Removed From Game – The A to Z of Pro Tour: Berlin

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Wednesday, October 29th – I’ll give you three guesses what this week is all about. Torvill and Dean? No. The rain delay of Game 5 in the baseball World Series? No. Last chance, or you’ll just have to click to find out…

No prizes for guessing what this week is all about. I won’t waste your time talking much about the format, since if you have any interest in Extended you will doubtless have been devouring assorted goodies from The Innovator and chums. The blanks I’ll be filling in ahead of the tournament are all about people. Who really needs Berlin to be a bust-out performance? Who is closing in on the highest Levels of the game? Can anyone realistically stop Shuuhei Nakamura from becoming Player of the Year, continuing the Japanese dominance? Handily arranged in a structured format beloved of writers throughout the history of print, I bring you your A to Z guide, and just to keep it fresh, I’m going to start with… A.


Grand Prix: Buenos Aires did much to improve the visibility of the game in South America to a global audience. Joaquin Alvarez Rivera made Top 16 at that event, so has an invite here. Whether that’s enough to make him travel the globe is debatable, and that’s true of many players who have an invite, but gracefully decline to show.

Oyvind Andersen was a prime candidate for deckbuilder of the year coming into Pro Tour: Valencia a year ago, but life has taken him in different directions, and as someone who playtested more than almost anyone, it would be a big surprise to see him in Berlin.

Among the PTQ winners, Ryuichi Arita is the biggest fish leaping out of a small pond back to the big time.

Finally, Tim Aten already has 6 Pro Points this year, but is one of the lesser-known Pro Player card alumni. Rising star? That didn’t come to fruition, largely due to his own choosing of other interests over Magic.


One thing the United States does very well is introduce a never-ending stream of decent players you’ve never heard of. Take Scott Barrentine, for instance. He won the Dallas PTQ, but also finished in the Top 16 of Grand Prix: Denver. This suggests that he’s more than the lucky guy who hit a streak on PTQ day, and the invite list for any PT is littered with these relatively unknown Americans who have more than just one decent finish in their resume.

Frederico Bastos is one of the better Portuguese players, trying to fill the void left by Tiago Chan and, arguably, Andre Coimbra.

Two players in trouble as far as Pro status goes are the Italian Giulio Barra and Austrian Armin Birner. Both had big splashy finishes in 2007, with Birner having multiple Top 8s on the Grand Prix circuit, and Barra being part of the Sunday showdown at Pro Tour: Valencia almost exactly a year ago with his Rock deck. Both are mired in the 6/7 Pro Point range, and that means only a Top 8 finish here would see them comfortably positioned for Pro Status next year. Now, while we’re here, let’s put things in a bit of perspective. I’m likely to use terms like ‘in trouble’ and ‘losing touch’ and ‘needs a miracle’ and so on, to describe players who are, in my view, struggling to reach 20 Points by season end. Those terms imply that there is a lot riding on their achieving this threshold, and to an extent that’s true. At 20 Points, invites are assured for all the PT in 2009, and not having to grind in through the bunfight of PTQs is a massive incentive. However, this assumes that the players are actively trying to reach that landmark and that the PT is a big part of their plans. In practice, I can’t know how Barra and Birner feel about their point situation. Maybe neither is planning on playing much Magic next year anyway. Either way, you should be aware that when I use those kind of phrases, there’s always ‘assuming that being a Magic Pro is what they want to be next year’ tacked on the end.

Julio Bernabe is another who did well at Grand Prix: Buenos Aires, and as a result is well inside the Top 100 ranked players in 39th on 2073.

David Besso is one of the Italians I expect to do well, not least because he surrounds himself with some of the best players in the world, with Manuel Bucher, Rasmus Sibast, Paul Cheon, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Patrick Chapin all visitors to his apartment during Grand Prix: Rimini.

Nico Bohny is a quiet and unassuming guy, and people tend not to factor him into discussions of Top 8 potential. Fact is, he’s a Grand Prix winner, part of the reigning Team World Champions, and made Top 8 in Hollywood last time around. There’s every reason to suppose he could go close again here.

Good luck to Przemyslaw Bok, winner of the Lithuanian PTQ. Proof that Magic really is a global game is never far away.

Another Buenos Aires success story, Francisco Braga is now ranked 11 in the world, on 2107. That’s a lot of ranking points.

One of the fun bits about reading the Invite list — okay, I have a fairly eclectic definition of the word ‘fun’ — is seeing how many ways a player has qualified. Take Manuel Bucher of Switzerland for instance. He has four ‘invites’ this time around: Top 50 from Pro Tour: Hollywood ; Top 100 Rating (he’s 48th) ; Grand Prix: Madrid Top 16 ; and Grand Prix: Birmingham Top 16. That’s pretty impressive, and on 28 Pro Points this season so far, a stellar performance here could catapult him into Player of the Year reckoning. Frankly, I’d be disappointed if he finished outside the Top 32 as a minimum standard.


It’s always sad when someone bursts onto the scene and then vanishes just as promptly. Joel Calafell was the ‘eighth man’ in one of the most stacked final tables ever seen in Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur, but I’m glad to report he has successfully built on that breakout performance, including a Top 16 at Grand Prix: Madrid. Good job.

Another who is building a reputation, and a deserved one, is Italian William Cavaglieri. The reigning Italian Champion, Cavaglieri also has two GP Top 16s this season, and rivals Manuel Bucher amongst the Europeans for innovative decks that take widely-known archetypes in radical new directions. I can’t wait to see if he has something hot up his sleeve for Berlin.

Although his place in the Magic community is assured, the Innovator Patrick Chapin is a lot less certain of a Pro place next year. It seems odd that this deckbuilding powerhouse has only 7 Points to date this year, but he hasn’t traveled extensively, and of course had a less than optimal time last time out of the gates at Pro Tour: Hollywood. Finishing ninth at Grand Prix: Rimini probably didn’t help much either. For the record, either he’s telling us the truth that there is no viable Control deck in Extended, or he’s lying and he’s got one sleeved and ready to rock. That’s not an accusation, since he’s very open about the fact that there are things he can’t talk about here on the site. All I’m saying is that when you put two Ruels, Bucher, LSV, Cheon, Chapin, Wafo-Tapa, and Guillaume Matignon in a room together for a week, there’s no way that a Control deck gets missed if it’s there to be found. It’s fair to say that these eight guys are going to be my first port of call on Friday morning, to see what they’re playing.

The big breakout surprise of the year is undoubtedly Yong Han Choo of Singapore. He currently sits 9th on the Player of the Year table, with an impressive 30 Points, already Level 6. With a ranking of 2125, he’s 4th in the world by that reckoning. No idea what he’ll do in Berlin, but for the first time he won’t go unnoticed. A week from now we may be saying ‘Choo? POY? Really?’ and it might be realistic.

Andre Coimbra is ranked 7th in the world, but that masks the truth, that Andre made a tremendous effort to ‘turn Pro,’ didn’t get what he wanted from the exercise, and is now very much back in the pack, struggling to put a killer run together. Together with the absence of Invitational winner Tiago Chan, this represents a downturn, at least at the top, for Portuguese Magic.

Mark Conkle had a great run at Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur to start the season, and starts here courtesy of a PTQ win in Indianapolis.


Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa of Brazil was once lightning hot, the absolute rising star, heading for Player of the Year or close to it. Although still talented, he seems to have slipped back a notch. Whether this has anything to do with the absence of Willy Edel from the Tour this year is unclear, but his Top 8 at Pro Tour: Hollywood contributed nicely to his total of 23 Pro Points. Level 6 should be well within his grasp, it’s just a question of whether he has one more big result left in him either here or at Worlds in Memphis to return to the pinnacle of the game at Level 8 and 50+ points. Right now that seems a looooong way off.

Belgium’s Jan de Coster is on form at the moment. He qualified here via a Belgian PTQ, but made it to the final Draft of the largest event ever, Grand Prix: Paris, earlier this month.

Melissa de Tora will be hoping her Limited form transfers to Constructed. Melissa, a popular and talented U.S. player, won 7 straight Draft matches at U.S. Nationals earlier this year in Chicago, and was 4-0 to kick off this equivalent Pro Tour last year in Valencia. Calm and methodical, a high finish is entirely plausible.

One player likely to be missing from the ranks for the first time in a while is Antonino de Rosa. The big man has left Upper Deck, where he worked extensively on the World of Warcraft TCG, for a place in the sun. Yes, he’s off to the Netherlands Antilles, where Ted Knutson plans to employ every good Magic player on the planet until he can win the PT himself continues apace.


I’ve already mentioned the mostly-absent Willy Edel. It was great to see him in action at Grand Prix: Kansas City, where he lost in the quarter finals, thus demonstrating his edge hasn’t blunted during his time away from the game. Not sure whether we’ll see him in Berlin, but I hope we do. Ignoring any on-table reputation, off-table Edel is one of the good guys for sure.

I met Jason Elarar for the first time at Pro Tour: Hollywood, one of a new kind of Magic player, the ‘sometimes they come back’ variety. Elarar was doing well back in the late 90s, left the game to do real life stuff, and now finds himself able to come back to a much-loved hobby. He did well at Hollywood, and sits inside the Top 10 on ranking, with a massive 2118 leaving him 6th on the table. On 11 Points, he could go a long way to cementing Pro status for 2009 this weekend.


No doubt that one of the biggest stories of the coming six weeks will be which recognisable players won’t be back next year. Turns out that the winner of Grand Prix: Philadelphia, Gerard Fabiano, could be one of them. Like Jason Elarar, Fabiano sits on 11 Points. I don’t know what his attitude to the coming events are, but in my view the Pro Tour needs characters like Fabiano, since he has always seen the PT as more than just a game of cards, and more a lifestyle opportunity, as witnessed by his legendary pickup basketball games. In a strictly neutral way of course, I’ll be rooting for him to get plenty of points between here and Memphis, as the PT would be a poorer place next year without him.

A couple of PTQ winners to bring to your attention… Elton Fior is one of the better known South American players, having played in Worlds multiple times. He booked his place with a win in Buenos Aires, while Tsuyoshi Fujita won in Osaka-shi in Japan (I guess you knew that would be Japan, but it pays to be sure).


It seems an age since Charles Gindy won Pro Tour: Hollywood, and of course it is in fact the better part of six months ago. I’m confident that the winner of Berlin will be someone who has put in a bucketload of playtesting or at least (Olivier Ruel, I’m looking at you) knows a group that has put in a bucketload of playtesting. The one thing that came out of my interview with Gindy following his Hollywood victory was that the guy lives Magic to the full. Given that he won the last Constructed PT, and given that he will have done a bucketload of playtesting, I expect at least Top 32 this time around for the man who so openly loves the game and everything the game has done for him.

Christophe Gregoir is a solid Belgian player who never seems to get the limelight, with Marijn Lybaert and Fried Meulders and Jan Doise permanently around the scene, he’s the ‘4th’ of the quartet. However, the numbers don’t lie, and Gregoir already has 15 Points, making it likely that he’ll comfortably retain Pro status for next year.


This Top 100 ranking is a strange old business. If you get the chance, wander over to magicthegathering.com and take a look at the list. There are a lot fewer names that you’ll recognise than you might have reason to suppose. Thing is, the list is populated by some players who have generated their ranking through a huge domination of their local scene, and also one or two successful high-value tournaments. A Grand Prix run of 13-1 will generate several hundred rating points, even if you start at 1800+, for example. So, guess who the highest-ranked player in the world is? You already know the surname begins with H. Herberholz? No. Mike Hron? No, although it is an American. Step forward, Matt ‘Cheeks’ Hansen, on an astronomical 2162 rating points. He has one lifetime Grand Prix Top 8, and no PT Top 8s, yet he stands atop the rankings. Nobody on Earth is more successful than the ginger one. This only comes with ultra-consistency, so we can certainly expect to see him on Day 2. Then it’s a question of whether he can extend to Day 3. Rankings says he can, past performance says he can’t.

Mark Herberholz is a Standard Pro Tour winner who has given a bunch to the game, and also understands the commitment required to play the game at the highest level. Right now, that commitment isn’t there, and 8 Pro Points reflects this. However, even though November is almost upon us, the fact is that there are two massive events featuring Constructed play still to come, and Herberholz is absolutely capable of making the Top 8 of at least one of them. That would take him to 20 Points, and an Invitation that he could use or not as he saw fit. I expect a lot from Mark this weekend.

Another low on Points so far this year is Jim Herold, a man who has been around the Magic Pro scene for a decade, with Grand Prix successes pre-2000, and a Top 8 performance at Pro Tour: Geneva at the start of 2007. He has 7 Points, so only a semi-final berth will see him reach the threshold in one go. That’s a big ask.

Making a welcome appearance this weekend is Richie Hoaen, representing either Canada or the Netherlands Antilles (take your pick). Presumably Richie knows it’s Constructed?

A dark horse for success this weekend? How about Christoph Huber? He’s a team World Champion, but his attendance has been curtailed so far this year. Nonetheless, he was the last undefeated man in the building at Worlds in New York, and that doesn’t happen by accident. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him near the top of the leaderboard, even if he doesn’t actually see Sunday play.


When he finished the Swiss at the number one slot in a Grand Prix last year, it seemed confirmation that David Irvine was on the fast track to success. Now, with only six weeks of the season to go, he’s down amongst the also-rans on 6 Points, and needs to do something good and soon if he’s going to stay attached to the Pro game he so recently looked likely to head.

Amongst the Japanese likely starters — Ren Ishikawa, Ken Ishimaru, PTQ winner Atsushi Itou, and Juniya Iyanaga.


The weirdness of the ratings is confirmed by someone like Dan Jenkins of England. Dan’s a very good player here, or at least he was when his rating was being accumulated in the early 2000s. Now he only comes out of semi-retirement to play in Nationals most years. Meanwhile, he retains an invite to the PT. Likelihood of him using it? Close to nil.

Klaus Joens was in typically combative form at Paris earlier this month. Already more or less certain of a Day 2 slot, he elected to play against Shuuhei Nakamura in Round 9, trying for three points rather than the 1 each for an Intentional Draw that Shuuhei was looking for. Joens went one up, and looked close to putting the Japanese man out of the tournament. Then came Cruel Ultimatum. Ouch. Joens did indeed make Day 2, and I expect him to do at least that well on home soil.

Martin Juza is one of the more impressive Europeans to come onto the global scene for a while. He was in contention deep into Day Two at Pro Tour: Hollywood, made Top 16 at Grand Prix: Birmingham, again Constructed, and must have a decent shot at a similar performance here.


It was good to see Masami Kaneko back at a European Grand Prix in Paris. His mastery at Grand Prix: Florence in 2007 was absolute, the most complete start-to-finish effort I’ve yet seen. He spanked his way through Day 1 in Paris, without quite capitalising through the Shards Drafts. I’m guessing, but he’s likely to have access to the same deckbuilding process as his friend Shuuhei Nakamura, and thus should have a top quality 75 cards come Friday.

This time last year, one of the few bets I would have been prepared to take was that Frank Karsten would make Top 32 in any given Constructed PT. That was based both on his undoubted skills at the game, but also his legendary playtesting regime, which has whipped plenty of wannabes into contenders over the years. Now, I’m not so sure, since that playtesting has been radically reduced due to real-world commitments. Some players can survive being semi-detached from the game, but I’m not sure Frank is one of them. Having said that, he already has 15 points, so needs just one ‘bonus’ from either Berlin or Memphis to reach the Pro threshold for 2009.

Another Dutchie, Rogier Kleij, found the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Brussels just a bit too hot to handle, where Messrs. Cornelissen, Nassif, Ruel (A) and Levy held court. He’ll be looking to go deep into Day 2. Someone who took their Grand Prix opportunity to go the distance was Poland’s Mateusz Kopec. He won in Vienna, where Extended was the Format, and that suggests that he too will have serious aspirations. And still with GPs, Mattias Kunzler generated the second best ranking in the world (2135) by going through the Swiss rounds of Grand Prix: Rimini undefeated.

Rounding out the Ks we have Shingou Kurihara. He was the big story of 2007, consistently making Top 8s around the world, something he began with the very first event of the season, Pro Tour: Geneva. At the time, this former Nationals Top 8er was considered something of a shock inclusion for Sunday play, but as the year went by his name remained high on leaderboards. This year he has cut back significantly on his international travels, but if he attends Berlin, he has the skills and temperament to succeed.


Let’s start with another American who should put up competent numbers, Tim Landale. He sneaked into the Top 100 on 2043, but had an invite assured already, thanks to his Top 16 finish at Grand Prix: Denver. You can argue whether or not the U.S. has the best set of Pros pound-for-pound, but there strength in depth at the PTQ level is very, very powerful.

David Larsson is from an unfashionable Magic nation, Sweden, but the Grand Prix: Copenhagen winner has been around the Pro scene for a good number of years, and should do well here, if he attends.

Raphael Levy continues to be nothing short of phenomenal in terms of consistency. He qualifies here on four counts, including Top 16s at Grand Prix in Birmingham, Manila and Madrid. On 34 Points, he’s third in the Player of the Year race, only four points adrift from compatriot Olivier Ruel in 2nd, albeit a distant 20 behind the leader. Having won back to back Grand Prix last year, it’s hard to say that he’s statistically in the form of his life, but reliable judges suggest that he put on a veritable clinic during Grand Prix: Birmingham, with plays both innovative and daring. If he’s ever going to win a Pro Tour, there are good reasons to back him here.

Marijn Lybaert hasn’t had a spotlight kind of year, but has still put together 24 Points, which sees him well on course for Level 6. Having faced a near-impossible matchup in the Top 8 of Pro Tour: Hollywood, he’ll be hoping for the rub of the green this time around. If he does, that would be his third PT Top 8 in two seasons, a mighty impressive result.

Ben Lundquist meanwhile is one of those well-known players who might be about to become less well-known, since he has a modest 9 points, despite finishing runner-up behind Paul Cheon at Grand Prix: Vancouver. Time to step up for one of the game’s possible stars.


Two players who seem to hover on the edge of Pro-dom are Antti Malin of Finland and Tyler Mantey of the US. Top 8 at Grand Prix: Birmingham sees Malin issued with an invite, while Mantey has both Top 50 at Pro Tour: Hollywood and a Grand Prix Top 16 in Indianapolis to thank. Given that players like Lundquist, Sadin, van Lunen, Irvine and more aren’t really stepping up to the plate of late, the opportunity exists for someone like Mantey to put himself on the map.

Guillaume Matignon may no longer be the World of Warcraft World Champion, but he can still play both games very well. Given his proximity to the French/Us uberteam, we’ll see if he can replace one game title with another.

It’s not often I’m upset that someone qualified for the Pro Tour, but I’m making an exception in the case of Rashad Miller. Rashad is a great guy who regularly judges at Pro Tours. Of more personal significance, he’s been the voice in my ear on Pro Tour Sundays, where he stands over the main feature match, conveying lifetotals to me and to Randy and BDM in the booth. You might think counting down from 20 sounds like a pretty easy gig, but the lights do things to people, and making sure that you’ve correctly identified the +1/+0 on an attack can get pretty wearing over a period of hours, knowing that your mistake will go out live as fact. So best of luck to Rashad of course, and if he doesn’t make Top 8, can we have him back please?

A trio of semi-detached players now. Rogier Maaten of the Netherlands plays a lot of bridge, another fine card game, and hasn’t been seen on much of the European GP circuit. Quentin Martin is running a business that demands a ton of his time and energy, so although he’s put some thought into this weekend, he hasn’t playtested as much as will probably be needed. Then there’s Fried Meulders, former Belgian champ and a recent fixture at events. Now however, a new job means a new approach to Magic, and his time may have gone.

Two players who could be a threat if they attend are Makahito Mihara and Zvi Mowshowitz. Zvi, a Hall of Famer, had a rubbish start to Pro Tour: Hollywood, but from 0-3 he scythed his way through the field, winning match after match after match before falling short in the final round of Swiss. As for Mihara, he seems to be in contention at every tournament he attends, and comes off a Top 8 appearance in Pro Tour: Hollywood where he demonstrated his mastery of all things Reveillark. Another who has a track record of success in Constructed is Germany’s Andre Mueller. He was on top of his game a year ago when only Remi Fortier came between him and a Pro Tour title in Valencia. Things haven’t been so good since, so much will depend on whether he has tested rigorously.


Shuuhei Nakamura — Top 50 Pro Tour: Hollywood
Shuuhei Nakamura — Pro Club Level 6+
Shuuhei Nakamura — Top 100 Rating — 2108 (9th)
Shuuhei Nakamura — Grand Prix: Birmingham Top 16
Shuuhei Nakamura — Grand Prix: Copenhagen Top 16
Shuuhei Nakamura — Grand Prix: Madrid Top 16
Shuuhei Nakamura — 54 Pro Points
Shuuhei Nakamura — Level 8
Shuuhei Nakamura — Leader Player of the Year Race

Want any more convincing that SN is the best player in the game right now? Tough. These will have to do. Oh, and I’ll tell you that he is. That surely convinces you, right?

Someone else with multiple invites to here is Frenchman Gabriel Nassif. Nassif doesn’t play a ton of Magic, picking and choosing events to align with other commitments. Like Japan’s Makahito Mihara, Nassif has the happy knack of staying in contention right to the end. Although I expect him to be Day 2 competitive, I suspect he doesn’t have a team around him to compete with some of the conglomerates that have been meeting to nail down the format. With Extended so totally wide open, my idea of the winner is someone who actually Knows the matchups, not just someone with incredible talent. That means Nassif probably won’t make Sunday. The words ‘hostage to fortune’ spring to mind. Oh well…

Aaron Nicastri is an interesting guy from Australia, of whom you’ll be hearing more later in the week. I don’t want to say too much here, save to say that I’ll be spending some quality time with Aaron in Berlin, and you’ll be able to see the fruits of our labours later in the weekend. For now, know that the Australian National Champion is very serious about his game, and the opportunities that Magic provides.

Dutchie and Poker Pro Julien Nuijten might be in Berlin for a last hurrah. As a Level 3, he’s able to choose one PT a year as his Invite, and of the 21 players on that list, only 5 have so far ‘burned’ their invite — Pierre Canali, Eugene Harvey, Itaru Ishida, Cynic Kim, and Osyp Lebedowicz. Since Ruud Warmenhoven is currently staying with Nuijten, I’m guessing there might be some Magical spells and fantastical creatures, as well as pocket aces.


Kenny Oberg is from Sweden, but that didn’t stop him from taking a Norwegian PTQ in Oslo. So that’s what happens to all the Norwegian slots…

Koutarou Ootsuka isn’t the most outgoing of the Japanese, but he is quietly one of the more successful. He’s currently ranked 26th in the world (2082) and has a couple of Top 16 finishes at Grand Prix: Kobe and Grand Prix: Manila, where he lost in the quarter finals on both occasions.

For those still wondering, Marco Orsini-Jones is the good-looking one. Sorry Matteo!

The only reason I can think of for Takuya Oosawa having only 9 Pro Points at this stage of the season is that he’s part of the group of Japanese who regularly leave the game to focus hard on study or jobs. The idea that his standards have slipped is laughable, having won Pro Tour: Prague in 2006, and then so nearly repeating a year later, losing the final of Pro Tour: Geneva to Mike Hron. If he’s there, and prepared, he’s a live threat.


Jamie Parke qualified for Berlin with a crucial 50th spot at Pro Tour: Hollywood. A subsequent Top 8 at Grand Prix: Indianapolis helped put him into the Top 100 ranking, making him qualified three times over. Given his job on Wall Street, whether or not he can spare the time for a transatlantic foray is unknown.

Richard Parker of England faced a tricky decision over the Summer. He stood, deck in hand, trying to decide whether to register for GB Nationals. Why wouldn’t he? Well, he finished very high at Pro Tour: Valencia, and had the possibility of making it to Berlin inside the Top 100. He surmised that even a 5-1 record in Constructed wouldn’t be enough to save his place. So, reluctantly, he stood on the sidelines of Nationals. And qualified here, in exactly 100th place.

Christophe Peyronnel will be seen at Worlds as the flagbearer for France as their National Champion. Here, he makes it courtesy of a PTQ win in Talence. Will he put his, er, talence to good use here?

The German Raul Porojan has had a rollercoaster ride this year, with strong playing performances balanced by an unfortunate late start that saw him miss the first Draft of a Grand Prix Day Two, and an even more unfortunate DQ for collusion. It seems somehow fitting therefore that he’s taken the road less travelled to get here, winning a PTQ in France.


Jonathan Randle is the GB Champ this year, and he made the Top 8 at Grand Prix: Birmingham, the last Brit left standing. Whilst it would be foolish in the extreme for me to expect a Sunday appearance, the word on the street here is that the British crew have a better chance than normal of placing someone highly. Here’s hoping.

Neil Reeves is a name many of you will be familiar with, and assuming that this is indeed The Neil Reeves of multiple PT Top 8s in 2002-3, it will be good to see him on the Tour. And if it’s not the Neil Reeves of days gone by, congratulations on winning PTQ Dallas, you have a lot to live up to.

Simon Ritzka has two Grand Prix Top 16s to qualify him here, and is in my view one of the most exciting players to come out of Germany for a while. Now, on home turf, this would be a great chance for him to show his skills on the world stage. I believe he can.

Jan Ruess is unsurprisingly in the Top 100, because only Charles Gindy finished ahead of him in Pro Tour: Hollywood. Partly because he’s so unassuming, partly because Hollywood was his first Top 8, nobody, but nobody, is talking about Ruess as a potential Player of the Year. However, he’s tied for 6th place in the race, and were he to repeat that Top 8 appearance, he would be in the mix. As it is, his ambitions probably extend to Level 7 at 40 Points by year’s end.

Finally, will we see Ben Rubin? He was a fixture last year, and vanished utterly after narrowly missing out on the Hall of Fame. He’ll surely be at Worlds to collect his Hall Ring, but is this a trip too far until the ring’s on the finger?


With 19 Points to his name, Steve Sadin has comfortably guaranteed Pro status for 2009. But that doesn’t reflect the effort he puts into his game, nor the globe-trotting he’s been doing to accumulate those points. All in all it’s been disappointing year for the New Yorker, as there are only so many times you can point to a successful process without a successful result to go with it. As we speak, Steve will doubtless be marshalling his final resources for an all-out assault on the title. I’d like to see him go close, because effort deserves reward, and very few work harder at the game.

Tomaharu Saitou has been thoroughly outshone by the blistering Shuuhei Nakamura, but that doesn’t mean Saitou is having too bad a time of it. The defending Player of the Year is in fact having the kind of season Shuuhei had last year, and with 28 Points is in 12th in the standings. Yes, repeating his title is unlikely, and would demand a significant Shuuhei failure not once but twice in Berlin and Memphis, but there’s every chance Saitou will be at least Level 7 next year. And that’s in a bad year. Awesome.

Brandon Scheel has shown himself to be among the most consistent US players, and seems to have taken his game up a notch in the past 12 months, having previously been a Pro Tour regular without being someone you really didn’t want to play. I would be slightly surprised if he broke his duck and made it through to Sunday, but only slightly, since he will probably be testing with Gerry Thompson and Steve Sadin, both of whom know how to turn cards sideways.

Luis Scott-Vargas is having a bit of a stinker by his own high standards. He is currently languishing in 55th place in the standings, and on 14 Points actively needs bonus points just to ensure minimum Pro status. For someone this good at the game, that position seems entirely false, and not one I can put my finger on. Surely he has a shot at a big weekend here, with the colossally talented testing team at his disposal.

I’m not sure how affected Rasmus Sibast is by not having a ton of competition in the Best Dane contest, but it surely can’t help. Still, he has a PT Top 8 to his name, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t still going in the latter half of Day 2.

My favorite name of the Pro Tour has made it again. Yes, having made the Top 50 at Pro Tour: Hollywood, Veerapat Sirilertvorakul is back to threaten the audio coverage with total unpronounceable meltdown.

Unless I’m much mistaken, the regular wingman of Magic video podcaster Patrick Jarrett is none other than Lee Steht, who will doubtless be regaling viewers of tales from the tournament floor, a privilege he earned with a Top 16 finish at Grand Prix: Denver. Congrats to him.

To date, Nicolay Potovin hasn’t been the harbinger of a major surge in the Russian scene, at least as far as the Tour is concerned. The latest Moscow PTQ winner is Alexander Syomkin. Odds are against him making Day 2, although that’s statistically true of everyone of course. While there’s a strong Eastern European contingent, that’s not the case with the Russians, so a standout performance would be a plus.

We round off this group with three players on the edge of Pro elimination. Bram Snepvangers has 9 points, John Sittner 6 and Jon Sonne just 4. Although I believe Sonne has turned his attention elsewhere, I suspect the other two would both like to reach 20 Points, and that seems pretty distant. Perhaps it won’t by Sunday.


In a country of Ruels and Wafo-Tapas, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the players with less star quality but still star results. Take Amiel Tenenbaum for instance, who has the 5th highest ranking in the world at 2122. In many countries that would make him the undisputed king of the hill. In France, in addition to those I’ve mentioned, Raph Levy, Gab Nassif (who he partners in 2HG), and Remi Fortier would all come ahead of him in the community awareness poll. Never being one to care about a popularity contest, that won’t bother Amiel in the least, who finished runner up in the team Pro Tour in New York 2001.

Gerry Thompson has long been a man who players in the know turn to when they want to be In The Know. Now you know him too, thanks to his column here. But until Grand Prix: Denver, with neither Grand Prix nor Pro Tour Top 8 to his name, Gerry was starting to look like the Ben Ronaldson of his era, a man who knows everyone, and everything, but can’t turn it to his own advantage. Building on Denver, and using that precious resource to further his results, is a top priority.

One of the biggest names in recent history may be even more detached from the game than he currently is come December, as none other than Kenji Tsumura is a long way from Pro safety on just 11 Points. This is another case where his skills haven’t deteriorated, just his ability to travel extensively and devote time to the game, and that’s something that he’s likely to suffer for in this playtest-intensive environment. On balance, I expect him to get to the 20 Point mark by the end of Worlds, but for a former Player of the Year and Level 8 mage, that’s a big change.

Another American who has so far failed to live up to expectations is Owen Turtenwald. At Eternal Formats he has been very successful, especially at GenCon U.S., but on the Pro Tour that has yet to translate. He’s ranked 41st in the world, and also qualified via a Top 16 finish at Grand Prix: Denver. Time to deliver.


Having not met him before, I was very impressed by Marsh Usary at U.S. Nationals, particularly in the later rounds when the pressure was on. He was ultimately edged out of the actual team, first by Champion Michael Jacob in the semifinals and then by Paul Cheon in the third place playoff. Nonetheless, he fought hard, and showed that his run there was no fluke by qualifying for Berlin by winning a PTQ in Richmond.


When three Dutch players made the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Paris, the surprise was that it didn’t include Robert van Medevoort, who began the current campaign with a runner-up slot behind Shuhei Nakamura in Grand Prix: Stuttgart, and finds himself on 30 Points and Level 6 guaranteed, with every chance of going further with a decent showing either here or in Memphis.


Just as an exercise, I’m going to try and write an entire article someday soon that avoids reference to Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. This won’t be it, since following his weekend off from Magic to play in World of Warcraft Worlds, he lines up here with all possible chances of adding to his victory in Pro Tour: Yokohama. It seems to me more or less inconceivable that at least one of the superteam (LSV, Cheon, Chapin, Matignon, WT, two Ruels, and Bucher, for those who can’t remember from earlier in the article) won’t be involved in Sunday play, and given that he received a warning for slow play in Hollywood it also seems inconceivable that Guillaume won’t have learned to play slightly faster. Add this, to the team, to the Format, and you have what seems to me to be the standout candidate for the title come Sunday.

Ruud Warmenhoven is coming to the end of his involvement with the game, but has been practicing for this event and a last throw of the dice at Worlds. He’s had a lot of fun, and he’s been a lot of fun. One last big finish would be fun to see.

Yuuya Watanabe won Rookie of the Year in 2007, before promptly making a rod for his own back by suggesting that his goal for 2008 was Player of the Year. Although that seems distant, it’s still not theoretically impossible, since he’s in 30th place on 18 Points, which actually feels more like a reasonable return than his plan. His finishes over the next six weeks will help determine how possible it will be to launch a more serious assault on the title next year.

Jelger Wiegersma has had a really decent season when he’s turned up, but that attendance is never guaranteed. With a run, you’d expect him to see Day 2, but fall short of the final table.

Stuart Wright continues to impress and frustrate. Although Unofficial, he was the 2006 Worlds Extended Champion, and has a monumental Constructed record at that event all round. The announcement that he will get a Constructed portion at every event next year was great news, but for him to take advantage of that he needs Points and soon, sitting as he is on just 10, with a further 10 needing to be secured, and no European Grand Prix left this season.


Adam Yurchick made it here via Pro Tour: Hollywood, where he was inside the Top 50, in the ‘worst’ position of all, 9th. Currently on 19 Points, it’s just a question of what Level he kicks off at next year. My guess is 6, since I expect him to do pretty well either here or at Worlds.


Almost there! Matej Zatlkej made the Top 16 in Grand Prix: Madrid and I expect him to take advantage of the invite with a strong showing here in Berlin. And that leaves the man who is always last, Arnost Zidek (at least alphabetically). Arnost has been joined over the last couple of years by some significant local support, particularly Martin Juza, and I expect a typically solid display.

And Finally…

Of course, I can’t cover every single player, not least because I don’t know every single player. By my rough calculation, I’ve talked briefly about 100 or so names, which still leaves 75% of the field unknown. Nonetheless, do I think it likely that I’ve mentioned the winner? Chances are that I haven’t, since (without looking back to check) I’d be surprised to find I’d showcased Mike Hron, Lachmann and van Lunen, Uri Peleg at Worlds, Gindy in Hollywood… my track record isn’t great. One of you kindly said how much you enjoyed these Pro articles, and that I would say who I thought was going to do well, and so forth. My friend, that’s because I’m the only one dumb enough to try…

However you’re spending next weekend, enjoy Pro Tour: Berlin, join me on the audio coverage, and if you’re going to be there, come and say hi.

Until next week, when we’ll have another chapter of Pro history to talk about, as ever, thanks for reading.