Pro Tour-New York 2000 Quarterfinal Recap
by Alex Shvartsman
When one refers to a "mirror match" it is usually understood that the two decks facing each other pursue the same general strategy. In the case of the quarterfinal match between Mattias Kettil (Sweden) and John Larkin (Ireland). Their aggro-rebel decks are virtually identical - literally within two or three cards of each other.
Although Rebels have been an extremely common strategy in this Pro Tour (perhaps too common), there are many different philosophies as to how to build the deck correctly. Without going to the Distorting Lens-based control strateggy, some utilize a lot of direct creature removal such as Afterlife or Last Breath to battle for the Lin Sivvi control. Some include Parallax Wave or Wave of Reckoning but no direct removal. There is a number of Disenchants and Seals varying between two and six and a number of Reverent Mantras varying between two and four. Some decks play Ramosian Rally, some do not. In this case each of the two players is using Disenchantts, Parallax Waves, Rallies and Mantras as their non-creature spells. Even the creature set up is almost identical - except that Larkin is playing four Voice of Truth maindeck, providing him some advantage in this kind of match.
Speaking of the matchup itself, despite a great diversity between actual deck lists, most of these games are resolved via Reverent Mantra.
Typically a deck capable of dealing some early damage before the game is stalled has a considerable advantage. Almost always the decks will stabilize by turn six or seven at the latest where neither player can really attack. At this point, each deck attempts to build up their creatures as quickly as possible (Lin Sivvi advantage is crucial here). Once a deck has enough creatures out to kill an opponent in one turn (usually a few extra creatures to make sure an opponent does not escape his doom by casting a Last Breath), then attacks for the kill.
John Larkin won the coin toss and elected to play first. He got a very good opening hand including three lands, Lin Sivvi, Steadfast Guard and two Reverent Mantras. Actually, I am not sure he could have a much better hand if he was able to go through his library and choose seven cards.
He laid a Plains and his opponent opened with a Ramosian Sergeant. Instead of casting a second turn Guard, Larkin elected to play a Port and tap down Kettil's Plains to make sure he would not get Ported in return. Lin Sivvi made an entrance on the following turn.
Kettil's hand was quite good as well. He played a turn four Parallax Wave and used it to phase out Xena.. err, Lin Sivvi, and a Lieutenant that was just summoned. Kettil used this opportunity to cast his own Lin Sivvi. Since Xena is a Legendary Creature, Larkin's copy of it would find Kettil's already in play when it attempts to return after Parallax Wave is removed, and would be immediately buried.
Kettil went on to summon Jhovall Queen out of his deck while Larkin cast a Ramosian Sky Marshal. As counters on his Parallax Wave were running low, Kettil cast a second Wave. Larkin was ready with a Disenchant this time around, but he did end up taking a few more points of damage from the Queen that turn.
The game was stabilized next turn as Larkin summoned his own queen via Sky Marshal's ability.
Next turn Larkin cast a Reverent Mantra and attacked with his Queen and Steadfast Guard bringing an opponent down to 14. At that point all he could do is sit back and pray. After summoning another rebel at the end of Larkin's turn, Kettil had enough to win via Mantra, if he was holding one in his hand. Kettil drew a card and said "go," to a great relief of the Irish player.
Larkin went on to summon a guy, untap, cast his second Mantra and attack for exactly fourteen points of damage, winning the game despite the fact that he lost Lin Sivvi advantage very early on.
Although most Rebel matchups are far from exciting, this game was certainly interesting to watch.
As I was sitting on Larkin's side of the table, I was only able to check out his sideboard choices. The most interesting was bringing in four copies of Defender en-Vec. Consider what I wrote about the matchup above and you will see that this is a very wise sideboard choice. Defender completely changes the speed of the game. In a close race, Defender can buy Larkin those one-three extra turns he might need to Mantra an opponent out, while hiding behind an ability to prevent up to 8 points of damage.
As it became apparent later, Kettil boarded in his four Voice of Truth.
Kettil went first and played a Sergeant and Lin Sivvi in the first three turns. Larkin cast a Parallax Wave to remove both, but it was promptly Disenchanted. Kettil went on to "gate" several small rebels out of his deck while Larkin cast a Lieutenant and Defender en-Vec.
Kettil cast a Wave of his own, phasing out Lieutenant but leaving Defender alone to let it run out of counters. Larkin did not have another searcher and had few useful plays while Kettil's deck kept on producing 1 and 2 power creatures.
Larkin felt relatively safe for a few more turns, but he underestimated Kettil's ability to deal fast damage. Kettil went on to cast a Mantra, attack and double Rally, dealing a total of 24 points of damage! Defender en-Vec, which already lost most of its counters, was not enough to stop this massive onslaught and the players went on to the next game.
Larkin repeated his game 1 play to get a third turn Lin Sivvi on the table. He did however have to mulligan and failed to draw a fourth land for several turns, able to summon a small rebel per turn, but unable to do much else.
Kettil on the other hand drew no early rebels, but played a fourth and fifth turn Voices of Grace. Despite never casting a single searcher he was able to win via the Mantra/Rally combination before Larkin would have a chance to take advantage of all the free card economy he was generating.
Larkin was forced to mulligan yet again, but got a reasonable six-card hand. He went on to play a turn 2 Steadfast Guard. Kettil summoned a Ramosian Lieutenant.
Larkin attacked expecting to deal an easy couple of points, but Larkin blocked with his Lieutenant and cast a Rally. Larkin was happy to spend a Rally of his own to get rid of a searcher.
Kettil was willing to risk his searcher for a good reason - he was able to play a turn 3 Lin Sivvi, turn 4 Voice and turn 5 Wave. Altough Larkin was able to Disenchant the Wave immediately, he could not do very much else. He drew no searchers and could not draw a fourth land to start casting Defenders and Voices of his own.
It was very unlikely that Larkin would be able to make a comeback in this game, so he played very aggressively, trying to force Kettil into making a mistake or at least force him to trade some creatures in combat. This was not enough however as Kettil kept on applying the pressure.
A turn or two before losing the game, Larkin smiled and offered Kettil a money split. It was politely declined and Kettil advanced to the semifinals a few minuted later.
Kettil 3 - Larkin 1