Having the title of "two-time Grand Prix champion" would usually provide you some clout. Canadian native and Gold-level pro Jon Stern, has a strong pedigree to be sure. And Stern can usually use that to his advantage, perhaps intimidating less experienced players. However, one of the people in the room immune to Stern or anyone like him is two-time Pro Tour champion, former World Champion, Pro Tour Hall of Fame elite, and The Finkel Draft host and originator, Jon Finkel.
There are scant if any names that instill true fear into the heart of all Magic players anywhere like Jon Finkel. The only real discussion worth having about Finkel is whether or not he is the best Magic player of all time. All other questions seem pointless. Because his Pro Tour Hall of Fame status gives him an invite to each Pro Tour, Finkel saunters into the hall each quarter and consistently finishes strongly—often grasping a new format with apparent ease.
It was a Jon versus Jon showdown, featuring Canada's Jon Stern against Hall of Famer and all-around famous Magic player Jon Finkel.
Stern would have to muster himself up if he wanted to win the Battle of the Jons.
Jon Stern was on White-Black and started coming in early with both Mardu Hateblade and Ainok Bond-Kin. Finkel had a mulligan to start and was slower to get going, having to settle for a fourth-turn Smoke Teller after his Alpine Grizzly traded off early.
Stern used his opponent’s stumbles to get in for some damage and take some turns to outlast dudes with his spare mana. It was almost an insult to Finkel, who missed an early land drop, then stalled on four lands.
Finkel downgrades his dead Grizzly with something more naturally the size of a bear.
Though Stern started aggressively to capitalize on Finkel’s straits, he was actually on a White-Black Control deck, with just about infinite removal, and tops the curve with the eight-cost Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
During this first game, Jon Finkel’s Black-Green deck had some spells like Hunt the Weak and Longshot Squad to help delay until his windmill slammed Tasigur, the Golden Fang. When it hit, the scores were 10-11 in Stern’s favor, but just a few turns with the Tasigur would turn it around. If Stern was White-Black Aggro, this might give Finkel the card and body advantage he desperately needed. This of course, was if Stern was actually playing an aggressive deck and lacked removal, which he wasn’t and didn’t.
Stern had the kill spell already in hand. Though the Sandblast meant forgoing some damage to Finkel, the worst seemed over for Stern. He had a Reach of Shadows and a (second) Kill Shot as the last cards in his hand, and was up more than ten life on Finkel and it was elementary after that. Tasigur wasn’t good enough to overcome the deficit.
In the second game Finkel again kept a two-land hand, but with a Whisperer of the Wilds, that play was less risky. With one more land, his Whisperer would be ferocious on turn four, really kick-starting Finkel’s hand. His top-end Become Immense in his hand could surely be a game-changer.
Stern tested the risky nature of the keep by playing two Chief of the Edge back to back. Finkel missed two land drops, but preserved his life total by trading off two-butts early. Again, in Stern’s deck, his three Chief of the Edge were merely two-drops, not the aggressive powerhouses they appeared. So though Finkel likely thought he was trading up with his creatures, Stern knew better.
When Finkel finally drew his third land, it was the swamp he needed to cast a Bellowing Saddlebrute. Stern’s board was a 1/1, a 2/1, and a 3/2, so the Saddlebrute would be a force to be reckoned with, if, of course, Stern didn’t have two Kill Shots sitting in his hand. It pays to look like an aggro deck.
Not pictured: a grip of removal in Stern's hand.
Finkel had a bunch of beaters in his hands, but stuck on only three lands and a distinctly un-ferocious Whisperer of the Wilds, he was relegated to casting Hill Giants and Grizzly Bears over and over, watching them die to removal and unfavorable trades as his life total slipped closer and closer to zero. A Longshot Squad, Smoke Teller hit the dust bin. At least they would help fuel the inevitable Become Immense.
But even that potential game-changer was underwhelming. In his main phase, Finkel cashed in the +6/+6 on an Abzan Kin-Guard removing his entire graveyard. This finally turned on the ferocious ability of Whisperer, so Finkel had exactly enough mana to cast Hunt the Weak to take out a creature while also making the ferocious ability more permanent. It was a big gamble, because any removal from Stern would make Finkel start all over again, but it was all he had left. Finkel had to hope it would work. The ten-power Kin-Guard attacked in and made it through three open mana. The life totals became much more even, 7-8. Did Stern not have the removal?
That was a big "nope." Stern had all the removal, he just didn’t think wasting the Kill Shot was worth it. He took the ten damage like it was nothing from the Kin-Guard, knowing that he would just use his Smite the Monstrous on the following turn.
He did just that, and sewed up the game a turn or two later by attacking with Shambling Attendants and unmorphing a Ruthless Ripper. Finkel had some cool draws, but the coolest of all would have been some lands.
After Finkel shook Stern’s hand he said, "that is the best archetype to be in." He said that his green base wasn’t bad, though it wasn’t that exciting. "You can’t always be White-Black," he said and shrugged his shoulders.
After the match, I discussed the somewhat unorthodox White-Black Control deck from Stern. "I first-picked the Ugin, the Spirit Warrior. I don’t think it’s that good, but my team thought so, so I followed their lead." He was pretty happy with the pick overall though. "It does keep your colors open, and all you have to do is look for control cards after that."
The control colors turned out to be black and white. So Stern prioritized the removal over the aggressive creatures, and was able to net himself all the Kill Shots and Smite the Monstrous he could want. Tack on a Disowned Ancestor or two, and some quality two-drops, and you got yourself a deck that can take down the most intimidating man in the game. Not bad.
Finkel 0 – Stern 2