U.S. Nationals Top 8 Predictions.
by Adrian Sullivan
The eight competitors playing off for a spot on the U.S. Nationals Team have a lot of collective experience. Four of the Top Eight have experience in the finals of Pro-Tours, and three of those left were part of Pittsburgh's Team CMU, one of the most influential teams in Pro-Tour history. With an eclectic collection of decks, personalities, and experience, everyone on the Pro-Tour had fairly strong opinions of who would win.
After informally polling 40 Pro-Tour personalities, it was interesting to see who people thought would win. Mike Long and Jon Finkel both led the race, with 10 people each supporting them. "I hope I'm wrong," said Darwin Kastle, "But I think this is Long's tournament."
Finkel himself felt differently.
"If I win round one, I'm going to be National Champ."
Both Los Angeles Finalist Chris Benafel and Pro-Tour Drafting Hero Mike Turian received six votes of support, with such strong votes of confidence from theorists like Zvi Mowshowitz, Seth Burn and Alan Comer heavily supporting Benafel. Others felt that Turian, whose strengths lie in Limited was due. "He's even playing a 'Turian deck'," said Gary Wise, referring to the heavy creatures nature of Turian's deck, something Turian has always favored.
Of the remaining players, a small handful voted for each of Kyle Rose, Frank Hernandez, Eliot Fung, and Aaron Forsythe. Some thought that Fung was bound to win. "The Recipe is Plains," said former National Champion Matt Linde, who's victory with White Weenie against Mike Long in the finals of the 1998 U.S. National Championship surprised many. Sideboard Editor Monty Ashley also chimed in: "Fung will win. White Weenie wasn't supposed to win any other year either."
As in the past, newcomers always get a degree of partial disrespect. "It's Hernandez's tournament. The stick will win, he always does," said Geddes Cooper, former Super Series great.
In the end, though, whoever won, there would still be a great potential for the U.S. National Team. Using a modified double-elimination system, it would be possible that the National Team could be one of the most potent of all time. While someone's Dream Team might be a Finkel, Long, Rose Team, with arguments about whether Benafel or Turian should complete it, such a dream team would certainly be possible.
In the Finkel/Forsythe matchup, Pro-Tour favorite Finkel would be coming against Forsythe's "Angry Hermit" deck, a Green/Red deck that Forsythe had been working on since State Championships this year. Angry Hermit was the only deck to be duplicated in the Top 8, speaking volumes for the strength of the deck. Finkel, playing Mike Flores' mono-black control deck, certainly had the edge in experience over Forsythe. However, the matchup was close, and the Angry Hermit had beaten the Black Control deck numerous times in the Swiss portions of the tournament. In the end, I feel Finkel's experience will let him pull it through. In the words of former U.S. Team Member and Pro Tour Chicago Champion Bob Maher, Jr., "Finkel is a rock. He can make wins happen that no one else can."
Mike Long would be most players' favorite in his match versus relative unknown Frank Hernandez. Long's Accelerated Blue dek was packing four Treachery, Powder Keg, and Masticore. Hernandez, on the other hand, would not be someone to count out. His deck was horribly difficult for any blue deck to beat - while most Green Beatdown decks have shifted to Rishadan Port and Blastoderm to have an edge, Hernandez opted for a more aggressive strategy including Vine Dryad, a large amount of one casting cost creatures, main deck Uktabi Orangatang (sure to be useful against Long's Kegs, Masticores, and Monoliths), and a pair of Hurricanes to pull out a victory should the creature war stall out. Tanglewire in Hernandez deck would be incredible against Long, often causing several lost turns for a control deck. To quote fellow Floridian Geddes Cooper, "He's not a loser with that color."
Teammates Elliot Fung and Mike Turian (joined in the Top Eight by Aaron Forsythe) have played this matchup many times. While they both jokingly say how easy it will be for them to beat the other player, these New CMU players realize that the edge is Turian's. Turian, playing Forsythe's Angry Hermit deck, has all of the cards that Trinity Green uses to beat Rebels. While Fung did win the country's largest Regionals with his Rebel deck, in the end, the matchup should be even harder for Fung than if he were playing against Trinity, for while the decks are both similar, Angry Hermit packs direct damage to supplement the already strong cards in the matchup like Deranged Hermit and Skyshroud Poacher.
The most hotly contested tournament question was this: who would win between Kyle Rose and Chris Benafel? Rose would be with Replenish including a diverse main-deck "tech" like Wrath of God, Seal of Removal, Energy Field, and Grim Monolith. Benafel's Ponza-variant was also full of "tech": Tectonic Break. The TechPonza would be able to delightfully ignore Energy Field, and with minimal creatures, Rose's creature elimination wouldn't be very useful. Rose did have the Grim Monolith, however, which would allow him to cast Replenish even if he only had one white mana available. From the sideboard, Rose only had Chill and Circle of Protection, but with four Enlightened Tutors, fetching them should be easy. In the end, however, the very nature of Ponza should finish the matchup. With a game one edge, and an ability to simply steal a win randomly with the deck's mana control, Ponza should be favored here.
Both Finkel versus Hernandez and Turian versus Benafel seem relatively straightforward. Finkel's main deck Perish, Massacre, Eradicate, and Engineered Plague would likely do Hernandez in, especially when combined with four Yawgmoth Will's, Vicious Hungers, and Vampiric Tutors. For Turian, his mana control would be nearly equal to Benafel's, but his Yavimaya Elders would help swing any fights over mana in his flavor. Without any quick clocks, a long game would ensue, leaving the advantage with Turian.
My prediction of a Turian/Finkel finals would bring a rematch of Angry Hermit and Flores Black. While in the Forsythe match, Finkel would probably be able to pull out a very slightly disadvantaged matchup, the Pro-Tour's Grand Potato Mike Turian would be no stranger to the pressures of events like this that might plague Forsythe. With many sideboarded games, Turian would be able to pressure Finkel with non-Green creatures like Avalanche Riders and Ancient Hydra. In the end, the diverse attack, early pressure, and mana-control should all provide Turian a large enough edge to even keep Finkel on his toes. With Turian hungry to prove himself, I predict Turian as this year's National Champion.