If tables could speak, they would probably make more sense to a confused coverage reporter than these two Siberian players battling it out in round 6 at Grand Prix Moscow.
Magic Online cover boy, and 2012 Magic Online champion Dmitriy Butakov lives in Barnaul in Siberia. And although his 25-year-old opponent Maxim Balaev "only" lives 1500 kilometers away, in Kurgan. The players weren't acquainted before the match. "Siberia is big, and full of bears," Butakov said, jokingly as we discussed the players hometowns.
Maxim Balaev had opted for the most popular archetype this weekend, Mono-Black. Deciding however, to go with the old school version without any splashes. Hoping to overwhelm his opponents with Nightveil Spectre, Pack Rat and card advantage from Underworld Connections.
For people who follow Magic Online or Grand Prix coverage, Dmitriy Butakov's deck choice shouldn't come as a surprise. He was with Blue/White/Green Control, featuring no creatures, but an array of Planeswalkers like Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Kiora, the Crashing Wave and Jace, Architect of Thought. If fact he piloted the same deck to a 42nd place finish at Grand Prix Phoenix a few months ago.
Maxim Balaev won the die roll and started with the classic opening of scryland, go. Butakov responded with one of his own and passed the turn back. The action got considerably more intense when Balaev fired of back to back Thoughtseizes on his following turns. The first one seeing Supreme Verdict, Azorius Charm, Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Detention Sphere in Butakov's hand. Opting to discard the Detention Sphere. His smiled was turned upside down into a frown when Butakov however, stopped his second Thoughtseize with a freshly drawn Dissolve.
Balaev tried his chances with Nightveil Specter, not too optimistic about it's chances after just having seen Butakov's hand. Butakov laid another scryland, and passed the turn.
Balaev's Nightveil Spectre took out Jace, but he had no further play, just passing the turns with 4 lands in play and a hand filled with two Gray Merchant of Asphodel and multiple copies of Devour Flesh. Butakov cleared Balaev's board with Supreme Verdict, and when his Siberian countryman couldn't muster any further offense he cast one of two Elspeth, Sun's Champion that Balaev knew he was holding and started building an army of Soldiers.
Balaev tried a third Nightveil Specter and Butakov's Soldier army grew bigger, threatening to ultimate Elspeth in two turns. Nightveil Spectre attacked Elspeth, now at 7 loyalty, but was met with Last Breath and Balaev passed the turn.
Butakov calmly attacked with his tokens, rather than activating it's ultimate to threaten lethal damage, but losing Elspeth in the process, and being vulnerable to Bile Blight. A play that instantly got rewarded, as his soldier army indeed was killed with Bile Blight. Balaev drew for his turn and found ...
... Hero's Downfall. But he knew he wasn't out of it yet, as he remembered Butakov holding another copy of the Planeswalker. The Soldier army kept growing, and even though a Grey Merchant of Asphodel gained some life back, Balaev knew he was out of the game when Butakov added Kiora, the Crashing Wave to his side, and conceded on his turn, drawing nothing but more Devour Flesh.
For sideboarding, Maxim Balaev took out all of his removal (Bile Blight and Devour Flesh), to strengthen his deck with Duress, Erebos, God of the Dead and other cards that are strong against the control archetype, which is a tough matchup, especially in game one, where the black deck has a lot of dead cards.
Dueling scrylands started the second game, where the first play was a Lifebane Zombie from Balaev, once again getting to see his opponents hand, but once again not being able to do much about it. Butakov held two copies of Detention Sphere, Kiora, the Crashing Wave and Elspeth Sun's Champion.
One of the revealed Spheres took care of the Zombie, and Balaev knew he would have to keep his best threats for last with both Sphere's and Planeswalkers in Butakov's hand.
His turn four Desecration Demon was met with Kiora, the Crashing Wave, which he promptly took out with Hero's Downfall, before Butakov, in a chess like manner of back and forth moves took out the demon with his second Detention Sphere.
A Nightveil Spectre on his following turn was met with Jace, Architect of Thoughts, netting Butakov two cards before be played his crucial sixth land, threatening Elspeth of his next turn.
Butakov did indeed have the Supreme Verdict and cleared the board.
Balaev drew for his turn, an Underworld Connections, that he cast and instantly activated to draw a card, but with all lands and no threats he had no more moves this time.
Butakov had one more Planeswalker up his sleeve however, and quickly slammed down Jace, Memory Adept on the table. And counted a while before deciding to mill ten cards from Balaev library, with only two copies of Hero's Downfall left in it to answer the Planeswalker.
Maxim drew for his turn, activated Underworld Connections and played a scryland. Thinking about his scry, which prompted a smile from Butakov, who would most likely mill the card away anyway on his turn.
Another ten cards were shaved of Balaev's deck on Butakov's turn. Time running out to find an answer before his deck would be completely depleted. He did however, once again, draw a crucial Hero's Downfall, but again it was too little too late, as Butakov held a Dissolve, and his next mill left only 10 cards in Balaev's library.
With only one Hero's Downfall left in his deck Balaev would have to draw it the next turn not to be milled out by Jace.
When he didn't he instantly extended his hand in defeat. More Russian conversation followed, and both players surely wished each other good luck for the rest of the tournament.
Maxim Balaev still needing one more win to make Day Two, and Dmitriy Butakov with this victory earned his spot in tomorrow's competition.
Dmitriy Butakov defeats Maxim Balaev 2-0