Removed From Game – World Championship Preview

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Tuesday, December 9th – You know that Worlds 2008 is happening this week in Memphis. You know that you’re reading this before it happens. And you know that Rich is going to tell you what might happen, why it might happen, and then ridiculously predict what actually will happen. That’s why they call it a Preview.

It’s that time again, and the plan is to bring you all the key races that matter. That means:

1.The Player of the Year Race
2.The Team World Championship
3.The Rookie of the Year Race
4.The Guessing Game

Straight to business with…

The Player of the Year Race

I’m writing this on the eve of Grand Prix: Auckland, the final piece in the puzzle before the travelling Magic circus comes to Memphis for Worlds next week. I’ve chosen as my notional cut-off 33 Pro Points. That covers 16 players. Those on 33 Points could theoretically win in Auckland, getting themselves 8 more Points (41), then win the Individual World Championship (66), and in a couple of cases also win the Team World Championship (72), and that would leave the current leader in the Race Shuuhei Nakamura needing 10 Points to be absolutely certain of getting the crown. That, incidentally, equates to a Top 8 finish. Now the likelihood of this may be remote, and there may be some even more unlikely combinations sitting further back in the Race, but these 16 are the ones we’ll be able to say ‘well I told you they could win it.’ Let’s look at them.

Joint 14th place, 33 Points.

Paul Cheon — USA
Robert van Medevoort — Netherlands
Jan Ruess – Germany

Both the first two are on their respective National squads. Top 16 in teams guarantees 1 Point, 9-12 is 2 Points, Top 8 gets you 3, losing the semis 4, beaten finalists 5, and champions 6. I’ll talk more about the Team competition later, but while Top 16 is the bare minimum to expect from the USA and the Netherlands, I fully expect both of them to do significantly better than that. Van Medevoort was as high as second in the Race, as long ago as last year! Yes, he was the runner-up behind Shuuhei Nakamura at Grand Prix: Stuttgart right back in December 2007. Thankfully this year the calendar year also marks the end of the Magic year, rather than the somewhat peculiar lone event hanging on after the main festivities like an unwanted slightly drunk uncle at the family Christmas party. Robert played in all the European GPs, missing Day 2 on four straight occasions, at Grand Prix: Birmingham by the unkindest cut of all in 65th place. As was recently announced, this scenario will no longer occur, with all those players on X-2 being allowed into Day 2 play regardless of position. This is a big step forward in my view, and should allow for fewer complaints against those with multiple Byes, who always benefitted significantly from the tiebreak system. Van Medevoort made his second Top 8 of the season at Grand Prix: Copenhagen, losing in the Quarter Finals to the reigning POY Tomaharu Saitou. As far as the Pro Tour goes, he had two good finishes out of three, with 35th in Kuala Lumpur, 20th in Hollywood (showing, as in Copenhagen that he has a good grasp of the Standard environment) and 195th in Berlin. Having lost in the semi-finals of the Dutch Champs, he pulled himself together to get past perennial fan favorite Frank Karsten to make the Team for Worlds. Whilst the Team could certainly do with the expertise of a Karsten, van Medevoort has the chance to do something pretty extraordinary. Having already been part of the Team World Champions in 2006, and then being National Champion himself, the man from the new Team Battleforge – along with Manuel Bucher and Shuuhei Nakamura sponsored by an online RTS game — could raise his second Team trophy in 3 years.

Paul Cheon began his Grand Prix year with the perfect record, taking down Grand Prix: Vancouver against 392 other Extended players, culminating in a final victory over Ben Lundquist. The rest of his GP year didn’t go so well, with neither Philadelphia, Indianapolis or Denver yielding Day 2 play, or Pro Points. A Transatlantic trip to Grand Prix: Rimini was rewarded with a 10th place finish, right behind fellow tester and teammate Patrick Chapin. 29th and 27th at Kansas City and Atlanta rounded out a GP season that would have been disappointing but for that outstanding start. 23rd place in Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur was a good finish, but came off the back of being one of the last players standing with an undefeated record. 105th in Hollywood was completed with a bitterly disappointing 244th in Berlin, where he was part of the Super-Team that ultimately lifted the title via Luis Scott-Vargas and his super-speedy Elves deck. Once again though it was at Nationals where Cheon showed his undoubted talents, losing in the Semi-Finals to Sam Black before ousting Marsh Usary from the last spot on the Team. Together with Black and Michael Jacob he forms a deeply powerful trio packed full of all the things you need to win a World Title.

Jan Ruess meanwhile is a quiet guy who has basically had a quiet season, one blazing exception apart. While Grand Prix: Copenhagen, where he finished 17th in Standard cemented his reputation, it was at Pro Tour: Hollywood in May that he came to global prominence. Running Merfolk, he powered his way to the Top 8, always ahead of the points curve to make Sunday play. Having defeated the 2006 World Champion Makahito Mihara in the quarters, he even more impressively defeated Shuuhei Nakamura in the semis, before running into Charles Gindy and his Elves.

Joint 11th place — 34 Pro Points

Makahito Mihara — Japan
Matej Zatlkaj — Slovak Republic
Manuel Bucher — Switzerland

I think I’ve finally cracked the Makahito Mihara conundrum, which I’ve wrestled with two or three times in this column. I now believe he is truly one of the best players in the game right now. Unlike LSV’s Elves deck from Pro Tour: Berlin, which frankly you needed a degree in particle physics to work out the correct play every time, Mihara’s Dragonstorm deck that he used to win the 2006 World Title apparently involved counting to nine and winning repeatedly, something he failed to do on one memorable occasion. I believe this element of ‘well I could play a deck like that and still win’ counts against him in the public perception, and the fact that he isn’t a global traveller with a charismatic personality doesn’t help that perception either. However, here’s a stat that doesn’t lie. So far this year he’s played in nine tournaments. Those nine tournaments had a combined 4500 players or so. He made the Top 8 in Pro Tour: Hollywood, where he proved to be a devastating pilot of Reveillark. He made the Top 8 in Japanese Nationals, before going down to eventual runner-up Takakuwa Akihiro. And he made the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Okayama, where he defeated Tsuyoshi Ikeda and Kazuya Mitamura in the elimination rounds to take the title. Add in a 10th place finish at Grand Prix: Manila, where only tiebreaks prevented him making it a 4th Top 8 in nine events, and you have a straightforward by-the-numbers case for Mihara to be one of the most feared opponents going into Worlds this year. For what it’s worth, I have him in my Top 8, cruising.

Matej Zatlkaj is one of the players on this list who has played in very few events. Nonetheless, the threads of his massive breakout success in Pro Tour: Berlin, where he finished second, are there to be seen. Out of a whopping 1138 player start list, he fought his way to 35th in the European Extended Grand Prix: Vienna, having already demonstrated his considerable Limited skills by finishing 17th at Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur. In a gigantic 1465 player bunfight in Madrid, he combined Sealed and Draft with Shadowmoor to finish just outside the spotlight in 11th place. The complete Format package was completed with yet another high percentage performance, with 40th out of 686 in Grand Prix: Rimini with Lorwyn Block Constructed. With Worlds featuring multiple formats, there’s every reason to be optimistic about Matej’s chances of being high on the leaderboard once more.

That leaves Manuel Bucher, who, like Mihara, is a bit of a conundrum. Ask most Pros, and he would probably be the first or second name mentioned in terms of global deckbuilding prowess, and also for global networking, with Gerry T. of the USA perhaps being the other at the forefront of people’s minds. Yet time and time again this season he seems to have come up just short of the rewards his apparent talents deserve. On the Pro Tour scene, he has been a model of consistency, making Day 2 on all three starts. Given that only about a third of the field achieve this (although that’s changing from next year to a two-days-for-everyone format) there are very few players who can say this. Having co-authored the iteration of the Elves deck that LSV piloted to victory, 74th will have been a major disappointment. Hollywood saw him fall just the wrong side of the Top 16, while in Kuala Lumpur he slid up a couple of places to 15th. Although these finishes shouldn’t be knocked — that’s better than 95% of the field, remember — it still leaves him without a Big Finish on Tour. Away from the PTs, he hasn’t accumulated foolish amounts of air miles chasing Points, but can still point to a quarter final slot at Grand Prix: Birmingham (Block Constructed) and a semi-final in Limited at Grand Prix: Madrid. Perhaps the biggest disappointment will have been his failure to make the Swiss team, thus meaning he won’t be able to defend his World Team Title that he won in New York last December. Everyone knows he’s really good, but is he a Great? Now might be a good chance, with multiple Constructed formats, to find out.

10th place — 35 Points.

Yuuta Takahashi — Japan.

When you have the red-hot Shuuhei Nakamura, reigning Player of the Year Tomaharu Saitou, the last 4 Players of the Year, including the global Magic brand that is Kenji Tsumura, and a host of talent, it’s easy to lose track of someone like Takahashi. The key thing to remember is that he’s the other half of Oona — in other words, he’s King of the Faeries. Back at Grand Prix: Shizuoka, in the last major warm-up event before the Standard Pro Tour, he demonstrated that in the right hands Faeries was nigh-unbeatable whilst winning the 827 player event. Fast forward to the 805 player Grand Prix: Kobe, where the format was Block Constructed, but the basic deck and the winner remained the same, thus duplicating the feat of Raphael Levy, who won multiple Grand Prix with Gaea’s Might Get There in 2007. His third Top 8 of the year came in the one place where it’s least useful — Nationals. Whilst the Points could yet be significant, losing in the quarters of Nats is one of the worst feelings in the game (yes, beyond the obvious 0-X stuff). Add to these three results another highly respectable Pro Tour campaign – 34th in Kuala Lumpur, 54th in Hollywood and a less satisfactory 235th in Berlin, and it’s easy to see why he may not have the profile of some of his more illustrious colleagues, but he sure does have the results. One of the safer bets at Worlds this year? Somewhere, somehow, Takahashi will play Faeries.

9th place — 37 Points.

Mario Pascoli — Italy.

At the forefront of the resurgence in Italian Magic which has seen William Cavaglieri rise to prominence, and a home victory on home turf in Grand Prix: Rimini, courtesy of Emanuele Giusti, Mario Pascoli came within a whisker of spoiling of what was ultimately the biggest individual Magic story of the year, when Jon Finkel stormed to the title of Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur. Exceedingly thoughtful, polite, softly-spoken Pascoli is far from the stereotypical boisterous and passionate Italian. Although KL was of course his highest finish on the Tour, he had great results elsewhere too, reaching 22nd in Standard at PT: Hollywood, and sneaking into the Top 32 with Extended in Berlin. His Grand Prix record is pretty mediocre this year, never nearer than 27th at Rimini, and missing the cut to Day 2 twice in five starts, not what you want with three Byes. However, Extended and Standard are on the menu for Worlds, and adding in Booster Draft makes Pascoli arguably among the favorites for another sterling finish.

Joint 7th place — 38 Points.

Martin Juza — Czech Republic.
Guillaume Wafo-Tapa — France.

Whilst not wishing to overstate things, since I believe Wafo-Tapa fully capable of winning Worlds next week, he finds himself sitting at 38 Points, with himself falling off the amazing standards of last year, while Juza continues his inexorable rise towards the summit of World Magic. In reality, Wafo-Tapa has had a similar season this year as Shuuhei Nakamura did last year, a season of near-misses and low Points returns on otherwise excellent performances. Last year, as one by one the contenders wilted in the Worlds glare, Wafo-Tapa was the last man standing against Saitou, and played for a near-certain Top 8 berth with two rounds to go. His year began tremendously, given that Draft was supposedly not the Format for him, and although his Top 8 Draft in Kuala Lumpur could have gone better, and he got what we in the trade call a proper kicking from Jon Finkel in the quarter finals, 12 Points was an awesome start. Nearly 2600 competitors turned out for Grand Prix in Vienna and Brussels, so 23rd and 36th were decent achievements, but with minimal Points benefits. Then came Pro Tour: Hollywood, the point at which things could have gone so differently, and we’d now be talking about a major threat to Nakamura, rather than a mighty unlikely turn-up. Playing the Five-Color Control deck dreamed up by himself, Bucher, the Ruels and more, he led the field at the halfway mark at 8-0, but despite playing for Top 8, as he had at Worlds last year, he came up short, ending in 13th. For my money, that Pro Tour had his name written all over it, and I was bordering on shocked when he didn’t make it to Sunday. He had to wait until Grand Prix: Copenhagen to make the final table, where once again he fell at the first hurdle. The same fate befell him at Grand Prix: Okayama, where making the Top 8 was the prelude to a first round exit. Turn that 13th into 4th at Hollywood, a 5th into 4th at Kuala Lumpur and an 8th into 2nd at one of the GP, and you’re looking at an extra 14 Points that would see him a clear second in the Race. So much depends on converting opportunities, and that’s something Guillaume hasn’t been able to manage this year. He’ll be looking for at least a Top 8 berth to maintain Level 8 status at the pinnacle of the game next year.

As for Juza, his consistency has been outstanding, across both Grand Prix and Pro Tour. On the European GP circuit, he’s had finishes of 39th, 31st, 29th, 20th and 11th, with two missed cuts. On the Tour he’s been a revelation this year. An unheralded 10th place in Kuala Lumpur was followed up by 19th in Standard at Hollywood, while he finally came to prominence with his quarter final appearance at Pro Tour: Berlin. His skills are such that I believe we’ll see a great deal more of him over the next few years, but even if not, he can claim a little piece of Magic history, as his two epic battles against Sebastian Thaler in Berlin are the stuff of Legend. In the Swiss, one hour wasn’t enough time for either player to claim a victory in Game 1, while a more manageable gargantuan two and a half hour slugfest was enough to take Thaler through to the semis in a match that featured lifetotals in the many, many, many hundreds. Each. Look for another massive performance in Memphis. This guy is for real.

6th place — 39 Points.

Raphael Levy — France.

What a performer this guy is. Somehow he never seems to tire of the trips around the world, consistently finding a way to accumulate Points in far flung corners of the Earth so that roundabout this time of year he always seems to be right up there in the Top 10 or so. The fact that he clearly likes the travel is good, because his long-distance results haven’t been great: 151st at Grand Prix: Vancouver, 295th in Grand Prix: Indianapolis and 239th in Grand Prix: Buenos Aires. That’s not to say his GP season has been unproductive, however; far from it. Manila in the Philippines saw him finish 7th, he had back-to-back 3rd place results straddling Pro Tour: Hollywood in Brussels and Birmingham, and at the British Grand Prix in particular seasoned observers felt he was playing at a level in excess of most of his peers. Despite not winning the event, it was a true virtuoso performance. 19th was his best result of the Pro Tour season, coming in Kuala Lumpur, but he’s yet to be outside the Top 64, and it will be nothing short of astonishing if he falls outside this range at Worlds next week.

5th place — 45 Points.

Marcio Carvalho — Portugal.

Obviously we’re well into the Best of the Best now, but it’s still startling just what a terrific set of results Carvalho has to his name. With an absolutely stellar line-up in the Top 8 of Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur, which featured no fewer than four Pro Tour Champions — Mike Hron, Nicolai Herzog, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and of course Jon Finkel — it was easy to overlook Carvalho, who finished 3rd overall. He’s played very sparingly during the year, with only 8 tournaments to date. Even so, it’s telling that his worst result of the entire year was coming 72nd out of 1446 at Grand Prix: Brussels, still inside the top 5% of the field. From there he came 65th at Pro Tour: Hollywood, 17th at Grand Prix: Madrid, and then took a giant step forward by winning Portuguese Nationals. Historically, that would have been good enough to give him the possibility of Pro Points, had the Team done well, but this year he received 10 Points then and there, equivalent to winning a Summer Series GP. After finishing 18th at Pro Tour: Berlin, he clearly took the decision to go in search of levelling up, attending Grand Prix in Both Atlanta (16th) and Taipei (10th). As things stand, 3 extra Points between individual and Team performances would put him over the threshold to Level 7, while another strong Top 8 result would catapult him to the pinnacle of Level 8. Catching Nakamura, however, requires a ton of things to go his way.

4th place — 47 Points.

Luis Scott-Vargas — USA

Well, this is a surprise and no mistake. Going into Pro Tour: Berlin, LSV’s year had been unspectacular. He had one Top 8 to his name, a 3rd place in the Extended Grand Prix at Philadelphia. In his next six events, he could manage no better than 47th, both at Pro Tour: Hollywood and Grand Prix: Denver. With a waaayyyy below expectation 82nd at U.S. Nats in the middle of this mediocre run, it was starting to look as though he might even struggle to maintain Pro status, and reach 20 Pro Points. That was a month ago. Then came the title in Berlin, and then yet another title next time around in Atlanta. That was 33 Points in less than a month to go with his struggled-for 14. Asking him to win Player of the Year almost certainly involves winning Worlds, and despite his white-hot run it’s worth remembering that Berlin was his first PT Top 8. You can argue both ways whether that makes him more or less likely to do the business in Memphis, but an apparent also-ran has become live contender very, very quickly.

3rd place — 48 Points.

Tomaharu Saitou — Japan.

I can’t really believe that I associated LSV with the term ‘also-ran’ in the last segment, and I can’t believe that I’ll ever be able to say that about the competitive machine that is Tomaharu Saitou. Time and again he’s risen to the occasion, imperious in victory and gracious in defeat. He’s had four Top 8s this year, the same as leader Nakamura. He was a semi-finalist at Grand Prix: Vienna, runner-up at Grand Prix: Copenhagen, 6th at Grand Prix: Atlanta as the downhill run to the finish kicked in, and a tremendous 3rd at Pro Tour: Berlin, where he fell to the Champion LSV. Despite being 16 Points adrift of Nakamura, he could yet win the Race. If he doesn’t, I’d point to two missed opportunities. First, his Pro Tour season up to Berlin was, frankly, poor. 193rd and 328th do not Player of the Year make. Second, he finished 9th at Japanese Nationals. Had he battled on a couple more rounds, and made it onto the Team, his chances would have increased dramatically. As it is, a spectacular result is called for. As we’ve seen, that’s when he most often delivers.

2nd place — 49 Points.

Olivier Ruel — France.

Whatever the outcome next Sunday, Olivier Ruel will emerge victorious from Worlds, as a newly-elected member of the Hall of Fame. Ruel’s love for the game remains undimmed, and Worlds will likely be his 19th Premier event of the year, second only to — surprise — Shuuhei Nakamura. Of the seventeen he’s contested so far, he’s made Day 2 play on SIXTEEN occasions. Whilst some of these have of course benefitted from three Byes, a conversion rate in the high 90s is something we may never have seen before. Even Shuuhei is streets behind, with six failures to make the cut. It’s this level of consistency that makes Ruel such a threat, since he’s virtually always going to be around for the last few rounds, where a critical play can make all the difference, rather than busy sightseeing or sidedrafting. Highlights of a stellar year include Top 8s at Grand Prix: Shizuoka (2nd), Grand Prix: Buenos Aires (6th), Grand Prix: Okayama (6th) and his 2nd place at French Nationals, which to my mind gives him the best chance of ultimately overhauling Shuuhei in the Player of the Year Race. The reason he isn’t closer to his rival is as simple as Shuuhei having a Pro Tour Top 8 this year, and Olivier placing no nearer than 27th, which he achieved at Pro Tour: Hollywood in May. Depending on results in Auckland, he probably needs to win the Individual Worlds if he is to sweep the board. On the basis of the year to date, he has every chance of achieving precisely that. Hall of Fame, Worlds, Player of the Year — I’m not taking bets against it.

1st place — 64 Points

Shuuhei Nakamura — Japan.

As a result of his — and I use these next two words liberally coated in irony — Bad Season, 2008 began with Shuuhei at ‘only’ Level 7. He had spent 2007 travelling the globe finding himself consistently missing out when it mattered, finishing in places like 5th, 9th, 17th, 33rd and 65th. These are not good for your Points total. This year, he began in imperious fashion and hasn’t really let up since. Grand Prix: Stuttgart saw him despatch rivals left and right before taking out Robert van Medevoort in the final, no slouch himself. Third place at Pro Tour: Hollywood gave him a hefty 16 Points to go with his steady Grand Prix accumulations that included Top 8 appearances in Copenhagen and Rimini. Despite winning Stuttgart however, Limited has been a struggle by comparison, and three Shadowmoor Sealed pools brought him no Points, spanning Brussels, Indianapolis, and Madrid. The odds are heavily stacked in his favor for lifting the crown come next Sunday, and it won’t surprise you to find that I believe he will, Ruel notwithstanding. This isn’t just because of his large Points lead — it’s because he has a large Points lead due to the fact that this year he’s been better than everybody else. That sounds like quite a good definition of the Player of the Year.

The Team World Championship

Last year I felt quite pleased with myself for correctly identifying Switzerland and Austria as teams to watch, although it was hard to look beyond Japan for the title. This time around I’m afraid my thoughts are going to be extremely predictable, since there are no standout ‘sleeper’ teams, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. However, here’s my idea of a few to watch out for:

Australia have a useful squad, including Rookie of the Year contender Aaron Nicastri as National Champion.

Belgium look strong, depending on whether Bernardo da Costa Cabral is the fearsome competitor of old, or the semi-detached casual player of recent times.

I find it hard to pick between three European nations from a similar geographic locale. You may not know many of the nine players that make up the teams from the Czech Republic, Slovak Republic and Slovenia. However, this is a region that has produced Martin Juza, Matej Zatlkaj, Tine Rus (on the Slovenian team), Grand Prix winner Richard Hornansky (Slovak Republic team) and I expect all three teams to be in the top half of the field. Whether they’re spread too thin to mount a serious title challenge I’m not sure, but I’ll be watching all three with interest.

France have the best chance they’ve had in many years to at least reach the final. Christophe Peyronnel is a worthy Champion, and he’s backed up by Hall of Famer Olivier Ruel and former National Champion Pierre Malherbaud. Make no mistake, this is an absolute powerhouse squad.

Italian Magic is on a high right now, and in William Cavaglieri they have a world-class deckbuilder pacing the team.

Japan are the next obvious candidates for the title, something Champion Masashi Oiso pledged would return to Japan this year. He may very well be right, flanked as he is by Akihiro Takakuwa and Yuuya Watanabe, last year’s Rookie of the Year.

I’d like the Netherlands team more if Frank Karsten had made it into the full team rather than being the alternate, but with a phenomenal history I can’t rule them out.

And finally, the USA. Michael Jacob made at least the semi-finals of U.S. Nationals two years running, and that doesn’t happen by accident. Sam Black, the runner-up this year behind Jacob, won the Magic car tournament at Worlds last year, while Paul Cheon is Paul Cheon. We’ve seen great U.S. teams before that worked well on paper but fell by the wayside when it was crunch time. This group strikes me as thoroughly ego-free, tremendously talented, and formidable opposition.

Rookie of the Year

By now, unless you’re reading my column in a totally puzzled way because this doesn’t look like a pick-by-pick Draft article (that’s Hoaen, not Hagon), you know my views on this. A full 43 players reside within ten Points of the lead in this thing, which likely means that if any of those 43 were to win the World title, they’d almost certainly win this competition too. However, a few names stand out towards the top end. Aaron Nicastri I’ve already mentioned, and I’d love to see him rewarded for being so fantastically proactive in pursuing his Magic dreams of, as they say, Play The Game, See The World. I rate Tyler Mantey of the U.S. very highly, and Patrizio Golia of Italy. Dan Lanthier is fronting a useful Canadian Team, so could generate Points there, and (allowing my hometeam bias to show briefly) I’m impressed by the responsibility Jonathan Randle has shown as Great Britain’s team leader. He is desperate to help put Team GB at the forefront of world Magic, and not for himself either — I expect at least a Top 64 finish from him. He’s one of the best we’ve had for a while. Another National Champion who could go well is Pascal Vieren of Belgium, since he has the phenomenal backup that country supplies to its team, with all the Pros rallying round for the Greater Good. Frankly, Belgium is a model of how a Magic Pro community should be run, with strong transatlantic links (in particular to Zac Hill) and near neighbours like Frank Karsten.

The Guessing Game

So this is the bit where I lay myself open to howls of laughter echoing around the world as I attempt to tell you what’s going to happen in the coming week. Generally I don’t do too badly at these things, but if I get one or two out of the Top 8 I’ll have done okay. So here’s the list:

Worlds Top 8

Olivier Ruel
Tomaharu Saitou
Paul Cheon
Martin Juza
Frank Karsten
Makahito Mihara
Marijn Lybaert
Marcio Carvalho

I’m aware that this is a pretty Euro-centric list, but I don’t see Japan getting as high as 3 out of the 8, and to my mind there’s a ton of room for improvement in American Magic right now, with a stack of guys who could/might/should/won’t take it to the next level, with only Cheon and Scott-Vargas currently ranking in the genuine heavy-hitters rather than the workmanlike among the regular competitors (that’s my way of saying that I’m aware Finkel is A Bit Good.)

Player of the Year

Shuuhei Nakamura

Although I don’t see him making Top 8, it seems inconceivable to me that Shuuhei will complete the marathon Worlds course on less than 5-6 Points (that’s the 25th-64th place range). That would leave anyone else who wanted to mount a challenge needing to win the Individual title, and while it’s entirely possible that one or more of his rivals will go into Sunday with a shot at it, I expect Shuuhei’s lead to hold up.

Rookie of the Year

Tyler Mantey

No logic particularly, just think he might be the man for the big occasion.

Team Top 4


I just don’t see how the big three can be stopped. Italy to my mind makes up the sacrificial Sunday morning victim for whichever powerhouse avoids the other two in the semis.

Team World Champions


Ruel, Malherbaud, and Peyronnel won’t implode… they’ll win.

Individual World Champion

Makahito Mihara

Right now I believe that the best three players in the world are all Japanese — Saitou, Nakamura, and Mihara. Of course it can be something of a crapshoot once you reach the Top 8 as to what deck you have to play against, but the honest truth is that Mihara has demonstrated time and time again that, even as a part-time Pro, he eats people for breakfast. I see him lifting the title on Sunday.

And that’s it. By the time you read this, I’ll be in Memphis getting ready for the opening ceremony, and the best week in the Magic year. Inevitably I’m going to urge you to join me, Bill Stark, Kelly Digges, Greg Collins, Nate Price, BDM and Randy Buehler for all the action over on the Mothership, and I can’t wait to share tales of the next week with you when we meet in seven action-packed days.

Until then, as ever, thanks for reading.