight nine and ten in the universal gesture of the mulligan. The Frenchman is well known for his good humor and the constant smirk of bemusement on his face. He maintained his pleasant nature throughout and looked for some glimmer of what kind of hand he would be up against, "Is your hand good?"

Ben was not giving anything away and his cards were still in front of him, "I haven't looked yet."

When he finally did look after the Frenchman kept his next six, Ben was disappointed, "This hand is not good. I don't know if I am keeping or not." He eventually sent the one lander back. "It hurts me to send that one back. One land, double Ravager, and Skullclamp. If I draw a land I am in great shape but if you have Oxidize I lose. I would keep the hand against any deck not running Detonate or Oxidize."

His second hand went back as well and Gabriel asked, "No lands?"

Ben confirmed, "Did you see me hesitate?"

"I figured the deck runs sixteen lands so maybe you would get land screwed." Gabriel added with a chuckle, "For three games."

Ben kept five cards but he was unhappy to do so, "Okay, let's go."

"Is it better than your first hand?"

"I would go back to the first hand in a heartbeat."

Forest from the Frenchman was menacing for Ben's hand. He could run out Disciple, Welding Jar and Glimmervoid but if his artifact got smoked he would have only the Disciple. He had no choice but to run that out there and that is exactly what happened.

Gabriel Scryed for the Cloudpost and passed the turn. Ben could only attack for one and hope for some lands off the top. Meanwhile, Gabriel played a second Cloudpost and Reap and Sowed for third. On his next turn he played Oblvion Stone and cast Tooth and Nail with entwine.

Ben was still had only the Disciple. "Ahh…permantless Magic. Just show me the two guys and I will scoop."

Gabriel showed him Leonin Abunas and Platinum Angel.

Ben explained that he seriously considered making no play of any kind on the first turn, "I thought about just passing the turn. I never drew another land so it didn't matter but if I had drawn an artifact land I would have been okay with the Welding Jar in hand."

Ben Stark - 1 Gabriel Nassif - 1

Game 3

Ben laughed at himself when he announced, "Me first. Do we really have to say that or can we just agree that whoever loses the last game will go first the next."

Ben was happy with the seven cards he had on the play but Gabriel scrutinized his hand and finally decided to send it back for a fresh six. He was content with those cards and they waited to begin.

Ben kicked things off with Tree of Tales and an Arcbound Worker. Gabriel had the Cloudpost--there would be no Oxidize this turn one. Ben played Vault and a Tooth and attacked for two. He then played an Ornitopter and a Skullclamp. The Antiquities flier became a 1/3 and Ben drew two cards. Gabriel cast Sylvan Scrying and found a second Cloudpost.

Ben played a second Tooth and moved the Clamp onto his flier. He attacked for four. He played a Glimmervoid and a Welding Jar. Gabriel played his second Cloudpsot and was still able to Shaman the Welding Jar with a grin.

Ben got in for another four and played out Myr Enforcer and another Ornithopter. He moved the Clamp over to the 4/4 and passed the turn. Despite having his opponent on the ropes he appeared frustrated by his deck's lack of explosive action. Which was funny because he had eight points of power on turn four.

Gabriel had no play and passed the turn with six mana and a Shaman to absorb some of the impact of Ben's next attack.

Ben put his Skullclamp on an Ornithopter and attacked with everyone. He chumped the Enforcer with his elf and Oxidized the Skullclamp after Ben pumped the other flier twice. He took three damage and fell to seven. Ben played a Frogmite and passed.

Gabriel weighed his options. "You have only one card?"

"Yup," It was a Vault of Whispers.

He turned to the judge and conformed how much life he had to work with--still only seven points. Finally he played a Stalking Stones and he played Tel-Jilad Chosen and an Oblivion Stone.

Ben did not hesitate to attack with everyone and the Chosen negated the Enforcer and Gabriel fell to two. Ben played his Vault and held onto to his Somber Hoverguard for the post-Stone game. Gabriel attacked for two and then popped the Stone. With his remaining mana he played a Chalice of the Void for one.

Ben played his Hoverguard and Gab shook his head, "I'm at two?"

He drew for the turn and Ben asked, "Did you rip it? I'm not going to forget to attack. Don't slow roll me."

"I drew an Oxidize."

Ben Stark - 2 Gabriel Nassif - 1

Game 4

In most Magic scenarios Ben would have put the match away with his second win in three games but at the Pro Tour top 8 they play a five game set to minimize luck and emphasize skill. That was not much solace for Ben, "Why do these stupid Top 8's have to be best of five? Of course if I had lost that I'm sure I would have felt differently."

Gabriel turned to Jelger for an update on his match. The Dutchman pointed to the Damping Matrix his opponent had in play and frowned, "I am up two to one but I am going to lose this one."

Gab laughed, "I am down two to one but I am going to win this one."

Gabriel winced as he pulled up each card and left the seventh on the table a moment before squeezing it into his hand. It must have been much better than the first six because he decided to keep it. Ben did the same.

Forest from Gabriel was met by Tree of Tales from Ben. Gabriel did not have an EOT play but put down a Cloudpost and Oxidized the land on his next turn. Ben slumped--he was holding Glimmervoid and no castable artifacts.

Gab played an Oblivion Stone and Reap and Sowed for another Cloudpost. Meanwhile Ben was discarding Myr Enforcers. Ben finally drew a Skullclamp but Gabriel killed it and the Glimmervoid with a Shaman.

Gabriel cast a Chalice of the Void for one and Sylvan Scryed for a Stalking Stones. Next turn he activated his Stones and started attacking. He followed with a Platinum Angel and Ben finally accepted the inevitability of the situation. "That was the same hand I mulliganed the other time but slightly better. If you don't have the Oxidize there I just go off."

Ben Stark - 2 Gabriel Nassif - 2

Game 5

Both players pleaded with their decks as they shuffled for the rubber game of the match. Ben needed one more cooperative draw to advance "C'mon sixteen lands--one more time! Give me that Game 1 hand again. Dear lord that was good!"

Once again, Nassif agonized over his opening seven in regard to his mulligan decision. Ben thought the facial contortions were all for show and called the Frenchman on it, "Enough with the scrunchy face. You know you're keeping it."

Gabriel nodded, "I guess I keep. If I draw two Cloudposts in a row it will be good. How about your hand?"

"It's not Game 1 but it is fine."

After wading through some brutal turn one Oxidizes Darksteel Citadel must have been a welcome sight for Ben. He played but chose not to play his Welding Jar. He had thought about how to play out the turn for quite a while and when Ben had no play Nassif seemd surprised, "Go ahead?"

"I told you it is not Game 1."

Nassif literally scratched his head as he puzzled out his plan for the match. Ben could not figure out how much there was to consider, "It's turn one."

Finally Gabriel played a Forest and a Chalice set to zero. Ben looked like he wanted to be sick. He had a second Citadel and the Chalice kept him from being able to accelerate his mana with the Welding Jar-and he was holding two. If he had played the Jar last turn he could have played a Genesis Chamber and a Frogmite making a token in the process. Now he could only do one or the other. Nassif teased Ben that he was taking so long now. "Turn two is a lot harder." He ultimately just passed the turn without making either play.

Gabriel played a second Forest and a Talisman of Unity.

Ben played a Vault of Whispers and cast Genesis Chamber and played a Frogmite. Ben asked for a token but the judge instructed him to wait for Gabriel's response. The Frenchman decided to Oxidize the Chamber. "No token." Ben frowned at the dead cards in his hand and wondered it he had played things incorrectly.

Gabriel played a Tel-Jilad Chosen and a Chalice of the Void set to one. Ben had an Arcbound Ravager on his turn and was clearly angry with himself, "I wish I was dead."

The smiling Nassif played a Cloudpost and used Reap and Sow to find another. Ben shook his head. He drew an Arcboud Worker and looked at the Chalice with disgust. He chose not to play the Seat of the Synod in his hand.

Gabriel used a Sylvan Scrying to get a Blinkmoth Nexus and played it. Ben drew a second Seat of the Synod and felt safe enough to play the first one. He had no other play.

Gabriel played a Leonin Abunas and another Cloudpost leaving him with an empty hand. He activated the Nexus and flew over for a point. The game was over shortly thereafter after two Tooth and Nails put the final nail in the coffin. Ben was utterly dejected, "I was holding a Welding Jar. I don't think I win anyway but still it would have been a different game."

When asked about his decision to play the Chalice for zero on the first turn Gabriel explained, "When he took so long to decide his play I assumed he had a Welding Jar. Since he led off with Citadel I figured he was holding it back since he didn't need it. I had another Chalice and I was never going to have enough time to set it at two. It seemed good."

Nassif is scheduled to play against Jelger Wiegersma in the semifinal round.

Final result: Ben Stark - 2 Gabriel Nassif - 3

Nassif Gabriel

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Ben Stark

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