For those who followed last weekend's 2013 Magic Online Championship coverage, you may have noticed that 2012 Magic Online Champion Dmitriy Butakov made an attempt at back-to-back titles with Esper Control. This week, he brought a Sphinx's Revelation deck to battle, but it switched from one shard of Alara to another: from Esper (white/blue/black) to Bant (white/blue/green).
While it seemed like Butakov was an Esper player switching out black for green if you've only been following Butakov's performance offline and online for the past two to three weeks, Bant Control – also nicknamed Bant Superfriends on various online forums eluding to a trio of powerful planeswalkers – was actually Butakov's preferred archetype.
"I actually played Bant Control a while ago for months, and it just stopped winning," said Butakov. "I think it was a down-streak and I don't think it's fair to blame the deck. I didn't have the guts to take it to the MOC [Magic Online Championship], and since I couldn't test at Grand Prix Vienna [his laptop broke during that week], I had to play safely."
In terms of why he selected Bant Control, Butakov's answer was straight-forward. "Kiora gives you an edge against Mono-Black and Mistcutter Hydra gives you an edge against other blue control decks," he said.
Going into Round 10 against No. 6 Ranked Player Shahar Shenhar, who was playing Esper Control, there was a chance that those Mistcutter Hydras would become handy. However, the match would certainly not be easy for either player. While Butakov was playing the deck he is the most familiar with, Shenhar is far from a stranger to blue-control either. After all, it was a blue deck that helped earn him the 2013 World Championship title last summer, albeit with more powerful spells from the Modern format.
The two sat down and got ready to clash in an epic battle of card-draw and planeswalkers.
Any action taking place early could be summarized as follows: scry lands, scrying, the occasional Azorius Charm cycle, and both players skipping an early game in favor of a more powerful late game.
With seven lands in play for each players, Butakov went for Jace, Architect of Thought. Shenhar let it resolve, and Jace went down to two loyalty, netting Butakov a land and a Supreme Verdict, the latter of which hit the graveyard due to Butakov having too many cards in hand. Jace was quickly put into a Detention Sphere by Shenhar on the next turn, and Shenhar passed with plenty of lands, but fewer cards than Butakov.
Then, Shenhar passed without playing his ninth land. Butakov felt content to activate and attack with Mutavault, drawing out a Last Breath from Shenhar. On the next turn, an untapped Temple Garden signaled Sphinx's Revelation, which came down for three at the end of Shenhar's turn. Elspeth, Sun's Champion met Dissolve, and Butakov discarded some redundant removal.
Butakov tried for Kiora, the Crashing Wave on the next turn, which warranted a Syncopate for seven from Shenhar. Butakov let the counter through, then fired back with Dissolve when Shenhar found and attempted to cast Jace, Architect of Thought. Butakov attempted a second Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which resolves and immediately made three tokens. Shenhar passed with no action on his next turn, and the tokens began their attack. Another turn, and Elspeth made three more tokens. Again, three more arrived. Another turn from Shenhar warranted nothing, and Elspeth again increased the size of her army, threatening ultimate.
At the end of Butakov's turn, Shenhar went for a Sphinx's Revelation for four. This warranted Syncopate from Butakov for four. Shenhar fired back with Dissolve, but lost the counter-war to Butakov's Syncopate for one, denying him the powerful card draw, and cementing the theme of the game: Butakov was aiming to out-attrition Shenhar in sheer cards, and was succeeding.
Shenhar had Supreme Verdict to wipe away Butakov's token army, but the game was bleak for Shenhar. Butakov had denied him any sort of card-drawing power, Shenhar was burning cards to not lose to Elspeth's tokens, and Butakov was burying his opponent in his own card draw instead. The planeswalkers and extra draw power proved to be too much for Shenhar to overcome, and turn-after-turn, Butakov whittled Shenhar's non-lands down to virtually nothing, with a Dissolve at the ready for a top-decked Sphinx's Revelation if it were to come, nevermind that Shenhar would have to deal with three potent planeswalkers even if a Revelation did resolve for him.
Then, Shenhar led with a Thoughtseize. Butakov grimaced, and aimed Dissolve at the discard-spell. In response, Shenhar fired off Sphinx's Revelation for eight, and Shenhar suddenly went from dire straights to a glimmer of hope. However it would be an up-hill battle, as Elspeth, Sun's Champion netted Butakov an emblem on the next turn, giving his tokens and his Mutavault some added oomph.
The second game had an interesting start, with Shenhar casting and resolving Nightveil Specter. This prompted Kiora, the Crashing Wave from Butakov, which went up to three loyalty in order to lock Nightveil Specter down for a turn. Shenhar responded with Detention Sphere, and when no lands came, Butakov cast Jace, Architect of Thought. The pile was split between two Dissolves and Kiora, the Crashing Wave, with Butakov taking the planeswalker and passing without his fifth land.
Shenhar had Jace, Architect of his own, which got him a land and Syncopate before his Specter took out Butakov's copy of the planeswalker. Shenhar passed with two up, but lossed his Jace to a Mistcutter Hydra for two from Butakov on the next turn. Nightveil Specter got Shenhar an Island on his first successful attack into Butakov. Elspeth, Sun's Champion met Negate, and a second Jace, Architect of Thought from Butakov found the Russian player two basic lands before succumbing to the Specter.
An attempt at a second Kiora, the Crashing Wave started a counter-war, with Shenhar coming out ahead. An attack from Nightveil Specter found Shenhar Jace, Architect of Thought, which he cast into Butakov's Negate, content to let his free spell off of the Specter go to the graveyard. Brimaz, King of Oreskos warranted Detention Sphere from Shenhar, which resolved after an ensuing counter-battle, but cleared the way for Butakov to resolve Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Jace, Architect of Thought came off of another Nightveil Specter attack, giving Shenhar another in-play threat as it went to five loyalty.
A second Nightveil Specter, however, walked into a drawn Detention Sphere for Butakov, exiling both of Shenhar's flying creatures. A Mutavault activation and the Hydra dropped Jace to three loyalty. Jace went to one, finding Shenhar a Dispel and Island, and when Shenhar passed, he unleashed a Sphinx's Revelation for six on Butakov's upkeep.
This cleared the way, however, for Butakov to resolve a top-decked Jace, Memory Adept, which went to work on depleting through Shenhar's deck. Despite having a full hand, Shenhar was now being attacked on two fronts, and when a Sphinx's Revelation for two found no answer out of the situation, Shenhar offered the handshake.
Butakov 2 – Shenhar 0