By now you've probably seen Ivan Floch before. A solid player from Slovakia, he has shown steady improvement since his Pro Tour debut, and has become a fixture at the top tables. Next on his to-do list is to put up a Pro Tour Top 8. He just might do it this weekend, but with three losses counting against him, he'll need to close out these four rounds. His weapon of choice in Standard is White-Blue Control, the version that drops Detention Sphere in favor of a Quicken / Planar Cleansing package.
Sitting across from him was the first obstacle on that path in the form of Hall of Famer Jon "Kai Who?" Finkel. He was actually paired down this round, and at 10-2 is looking very good to put up what would be his fifteenth Top 8. Finkel is playing the format's boogeyman, Black Devotion Splashing White.
What's at Stake?
Beyond immediate personal glory, Floch is also trying to overtake countryman and Grand Prix Coverage Superstar Matej "Big Z" Zatlkaj in the race for the captaincy of the Slovak World Magic Cup team. Coming into the event Zatlkaj had a four point lead, but he crashed and burned on Day 1, meaning that a Top 25 finish will give Floch the mantle.
The depth of talent in the United States means that Finkel isn't in the hunt for the Captain's chair. Really, the only thing he has left to do is remind people that he's still the Greatest of All Time. Conveniently, a win this weekend would catapult him to Platinum Pro Club status.
Floch won the roll but was soon under fire from a turn two Pack Rat. He spent his third turn on Divination. A Temple of Silence kept Finkel from adding a second rat immediately, but after an empty turn from Floch he played Mutavault, cashed in Ultimate Price for a Rat, and hit for 3. Floch cycled Quicken at end of turn.
Floch untapped and thought for a moment. He tapped his four land and brought out Jace, Architect of Thought and used his minus ability. Finkel split two lands off from Planar Cleansing. Floch had a full grip of seven cards but took the lands anyway, playing one and pitching another from his hand. Things continued to deteriorate as Finkel resolved Underworld Connections and played a second Mutavault. His Rats took down Jace and did three to Floch for good measure. Floch untapped and played Planar Cleansing.
Finkel was far from out of it, however. Elspeth, Sun's Champion was the perfect rejoinder. Floch needed answers, fast. He thought hard on his turn before going for a Sphinx's Revelation for three. He played Plains, Elixir of Immortality, and passed. Finkel grew his army of tokens. A Quickened Supreme Verdict bought Floch some time, but without a way to get Elspeth off the table it was a losing battle, as Finkel locked up the first game.
It looked good for Finkel early in Game 2. He started with a Duress that stole Jace, Architect of Thought and left behind Supreme Verdict, Sphinx's Revelation, and three lands. Then he resolved Underworld Connections on turn three and Floch was unable to remove it. Floch simply played out his lands and passed. Finkel Thoughtseized and saw that Floch had drawn a second Revelation and an Azorius Charm. He took one of Revelations and Floch cycled Azorius Charm, then the Quicken he drew off it.
Floch dropped land number five and passed. Finkel summoned Desecration Demon, but that fell to a Quickened Supreme Verdict. Floch untapped and played Divination, then cycled a second Charm before playing a sixth land and an Elixir of Immortality. Finkel didn't have a clock, but the longer he was free to use his Connections, the worse for Floch. Finkel summoned a second Demon. Floch had finally found Deicide to get rid of the Connections, but was it too late?
Finkel animated his Mutavault and hit for 8, then tried Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but that fell to Dissolve. Worse for Finkel, Floch kept his card on top. Floch untapped and played Elspeth, who brought three soldiers to the party. A Lifebane Zombie from Finkel revealed that Floch's two cards in hand were Dissolve and Sphinx's Revelation. He went to attack, and Floch sacrificed a soldier to keep the demon at bay a turn. Finkel animated his Mutavault and swung in. Floch was happy to trade off his last two tokens for it. Finally Finkel played Hero's Downfall on Elspeth.
So it was Finkel's 7/7 Demon and Lifebane Zombie against Floch's Dissolve and whatever he could draw off the Revelation. Finkel forced Dissolve with Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Floch also activating his Elixir in response so that he could scry after refilling his deck with goodies. Still he took ten from Finkel's attackers and fell to 7. Next turn Finkel hit again, and Floch played the Revelation for five. Floch was at 2.
Floch needed to be rid of Finkel's creatures. He did just that with Planar Cleansing after cycling a Quicken on his turn. Finkel had been sandbagging threats, however. First came Sin Collector, catching Azorius Charm and leaving nothing but Deicide and lands, then came the deadly Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Floch only had a lone Mutavault to block with. It all hinged on one draw step.
"That was not a bad one."
He passed and played yet another Revelation, this time for seven to stay alive. Then he untapped, played Supreme Verdict and a Jace, Architect of Thought. Finkel held on a few turns in some semblance of hope, but his attempt to build a turn of three threats met three counterspells from Floch. Floch then used Jace's ultimate, and Finkel conceded.
The final game started with a Thoughtseize / Pack Rat opening from Finkel with Duress follow-up, but a Temple put a stutter in his plans. Floch simply cycled a few cards, played and activated Elixir of Immortality, and then dropped Jace and dropped it to two loyalty, catching the Divine Verdict he needed.
Finkel's creatures at least got to kill Jace before they were wiped off the board, but the follow-up Lifebane Zombie saw that Floch was sitting comfortably on Sphinx's Revelation and Azorius Charm. Finkel dropped him to 17 and played a Desecration Demon, mentally crossing his fingers. Floch played Revelation for three at the end of turn, then untapped, played Mutavault, and passed with total confidence.
Finkel swung in and his Demon met the expected Charm. He played Elspeth post-combat, but Floch had drawn Dissolve, as well as the Jace that came down the following turn and served up a replacement Dissolve. Finkel's Zombie killed Jace, but when Floch was happy to let Desecration Demon resolve it was clear that things were not going Finkel's way. Planar Cleansing showed up right on time and was joined in short order by a Revelation for eight. Eight, as you might know, is a lot of cards.
Floch's hand was stuffed with answers, and though the clock was running out he had the situation well in hand. With three minutes left he resolved Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and the match was soon his.
Finkel 1 – Floch 2
I asked Floch what he thought of the match-up. "Well I think it's very good for me in Game 1, but it gets much harder after sideboarding. He gets to side out all his blank removal and bring in things like Duress and Sin Collector. So when I lost Game 1 I was really worried. But, I got lucky in the second game to stay alive. The third game was a lot better, but it could have gone either way for many of the turns, only until the very end."