Deckmasters- Garfield vs Finkel: Garfield’s Deck Review (Part 2 of 2)
A month after the Deckmasters boxed set was released, Wizards of the Coast held the actual Deckmasters event. Richard Garfield and Jon Finkel sat down across from one another at the table of battle, and each wielded the deck that they had created. Given the tremendous fanfare that surrounded the occasion, and the fact that a special-edition product was released in its honour, the result could only have been a disappointment. It should come as little surprise to learn that the rules of the game had changed since the game’s founding, and Garfield found himself on the wrong side of them more than once. “Shouldn’t we be playing by the rules as I made them?” he quipped, making light of his plight, but the first game went to Finkel.
It was now do-or-die for Garfield in the best-of-three, but he found himself the victim of that eternal curse- mana screw. While he foundered on mana, his life total was chunked away by Finkel’s Balduvian Horde, and that was that. The vaunted Deckmasters contest ended with more of a whimper than a bang. “This is the first time I am sitting up here,” said Finkel, gracious in victory, “and am honestly unhappy that my opponent is manascrewed.”
A larger sample size minimises variance. Anything can happen in the Super Bowl, but usually the best team wins it in the seven games of the Stanley Cup. With Finkel inarguably the more skilled player of the game in his time, playing a limited three-game series actually worked in Garfield’s favour, but it was simply not meant to be.
With this on our minds, we wondered if history would now repeat itself. On the first leg of the replay Garfield’s deck had avenged its maker, going 2-1 over Finkel. But there were three more matches yet to be played.
And almost anything can happen.
As expected, the early turns are spend dropping land and passing, but things pick up on turn 3. On the play, Jimi taps out and summons a Phyrexian War Beast, while I do the same for a Giant Trap Door Spider. With the creature edge, Jimi swings in unopposed the turn following, and I’m at 17 life. She then cements her advantage with a Goblin Mutant. All I have is an Elkin Bottle, which I lay down and pass.
Unsurprisingly, Jimi swings with the team on turn 5, but I have a Giant Growth in hand and a Forest open. Because of the feedback damage it does upon death, I opt to pick off the War Beast. While the Mutant hits hard, setting Jimi back a turn on land development is too good an opportunity to pass up, and I watch a Mountain follow the War Beast into the graveyard. It’s now a 19-12 game. Not to be denied, Jimi wastes the Spider with an Incinerate, and passes turn.
With little in the way of defense, I opt instead to go on the offensive and deploy Yavimaya Ants, swinging in unopposed for 5. Now on turn 6, Jimi counterattacks for 5 with the Mutant, then Pyroclasms to solve the Ants. Over to me, I draw that critical fifth land and am able to now deploy my Yavimaya Ancients, which stops the attacks from the Mutant. Next turn, Jimi plays a Foul Familiar, while I trot out a second Yavimaya Ancients. I’m now in a very solid defensive position on the board.
Jimi is not to be denied, however, and she attacks with both the Mutant and the Familiar next turn. I elect to block both creatures, and Jimi replies with a Contagion. With both counters on one Ancient weakening it, the Goblin Mutant finishes it off. As for the Foul Familiar, that was a feint- Jimi activates its special ability and returns it to hand. My defenses now cut in half but knowing Jimi can’t run the trick a second time, I cast another Yavimaya Ants and cut her down to 9. With me at 7, it’s staying close.
Now turn 9, Jimi plays a Phantasmal Fiend, which she uses to trade with my Ants when they come flying in a second time (fine with me, I couldn’t afford the cumultative upkeep a second time, but then she couldn’t afford the life loss either). Next turn, Jimi plays an Underground River, then summons another Phantasmal Fiend and passes. I swing in with my Ancients, drawing in the Goblin Mutant to block. A Giant Growth sees the Mutants off, and I follow up the play with a Balduvian Bears to guard the home front.
Jimi comes in with the Phantasmal Fiend on turn 11, and I let it through. Jimi then uses the Blue mana from the Underground River to trigger its special ability to switch power and toughness, making it a 5/1. I’d hoped she’d try and pump the little fella, and it paid off- I show the red card (Incinerate), and the Fiend’s sent off. Jimi replaces it with another Phyrexian War Beast and passes. Over to me, I’ve got little to do so I figure I might as well try using the Elkin Bottle. I activate it, and it actually pays off- a Forest. Playing it gives me three open mana now, and I use it to summon a Phyrexian War Beast of my own.
Now turn 12 and with no profitable attack option, Jimi summons a Foul Familiar. Topdecking a Shatter, I take out her War Beast and swing for lethal with the team- my own Beast, the Bears, and the Ancients. The Familiar cannot block, but Jimi isn’t entirely defenseless- she snipes the Bears on their way in with Guerrilla Tactics. She’s now down to 2 life, and I play a Woolly Spider before passing.
Jimi sends in the Foul Familiar, which trades with my Spider. She then sends a second Guerrilla Tactics to my face, and scoops.
It’s an all-singing, all-dancing, all-Phyrexian start to the game this time around. After hitting our early land drops, Jimi brings out the trusty Beast on turn 3, and I follow up with one of my own. Nxt turn, Jimi plays her second War Beast… as do I. All four Beasts from both decks are now on the table. Jimi tries to bait me into a trap on turn five when she sends both of hers in (she’s holding a Guerrilla Tactics), but I surprise her by letting one through and gang-blocking the other. She still gets her trick off, finishing off my wounded War Beast with the Tactics, but we both end up losing a Beast, a land, and a life. Back to me, I play a Storm Shaman after attacking and pass.
Jimi’s turn 6 is a blank- not even a land drop. Meanwhile, I hit my fifth land drop and punish Jimi by tapping out for a four-point Lava Burst, killing her remaining War Beast and causing the loss of a second land. Down to three land, Jimi’s in trouble, and I exploit the opening in her defenses by attacking. It’s now a 12-16 game in my favour.
In desperation, Jimi uses a Dark Ritual to pull off a Contagion, placing both counters on my War Beast and making it a 0/2 liability. I swing back for 2 with my Storm Shaman, play a Giant Trap Door Spider, and end my turn. Now turn 8, Jimi draws and plays a Storm Shaman of her own, sealing off the bleeding a little. I keep the pressure on and swing back with my Shaman and the Spider. She blocks the Shaman, taking 2. I play a Woolly Spider and pass.
Next turn, Jimi hoses down my Giant Trap Door Spider with a Lava Burst- inconvenient, but it’s all she’s got. I swing in again with my Shaman and Woolly Spider, she blocks my Shaman with her own and she takes 2 more damage. I play a Lhurgoyf (now 4/5) and pass turn.
Jimi looks to stabilise with a turn 10 Balduvian Horde (losing a Soul Burn in the process). Undeterred, I go all in. Jimi kills the Lhurgoyf with the Horde and bumps Shamans again, but the itsy bitsy Spider chews on her for 2 more. Down to 4 life, she’s done in by my follow-up Hurricane.
I’m off to the races and angling for the sweep with a turn 1 Barbed Sextant, turn 2 Balduvian Bears, and turn 3 Balduvian Bears. While Jimi’s turn 3 Storm Shaman gives her some defensive stability, it’s not until her turn 4 Pyroclasm resolves that she can feel comfortable with the board state. Luckily for me, she was just a bit eager on the trigger, as my Fyndhorn Elves step out amidst the ashes of the Bears.
Now turn 5, Jimi brings out the artillery with the Orcish Cannoneers. Stuck on Green mana, I use the Barbed Sextant to help bring out a Giant Trap Door Spider to at least give me some semblance of defense, though I lack the mana to use its special ability. Next turn, Jimi swings with both of her creatures, and I let them pass for 3. I’m now at 17, with Jimi at 18. My turn is a blank- I draw and pass.
Using the Orcs for reach on turn 7, Jimi draws us even at 15. She attacks with the Storm Shaman, but a Giant Growth on the Spider kills it off. Over to me, I play a most welcome Walking Wall and pass. Now it’s Jimi’s turn for a blank as she does nothing on turn 8. I animate the Wall and send it in with the Spider, taking her to 8 life. At the end of my turn, Jimi throws an Incinerate at me, then follws up with the Orcish Cannonneers. Jimi’s now at 5 with me at 10.
Untapping and drawing, Jimi gets there with a Dark Ritual-powered Lava Burst for the win.
Thoughts & Analysis
As mentioned in the final review of Finkel’s deck, there is something of a challenge in reviewing and scoring these decks. Because of the somewhat arbitrary way in which they were constructed, how do you best analyse them? No more than two of a card, commonality restrictions, no cards that mention another colour… As before, we’ll be looking most heavily at the play factor. Are they enjoyable to play? Do they work well? Are they worth the cost?
That last one is particularly tricky. As a latter-day collector’s item, it’s not unusual to find these going for $50 or more, and it’s difficult to recommend the decks at that price point. If you weren’t a player during Ice Age/Alliances and thus have little nostalgia for the era, you’ll likely find these decks not especially exciting or interesting. That said, you do get more for your money than just the decks. The metal box they are contained in is attractive, albeit somewhat thin and flimsy, far less structurally sound than an old-school lunchbox. The spindown life counters are just that- what you see is what you get- and the “poster” of a Lhurgoyf battling a Goblin Mutant is forgettable.
On the other hand, for those interested in this time and these two personalities, or on the history of Magic in general, the accompanying 36-page booklet is a real treasure. Each participant not only writes an article explaining how they built their deck and why they included the cards they selected, but then there’s another piece later in the book where they get to critique one another’s decks- highly amusing! Former Pro Tour player and judge Michael Donais provides two pieces as well, one analysing the decks, and another on the matchups. Although occasionally questionable (the Elkin Bottle is “cheap to activate?”), it still makes for some fine light reading as well. On that basis, there is a case to be made for the value of the entuire package, but it isn’t all things to all people.
Back to the decks, it does appear like Richard Garfield has seen himself vindicated (under modern rules) in the annals of Ertai’s Lament, with an aggregated record of 4-2 against Jon Finkel. In essence, while the deck lacks the laser-like narrow consistency of Finkel’s, it makes up for this by having a little more variety in terms of card inclusion and- yes- being a little bit more fun to play. Resolving a Yavimaya Ants seemed a lot more exciting than another Foul Familiar somehow.
As before, without the warm and fuzzy layering of nostalgia to cover over the cracks, the deck is rather less powerful in many ways than more modern constructions, particularly with regard to the creatures. The decks overall, though, are evenly matched- and unlike the dreadful Anthologies, they definitely have the feel of a cohesive and reasoned whole.
Hits: Good card variety keeps gameplay a little more interesting than the opposing deck; solid burn and removal package
Misses: Rare selection less exciting, particularly the Elkin Bottle; not even Richard Garfield can make Folk of the Pines fun to play
FINAL SCORE: 3.80/5.00