by Matthew Vienneau
Most of the Invitational participants did not expect much from Zak Dolan's 1994 World Championship deck, but if anyone could make it perform it would be 2000 World Champion Jon Finkel as he demonstrated by going 2-0 in the first two matches. Jon got to play with Black Lotus, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall and Timetwister and he only had to start each game at 15 life to do it!
Yoshikazu Ishii, after dominating a block deck the round before with Jakub Slemr's 1997 World Championship black/red deck splashing some powerful Visions creatures, was not as confident playing against a Vintage deck despite starting with a three life advantage each game.
Ishii chose to mulligan his first hand which made Jon take a second look at his hand of Serra Angel, Swords to Plowshares, Armageddon, Mana Vault, Siren's Call, Disenchant and Stripmine. Despite the increased probability of being able to mana-screw Ishii with the Stripmine, Jon didn't want to risk not drawing another land and mulliganed into a Meekstone, Swords To Plowshares, Ivory Tower, Mox Pearl and two lands.
Due to his first turn Ivory Tower play, Jon surprisingly chose to skip playing a second land as he wanted to stay close to seven cards in order to negate Ishii's second turn Black Knight. Ishii kept up the pressure with a second Black Knight followed by a Fallen Askari that Jon Mana Drained. Deciding that Jon wasn't about to play any creatures, Ishii laid a Nekrataal and despite Plowing the Nekrataal, Jon was in a position where he had to draw something or else he would lose.
And draw something he did. In one of the most amazing "turns" I've ever seen, Jon drew Ancestral Recall off the top. With the Ancestral he drew two lands and Time Walk. The Time Walk allowed him to untap and draw... Timetwister. Timetwister filled up his hand all over again and gave him Sol Ring and Mana Vault for mana as well as Regrowth so he could get the Timetwister back. And if that wasn't enough, it also gave him Time Walk a second time. Jon cast the Time Walk and then the Twister with Ishii Incinerating him in response to put him at one life and very vulnerable if Ishii drew direct damage in his new seven cards.
Jon's new seven cards didn't have any answer to the two protection from black creatures in play so Jon used his second free Time Walk turn, thus drawing his 19th card since Ishii last had a main phase. If the card he drew wasn't what he needed, he was still going to lose when Ishii untapped despite gaining a whole bunch of life from Ivory Tower.
He drew Stasis.
Even Jon couldn't believe his good fortune and with a big grin he cast Stasis and Howling Mine. Ishii had a "what can I do?" look on his face as he finally got a turn, drew two cards and played Shadow Guildmage. Jon still didn't have the game as he had no way of getting rid of his own Stasis and as soon as it went away Ishii would just attack and kill him. Jon drew his two cards and got... Siren's Call!
All the players had been mocking Siren's Call for the entire weekend as they jokingly called it a one blue instant Wrath of God and Jon used it in just that manner as all of Ishii's creatures weren't able to untap and attack. But Ishii wasn't out of it yet and as all his creatures went to the graveyard he played Necratog with a big smile.
Jon had to let Stasis run out but that wasn't a problem as he tapped his Mana Vault and cast Icy Manipulator with a mana left open to tap the 'Tog. His next turn sealed the game as he cast Old Man of the Sea, Birds of Paradise and then Armageddon. At this point he had four Moxen, a Sol Ring, Ivory Tower, Howling Mine, Mana Vault, Birds, Icy Manipulator, Old Man of the Sea and Strip Mine in play while Ishii had a lone Necratog. Jon denied him even that permanent as he Stripped two of Ishii's land, Control Magicked the Necratog and finished Ishii off with a Serra Angel Doppleganger using the *third* free turn from Time Walk. Jon finished with 16 life, higher than he started and it was definitely the Ivory Tower that deserved the MVP for this game.
Zak's deck was well known for its crazy sideboard that included Diamond Valley, In the Eye of Chaos and Winter Blast. Jon sideboarded out two Meekstone, two Disenchant and a Ley Druid (!) for two Karma, Copy Artifact, Power Sink and the ever popular Chaos Orb. Meanwhile Noah Boeken, who is just behind Finkel in the standings, came over to cheer Ishii on and trashtalk Jon so he could enter the 13th round tied for first.
The room was abuzz after the incredible sequence of events in game one but game two proved to be anti-climactic. Jon opened with Serra Angel, Swords to Plowshares, Mox Jet, Vesuvian Doppleganger and two lands. His lack of early plays was telling as he did nothing until casting a turn three Icy Manipulator. Ishii was busy putting out creatures and after Incinerating a Black Knight Doppleganger, he was able to attack with three black weenies on turn five. Jon played a Kismet just to do something but he had no answers as Ishii laid his sixth land, despite the threat of Armageddon and having no spells more expensive than Nekrataal, and finished him off.
Jon's opening hand contained a Strip Mine, Sol Ring, Black Lotus, Timetwister and three cards that just didn't matter as he cast the first four on the first turn and discarded the rest of this hand. Ishii, with a whole new hand of seven to start the game that he couldn't mulligan, played a Swamp - a play he would become very familiar with.
Jon drew and vigorously slammed down a Time Elemental and poor Ishii was totally screwed. After Stripping Ishii's first land and playing a second blue source, Jon was able to use the Time Elemental and Sol Ring to unsummon Ishii's first Swamp every single turn!
Ishii gamely played on hoping to draw a Contagion with which he could destroy the Time Elemental. After five or six turns of playing the same Swamp, he eventually played a Shadow Guildmage that Jon could steal with his Old Man of the Sea. Ishii was thinking that at least the Guildmage would only deal one damage a turn while the Old Man was hitting him for two. But Jon had different ideas and in a neat play used the Shadow Guildmage's ability on itself to put it on top of Ishii's deck forcing Ishii to draw it again! After Jon played Kismet Ishii's nearly hopeless situation got worse and he conceded leaving Jon in sole possession of first place at the Invitational after going 3-0 with a deck the other players dismissed.
Jon Finkel 2
Yoshikazu Ishii 1