by Randy Buehler
Chris Pikula told me before the match that he tested his Squirrel-prison deck against a copy of Jon's Living Death deck last night and the match-up was pretty even. It's a weird matchup because each game is usually a slaughter one way or the other. If the Squirrel deck establishes a mana lock there's almost nothing Death can do while if Death gets off a big Living Death, that usually spells doom in the other direction. All in all it was quite interesting to watch the top Urza's block deck face off against the top Rath block deck.
Another interesting aspect of this matchup was that Jon Finkel defined Rath block with the very Living Death deck that he was shuffling up for this match. Finkel, Pikula, and Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz each played it on day 3 at Worlds '98. Chris and Jon both used it to make that top 8. Finkel then won the first Rath block Grand Prix -- Grand Prix Boston -- with it, beating some guy from Pittsburgh with a Counter-Phoenix deck in the finals. The final version of the Death deck, honed over the course of an entire qualifier season, different by only a few cards from Finkel's initial design at Worlds. That was Finkel in his prime. Meanwhile Chris had never played Squirrel Prison until Dave Humpherys handed it to him Wednesday night. Chris promptly 3-0ed the Block Party portion of the tournament and decided he really wanted to keep playing Dave's decks.
Finkel used Thrull Surgeon to get rid of Chris's Opposition at the beginning of game 1. Chris also had 2 Annuls, but he needed mana so he tapped out for turn 3 Yavimaya Granger. That allowed Finkel to get a Survival of the Fittest into play. Jon then used Lobotomy to remove Chris's Masticores from the game. Chris used treachery to steal Jon's Tradewind Rider and also Annulled Jon's Scroll rack and a Mox Diamond. Finkel didn't have any white mana, so Chris felt he had to Annul Mox Diamond or else Jon would Survival for Cloudchaser and blow up his Treachery.
However, that left Chris with no answer to Jon's Recurring Nightmare. Jon did have a second recurring Nightmare in his hand so Chris was in trouble either way. What Jon did not have was a 6th land. With five lands in play for the crucial turns, Jon could only recur once. Chris drew and cast an Opposition. Jon swapped Walls in an effort to find a creature to Survival with or a 6tth land. Chris knocked loudly on his deck and drew -- not a Deranged Hermit. "Why couldn't I just win right there?" he asked. During Jon's upkeep Chris tapped all his black mana. Jon played out a Hermit Druid. Chris drew ... DERANGED HERMIT! Suddenly Jon was completely locked and Chris asked him if he wanted to concede. Jon thought about it and then agreed that he had no way to win. Jon then whined a bit about never drawing that 6th land -- since Jon had 2 recurs, maybe it was Jon who screwed up the Mox Diamond. At the time, though, Jon felt he wanted Chris to Annul it.
Chris sideboarded in Thran Foundries for game 2 while Jon brought in Disenchants. Finkel mulliganed, but then played turn 1 Mox Diamond, land, and Survival of the Fittest. Chris had an Elvish Lyrist, but Jon got to Survival for hermit Druid before Chris could use it. Unfortunately for that plan, Chris had a Thran Foundry and all Finkel's' graveyard filling would be for naught until he could force Chris to blow it. Things looked good for Chris when he Treacheried away a Hermit Druid and a Tradewind Rider and then cast Deranged hermit. But Jon had the answer ready: Shard phoenix! That wiped out most of Chris's side and then Jon Disenchanted Treachery to get back his Tradewind Rider. Finkel used Recurring Nightmare to force Chris to use his Foundry, but Chris had another one. Chris found an Opposition and a Deranged hermit, but Finkel used the one Vec Township in his deck to cast Cloudchaser Eagle and blow up Opposition. Finkel now had active Tradewind Rider and after he bounced Chris's Foundry, his Hermit Druid spilled both lobotomy and Anarchist into his graveyard. Jon Recurred for the Anarchist once, but Chris chose to concede rather than have all of his permanents bounced and Lobotomied.
Chris initial draw for game 3 would have been amazing if he had a Forest, but he didn't. He too the "forbidden look" and yelped when the top card in his library was Forest, but, of course, that doesn't change the fact that his decision was correct. Chris second draw was even better. He played priest of Titania, Heart Warden, Thran Foundry, and Deranged Hermit, all by turn 4. The Foundry was huge as it prevented Finkel from using his Recurring nightmare to get Shard Phoenix into play. On Chris's 5th turn he played Opposition and thus Finkel was denied all main phase mana. Finkel did have a Mox Diamond in his hand for white mana so he could potentially get out of the lock if he could draw Disenchant. However, Chris's turn 6 Morphling ended the game in a hurry and evened the overall score at one match apiece.
Pikula - 2
Finkel - 1
Overall Series: 1 match apiece (best 3 out of 5)
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