There was a time when Jon Finkel was considered the best player in history, and that everyone else was on a level below him. Over the past few years, Kai Budde has taken that title away, while Jon has been struggling to stay on the Tour, much less winning them. However, he started today in top form, with a perfect 4-0 record going into his second draft table. It's still a bit early to tell, but the Finkel of old may be back, and ready to make a run at the Top 8 stage. It's a place he used to be very familiar with, but hasn't visited lately.
Finkel opened the first pack, and it contained Gratuitous Violence, Elven Riders, Barkhide Mauler, Swat, Mistform Dreamer and Daunting Defender. Surprisingly, Finkel took the Riders over Gratuitous Violence, which went to Tiago Chan on his left. As the pack came around Ruel could have fought for green by wheeling Leery Fogbeast and Vitality Charm, but took Riptide Biologist and Aphetto Alchemist instead. Chan opened the next pack and grabbed Cruel Revival. When the pack got to Finkel, he got an incredible wheel of Elvish Warrior and Wellwisher. In the third pack he took a Barren Moor, signaling that he wanted to go into black as a second color. Elvish Warrior and Treespring Lorian arrived in the next two packs, and Finkel continued with his Elf theme by taking an earlier-than-usual Wirewood Pride.
Haunted Cadaver cemented Finkel into black, and the next pack gave him an impressive eighth pick Severed Legion. Meanwhile, Eugene Harvey on the other side of the table got Jareth, Leonine Titan. A late Snarling Undorak got to Finkel in the following pack. One pick that stood out was taking Festering Goblin over Screeching Buzzard. At that point, Finkel already had two Elvish Warriors, and the Goblin didn't work well with his curve. Aside from that, many consider Screeching Buzzard to be the better card anyway. A third Elvish Warrior found its way into Finkel's deck, and Johnny Magic opened a bomb in Visara the Dreadful. As the packs wound down, he got a Cruel Revival, and some more Elves to supplement his strategy. Harvey got a Silent Specter across the table to give his already solid deck a second bomb.
Sideboard: How do you think it went?
Finkel: Fine. I knew Gratuitous Violence was good, but I didn't know how good it was. Also, I knew that Ruel was going to end up drafting blue. Maybe I should have taken Gratuitous Violence, I don't know.
Sideboard: How much have you drafted with this set?
Finkel: I haven't played in a month.
Sideboard: So you don't know this set at all?
Finkel: I know the set kind of well, but I hadn't played with that card (Gratuitous Violence). These aren't that good (Wirewood Pride) but I'm going to play them.
Sideboard: Yeah I noticed that. You took one over a Wirewood Herald...
Finkel: Actually, Pride is pretty good in my deck. I might play this thing (Everglove Courier). You don't even have to activate it, you can just attack with their Elves and they won't block because you could activate it.
There was a conversation that Brian David-Marshall, Zvi, Ben Bleiweiss and myself were having yesterday, and Zvi was saying that Rochester draft is not a skill intensive format. He said it's more like sealed because if everyone is cooperating, the cards just fall into designated seats. Brian's response was that if you watch Jon Finkel Rochester draft, he's very good at bouncing cards off the right people and manipulating the table to his advantage.Finkel:
I don't know. I used to be a lot better at that. You have to know when to...it's obvious, you know? Like if you're playing white and so is this guy, and he's not playing red you take the worse white card for the better red card.
Some of these cards (Courier and Pride) aren't that good, but if I get second turn Elvish Warrior they're a lot better. My deck's not that bad because there were a lot of Shocks at the table.
Sideboard: Yeah, that I noticed and if you have three Elvish Warriors that works out really well.
Finkel: (Aphetto) Dredgings should be pretty good in my deck too.
Sideboard: The one pick that I was really confused about was Festering Goblin over Screeching Buzzard.
Finkel: I don't know. I like the Goblin a lot.
Sideboard: Well, you had two Elvish Warriors by then.
Finkel: It's not as good first turn as it would be otherwise, but if I draw my Festering Goblin and Elvish Warrior, and two forests and a swamp...I have to draw all five of those cards in my opening hand for it to be relevant.
Sideboard: Most people say the Buzzard is better than the Goblin anyway.
Finkel: Maybe it is, I don't know. I like a little beater.
Sideboard: How do you think you'll do with this deck?
Finkel: I don't know. 2-1?
Sideboard: Are there any specific matchups you're afraid of, anyone at the table who scares you?
Finkel: I think Eugene's deck is pretty good. The guy to my left has a pretty good deck too. A guy playing blue across from me has some good cards but he's obviously bad. He took the 2/3 flier (Thoughtbound Primoc) over Solar Blast and Pinpoint Avalanche.