Once referred to as a magic-playing god, Jon Finkel has lost his aura of invincibility. Could he really fall of the "gravy train?" In a word: yes. He split his first four matches and needed at least two wins and probably a 2-0-1 mark to get the Top 128 finish he needs to earn an invitation to this year's World Championships. Failing that he'll have to make the U.S. National team or cross his fingers and hope for a fairly sketchy ratings-based invite if he wants to maintain his streak of having played in every Pro Tour ever. Finkel's long-time friend Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz had already picked up a fatal third loss when Finkel sat down at a really tough 2-2 table.
He walked up to the able alongside Mike Turian, who commented "tough table ... three Pro Tour winners." Finkel looked at the list again and asked "Who else won a Pro Tour?" Uhh ... Farid [Merahgni]. "Which one did he win?" Well ... the last Limited one. Finkel showed that he too realizes how out of touch he has gotten, lamenting "I wish I wasn't sh*t ... I need to 3-0 this table." In addition, to Turian and Meraghni, the table included Gerard Fabiano (who finished Top 16 in Osaka and would be feeding Finkel) and another Neutral Ground regular – Scott McCord.
Finkel used the full time to debate his first pick – Flame Burst
or Ivy Elemental
? He settled on the Flame Burst
, perhaps influenced by the fact that he was passing to renowned green mage Mike Turian. I saw that Fabiano also first-picked a burn spell (Firebolt
) and knew Finkel might be in for a long draft. Finkel then followed up his Flame Burst
with a Werebear
). Luckily for Finkel, Turian had opened up Cephalid Looter
and thus declined the Ivy Elemental
in favor of a Syncopate
. So they didn't wind up fighting over green.
Pack 3 showed Jon a Squirrel Mob, Thermal Blast, Pardic Firecat, and Krosan Avenger. He took the Avenger and had pretty clearly decided to draft an ultra-aggressive green-red deck. He didn't even consider the 4th pick Mystic Zealot that was available to him – Wild Dog was what his deck demanded. (Turian scooped up the Zealot and decided he was the one who was switching into white.) Finkel debated long and hard about his 5th pick: Krosan Avenger #2 or Mad Dog #2. He normal Finkel confidence wasn't really in evidence as he debated until time was called, started to draft the Avenger, and then changed his mind at the last possible second to the Dog. His next pick was Seton Desire over Barbarian Lunatic and Metamorphic Wurm – two cards he explained later that he thinks are highly overrated.
I walked around the table after the first pack to see how Finkel's position looked and the obvious answer was "not good." Fabiano was also drafting red-green right in front of him. Fabiano had taken Dwarven Strike Force and Muscle Burst out of those early packs before Finkel took his Mad Dogs.
Pack 2 didn't really bring Finkel any bombs. He first-picked a Reckless Charge
and followed up with Chainflinger
. The rest of the pack just gave him Nantuko Disciple
, Rites of Spring
, a couple Mad Dog
s, a Leaf Dancer
, and a Demoralize
Finkel's Torment pack presented him with another tough choice: Nantuko Cultivator or Fiery Temper? Finkel decided on the Cultivator. He then took Sonic Seizure over Flaming Gambit before getting passed a card that made him very very happy: Narcissism. That's exactly what he and his four Mad Dogs needed to see. The rest of Torment didn't give him anything special – a couple Pardic Lancers, a couple Petravarks, and a couple Nantuko Calmers give him lots of mediocre options when he sits down to build his deck.
All in all, Finkel's deck seemed "ok." That's how he described it and that's how it looked to me too. It doesn't look good enough to win the table, but it's got a shot and that's what Finkel needs to do to stay on the train.