Finals: Andrea Mengucci (Bant Company) vs. Steve Rubin (G/W Tokens)

Posted in Event Coverage on April 24, 2016

By Marc Calderaro

"I've removed my sideboard so many times now, I'm becoming unsure if I've done it correctly anymore," Steven Rubin lamented to his opponent Andrea Mengucci as they shuffled up for the final match. The fatigue was setting in. This isn't just three full days of Magic, it's three full days of Magic at the highest level.

Though both Rubin and Mengucci have received plenty of accolades, neither of these players had been in this position before. Rubin has gone deep in many Pro Tours and has Top 8'd three Grand Prix, while Mengucci has captured the World Magic Cup for his home country of Italy and finished in the quarterfinals of Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. But this was different. This was for the whole paella.

The weekend was getting to both of them. Mengucci slightly yawned.

"You need caffeine?" Rubin joked.

Mengucci laughed. "No. No, I am good. I'm good."

All the way back in Round 12, Steve Rubin said that was his first Pro Tour feature match. Despite being a Platinum pro and having finished in the Top 16 of multiple tournaments, somehow the lights eluded him. He's now quickly jumped up in number.

As anyone who's been in the position can tell you, it isn't an easy transition to make. Though both players looked confident and together, there was a lot riding on this match.

As far as the matchup went, Steve Rubin looked to have the advantage. But he had to protect his precious commodities: his planeswalkers. The way Rubin could go over the top of Mengucci is by leveraging these planeswalkers as reusable source of virtual card advantage. So protecting them was paramount.

But the Collected Company out of Mengucci's deck could create a cascading series of benefits that could just get out of hand. Most of that series included things like Reflector Mage.


The final match of the tournament came down to Italy's Andrea Mengucci and Steve Rubin of the United States. Who would take home the title of Pro Tour champion?

Before the tournament, many thought that Bant Company was the best deck in the format. After having a proportionally unsuccessful showing, and putting only one deck in the Top 8, it was now facing a disadvantaged finals match. Would this be where Andrea Mengucci reasserted the dominance of the deck? Or when a new crop of decks would join Bant Company at the top?

The Games

In the first game, Steve Rubin started by establishing enough board presence to protect his Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, while Mengucci's start was par for Company course with Duskwatch Recruiter, Tireless Tracker, and a Collected Company into Bounding Krasis and a second Duskwatch Recruiter.

It was solid, but the tokens and the counters were mounting on Rubin's side, in both planeswalker loyalty and +1/+1 counters. Mengucci would need to muster more to break through on the battlefield.

Neither life total was changing, and the board was gumming up. Mengucci had on his side the Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Duskwatch Recruiter card advantage going, while Rubin had his planeswalkers ever adding.

Then Rubin burst through the ceiling, casting Secure the Wastes for six. He attacked with a 6/6 Gideon, a 4/5 Thraben Inspector, and a bunch of 4/4 Knight Ally tokens, and had an army of 2/2 Warriors back to block. Thanks for all the power and toughness, Nissa!

Mengucci was fighting back the tides. His mid-combat Collected Company hit another Bounding Krasis and a Reflector Mage to dam the flood as best he could. Another Mage from his hand stopped Gideon attacking at least one more time.


Mengucci looked for a way to gain parity against Rubin's board advantages.

He tried, but he was drowning. Secure the Wastes had overwhelmed Mengucci. The final attack was six 3/3 Warriors and a 2/3 Plant seemingly suiciding themselves into a bunch of trades.

Mengucci lined up the blocks as best he could he could, but he knew what was coming. We all did. Archangel Avacyn flew onto the battlefield and saved all the attackers. Rubin lost nothing out of this deal, and Mengucci lost everything.

"Yeah, that's it," Mengucci said, and conceded the game.

As Rubin reached for his sideboard in between games, Mengucci corrected him. "No sideboards yet," he said. Mengucci had made the same mistake in the semifinals.

"Man, I do that every time," he said. The two main-deck games are a recent change, and it can be hard to break ritual and habit, especially at the end of this very long weekend.

In the second game, with Rubin up 1-0, he played an aggressive game. Rubin cast spare creatures while aggressively, while using his tricks to grow the ones he had. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was immediately cashed in for an emblem. Rubin's strategy was to grow his creatures larger than Mengucci's as fast as possible.

Mengucci needed to find answers fast. Collected Company found him two Sylvan Advocates, but they were only 2/3. Though they looked okay on the battlefield, they were no match for the new incoming threat. Rubin had found Archangel Avacyn again.

It came down, as impactful as usual, and completely sat on the scales.

But Mengucci might have found his way out. He transformed two Duskwatch Recruiters into Krallenhorde Howlers and used the mana discount to empty his hand. Because it included two Reflector Mages, he was able to make most of Rubin's board disappear. The only creatures that remained was a Thraben Inspector. Both the Avacyn and Hangarback Walker—with multiple counters—had to say goodbye.

Everything crashed in for Mengucci. Things were looking all right.

But Rubin still had a Secure the Wastes for backup. He cast it before blocks, then dropped to 8 life, while taking out both Sylvan Advocates and a Bounding Krasis.

Mengucci saw the writing on the wall. It was written on the other side of Westvale Abbey.

Before combat, all the remaining Warriors from Secure the Wastes were sacrificed to make Ormendahl, Profane Prince rise from the Abbey. With Avacyn, the Purifier completely destroying every creature Mengucci had, remaining was about it.

The Prince and Purifier team-up was a slaughter of diabolical proportions. Just like that, Rubin was up 2-0.

In the third game, with Mengucci's back against the wall, he used Tragic Arrogance and Reflector Mage to halt the early game from Rubin. However, though this halted Rubin's progress, it didn't manufacture Mengucci any real advantage. Two turns later, Gideon was back down, as was a new Archangel Avacyn.

But then Mengucci caught a break.

Rubin attacked in with his Avacyn before making a Gideon emblem. He failed to play around an Avacyn that he all but knew was there. Indestructible 4/4 Avacyn beats destructible 4/4 Avacyn.

"That was not a good play," Rubin said to himself. He shook his head. This was the first time the fatigue had hit hard. But it would not be the last in this game, for either player.

Mengucci took advantage and dinged Rubin to 9 life. Rubin was trying to get back his composure. He was clearly rattled by the last play; he inhaled and exhaled strongly a couple times, and composed himself.


Rubin fought through the fatigue of a three-day blockbuster in a final match that challenged all of his concentration.

Rubin used Dromoka's Command to make an able-bodied Hangarback Walker fight Avacyn in the middle of her combat. This gave Mengucci pause. He wondered whether it was worth it to save her with a second Avacyn. He decided to do it, then regretted it immediately. The fatigue is real. Mengucci shook his head.

Rubin used Tragic Arrogance off the top and really punished him. In the end of the exchange, Rubin had five 2/2 Thopters to Mengucci's Reflector Mage and Jace, Telepath Unbound. But even then Rubin thought that was a mistake too. And he could do nothing but shrug when Mengucci used Tragic Arrogance right back, and swung the game his way. If he'd just used his Westvale Abbey, he would have been protected from Tragic Arrogance.

A few turns later, Mengucci swung for the win, and said, "I'm glad that one's over."

"Not the best game for us both," Rubin said shaking his head. "I just couldn't catch my feet in that game."

It's very easy to watch from a screen, or even from two feet away, and think this is just another game. But these two were under the most immense pressure they've likely felt in their Magic careers, after a long three days.

And they both handled it like champs. Rubin immediately brushed it off as the two talked in between games. "I don't feel bad at all." Mengucci was the same, saying that getting emotional about individual games is not how you win tournaments.

In the fourth game, with Rubin up 2-1, both players kicked off with a mulligan. But that didn't stop the board from getting flooded with creatures.

The position became poor quickly for Andrea Mengucci. He had large ground creatures, but Plants were stopping them from being productive, and a fast Avacyn (now a 6/6 thanks to an emblem and a +1/+1 counter) was doing real damage in the air.

Mengucci cast Reflector Mage to bounce the Avacyn, but Rubin had a second in his hand, and he thought hard about casting it. Surely he remembered when Mengucci cast his unneeded, so he took extra care deciding. Though Rubin is self-assured and deliberate in his actions, this was the first time I caught his hands trembling just a little as he cast the card.

It worked like a charm. On the next attack he sunk Mengucci to 4. Mengucci had nothing to stop the flier and was searching desperately for the answer.

His Pro Tour finals hope hung in the balance, and he was doing everything in his power to keep it alive. He sunk in his chair and sighed audibly.

On the next attack, Rubin swung with everything: a 4/5 Thraben Inspector, two 3/4 Plants, a 2/3 Plant, a 6/6 Avacyn, and a 6/7 Sylvan Advocate. See how this deck beats Bant Company?

Mengucci had one out: after blocks, cast Ojutai's Command, draw Collected Company, then cast it and hit Reflector Mage.

After he drew the card, Mengucci extended his hand and said strongly, "Steve Rubin, Pro Tour Champion."

On the same weekend as his first Pro Tour feature match, Steve Rubin has won his first Pro Tour.


Congratulations to Steve Rubin, Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad Champion!

Andrea Mengucci: Bant Company

Steve Rubin: Green-White Tokens

 

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