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Magic: The Gathering Invitational 2000
Finals Recap - Solomon Draft

by Randy Buehler

Pikula was just one win away from winning the Invitational, but most of the crowd expected the match to go to five. Chris's career record in Invitational Solomon draft is an abysmal 0-6 while Finkel went 3-0 in Solomon draft, including a win over Chris.

Chris spent a lot of time talking to his fellow competitors last night about the theory behind Solomon draft. Since this year's Solomon draft packs are all composed of really good cards, Chris reasoned that green would probably suck. Good green cards tend to be merely solid cards like creatures whereas good red and blue cards, for example, are game-changing "bombs." So Chris's plan when he sat down was to ignore the green cards and hopefully trick Finkel into drafting them.

Chris won the flip and chose to split first. There is still a lot of controversy about how to split the first pack. It contained pestilence, Legacy's Allure, and Flood in addition to solid cards Impulse, honorable Passage, Brass man, Horned troll, and Saber Ants. Chris put pestilence and Flood together (along with Saber Ants and Brass man). Finkel took that side. It's awfully mana intensive, but those are obviously great cards. Kai Budde was adamant afterwards saying that Chris should have put pestilence on one side and Flood and Allure on the other, because Jon would still take the pestilence. I'm not so sure that Chris could afford to give Jon the chance to make such a solid foothold in blue. Isn't Flood plus Allure better than Pestilence? Conversations like this are what make Solomon draft such an interesting format.

Strangely, both players were happy with pack 2. Chris got Ghitu Slinger, Stronghold Zeppelin, Duress, and Defender of Chaos while Jon got Sylvan Library, Scroll rack, Plague Witch, and Balduvian Horde. Chris felt Jon may have made a mistake by overvaluing Sylvan Library -- it is green after all -- while Jon just really wanted to end up with Scroll rack. Everyone agrees that artifacts are great in Solomon since you don't know what colors you'll end up until the very end.

Chris stuck to his guns in pack 3 -- he put Barrin, Master Wizard on one side along with just Seal of Doom. Meanwhile he lined up a bunch of green cards on the other side: Blastoderm, Craw Wurm, Verdigris and Elvish Lyrist. That side also had Bone Shredder and the 6 card green side of the split is the one Finkel took. In pack 4 Finkel also lined up all the green cards on one side. He had probably figured out Chris's strategy by now and he was starting to try to exploit it. Chris took the non-green side and added Cloudchaser Eagle, Catastrophe, Jackal Pup, and Grindstone to his pile while Jon got Gorilla Chieftain, Quirion Elves, Cradle Guard, and Drudge Skeletons.

Chris was not happy when he opened up pack 5. The good news was that there was a protection form green creature -- Cerulean Wyvern -- that might be useful now that he'd forced Finkel to draft green. But the bad news was the presence of both Choke and Boil. Finkel wound up with the Wyvern, the Boil, and a Fireslinger while Chris got Ashen Powder, Choke, Seal of Cleansing, Samite Healer, and Desertion.

In addition to his "never draft green theory", Chris sat down with a second premise. Since all the cards are good, it's never hard to come up with enough playable cards and thus you should draft the great cards even if you give your opponent multiple good ones. When Finkel put Mist dragon on one side along with just Longbow Archer and Zur's Weirding, Chris didn't hesitate to draft the Dragon and give Jon Parallax Wave, Ekundu Griffin, Gravebane Zombie, Alabaster Wall, and Needle Storm.

Pack 7 was a tough one: Thunderclap, man-o-War, Stinging Barrier, Broken Visage, Nekrataal, Pacifism, Cave-In, and Remove Soul. After Chris's last minute switch, Finkel was able to draft man-o-War, Barrier, Visage, and Cave-In.

Finkel's luck ended on pack 8. That pack included Two-Headed Dragon, Fallen Angel, and Archangel. Thus no matter what Jon did, Chris could take two amazing fliers for his deck. Jon decided that Two-headed dragon plus Fallen Angel was the least scary scenario so he put those on one side with everything else on the other (including trained Armodon and Gemstone Mine). Chris went for the two fat fliers. After the draft both players agreed that that pack really hurt Finkel and there wasn't anything he could do about it.

The last two packs were fairly uneventful -- Chris got a Phyrexian Debaser and a haunted Crossroads while Jon denied him a Perish and added Giant growth and Searing Touch to his own deck. After splitting pack 10 Finkel called "shotgun not moving" and it was time to build.

Pikula had trouble finding a 3-color combination that would give him enough cards to fill out a 4-card deck. He toyed briefly with the idea of running four colors, but decided that he was better off running 20 land and a 3-color deck instead. Finkel knew that Chris's deck was more degenerate, but he felt his own deck was much more consistent -- his colored mana situation was less precarious and he had ways of fixing it (Gemstone Mine, Quirion Elf, Scroll rack, and Sylvan Library). Finkel basically build a green rush deck because he knew he had to kill Chris before Chris could cast either of his Dragons or his Fallen Angel. Finkel's final comment was "I think Chris has a better deck. This sucks."

Game 1 was all about Boil. Chris played a second island in order to cast Stronghold Zeppelin and Finkel made him pay. After years of playing blue, Finkel enjoyed the irony of the moment saying "How wrong is me Boiling somebody?" Boil prevented Chris from using his Desertion of Jon's craw Wurm, but Chris as able to Aftershock it and then add it to his own army using Ashen Powder. Finkel's Bone Shredder stopped that craziness and allowed Finkel to keep attacking with Cradle Guard and Gravebane Zombie. Without an islands Chris with Stronghold Zeppelin unable to block ground creatures, Chris was dead.

Chris looked like he was winning game 2 when he destroyed Plague Witch with Ghitu Slinger and Cradle Guard with Nekrataal. Pikula also had Barrin and Stronghold Zeppelin. Jon used Searing Touch to kill Nekrataal and force Chris to bounce his Barrin. Then Jon Boiled away three islands and Needle stormed away the Zeppelin. Chris was decidedly unhappy about how much his position changed over the course of two turns, but at least Jon didn't have much offense. Pikula used Haunted Crossroads to recurse Ghitu Slinger 5 times and just burned Jon out while also chump blocking the creatures that he eventually drew and played.

Finkel chose to draw in game 2, but still managed to come out very aggressively. He played turn 1 Lyrist and turn 2 Sylvan. If his Sylvan had shown him a second green mana he would have summoned a turn 3 Trained Armodon, but it didn't so he paid 8 life to keep all 3 cards. The next 3 did include green mana so Gorilla Chieftain came out on turn 4 and then the Armodon. Chris played a Debaser and a Seal of Doom, but Finkel busted out turn 6 Craw Wurm. Pikula had a hiccup in his mana development. As of turn 6 he had 3 mountains, one island, and one Swamp. With Legacy's Allure, Nekrataal, and two-Headed Dragon in hand any land would have helped, but he didn't draw any in time. Pikula tried to trade his Debaser for Craw Wurm, but Finkel used Giant growth to save it. Chris did Nekrataal away the Wurm on his next turn, but Finkel kept working that Sylvan Library. He paid 4 more for yet another card and then dropped Cradle guard. Chris played Two-Headed Dragon, but Finkel just swarmed him and killed him.

Finkel didn't win in quite the way everyone expected him to, but he did win and force the match to go to a 5th and final format. Chris executed his draft plan well and ended up with better cards in his deck than Jon did, but maybe green isn't quite as bad as everyone thought it was.

Finkel - 2
Pikula - 1
Overall series: Tied at 2-2 (best three out of five)



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