by Randy Buehler
Jon Finkel and Alex Shvartsman were the only two competitors to survive the first three rounds of the Invitational with perfect 3-0 records. Interestingly, both of them chose to play 2-color decks. Only four of the 16 competitors played 2-color decks and the other two - Dave Price (playing green/white) and Yoshikazu Ishii (playing green/red) - each went 2-1. Finkel's green/red deck was ultra-aggressive and Shvartsman's green/black deck was also quite fast. Both players avoided most of the "killer combos" that format designer Mark Rosewater scattered throughout the card pool.
The format was remarkably well-balanced. While green was a little bit too good, with 14 of 16 people playing it, there was no agreement on what else to play. 74 of the 90 cards appeared in at least one main deck and I saw at least two of the other 16 get sideboarded in. In addition, there were only 7 cards that were played by at least 10 people.
Three players failed to win a match the morning, including two previous Invitational champions - Darwin Kastle and Mike Long. (Kai Budde is the other player at 0-3.) Long and Kastle's performance is particularly surprising given their experience and success at previous Invitationals - Long has never played a match at an Invitational where he was not in contention for the Top Two!
The first three rounds of the Invitational were full of cool stories and players bursting out into laughter in the middle of their rounds. Gary Wise, always the center of attention whether he's winning or losing, got off to a start that was reminiscent of his 2-13 performance from last year. He appeared to "lock" Chris Pikula with his amazing combo of Khabal Ghoul and Tombstone Stairwell, but Chris then noticed that Gary also had a Stronghold Taskmaster in play -killing his own Khabal Ghoul. Oops! Pikula of course stood up and announced Gary's mistake to the entire Invitational. However, in the next two rounds, Wise actually got his Tombstone Stairwell deck to work a little better. He beat Mike Long by setting up Survival of the Fittest/Tombstone Stairwell/Goblin Bombardment. He beat Darwin Kastle using the same combo and picked up his second win of the weekend. So after 3 rounds he already has as many wins as he accumulated during the entirety of last year's event!
Zvi Mowshowitz was one of only two players not to play green, but he felt he couldn't leave any of Demonic Tutor, Waterfront Bouncer, Devout Witness, or The Abyss out of his deck. "This isn't Limited ... this is Rosewater" he explained. He did manage to lock Dave Price in one game with Forbid, Argivian Archaeologist, and an artifact. However, Price came back to win that match and Zvi wound up at just 1-2.
Both Noah Boeken and Ryan Fuller managed to pull off the Living Plane/Subterranean Spirit/Spidersilk Armor combo that destroys all the opponents lands, but none of theirs. Fuller was actually so enamored with his combo that he didn't notice he could instead have just attacked and killed Dave Price. Fuller did win on the next turn - Price had trouble recovered from the one-way 'Geddon.
Gerardo Godinez used his Survival of the Fittest to set up Arctic Wolves/Stampeding Wildebeests against Chris Pikula, but Pikula broke it up by killing the Wolves with a surprise Explosive Growth. Pikula then went on to win the match with pumping up his Tracker with Thran Forge so it would be big enough to kill his own Rukh Egg and create a 4/4 flier. At about the same time, Jon Finkel was locking Ben Rubin down with Living Plane, Goblin Bombardment, and Groundskeeper. Every turn Finkel threw one of his own land at Rubin's land and then returned it to his hand with Groundskeeper. Ouch. Finkel then took out Pikula in the only third round matchup of 2-0 players. Shvartsman became the other 3-0 player by using Emerald Charm to untap Trevor Blackwell's Tawnos's Coffin, releasing his Stronghold Taskmaster which immediately untapped to attack for the win.
After round three, the players took a lunch break and went back to their rooms to put their B.Y.O.B decks together. Stay tuned.