Semifinals: Jon Finkel (Dark Jeskai) vs Ryoichi Tamada (Jeskai)

Posted in PRO TOUR BATTLE FOR ZENDIKAR on October 18, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

The indomitable Pro Tour Hall of Fame player Jon Finkel handily dispatched his just-as-impressive quarterfinal opponent, eighteenth-ranked and similarly Hall of Fame member Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. Advancing to the semifinal showdown put him one step closer to adding yet another Pro Tour victory to his long list of accolades.

To get there, he'd have to put a stop to the breakthrough run of Ryoichi Tamada. Well known and highly regarded within the Japanese Magic community, Tamada had two Grand Prix Top 8s and several strong national finishes inside Japan. His countrymen felt he stood on par with the legendary players Kenji Tsumura and Yuuya Watanaba, two of the greatest to ever compete in the game.

For Tamada, transforming his first Pro Tour Top 8 into a win would finally bring him the global recognition of skill that his home country already knew.

It was the game's legend against a nation's veteran who was making his grand stand on the global stage. Would Ryoichi Tamada improve on his growing resume going into the World Magic Cup, or would Finkel get one step closer to adding another win to his career?

The Deck

Each player had a Jeskai deck, sharing cards like Mantis Rider, Fiery Impulse, and the all-important Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. But they diverged dramatically in final approach.

Tamada's classic Jeskai was that, full stop. Using more colorful cards such as Jeskai Charm as well as aggressive creatures like Seeker of the Way, Tamada's deck was made to put pressure on the opponent early and back it up with enough counterspells, removal and burn to get the job done. Treasure Cruise was the reloading spell of choice, and eased some of the difficult mana constraints the deck demanded.

Finkel's Dark Jeskai used the access to black mana Battle for Zendikar's dual lands afforded to include Crackling Doom and Tasigur, the Golden Fang next to the usual suspects. Dig Through Time helped keep Finkel's hand full as flexible powerhouses like Ojutai's Command and Kolaghan's Command rounded out the ability to answer nearly any situation.

The Games

Finkel led the way in Game 1, landing a second turn Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. A critical card in the matchup, it threatened to begin giving Finkel more cards before transforming into a flashback-from-the-graveyard threat.

Seeker of the Way was Tamada's second turn play, aiming for an aggressive beginning. Finkel's Wild Slash prevented that. Tamada tried Mantis Rider, but thanks to Finkel's choice of Crackling Doom to discard from his Jace activation, the Fiery Impulse he cast had spell mastery for 3 damage.

Jace transformed on Finkel's next turn before he brought Tasigur, the Golden Fang down. Tamada replied with his second Mantis Rider, taking Jace down to just three loyalty before Finkel could act. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker joined the fray for him, dropping Tamada to 9 life.

Finkel is one of the best for a reason, and even today he is still one of the Pro Tour's top competitors.

Mantis Rider into a redirected Jeskai Charm sent Sarkhan away before Tamada tried for a Jace of his own. Finkel attacked with Tasigur and flashed Crackling Doom back to put Tamada down to just 2 life. Soulfire Grand Master looked to lock up the next attack as lethal.

Tamada transformed his own Jace into its Jace, Telepath Unbound side and used Treasure Cruise to refill his hand. Seeker of the Way promised to block before Tamada used Jeskai Charm to put Tasigur back on top of Finkel's library. Finkel forced the block before bringing Tasigur, the Golden Fang back down.

Another Jeskai Charm put Tasigur back on top as Tamada tried Gideon, Ally of Zendikar for a 2/2 Kight Ally token. Finkel again replayed Tasigur and threatened a lethal Wild Slash flashback by putting his Jace up to three loyalty.

Tamada cashed his Jace in to put Tasigur on top yet again before using Fiery Impulse to kill the Grand Master and strike down Finkel's Jace with Gideon. Another Seeker of the Way was the route to more life Tamada took next.

More importantly, Tamada had successfully cleared away Finkel's battlefield.

Finkel didn't have a play on his turn, keeping up mana for Dig Through Time. Tamada used the window to make a Gideon emblem and a replacement Gideon. Tamada struck in for 7 damage, raising his life total back to 6.

Finkel made a Mantis Rider to put Tamada back down to 3 life before passing the turn back. Gideon came in with the Tamada's team this time, and Finkel blocked the lethal attack.

On cue, another Mantis Rider appeared for Finkel on his turn and, without a response, Tamada's comeback came just a hair's breadth short.

The second game again featured a second turn Jace, Vryn's Prodigy for Finkel, which led into a third turn Duress to take away Jeskai Charm. Fiery Impulse kept Tamada's Mantis Rider for getting any damage in before Finkel could untap into transforming Jace and flashing Duress back, this time knocking Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker down.

Tamada has quickly gained fans this weekend through some of the day's greatest play.

Mastery of the Unseen was a sideboard card for Tamada, and the ability to both create creatures and even gain life would add up. Finkel just passed back to Tamada, who indeed made a manfiest creature. Tamada went wide, making another on the following turn and attacked repeatedly, manifest creatures keeping Jace off his critical three loyalty.

With eight mana Finkel seemed to be looking for something as Tamada kept making colorless 2/2s. The next wave finally finished the Planeswalker off before the Hall of Famer made a move with Radiant Flames. Tamada just started over again at the end of Finkel's turn. Tamada again left his mana available for the Mastery, forcing Finkel to make the move. Finkel's Exert Influence from the sideboard made Tamada consider things.

It happened, but Tamada kept the plan going by making another manifest. Kolaghan's Command cleared away one manifest before letting Finkel replay his Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. The march of manifest continued for Tamada, interrupted by Silkwrap for the fresh Jace. Crackling Doom spared Finkel 2 damage but left the door open for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to come down for Tamada.

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Wild Slash undid the work of Gideon, though it meant Finkel's hand was finally emptied out. Double Mantis Rider repaid the favor to Finkel's Sarkhan. Kolaghan's Command after Tamada blocked with a Rider on his next turn killed the one, but it still meant Finkel was working off the top of the library against another threat.

A second Gideon from Tamada promised a lethal attack next turn if left unchecked. Tasigur, the Golden Fang was Finkel's last effort, but it met a Disdainful Stroke.

It took some patience, but Tamada had finally evened the score.

The third game didn't have a second turn Jace, Vryn's Prodigy for Finkel, but he did have Fiery Impulse for Tamada's second turn Hangarback Walker. A third turn Tasigur, the Golden Fang would have to do for Finkel instead.

Valorous Stance destroyed the powerful Shaman but Finkel just replaced him with a second copy. Tamada repeated the Stance play with a second copy as well before adding Mastery of the Unseen to his side. Utter End prevented any manifest shenanigans this time, but Wingmate Roc was just as potent.

Tamada, turning away as he shuffles.

The haymakers had finally run out. Dragonmaster Outcast was Finkel's play as he shook his head. Tamada began to play faster as the crowd murmured when he drew for his turn.

"I don't like the sound of that," Finkel said.

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker spoke for the Outcast—stay out—and Finkel dropped to 9 life from Tamada's attack. A second Outcast wasn't enough to stop the lethal attack Tamada had next.

"I just drew lands and this," Finkel said, pointing to the Dragonmaster Outcast. The tech card that had defeated other decks wasn't what he had needed here.

Tamada's Japanese countryman rallied to the edge of the feature match arena, congratulating him on advancing to the finals of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar.

Tamada's time to stand in the spotlight for Japan had arrived.

Ryoichi Tamada defeats Jon Finkel 2-1 and advances to the finals!

Ryoichi Tamada's Jeskai - Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar

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Jon Finkel's Dark Jeskai - Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar

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