Well, I’m still exhausted. Worlds is over, players are returning home, and I’m sitting in the business center of my Singapore hotel in the middle of a 22-hour layover in the early stages of Monday evening. Saturday was a weird day, with a number of WotC employees and players coming up to me and talking about the last Wise Words, which I can hardly remember writing, but the feedback was good and everyone seemed to love the Price-Budde anecdote, so things are okay with the world.
This year's World Championships is going to go down as one of the more important in the game's history…
Singapore is beautiful and one of the countries I’ve never been to (a list that has shrunk over the years), but with the sleep deprivation having caught up with me, my voice gone, my throat swelled and my nose stuffed beyond description, I don’t really feel like doing too much at the moment. Might as well relax and reminisce about the goings on of the last few days.
This year’s World Championships is going to go down as one of the more important in the game’s history if we ever develop enough appreciation for our history to dwell on such things. I think that historical reflection is important for learning from the past and understanding where we came from, but I’ve been a diehard baseball fan for my entire life, and that comes with the territory. So what makes this one so special?
For years, the pros of the world have wanted to be paired up against as many Latin American players as is humanly possible. Their countries haven’t been as developed, fighting among themselves for minor tournaments with that competition standing in the way of the unity they’d need to advance beyond their own borders. I have to admit that over the years, the moment I saw a Latin American name, I couldn’t help but think that I’d be in good shape for the match to come. They just weren’t up to standard.
First the World Cup, now the World Championships. 2002 is Brazil’s year.
Everything’s different now. Now, when you sit down across from a Latin American, they could be the World Champion, or perhaps a future one. Carlos Romao’s victory is a huge step for his continent, but if he had succeeded alone, it could have been dismissed as fluke. Diego Ostrovich’s prescience in the Top 8 proves that it wasn’t. Bandana is here to stay folks.
Bandana, in case you don’t know, is the amalgamation of the Chilean, Brazilian, Argentinean, Uruguayan and Venezuelan National teams. Individually, players like Romao, Ostrovich and Raphael Le Saux haven’t been up to the task of taking on the Budde’s, Thoren’s and even Wise’s of the world. Finally, though they came to their senses and put it all together for Worlds, using numbers, will, an intensive two-month testing period and that natural talent that is latent everywhere.
So what does this mean? Well, coupled with Sim Han How’s unbelievable Swiss, nationality can never be a determining factor for the player looking to discern an easy match. How’s tournament was unbelievable, with his first thirteen rounds producing an 11-2 record, with both losses coming to Raphael Levy, who he also defeated twice in that time. Going into Day 3, it was Raphael whose name stood out as the experienced Pro at the top of the standings, but while he faded, the usurpers stayed true and strong all the way to the Top 8. Got to give respect where it’s due folks: There is no Magic third world any more.
With all of these unknowns having power tourneys, the power players were having a power outage. Midway through round 18, it looked as if the United States, whose players it seems the world has finally caught up to after the many-year head start granted by WotC’s American roots, wouldn’t have a player in the Top 8. Fortunately for them, two of Europe’s powerhouses, Tom Van de Logt and Anton Jonsson, each made mistakes in their final round matches against Dave Humphreys and Ken Krouner respectively, granting the two Americans Sunday berths. Many were predicting that Humphreys’s match with John Larkin, which pitted the only two players in the Top 8 with previous Sunday appearances, would produce the eventual champ, but Kartin’ Ken was felled by Ostrovich in the quarters and the Hump lost to Mark Zeigner (who I must admit I thought was Germany’s weak link coming into the tournament. Good call JGW) in the semis, ending American hopes and signaling a changing of the guard.
With this newfound South American unity, I’m forced to wonder what’s going to happen to Mexico. For years, they’ve been the kings of Latin American Magic, with Gerardo Godinez, Damien Brown-Santirso and the like proving to be the biggest names in the area, but they hid from those South of them, seeking to maintain their advantage. Now, the tables have turned, with the South Americans having obviously surged past Mexico with their Worlds success. It’ll be interesting to see if the Mexicans are allowed to work with Bandana, even want to work with Bandana or get left behind as the gravy train pulls away.
Meanwhile, in the team portion, the U.S.A. put a lot of fear into a lot of hearts with what would have been the greatest comeback of all time if they’d managed to pull the victory out in their final versus Germany. Do you realize how improbable their appearance in that final was? After 18 rounds, they were in fourteenth place, behind Malaysia, New Zealand and Scotland. Merely going 4-0 wasn’t going to be good enough, with the stars needing to align themselves in a very particular way for another Team Rochester. They got two.
The U.S.A. won their first three rounds and then were paired against already final-bound Germany. The Germans let them know that they not only would not concede to them, but also that if paired against Denmark, with who they were competing, they would have gladly scooped. I asked Zeigner if this was because they felt the U.S.A. was stronger than Denmark, who had to defeat Argentina for either they or the Americans to have a chance at Top 2. He replied “Yeah”, and quickly added “And it’s time for the streak to end”. The Germans wanted to take the United States out once and for all.
So the U.S.A. and Germany squared off with the States taking the match, but that wasn’t enough. They needed the Danes to beat Argentina, who would otherwise finish second, in order to force a playoff. The Danes did so, but not without controversy. Argentina’s Gabriel Michelena tried to Alter Reality a Benevolent Bodyguard’s ability, but when informed he could not do so, responded “but you can do it on MODO (Magic Online)”. Turns out that the program was a little too efficient, with game state changes being represented in color and text change on cards. When the Bodyguard grants protection from a color online, the targeted creature has a line of text added to it with the color named, allowing for the Alter Reality to target. At least his misunderstanding didn’t cost his team the match: Denmark eventually won 3-0.
So the tiebreaker was set up with the U.S.A. and Denmark squaring off, and after four long days of sleep deprivation and intense concentration leading to more than one player having their brain drip out their ears, this was a match featuring a lot of sloppy play from all six players—even Eugene Harvey. Among other things, Eubroken attacked with two Basking Rootwallas and three land in play while holding a fourth land, with the Lizards running into Aquamoeba and Benevolent Bodyguard. After the guard was sacrificed to give the beast protection from green and a card was discarded to make it 3/1, Harvey pumped the Rootwalla blocked by the blue creature instead of the Bodyguard combatant. Both Rootwallas died. Cleeman, who didn’t lose a game all Saturday, eventually took the U.S. champ down, but to no avail, with Andrew Ranks and Eric Franz coming back from deficits to take their matches, the entire contest and the spot in the final. In the end though, Germany was just too tough. They had the better draft, played the better games and won the championship they deserved. Kai’s back to winning on Sundays.
I’m wrecked and it’s only 6:50 PM, so I’m going to sign off soon, but before I do, here’s a look at the winners and losers from the weekend:
Latin America – You saw the above, this is a huge moment in Magic time for this continent
Carlos Romao – ‘Huey de Brazil’ (so named for his physical similarities to Billy Jensen) takes the big check and bigger prize home from a week he’ll certainly never forget. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Mark Zeigner – What a weekend: Team victory, singles finals. Not bad for a guy who closed his eyes and ran monored at German Nationals.
Cole Swanack – The little man beat Anton Jonsson, Jens Thoren, Dan Clegg, Albertus Law and yours truly in a great first Pro Tour that left him in 17th place when the dust settled. Cole proved some things to some doubters (me included) and it’s generally agreed he’s going to be a force in years to come.
Dr. The Hump – Dave Humphreys is in the middle of a three-month trip around the world, having recently earned a new mailing title along with a PhD from MIT. Still, he found time to drop by Australia and come really close to winning his first Pro Tour, appearing in his second semifinal of the season. Humphreys will be settling down in San Diego soon: what happens to YMG then is anyone’s guess.
Sim Han How – Malaysia’s first Top 8 finisher, How was masterful all week with the exception of his quarterfinal loss to Zeigner. Seems like a really nice kid too.
Good Man of the Week – Ken Krouner started 0-3 and looked to be out of the tournament before it even started, but he made a monster comeback, reeling off twelve wins in a row from the doldrums en route to the quarterfinals.
Jeroen Remie – One of Holland’s lesser-known players, this long time pro finally broke out, with his taking of the Block Constructed trophy boosting him to 10th place.
Antonino De Rosa – quickly becoming a PT favorite, ‘Tonio was able to recover from a third day collapse to take the Australian Open
Farid Meraghni – The little Frenchman didn’t make an appearance this weekend, but his San Diego victory was still good enough to earn him the Rookie of the Year award.
France – Amiel Tenenbaum and Raphael Levy faced off for what they thought was a Top 8 slot in the final round of the tourney, with Amiel knocking off the two-time Top 8 finisher only to come ninth. Had he made 8th, he likely would have taken the Rookie of the Year title, but his 6-0 day three wasn’t enough, leaving him, and France, out of Day 5.
The Netherlands – These guys looked so powerful coming in, but were really never in it at or near the end. Tom Van de Logt did almost make it three Worlds Top 8s in a row though.
Brian Kibler – Sad to say, but Brian was beating himself up after round seventeen for a huge mistake against Romao that cost him Top 8. With Mirari in play, he cast what would almost certainly be the game winning Haunting Echoes but forgot to duplicate it with the artifact and could only shake his head when Carlos countered it. Kibs ended up in eleventh with a final round win. If he’d beaten Romao, a draw would have made a Sunday berth a certainty.
Eivind Nitter and Brock Parker – Two strong pros who combined for ten match points between them.
That’s it for this week folks. I’m going to bed. Have a good one.