Belarus had entered this second stage of pool play as the number one team in the tournament. They had also won the previous round, so another victory here would already secure them a spot in the Top 8.
Previous year's champions Denmark had also won Round 11. But they were the third of the four teams in their pool, which meant that they could still be out with a Round 12 victory, assuming that all three of the remaining matches (Guatemala–Paraguay, Belarus–Paraguay, and Denmark–Guatemala) went to Denmark's disadvantage. In all likelihood, they were playing for Top 8 here as well.
The Danes had brought Atarka Red, 4-Color Rally, and White-Black Tokens. Rally master Martin Müller was again playing that deck, but Martin Dang and Christoffer Larsen had exchanged decks since yesterday. Dang, who had won a Pro Tour with Atarka Red earlier this year, told me with a wink, "I guess Atarka's Command is just my card."
Belarus was in with a win. Denmark was likely in with a win. The pressure was on. Who would advance?
Meanwhile, Belarus came equipped with Naya Ramp, Esper Dragons, and Abzan Aggro, piloted by Pavel Miadzvedski, Evgeniy Zakharenkov, and, Nikita Scherbakov, respectively.
Seat C: Nikita Scherbakov (Abzan) vs. Martin Dang (Atarka Red)
Unsurprisingly, the match between the two aggro decks finished first, despite going to a full three games. In the first, Dang made a lot of Goblin tokens with three Dragon Fodders and forced Scherbakov to tap out for creatures to keep up. Become Immense plus Temur Battle Rage ended things quickly.
The second game began well for Scherbakov, who took Dang's Dragon Fodder with Duress and his Zurgo Bellstriker with Ultimate Price. But Dang had more Fodder and Hordeling Outbursts as well, while Scherbakov was dealing with all of Dang's creatures exclusively on a one-for-one basis. Siege Rhino at least did a little better and was traded against Abbot of Keral Keep plus Wild Slash.
Scherbakov went all the way to 1 before finally stabilizing with the help of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Dang didn't draw a burn spell. Scherbakov drew and cast Warden of the First Tree! Dang again didn't have a burn spell. He had to watch helplessly as Scherbakov went back to 4 and turned the game.
Nikita Scherbakov squares off against an army of 1/1 Martins.
The third game saw Dang cast Monastery Swiftspear, Dragon Fodder, Wild Slash for Scherbakov's first creature, then Hordeling Outburst, and finally Atarka's Command on consecutive turns and Scherbakov never stood a chance.
Seat B: Evgeniy Zakharenkov (Esper Dragons) vs. (17) Martin Müller (Rally)
As usual, this was a lengthy and grindy affair. Zakharenkov managed to kill all of Müller's more threatening creatures, like Grim Haruspex and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, with spot removal. He also had his own Jace and managed to keep Jace, Telepath Unbound around for a long, long time. He was able to almost never expose himself to Collected Company or Rally the Ancestors too. However, what Zakharenkov didn't have was a reasonably early Dragonlord Ojutai, and Müller was aware that the Dragon was the key to the pre-board matchup and knew exactly how to exploit this. He mostly got there by attacking with the likes of Elvish Visionary and Catacomb Sifter.
Martin Müller observes his options as his compatriots play on.
In the second game, Zakharenkov was able to kill an early Nantuko Husk and then cast Infinite Obliteration. Müller slumped in his chair, but to his surprise Zakharenkov named Zulaport Cutthroat, of which there were only two copies left in Müller's deck anyway. An Arashin Cleric playing defense for Zakharenkov was another unexpected sight. Combined with the fact that Müller now had Fleshbag Marauder instead of useless Sidisi's Faithful, Müller had an easier time now than in the first game.
Seat A: Pavel Miadzvedski (Naya Ramp) vs. Christoffer Larsen (W/B Tokens)
White-Black Tokens wasn't exactly famous for its aggressive nature. Threats like Hangarback Walker or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar were more of the "slow and steady wins the race" variety. Neither did the deck have the tools to disrupt the game plan of Ramp. Already facing one Dragonlord Atarka, for example, Larsen cast Duress only to see Dragonlord Dromoka and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger waiting in Miadzvedski's hand. So game one was as lopsided as Larsen when he hung his head after it.
However, sideboarding changed the dynamic of the matchup dramatically. For one thing, Miadzvedski brought in some dubious sideboard cards in Rending Volley and Winds of Qal Sisma. He also didn't want to cut any Jaddi Offshoots, but something had to go, so he shaved a couple of ramp spells and a few of the bigger threats. This, of course, made Larsen's sideboarded Infinite Obliterations even better, on the back of which the Dane was able to take game two.
In the end, Miadzvedski may have been in a position to win the third game, thanks in no small part to additional sideboard material in Radiant Flames and Gaea's Revenge. But since Larsen's teammates had both won, this was never completed.
Denmark 2-0 Belarus