Removed From Game – Sprint For The Title

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424 competitors, and the results mean something different for everyone. 177th can mean Level 3 for next year, 17th can mean falling out of contention for Player of the Year. Let Rich Hagon be your guide round the men and math of Pro Tour: Valencia, including his inimitable explanation for the non-victory of Dredge, your very own Andre Mueller Home Impressions Kit, and more!

So here we go, with the fourth Pro Tour of 2007 to get to grips with in the race for the Player of the Year. Pro Tour: Valencia was an event that as almost everyone knows by now came close to not happening at all. The two-day stamina test that ensued produced some intriguing results. Let’s take a look. Here’s how the top of the table looked going into the Spanish event:

Tomoharu Saitou — 50
Kenji Tsumura – 48
Shingou Kurihara – 41
Guillaume Wafo-Tapa – 40
Raphael Levy – 39
Paul Cheon – 36
Mike Hron – 35
Olivier Ruel – 35
Mark Herberholz – 31
Takuya Oosawa – 28
Sebastian Thaler – 28
Luis Scott-Vargas – 28
Marijn Lybaert – 28

Are You Kidding Me? (Zero points):

Sebastian Thaler – DQ
Klaus Joens – DQ

From a judging perspective, the disqualification of the two Germans was the kind of thing you want to watch from behind the sofa, peering between your fingers. It was a proper horror show, featuring assorted variations on a theme of two friends trying to help each other out, not quite making it clear who was conceding to who, and then leaving it too late to report the result the way they intended, since the match was already over by then. The good news for the Rookie of the Year Thaler and double GP Top 8 man Joens is that there seems unlikely to be any ban forthcoming. However, there’s still a heavy price to be paid for what was essentially a breakdown in communication between best mates. Thaler has probably forfeited much chance of making Level 5 for 2008, and Joens, without his 2 points from Spain, must now generate a bonus point from somewhere to secure Level 3. The judges couldn’t really believe it, the two players couldn’t really believe it, I couldn’t really believe it, and I watched it happen. Bizarre.

Congratulations, You’re Breathing (201-Infinity):

204 – Sadin, Steven [USA]
206 – De Rosa, Antonino [USA]
208 – Summersberger, Helmut [AUT]
217 – Mitamura, Kazuya [JPN]
222 – Carvalho, Marcio [PRT]
225 – da Rosa, Paulo Vitor [BRA]
226 – Chan, Tiago [PRT]
264 – Meulders, Fried [BEL]
280 – Fujita, Tsuyoshi [JPN]
290 – Merkel, Jan-Moritz [DEU]
305 – Rubin, Ben [USA]
313 – RomÂ’o, Carlos [BRA]
318 – Erwin, Evan [USA]
319 – Stark, Bill [USA]
325 – Barbero, Jose [ARG]
337 – Nuijten, Julien [NLD]
340 – Tormos, Ervin [USA]
343 – Fabiano, Gerard [USA]
349 – Levy, Raphael [FRA]
367 – Osawa, Takuya [JPN]
368 – Rispal, Jonathan [FRA]
369 – Kaji, Tomohiro [JPN]
383 – Canali, Pierre [FRA]
388 – Lachmann, Chris [USA]
393 – Brackmann, Aaron [DEU]
399 – Kurihara, Shingou [JPN]
401 – Dougherty, Robert [USA]
412 – Da Costa Cabral, Berna [BEL]
416 – Sonne, Jonathan [USA]
417 – Jones, Craig [ENG]
421 – Szleifer, Gadiel [USA]

It’s a fact of PT life that there are going to be big names in the bottom half. Bear in mind that once you’re out of contention there’s a view that says you stop playing. If you’re new to all this, don’t think that Craig Jones (417) and Gadiel Szleifer (421) went 0-10 on Day One. Much more likely they went 0-3 and decided to go see some of Spain. Although he missed out here, Steve Sadin (204) took the plunge and went all the way to Brisbane for the Grand Prix and has made it to Level 3. Steve is a young guy who cares passionately about the game, and he will be a great addition to the 2008 Tour. Fried Meulders (264) is part of a new wave of Belgians that includes Jan Doise and Marijn Lybaert. Meulders went undefeated on Day 1 at Grand Prix: Florence and is the reigning Belgian champ. I’m not sure whether he’s quite ready to do something spectacular at Worlds, but this bottom half finish is likely to be the exception rather than the rule. Antonino de Rosa (206) and Ben Rubin (305) basically made a deck choice that didn’t work out. Among the rest, Pierre Canali (383) needs to do more than just turn up in New York if he is to stay on the train, since he’s currently on 15 points with 20 the safety zone for next year.

Undoubtedly the big story among the bottom half was the early demise of Shingou Kurihara. One of the more intriguing stories this year has been trying to determine whether Kurihara is a good player having a great season or a great player having a good season. Those in the former camp could point to Valencia as the wheels coming off. He played the U/W Urzatron deck that Tomaharu Saitou took to a mediocre 5-4 record, and Shuuhei Nakamura piloted all the way to the semi-finals. The only good thing about Kurihara’s Valencia weekend was Saitou, Tsumura, and Levy’s Valencia weekend. Whether Shingou can recover from the disappointment to post strong finishes at Grand Prix between here and New York will determine his true place among the contenders.

Better Than Nothing (101-200):

101 – Snepvangers, Bram [NLD]
102 – van Heeswijk, Roel [NLD]
103 – Wiegersma, Jelger [NLD]
109 – Hoaen, Richard [CAN]
111 – Ruel, Olivier [FRA]
119 – Irvine, David [USA]
120 – Yasooka, Shouta [JPN]
122 – Scott-Vargas, Luis [USA]
123 – Ikeda, Tsuyoshi [JPN]
125 – Carvalho, Paulo [PRT]
130 – Tenenbaum, Amiel [FRA]
141 – Lundquist, Benjamin [USA]
143 – Wright, Stuart [ENG]
146 – Wolansky, Steven [USA]
147 – Coimbra, AndrÂŽ [PRT]
155 – Cornelissen, Kamiel [NLD]
163 – Nasiff, Jose [VEN]
164 – Nassif, Gabriel [FRA]
165 – Soh, Joe [MYS]
166 – Kaneko, Masami [JPN]
171 – Edel, Willy [BRA]
178 – Tsumura, Kenji [JPN]
181 – Soh, Terry [MYS]
182 – Van Lunen, Jacob [USA]
189 – Saitou, Tomoharu [JPN]

At a time when the major players were meant to be stamping their authority on the Player of the Year Race, they were largely stumbling. If they knew in advance of their major rival’s lack of success here, you can be sure that both Saitou (189) and Tsumura (178) would have banked on really making them pay for the slip up. As it was, they finished with a miserly three points each, and must now jockey for position around the globe over the next month before closing in on what could be a four, five or even six-way four day slugfest for top dog. Venezuelan Jose (163) won the battle of the Nassif(f)s (164). Ben Lundquist (141) doesn’t appear to have had a good result, but the extra point means that, unlike Canali, he can relax at Worlds, provided he makes it to the start line in one piece. Jacob van Lunen (182) has a decent shot at Rookie of the Year (not entirely surprising given his San Diego victory) and Olivier Ruel (111), who has had a fairly anonymous season so far, was another for whom the third point will be crucial, since it assures him of Level 5 for next year. Stuart Wright (143) continues to frustrate, and David Irvine (119) is someone you can expect to see higher than this very soon.

Not Bad (65-100):

65 – Krish, Rondy [SGP] – $500 – 4
66 – Nystršm, Per [SWE] – $490 – 4
67 – Sibast, Rasmus [DNK] – $480 – 4
68 – Pruser, Jan [DEU] – $470 – 4
69 – Chambers, Adam [USA] – $460 – 4
70 – Sjoblom, Max [FIN] – $450 – 4
71 – Stoffa, Gabriel [USA] – $440 – 4
72 – Glenister, Mark [ENG] – $430 – 4
73 – Fiorillo, John [USA] – $420 – 4
74 – choo, yong han [SGP] – $410 – 4
75 – Zidek, Arnost [CZE] – $400 – 4
76 – Carboni, Simone [ITA] – 4
77 – Harvey, Eugene [USA] – 4
78 – Kim, Cynic [KOR] – 4
79 – Matignon, Guillaume [FRA] – 4
80 – Laznovsky, Martin [CZE] – 4
81 – Ljungberg, William [SWE] – 4
82 – Perbet, Guillaume [FRA] – 4
83 – zornes, james [USA] – 4
84 – Oomens, Wessel [NLD] – 4
85 – Clemedtson, Christophe [SWE] – 4
86 – van Medevoort, Robert [NLD] – 4
87 – Arendt, Rafal [POL] – 4
88 – Hirosawa, Yuuta [JPN] – 4
89 – Torstensson, Benny [WE] – 4
90 – Moore, John [USA] – 4
91 – Herold, Jim [DEU] – 4
92 – Maaten, Rogier [NL] – 4
93 – Fujita, Osamu [JPN] – 4
94 – Young, Dane [USA] – 4
95 – Nakajima, Chikara [JPN] – 4
96 – Malin, Antti [FIN] – 4
97 – Koller, Tobias [DEU] – 4
98 – Oks, Oliver [JPN] – 4
99 – Yoon, Soo Han [JPN] – 4
100 – Santoni, Edoardo [ITA] – 4

Antti Malin (96) continues to keep the Finnish flag flying, but probably needs results in Krakow to go his way at the Grand Prix before a decent finnish (sorry) at Worlds if he is to keep hold of Level 3 status. Personally, I hope he makes it, as Malin is exactly the kind of competitive-but-rational sort of human being the Tour can do with. Dutchies Rogier Maaten (92) and Wessel Oomens (84) have partially turned their attention away from MTG to Bridge, but both remain great guys to have around, and both have guaranteed places on Tour next year, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Oomens leaves the scene sooner rather than later. Guillaume Matignon (79) is a name that’s on a lot of French lips at the moment, and if you want a name that you might not know much about who could turn up at Worlds and go a long way, he might be worth a punt. Eugene Harvey (77) won’t have appreciated this finish after starting out 4-0, but he amongst others found the going tough at the back end of Day 1 with fatigue setting in. Arnost Zidek (75) is one of those guys who sits perennially on the edge of full-time Tour status. Put him in a Last Chance Qualifier and you can set your watch by him being right in contention at stupid o’clock. At PT level, he can’t quite get the job done consistently enough, although his money finish here plus a strong showing in San Diego may signal an upswing in fortune. Four points here for Rasmus Sibast (67) takes the great Dane into Level 3 for next year, assuming he has a passport for New York, and nobody will have fought harder for their money than England’s Mark Glennister (72), who began the tournament loss-loss-loss-draw, before winning six straight to claim $430. Good job.

Now You’re Talking (33-64):

33 – Takahashi, Yuuta [JPN] – $1,300 – 5
34 – Larsen, Christoffert [DNK] – $1,250 – 5
35 – Komuro, Shuu [JPN] – $1,200 – 5
36 – Rodi, Daniel [DEU] – $1,150 – 5
37 – Aguado, Saul [ESP] – $1,100 – 5
38 – Lovett, Nicholas [ENG] – $1,050 – 5
39 – Taru, Genki [JPN] – $1,000 – 5
40 – Thompson, Gerry [USA] – $950 – 5
41 – Martin, Quentin [ENG] – $900 – 5
42 – Schwartz, Gabriel [USA] – $850 – 5
43 – Terry, Jason [USA] – $800 – 5
44 – Morita, Masahiko [JPN] – $775 – 5
45 – Lindgren, Tommi [CHE] – $750 – 5
46 – Leka, Laszlo [ENG] – $730 – 5
47 – Seine, Markus [DEU] – $710 – 5
48 – Capristrani, Ary [BRA] – $690 – 5
49 – Swearingen, Jon [USA] – $675 – 5
50 – Pirkey, James [USA] – $660 – 5
51 – Doise, Jan [BEL] – $645 – 5
52 – Gšrtzen, Simon [DEU] – $630 – 5
53 – santiago, carlos [ESP] – $620 – 5
54 – DeTora, Melissa [USA] – $610 – 5
55 – Aoki, Ryousuke [JPN] – $600 – 5
56 – martins, tony [FRA] – $590 – 5
57 – Alesi-mullen, John [USA] – $580 – 5
58 – Yurchick, Adam [USA] – $570 – 5
59 – Hansen, Matt [USA] – $560 – 5
60 – Besso, David [ITA] – $550 – 5
61 – Lybaert, Marijn [BEL] – $540 – 5
62 – Hill, Zac [USA] – $530 – 5
63 – Cheon, Paul [USA] – $520 – 5
64 – Al-Bacha, Wesimo [DEU] – $510 – 5

With real life raising its head, even the five points he got here seem unlikely to be enough to keep Wesimo Al-Bacha (64) on Tour. Paul Cheon (63) must be thoroughly gutted by his day of two halves, starting out 6-0 before it all fell apart. Life is still good for the talented American, who now has Level 5 in the bag, but he could (should?) have been on the brink of Level 6, and that is now the best part of Top 8 at Worlds away. Marijn Lybaert (61) is another for whom the tournament ended up fading away. Right in contention until the business end, Lybaert suffered a string of reverses that means that he too must do something special at the Javits Center in December if he wants to make Level 5. Melissa deTora (54) got off to a 4-0 start with her Gifts Rock deck, and stayed the course under extreme pressure, with three draws coming on Day 1. 54th was the best result of her PT career, and she clearly has the temperament and ability to go higher. Laszlo Leka (46) was in 9th place overnight but wilted. Not so Wales’ Nick Lovett (38) who made a mess of round 7 when poised to move to 5-2, lost that match, but came roaring back to take home a useful $1,050 and generate 5 precious points. Now at 14, Lovett will be looking to come close to his barnstorming performance in Paris last year and secure a second year on Tour. As usual, there were plenty of Japanese in amongst the cash prizes, including Yuuta Takahashi (33), Shuu Komura (35), Taru Genki (39), who had made the Sunday spotlight in San Diego, and Masahiko Morita (44).

Good Times (17-32):

17 – Andersen, Oyvind [NOR] – $3,500 – 7
18 – Turtenwald, Owen [USA] – $3,250 – 7
19 – Kaliuk, Pavlo [UKR] – $3,000 – 7
20 – Dutkiewicz, Leszek [POL] – $2,800 – 7
21 – Watanabe, Yuuya [JPN] – $2,600 – 7
22 – Ruel, Antoine [FRA] – $2,400 – 7
23 – Birner, Armin [AUT] – $2,200 – 7
24 – Herberholz, Mark [USA] – $2,000 – 7
25 – Hall, Zack [USA] – $1,900 – 6
26 – Refsdal, Thomas [NOR] – $1,800 – 6
27 – Connor, Sean [USA] – $1,700 – 6
28 – Ootsuka, Koutarou [JPN] – $1,600 – 6
29 – Morra, Matteo [ITA] – $1,500 – 6
30 – Karsten, Frank [NLD] – $1,450 – 6
31 – lefebvre, gaetan [FRA] – $1,400 – 6
32 – Derrickson, David [USA] – $1,350 – 6

I promised in the forums that I would offer up an explanation as to why my assertion that some kind of Dredge deck would win the PT turned out to be, er, wrong. Since both my tip for the title Oyvind Andersen and Norwegian compatriot Thomas Refsdal finished in the Top 32, now seems a good time to discuss the outcome for Dredge in general and the Cephalid deck in particular. You may recall that my central tenet was that there simply were not enough Sideboard slots available to justify the necessary hatred of graveyard strategies. I’m not making excuses here, but I was at least half right, the half being “Day 1.” I put that in quotes, because I’m going to take the first eight rounds, rather than add the two late-night Saturday rounds “borrowed” from Day 2. After eight rounds, the three Cephalid players that I was aware of were 6-2, 7-1 and 8-0. That, my friends, is a PT-winning deck in action.

What I believe happened from there on in is something that I witnessed firsthand in Yokohama, and talked about briefly in my “dredge will win” column, namely, what are people not prepared to lose to? Frank Karsten, one of the most consistent players on Tour and certainly in the Top 20 worldwide, believes that the correct setup for the PT in general is that you have to be able to beat Aggro on Day 1, and Control on Day 2. In other words, Aggro will make up a large part of the Day 1 field (often the default choice for inexperienced players or those looking for a deck with built-in “free” wins) and Control, having taken care of the Aggro decks on Day 1, will be the major player on Day 2 (Control being the default choice for most high-level Pros or those believing they can most likely outplay their opponents). Before any of you start sending me nasty e-mails, I am not suggesting for a moment that Aggro players aren’t as good at Magic – Raphael Levy, Mark Herberholz, and Craig Jones are three people I’ve seen a good deal of who wield an Aggro deck with surgical precision. What appears to have happened to the Cephalid decks is that they sliced and diced their way through the Day 1 field of Aggro, which is, let’s remember, a good turn or two slower than the Breakfast decks. Then on “Day 2” (the last five rounds) they found themselves facing players who had taken the conscious decision not to lose to Dredge. As a side note, Andersen’s Cephalid deck seems like a fantastic choice for the Extended PTQ season for Hollywood that begins in January. With Dredge now semi-officially dead, there is absolutely no reason not to play the fastest deck in the format, especially as so many players at PTQ level tend to play either Aggro or some kind of slower Combo deck i.e. TEPS or Ideal.

Apart from Andersen (17) and Refsdal (26), Yuuya Watanabe (21) needs just one bonus point to secure Level 4, in part due to his GP win earlier this year. Antoine Ruel (22) may have to settle for Level 4, a drop of one from last year, but he has plenty of perspective outside the game, and probably cares more about the success of brother Olivier than himself. Mark Herberholz (24) did himself no harm at all in Spain, and there are feasible scenarios where he could yet be crowned Player of the Year, although he’d almost certainly have to be World Champion to pull it off. Frank Karsten (30) completed yet another consistent weekend, and him being in the Top 32 at Worlds seems one of the likelier bets. Nothing seems to faze him, and only an occasional unfortunate draw due to excessive bouts of “think tank” time could prevent another decent outing in New York. Sean Connor (27) gave a great account of himself on his Pro Tour debut, and another American Owen Turtenwald (18) made an excellent showing, although his overheard comment that this was the “worst PT Top 8 ever” doesn’t perhaps say much for his perspective. A Level 6? The reigning World Champion? The two best decks of the tournament facing off in the final? As for the winner, sure he’s unknown right now, but that will be true when/if Mr T wins his first PT.

So Near (9-16):

9 – Siron, Geoffrey [BEL] – $7,000 – 8
10 – Pils, Florian [DEU] – $6,500 – 8
11 – Parker, Richard [ENG] – $6,000 – 8
12 – Kuroda, Masashiro [JPN] – $5,500 – 8
13 – Warmenhoven, Ruud [NLD] – $5,000 – 8
14 – Wafo-tapa, Guillaume [FRA] – $4,500 – 8
15 – Lopez Campos, Emilio [ESP] – $4,000 – 8
16 – Potovin, Nicolay [RUS] – $3,750 – 8

It was clear during the latter part of 2006 that Geoffrey Siron (9) of Belgium was a man disenchanted with Magic, and it was no surprise to see him quit the scene. It was nice to see him back in Valencia, especially as he seemed to spend most of his time simply wiping out whatever and whoever was put in front of him. Playing the Enduring Ideal deck but with the additional comedy value of being able to set up the Erratic Explosion/Draco Combo, Siron got right to the brink of another Sunday live appearance under the lights, but even a last round concession by Frank Karsten couldn’t quite squeeze him past Mihara. Ruud Warmenhoven (13) is another proto-typical Level 4, who seems to quietly go about his business, apparently not caring much one way or the other, but mostly ending up the winner. Currently on 24 points, there’s no reason to suppose he won’t find the 6 he needs to make Level 4 again. Nicolay Potovin (16) raised a few eyebrows when he won Grand Prix: Stockholm, but he is now firmly on the Train, and currently holds my award for the most startling comeback in a game I’ve seen this year. He fought and fought and fought against Tomaharu Saitou in Florence before pulling off a virtuoso win that left the Japanese guy shaking his head and acknowledging that Potovin had played out of his skin. Believe me, this is not the man you want to meet when you need a win. Richard Parker (11) of England had a weekend to remember. He had reached 6-1-1 in the Last Chance Qualifier on Thursday before the rains came, and continued on his winning ways throughout the main event. His Red Deck Wins deck was one of the few living up to that billing, and although it must be hard to come so close, he can’t fail to have been thrilled by the ride. Having been in contention almost the whole way, Emilio Lopez Campos (15) was the last remaining hope for a home victory. And the undoubted winner of this lot? It can only be Guillaume Wafo-Tapa (14), who kicked off the weekend with a victory over Gabriel Nassif, and while never quite in the frame continued to pile up the victories which mean that he now has Level 6 status locked in for 2008. I’ll be talking more about G W-T in a future article, but he really deserves this accolade.

Under The Lights (5-8):

5 – Koike, Takayuki [JPN] – $11,500 – 12
6 – Rus, Tine [SVN] – $11,000 – 12
7 – Stein, Sam [USA] – $10,500 – 12
8 – Mihara, Makihito [JPN] – $10,000 – 12

Koike and Stein were the last representatives of the Aggro community, and neither fared especially well in the Top 8, both losing 3-1. Stein’s Affinity fell victim to the classic bad matchup, facing Andre Mueller with Enduring Ideal. Despite putting on enough pressure to take one game, Stein knew that the quarter-finals was about as far as he could progress, with the outstanding Combo deck in his way. Koike probably had more of a chance against Nakamura, but he suffered from severe deck malfunctions in two of the three games he lost. Tine Rus acquitted himself admirably at his first PT, and can’t seriously have imagined the wacky weekend in store for him in Spain when he won his PTQ back in Zagreb. And then there was World Champion Mihara. I have to admit that in the past I’ve had some question marks about the status of whoever the World Champion happens to be. It feels as if the calibre of past winners isn’t as high as for Player of the Year. To an extent this makes sense, since for all its multiple formats and multiple days of heavy-duty Magic, Worlds is still just a lone tournament, lending itself to the possibility of a relative unknown going on a tear, backed up by the perfect metagame choice for Standard, and taking home the big prize. Nobody wins Player of the Year by accident. When Mihara successfully counted to nine three times in the final last year in Paris, it felt like he might belong to the group of the “goodest” (Tom van der Logt, Daniel Zink, Carlos Romao, Julien Nuijten for example) rather than the “greatest” (Kai Budde, Jon Finkel, maybe Katsuhiro Mori) in the World Champs club. In Mihara’s case, maybe it’s time to think about a re-evaluation.

One More Round (3-4):

3 – Barra, Giulio [ITA] – $15,000 – 16
4 – Nakamura, Shuuhei [JPN] – $14,000 – 16

Some people are just inherently fashionable. This may come as a shock to many of you, since at most tournaments it’s close to a scoreless draw between guys who are hip and trendy on the one side, and women players on the other. Nevertheless, I’m going to talk about two guys here who the word “cool” really applies to. One of the more unlikely sights at the Invitational was Shuuhei managing to make a black Invitational polo shirt look trendy, which is probably the first time that the words “polo shirt” and “trendy” have attempted to co-exist peaceably. Shuuhei has had a pretty miserable season, yet managed to remain relentlessly cheery. He’s also a leading member of the unofficial Team Japan – he was clearly thrilled with the victory of Masami Kaneko in Florence. Facing Mueller in the semis, he took the voluble German to a full five-game set, before succumbing to a succession of Epic enchantments. 21 points coming into Valencia felt substantially lower than expectations. 37 points coming out of it means that even a halfway decent performance in New York or anywhere in the meantime will secure Level 5 status. A great weekend. Meanwhile the Italian Giulio Barra was ice-cool in the Sunday maelstrom. He looked immaculate, and even at the tail end of his semi-final against Fortier he maintained an aura of supreme calm. Italy has a vast group of players at PTQ level, with around 200 players competing for each slot. What the country has been lacking for a while is a small group of rock-solid Pros that the lower echelons can seek to emulate. Perhaps Barra can be a PT regular, and help revitalise the Italian Pro community.

A Game of Inches (2):

2 – Mueller, Andre [DEU] – $22,000 – 20

When I first started doing coverage from the European Grand Prix circuit, Andre Mueller wasn’t on the scene. It was German reporter Hanno Terbuyken who pointed me in Andre’s direction as someone who would be good value to follow for a few rounds. In Stockholm I saw him beat home hope Sam Korsell and then lose to Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, and through both matches he maintained a relentless pace of the verbals, so much so that I thought it was possible I’d found somebody who could talk more than me! Mueller eventually lost the final of that Grand Prix to Russian Nicolay Potovin, but throughout he played with what I can only describe, despite him clearly not being French, as joie de vivre. It’s understandable that there are people who get rubbed up the wrong way by Andre, and if you don’t find him amusing, I guess you end up thinking he’s a jerk. I do find him amusing, and think he’s a great antidote to players who forget under pressure that Magic is only a game – a great game to be sure, but still a game. I’m reluctant to sound too positive about him, since the last German I waxed lyrical about was Max Bracht, and look what happened to him. Nonetheless, he’s a face (and a voice) that I’m always happy to see, and you know what? He doesn’t just like winning, he likes the mechanics of winning. If you’ve seen his DeckTech piece with Randy and BDM from the coverage, you can’t fail to be enthused. To paraphrase, “It’s like I get to seven mana and then BANG – turn after turn of enchantments, and they just can’t deal with it, and then I win!” Try saying this aloud with a German accent at high speed with lots of mad scientist arm movements and a cheesy grin, and you have your very own Andre Mueller impressionist kit. Oh, and one final thing before we move on. This guy is absolutely the real deal, don’t let the fooling fool you.

Over The Line (1):

1 – Fortier, Remi [FRA] – $40,000 – 25

Previously unknown moments in Pro Tour history Number 37:

“Mum, I’ve just won $40,000.”
”Are you eating lots of fruit and vegetables?”
”Mum, I said I’ve just won $40,000.”
”And getting plenty of sleep?”
”$40,000. For playing Magic.”
”And have you done your homework for school tomorrow?”
”Don’t worry, I’ll bribe the teachers.”

Welcome to the world of Remi Fortier, 16, and France’s latest Extended Pro Tour Champion, continuing a stranglehold begun by Pierre Canali in Columbus and continued by Antoine Ruel in Los Angeles. I can’t say enough about the resolve Fortier showed through a Sunday that must have felt like it took forever. 8-2 overnight, Fortier secured his berth in the Top 8 with two straight wins Sunday morning, thus avoiding any last round disasters. Having established a 2-0 lead over Tine Rus, he didn’t wilt under the Slovenian’s comeback. In the semis, he wasn’t intimidated by Barra’s imperturbability. In the final, he wasn’t cowed by Andre Mueller’s large personality. In short, the young man held himself together perfectly.

Most impressive in the light of the revised tournament schedule was Fortier’s deck choice. Whilst it’s true that any kind of mid-range U/G deck has some sort of chance against almost anything the field is likely to throw up, that has a flipside. Throughout the weekend the U/G mages had little in the way of “free” wins. Whereas Aggro decks sometimes simply shrugged their way through nuts draws, and Combo decks looked at their opening hand and knew that victory was only a turn or two away, players like Fortier had to look at their opening grip and wonder what was coming. Given that the prevailing view was that Extended was such a vast format that the trick was to play a deck that asked questions rather than one that sought to supply answers, the success of Fortier and Barra and Rus amongst others represented a triumph of largely outfighting and outthinking opponents turn after turn, duel after duel, and match after match. Nowhere was this better illustrated than Fortier’s display in the final. Sure, in two of the three games he won he saw Venser, Shaper Savant as a straight up Answer, which Mueller knew was a real killer for his deck. That was two of the three games, but at 2-1 down Fortier found himself in the kind of hole that your average PTQ player would absolutely not have dug his way out of. When Mueller got his Enduring Ideal to resolve, he wouldn’t have been human if he hadn’t started to think about raising the trophy. Generally, Enduring Ideal = Game Over, unless the opponent has significant pressure and an answer right here right now. Fortier absolutely didn’t have significant pressure on the board. But over the next three turns, a devastating combination of Counterspell, Stifle and the card Fortier praised to the skies after the match (“I love Venser!”) turned around that critical Game 4.

Having emerged victorious, the young man seemed a little bewildered as to how to behave. Tens of thousands watching live, millions suddenly knowing your name, $40,000 in the bank, a guaranteed berth on Tour for 2008, it’s no surprise that he seemed somewhat lost as he waited to be presented with a trophy and cheque that looked like they might weigh as much as he did. Only at the very end of the ceremony did his delight burst out with a leap of unfettered joy that was great to behold. Questions as to his future in the game seem irrelevant. One shot deal or Rising Star simply doesn’t matter. Valencia was a life-changing weekend even if only due to the enormous cash injection into a young life (that sum takes care of college after all) and I look forward to seeing him in action at Worlds, especially if he continues to surround himself with the finest France can provide, a club to which he now belongs.


That this PT existed at all is a triumph of determination and rolled-up-sleeves action on the part of Wizards. It’s only when people are put under severe stress that you get to see them running at full capacity and sometimes beyond, and the staff and crew were not found wanting. Managing to get thirteen rounds plus a fully televised Top 8 was a triumph of frugality and man management, although the question remains whether some of the bigger names that just ran out of rounds (Siron, Kuroda, Wafo-Tapa) might have managed to overhaul some of the players who made it in to the Top 8 (Barra, Rus, Fortier). Most players I spoke to believed that it had relatively little impact on the outcome, and the play of the newcomers in the Top 8 was pretty exemplary. One of the most gratifying outcomes of the weekend is that the Extended format remains wide open. Sure, Aggro lost some ground and Dredge was found wanting, but the latter was largely due to the PT metagame, and isn’t at all safe to assume for the upcoming PTQ season. Ideal was notionally crowned the “best deck,” but any number of U/G variants made their mark, as did the Norwegian Cephalid deck. Add in the fun of Thoughtseize and Thorn Of Amethyst to name but two from Lorwyn and the start of 2008 is going to be, er, Epic. Possibly.

Next week, we’re on the GP trail, featuring all the news from Brisbane, Bangkok and Krakow, from where I’ll be bringing you coverage until your ears bleed, plus a decklist with a difference.

Until then, as ever…

Thanks for reading.