Removed From Game – Pro Tour: San Diego Report Card, Part II

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Thursday, March 18th – From 105th all the way up to Simon Goertzen in first, find out who was getting their first shot at fame, who was clinging on to Pro status, who was taking their chances, who had the awesome decks, and who Rich still has no clue about! All the ins and outs of the top tables from the booth and beyond.

Time to get cracking with the more successful players from San Diego. To the scorecard:

27 Points

Nakajima, Chikara [JPN]
Saitou, Tomoharu [JPN]
Yukuhiro, Ken [JPN]
Hirabayashi, Kazuya [JPN]
Mitamura, Kazuya [JPN]
Nakano, Yoshitaka [JPN]
Yasooka, Shouta [JPN]
Ootsuka, Koutarou [JPN]

Marr, Mat [USA]
Phillips, Cedric [USA]
Lundquist, Benjamin [USA]
Yurchick, Adam [USA]

Burgold, Lino [DEU]
Gregoir, Christophe [BEL]
Lybaert, Marijn [BEL]
Koska, Adam [CZE]
Zatlkaj, Matej [SVK]
Estratti, Samuele [ITA]
Brozek, Petr [CZE]
Wafo-tapa, Guillaume [FRA]
Künzler, Matthias [CHE]

da Rosa, Paulo Vitor [BRA]

What an absolutely stacked group of Japanese players. Koutarou Ootsuka is an interesting player, who seems to reside a hair below the highest level. He has six Grand Prix Top 8s, and five Top 32 finishes at the Pro Tour level. However, he has no PT Top 8, and no GP wins. Since he’s now played in more than 50 premier events, it seems reasonable to suppose that he’s always going to find someone just that bit better.

Of the lesser-known among this group, Chikara Nakajima made the Top 4 of Pro Tour: Charleston back in 2006, Yoshitaka Nakano made the Top 8 of Worlds in 2007, Kazuya Hirabayashi has three GP Top 8s to his name, and Ken Yukuhiro is a new Level 4 Pro who already has a Grand Prix Top 8 after just four outings at that level.

That brings us to three super-respected players — Shouta Yasooka, Kazuya Mitamura, and Tomoharu Saito. For a time, it looked as if Yasooka was going to go the distance in his marathon challenge at Worlds last year, where he was competing in pretty much every tournament that mattered. He ultimately lost in the Magic Online final, and was knocked down the final standings in the last couple of rounds of the main event. He’s one of the most resolutely ‘Japanese’ of the Japanese, with an English word count hovering around my Japanese level of two, and that sometimes means he doesn’t get the respect he deserves from the ‘Western’ Magic media. Although not so much this time, he remains very, very good.

Kazuya Mitamura didn’t debut on the Pro Tour until Prague 2006, which is odd, since it feels like he’s been established for a long, long time. In reality, he’s been one of the quickest players ever to reach 100 Pro Points, and although this season hasn’t started well for him, you can look for good things in the months ahead, especially in San Juan in May, where he’ll be looking to repeat his Block Constructed/Draft success of a year ago in Honolulu.

That brings us to Tomoharu Saito. When I first got to know him, Saito was probably most famous for the ‘Saito Slap,’ whereby he would literally and regularly hit himself in the face to mentally wake himself up during matches. That habit gradually vanished, and it seems to me that his love of the game also dissipated at this time. I guess when you’re at the summit of the game — and remember that he was the 2007 Player of the Year — motivation can be an issue.

No longer.

Saito is as energised as I’ve ever seen him. He happily announced to anyone who would listen at Grand Prix: Oakland that he was targeting Player of the Year once more, and was thrilled by his opening weekend haul of making the Top 8. As we’ll see, he went on to duplicate that success at Grand Prix: Madrid (and there’s so much to say about that weekend it’s unreal), and the way he was smiling, laughing, and joking, and slapping, would make me very nervous if I wanted Player of the Year for my own. Make no mistake, the slap is back.

Of the four Americans on this mark I want to mention, I suspect three at least (Cedric Phillips, Adam Yurchick, and Ben Lundquist) will be disappointed with their weekend. Phillips is known as the King of Kithkin, and white weenie was set up to have a very good weekend. Other proponents of the little white men, such as 2008 World Champion Antti Malin, and Top 8er Craig Wescoe, managed to slice through the competition, while Cedric couldn’t quite get there. That was true for him in Oakland the previous week, where he genuinely felt he was in a great position to take the tournament with Dredge. As it happened, he was indeed in a good position, but the tiniest of tiebreak margins took him out of the Top 8, and let Saito in.

Yurchick had a tremendous time in Oakland, with only Matt Nass stopping him taking the title. I first really noticed Adam at Pro Tour: Hollywood, where he ended up 9th on tiebreakers, and I said at the time I felt he was one of the better-equipped US players to make an impact. Oakland saw him realize that, marking his third Grand Prix Top 8. As for Lundquist, his weekend was made a lot more miserable by the fact that he had a large quantity of important cards stolen. I can’t stress this enough — even when around friends, or friends of friends, don’t leave your cards readily accessible. In simple terms, we often forget that a long box of cards, which we think of as ‘Standard, plus a few bits of Extended’ can look to someone else like ‘$3,000 — and I can spend another three months without a job.’ Seriously, please be careful. End public service announcement.

I said that three of the four would be disappointed, and deliberately excluded Mat Marr. Why? Well, I dare say that he was disappointed too, because he’s competitive, but I believe he has less reason. All the others have plenty of experience and strong finishes to point to, while Mat is on an upward trajectory that can only accelerate with two full days of competition here, a good run at Worlds in Rome, and a forthcoming trip to the Asian Grand Prix coming right up. By the time he gets back from there, I think he’ll have a good sense of where he’s at within the Pro ranks, and how far towards the summit he can climb. My sense is he could go a very long way.

I was personally very pleased that Marijn Lybaert had such a strong showing at Worlds, since it guaranteed he’d be back again in 2010. Marijn is a ton of fun, and is a focal point for the Belgians, who had plenty to shout about with Niels Viaene making Top 8. While many of the Belgian crowd are a pretty taciturn bunch — Gregoir, Doise, Dictus, Stone, for example — Marijn will always find the time to see the silly side of life, and that’s refreshing when so much is at stake for so many.

For the first time in more than a year, Adam Koska didn’t finish 9th, though he did still make day two. Also playing Saturday was Petr Brozek, who didn’t have the same level of innovation in Standard as he had in Oakland in Extended. Matej Zatlkaj isn’t a fan of huge events, and since that may mean him skipping multiple European Grand Prix this year, his Pro Tour finishes become that much more critical. That makes this finish doubly disappointing.

Probably the two most significant results from this group were Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa of Brazil, and France’s Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. Ideally positioned, because he was playing the Boss Naya deck, along with Tom Ross, Luis Scott-Vargas, Brad Nelson and chums, PV cut a despondent figure, as a 5-3 overnight score was followed by 4-4 on Saturday. As one of the prime candidates for Player of the Year, this hasn’t been the best of starts. As for Wafo-Tapa, the 2007 Pro Tour: Yokohama champion, he lost his Pro club Level at the end of 2009, and promptly returned to action by winning a PTQ for San Diego. Top 50 would have been the goal, since that would auto-qualify him for San Juan. It didn’t happen, and by my reckoning that sends him back to the world of the PTQ. I hope we see him again soon, especially as Control, of which he is an acknowledged Master, is really back in style at the moment.

30 Points

Heitzmann, Russell [CAN]
Stone, Dennis [BEL]
Mori, Katsuhiro [JPN]
Wallendorf, Jonas [DEU]
Bohny, Nico [CHE]
Landale, Tim [USA]
Paquette, Aeo [CAN]
Golia, Patrizio [ITA]
Orsini Jones, Matteo [ENG]
Herberholz, Mark [USA]
Blohon, Lucas [CZE]
Watanabe, Yuuya [JPN]
Bucher, Manuel [CHE]
Gendron Dupont, Charles [USA]

28 Points

Ikeda, Tsuyoshi [JPN]
Ruess, Jan [DEU]

Two Canadians fall into this group, one known, one less so. It was nice to see a new face in Russell Heitzmann, who was at his first Pro Tour since attending the last PT: San Diego back in 2007. The other Canadian was none other than Aeo Paquette, who coincidentally was also making his first appearance since San Diego 2007. His record was rather better than Heitzmann’s, since he had two Pro Tour Top 8s in his first three attempts, including being runner-up at Worlds 2004 behind the Dutch wonderkid Julien Nuijten.

Amongst the Europeans, both Swiss former Team World Champions, Nico Bohny, and Manuel Bucher ended up 10-6. Bucher had a tremendous run in Rome to reach his first PT Top 8, but it may have come at the back end of his interest in the game. We’re probably going to see less of him this year, which is a pity. Mention too of Lucas Blohon, who is becoming the Czech player Martin Juza regularly assures me is about to win a premier event. On this evidence, he’s probably going to be right.

Jonas Wallendorf isn’t a name most of you will know, but he made the Top 8 at Grand Prix: Paris last year, and seemed singularly unphased by his success. Coupled with this result, this suggests to me that he’s looking at bigger fish to fry than a European GP Top 8. He’s one to watch. Matteo Orsini-Jones couldn’t replicate his Top 8 from Kyoto a year ago, but this was part of a continuing decent showing at premier events by the Brits, and in truth I’m more encouraged than I have been for a long while.

Yuuya Watanabe had a solid opening to his campaign, but he can’t realistically expect to retain Player of the Year off a succession of 10-6s, especially with the start Saito and LSV have had. Someone else who has plenty of experience of Player of the Year Races is Katsuhiro Mori, the man who made Top 8 at Worlds three years in a row. Typically for him, he picked up where he left off, winning more than not, and with precious little practice. Mori is truly one of the more extraordinary players the game has seen.

And, before we move on, a word about Mark Herberholz. Much as Simon Goertzen may ultimately be overshadowed in people’s memories of SD 2010 due to the exploits of Luis Scott-Vargas, so it has been with Herberholz at the first Pro Tour Honolulu. With one of the best ever winner photos as a memento, not to mention many thousands of dollars and a title that history will never erase, Herberholz found his actually-rather-entertaining finals victory over Craig Jones overshadowed by the Best Topdeck Ever by the Brit over Olivier Ruel in the semi-final. I mention him now because Mark has a new job that will take him away from Magic for a time, coincidentally joining Craig Jones in the Netherlands Antilles. He’ll be missed.

31 Points

Vieren, Peter [BEL]
Florent, Lucas [FRA]
Froehlich, Eric [USA]
Noorlander, Niels [NLD]
Batarseh, Sammy [USA]
Nakamura, Shuuhei [JPN]
van Medevoort, Robert [NLD]
Komuro, Shuu [JPN]

Robert van Medevoort remains ultra-consistent, but may be in the bracket of utterly solid Pros who will never win a PT. Niels Noorlander continues to impress, having made Sunday play at Worlds in Rome as part of the Dutch National Team. Lucas Florent is a new name to me, but he came with an interesting deck, and got paid off with a strong result. Peter Vieren is rapidly overtaking his brother Pascal as the Best In Family, while Eric Froehlich parlayed his Special Invite into a strong showing.

The vastly-experienced Shu Komuro is only Level 3 this year, making this his one automatic invite of the season. With his back against the wall, he delivered a strong performance TOP 50 OR NOT?! No such concerns exist for 2008 Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura, but it’s unclear whether this represents par for the course, or a subpar showing. It seems to me that Shuhei may be in a place that Saito was in 2009, looking for motivation, and not quite finding it.

33 Points

Gardner, Daniel [ENG]
Kitayama, Masaya [JPN]
Nassif, Gabriel [FRA]
Peebles-Mundy, Benjami [USA]
Rietzl, Paul [USA]
Black, Samuel [USA]
Vieren, Pascal [BEL]
Turtenwald, Owen [USA]
Vidugiris, Gaudenis [USA]
Juza, Martin [CZE]
Malin, Antti [FIN]

Now we’re into the group who ended up just one win shy of a possible Top 8 slot, tiebreaks permitting. This is where it always strikes me what a brutal regime each Pro Tour is. You spend sometimes months or even years qualifying, then you get yourself consistent enough to be a PT regular. Now your sights are set on something more — Sunday action. So you prepare for weeks intensively. You play eight rounds on Friday, and five on Saturday. Five? Sure, because that’s the point, with three rounds to go, where most people have been eliminated.

In San Diego, there were exactly 50 players theoretically left in contention. That’s round about 1 in 8, so already, you’ve outdistanced 87% of the field. And now the journey really begins. Across three rounds, you have to see 42 competitors eliminated from contention, and be one of the eight left standing. And if you fail, you get to wait three months before spending another thirteen rounds across two days getting to the start line of another three round slugfest. Like I said, brutal.

In San Diego, the list of players who were in contention but didn’t make it begins with this excellent group. When I heard that Antti Malin was playing white weenie, I would have put actual money on him having a decent finish, and although he didn’t disappoint, he must have felt that more was possible, and I agree with that assessment. Someone else with almost impossibly high standards is Martin Juza, who is rapidly turning into the absolute banker for a Top 32 finish. He remains one of the hardest players to beat, in much the way that Raphael Levy is a fearsome opponent at any stage of the competition. I do wonder whether Martin really believes that he’ll win a Pro Tour, however, or even whether not winning one would bother him unduly.

There was a really solid grouping of Americans on this high score. In my view, the fact of American winners throughout 2008 (with only Antti Malin defeating Jamie Parke in the final of Worlds preventing a US clean sweep of the majors) somewhat masked the fact that US Magic was in something of the doldrums, with a group of young Pros struggling to find their feet, and get past the sense of entitlement that a decade of domination of the game had fostered. In Owen Turtenwald, Sam Black, and Gaudenis Vidugiris, you have three examples of players who have found their feet.

Although entirely anecdotal, my concern with Owen is that he doesn’t seem to find a deck that he’s either comfortable with, or that gives him an edge in any way (these two may not be coincidental.) In both Honolulu 2009 and here in San Diego, he defaulted to the notional ‘best deck’ whilst seeming pretty miserable about having to do so. That he still managed to make Top 32 suggests that if he can either test harder or smarter or luckier (or ideally all three) he has a Top 8 within him.

Both Sam and Gaudenis, regular travelling companions during the 2009 Grand Prix season, benefited from the wisdom of one Zvi Mowshowitz. Zvi’s deck, Mythic, was a precision weapon that both Sam and Gaudenis had the know-how to pilot effectively, and both deserved their strong finishes here. I’m not sure about Gaudenis, but Sam is off to the Asian Grand Prix, and we can expect him to add to his Pro Points before returning to the PT in San Juan.

I don’t want to suggest for a moment that Paul Rietzl isn’t a contender, because he clearly is, but he’s slightly different to the previous three guys I’ve mentioned, since he’s been around forever. It’s just that he hasn’t been super-invested in the game at the highest level, tending to turn up to more or less ‘local’ Grand Prix, and doing very nicely at them thank you. Making the Top 8 of Honolulu in 2009 was clearly his best at a PT level, and he well deserves his Level 6 status. He’s one of the quieter US players, but I suspect his Magic will speak loudly sometime this year. Someone else who has been around forever is Ben Peebles-Mundy, and it’s always nice to see a writer getting some success at the highest levels.

A word now, if you’ll indulge me, about Dan Gardner. Dan is the GB Champion right now, and by a strange quirk I was at the PTQ where he qualified for San Diego. With three rounds to go, he was at 11-2, and in second place, when he ran into LSV en route for Destiny. Two more losses followed, and that second place turned into 3rd, 8th, and finally 19th. Unsurprisingly, Gardner was pretty sore after those three rounds, not least because he’s realistic enough to know that he may have to wait a while for that opportunity to come round again. Nonetheless, he showed that he belongs at the upper tables, he has Matteo Orsini-Jones as a long-term collaborator, and, all in all, I don’t expect this to be the last we hear of him.

I mentioned that Peter Vieren is making a strong case for Best In Family. Now here’s former National Champion Pascal to mock my earlier words. This could turn into the kind of friendly rivalry that pushed the Ruel brothers to the very top.

Undoubtedly one of the most exciting stories of the event was the rollercoaster ride of Gabriel Nassif. He arrived with Patrick Chapin blue-white control deck, and went to 5-0. Then he Drafted, which hasn’t always been a strong suit, and went 3-0. That set up a wonderful start to the second day, with a rerun of the Pro Tour: Kyoto final against Luis Scott-Vargas. In reality, that matchup was decided on the first pick of the draft, when Luis opened and took Eldrazi Monument. Of course there was a lot more to their match than that, but the two games LSV took were ultimately on the back of the Mythic rare.

That was the cue for a mini-meltdown, with Nassif going 0-3 with a deck that had looked pretty strong on paper. Back in Constructed, and with his undefeated blue-white back in play, Nassif went about repairing the damage. By the start of the last round, against Jeroen Kanis of the Netherlands, Nassif had put himself in a position where winning probably meant Top 8. Facing mono-red, Nassif fell victim to an Unstable Footing that left him in trouble with his Kor Firewalker gone forever. Still he fought back, and we reached a point where Kanis had nothing in hand. Nassif took the plunge, and tapped out for Baneslayer Angel, leaving him at exactly three life. Kanis untapped, and found Lightning Bolt on top of his deck.

I don’t want to overstate things, or to intrude on what we might term ‘private grief’, but I’m prepared to say that Nassif was genuinely upset, perhaps even distraught, by the manner of his exit. Not the topdeck, you understand, but the series of plays that had led him to be vulnerable to that topdeck. The reason I’ve decided to share this miserable and private moment with you, is that I think it illuminates something really important, and it’s this:

Great players Care, and that’s just one of the many reasons that Nassif will top many lists when it comes to Hall of Fame time. He Cares so very, very much.

34 Points

Chapin, Patrick [USA]
Corbett, Justin [USA]

Now we’re right on the brink of Top 8 contention. Although you can argue that the draw caused both these players to miss out, both have many reasons to be cheerful. Corbett was in only his second PT, and this comfortably ensures he’ll be back for more. As for Chapin, this was his one invite of the year, so a Top 50 performance was the minimum required to sustain him in Pro action. I’m sure many of you are regular readers of his column, but in any case I wanted to point up the fact that Chapin changed a lot between last year and this. He recognized that he had some problems that were getting in the way of his best Magic. That recognition is in itself a major achievement, since we don’t like to hold ourselves up to criticism, and the activities that he deemed disruptive were exactly his idea of a good time. Giving up a good-time lifestly wouldn’t have come easy, yet he focused on what was really important, tested hard, went to bed sometime before idiot-o-clock, and reaped the rewards. Arguably, this was one of the most compelling storylines of personal achievement on the weekend.

9 Ross, Tom [USA]36
10 Elfgren, Bertil [SWE]36
11 Coqueiro, Rafael [BRA]36
12 Senyuz, Aras [TUR]36
13 Nakamura, Hajime [JPN]36

You would have got reasonable odds on Hajime being the highest placed Nakamura at the event. This was only his 5th PT, but just like Kyoto a year ago, he began the Pro Year strongly. He’s Level 4 right now, and that seems likely to rise next year. 10Th, 11th, and 12th all went to players with limited global reputation. Aras Senyuz became the highest placed Turkish player ever with his 12th here. Coqueiro could well be someone to watch, as he finished in the Top 32 at Worlds last year, and now has a ‘virtual’ Top 8, missing out on tiebreaks. Bertil Elfgren made his Pro Tour debut as long ago as Pro Tour: Chicago in 1998, and he had a wonderful run until being the last victim of LSV. As sage and wag Gabe Walls was heard to remark, ‘This is the first time in history you’ve reached the last round, and you don’t want to play the guy in first who’s already in.’ That’s probably not technically true, since players have been known to try and manipulate the Top 8, either angling for better quarter final matchups, or trying to get a troublesome deck out of the running. Still, having to get in the way of the LSV juggernaut was a miserable end to a great weekend.

That leaves Tom Ross, a man you don’t hear much from because, well, he doesn’t say very much. Even his fellow testers had to work very hard to listen carefully, because he didn’t waste words. The deck that he’s largely credited with was undoubtedly one of the big stars of the event, and it must at least have been some consolation that he made the leap from deckbuilder to deck pilot with such success. It now seems likely that his one PT Top 8 (Honolulu 2009) will be added to sooner rather than later. Just don’t expect him to say much about it. So for now, we’ll say it for him — this deck was great. Good job.

The Top 8

8th — Jeroen Kanis [NLD]
7th — Yoshihiko Ikawa [JPN]
6th — Niels Viaene [BEL]
5th — Daniel Grafensteiner [DEU]
4th — Craig Wescoe [USA]
3rd — Luis Scott-Vargas [USA]
2nd — Kyle Boggemes [USA]
1st — Simon Goertzen [DEU]

8th — Jeroen Kanis.

I always feel sorry for the player who makes the Top 8, and then the realization dawns that they’re probably not going to go any further, because their Sunday matchup is horribly skewed against them. Kanis was that man in San Diego, and not because he faced the ‘unstopppable’ Luis Scott-Vargas, but because his mono-red deck wasn’t going to cut it against Boss Naya. So many things had to go right for the Dutchie in order to win best three out of five, and plenty of things went wrong. The red deck is capable of all sorts of foolish draws, but in none of the games did he get anything like a lightning start. He did get close to getting off the mark, but even at one life LSV was in control, and the life totals went into reverse each time he looked threatened.

With all that said, Kanis was certainly not overawed in his first Top 8, and he got there with a topdeck against Gabriel Nassif, which is the kind of moment most of us can only dream of. With 12 Points here, it’s almost certain that Kanis will be able to leverage this result into Level 4 Pro status next year, so all in all this was a memorable weekend.

7th — Yoshihiko Ikawa.

Wow. Just wow. That the unknown Ikawa would be the last Japanese man standing is quite startling. As sometimes happens on the webcast, we aren’t able to cover all four quarter finals without causing a real logjam of matches being held until the previous one is over. As a result, we didn’t get to see Ikawa go out at the hands of Kyle Boggemes. I think it was the right call, since Jund on Jund was by far the least ‘sexy’ of the matchups, but it would have been nice to get Ikawa on camera. Was this his 15 minutes of fame, or is this the start of yet another Japanese stellar career? I didn’t see much of him all weekend, so I genuinely can’t say.

6th — Niels Viaene.

The 24 year old Belgian definitely comes from the Marijn Lybaert school of Magic ie have as much fun as possible. If you watched the webcast, you will have seen the ‘scary Belgian doll’ mascot that Niels had with him. He played with a smile on his face throughout the weekend, and came into the Top 8 with arguably the most interesting deck. He used Open the Vaults, which had been seen before on Magic Online, but he paired it with all sorts of entertainment, like Filigree Angel (gaining him a ton of life), and Sanguine Bond out of the sideboard, which was a Combo along the lines of Angel + Bond = Dead. Because his deck was fun to see in action, it’s fair to say that many people were rooting for him in his quarter final against eventual winner Simon Goertzen, who obviously lost points amongst the casual crowd for running the ‘dirty’ Jund.

Any time someone makes it to the Top 8 in part because of a cool or unusual deck, you have to ask questions about whether they’ll be able to repeat it. The most successful players, particularly in recent years, have tended to be those who can happily gravitate to any deck choice, according to an accurate reading of the Metagame. It’s unclear whether Niels can do that, so San Juan, with a virgin Block Constructed format to be explored, should be really interesting. What is certain is that he has a terrific support team in the form of all the other Belgian Pros, and that’s a very good start indeed.

5th — Daniel Grafensteiner.

The second German in the Top 8 was clearly overshadowed by Goertzen, but they’re the prominent tip of an increasingly large German iceberg, which is starting to demonstrate some authentic talent after a year to eighteen months of largely disappointing results. Daniel ran the Junk deck, meaning he was only one letter off playing the best deck in the Top 8, but he really struggled in his quarter final against Craig Wescoe. Like Ikawa, I didn’t see much of him in action, and have no real views to share about his likely progress as a Pro. Nonetheless, it looks certain that I’ll have 2011 to form those views.

4th — Craig Wescoe

When I put together these reports, I have to draw my arbitrary line somewhere, and the fact is I just don’t have something to say about everyone. This is especially true at Worlds, where there is a Team competition, the Magic Online Championship, Player and Rookie of the Year, and of course, the individual title all to be decided in the space of four days.

When I wrote my review of Worlds 2009 therefore, I didn’t write anything about an American by the name of Craig Wescoe, who had gone utterly under my radar whilst compiling a creditable but uncompelling 12-6 record. That week, in the forums of this very column, he wrote the following:

‘My goal for next year, starting with PT San Diego: to have accomplished enough to make my 36-point finishes worth writing about.’

I responded, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with a personalised insert just for him:

‘Now, to business. Of course, I scandalously omitted the following:

36 points – Craig Wescoe

Joining the Pro Tour in 1999, Craig D. Wescoe racked up 11 Pro Tours in just over three years. Consistently in the 100s, he came closest to the Top 8 at his debut event, Pro Tour Washington 1999, where he finished 27th in Team play.

Winning a Pro Tour Qualifier on the 28th of February 2009 brought him back to the Pro scene at the Alara Block Pro Tour in Honolulu, where he finished a creditable 98th. A disappointing Pro Tour: Austin followed, but his experience at Worlds 2002 clearly stood him in good stead at Rome, where his 12-6 record was good enough for an excellent 37th place, his best Pro performance to date. Perhaps 2010 will take him from the forums to the main article itself as he builds on more than a decade in the game.’


That seems to have worked. Time and again I’m struck by players who are busy succeeding in their minds months and sometimes years before the event itself arrives. By the time they’re actually sitting down for the matches that matter, they’re so comfortable with the idea of success, that failure doesn’t really occur to them, while many who are less prepared look around from the lofty heights of 11-3, and suffer vertigo.

It was great to see Craig do well on so many levels. Perhaps most of all, it was great to see the story of someone who is now 27, but has been in the game since he was 15, and has never stopped believing that his time in the sun would come. And he so enjoyed it, which was also great to see. Now, after twelve years of trying, we are all but certain to see him at least at the next seven Pro Tours, and he can turn his attention towards making his victories, and not only his Top 8s, worth writing about. When he does, I’ll take great pleasure in doing so.

3rd — Luis Scott-Vargas.

This is an entire article on its own, and I’m not sure it’s one I’ll ever write. Therefore, I’ll content myself with a few pithy observations. First, and I mean this with the greatest respect, I’m glad that the perfect 19-0 is still unattained. Perfection is such an extraordinary concept that I’d ideally like at least half a dozen more 14, 15, 16-0s to occur before someone finally cracks it.

Second, while I absolutely defend Luis in going for the perfect record, I do have more than a sneaking sympathy for the players who got eliminated by him down the stretch, when many times they would have been just a handshake away from the Top 8. Now, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea that players can just choose not to play, and thus rob somebody else of a spot on Sunday, I understand that viewpoint very well, and it’s certainly one of the most problematic aspects of viewing Magic as a ‘sport’. In sport, people play, they don’t choose to not play so that team C is eliminated. Still, those are the rules as we have them, and therefore the assorted players who got steamrollered by LSV on Saturday afternoon have cause to take a wistful look at the standings and think how easily things might have been different.

Third, this was an astonishing performance. Interestingly, there wasn’t quite as much excitement around LSV at the actual event as there had been at Kyoto a year earlier. There, the Great and the Good were flocking to watch him in action. He was playing in ways that many people had never really seen before. He was monumentally impressive. I think that it’s a great compliment to him that by San Diego there was almost a rolling of the eyes at his domination, something that incidentally is a hugely potent weapon when bringing a reputation to a match. In addition to his taking a big chunk of history with his 16-0, it will, I’m sure, not have escaped his attention that his exploits here may well turn into match wins down the line against overawed opponents. ‘You’re Mr. Perfect’ may not be something you imagine yourself saying to him, but it’s the kind of thing that many players will be saying to themselves when finding his name as their must-beat opponent. The guy is phenomenal.

2nd — Kyle Boggemes.

The 20 year old from the USA has every reason to be thrilled with his weekend. I’m sure a lot of fans would have rather seen Craig Wescoe reach the final, thus avoiding the dreaded Jund on Jund matchup, but Kyle ensured we got our money’s worth in the final, taking it the distance.

There’s a slightly strange Sunday ritual at the Pro Tour, where we break for lunch after the quarter finals. Well, that’s not the strange bit, but it’s the fact that all the quarter finalists are invited along to lunch, including the ones who have just lost. So, it’s not uncommon to see two players who have just been eliminated sitting and chatting with their quarter final opponents, chatting about their semi-final sideboard plans, and so on. Me? If I ever got to the Top 8 of a PT and then lost my quarter final, the last thing I’d want to do is talk with my vanquisher about how they could go on and win the title I’d gone to bed the previous evening determined to make my own. Still, that’s just me.

For myself, and especially for BDM, lunch is a time to chat with the semi-finalists, and find out what their plans are for the match, or matches, ahead. Boggemes was ice cool during Sunday lunch. He was utterly clear-headed about what he still had to do, and he subsequently went about doing it. I think the phrase that describes him best is something like ‘self-possessed’. At no point was he flummoxed or bamboozled, at no point did he let the pressure get to him, and he came away with $20,000 and a cast-iron guarantee of Pro status for next year. Awesome.

1st — Simon Goertzen

There are some things you can say about every winner, but I’ll save us all some time, and just imagine that I’ve said all those nice things. Instead, let’s get to two things you really need to know about Goertzen’s victory. First, he wanted LSV in the semi-finals. He wanted to defeat the undefeated. He wanted to make sure that his victory would include the scalp of the greatest run in history. He wanted to be certain that nobody could say afterwards, ‘Ah, but you’d never have won if LSV hadn’t been unlucky against so-and-so in the semis.’ In short, he wanted to test himself against the best, and beat the best. By that stage in the tournament, I think many players would have resorted to prayer, or the hope that LSV would have heart failure, before choosing to get in his way. Not Goertzen.

The second thing is to take you right back to round eight. Goertzen had opened the tournament 1-2, and was only 4-3 going into the last round of day one. At that point, he wasn’t even certain of playing on Saturday. He won eight straight elimination matches from that point on, earning him the right to ID into Sunday. Then, of course, he won three more elimination matches. I think it would be frankly impossible to decry the achievement of LSV, but I also think we can all recognize that facing elimination is a rather tougher proposition than wondering whether you can turn a guaranteed Top 8 13-0 into a guaranteed Top 8 14-0. Nothing tests a Magic player more than when his back is against the wall, and when you begin that run knowing that you have to have the only perfect Draft deck at your table, that takes a real steely resolve that Goertzen showed time and again throughout Sunday.

My final memory of the final is how incredibly polite the players were. I don’t mean that as opposed to them being actively rude, but there was something amazingly ‘ordinary’ about the game. As I remarked at the time, it was as if they were playing at Friday Night Magic, rather than in a single-game shootout that determined the destination of $60,000.

So, that about wraps it up from the first Pro Tour of the season. Jund-haters should certainly look well beyond ‘Savage Lands — Go’, because there was plenty of innovation. In particular, genuine lovers of old school Control, such as yours truly, had plenty to get excited about. While Chapin’s deck may not quite be on a scale with genuine Draw-Go, or Counter-Ophidian, or even Turbo Moose (I’m not making that up, I assure you), it sure feels like an honest to goodness counter everything that moves and blow stuff up Control deck. And if you find me on Magic Online (I’m Coverage_RichH, with a WOTC symbol next to my name, surprisingly), there’s a good bet that’s what I’ll be playing.

Until next week, as ever, thanks for reading…