Semifinals: Steve Rubin (G/W Tokens) vs. (2) Seth Manfield (Esper Control)

Posted in Event Coverage on April 24, 2016

By Tobi Henke

The other semifinals had ended with a close 3-2 victory for Andrea Mengucci over Shota Yasooka. Now it was time to decide who would meet Mengucci and his Bant Company deck in the finals.

Vying for the honor were Steve Rubin and Seth Manfield. They, along with Brad Nelson, were actually all members of the same team not too long ago. However, they had found that they didn't work very well as a unit and had all joined other groups before the event. So it was a strange kind of reunion when the three of them all found themselves in the Top 8 here at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, each under a different banner and playing a different deck.

Reigning World Champion Seth Manfield was running East West Bowl's planeswalker-centric version of Esper Control. Platinum pro Steve Rubin was on the Green-White Tokens deck chosen by most of Face to Face Games. While the matchup had clearly assigned roles with one player on the attack and the other on defense, their decklists shared quite a distinctive feature: with eight planeswalkers on either side, both came prepared to grind.


The former Blitz team members were now two matches away from a Pro Tour title. There was just one problem: only one was going to advance.

The Games

Rubin's early creatures weren't able to take down Manfield's turn four Narset Transcendent and were subsequently all taken out by Planar Outburst. This left an opening for Rubin to resolve Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. But when Manfield used Narset's second ability before casting Dark Petition and searched up a Ruinous Path to kill the opposing planeswalker, things were definitely looking grim for Rubin.

More creatures and removal spells were traded, with Narset providing a steady stream of card advantage. When another Gideon and his Ally both died to Silumgar's Command, Rubin was finally out of threats, with the exception of Westvale Abbey.

However, one 1/1 token per turn was hardly a match for Manfield's planeswalkers, plural, as he first added Jace, Unraveler of Secrets and then Sorin, Grim Nemesis to his team of super-friends. Sphinx of the Final Word indeed had the final word.

In the second game, Rubin led with a pair of Hangarback Walkers, which were both tapped for a second counter on subsequent turns, and both died at the hands of Grasp of Darkness, one in response, one later.


Steve Rubin has many things that can fall to Manfield's removal, but he also possesses the ability to reload very quickly.

Meanwhile, one Gideon, Ally of Zendikar ran into Spell Shrivel and another resolved. Languish left Rubin with just that Gideon. But Gideon's attack already brought Manfield to low life, and Manfield didn't have an answer. Secure the Wastes secured a quick win for Rubin.

The third game saw both players fighting over planeswalkers. First, Manfield's Jace, Vryn's Prodigy was lost to Declaration in Stone. Then, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar left behind a Plant token before becoming the target of an Anguished Unmaking. The same fate, with a slightly larger legacy, befell Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and another Nissa was sent on a Ruinous Path.

In the meantime, Rubin had been able to get a little offense going with Sylvan Advocate, while Manfield transformed Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Another Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was destroyed by Ruinous Path, cast from the graveyard with the help of Jace, Telepath Unbound.

Still, Rubin's tokens and Sylvan Advocate remained, killed the planeswalker in combat, and brought Manfield to 10. Next, Sigarda, Heron's Grace and Sorin, Grim Nemesis effectively traded. A 3/3 Hangarback Walker continued the pressure on Manfield just the same.


Now a World Champion, Seth Manfield was just two matches away from the Pro Tour title that has thus far eluded him.

In the end, two 0/1 Plant tokens from earlier, the Hangarback Walker, and two other creatures were sacrificed to Westvale Abbey, and Manfield conceded.

Manfield had his back against the wall now, but at least he was playing first. This way, he had already summoned Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet when Rubin cast his second creature, another Thraben Inspector to go with his first.

Kalitas never stopped attacking and was joined on Manfield's side of the battlefield by Narset Transcendent and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. A rebounding Anguished Unmaking put Rubin further behind. And the fact that Hangarback Walkers of various sizes didn't leave behind any tokens (because of both Anguished Unmaking and Kalitas) made it impossible for Rubin to recover.

One more game. Once more, Rubin would enjoy the luxury of being on the play. And he made the most of it. He once again cast Hangarback Walkers on turns two and three, and turned the first into a 2/2 on the upkeep of Manfield's third turn.

Manfield didn't have a response, and neither did he have a source of blue mana, leaving him unable to stop Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. He did have Choked Estuary plus Languish on turn four, but that still left Rubin with three Thopters plus Gideon. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar turned those four into a 12-power force, which took Manfield to 5.

Silumgar's Command destroyed Gideon and made one of the Thopters disappear, yet the next attack still brought Manfield down to 1. The Magic community held its collective breath.

Rubin passed the turn.

Manfield played a sixth land and passed the turn back to Rubin, who cast Archangel Avacyn at end of turn.

Manfield extended his hand. "Good games," he said.

I asked Rubin afterward what he thought about the match. Did he expect it to be this close?

"Well, I wouldn't say it's a great matchup," said Rubin. He mentioned the important influence of sideboards, both in adding key cards and in getting rid of more or less useless cards from the main deck. He also stressed the importance of playing first. "I won both games that I was on the play."

Looking to the future, to the one match still remaining in the tournament, Rubin said he considered the matchup against Bant Company about even and was expecting another close match...

Steve Rubin defeats Seth Manfield 3-2 and advances to the finals!

Seth Manfield: Esper Control

Steve Rubin: Green-White Tokens

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