t has been a rough adjustment getting reacquainted with the East Coast Winter after spending nine days in Hawaii. Between the cold weather and the jet lag it has been a struggle to get myself in front of a keyboard despite having such an interesting and exciting Pro Tour to follow-up on.
One of the most interesting things about my trip to Hawaii was my hat. I have never, ever owned a hat that I could not crumple up and stuff in my back pocket before. Except for a knit winter hat I have never found headwear that could accommodate my skull before my trip to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel gift shop. I was apparently the beneficiary of being in a part of the world frequented by massive Fijian, Samoan, and Hawaiian hat racks. The irony of the whole situation is that finding my hat came only days after having one of the few haircuts I have ever liked in my adult life.
Not having ever worn a brimmed hat before I was surprised to find out that there is a specific hatiquette for holding your hat on your head under windy conditions. I took a trip to a Hawaiian shirt store during the lunchbreak of the PT and had to keep my hand on my head lest my newfound chapeau blow away.
The problem is that if you keep your hand on the front of your hat people think you are tipping your hat to them. I have no problems being friendly but it took me a couple of strangers returning an imaginary salutation before I realized what was happening. I soon learned that if you need to hold the hat down from the side or rear to avoid unintended greetings.
As my wife and I were getting ready to go home I realized I would have to wear the hat home, having no way to pack it other than on top of my head. I looked at the outerwear I was also going to be sporting as we approached the colder climes and quickly realized that while the Panama hat works pretty well (and if you disagree keep it to yourself) with shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and sandals you pretty much look like a horse's hindquarters wearing it with a long black trench coat.
My solution was to buy a case of clearly marked Hawaiian pineapples in the airport and carry them at all times until I climbed into my cab home -- and it worked. I had several people point and stare to their significant other as I walked through Newark only to have my pineapples pointed out followed by an understanding nod.
I reached home with a minimum of ridicule and the hat, Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and sandals have all been tucked away until summer. The pineapple was delicious and has also been tucked away as well.
Speaking of tucked away I noticed that there were some interesting names tucked away just outside of the Top 8 of the Pro Tour this past weekend. As I have been involved in writing Invitational ballots, looking at Hall of Fame resumes, and doing the things that a Pro Tour historian does I have become increasingly aware of the Top 16 finish. Often the Top 16 finish is the result of cruel tiebreakers as in the case of Spain's Jacob Arias Garcia and Norway's Nikolas Nygaard, who were both less than one percentage point away from that coveted 8th seed.
I am not going to be looking at the decks in the Top 16 as we will be taking a special look at those in next week's The Week That Was in a rare on-theme column. Instead, I'll be taking a moment to acknowledge a group of players who fell just short of the Top 8 mark and may warrant more attention in the coming year.
Jacob Arias Garcia of Spain was last seen reaching the Top 4 of Pro Tour Bilbao with a Boros Deck Wins build that featured unlikely Suppression Fields in the sideboard. I don't really know Jacob but I would be willing to wager that if he has a nemesis in Magic it is Olivier Ruel. Olivier knocked him out in the semifinals of the Grand Prix and when they faced each other in round fifteen of Hawaii it was for the right to draw into the Top 8 in the final round. Olivier won and drew, leaving Jacob to fight on and hope the tiebreakers fell his way.
Norway's Nikolas Nygaard has had a couple of solid tournaments recently. This is his second tenth place finish in as many tries. Not only did he come within tiebreakers of the Top 8 at the World Championships, he was a member of his National team, which finished third after the Japanese and U.S. teams. While he has a while to go to catch up to the likes of Nicolai Herzog – the most successful player from his country – he is quickly climbing the ranks of Norwegian Pros. His two tenth-place finishes could easily have beeb back to back Top 8s and we would be heralding him as the second coming of Kamiel Cornelisssen. (More on Kamiel in a few paragraphs.)
|Moreno nearly made Top 8 in two consecutive constructed Pro Tours.
I mentioned Billy Moreno during my Finals appearance in the webcast booth, which was actually my inspiration for this week's column. Billy just squeaked into Day Two with a 5-3 record after starting out with a perfect record through five rounds. He lost the first round of Day Two and looked like he was going to fade from sight. Instead he turned it on and rattled off seven straight wins including a final round victory over coverage darling Ben Goodman. To reach the finals of one constructed PT and then to follow up with only a few percentage points keeping him from a second straight Top 8 tells me that, despite his much ballyhooed play errors in LA, Billy will be a Constructed force for the foreseeable future.
France's Guillaume Wafo-Tapa may not be a name you are familiar with but if you go back to the coverage from Columbus he is one of two Guillaumes credited by Pierre Canali as co-workers on his highly metagamed Affinity sideboard which Canali used to win the first PT of last season. Guillaume and Pierre once again collaborated for this event and both players made Day Two with their Niz-Mizzet control deck. Again, a couple of decimal places in the tiebreakers column fall the other way and we could easily be talking about Wafo-Tapa for next year's Resident Genius ballot.
Makahito Mihara was the highest finishing player from Japan. You may remember Mihara as the creator of The CAL from Grand Prix Kitakyuushu but he has been a Constructed force in Japan well before that. For three straight years this twenty-something college student has made the Top 8 of Japanese Nationals. He built the unusual RazorTron for this past year's tournament and came within an Oiso of making the National team. He has also reached the Top 8 of the year-end Finals in Japan two of the last three years.
Japan's Masaki Yokoi was the highest finishing PTQ winner in the entire tournament. That was not the only notable achievement for this young qualifier veteran. He had the distinction of only picking up four losses the entire weekend playing a deck that was actually designed by Go Anan. While it has been a popular joke among the Japanese to credit Go Anan with their deck designs – most notably with decks designed by Tsuyohi Fujita – Yokoi's deck actually came straight from Go himself.
Kamiel Cornelissen was the highest finishing Dutch player in the tournament after Ruud Warmenhoven. Kamiel really needs to start talking some trash or wearing some silly hats or wearing a gas mask. If you look back at some of the best Top 8s of all time like the Chicago and LA from the 2000-2001 season Kamiel is right there in the Top 2. The guy has five career Top 8s – a threshold that has been established as being Hall of Fame worthy – and was within one win of his sixth Top 8 which only four players have done in the game's history. Either he needs to start calling more attention to himself or I need to start paying closer attention to one of the game's best players.
None of the top finishing Japanese players were names that you would pick in a fantasy Pro Tour. Ryouma Shiozu does have five Grand Prix Top 8's on his resume – a common stepping stone to Pro Tour success for many Japanese Pros. He has kicked up some dirt at those GPs in both Limited and Constructed events. At Grand Prix Nigata he played mono-blue while the rest of the world was bringing Gifts and Black Hand to the Kamigawa block party. Ryouma also created a sensation with his Ire of Kaminari draft deck at Grand Prix Shizouka.
Writer's Ballot Results
The North American Ballot was thought by many to be sitting in Osyp's back pocket but the man they call Joe Black pulled past Jeff Cunningham to win the Writer's Ballot instead, despite five first place votes for the Canadian to the American's two. Despite the five first place votes Jeff did not even finish second with Tsuyoshi, Oiso, De Rosa, and Walamies finishing ahead of him. If it prompts Jeff to tell more untold tales of the Pro Tour it will all be worth it. In the meanwhile Osyp Lebedowicz appeared on more ballots than any other candidate, making the North American ballot much more interesting.
North American Election
Gabriel Nassif earned an invite to the E3 on last week's ballot, which was chock full of Pro Tour winners ranging from Pierre Canali to Geoffrey Siron to Antoine Ruel. After Nassif's strong showing in the Resident Genius category his victory here should come as no surprise. This week's ballot swings across the Atlantic to North America and with additional PT winners from this season and last.
I have just spent the last dozen paragraphs or so extolling the virtues of some of the best players to miss the cut to the Top 8. What was the most interesting deck that did not make the Top 8 in your opinion? You can find all the decklists in the coverage from A – Z. Share your opinions, updates, and metagame predictions in the forums. Look for more on the decks next week in a very special column.