What does a Pro Tour Hall of Fame member play for? It's a question that's answered in many ways. For Jon Finkel, one of the game's all time greats, it's about continuing to rise to the challenge. The first Hall of Fame member to win a Pro Tour after being inducted, his consistency in the years that followed demonstrate just how talented he is. For years, past and present, he's been a dominant force on the Pro Tour.
Of course, even he faces challenges that are a tall order: To maintain his Platinum status in the Pro Players club he'd have to win it all at Pro Tour Magic 2015. With enough Pro Tours under his belt it was an entirely plausible circumstance.
For Melissa DeTora, she had been relatively quiet since her breakthrough Top 8 at Pro Tour Gatecrash. For her, a Top 100 this weekend would earn her Silver status for next season though Top 25 is her goal. "If I get Top 25 I'll be invited to two Pro Tours next year," she said, sagely looking to maximize her ability to earn Pro Points next season.
Finkel was playing what most of his teammates were: White-Black Midrange. The consistent and powerful deck can kill creatures, gain life, and eventually take over almost any game. Its one weakness is, perhaps, how slow it can be. Between lands that come into play tapped or cost life to use, and the turn or two beyond casting it that it takes to ramp up the effectiveness of Pack Rat, White-Black Midrange can feel like it ambles along glacially until it rolls right over the opposition.
DeTora, however, was playing what can be best described as fast. Like most of her teammates, she was playing the Rabblemaster Red deck that emerged this weekend. Filled with one- and two-drop creatures, with a splash of burn and the namesake Goblin Rabblemaster, it's a deck designed to pull the rug out from underneath a slower opponent.
How did this deck come to be?
"Brad Nelson was the pretty much the one who brought the deck to us. No one wanted to play it. By the time it was Thursday night, everyone wanted to play it," DeTora explained. "Brad is good friends with Tom Ross, who's been working on the deck a lot. When he just kept winning with it we decided to give it a try. We didn't expect much Blue Devotion, and with a lot of midrange-y slower stuff we just felt like it was a good deck to play."
What had DeTora played against so far? "I played Esper, the mirror match where he had white for Boros Charm, a Black Devotion deck splashing green, and this one with White-Black Devotion," she said, "For everyone else it's been very match up dependent. Brad got paired up against Blue Devotion twice so he hasn't been having a good day. Raphael Levy," the 24th-ranked Hall of Fame member and captain of the 2013 World Magic Cup winning team, "got paired up against White-Blue Control which is harder because they don't take damage from their lands. I'm pretty sure most of us are happy with the choice."
It remained to be seen, however, if speed would be enough to pull a fast one on Jon Finkel.
DeTora began in a hurry, attacking with Legion Loyalist and Firefist Striker early, with another Loyalist and Mutavault to back them up. While Finkel slowed things down with Bile Blight, he fell to just 8 life before playing two copies of Pack Rat to defend with.
While Ash Zealot was extra oomph DeTora needed, it looked like Blood Baron of Vizkopa would stabilize Finkel at just 1 life. Rubble-Belt Maaka was just enough to let the first striking Zealot hit harder, sealing the first game for DeTora.
While Finkel's opening Thoughtseize plucked the one-drop Satyr Firedancer from DeTora's hand, she ripped the Rakdos Cackler she needed to put the pressure on early. However, Finkel had an answer for several creatures she played after that: Doom Blade for Mutavault, Pharika's Cure for Goblin Rabblemaster.
Finally, Obzedat, Ghost Council appeared to begin leeching the life from DeTora. With a Pack Rat brought to bear as well, Finkel methodically held DeTora in check as he began producing Rat tokens. One attack later, and DeTora decided it was time for the third game.
Foundry Street Denizen and Satyr Firedrinker were early aggressors, as Finkel fended off Goblin Rabblemaster with Pharika's Cure. Without an early creature, like Pack Rat, Finkel was forced to use the removal in his hand to stay alive.
When he hit four mana, Finkel cast Desecration Demon to hold the fort, but with both Goblin Rabblemaster and Satyr Firedrinker on her turn DeTora was able to tap the Demon and attack Finkel for 7 damage. 5 life wasn't where he wanted to be sitting, and the ability to safely sacrifice one Goblin every turn meant the Demon wasn't going to be reliable.
"Good luck in the rest," DeTora offered.
"Thank you, Melissa."
Detora 2 – Finkel 1