As members of the coverage staff, it's our job to sift through the enormous amounts of information that pass our way, the innumerable events we bear witness to, and sift the useful and interesting parts out to present to you. This weekend was a coverage writer's dream and nightmare wrapped up into one. It isn't often we're faced with the number of stories of the caliber we saw this weekend all happening at the same time. The storylines from this weekend were almost too numerous to keep track of. And yet here we are. Even at the end of the weekend, there's a story bigger than any of us had really dreamed of.
Jonny Magic has arrived.
After years away from the Sunday stage, it's remarkable to think that the once-retired "best player in American Magic" has found his way back to the finals of a Pro Tour. It's up to Mario Pascoli to either add to the legend of Jon Finkel or to take him down and contribute to a legend of his own.
Mario Pascoli and Jon Finkel stare each other down.
Finkel started the first game off with a mulligan, not exactly something a player wants to see in the final match of a Pro Tour. Pascoli started the first game off with a glimpse of things to come. His first-turn Flamekin Harbinger
stacked his deck with a Changeling Berserker
, which had been an all-star for him all day. Finkel had a Mosquito Guard
to hold the Harbinger at bay, and it looked like it would serve double duty when Pascoli played a Sunflare Shaman
on the following turn.
Pascoli wanted to deal some damage, though, and he cleared the Guard out of the way with an Eyeblight's Ending before attacking for 3. Finkel waited until Pascoli's upkeep to play a Pestermite, locking down Pascoli's lone Swamp. When Pascoli sent both of his creatures into attack, Finkel opted to trade his Pestermite for the Flamekin Harbinger, which prevented Pascoli from getting to champion it with his Berserker on the following turn. In fact, rather than play the Berserker and have to champion the potentially useful Sunflare Shaman, Pascoli instead opted to play a Fire-Belly Changeling and wait on the Berserker.
Finkel dropped a Goldmeadow Harrier and a Kithkin Zephyrnaut onto this side of the table. The Harrier would be able to lock down the incoming Changeling Berserker until Pascoli found a way to rid himself of it. It didn't have haste like the Berserker, though, and when the Berserker hit the ground running, the Harrier had to sit back and watch.
Finkel missed his kinship on the following turn but decided to get in with his Kithkin Zephyrnaut all the same. With his Goldmeadow Harrier now online, he could keep the Berserker at bay. Unfortunately, it appeared he didn't have another play and would have to rely solely on the Harrier for defense. Luckily for him, Pascoli didn't have any reinforcements either, and was forced to simply pass the turn after Finkel tapped his Berserker.
Finkel revealed a Kinsbaile Skirmisher with his Kithkin Zephyrnaut, which he promptly used to pump the Zephyrnaut (twice). With the Zephyrnaut sufficiently "turned on" and pumped, Finkel sent the temporary flier in to hit Pascoli for 5. During Finkel's end step, Pascoli threw his Sunflare Shaman at Finkel's Goldmeadow Harrier. That let Changeling Berserker out of solitary, and it immediately charged over to celebrate his newfound freedom with Finkel's creatures. After all was said and done, Finkel chose to block the Berserker with his Zephyrnaut and Skirmisher, and then Dispersed his own Zephyrnaut after damage went on the stack. A Brighthearth Banneret ended Pascoli's turn, and it was time for Finkel to start to rebuild, which he did with a Kithkin Greatheart and the Kithkin Zephyrnaut from earlier.
At the end of Finkel's turn, Pascoli used Makeshift Mannequin to return the Changeling Berserker to play in place of the Banneret. The Berserker and Fire-Belly Changeling charged in ready for blood, and the Fire-Belly got what it was looking for as it traded with the Greatheart. Finkel dropped to 5, which you may have noticed is only a single shot from the Berserker. Finkel missed his kinship on his next upkeep, which meant that there wouldn't be any new reinforcements, and the Zephyrnaut was relegated to a mere chump blocker. Finkel drew his next card and then used the two lands he had in hand to scoop up the seven others he had in play.
Pascoli 1, Finkel 0
Finkel thinks hard.
When Pascoli decided to mulligan his opening draw for the second game, Finkel joked, "You trying to even things up?"
Both players had early drops, although Finkel's Kinsbaile Skirmisher was a little more aggressive than Pascoli's Brighthearth Banneret. He also had the Pestermite to again lock Pascoli out of black mana on his third turn. Pascoli chose to float the mana and Lash Out at the Skirmisher, and won the clash with a Seething Pathblazer that he sent to the bottom of his deck.
Finkel recruited an Avian Changeling to his air force, but it was almost immediately shot down by Pascoli's Tarfire, possibly spit from the Fire-Belly Changeling he had just put into play. Undeterred, Finkel kept bringing the fliers, and the Mulldrifter that he just cast came complete with two brand new cards. At this point in the weekend, I almost feel like I'm beating a dead Changeling by mentioning how good Mulldrifter is.
Fire-Belly Changeling got his beat on, and Pascoli also decided to Peppersmoke Finkel's Pestermite. After attacking, Pascoli added a Sunflare Shaman and a Soulbright Flamekin to his team. Finkel was now staring down at a decently sized, but underpowered force on Pascoli's side of the table. He played a Kithkin Harbinger for a Wizened Cenn. Once that hit play, his army would definitely have a leg up on Pascoli's. He then rounded his team out with a Kithkin Zephyrnaut.
Pascoli sent his Fire-Belly Changeling in again, and Finkel decided that it wasn't worth trading any of his men since they were about to get a big boost from the Wizened Cenn. The board was a giant cluster of creatures at this point. Finkel had a small army of Kithkin with the Cenn on the way, and Pascoli had four Elementals to go with his Seething Pathblazer. After considering the board a bit, Pascoli decided to shoot the Zephyrnaut down with a Shard Volley before it could turn on next turn.
Finkel drew his Wizened Cenn, played it, and then passed the turn with four mana available and two cards in hand. Pascoli drew his card and then went into the tank. Since Finkel was playing blue-white, there were any number of cards he could have here. Deciding that the risk wasn't worth it, he eventually decided to just pass the turn back to Finkel. Over the next few turns, the game degenerated into draw-go until Finkel played a Kinsbaile Skirmisher to send his Mulldrifter over for 3. Pascoli had now hit single digits, though Finkel wasn't too far behind.
On his next turn, Pascoli decided the time was right to send his Seething Pathblazer, and Finkel eventually decided to double block with his Kithkin Harbinger and Skirmisher. Before first strike damage, Pascoli sacrificed his Soulbright Flamekin and his Banneret to pump the Pathblazer up. Now that Pascoli had sacrificed half his team, Finkel decided to Coordinated Barrage Pathblazer. That's a three-for-one there, kids, and you don't find too many people coming back from that at this stage in a game.
Finkel tried a Distant Melody on his turn, which prompted Pascoli to kill the Wizened Cenn with his Sunflare Shaman in response. Finkel still got to draw two, though, and seeing as how he had been recently winning the card advantage war, two seemed fine. Cenn's Heir followed Finkel's team in for an attack, and Pascoli's Fire-Belly Changeling jumped in front of the Skirmisher. On Finkel's next attack, before attackers, Pascoli attempted a Violet Pall on Finkel's Mulldrifter. When Finkel showed him the Disperse that would not only counter the Pall but net him two more cards, Pascoli conceded.
Finkel 1, Pascoli 1
Pascoli's frustration mounts.
This time, Finkel had another blazing start with a Mosquito Guard
running into Kinsbaile Skirmisher
followed up with a Kithkin Harbinger
for a Wizened Cenn
. Pascoli was no slouch, though, and managed to get a Sunflare Shaman
into play before he decided to Release the Ants
on Finkel's team. It only killed a Mosquito Guard
, but when the Cenn hit on the next turn, it wouldn't even be able to do that. It also allowed him to make sure he was drawing a land on the next turn, which he desperately needed.
Finkel's men, enhanced by the fresh Wizened Cenn sauntered over and took a 5-point chunk out of Pascoli's life. With Pascoli's mana troubles, the game could be over rather quickly. Pascoli made due the best he could with only three land, and added a Flamekin Harbinger and another Sunflare Shaman to his team. He chose not to find anything with his Harbinger since he needed land so badly. He just needed the extra Elemental blocker to feed the Shaman.
Finkel kept his foot firmly pressed to the gas pedal, and was more than happy to help Pascoli put some of his Elementals in the graveyard. Finkel attacked in and ended up taking out one of Pascoli's Shaman as well as the Harbinger. He then played a Preeminent Captain, which only promised more beats in the future.
Pascoli came up with his fourth land, but all he could do to minimize the damage he was going to take was play it and pass the turn. He had to keep mana available to blow his Shaman. Finkel sent his team in again, and this time the Captain brought a Kithkin Greatheart along for the ride with him. Pascoli went ahead and blocked one of the marauding Kithkin with his Shaman before slinging it at Finkel's Wizened Cenn. Pascoli was now sitting at five life with four creatures staring him down. He played a Festercreep which, thanks to the Shaman's noble sacrifice the previous turn, was able to kill both Finkel's Greatheart and his Cenn's Heir.
It wasn't enough, though. Only two turns later, Finkel had managed to punch through for the final points of damage thanks to the Preeminent Captain's ability.
Finkel 2, Pascoli 1
"We'll see if I can keep seven cards this game," Pascoli sighed while shuffling.
"Yeah, whoever mulligans loses. Big surprise," Finkel said with a chuckle.
Both players got to keep their opening draws for the first time this match, and they both had the early fireworks I'd come to expect for this match. A turn-two Fire-Belly Changeling was met by a Wizened Cenn from Finkel. Pascoli had a Lash Out to immediately remove it, and attacked Finkel for two with his Changeling. The Lash Out revealed a Goldmeadow Harrier that stayed on the top of Finkel's deck. As unhappy as he was to see his Wizened Cenn go, Finkel just replaced it with another bomb, the Preeminent Captain.
This is where things got ugly. Pascoli drew his card and sent in with his Fire-Belly Changeling. When Finkel blocked with his Captain, Pascoli seemed surprised. He pumped it once and then passed priority to Finkel.
"Sure. First strike damage," Finkel asked.
"Oh, first strike. I'm stupid," Pascoli replied in disbelief. He put his head in his hands for a few seconds before dropping his changeling into the graveyard. He played a Seething Pathblazer and then passed the turn, still visibly upset.
Finkel attacked and Captained out a Kinsbaile Skirmisher. He followed that up with a Kithkin Harbinger setting up a Kinsbaile Balloonist that would probably get Captained on the next turn. Using the last of his mana, Finkel played out the Harrier that the earlier Lash Out had revealed.
Pascoli talked quietly to himself while considering his next turn's play, obviously still shaken from his earlier mistake. He regained his composure, but after a bit more thought, frustratedly scooped his deck up in the face of Finkel's insurmountable force.
Finkel 3, Pascoli 1