by Randy Buehler
The basic summary of what happened on Friday at U.S. Nationals is simple: "Finkel's back." After a year of more or less coasting on raw talent, Jon Finkel and Steven O'Mahoney-Schwartz have rededicated themselves to Magic. Since the announcement was made about the tripling of prize money for the Pro Tour (and school ended for summer) they've been playing Magic constantly and 8 hour practice sessions are their norm once again. Finkel put up the only 6-0 record yesterday. He only lost one game.
The other big story is the use of Prophecy in draft so soon after its release. Some were concerned that there wasn't enough time available for practice and thus hard working players might lose their edge. However, looking at the standings reveals that almost all the "name" players did well. There aren't many unfamiliar names at the top of the Swiss nor are there many familiar names at the bottom. All in all, drafting a new set this soon after it has been released appears to be more skill testing than drafting a set after it has been around for months and tech has been handed down to all the players. There were some really sketchy picks being made yesterday simple because players didn't know the cards well enough yet. That gave a big advantage to anyone who could evaluate cards on their own and on the fly.
All those "names" at the top of the Swiss should make for a very interesting Day 2. Mike Long is in contention to make a run at 4-1-1. So is Steve OMS. Even Casey McCarrel is in position at 4-2. Alan Comer or Zvi Mowshowitz could easily represent Mogg Squad in the top 8 if they've come up with a good Standard deck -- both have 5-1 records right now.
The Top 4 in the Swiss after Day 1 are not only in prime position to advance to Sunday, but they also received invitations to Saturday night's Draft Challenge. Previously, Trevor Blackwell and Kyle Rose had been invited because they won Limited Pro Tours this year and Mike Long and Darwin Kastle had been invited through their Limited rating. The top 4 from Friday rounded out the table and they were Jon Finkel, Alex Lieberman, Dave Humpherys, and Chris Benafel. There are lots of interesting matchups that could happen Saturday night or Sunday in that tournament. Long and Kastle haven't played since LA. Neither have Blackwell and Benafel. We could get an LA rematch of Blackwell and Benafel or even a Your Move games matchup of Humpherys and Kastle. And did I mention that Jon Finkel appears to be back in 1998 form?
Stay tuned to the Sideboard, you won't want to miss anything.
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