There are two bespectacled combatants sitting across from one another, and they’ve been circling all weekend at the top tables. It’s fitting that they meet here in the finals. They are both regulars to the lights, though their boyish demeanors suggest otherwise, and they both know how to play some high stakes Magic.
Madisonian Matt Severa, running Mardu Vehicles, has had a fruitful 2016. He had three Grand Prix Top 8s already, and this fourth, in the waning weeks of the year, brings his lifetime total to six. It’s definitely his best year on record. If he wins this match, he will tie Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Olivier Ruel’s record of three Grand Prix wins in a year!
Sitting across from him was a man many used to call the “quiet Platinum.” Sixth-ranked Steve Rubin achieved the highest Pro Player status with just consistent finishes at Grand Prix and Pro Tours and no high-profile, attention grabbing headlines. But that all seems like ancient history now. Between the end of 2014 and now Steve Rubin has racked up six Grand Prix Top 8s, and, oh yeah, has become the Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad champion. His bona fides are well documented.
Rubin was running the newest hotness—Temur Aetherworks. The original brainchild of Shaun McLaren, disseminated to the masses in a variety of ways, the deck has made a huge Grand Prix entrance this weekend, and just might take home the trophy to boot.
The matchup against Mardu Vehicles is sticky. Unlike Red-Green Aetherworks, the Temur deck has few to no Kozilek’s Return in the maindeck, a card known to keep the aggression in check. Though when Aetherworks gets going it’s basically unstoppable, Mardu has a variety of ways to invalidate early aggro-thwarting efforts. Unlicensed Disintegration and Thalia, Heretic Cathar can be just the tempo play necessary to keep Temur on its toes.
But never, ever, underestimate Ishkanah, Grafwidow. It’s a recipe for a loss. Every. time.
Severa was on the play—which came in handy for the aggro deck—and the Madison native took advantage of his half-step starting lead. Inventor’s Apprentice into Smuggler’s Copter, into Thalia, Heretic Cathar—ATTACK!
Severa’s first-game plan was on point, but it was also necessary. Severa needed all pistons firing early to get the jump on the combolicious Aetherworks Marvel before it starts spitting out Emrakul, the Promised End and friends.
“Ooo ... K,” Rubin said has he processed the start from his opponent. He cast Harnessed Lightning on Copter to slow things down, while also limiting the card selection for Severa.
Rubin, down to 15 life after the opening Severa salvo, was in no rush. He had his Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot for some life cushion; he had his Whirler Virtuoso for some blockers; he was chill. But under that cool exterior, the pressure was mounting, especially because (a) the Thopters from the Virtuoso came into play tapped (thanks, Thalia); (b) Severa turned the Virtuoso to ashes (thanks, Unlicensed Disintegration); and (c) Severa was constantly turning everything sideways (thanks, Matt).
With an additional Scrapheap Scrounger on Severa’s squad, Rubin’s life total dwindled quickly. Squad attack: down to 7. Squad attack: down to 4.
Rubin was on a sinking ship, but he was plugging the holes as he could. Two Thopters ganged up to take down the Scrounger, and he was buying time for the big hitters. But soon it was do or die. Rubin was out of blockers and was at 1 life. Severa had a slew of attackers.
Rubin untapped, slammed down the Aetherworks Marvel and spun the wheel of fate. Usually, one would think “Ding! Ding Ding! We have a winner!” when Marvel lets loose a 13/13 flying, trample, in Emrakul, the Promised End. But not this time. There were too many creatures on Severa’s side. And the damned thing came into play tapped to boot (thanks again, Thalia).
Rubin was toast.
In the second game however, Rubin was on the play. This was pivotal in setting up the necessary defenses. He had an early Harnessed Lightning, powered up thanks to Whirler Virtuoso—and it took down a Cultivator’s Caravan quite earlier than expected.
“I usually can’t do that,” Rubin said as he watched the vehicle hit the bin. When talking about the Temur Aetherworks deck yesterday, Rubin had said that often the most integral part of Virtuoso is just the energy boost. Here, thanks to the blue-red creature, Rubin was up a creature and Severa was down a 5/5.
For Severa, having the Caravan gone took the wind out of his sails. His Toolcraft Exemplar and Scrapheap Scrounger weren’t able to push through effectively—especially after Rubin cast a naked Ishkanah, Grafwidow. All Severa’s damage output was halted.
Rubin had eight land in play before Severa could even consider attacking again—he had an Unlicensed Disintegration for the spider ready. But even that was ineffectual after a mid-combat Kozilek’s return just wiped his board and Rubin cast another spider.
The game went on for many turns after that, but it was over since Caravan ate the dust. Severa just shrugged his shoulders and scooped them up for the third game, saying “Yeah, there’s no way out of this.”
In the rubber game Severa was back on the play. When Rubin started with two Vessel of Nascency, Severa must have liked his chances early. Despite Rubin having a Natural State for Smuggler’s Copter, it often takes more than one spell to stop Mardu’s creature flow.
But Severa knew his time on top was limited. He had two cards in hand, and his opponent’s Vessel revealed some big hits like Ishkanah and Kozilek’s Return. Rubin took the Ishkanah, Grafwidow, as he still had only Forests showing. This mana imperfection could be just the wagon Severa could hitch a win upon—assuming he could fight through those spiders.
Severa made a +1/+1 emblem from Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and sent his little one-mana weenies in there. Rubin sunk to 3 life, and he was still with only forests in play. But the Ishkanah was imminent. How could Severa punch through the last damage?
Rubin dropped to 1 setting up the best board stabilizer this side of Innistrad, but Severa through a wrench in the works just before Ishkanah could rescue Rubin—Thalia, Heretic Cathar. Right before Rubin would stabilize, Thalia made it so the spiders would come into play tapped, and do nothing to help Rubin stave off death.
Steve Rubin untapped and drew, then looked at his cards—then extended his hand.
Matt Severa has earned the Grand Prix Denver trophy—his first individual trophy, but his third overall for the year—defeating Steve Rubin 2-1.