This weekend's Masters Series has already seen some amazing matchups and the hits just keep on coming. Saturday night's semifinals feature Finkel-Rubin III and the battle of metagame masters Zvi Mowshowitz and Jay Elarar.
Jon Finkel - the best player in the history of the game - squared off Friday night against perhaps the hottest player in the history of the game, Ryan Fuller. PT-Tokyo Top 8 competitor Dave Williams billed it as "the old Finkel versus the new Finkel." Others billed it as "good versus evil." When Fuller complained about how all of his matches were being billed as good versus evil, Zvi Mowshowitz leaned over from an adjacent table and delivered his best one-liner in years, deadpanning "no, Ryan, sometimes you play against your teammates!" In any case, Fuller seemed to have the matchup advantage thanks to main deck Meddling Mages where Finkel had Galina's Knights. However, Finkel beat him anyway.
Finkel is no stranger to matchup disadvantages. He beat Benedikt Klauser in the round of 16 in an amazing match of Magic where Klauser got his anti-Go-Mar technology - Mana Maze - into play early in game 3, but Finkel somehow managed to deck him after a long, drawn-out battle. Mana Maze is great, but Jon Finkel is better. Finkel actually failed to make Day 2 in Tokyo with essentially the same Go-Mar deck, but this weekend is showing that his deck choice there was just fine; he just got unlucky.Ben Rubin
Next up for Finkeltron is Ben Rubin. Rubin was the one unseeded player that no one wanted to get randomly paired against. Kamiel Cornelissen drew the short straw and lost to Rubin in the first round because Cornelissen's black-blue deck had no answer for Rubin's sideboarded Kavu Chameleons. Next Rubin beat Rob Dougherty. Then Friday night, in a marathon match that didn't end until 2 am, Rubin outlasted Gateway winner Tuomo Niemenen. Niemenen was running a Go-Mar deck similar to Finkel's, so Rubin has experience in this matchup. Finkel has Opt and Spite/Malice where Niemenen had Meddling Mage and Recoil. Of course, Finkel has experience in the matchup too, but his experience against Klauser was all about Mana Maze where Rubin's anti-control plan involves Obliterate and Kavu Chameleon instead.
Finkel and Rubin played for two different titles earlier this season and split. Finkel won the Invitational, but Rubin won the Chicago Masters. Rubin's win in the quarterfinals gives him at least $10,000 in prize money for this Masters event and puts him over the $100,000 career mark and into second place all time, trailing only Finkel. Their semi-final match is sure to draw a huge crowd. Before I studied their decklists, I thought Finkel had the edge. He already beat one Domain deck, despite that decklist's inclusion of amazing Mana Maze technology. However, the more I think about it, the more I think Obliterate is better against Finkel. If Finkel had replaced Galina's Knights with Meddling Mages (the way Fuller adjusted his own Go-Mar between GP Moscow and this Masters event, in light of a potentially blue-heavy field), then Finkel would be better able to stop Obliterate. However, without them, Obliterate becomes much more threatening. Finkel is unlikely to win if one ever resolves and his only real answer is to Lobotomy them both away. (In theory, Finkel could also counter Rubin's red mana sources, but that seems like an unlikely plan. With only one mountain in his deck, Rubin needs either Fertile Ground or Star Compass in play before he can cast the double red spell. The double-red problem is actually the reason Zvi Mowshowitz (who's also playing Domain) chose not to use Obliterate at all - he didn't want to run Star Compasses at all and wanted to be able to sideboard out Harrow versus Go-Mar so he could squeeze in more threats.) In any case, the match will be all about Obliterate and it will be very close and I'm honestly not sure who to pick. I guess I'm going with Finkel.Zvi Mowshowitz
In the other semi-final, Zvi Mowshowitz will be attempting to improve his already legendary reputation in Block Constructed tournaments. There have been four Block Constructed Pro Tours in history. Zvi's finishes at those PTs were 1st, 3rd, 12th, and 12th. And he didn't just play well, he also contributed to the design of all those decks. In addition Zvi designed Tradewind-Awakening for the Rath Block Constructed GP season and piloted it to the Top 4 of Grand Prix-Boston '98.
Before PT Tokyo, Zvi explained to me that he and his team hadn't actually broken the format, but he thought they had solved it. They predicted that everyone would play red and therefore ran the anti-red deck now nicknamed "The Solution" (which was originally designed by Jon Ormerod). After winning that Pro Tour, Zvi abandoned The Solution because the metagame was sure to change. For the Masters Series, Zvi decided to go with Domain and here he is putting up another top finish.Jay Elarar
Zvi plays Jay Elarar in the semis. Elarar played a metagamey Blue Skies deck at Pro Tour Chicago, made the Top 8 by going undefeated against Fires after sideboarding, and walked away with such a high Constructed rating that he was invited to play in the Barcelona Masters even though he was one PT point short of an invite to the associated (Limited) Pro Tour. Elarar, a 17-year-old former JSS champion from Vancouver, Canada, is running yet another metagamey deck - red-green beats with main deck Kavu Chameleons. He's so set up against Go-Mar that he even has Wallop in his sideboard and he rolled Mike Turian in the quarters. Jay credits Damian Brown-Santirso, a Mexican player now living in Uruguay who talks with Jay a lot on IRC, with designing his deck. Damian also gave deck the Skies deck he ran in Chicago.
I think Zvi will end Jay's run when they play Saturday night. Jay's anti-blue cards are great against Go-Mar, but they aren't as good against Domain, which is blue, but not as blue. Collective Restraint is excellent versus red-green and Elarar's only answers are three Thunderscape Battlemages in his sideboard. Zvi seemed very happy that Elarar had Battlemages and not Tranquilities as his enchantment removal.
I went 4 for 4 yesterday predicting the results of matches. If I'm right again then it'll be the best player in the history of the game versus the best Block Constructed player in the history of the game in the finals. No matter what happens, everyone here in Barcelona will be racing to get a front row seat for all the action.