Limited Lessons – Drafting With Finkel

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Tuesday, February 19th – On Sunday, Magic legend Jon Finkel rolled back the years to remind us exactly how good at the game he can be. With a 16-1-1 record across three days, he simply demolished the field. Today, Nick Eisel stands over his shoulder and reviews Jon€™s wonderful Top 8 draft in depth. Believe me, it€™s an eye-opener. Enjoy!

This past weekend Jon Finkel proved yet again just how good he is at Magic. Because of this I decided to take a break from doing the tribal strategy guides in order to examine Jon’s Top 8 draft and what we can learn from it. Many players at the Pro Tour were calling this one of the most skill intensive formats ever and I can’t say I disagree as you have to always be on your toes. One of the big keys to success in this format is that you have to always be willing to abandon an early tribal plan in a draft if another tribe seems severely underdrafted. While this has been the case in other draft formats you can really reap the rewards in LLM.

If you feel inclined you can follow along with this walkthrough in the Draft Replayer which can be found here.

If you haven’t yet looked over the Top 8 draft in detail and want to get the most out of this article you should go through Finkel’s draft without looking at what he picked and write down what you yourself would have taken. This is especially important in Pack 1 as the later packs obviously would’ve been influenced differently if you made different choices. I did this as well in order to compare my choices with Jon’s and see where he may have found a better edge in this particular draft (which he certainly did).

The Draft

Pick 1

Pick 1
Elvish Branchbender Fire-Belly Changeling Footbottom Feast Kithkin Greatheart Lowland Oaf Mulldrifter Skeletal Changeling Weed Strangle Amoeboid Changeling Lignify Shields of Velis Vel Goldmeadow Stalwart Drowner of Secrets Thorntooth Witch Brion Stoutarm

The first booster of the draft is already an extremely tough pick. So many tribes and paths to choose from where do we begin?

When I wrote down my picks for this draft I took a bit of time on this one before deciding that I’d take Drowner of Secrets because of the huge potential it has now with Morningtide. This pack offers other options in Brion Stoutarm Mulldrifter Thorntooth Witch and Weed Strangle which are all perfectly good first picks. I wish I had a chance to sit down with Jon and go through this draft and get his thoughts on it but since I didn’t I’m merely going to speculate on what he was thinking.

Overall I think Drowner is the best pick on a purely power standpoint and Jon may or not agree with that. Brion Stoutarm is a very good card but it seems silly to commit so heavily to two colors and a tribe already with so many other options available. The Black cards are outclassed by the Blue and while they are both excellent picks for Black they just don’t have a shot in this pack. Then we have the meshing of power and consistency in Mulldrifter because you can splash it in any tribe you end up in and it will almost always make your deck. If we take Drowner here and there just aren’t any Merfolk or the guy in front of us is drafting it not only did we waste a pick but we probably wasted multiple picks trying to get into the archetype before failing. At that point the draft would be a trainwreck and we’d likely have to stick with the Merfolk plan anyway and just have a mediocre deck.

Jon thought a whole step ahead of the game here and took Mulldrifter and overall that is definitely the percentage pick from this pack as it’s a great card that never screws up your draft and never goes to waste.

One big thing that became apparent to me after going over his draft in detail is that Jon really has a talent for the game that most of us will never achieve. You may think this is a stupid thing to say because his Magic record makes it quite obvious that he has what it takes to truly dominate but I do have a point I promise. My best guess is that Jon has a really insane photographic memory because he drafts with all of the information he’s seen in mind and also prepares to get rewarded.

You’ll see exactly what I’m talking about later in this set of boosters.

Jon’s Pick: Mulldrifter

Pick 2
Deeptread Merrow Fistful of Force Flamekin Spitfire Goldmeadow Dodger Goldmeadow Harrier Hornet Harasser Nightshade Stinger Skeletal Changeling Soulbright Flamekin Wings of Velis Vel Caterwauling Boggart Treefolk Harbinger Nectar Faerie Knucklebone Witch

This pack seems awful in comparison to the first booster but there are still some interesting aspects about it. Since Jon’s options are still wide open here he could take Flamekin Spitfire Goldmeadow Harrier or even Fistful of Force from this pack. That being said the Harrier is the best card and UW is usually better than UR or UG in this format when you’re making an early pick that doesn’t revolve around a bomb.

Jon’s Pick: Goldmeadow Harrier

Pick 3
Aquitect’s Will Elvish Branchbender Elvish Harbinger Fertile Ground Fire-Belly Changeling Kinsbaile Skirmisher Lace with Moonglove Moonglove Winnower Plover Knights Smokebraider Amoeboid Changeling Summon the School Wren’s Run Vanquisher

I’m sure at this point in the draft Jon was wishing he took Drowner with his first pick. Even with that being the case you’re never upset to get a Summon the School third pick in pack 1 especially after having taken both a Blue and White card with your first two picks. I don’t really see any other pick here unless you somehow took Fistful of Force second at which point you’d probably take Elvish Harbinger or Vanquisher from this pack depending on your overall gameplan.

Jon’s Pick: Summon the School

Pick 4
Boggart Forager Boggart Sprite-Chaser Broken Ambitions Cenn’s Heir Elvish Handservant Inner-Flame Acolyte Pestermite Runed Stalactite Seedguide Ash Tideshaper Mystic Lys Alana Scarblade Neck Snap

This is another easy pick given how the draft has gone so far as Pestermite is an awesome card that you’ll always pick highly and play when you have Islands in your deck. I promise the draft gets much more interesting shortly.

Jon’s Pick: Pestermite

Pick 5
Blind-Spot Giant Bog-Strider Ash Cloudcrown Oak Kinsbaile Skirmisher Spring Cleaning Wanderer’s Twig Wellgabber Apothecary Avian Changeling Changeling Hero Gilt-Leaf Seer Vivid Grove

For anyone who still doesn’t know which Changeling is better it’s clearly the Avian variety. The Hero is fine but clunky and doesn’t add another guy to your side.

Jon’s Pick: Avian Changeling

Pick 6
Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender Flamekin Brawler Kinsbaile Balloonist Lairwatch Giant Moonglove Winnower Paperfin Rascal Spellstutter Sprite Spiderwig Boggart Ethereal Whiskergill Giant’s Ire

Now this pack has a few options to talk about. In general I’m not a big fan of the Balloonist in UW since you’re either sitting back on Silvergill Dousers and eventually winning with Islandwalk or all of your guys already have flying. Balloonist is great in Kithkin but not so exciting in a Merfolk strategy. The choice between Paperfin Rascal and Whiskergill is largely influenced by Summon the School. If Jon didn’t have the Summon I feel confident that he would’ve taken the Whiskergill here as it’s better in UW control builds.

Jon’s Pick: Paperfin Rascal

Pick 7
Axegrinder Giant Blind-Spot Giant Crush Underfoot Guardian of Cloverdell Lace with Moonglove Exiled Boggart Heal the Scars Ponder Wanderer’s Twig

It seems that the Brion Stoutarm plan would’ve paid off as there are plenty of Giant cards going around late. I’m not sure I like Jon’s pick of Ponder here as it is almost never going to make the cut. I think I’d probably take Twig just in case I ended up with a splash option but it’s likely not a huge deal since neither card makes the maindeck very often.

Jon’s Pick: Ponder

Pick 8
Blind-Spot Giant Gilt-Leaf Seer Kinsbaile Skirmisher Spring Cleaning Wellgabber Apothecary Boggart Shenanigans Ego Erasure Favor the Mighty

Here’s where things start to get interesting. It begins with a nonchalant Kinsbaile Skirmisher which almost never makes the cut in my Merfolk builds. Granted there’s nothing else in this pack except another reason to be annoyed for not taking Brion Stoutarm.

Jon’s Pick: Kinsbaile Skirmisher

Pick 9
Elvish Branchbender Footbottom Feast Goldmeadow Stalwart Lowland Oaf Skeletal Changeling Amoeboid Changeling Shields of Velis Vel

This pick may seem fairly innocuous on the surface but to me this was the key pick of the entire draft!

After I’d gone through and wrote down what I’d pick if I were in Jon’s shoes I went back and looked at what he actually took to see where we differed and what he saw going on in the draft that maybe I didn’t. Up until this point I’d say pretty much any drafter would be focused on getting into Merfolk (no matter whether you took Drowner or Mulldrifter first) and be happy to pick up the late pick Amoeboid here. Jon however has been paying attention to the minute details of the packs going around and realized that there are a lot of small Kithkin guys that are likely going to make their way back around based on the content of the other packs. Jon takes this one step further and decides to begin a bridge of his draft from Merfolk to Kithkin in the hope that he gets all of those cards late and can just make a full switch over. My feeling is that Jon realized at this point with the Stalwart tabling that he had the Green light to switch into an archetype that has gained a ton of momentum with the addition of Morningtide.

I can say with a high degree of certainty that the majority of players out there would be content to take the Amoeboid here and continue along a path that seemed to be panning out relatively well. Jon on the other hand saw the obvious path and also saw a tribe that was being underdrafted that could possibly allow him to get high Kithkin picks very late in the coming boosters. And that ladies and gentlemen is why Jon Finkel is atop the Magic world.

At least we can study his draft game and attempt to implement elements of it into our own right?

Jon’s Pick: Goldmeadow Stalwart

The next couple of picks are obvious enough that I don’t have many comments for them and you can look over them in the replayer for yourselves. I do want to talk about one more pick in the first set of boosters….

Pick 12
Boggart Forager Cenn’s Heir Runed Stalactite Tideshaper Mystic

So often during a draft the last few picks are disregarded since they rarely influence the outcome of that draft. In this case this is another pick where Jon strayed from the path of what an average drafter would do. I’ve talked in past weeks about how Runed Stalactite has gained value with the addition of the second set and I think 95% of us would take Stalactite here without giving it much thought. Jon elected to go with Cenn’s Heir which is interesting because they are excellent in the overall Kithkin gameplan of swarming with a bunch of guys and winning as fast as possible. Despite Stalactite’s obvious synergy with Kithkin Zephyrnaut I think the Cenn’s Heir is a much better pick for the archetype in this spot.

Jon’s Pick: Cenn’s Heir

To sum things up Jon was headed into a Merfolk build after the late Summon the School and things seemed to be going pretty well. Most players would never deviate from a 3rd pick Summon and in general this isn’t a terrible strategy to employ. Jon is thinking on another level and likely remembers the contents of each booster and saw a better road to take in Kithkin and jumped at the opportunity. He was rewarded with two more late-pick Kinsbaile Skirmishers and a good chance to improve further in the coming packs.

Even the first pick of the draft is a great example of the level Jon is at. I’m sure he saw Drowner as the best card in the pack he totally bypassed the Stoutarm and he made the best overall pick in Mulldrifter. I know when I first went back and compared my picks with his I felt totally refreshed with a new perspective and felt like I really learned something. I hope the same is happening for you guys as you read this walkthrough.

Pack 2

Pick 1
Blind-Spot Giant Cloudthresher Familiar’s Ruse Fire-Belly Changeling Flamekin Harbinger Inner-Flame Acolyte Judge of Currents Kinsbaile Balloonist Lace with Moonglove Moonglove Winnower Paperfin Rascal Peppersmoke Shimmering Grotto Soaring Hope Wizened Cenn

It’s as if the Magic Gods were smiling down upon Jon for drafting absolutely perfectly in the first set of boosters. Well done Jon… for your efforts you’re rewarded with an absolute bomb in the Kithkin archetype.

Jon’s Pick: Wizened Cenn

Pick 2
Blades of Velis Vel Briarhorn Cenn’s Heir Dreamspoiler Witches Facevaulter Flamekin Brawler Hurly Burly Kithkin Harbinger Nath’s Elite Paperfin Rascal Plover Knights Runed Stalactite Changeling Berserker Warren-Scourge Elf

I hope you weren’t tempted with the Plover Knights here. Remember guys two Wizened Cenns are better than one. Some players may even consider splashing Briarhorn here and going near mono-White with a double splash for Mulldrifter/Pestermite and Briarhorn which isn’t terrible. This would be more viable if you took Wanderer’s Twig in Pack 1 since you could get away with 16 land and only one Forest for the Briarhorn splash.

After all of that rambling isn’t it just so much easier and more consistent to take the Harbinger?

Jon’s Pick: Kithkin Harbinger

Pick 3
Blind-Spot Giant Flamekin Harbinger Gilt-Leaf Seer Herbal Poultice Kithkin Greatheart Oakgnarl Warrior Tarfire Wellgabber Apothecary Boggart Birth Rite Heat Shimmer Lash Out Thundercloud Shaman Zephyr Net

So yeah about that Brion Stoutarm

This pack certainly had to make Jon cringe and I’m honestly surprised he managed to stick to his guns and not branch out into Red for any of the awesome options still in this pack. How many of you can honestly say you’d take the Greatheart here rather than getting frisky with Thundercloud Shaman or even taking Lash Out for the splash? Not many…

Jon’s Pick: Kithkin Greatheart

Pick 4
Battlewand Oak Deathrender Faultgrinder Gilt-Leaf Ambush Goldmeadow Dodger Hillcomber Giant Nath’s Buffoon Rootgrapple Stinkdrinker Daredevil Entangling Trap Jagged Scar Archers Makeshift Mannequin

This is yet another pick that just stuns me. Jon is just so on target with everything it’s crazy. He made the stick with his guns pick of Kithkin Greatheart and now he takes this guy to back it up. I’m guessing he just thinks Deathrender is too slow for this archetype which is likely true but many drafters would never make these niche decisions that are so important to the overall success of whatever archetype you’re aiming for.

Jon’s Pick: Hillcomber Giant

Pick 5
Aquitect’s Will Bog-Strider Ash Fire-Belly Changeling Goatnapper Kinsbaile Skirmisher Spring Cleaning Bog Hoodlums Boggart Mob Jagged Scar Archers Lignify Quill-Slinger Boggart

I realize there are no other White cards in this pack but I’m just amazed with this draft in general. Jon is perfectly lined up to get into Merfolk (though he would’ve gotten screwed in this pack probably because he passed the Drowner) and all of a sudden in Pick 9 of Pack 1 he thinks you know I feel like drafting Kithkin today. And not only does he decide to jump ship but he never strays from it and his picks make me think he is absolutely certain it is the best way to proceed in the draft. That’s just pure talent and nothing you can be taught.

Whenever I decide to branch out or possibly jump ship on a tribe I sometimes waver about it or wonder if it is the best decision. For example in the pack with all of the Red and the third-pick Thundercloud I’d be second guessing myself and wishing I took Brion even though I know it isn’t correct. Jon doesn’t seem to care and just proceeds with this jump-ship plan as if it was ordained to be so.

I’m sorry if I’m making a bigger deal out of this than it needs to be but I am utterly impressed by the skill demonstrated in this draft.

Jon’s Pick: Kinsbaile Skirmisher

Pick 6
Caterwauling Boggart Elvish Handservant Gilt-Leaf Palace Goatnapper Nath’s Buffoon Tideshaper Mystic Turtleshell Changeling Battle Mastery Quill-Slinger Boggart Surge of Thoughtweft

Just what we were looking for: a Surge. Not much else to talk about here as I think you’d be insane to take Turtleshell Changeling in this spot. Obviously if your earlier picks went differently then sure but after the first round of boosters I think it’s more valuable to follow Jon’s deck than our own picks.

Jon’s Pick: Surge of Thoughtweft

Pick 7
Boggart Sprite-Chaser Oaken Brawler Protective Bubble Skeletal Changeling Auntie’s Hovel Exiled Boggart Heal the Scars Ponder Shields of Velis Vel

This pick is the first that doesn’t really make any sense to me. Jon is never going to play Ponder in an aggro Kithkin deck and it’s obviously not a hate-draft so why the hell would you take it here? I’d rather take Auntie’s Hovel as a raredraft than Ponder but I think the right pick in this pack is actually Shields of Velis Vel. This card has a few things going for it in that nobody ever expects it it turns on your Kithkin Greathearts or other tribal abilities and is a weak substitute for extra Surge of Thoughtwefts [and it “counters” the Thundercloud Shaman that he passed… – Craig who also picked Shields here]. Whatever the case Mike Patnik utterly wrecked me with it once and we talked about how he thinks it is playable in some decks and people just give it no credit. I tend to agree and would certainly take Shields here.

Jon’s Pick: Ponder

Pick 8
I’m sure Jon was happy to get another Greatheart and this pack is so bad I’m not even going to list the contents.

Jon’s Pick: Kithkin Greatheart

The rest of the picks in this set of packs should be self-explanatory and Jon took another Cenn’s Heir over Runed Stalactite which I initially didn’t like when I reviewed the draft. After giving it more thought I think the pick is definitely right and actually not very close given the strategy he’s going for.

The second round of packs again had some interesting decisions and I hope you were as impressed with the way Jon handled them as I was. Going into Pack 3 his intentions are clear: get as many Ballyrush Bannerets as possible so that Cenn’s Heir can go absolutely nuts.

Pack 3

Pick 1
Brighthearth Banneret Final-Sting Faerie Leaf-Crowned Elder Lys Alana Bowmaster Merrow Witsniper Morsel Theft Noggin Whack Redeem the Lost Stingmoggie Stonybrook Schoolmaster Winnower Patrol Disperse Release the Ants Seething Pathblazer Weight of Conscience

There isn’t too much to choose from here and it’s good to have some removal for a troublesome utility guy like Silvergill Douser that Jon may have to face.

Jon’s Pick: Weight of Conscience

Pick 2
Burrenton Shield-Bearers Deglamer Elvish Warrior Forfend Mudbutton Clanger Pyroclast Consul Stream of Unconsciousness Sunflare Shaman Weed-Pruner Poplar Coordinated Barrage Gilt-Leaf Archdruid Ink Dissolver Research the Deep Sage of Fables

Again there is only one pick Jon can really make here given the direction he’s gone with his draft and that is Coordinated Barrage.

Jon’s Pick: Coordinated Barrage

Pick 3
Distant Melody Festercreep Hostile Realm Nightshade Schemers Shinewend Stream of Unconsciousness Weed-Pruner Poplar Coordinated Barrage Graceful Reprieve Negate Order of the Golden Cricket Preeminent Captain Walker of the Grove

If there’s a card that’s really sick with Cenn’s Heir it’s definitely this guy and Jon proved that throughout his Top 8 matches.

Jon’s Pick: Preeminent Captain

Pick 4
Bosk Banneret Burrenton Shield-Bearers Deglamer Dewdrop Spy Festercreep Kithkin Zephyrnaut Rival’s Duel Slithermuse Stingmoggie Stinkdrinker Bandit Prickly Boggart Sage’s Dousing

This pick is closer than it may look on the surface because Slithermuse is quite good in UW Kithkin. The idea of course is that you dump your hand and then reload with Slithermuse by Evoking since your opponent probably still has near a full grip. Nevertheless the Zephyrnaut is quite a good attacker and should turn on often in Jon’s deck.

Jon’s Pick: Kithkin Zephyrnaut

Pick 5
Everbark Shaman Forfend Negate Pulling Teeth Release the Ants Shinewend Daily Regimen Distant Melody Hostile Realm Knowledge Exploitation Prickly Boggart

Having not drafted UW Kithkin before I was unaware of just how good Distant Melody is in this archetype. It should be obvious but I guess I never thought about it and it fits the same type of thinking of Slithermuse except that it is more reliable and still good in the late game.

Jon’s Pick: Distant Melody

Pick 6
Final-Sting Faerie Lunk Errant Merrow Witsniper Morsel Theft Rage Forger Shinewend Stingmoggie Heritage Druid Latchkey Faerie Seething Pathblazer

While the Faerie isn’t likely to be that great in Jon’s deck it’s still the only pick here and doesn’t even require double Blue which is a plus.

Jon’s Pick: Latchkey Faerie

Pick 7
Final-Sting Faerie Merrow Witsniper Morsel Theft Seething Pathblazer Stingmoggie Winnower Patrol Cloak and Dagger Disperse Stomping Slabs

Another good trick to help punch through with a small Kithkin army.

Jon’s Pick: Disperse

Pick 8
Everbark Shaman Final-Sting Faerie Hostile Realm Idyllic Tutor Lunk Errant Pulling Teeth Mosquito Guard Prickly Boggart

Does every pack in this draft have a Final-Sting Faerie in it?

Jon’s Pick: Mosquito Guard

Jon didn’t get much on the lap and to be honest I feel like he got completely screwed by the Morningtide packs here. White and Kithkin in particular is very strong in Morningtide and Jon didn’t get a single Bombardier or Banneret which I’m sure was quite disappointing since that was a large part of the overall reason to jump ship in Pack 1 anyway.

The Deck

Relevant Sideboard
Burrenton Shield-Bearers
Graceful Reprieve
Hillcomber Giant
Ink Dissolver
Latchkey Faerie
Paperfin Rascal
2 Ponder
Summon the School

Jon didn’t end up playing the Hillcomber and I can’t really blame him as I can’t see a card I would cut for it. He also didn’t play the Latchkey Faerie which is understandable as it is a vanilla flier that doesn’t compliment his tribal plans at all.

This draft really opened my eyes to some ways I can improve my game by constantly trying to remember what I’m passing and to keep a better eye out for switching from my initial game plan. I think a good strategy in this format is to make picks in the early stages of Pack 1 that tend not to commit you so much until you can get an idea of how the flow of the draft is going. Then you pick your destiny and stick to it through thick and thin like Jon did in this draft.

In closing I want to also say congratulations to Jon for yet another amazing performance and I hope this was as interesting for you guys as it was for me.

Nick Eisel
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