Any Given Tuesday

Posted in The Week That Was on July 25, 2008

By The Mimic

Welcome to Mimic Week! All this week on, the regular columns will appear as usual… but with a twist. Your eight regular writers, plus at least two guest authors who've written for the site before, are hiding in the ten regular column slots—maybe even their own—under a clever pseudonym: The Mimic! Can you figure out who actually wrote each article? Tune in Monday, July 28 for the answers!

As you might be aware, 2005 was a landmark year for fans of Magic and its Pro Tour. It gave us the first class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. To the surprise of no one, legendary deck designer, Limited specialist, loner, and teammate Jon Finkel was a nearly unanimous inductee into that inaugural class (and truth be told, the only surprising thing was that Jon did not acquire every possible vote). Of the many privileges heaped upon Hall of Fame inductees, perhaps the most coveted is the automatic qualifications for every conceivable event, forever... but in Jon’s case, it was no secret that at the time of his induction, this player who was at one time the most driven Constructed brainstormer and networked professional player on the planet had not really seen cards in maybe two or three sets! Sure, he still had a reputation for being able to show up for a Team Grand Prix and easily help his teammates into a Top 4 finish... but in 2005, at a time when Ravnica: City of Guilds was the most recent set, Finkel had skipped all of Kamigawa.

You might think that it was the automatic invitations to every Pro Tour that would reinvigorate Finkel, but it was something else entirely... a couple of unopened boxes of Ravnica: City of Guilds. As Finkel was largely inactive as a tournament player, he had nothing to do with these Ravnica cards (cracking packs for Temple Gardens wasn’t going to get him anywhere). So he had no other choice but to invite a couple of old friends over for a draft.

Or two.

Apparently there was Vedalken Dismisser in Ravnica that could put one of the opponent’s creatures on top of his library! And there was Compulsive Research that let him dig three cards deeper into his library. And a little bounce.

Vedalken Dismisser
Compulsive Research

Never one for color discipline, Finkel fell in love with Ravnica drafting, its Karoos, Signets, and layered opportunities to seamlessly splash as many as four additional colors into his blue decks.

It was thus that the legendary Finkel Drafts began.

The rest, as they say, is history.... What no one might have expected, at least at the onset, was that it would also grow into Pro Tour history.

Players who were active on the Pro Tour in its early years—as far back as its first season—who were now lawyers, entrepreneurs, traders, graduate students, writers, designers, developers, students, and even visiting Wizards of the Coast employees (many of them either rubbing up against or deep into their third decades) came back to a game that they hadn’t thought about for years... some of the particularly unlucky ones in half a dozen years or more. Past and present—and a little bit of future—started to connect, and everyone got a whole lot better at Magic.

Take Matthew Wang and Steve O’Mahoney-Shwartz. Matt was one of the original Neutral Ground players, and was active in the first seasons of the Pro Tour while an undergraduate student at Columbia University. But Matt had not played serous tournament Magic in... Could it be ten years? At the time of the first Finkel Drafts, Matt was just starting the new endeavor of Top 8 Magic after several years in the financial sector, appearing in American Airlines commercials, and so on, and found himself once again surrounded by gamers. After investing a few months in Finkel Draft, Matt, with Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz at his side, was a Grand Prix champion.

For his part, Steve is another great story. His Grand Prix victory with Wang is maybe less notable, old hat really, for a player who was a Pro Tour champion (and widely considered the finest Rochester drafter of his era) and Grand Prix champion many times over. A few years back, Steve left New York for Boston, and became disconnected from Magic and his local Magic network for quite some time. However, Steve recently returned to New York, and the Finkel Drafts allowed him to reconnect with both his old teammates and the game that brought all of them together in the first place.

Jon Finkel, a.k.a. Johnny Magic, after his win in Kuala Lumpur. The, shall we say, loudest Finkel Draft triumph in the wider world has to belong to Jon himself. Thanks to those Hall of Fame invitations, Finkel had an automatic Blue Envelope for Kuala Lampur... One that he was able to convert into a Pro Tour victory nearly a decade after his last one (at the 2000 World Championships, where he bested fellow Hall of Famer Bob Maher). But just last month, at Grand Prix–Indianapolis, Finkel Drafter Jamie Parke added yet another impressive Top 4 to his recent string of money finishes (Pro Tour–Hollywood, Grand Prix–Philadelphia, and others) since coming back to Magic thanks in large part to the Finkel Drafts. Jamie and his Jackal Pups were in the Top 8 at the 1999 World Championships representing Team Sped... but like so many, he got a little older and fell away from competitive Magic as he pursued his studies and career.

Despite the many impressive comebacks (or in the cases of players like Limited Information columnist Steve Sadin, blossoming professional careers), the Finkel Drafters consider the Finkel Draft a Magic universe in and of itself, exclusive of the Pro Tour. Paul Jordan keeps the Finkel Draft ratings (essentially the same system as the DCI ratings system), so that bragging rights can be documented and formalized (the stats also keep important numbers like who owes how many draft sets). What has also happened—though it can’t be considered any kind of an accident—is that the Finkel Draft has become a hub for community itself. The players come together to game, but end up doing many other things together as well (work, socialize, attend weddings, share YouTube videos, and so on).... To a man, they cite the camaraderie of the group, perhaps even above and beyond the forty card fighting.

Take the other night, which might have been any given Tuesday.

A couple of Finkel Drafters had been bandying about the idea of a Plataforma dinner for a couple of weeks, and ultimately decided on a summer supper at the legendary Brazilian barbecue last Tuesday... possibly followed by a friendly draft at Jon’s (Finkel’s apartment is conveniently located about five minutes walk from the lesser known TriBeCa Plataforma). For those of you who have not read about Plataforma before, it is a sort of gluttonous and wonderful all-you-can-eat steak dinner featuring many different cuts of meat, served by men in tuxedos, wielding swords, and has evolved into a Pro Tour New York tradition, in particular for Team events (though New York locals apparently don’t require a Pro Tour to congregate... just the prospect of a draft). What initially seemed like two or three friends having a conservative dinner after a quick exit from the office erupted into a phenomenon, even for Finkel Draft.

The birthday boy himself, Dan O'Mahoney-SchwartzPurely by coincidence, Tuesday was Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz’s birthday; Dan has been playing stellar tournament Magic for quite a while, coming out of nowhere to return to Top 8 form at an Extended Grand Prix–Boston a few years back, then winning a Limited PTQ, then actually backing up his accumulated ratings come big events (more unusual than you might think)! Dan was last seen acing the final day of the World Championships in New York, then following that up in a tie for first place at the end of Day One of Grand Prix–Philadelphia.

Also purely by coincidence, Hall of Famer Alan Comer was in town, visiting with Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz. One... two... that made for three members of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame at the dinner table; counting Dan’s brother Steve O’Mahoney-Shwarts, three Pro Tour champions as well.

Dinner started a little early, at about 5:15. This elicited grumbles from some segments of the Finkel Draft community, but the early dinner was absolutely necessary (and more than as an excuse to leave the office a few minutes early)... No one wanted to start the second draft at 11 p.m., let alone the first.

Dinner conversation was medium heated, and, for once had nothing to do with Magic! With the Tuesday night Plataforma crowd in the late twenties at the youngest (and most diners in their thirties), conversation ended up a lively debate on business ethics. Once the drafting started, though, it was all Shadowmoor... except for that third pack of Eventide.

Hall of Famer Alan Comer Plataforma dinner and Dan’s birthday attracted a large number of drafters for a Tuesday night, and longtime fans of the game could have turned back the clock an entire decade and seen some of the same players for draft one at the heights of their superpowers in the early days of Urza’s Saga. At the “Hall of Fame table,” as Comer called it, raged a battle that could have been waged with Crater Hellions and Morphlings as easily as Mimics and Duos. Alan Comer and Hashim “the Dream” Bello both sat the final table at Grand Prix–San Francisco... which led up to the Long Beach finals where Antarctica’s Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz vanquished teammate (and host) Jon Finkel. When the dust settled on the first draft, it was Comer, Zvi, and the Dream over SteveO, Jonny Magic, and “Savage” Ilya Kreyer.

How were teams determined? At Finkel Draft, the players utilize a unique system for picking sides. Seats are determined randomly, then after the draft, teams are determined randomly, regardless of where each player sat. The advantage of this technique is that it almost completely eliminates “hate” drafting because you don’t know if the player to your left is going to be on your team or not; this is thought to be better preparation for the Pro Tour and other more formal draft environments, and the only “fair” system in the long run.

Eventide is still new, and theories are still up in the air about how to approach the radically different third pack. Seeing as this is Mimic Week, I thought that I would share one thus far successful strategy.

My favorite strategy for Shadowmoor draft (credit to Ben Lundquist) was to force mono-red. You will often be able to pick up a Flame Javelin, and if you are forcing red very hard, you can acquire one or many Burn Trails. Burn Trail is a pretty good card even as a splash, but I have found it frustrating to not be able to conspire it... It is just a little bit expensive for only 3 damage, but playing Burn Trail in an essentially mono-red deck solves that problem consistently.

Riverfall Mimic
The main modification to the forcing strategy is that you have to look ahead to the third pack and actually consider devoting mana to a second color. In Shadowmoor / Shadowmoor / Shadowmoor, your red-green versus black-red cards would usually not matter at all; you would just be happy about the fact that your Tattermunge Duo would consistently pump on red (convenient), that your red-green hybrid cards could sometimes sneak in forestwalk (which is just an added bonus); you would be quite happy to get full value out of Runes of the Deus, despite the fact that you could not actually produce green mana. Now there is one fewer pack with, say, red-green creatures that you can play for only red mana.

In practice, Eventide is specific where Shadowmoor is general. It may well be that your hardest working card ends up being a Riverfall Mimic, and that you picked up a late Clout of the Dominus. Now this can be an awfully effective combination. If you stick the Clout on the third turn, your Mimic is going to get in for 5, unblock able, and the opponent is potentially going to be on a very tight clock. In order to rinse and repeat, you will have to have planned ahead: You actually need cards like Noggle Bridgebreaker—and a fair number of them—to keep your Mimic attacking repeatedly. This means that, if you are on a Mimic plan, you will have to prioritize certain cards and pick them earlier than usual because the Mimics can be so good. Consider our example with the Riverfall Mimic... If all you do is play a Crag Puca a turn, it’s likely you will be able to win in something like three more turns.

Can you guess who wrote this? Click Discuss below to talk about this article, or head to the Mimic Week thread in the forums to talk about all your guesses!

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Kenneth NagleThis article was written by Swimming with Sharks author Mike Flores!

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