by Randy Buehler
Jon Finkel quietly posted a 6-1 record on Day 1 and sat down in seat #8 of Draft Table #2 on Sunday morning with Scott Johns on his left (in the 1 seat) and Lawrence Creech on his right. PT New York champion Johns first picked an Agonizing Demise in the very first pack and Texan Jonathon Pechon then took Charging Troll. Pechon and his fellow Texans had a very impressive Day 1. The playtesting team of he, Jeff Clark, and Adrian Sayers went a combined 19-2! Rob Dougherty followed up Pechon's Charging Troll pick with Molimo, Maro-Sorceror. Some observers felt Dougherty should have avoided green since Pechon seemed to want it, but Dougherty obviously felt the other cards (Razorfoot Griffin, Hooded Kavu) just weren't as good as the big trampler. Interestingly, Pechon eventually dropped green from his deck completely because Finkel went green/red and two other players (Creech and Scott Richards) drafted 5-color green decks.
When the dregs of the first pack came around to Finkel, Creech had just drafted a Quirion Elf so Finkel took Ardent Soldier - the best card left - and Sterling Grove - the only other card with white in the mana cost - handed a Trailblazer to Creech. With Johns staking out black and Creech staking out green, blue/white seemed open for Finkel. Creech took 6th pick Ancient Kavu out of the second pack - seeming to want green/red - but Finkel drafted Elvish Champion and Yavimaya Barbarian. I wasn't sure at this point if he was fighting or defensive drafting. Since Finkel got the two best green/red cards after Creech had first crack at the pack, Jon may have just decided that he didn't mind fighting if Creech wasn't going to be drafting the right cards anyway. The "randomness" of Creech's draft was confirmed in the next pack when he took Phyrexian Slayer and gave Finkel a Maniacal Rage. Finkel followed up with a 5th pick Kavu Runner after Creech took a Pincer Spider.
Creech's true intentions became clear in the fifth pack when he drafted Sabertooth Nishoba, adding a fourth color to his deck. Creech was running the much-feared five-color green strategy from the beginning, taking the best card from each pack regardless of color. This strategy tends to anger neighboring drafters, but it's also remarkably effective when it works out. Finkel took Serpentine Kavu, then Tangle and then Ancient Kavu (over Hooded Kavu since he didn't expect to have black mana in his deck).
When Finkel finally got a first pick he decided it was time to add a third color to his deck because Armadillo Cloak was just that much better than Kavu Chameleon (which was the best card available for red/green). In the 9th pack, Finkel drafted Tribal Flames over Llanowar Knight and Glimmering Angel. Finkel's draft strategy showed itself loud and clear in pack #10 when he wheeled Zap and Urborg Volcano. Scott Johns would have liked that Urborg Volcano for his blue/black deck that kind of wanted to splash red. But Finkel didn't want Johns competing with him for red for he hate-drafted the Volcano. A few packs later, Finkel once again had the opportunity to give Johns a late pick gift, but he savagely hated a Ravenous Rat that would have go straight into Johns' deck. Many players would have played nice in those situations, but Finkel's Rochester Draft strategy is a little bit different. I was also a bit surprised when Finkel took a Hooded Kavu over a Viashino Grappler. With no access to black mana in his deck, the Grappler seemed like it would be better, but Jon may have been worried that the Hooded Kavu would be so good against him that it made sense to defensively draft it (especially since he can run it as a "Grey Ogre").
Scott Richards evolved into the table's second five-color green mage over the curse of the second set of packs. Despite being fed by Dougherty and Pechon for 2/3rds of the draft, Richards went 5cg just as he had done at his previous table yesterday (where he was feeding Matt Vienneau and caused Vienneau to "do a LePine"). Vienneau was complaining loudly about how badly Richards had drafted, but Richards did manage to go 3-1 at that table whereas Vienneau could only manage 1-3. It'll be interesting to watch over the course of Day 2 to see if the 5-color green mages can succeed in the rarefied air at the top of the Swiss.
Finkel took Nomadic Elf over Thornscape Apprentice in pack #13. He was willing to splash white for Armadillo Cloak, but not for a tapper. I talked to a lot of well-respected drafters who are willing to splash a third color for a couple of game-breakingly good cards that will be powerful whenever the third color of mana finally shows up, but refuse to draft a true 3-color deck. Basically, you're either a Yavimaya Barbarian deck or a Llanowar Knight deck, but you can't run both of these guys because you can't set up a mana base that can reliably cast both of them on turn 2 (which is the only time you really want to play them). Both blue/white mages at the time seemed to have the same idea when they each first picked the Agonizing Demise that they opened.
Finkel's deck really came together in the last packs of the second set. He got passed a fourth pick Fires of Yavimaya and then a 3rd pick Rith, the Awakener. The last set of packs rounded out his deck with two copies of Scorching Lava (one taken over Nomadic Elf and Explosive Growth, the other over Pincer Spider), a Tribal Flames (he had to be celebrating with the 5cg mage feeding him elected for Plague Spores instead), and three two drops. Finkel put a very high value on 2-crops during these last 8 packs. If you ever wondered how important mana curves are, take a look at these picks: Rogue Kavu over Pouncing Kavu; Yavimaya Barbarian over Ancient Kavu, Shivan Oasis, and Planar Portal; and third pick Firebrand Ranger.
All in all Finkel drafted a tight little red/green beatdown deck with power cards like Fires of Yavimaya, Armadillo Cloak, and Rith. He seemed more worried about his own card quality than playing politics and that worked out for him just fine. He's clearly the best player at the table (since he's the best player in the world) and he might have the best deck at the table. I expect him to stay at the top tables all day and make a run at an unprecedented ninth Pro Tour Top 8.