by Randy Buehler
The best 32 players in the world sat down Thursday evening for the draft that would determine how they would divide up the $150,000 prize purse for the Chicago Masters Series event. There were four draft pods and the competitors will play two rounds within those pods on Thursday, thus narrowing the field down to eight elite players. Those players will then draft again on Friday night (after the Pro Tour rounds are over). The quarter-finals will be held on Friday, the semi's on Saturday evening, and then the finals will be Sunday afternoon on stage, on camera, with the ESPN 2 cameras rolling.
While everyone in the field has an impressive resume of Magic accomplishments, I found myself drawn to table 3 where 1997 World Champion Jakub Slemr was being fed by 2000 World Champion Jon Finkel. Everyone knows that Finkel is the game's all-time leading money winner with nearly $200,000 in career prize earnings, but not a lot of people realize that Slemr is in the Top 5.
Slemr took first pick Razorfoot Griffin and then Exotic Curse was clearly the best card in the pack that Finkel passed him. Because Invasion cards have so much overlap between "friendly" colors, Slemr decided to draft black/blue/white. However, there really weren't many good blue cards headed his way. All he got was third pick Galina's Knight and fourth pick Shoreline Raider. That's because Finkel went blue from the beginning. His first pick was Repulse and then he took second pick Exclude. Slemr might have done better if he had taken Voracious Cobra from that pack instead of third pick Galina's Knight. However, I remember criticizing some of Slemr's drafting decisions at Worlds and Slemr proceeded to 3-0 that draft. There can be no question that Slemr's ability to play this game is among the best in the World. However, I'm less convinced about his drafting. The fact is, if you're drafting black/blue/white and the guy feeding you is also drafting all three of those colors, you probably did something wrong at some point in the draft.
Finkel dipped into black when he got passed third pick Phyrexian Infiltrator and then 5th pick Glimmering Angel tempted him to go white. A first pick, second pack Annihilate cemented Finkel into black. He then managed to draft Mourning, Fact or Fiction, Recoil, Vodalian Zombie, Tidal Visionary, Vodalian Hypnotist, and 9th pick Dream Thrush even though Slemr had first crack at each of those packs. Finkel's third pack was sick: Annihilate, Teferi's Moat, Agonizing Demise, Repulse, and Exotic Curse. Finkel debated Moat versus Annihilate and settled on the Annihilate because he wasn't sure how much (if any) white he would actually wind up playing. Third pick Stormscape Apprentice meant that Finkel would indeed play white. Urborg Drake, Vodalian Serpent and a couple of Opts seemed to round out Finkel's deck, but then a 12th pick Salt Marsh fell into his lap and Finkel raised his finger in celebration.
After building his deck, Finkel seemed pleased. It's not the best deck he's ever drafted, but it is certainly good. If Finkel can win both his matches tonight, he'll be the first player in history to go over the $200,000 career earnings mark. Jakub Slemr, among others, will be trying to stop him.