ith the conclusion of Grand Prix–Paris—the largest Magic tournament ever held in the history of the game—the finish line for the 2009 Pro Tour season is clearly in view. Grand Prix–Minneapolis is happening this weekend, although it is unclear how many hearty Pros will make the trek from Europe to Minneapolis and then back to Europe the following weekend. Once that event is in the books all that will remain is the headline event of every Pro Tour season: the World Championships. Worlds is taking place in Rome this year, and it will provide answers to all the questions that the 2009 season has asked. Let's take a walk through the Worlds schedule and look at some of the stories you should be following from home and the public events you should be taking part in if you are fortunate enough to be in Rome, Italy next weekend.
You can find all the information about Public Events here. While most people have this misconception that Pro Tours are some kind of exclusive event for an elite class of player, the players qualified for Worlds will be vastly outnumbered by the attendees playing in the various Public Events that take place for their benefit throughout the weekend. When you add up the Public Events, artists signings, Magic trivia shows, unparalleled access to Magic's top decision makers, gunslinging, and the opportunity to watch the world's best players in action, it is much more of a Magic convention that includes the World Championships than the other way around.
If you are fortunate enough to be in Rome on Wednesday before the event starts, you can take advantage of "early bird specials" on 8-person Booster Draft and Standard tournaments. Booster Drafts that day will be only 5 euros, and the Standard events are free. You have to wonder how many Worlds competitors will take their Standard decks out for a test drive on Wednesday in free, somewhat anonymous Standard events. The entry for the events will return to normal levels after Wednesday—usually 5 euros for Constructed events and 15 euros per person for Limited. These 8-person events will continue throughout the event and will utilize pretty much every format under the sun, from Standard to Vintage to 2HG Booster Draft.
There will, of course, be your traditional public events such as Grand Prix Trials, Pro Tour Qualifiers, and events with cool prizes like foil sets, iPods, and Power 9 cards, but the Play the Game, See the World Championship offers an unprecedented prize for one lucky winner. There have been qualifier events taking place throughout European retail locations for the Finals, which will be played on Sunday during Worlds using the Zendikar Sealed Deck format. Eight spots for the event remain open and will be determined by three public events during the days leading up to Sunday—the top two players from two of the events and the the top two teams from a 2HG events. The winner of the Sunday tournament will win airfare and accommodations to San Diego, Puerto Rico, Amsterdam, and Chiba next year to attend all the Pro Tours during the 2010 season—Pro Tour invites not included.
None of that is meant to diminish the headline feature, determining the World Champion of the Magic for the 2009 season. When you look at the past names to hold the title you quickly realize that it is perhaps the most prestigious title in the history of the game; an exclusive subset of Pro Tour winners that includes Jon Finkel and Kai Budde. Last season's Top 8 featured a handful of strong future Hall of Fame candidates, including 2009 inductee Frank Karsten, "overnight" sensation Tyusoshi Ikeda, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, Kenji Tsumura, old-school miser Jamie Parke, and 2009 World Champion Antti Malin. It will be a tough Top 8 to follow, but the way the 2009 season has been going I would not be surprised to see one of the best Top 8s in Worlds history next weekend. Just look at the players who have made the Top 8 of Pro Tours this season:
Pro Tour–Kyoto 2009
1) Gabriel Nassif
2) Luis Scott-Vargas
3) Akimasa Yamamoto
4) Brian Robinson
5) Matteo Orsini Jones
6) Cedric Phillips
7) Jan Ruess
8) Masayasu Tanahashi
Pro Tour–Honolulu 2009
1) Kazuya Mitamura
2) Michal Hebky
3) Paul Rietzl
4) Conley Woods
5) Christophe Gregoir
6) Zac Hill
7) Brian Kibler
8) Tom Ross
Pro Tour–Austin 2009
1) Brian Kibler
2) Tsuyoshi Ikeda
3) Naoki Shimizu
4) Hunter Burton
5) Evangelos Papatsarouchas
6) Yuuya Watanabe
7) Martin Juza
8) Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
Interestingly, none of those three winners are higher than Nassif, in fourth place, in the Player of the Year standings—and he stands 13 points off the leader. The story of the 2009 season started with the stunning Finals between Gabriel Nassif and Luis Scott-Vargas in Kyoto, but that may turn out to be a red herring. Over the course of the season we have been witness to the ascent of former Rookie of the Year winner Yuuya Watanabe, who rattled off Top 8 finishes in seven of his last eight premier events, including Japanese Nationals, five Grand Prix tournaments, and a Pro Tour. He has surged into the lead of the Player of the Year race and will no doubt be a frequent visitor to the feature match Arena all weekend.
Gabriel Nassif, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Yuuya Watanabe.
The person right behind him in the standings is Martin Juza, who is having a breakout season all his own. Martin continues to finish solidly in the money at seemingly every PT, has posted three Top 8s at the Grand Prix level, and has been even more dogged about attending events than Yuuya, who just skipped the 2000-person scrum known as Grand Prix–Paris. Unfortunately for Martin, he was unable to capitalize on Yuuya's absence, finishing out of the money and out of the pro points. Martin likes to downplay the title and has been more focused on being maxed out at Level 8 for next season, but he is keenly aware of Yuuya at every event—even when Yuuya is not there. He does know what he needs to do in order to win:
"Something like at least semifinals at Worlds," said Martin, who has his work cut out for him since Yuuya has the added well of the Team Championships to dip into for points. "I think I should focus more on Top 8ing."
Martin earned himself Level 7 status last season and has taken advantage of that to travel to all corners of the world in pursuit of Pro Points, new friends, and good times. If he could just get a good night's sleep the Czech player would be as happy as a Magic player can get.
"My sleeping schedule is a giant mess, but other than that it was an awesome year," Martin said. "I made a lot of friends, had a lot of fun, and got to see more places than some other people get to see in their whole life."
With Level 8 locked up for next season and even more financial incentive to travel to events, Martin will have two whole months between Worlds and the kickoff of the 2010 season at Grand Prix–Oakland. What will he do with all that time?
"Rest and hang out with friends I now get to see less often because I am away all the time," laughed Juza.
With non-stop Grand Prix action these past few weeks, I wondered how that affected Martin's ability to prepare for Worlds. Would he be helped or hindered by the Grand Prix circuit?
"Definitely helps," Martin said, but he was quick to add, "All the events lately have been Limited, so I have to start playing some Standard too."
Earlier I alluded to Yuuya Watanabe having an advantage going into Worlds due to the team competition. Yuuya is a member of the impressive Japanese National Team and, like each of its other members, has the opportunity to compete for up to 10 points. When you look at a team made up of the red-hot Yuuya, reigning Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura, and the unknown quantity of Yuuma Shiota, they are on the short list of teams that almost everyone expects to playing before the cameras on Sunday.
Charles Gindy, Adam Yurchick, and Todd Anderson.
One of the teams that has a tough act to follow is the U.S. National Team. In a graceful exit from regular tournament play by Paul Cheon at the end of last season, the title returned to the U.S. after taking a tour of Japan and Europe for the past few seasons. This year's team is made up of Pro Tour–Hollywood leading man Charles Gindy, Pro Tour veteran Adam Yurchick, and newcomer Todd Anderson. Handicappers were unsure of what to make of Todd's berth on the team, as he had no accomplishments to speak of prior to U.S. Nationals, but Todd recently made the Top 8 of the Nashville $5K. I recently wrote about his wedding to fellow Magic player Kali, who not only joined him in the Top 8 but won the whole tournament. Even more interestingly, the duo were playing a rogue deck that promises to throw a monkey wrench into the previously Jund-dominated metagame.
Kali Anderson's Eldrazi Green
Standard - 1st place, StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Nashville
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and former World Champion Carlos Romao.
I expect the American team to be in the running for the team title throughout the event, but they will have their work cut out for them if they are going to keep the trophy in the States. Paulo Vitor damo da Rosa, fresh off of his Top 8 turn in Austin, will be leading a Brazilian squad that includes former World Champion Carlos Romao and their unproven third member Aristedes Camara. If the event breaks right for Paulo and he can go far into the team tournament (and should the Japanese team fall by the wayside), he could potentially pass a handful of Player of the Year horses. While we may not know much about Shioma and Camara, the fate of their teammates may very well come down to how well those lesser-known players fare under the harsh spotlight of the game played at its highest levels.
In a previous article about the results from Nationals I overlooked the accomplishment of one Jasar Elarar, who won Canadian Nationals. A competitor in one of the most formidable Top 8s in PT history, Elarar was at that time skinny kid named Jay who bore no resemblance to the Jasar who emerged on top of Canadian Nats. Jasar will lead a team that includes former Limited Information columnist Quentin Martin and Jon Boutin. My apologies to him, and I look forward to seeing if he can add to his resume to keep pace with the rest of his Chicago Top 8 that could have 75% of its alumni in the Hall of Fame by next season.
Sebastian Thaler, Lino Burgold, and Sebastian Kuchenbecker.
One team that will be looking to follow in the footsteps of its country's most famous Magic player is Germany. Former Rookie of the Year Sebastian Thaler will be leading the team that includes Sebastian Kuchenbecker and GP–Paris Top 8 competitor Lino Burgold. If the German team can put some extra points on the board it will be smooth sailing for Lino Burgold to do what the German National Champ did a few years back and win the Rookie of the Year title. Between winning GP–Hanover, making the German team, and finishing in the Top 8 of Paris, Lino has put himself into third place in those standings, with only two points separating 3rd and 1st. Fourth place in the standings is Shi Tian Lee of Hong Kong, who just happens to be captaining his country's team. Much like last year, when Aaron Nicastri clawed across the finish line thanks to a Finals finish by the Australian National team, I expect the Rookie of the Year title to be determined on Sunday during the Team rounds.
The 18-year-old Lino, who hails from Freiberg, Germany, has been enjoying his first year of playing the game professionally, having dabbled for the better part of his young life.
"I started playing Magic—even though that's hard to believe—when I could barely even read," Burgold marveled. "Although what we played back then could hardly be called Magic. My first tournament was around Mirrodin, and my first Grand Prix was 2006 in Dortmund."
His win in Hanover earned him his first Pro Tour invite, but it was not what the young player had hoped for. He did not care much for any of the formats associated with the Shards of Alara block, and the real-world concerns of being a student meant he could not spend as much time as he would have liked in the sunny locale of Pro Tour–Honolulu.
"I couldn't even enjoy Hawaii for longer because I had to return as soon as possible for my A-levels!" sighed Burgold. "However, I had a great time in Austin for my second PT. The second time is always a lot more enjoyable, I guess, because you know a lot more people by then. Also, the format was fun and the location, while not Hawaii, was still pretty cool."
What did Lino think of his country's chances in the Team Competition?
"I think we can get pretty far, although I have my doubts that we're able to make Top 4," he admitted. "The Standard format at the moment is hard to test because there is this awfully good deck that sometimes just sweeps everything else. You don't learn much from testing in this format, because Jund is just too big a factor and plays pretty unpredictably because of cascade and other things. Although that doesn't mean we're not testing."
Lino would love to follow in Thaler's footsteps and win the Rookie of the Year race, but when I asked him about his goals for the event he seemed to be taking a page from the Martin Juza handbook—which has to be a good sign for his future.
"I'm definitely trying to get there. However, I am a lot more interested in trying to get Level 6, which is a lot more important," said Lino, with an eye toward the 2010 season. "Obviously, RoY would make me Level 6 anyway, but that is not the goal I am aiming at—that's Level 6. I guess I just have to play as good as I can, and then see if that's good enough for the RoY title."
After winning a 1,000-person Grand Prix and finishing in the Top 8 of one that was close to twice that big, you know that Lino can deal with the pressure of a big tournament. I asked Lino about how it felt to emerge from a 2,000-person scrum as one of 8 players that got to continue playing.
"It feels quite awesome," Lino answered. "However, you really lose the feeling on Day Two. It doesn't even feel like a 200-player tournament, it is more like two 8-player [Limited pods]. I really enjoy this atmosphere on Day Two of a Grand Prix. And that atmosphere is a lot more important for me than remembering the 2,000 people on Day One, although it does sound pretty cool if you think back at it."
There have been a lot of firsts for the teenaged player, and with the World Championships coming to Europe there is another on the horizon.
"Now I'm really looking forward to Worlds, as its not only my first time at Worlds, but also my first Pro Tour outside the U.S.," said the Honolulu and Austin competitor.
You can follow along with all the action starting on Thursday here on magicthegathering.com as we begin to sort out the identity of the Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, Team Champions, and finally the World Champion for the 2009 Pro Tour season.
Firestarter: Putting Zendikar on a Spit
I recently posted the following question on Twitter (you can follow me @top8games) and Facebook and am curious to hear your answers in the forums. As I have been talking to Pros about the Zendikar Limited format it has become clear that there are a few rares players would choose over Vampire Nighthawk. I wanted to find out exactly how many cards that would be. Assuming you laid out all the cards in Zendikar for an 8-person Rotisserie Draft, where players would make picks 1 through 8 and then wheel back up 9 through 16 and so on, what would the first 8 cards picked be, and in what order? And if the Nighthawk is not in those first 8 where would it finally go in the draft? Head to the forums and let me know what your ranking of the top cards in Zendikar Limited is from 1st to 8th.