Friday, December 12, 11:20 a.m. – The Challengers and the Man
by Rich Hagon
With a frantic pace set to only increase, now’s our chance to take stock of what went on during the first eight Rounds of this twenty-five match marathon. Let’s take a look inside the Player of the Year Race, as the five remaining candidates jockey for position.
Carvalho, Saito, Scott-Vargas, and Ruel all have a chance to unseat Nakamura.
Coming in, there was an heir apparent—Shuhei Nakamura—and four putative challengers. In 5th place stood the Portuguese National Champion Marcio Carvalho on 45 points, a whopping 22 adrift of the leader. Had Carvalho not been in the Team competition, only a World Champion Title coupled with Nakamura finishing outside the Top 200 would have him lift the Player of the Year crown. The bonus points (up to 6 of them) that he might have accrued more or less went up in smoke yesterday. After a terrible start, he at least recovered to a decent 4-2 performance, but both his teammates fell to 1-5 records, a situation that one win out of two in the Team rounds couldn’t do much to repair. Portugal currently languish in 43rd in the Team event, and that almost certainly puts paid to his chances, slim as they were to begin with.
Next up the food chain is reigning Player of the Year Tomaharu Saito. On 48 points, he needs to outperform Nakamura by 20 points. With no place on the national team, that means Saito needs to win the World Champion title and hope that Shuhei falls outside the Top 200, which would leave the leader with the minimum 2 pro points. We’ll come to Nakamura in a moment, but for Saito fans, yesterday was a major disappoint that saw him slide to a 2-4 record. Although more than capable of a 5-1/6-0 Draft day today, that’s the territory that Saito needs to find himself in. And tomorrow. It’s a tough climb from here.
Two Points closer to the summit is the hottest player on Earth right now, Luis Scott-Vargas of the USA. Having won Pro Tour–Berlin, and then proceeded to destroy the field at Grand Prix–Atlanta, not to mention almost doing the business yet again at Grand Prix Auckland, and you have a man who is on the top of not just his own game, but the world game. 17 Points behind Nakamura, LSV could theoretically lose the final (!) and still be Player of the Year. Getting to the final is the first part of that equation, and he made a tremendous start, finishing the first day at 5-1.
Frontrunner Shuhei Nakamura
That leaves Frenchman Olivier Ruel, in theory the best placed to challenge Nakamura, not only because he is currently in second place, but because, like Carvalho, he is on his national team. On paper, France looked to have one of the top three teams alongside Japan and the USA. In practice, things didn’t work out quite like that. Olivier stands handily placed on 13 points, with four wins, one loss, and a draw yesterday. Although the team managed one win in two rounds, individually Christophe Peyronnel (9 points) and Pierre Malherbaud (3 points) are making it look likely that most of the heavy lifting will have to be done by Olivier himself. Still, as he himself pointed out yesterday, if he wins the World Championship and misses out on Player of the Year, he’ll still be a very happy camper.
So none of the challengers appear to have utterly kicked the door open. Carvalho and Saito look to be struggling, Ruel may rue that draw rather than a win, dropping two points, and LSV doesn’t have the help of the team competition. But what of the heir apparent Nakamura? He stands in 133rd place on an unexciting, but crucially non-disastrous, 9 points. With a third of the competition gone by, Shuhei is one day closer to his goal, and it’s going to take something special to stop him. Draft day may be the time for his rivals to put up or shut up, and you can follow every twist and turn right here on magicthegathering.com.
Friday, December 12, 12:05 p.m. – The Teams at the Top
by Rich Hagon
One of my major disappointments this year is that Thailand’s Veerapat Sirilertvorakul isn’t here, since apart from his family, I’m the only guy who can pronounce his name. Still, my disappointment scale stops rather short of the Swiss National Team, who were looking to defend the title won in New York last year. On the evidence of Day One, that’s not happening, as they reside firmly in the basement of the standings, in a less than stellar 47th spot, having lost to both Spain and Slovenia in the battle of the esses. That’s still six places and 9 points ahead of Ireland, who currently are the strongest team in the world, because they’re holding up everybody else!
At the top of the standings there are some surprising names cropping up. Standing proudly at the summit is South Korea. Cynic Kim is a well-known pro, but it’s his teammates Sung-Wook Nam (18) and Ji-Hoon Lee (15) who have delivered so far. Add in wins against Colombia and Australia, and you get to 57 points at the end of Day One. In 2nd place comes Ukraine. Consistency has been the watchword for a team that features all three players with positive 4-2 records. They too won both their team matchups last night, something that the third placed United States also managed. Having watched Team U.S. go up against Mexico, I can honestly say that this was some of the most entertaining Magic I’ve seen in ages. On one table, Standstill, Counterbalance, and Sensei’s Divining Top sit in play, with Polluted Delta, Brainstorm, Wasteland, Stifle, and Force of Will in the graveyard. That’ll be Legacy then. To one side, Sam Black gains infinite life to win Game 1, then concedes to Night of Souls’ Betrayal in Game 2. Extended methinks. And on the other side, Standard has its usual fair share of quirky plays. Fulminator Mage destroying a land is met with whoops from the Americans as Mike Jacob’s singleton Knight of the White Orchid does the business. And this is all in one match! If you’ve never tried this mixed format with five friends, you really should. Spectacular Magic.
South Korea sits at the top of the standings going into Day Two.
You might think that Australia would be pleased coming into Day Two in fourth place, but that masks a mini-meltdown at the back end of yesterday, when they could only salvage a draw against Japan (admittedly no slouches) after a loss to the pace-setting South Koreans. Nonetheless, individually they are tearing the place up, with both Rookie of the Year leader Aaron Nicastri and teammate Justin Cheung sitting on a 100% record.
Sharing fourth place with the Australians are two more teams. One of them is Malaysia, but I’m not going to lie—I don’t want to talk about them. Not when I can talk about Great Britain! Somebody stop the tournament right now, because it probably doesn’t get any better than this. National Champion Jonathan Randle had a real baptism of fire, starting his tournament against Kenji Tsumura, Matej Zatlkaj, and Steve Sadin, who finally provided Randle with his first win. Scottish player Stephen Murray battled to a 3-3 record, but the breakout performance came from third seed Ioannis Kyriazis, who stands at 5-1. The team rounds haven’t always been kind to Team GB (or composite parts thereof), but as they vanquished Puerto Rico and then last year’s runners-up from Austria yesterday evening, I confess I felt proud to be South Korean. I mean British.
Colombia also had plenty to shout about, as they sit on 45 points, sharing a place well inside the Top 10 alongside pre-tournament favorites Japan. Masashi Oiso promised the cheering crowds at Japanese Nationals back in the summer that the team would bring home the bacon. (That’s winning, if bacon isn’t your analogy of choice.) On Day One, he certainly put his money where his mouth is. (That’s winning, if cash isn’t your analogy of choice.) Oiso advances to Day Two with one of only five perfect records, and both his teammates have 4-2 records. Had the team rounds gone differently, Japan could be clear at the top, but the loss to Ukraine plus that draw with the Australians have certainly helped to keep things interesting.
The Japanese National Team is aiming for the top.
With no team rounds here on Day Two, the changes in the standings are likely to be incremental and subtle, although three wins versus three losses will still bring you 9 points closer to a rival. The big shakeup comes at the start of Saturday play, where the remaining two Team matchups will be played out. That then sets the stage for the Extended downhill run to the finish, and the four Teams that will go head-to-head on Super Sunday. For what it’s worth, Oiso making good on his word is still very much a possibility.
Friday, December 12, 1:28 p.m. – Frank Karsten’s Aggregate Faeries
by Bill Stark
Karsten, right, playing against Shuhei Nakamura in Round 6.
Frank Karsten is a world-renowned Dutch mastermind. He’s well respected amongst his Pro Tour peers for his soft spoken, likable persona but also for his innovative decklists and dogmatic work ethic for preparing for big events. He brought the world Æther Vial in Affinity decks, crunched mountains of data for his Online Tech article series here on magicthegathering.com, and once played through a Pro Tour despite the fact that he was physically ill throughout the event. This weekend he’s truly outdone himself.
Coming into the 2008 World Championships, Frank claimed he hadn’t had sufficient time to test the Constructed formats (though one has to imagine “not enough time to test” for Frank Karsten is likely more hours than mere mortals spend testing in the first place!). He struck upon a novel solution to the problem, utilizing the new resources he found on the revamped magicthegathering.com.
“When I looked through the new site, I found a daily activity called ‘Decks of the Week,’” he explained. “It’s a collection of decklists from multiple formats and includes Magic Online decklists, States, PTQs, etc.” So how was Frank going to use the information he found to come up with a deck?
“I figured if I can’t playtest much, I’m pretty good at analyzing data.”
With information in hand, Karsten scoured all the Top 8 lists from the State Championships and Magic Online Premier Events he could find, then tabulated which deck was the winningest. To come up with a usable statistic, he looked both at how often a particular archetype made a Top 8, as well as how often it made the Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Finals. “Faeries was the clear winner, so I figured I had to play Faeries.”
Continuing, Frank clarified: “I didn’t have a deck list, so I took 80-90 Faeries lists and calculated the average of cards across decklists.” Karsten would build a deck by using the wisdom of nearly a hundred Faeries players before him, creating an aggregate list based on how often players played four Cryptic Commands, five Islands, three Remove Soul, and so on. “I took all the averages, made a few minor tweaks, and that’s my deck.”
Frank Karsten's "Average" Faeries
The process led to some odd-looking choices, with a few one-ofs most pros wouldn’t dare experiment with. “I like having one-ofs,” Karsten said. “It gives you more options. Having one Broken Ambitions and one Remove Soul is better than having two of either, and it can confuse opponents. If they see you play Broken Ambitions they may not play around Remove Soul.”
When pressed, Frank pointed out that the singleton Ponder that made his deck was actually the perfect for the role the deck needed to fill out. “It felt like playing 25 land wasn’t enough, but playing 26 land was too many. You play one Ponder and split the difference.”
At the end of the individual Standard competition on Thursday, Karsten had emerged with a 4-2 record. But would he continue aggregating deck lists in the future, or return to his tried and true workhorse ways?
“A combination might be best. This method gives you the wisdom of the crowd, and it does give some useful insights. But thorough testing is also important because the wisdom of the crowd isn’t always right.”
If you’re interested in finding out more about Frank’s methods, he has published his data on a Dutch web site called Mana Maze. Of course, you can catch the exact same decks as Frank on the Decks of the Week feature each Thursday on magicthegathering.com.