Six months ago most people had written off Jon Finkel. He was no longer the most feared player in the game and many people felt the game had passed him by. Sure his talent was unquestioned, but he wasn't doing the preparation work that's necessary to stay on top and he had turned into some bizarre sort of sideshow. "Hey everybody, look, it's the Finkel. Remember back when he was god-like? Better watch him now before he disappears forever." Finkel (who has played in more Pro Tours (all of them) than anyone else in the game) fell under the 20-Pro Tour point threshold that's necessary to get automatically invited. He picked up at invitation to Houston thanks to his participation in the Magic Invitational and he got into Chicago based on his rating.
A funny thing happened on the way to the retirement home. Maybe Finkel was inspired to work again when Kai Budde passed him on the all-time career money list. Maybe Finkel just started enjoying Magic again. Maybe Finkel's skills never went away at all and he had just had a run of bad luck for the previous year. Whatever the case, Finkel posted Top 8 number 10 in Chicago in January and his semi-final match against Kai Budde was one of the most anticipated, most watched Top 8 matches in the history of the game.
Budde has been widely considered the best player in the game for a couple of years now, and his results are so much better than everyone else's that they've become almost boring. The German Juggernaut comes across as somewhere between smug and arrogant and despite his justification for that attitude, a lot of spectators would really enjoy watching some rival evolve that could wipe that grin off of his face every once in a while. How much fun would it be if "Jonny Magic" was the guy who did it?
Finkel lost that match in Chicago, and Budde went on to win his record-extending 7th Pro Tour, but this week in Yokohama things have been different. Budde was eliminated from the event on day 1 while Finkel posted an impressive 6-1 record. Finkel also won his first round Saturday morning before sitting down to this feature match against Dutchman Frank Karsten...
Finkel missed his turn 3 land drop in game 1, but he found land #3 on turn 4. His Nantuko Husk
(and assorted other creatures) prevented Karsten from attacking with any of his own ground weenies, and so not much happened on the early turns of the game. On turn 6 Karsten summoned Rorix Bladewing
to the battlefield and started attacking. Finkel was able to play out enough flying blockers to potentially gang-block the big dragon, but Karsten played his eighth land and tapped them all for Insurrection
. Finkel could do nothing but nod and scoop up his cards. He had Havoc Demon
and Soulless One
in his hand and so if he'd gotten to seven lands he could have had all kinds of fun with those plus Nantuko Husk
, but he never got that chance.
Finkel once again missed his third land drop in game 2. This time he didn't find a third land until Karsten already had a Gustcloak Harrier, a Lowland Tracker, and a doubly-amplified Daru Stinger. As if that wasn't challenging enough, Karsten had his Rorix on turn 6 again. As soon as the dragon hit the board, Finkel just extended his hand and Karsten felt obligated to apologize as he shook it.
Final Result: Finkel – 0 (now 7-2); Karsten – 2 (now 8-1)