Nicolas Labarre definitely falls into the category of 'old school'. He has been playing Magic since around 1995. He started out as a casual player and in his mind made the switch to professional after playing in his third PTQ at a local Paris tournament for Rome in 1998. It wasn't even his idea to go to that tournament, it was at the suggestion of his girlfriend that he attended-is it any surprise that he is still with that girl? He won the PTQ and decided to give the Pro scene a whirl in Rome.
He played Merfolk at that Pro Tour and he swam upstream against a field of Academy and made it all the way to the finals. Ever since that weekend he considered himself to be a professional Magic player. He made the Top 8 of Pro Tour New York the following year playing Counter-Phoenix and also made the Top 8 of the World Championships held in Brussels.
Labarre has not posted any Day 3 appearances in some time but he remains in the public eye. He was a regular contributor to Star City Games for some time and is now a featured writer on the Premium side of Brainburst. Both he and Yann Hamon are regular writers for France's Lotus Noir, the leading game magazine in that country.
Apart from Magic, Labarre is an English student in France pursuing his PHD in Theories of Mass Culture in the United States. His rumored career as a Science Fiction novelist was derailed when the publisher he was working with went bankrupt.
This is Yann's second Top 8 profile in the last seven days. He was fresh off of a victory over a better than 1000 person field at Grand Prix Lyon. Earlier in the year he also had a finals appearance at Grand Prix London. This was his first appearance on a Sunday at a Pro Tour. He had two near misses with Top 16 finishes in Tokyo '99 and Chicago '01. He has been playing for a long time and first appeared on the Pro Tour in 1997 for Pro Tour Paris.
By his own description he was awful and was not even aware of the Cadaverous Bloom deck. He played a deck with four Sewer rats and Aku Djinn. He did manage to go 4-3. He made one Pro Tour appearance the following year with another disappointing performance. After a Top 4 at French Nationals sent him to Worlds in 1999 he put up his first money finish in Tokyo. He went on to earn his National title the following year.
He and Nicolas first joined forces when preparing for Chicago in 2001. He still feels they had the best deck-a Blinding Angel/Story Circle control deck--that put him in the Top 16 and Nicolas in Top 32. He believes that if he was the player he is now he could have easily made the Top 8 of that tournament with the deck.
Yann is a French teacher of high school age students-a job that not only takes up his free time but initiated a move away from Rennes, France. With his usual playtest group of Pierre Mahlerbaud and Labarre located in Rennes he barely gets to play Magic anymore outside of the Pro circuit. Of course since the move he has posted two GP finals appearances and the Top 8 this weekend.
In Japan, Tomohiro Yokosuka is about as old-school as it gets when it comes to Magic. The 20 year-old player got into the game before it was available in Japanese, with Fourth Edition. In those nearly seven years he developed on a local level, but never really made the big leap to international play.
That changed this year with his first Pro Tour: Yokohama. Home team advantage had him playing some of the best Magic of his career, and he finished the event in 25th place. This weekend, armed with better knowledge of what he was getting into, he charged straight to the Top 8. He was helped there by his playtest group from Tokyo, all of whom hang out at the Ignis shop. However the bulk of his time leading up to this event was spent preparing for the major Standard event "Lord of Magic". He played an Affinity-Mind's Desire deck and wound up in the Top 4.
He had a keen eye for the expected metagame, focusing mainly on Tinker and Gobvantage. With five days of preparation he formulated his Psychatog build to have game against both. He did a good job of it. In the swiss he beat every straight-up Tinker deck he played. Of course, having seen the event he recognizes his deck's weak points. For example, he would love to go back and switch Boomerang for Annul.
Still, he's very satisfied with his performance. No longer in school, he plans to devote his time to Magic in hopes of becoming a professional. With a Top 32 and a Top 8 to start off his career, he's well on his way.
Hans Joachim Höh
Hans is a philosophy student from Bochum, Germany. He started playing Magic back in 1994 when The Dark had just come out, and Antiquities was still in sale along with Legends. Yep, the same year the third amendment was made. This is his fourth Pro Tour and the first time he made it past Day 1. Hans also has a GP Top 8 from Reims in 2002, and two other GP Top 32's. He was confident about the quarterfinals versus Masashi due to having a superior build for the mirror match, with Bosh to counteract Processor and Rack and Ruins to create general havoc. He thinks that the format is not as bad as everyone is saying. He claims to have played relatively good games during the Swiss rounds.
For this tournament Hans tested with Kai, Dirk, and pals. He was really excited to learn from the best. What happened was that during the last week of testing almost everyone switched to Tinker. Hans tried to tell others that the right call is to splash red for the mirror match, but the people with better resumes kept disagreeing. Andre Muller and Fabio Reindhart trusted their homeboy, and Andre netted a 20th place finish while the old school people did worse with their monoblue Tinker. This shows that sometimes magic egos might be in the way of seeing the right solution. Let's all learn from the example.
This kid has been around. Second at a Team Pro Tour, second at Yokohama Masters, fifth at Pro Tour Venice, ninth at Worlds in Berlin, all kinds of Grand Prix accomplishments...but how did it all start? During the 1999-2000 season Gabriel was doing very well on the qualifier circuit. He would usually go undefeated before conceding to the more famous people, since Gabriel's mom didn't like the idea of her son traveling around the world. Finally defiance sparked as Gabriel won a qualifier during Euros 2000 in Paris and made Top 64 in the Pro Tour it qualified for, Chicago. A year later Gabriel made back-to-back finalist appearances in GP London and PT New York, and a star was born. All the accomplishments have led to him finishing 5th in player of the year race 2001-2002, and top20 in the following season.
During his less Magical hours Gabriel is a university student. He is starting his third year, but it is actually more like a second one as he failed the previous year. One cannot seem to succeed in everything, it seems. Gabe also likes to play basketball a few times a week.
But what about mom? "She doesn't care anymore."
Rickard is a slacker from Oslo. He actually has a job, but still considers him true to the tradition of a trouble-free life. He started playing Magic back in 1994, when the Dark was newest set. Rickard's first Pro Tour was Chicago 1999 when Bob Maher won with Oath. Rickard had his first taste of success with a semifinal appearance at European Championships 2000. He remembers having played something like 14-15 Pro Tours, and usually doing okay. He has done well in several Grand Prix as well, winning in Prague. The last two seasons he was on the gravy train every once in a while, but actually enjoyed the qualifier circuit winning four times during last season. After his finals appearance in the previous Pro Tour, Boston, Rickard has felt more confident in his ability to do well.
He started this tournament 3-3, and then remembered something. His girlfriend gave a lucky frog for this tournament, and from that round on Rickard had it on the table for games. He stopped losing entirely. Osterberg thinks that this format is too fast and luck dependent. "You know that you are lucky the when opponent has not killed you by their turn three." I interviewed him after his 3-0 win over Yann Hamon in the semis, and Rickard said that he'd rather play against Nassif in the finals. "Belcher deck only has a few ways to kill...against Tinker it is always so complicated. You have to think so much." The ex-Swede had quite the nice final game against Yann, as the Frenchman conceded on turn two facing a Lightning Greaved Bosh.
"Shout-outs to all my fellow slackers!" - Rickard Österberg
Eugene Harvey has been called many things but coming into today's Top 8 he found himself being referred to as North America's only hope. With three French players, three Japanese players and a Swede living in Norway surrounding him, Eugene was the only North American player to crack the Top 8.
Harvey is one of the lynchpins of the CMU-TOGIT connection. He was a regular at the TOGIT store in New Jersey and when he attended CMU he brought the two groups together bringing together the likes of Osyp Lebedowicz and Mike Turian.
Harvey first caught the Magic world's attention when he was "some random guy" on the US National team with Trevor Blackwell and Brian Hegstead. He spurred the US on to a Team Championship at Worlds that year and has remained in the public eye ever since. He was the US National Champion the year after that. He has followed up with a string of strong GP finishes including a win at GP Atlanta and making the finals of GP Detroit. His only singles Pro Tour Top 8 was at the last Chicago tournament and he is considered one of the World's best players to have never won a Pro Tour. He was hoping to change that this weekend. North America was hoping so as well.
Slightly more than a year ago, Masashi Oiso was a relative nobody on the Pro Tour scene. He started with some strong showings at Japanese Grand Prix, then started finding his way onto the Pro Tour scene with a 26th place showing in Boston in 2002 as part of team Hato Bean. Immediately following that, he put up a pair of Grand Prix Top 4's at Utsunomiya and Kyoto. Most people assumed that things would stop there, but he continued to improve his Pro Tour finishes.
His big breakout came at Pro Tour Yokohama. All tournament long he'd been neck and neck with Craig Krempels, his prime competition in the Rookie of the Year Race. While Krempels barely missed Top 8 on tiebreakers, Oiso smashed through to the finals, falling to champion Mattias Jorstedt. With that much of an edge he claimed the Rookie of the Year title and put himself on the map. He showed that same spirit this weekend.
What's even more remarkable is that Masashi isn't part of any established team. In fact, he's not part of any team at all. In his native Hiroshima, he's the only player who's managed to play at a higher level. That doesn't stop him, though. He simply plays with the gang at his local game store. He independently developed the Tinker deck that brought him to the Top Eight here today. Some would call it outdated because of the use of Processors as a kill method, but he certainly proved the viability of the strategy this weekend.
As the first Japanese player to make two Pro Tour Top Eights, Oiso is showing no signs of slowing down. Japan is still looking for one of their own to claim a Pro Tour title someday. Oiso is certainly one of the top candidates.