Removed From Game – Pro Report March ’08

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Tuesday, March 11th – Join Rich Hagon as he sifts through the Pro data from Kuala Lumpur. Who’s up, who’s down, who might be heading for Player of the Year Contention, and who might be heading for the exit… it’s all here.

The first Pro Tour of the season has been and gone, and with it another incredible chapter in the history of the game has been written, thanks in no small part to the exploits of two Hall of Famers: Nicolai Herzog of Norway, and (of course) Mr. Magic himself, Jon Finkel. When you consider that the ‘bit-part’ players on Super Sunday were such outstanding players as Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and Mike Hron – both Pro Tour winners within the past year – together with a double National champion in Mario Pascoli from Italy, Portuguese Pro Marcio Carvalho, the first ever mainland Chinese Top 8er in the form of Ming Xu, and a 19 year old student from Barcelona – Joel Calafell – and you had one of the most power-heavy Sunday lineups in history.

But behind them, trailing in the wake of the Old Master (hardly old, but definitely Master) came the usual motley assortment of near-misses, hard-luck stories, incredible plays, foolish errors, killer strategies, and fierce competition. Just your regular Pro Tour then. Hardly. Let’s try and make sense of it all.


With Armin Birner staying at home, it was left to Helmut Summersberger to represent the runners-up from Worlds 2007. Although 197th, less than halfway up the field, may seem poor, in reality we may find that finishing there rather than four places lower in 201st may make a difference to his season, since it nets him one additional Pro Point, and as we saw last year, boundaries can change and a lone point can be crucial. Now for the Austrians, attention turns to their home Grand Prix in Vienna. As a multiple GP winner, it would be no surprise to see Summersberger rather closer next weekend than he finished in Kuala Lumpur, and Birner, on the back of his Top 8 in Krakow last year, can go into the GP with confidence.


This was a ‘glass half full’ performance from the quartet of Belgian Pros. At the equivalent Pro Tour last year in Geneva, Marijn Lybaert was busy confirming his place on the world stage by making the Top 8. At 39 points last year, he narrowly missed out on Level 7 status for 2008, and would probably have targeted Kuala Lumpur as a likely decent finish to get the season going. 183rd wouldn’t have figured in his expectations for the weekend. The current National Champion Fried Meulders finished highest of the four, but even he could only manage 135th place for 3 Pro Points. On the other hand, with Christoph Gregoir and Jan Doise (174th and 198th respectively), all four Belgians managed to secure a third point. Frankly, I imagine all of them will have Pro status next year, but every little helps.


It’s less than two years ago that Willy Edel was pretty much the big noise in the Pro game, with runners-up spots in Charleston and Kobe in 2006, followed up with a Top 8 exit to Kenji Tsumura in the quarter-final of Geneva a year ago. Since then, not very much, and in KL Edel was absent, apparently citing cost issues. Hopefully we’ll see him back in time for Hollywood. That left Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa and Carlos Romao to fly the flag. In the event, 84th for the former World Champion Romao was enough to vanquish PvDDr by approximately 250 places. Not really the best day at the office for the Level 7.


As previously advertised, Rich Hoaen wasn’t in town, but those of you hoping for a Canadian on top of the standings may not have that long to wait, as Hoaen has indicated at least the possibility of turning up for Pro Tour: Hollywood in May.


Coming in 58th, netting $570 and 5 Pro Points in the process, Rasmus Sibast probably ended up roughly where he should be on average – somewhere in the Top 100 in the world, without mounting a genuine threat to the very top of the game.


Our other Scandinavian country with a lone representative in the Pro ranks, Finland saw Antti Malin finish 143rd, not sufficient for any cash, but enough for the third point. Unlike some, Malin is exactly the kind of player who might be right on the cusp of Pro status at the end of the year, so this may turn out to be a point gained rather than more lost.


Now we’re on to the first legitimate powerhouse, and arguably the fundamental stronghold of European Magic. I certainly can’t think of a better-equipped septet to go into battle, and that’s despite the billowing resurgence in the American scene. It’s tempting to label players for ease of explanation, and when you’ve built plenty of world-renowned decks and have a Constructed Pro Tour win under your belt in the last year, it’s understandable that people might call Guillaume Wafo-Tapa a Constructed Specialist. The simple truth is that Wafo-Tapa may be the best all-round Magic player currently playing. I accept that there are other candidates, but his relentless consistency is starting to achieve juggernaut proportions. Perhaps I should be careful using that word, since I don’t intend to evoke memories of Kai Budde, the original Juggernaut, but with a small ‘j’ it’s hard to argue with the Wafo-Tapa bandwagon. I’m pretty certain that nobody in Pro Magic tests more for events, and, in a shocking turn of events, it shows. Had Wafo-Tapa won in Kuala Lumpur, with two dedicated Constructed Pro Tours ahead in Hollywood and then Berlin, it would have been a bold prediction to see anyone wresting Player of the Year from him. There are plenty of big names with their eyes on the prize who will have been very relieved to see GW-T bite the dust at the first hurdle. To be fair, the Draft went pretty badly for him, with Ming Xu in particular taking key cards away from his chosen archetype. Finkel’s Kithkin deck didn’t really deliver in the quarter-final, and still managed a sweep over the Frenchman. With $11,000 and 12 Points in the bank, Wafo-Tapa confirmed his status as a premier contender for end of year glory.

So what of the other six fabled Frenchies? For a long time Raphael Levy threatened to be a third Hall of Famer in the Top 8. His elimination from contention came at the hands of Iowan Brandon Scheel, with a vicious play that no player in the world could expect to come back from. With the game slowly sliding away from him, Levy raised a ‘this is tedious’ eyebrow when Scheel made Lorwyn rare Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile. Two turns later Levy sent assorted troops into the red zone, and it turned into the charge of the Light Brigade. First Scheel activated Brigid, taking a toll on Levy’s suicidal combateers. Then came the killing blow, as Scheel cast Pestermite, and elected to utilise the infrequently-remembered option to UNtap a permanent, in this case the afore-mentioned machine-gun Brigid. This was true car crash Magic, as Levy’s plans were left in tatters. I guess that kind of interaction is one of the reasons that we love Magic so much, but I’m confident Levy wasn’t appreciative in the moment. Nonetheless, 19th place, $3,000 and 7 points confirm Levy as once again a force to be reckoned with this year.

Next up was Gabriel Nassif, comfortably inside the Top 64 in 44th spot. In the battle of the brothers, Olivier Ruel annihilated Antoine by a clear two places, coming in 67th and 69th respectively. Olivier must have wondered what was going on early on Day 1. A year ago in Geneva he fell to 0-2 and down a duel, facing four rounds of single elimination Magic just to reach Saturday. At least this year there was no painful neck injury to get in his way. Once again however he found himself at 0-2. As he approached the Feature Match Area for the first of four back-to-back make or break matchups, he got his first stroke of luck on the weekend. His third round opponent simply could not be found, and as Oli sat nonchalantly watching the clock tick by, Game Loss became Match Loss, and the first bullet had been successfully dodged. It seems that Olivier thrives on being in a backs-to-the-wall situation, but he’ll be hoping that he can make a decent start for a change when Hollywood comes around. Only Remi Fortier and Amiel Tenenbaum failed to trouble the scorers with a minimum 2 Point return, but both know what this is all about, and you can expect both to come with awesome Tier 1 decks to Hollywood.

Great Britain

This would have been the target of the season for one of the two Brits amongst the Pros, but decidedly not for the other. Quentin Martin fortunes fell away during the third draft, when what he felt was a 3-0 deck badly misfired at 1-2. Despite that setback, he finished with $510 and 5 Pro Points. Given that Constructed Pro Tours are on the way, and that Quentin has plenty of real-life distractions this season, those five points could be crucial in sustaining Pro status for 2009. Stuart Wright meanwhile will have travelled to Malaysia more in hope than expectation. For him the big events of a big season lie ahead. He dodged a bullet when defeating Andre Coimbra when both were at 0-2, but unlike Olivier, whose Limited credentials are not in dispute, Wright couldn’t pull out a 4-0 run to make Day 2. 2 Points then, but as I said, there’s bigger fish to fry down the line.


Only three of the six German Pros made it to the start line. Following his runner-up spot at Pro Tour: Valencia last year, Andre Mueller showed here that his game has definitely risen in the last 12 months, as he finished comfortably inside the Top 32 here, netting 6 Points and $1700. This to me was an eye-catching performance, and the schedule this year, plus Mueller’s likely attendance at a bunch of GPs, make this result the possible herald of a very nice season indeed for the gregarious Mueller. Jan Ruess would be the least-known of the trio in action here, but 88th spot, whilst not enough for a cash bonus, still sufficed for 4 Pro Points. Ruess is one of the quiet men on Tour, but finishes like this suggest that he’ll continue to be on Tour in the future, quiet or not. That leaves Sebastian Thaler. Having made it to Super Sunday in Yokohama last year, you can be sure that Thaler is looking for more than his current Level 6. Here he managed Day 2, but couldn’t build on that on the Saturday, ending up 113th with 3 Points. That’s probably less than he would have wanted, but that’s true of a load of Pros.

Neither Georgios Kapalas of Greece or World Champion Uri Peleg of Israel competed in KL, so it’s on now to the mighty Japanese. Except, not so much the mighty, at least on this evidence. 18 Japanese Pros took part. Here’s how they got on:

Tomaharu Saitou – 193rd – 3 Points
Kenji Tsumura – 241st – 2 Points
Shingou Kurihara – 29th – 6 Points – $1500
Koutarou Ootsuka – 207th – 2 Points
Shuuhei Nakamura – 41st – 5 Points – $900
Shouta Yasooka – 179th – 3 Points
Takuya Oosawa – 78th – 4 Points
Kazuya Mitamura – 60th – 5 Points – $550
Yuuta Takahashi – 34th – 5 Points – $1250
Yuuya Watanabe – 145th – 3 Points
Makahito Mihara – 152nd – 3 Points
Masahiko Morita – 226th – 2 Points
Osamu Fujita – 204th – 2 Points
Genki Taru – 203rd – 2 Points
Shuu Komuro – 22nd – 7 Points – $2400
Chikara Nakajima – 300th – 2 Points
Yuuta Hirosawa – 287th – 2 Points
Tsuyoshi Ikeda – 201st – 2 Points

8 received the minimum 2 Points.
4 finished in the 100s for 3 Points.
Oosawa finished 78th for 4 Points.
Mitamura finished 60th, Nakamura 41st and Takahashi 34th, all getting 5 Points.
Kurihara finished 29th for 6 Points.
Komuro finished 22nd for 7 Points.

So what are we to make of all this? For the 179th time in recent history, the opportunity exists to roll out the Japan In Meltdown storyline, and in my judgment this is the 179th time in recent history to put said story firmly where it lives – in the bin. That’s not to say that there won’t have been a bunch of disappointed Pros going home after the PT that is as local as it gets in 2008. Of those who finished outside the top 200, the two biggest casualties were Kenji Tsumura and Koutarou Ootsuka. Ootsuka had the ultimate comedown following his outstanding Worlds in New York, as he was unceremoniously dumped out of the tournament at 0-3. All credit to him that he swallowed that bitter pill and tore apart his second Draft pod of fellow no-hopers to finish just a few places shy of bonus points. Kenji, meanwhile, is a more significant casualty. With fewer Grand Prix on his schedule this year, making a significant mark in the Pro Tours is going to be crucial to his continuation in the elite group of Level 8s. Realistically, he could afford one minimum finish from 4 PTs. This was it.

Two players who will have been pleased with their week’s work were Shuuhei Nakamura and Shingou Kurihara. After a Valencia and Worlds to forget as the 2007 season wound down, Kurihara delivered a typically robust performance here, and there can be little doubt that he belongs firmly among the game’s elite class. As for Nakamura, he was grinning hugely at the idea he might still be in the lead for Player of the Year by the time KL was in the books, but anything he could add to his haul from winning the very first event of the season – Grand Prix: Stuttgart back in 2007 – would enhance his position as a legitimate contender. 41st was enough for 5 Points, and with his win already in the bank, that’s enough to see him sitting comfortably in the table ahead of some KL Top 8ers. Last season was marred for Nakamura by some majorly shabby results at key moments. It’s early, but he’s busy making sure that doesn’t happen this time around.

As for that pesky storyline, consider this: Japan won none of the Pro Tours last year. They still had the Player of the Year. They still had the Rookie of the Year. They still have 6 of the top dozen players in the world. And they still have more Pros than any other nation on Earth, except America with whom they’re tied on 21. Japan finished? Japan in trouble? Japan on the decline? Behave.


Kuala Lumpur was an event packed with awesome storylines, but ‘lone home rep keeps the trophy in Malaysia’ wasn’t one of them. Unfortunately Terry Soh couldn’t make Day 2, but he’s done a bunch for Malaysian Magic already, and chances are he’ll do a bunch more before he’s finished.

The Netherlands

Heading the Dutch contingent this time around was Robert van Medevoort. Following his runner-up finish in the opening event of the season at Grand Prix: Stuttgart, his 35th place finish here (5 Points, $1200) was sufficiently eye-catching to make me want to keep a very close eye on him during the pair of European Grand Prix that come before Pro Tour: Hollywood. Although I’m not quite ready to suggest that he’s Player of the Year-ready, recent evidence (back-to-back Team slots at Worlds, reigning National Champion) points towards a man on the march. Plus, he’s really good fun, which is a nice bonus. Rogier Maaten also had a decent finish (45th) as did Frank Karsten (61st). I thought Karsten might end up higher than this, but the 5 Points is still a nice deposit in the account. As for Maaten, these points will be welcome, since I believe he isn’t planning on attending all Tour events this year. The other Dutch Pro to take bonus Points away from Kuala Lumpur was Roel van Heeswijk. Although never really in contention, his 177th place finish was good enough for a third Point. Taking home the minimum this time around were Jelger Wiegersma (243rd), a disappointing Ruud Warmenhoven, who usually gives you an excellent run for your money (298th) and Wessel Oomens (307th), for whom Kuala Lumpur marked the end of his Pro career, with other interests, Bridge included, taking precedence. At least he can look back on his career in Magic with genuine satisfaction, having won Grand Prix: Malmo in 2006. My abiding memory of him will be the look of sheer exhaustion as he willed himself across the finish line in Malmo, and a desire to make every Magic trip a fun one. He’ll be missed.


Another player widening his horizons away from the game is Tiago Chan. The current Invitational winner finished 180th here, and now resides in China where he’s studying. Coming in 336th, Andre Coimbra was the walking example of what happens when someone really good doesn’t practice, as Stuart Wright eliminated him at the earliest opportunity. Currently Level 6, it will be interesting to see if this was a blip on the charts, or indicative of a new less-than-serious attitude to the game. Of course, the big story for Portugal was Marcio Carvalho, of whom more next week.


Nicolay Potovin put in a decent performance, despite being cursed as one of Bill Stark picks for Top 8. $660 for 50th place plus 5 Points is a nice start for someone who will likely attend the bulk of European Grand Prix, and with the Summer Series increasing the pointload, that simple act of regular attendance is going to be more significant this year. I mean this in the nicest way possible, but Potovin is one of the ‘hardest’ players in the game, and someone I would never feel I had beaten until the result slip had left the table. He really is a difficult opponent to vanquish.


Woohoo. Saul Aguado was the lucky man to sneak the last bonus point on offer in Kuala Lumpur, finishing exactly 200th. When you got to Level 4 on exactly 20 Points last year, I imagine that third point felt like genuine cause for celebration, as it might well translate later in the year into a Grand Prix that he doesn’t need to attend in order to ensure Pro status again.


Not so woohoo. Mattias Kettil, a Level 4 whose last Top 8 appearance was at a Grand Prix in Warsaw back in 2001, fell victim to the flipside of Saul Aguado’s coin. Whereas the Spaniard was the last man through a closing door, Kettil was the first man to find a door slammed in his face. Yes, he finished 9th. Still, at least it wasn’t down to some hideous mathematical tiebreak decider of .001. Rather, there was a clean cut, with Kettil outside looking in on 33 points, while the Top 8 prepared for Sunday play on 34. Oh well, I suppose the 79th ranked Kettil will have to make do with $7000 and 8 Pro Points. I believe the term is, ‘mustn’t grumble.’ Meanwhile, perennial Pro Johan Sadeghpour also had a good weekend, generating $1000 and 5 Points for 39th place. Not as spectacular as Kettil to be sure, but a good weekend all round.


Neither of the two Swiss Pros Christoph Huber and Mattias Kunzler attended here. However, it was still a very strong showing by assorted Swiss players, including Huber’s three World Team Championship-winning colleagues. Manuel Bucher assured his place at upcoming events with an excellent 15th place finish, for 8 Points and $4000. Not far behind was Nico Bohny who picked up $1400 and 6 Points for his 31st place. Then there was Gennari Raphael, making Day 2 before finishing 92nd. That’s three in the top 100, and both current Pros were at home. Nice. Anybody suggesting that the Swiss were unlikely Team Champs in New York should look at these results and pause.


A much-depleted U.S. squad of Pros travelled to KL, together with assorted PTQ winners, but depleted or not, they really delivered. Here’s how the big names fared:

Paul Cheon – 23rd – 7 Points – $2200
Mark Herberholz – 244th – 2 Points
Mike Hron – 6th – 12 Points – $10500
Luis Scott-Vargas – 169th – 3 Points
Antonino de Rosa – 182nd – 3 Points
Chris Lachmann – 154th – 3 Points
Steve Sadin – 12th – 8 Points – $5500
Jacob van Lunen – 264th – 2 Points
Sam Stein – 85th – 4 Points
David Irvine – 229th – 2 Points
John Sittner – 175th – 3 Points

This list is only half the story however. Sure, only 4 of the 11 made Day 2. But the way U.S. Magic is going right now, there’s strength in depth from the PTQ circuit too. Consider these names, some of which may be completely new to you: Brandon Scheel finished 11th, and got to hang out with a bunch of monkeys, Christopher Greene earned $5000 for coming in 13th right behind Sadin, and Taylor Webb (24th) Mark Conkle (26th) and Steve Locke (30th) all earned over $1000 and a significant chunk of Pro Points. Oh, and Hall of Famer Jon Finkel won $40000. But you knew that. In some ways the least remarked-upon story of KL was Mike Hron, who was ‘only’ threatening to go back-to-back with Individual Limited Pro Tours. Quite extraordinary. BDM has already flagged up the awesome performance of Steve Sadin, but it does bear repeating, especially as it says so much about the qualities that I believe can elevate him to absolute stardom. Steve lost his first round. Then he lost his second round. Then he lost the first game of his third round. Then he started winning, and winning and winning. Basically, only Mr. Bye was behind Steve in the standings halfway through round 3, and by the end less than a dozen still headed him. Rarely can $5,500 worth of Magic prize have been so richly deserved and fought for. A true standout effort. For Paul Cheon meanwhile, it’s back to the Pro Tour drawing board, as he once again found himself in the enviable position of being just about the last undefeated man in the building, and then failing to make Super Sunday. Still, getting into those winning positions is a great accomplishment in itself, and we’ve already seen that Cheon is happy to grasp opportunities when they present themselves – it’s not as if he’s won nothing after all. Another tentative question mark?

And that wraps things up for KL from a Pro perspective. Next week, we’ll look at some of the characters from the Top 8, plus roundups of all the big international fixtures, namely Grand Prix in Vancouver, Shizuoka, Philadelphia, and Vienna, where I’ll be bringing you all the action over on MagictheGathering.com.

Until then, as ever, thanks for reading.