Removed From Game – Worlds 2007: It’s Showtime

Read Rich Hagon every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Worlds is almost upon us, and already in position to bring us all the action from the Big Apple is the audio maestro himself, Rich Hagon. He’ll be bringing you exclusive interviews, match reports, commentary and the best analysis of everything going on at the pinnacle of the Magic year. Get up to speed with all the inside info you need. It’s the best seat in the house, and it’s yours!

Many of you have correctly identified that I will rarely use one word when just fifty will do. No such nonsense this week, I’ve got a bucketload to cram in and an internet that may slow to monlithic proportions if I don’t get straight down to it. In this week’s instalment:

A comprehensive guide to the Player of the Year Race
How Rookie of the Year shapes up
Inside the Team Event
The Formats
On and Off the Train
Who Will be the World Champion?

Let’s Go!

Player of the Year

Alrighty, now things are a little complicated up at the top of the table. Here is that list as we go into Worlds:

Tomoharu Saitou Japan 63 6
Kenji Tsumura Japan 57 6
Shingou Kurihara Japan 55 6
Guillaume Wafo-tapa France 52 6
Olivier Ruel France 51 6
Paul Cheon United States 49 5
Raphael Levy France 44 5
Mark Herberholz United States 39 5
Shuuhei Nakamura Japan 38 6
Mike Hron United States 37 4
Paulo Vitor da Rosa Brazil 36 6
Shouta Yasooka Japan 36 6
Takuya Osawa Japan 36 5
Andre Mueller Germany 34 4
Luis Scott-Vargas United States 34 4
André Coimbra Portugal 33 4
Marijn Lybaert Belgium 33 4
Koutarou Ootsuka Japan 33 4
Kazuya Mitamura Japan 32 4
Frank Karsten Netherlands 31 4
Amiel Tenenbaum France 31 4

To be fair, not a huge amount has changed since Pro Tour: Valencia, the following Grand Prix having basically cancelled each other out in terms of who can win and who can’t. The Pro Points on offer at Worlds look like this:

1st: 25
2nd: 20
3rd- 4th: 16
5th-8th: 12
9-16th: 8
17-24: 7
25-32: 6
33-48: 5
49-100: 4
101-200: 3
201+: 2

As you can see, since you get 2 points just for turning up, only players within 23 points of the leader Saitou can wrest the crown away from him – with one exception. Points are also on offer for the Team event, and Luis Scott-Vargas of the USA is in a position to benefit from that. In the unlikely event that (A) he wins the Individual Event (B) USA win the Team title AND (C) Saitou finishes outside the top 200, he can TIE with Saitou. Yes, that’s a pretty unlikely scenario. I’m going to present the information to you in two ways. First, there’s the Friendly Rich version, where I tell you roughly what to expect with minimal numbers and plenty of opinion. Then, because some of you are math perverts, I’ll tell it like it actually is, featuring every conceivable combination that can lead to the POY. You have been warned.

Friendly Rich Version

Technically speaking, Tomaharu Saitou has the crown within his grasp. All – all – he has to do is finish 1st or 2nd and he cannot be stopped. Fortunately for him, there are plenty of other scenarios that have him take the title, and in order to beat him some pretty impressive things have to happen. 6 points may not sound like a big lead, but when you work out what that actually means, Saitou is a strong favorite to maintain his lead. Basically speaking, no matter what he does, including finishing 437th, all his rivals have to make at least the Top 8 on Sunday. The only exception to this is Kenji Tsumura, currently in second place. Kenji can place between 9th and 16th, netting him 8 points, and tie with Saitou if Saitou has a very bad day at the office and gets the minimum 2 point return for finishing outside the top 200.

Kenji realistically needs to make Top 8, and probably the semi-finals, since even a quarter-final would not be enough if Saitou makes the Top 32, which is roughly where I have him coming in. As for most of the contenders, things start getting extremely complicated if multiples reach the Sunday Showdown. For Kenji followers, the key thing you need to remember is that he’s yet to win a Pro Tour, but if he wins this one only a finals appearance by Saitou can deny him the crown.

The third of the Japanese contenders is Shingou Kurihara, and as I’ve hinted on a couple of occasions I’ve decided to plump for him as my pick for Player of the Year when the dust has settled at the weekend. I was concerned at his dismal start in Valencia (0-4) but his Grand Prix performances since, including a second place, convince me that he’s far from shot his bolt. Like Tsumura, as long as Saitou isn’t his vanquished Final opponent, winning Worlds will make Kurihara Player of the Year. Psychologically I believe he has the edge over his more experienced rivals. Saitou, with his penchant for slapping himself in the face repeatedly at crucial moments, is someone who makes no secret of really wanting to win this thing, and that may count against him. Tsumura meanwhile has already passed on Grand Prix: Brisbane in order to attend the Magic Invitational, directly opposite to Saitou, and I believe that Kenji, having already won Player of the Year once (2005) feels he doesn’t have that at least to prove. Far more motivation for Tsumura is the Individual Crown, since a winning PT is not yet on his CV. With all three locked in to the great benefits of Level 6 next year, I believe that Kurihara has the all-around game to claim the prize. For this to happen though, semi-finals are likely to be a minimum requirement.

Three points behind Kurihara we find Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. Readers will know my views about his indifference to the Player of the Year Race, but you can be certain that his will to win in a straight fight will be much in evidence this weekend. With two Constructed formats, including a highly technical Legacy 5 rounds down the stretch, this Worlds seems set up to be a successful finale to an outstanding season for the Pro Tour: Yokohama winner. His minimum requirement is 3rd place however, and that’s a tall order for anyone in a field that’s going to feature assorted Hall Of Famers, any number of Pros scrabbling for Players Club Levels for 2008…

Our second Frenchman in contention is Olivier Ruel, who has stealthed his way into the final week of the season with a collection of non-eyecatching results that have nonetheless added up to a legitimate shot at going one better than in 2005, when he lost to Kenji by a solitary point. Although only a point behind Wafo-Tapa, there are some minor but significant differences to his winning scenarios. In particular, should Ruel finish either 3rd or 4th, he would need Saitou to fall outside the top 100, whereas Wafo-Tapa can afford for the Japanese man to finish 49th if WT loses in the semi-final. It’s by no means impossible to see Ruel winning the World title, and that would leave Saitou having to make the semis, and Tsumura having to make the final, to deny the Frenchman. Although these are obviously live scenarios, you can be sure that Ruel is thinking that if he wins the individual event the POY should be his, and you can be utterly certain that this is his plan.

Narrowly missing out on Level 6 status before Worlds began, with a single point being just beyond him at Grand Prix: Daytona Beach, Paul Cheon was involved in one of the great Magic matches in the semi-finals of Grand Prix: Krakow, which the likeable American went on to win, along with the final against another Frenchman, Amiel Tenenbaum. Cheon and Ruel played Magic at a level so clearly above and beyond what most players – indeed most Pros – are currently capable of that it was almost breathtaking to watch. Rarely do two players have such relatively complete information on what’s really going on in a game. Outside the Magic Invitational, which was a fantastic affair, this semi-final match was my outstanding Magic moment of 2007. As for Cheon winning the whole thing, few players will have a better idea of the Constructed formats, which also bodes well for teammate Luis Scott-Vargas. Cheon making the Top 8 is well within the bounds of possibility, but I suspect he would have to win it, since any other result combined with Saitou in the Top 32 would leave him too much to do.

Our final candidate for outright victory is France’s Raphael Levy, winner of back-to-back GPs what seems like a lifetime ago, early in the season. Now I’m not going to beat around the bush, Levy has almost no shot at this. His only way to win is the following:

Levy -1st
Cheon – 3rd or worse
Ruel – 3rd or worse
Wafo-Tapa – 3rd or worse
Kurihara – 5th or worse
Tsumura – 9th or worse
Saitou – 33rd or worse.

I certainly don’t rule out a Levy win, but I fully expect at least one of the disqualifying factors to kick in, especially Saitou inside the Top 32 which ends Levy’s chance then and there.

Overall, I think it’s reasonable to expect two of these seven (eight if you include Scott-Vargas) to run the gauntlet and reach the Sunday Show. I don’t believe Saitou will make it there, but he should be well inside the Top 100, and that starts to demand herculean efforts from his opponents. Nonetheless, I fully expect Kurihara to make Top 8, and just like last year there could be multiple possible winners come Sunday depending on the makeup of the final table.

The Unfriendly Version

For each scenario, the numbers of a contenders opponents represent the highest place our ‘hero’ can afford for them to finish and still become outright Player of the Year. Abbreviations are:

L — Levy
C – Cheon
R – Ruel
W – Wafo-Tapa
K – Kurihara
T – Tsumura
S – Saitou

Levy wins if:

Levy 1st and C3 R3 W3 K5 T9 S33.

Cheon wins if:

Cheon 1st and K3 T3 S9
Cheon 2nd and L3 R3 W3 K5 T9 S33
Cheon 3rd/4th and L2 R5 W5 K9 T17 S201

Ruel wins if:

Ruel 1st and T3 S5
Ruel 2nd and C3 W3 K5 T5 S17
Ruel 3rd/4th and C4 W5 K9 T9 S101

Wafo-Tapa wins if:

Wafo-Tapa 1st and T3 S5
Wafo-Tapa 2nd and C3 R3 K3 T5 S9
Wafo-Tapa 3rd/4th and L2 C4 R4 K5 T9 S65

Kurihara wins if:

Kurihara 1st and S3
Kurihara 2nd and R3 W3 T3 S9
Kurihara 3rd/4th and C2 R4 W4 T5 S17
Kurihara 5-8th and L2 C3 R5 W5 T9 S101

Tsumura wins if:

Tsumura 1st and S3
Tsumura 2nd and W3 K3 S5
Tsumura 3rd/4th and C2 R2 W2 K4 S9
Tsumura 5-8th and L2 C3 R3 W3 K5 S33

Saitou wins if:

Saitou 1st
Saitou 2nd
Saitou 3rd/4th and K2 T2
Saitou 5-8th and R2 W2 K3 T3
Saitou 9-16th and C2 R3 W3 K5 T5
Saitou 17-24th and C2 R3 W3 K5 T5
Saitou 25-32nd and C2 R3 W3 K5 T9
Saitou 33-48th and L2 C3 R3 W5 K5 T9
Saitou 49-100th and L2 C3 R5 W5 K9 T9
Saitou 101-200th and L2 C3 R5 W5 K9 T9
Saitou 201st- and L2 C5 R5 W5 K9 T17

The bottom line: Top 8 is where all the contenders will be aiming. Even a disaster for Saitou leaves all but Kenji needing to make Top 8. A betting man would say the title goes to Saitou. Let’s see.

Rookie of the Year

You already know that I find this a very strange contest, not least because it’s often not readily apparent who is and isn’t a Rookie, a bit like Daisuke in baseball or John Beck in Football (US). You might expect that Pro Tour: Valencia winner Remi Fortier would be right up there, but it turns out that he’s been to a couple of PTs already, without majorly troubling the scorers. Another slightly strange factor about this category is that plenty of players who could theoretically win it aren’t qualified for Worlds, not least because they aren’t Level 3s. Grand Prix winner Yuuya Watanabe leads the way on 29, and he has a 4 point lead over American Steven Wolansky, who paired with Osyp Lebedowicz to good effect in San Diego. Two more Americans are in the top 5, and unsurprisingly they are the Pro Tour: San Diego winners, Chris Lachmann (22 points) and Jacob van Lunen (23). Also on 23 points is another Grand Prix winner in 2007, Nicolay Potovin of Russia. It was a very emotional win for him in Stockholm, both for him and his supporters. I haven’t directly asked Tomaharu Saitou this, but I suspect he would acknowledge that Potovin was one of the toughest opponents he’s had to face all year, when the Russian simply refused to crack under severe on-board pressure against the POY leader during Grand Prix: Florence. With the leader Watanabe in 29 points, there are a massive 16 players who could wind up Rookie of the Year, right down to Yann Massicard of France and Andrew Eckermann of Australia, currently on 7 points. Together with Francisco Braga (Brazil), Anatoli Lightfoot (Australia) and Olaf Koster (Netherlands), Eckermann has the bonus of being part of his national team, and that means potential bonus points, with a maximum of 6 to the Team World Champs. Whoever wins, the five who are already guaranteed a permanent spot on Tour next year -Watanabe, Wolansky, Lachmann, van Lunen and Potovin – are going to be solid additions to the Pro ranks.

Inside the Team Event

On the morning of the Team Day at Worlds 2006 I interviewed Julien Njuiten. The Netherlands were having a fairly ordinary time to that point, and only a near-perfect day would get them to the Final. 24 hours later, Njuiten was part of the World Champions, defeating favorites Japan. There are 55 teams taking part this year with full squads of 4, and that in itself is a change from previous years, where 3 team members counted their individual scores, and the 4th man was just the reserve, allowed to play in the main event, but contributing nothing to the national finishing position. This time around a far more elegant system is in operation. All four players add their two-day scores together, and then on Team Day (Saturday) two pairs play Two-Headed Giant, with the pairs swapping over each two rounds, for a total of three drafts and six rounds. The top two countries then face off as part of the Magic-packed action on Sunday. I don’t propose to comment on all 55 teams, which will doubtless disappoint the many bi-lingual readers of my column from Chinese Taipei and Venezuela, but here’s a few pointers about some of the major, and not so major, contenders.

With a strong squad, Austria disappointed last year, so I’m reluctant to flag them up again as one to watch. Nonetheless, Thomas Preyer + Helmut Summersberger + Stefan Stradner + David Reitbauer = a strong squad, so they may be one to watch.

Fried Meulders is part of a wave of talented Belgian players, but some of the other names in the vanguard of the surge (Jan Doise, Marijn Lybaert) are missing from the national side.

Lucas Berthoud and Francisco Braga are the best known of the Brazilian team, but neither are high-level Pros like PvDDr and Willy Edel.

I inadvertently kicked up a storm, or as close to a storm as the eminently well-adjusted Canadians can manage, when I inquired earlier this year about the state of maple-leaf Magic. Without messrs. Hoaen and Cunningham (past Invitationalists both), team leadership duties fall to Andrew Ting-a-Kee. I’m sorry, but I just can’t help myself – for Canada, B Tings will be A Kee. (And you thought the accountancy joke was bad.)

The Chilean squad includes big name – literally – Jose Luis Echeverria Paredes, the man who fought Frank Karsten to a standstill in Yokohama, and left them both stranded just outside the Top 8 .

With three rounds to go at the French national champs, it looked as if some mighty fine names would be in the mix. That didn’t materialise, and the team of Matignon, Boistard, Renevier, and Ranque aren’t particularly well-known, especially if you compare them to a fantasy team of Olivier Ruel, brother Antoine, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and Raphael Levy. However, former PT winner and Rookie of the Year Pierre Canali seriously rates the champion Guilaume Matignon, and Levy valued Wilfried Ranque enough to team with him for Pro Tour: San Diego. While 3 Frenchman battle for Player of the Year, I expect these 4 to make their mark on the team competition.

There’s a similar story for the Germans. Bodo Rosner is a player from ‘ago’, and none of the others – Dennis Johannssen, Tobias Grafensteiner and Paul Borczyk – are well-known. Talk to Pros in the know however (Andre Mueller and Klaus Joens for starters) and you’ll find some quiet confidence about a strong German showing, based on some serious preparation time which reputation alone can’t replace.

At the GB Nationals, Quentin Martin just had one of those days, and Nick Lovett, 3rd from Paris last year, missed out on the team via an agonising quarter-final defeat. Those two apart, you can make a strong case for saying that the GB squad is about as strong as it could be. With real life now taking a hand, 2007 was the last realistic chance for Craig the Professor Jones to win a national title. The cheers that greeted his victory were testament to his enduring popularity, and Worlds will be a fitting ending to a career that includes a Grand Prix win in 1999, a Pro Tour final, arguably the greatest televised moment in PT history, and vast contributions to the game as a coverage reporter and writer. Stuart Wright, 6-0 in Extended last year at Worlds, will look to repeat the feat with Legacy, and could do with a decent performance to finally cement his place on Tour. Marco Orsini-Jones has come on the scene in the last year, and is a class act waiting to happen on the big stage. Daniel Godfrey, conqueror of Nick Lovett, is the Welsh representative on the team, and is a guy who could quietly put up a decent finish.

The team charged with restoring Japanese honor features champion Masaya Kitayama together with Takashi Akiyama, Naoki Nakada and Shuu Komuro. Even without the front three in the Player of the Year Race (Saitou, Kurihara, Tsumura) you can bet that the Japanese team will be in contention deep into the tournament.

As we’ll see later, there’s some interesting things going on in Dutch Magic at the moment. For now, let’s confine ourselves to looking at the team who must defend the crown won by Robert van Medevoort, Kamiel Cornelissen and Julien Njuiten in Paris last year. This time around van Medevoort is the national champion, Olaf Koster is having a good Rookie year, Roel van Heeswijk is a Level 3 in need of a good weekend, and only Tijs de Kler is an unknown quantity. You wouldn’t expect them to defend their title, but you should get a good run for your money.

Portugal has some very good Pro players – Andre Coimbra, Tiago Chan, Marcio Carvalho and Paulo Carvalho spring to mind – but that’s where it stops. Unfortunately, none of these big four are in the team, and that’s almost certainly not good news.

Although I don’t want to pronounce Idzikovsky, Bogachkin, Ivanov and Volostrigov, I am looking forward to seeing how the quad representing the Russian Federation get on. Is Potovin just the tip of the iceberg? If so, this lot could be dark horses for a Sunday appearance.

Switzerland isn’t a major Magic nation, but I have at least heard of all four members of the team – Manuel Bucher, Nico Bohny (Grand Prix: Torino winner 2006), Gennari Raphael and Christoph Huber. Sunday should be well beyond them, but a decent showing wouldn’t be a surprise.

And finally we come to team USA. In the early days of the game, the question would be whether anyone could get close to the US. That mystique is long gone, but it’s been a very good year for the home of the brave, with multiple Pro Tour wins (Mike Hron in Geneva, then Lachmann and van Lunen in San Diego), a possible rookie of the year (Steven Wolansky), a guaranteed Level 6 mage for 2008 (Paul Cheon) and an outstanding National Champion in the shape of Cheon’s teammate Luis Scott-Vargas. For him to get a share of Player of the Year, he must not only win the Individual event, but teammates Thomas Drake, Michael Bennett and Michael Jacob must help deliver a team title. There are plenty of very good Americans on the Pro scene, but arguably only three or four with a touch of genuine world class (Cheon, Scott-Vargas, definitely Mark Herberholz and possibly Mike Hron?). This crew shouldn’t get the job done.

Reading this section back to myself, I’m aware that there are no obvious uber-teams this year. Last time, the Japanese and Dutch squads were simply packed with star quality. Remember that this year’s Dutch Champ van Medevoort was last year’s ‘unknown’ and potential weak link. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Russians may be the next big thing in European Magic, but this may be a bridge too far. My slightly weak prediction therefore is that Japan and the Netherlands will navigate their way to a second consecutive Sunday Showdown, and a repeat of last year’s final. And I didn’t expect to be saying that when I sat down to look at the teams. Logic says they both won’t get there again, but it’s hard to see exactly who’s going to stop them.

The Formats

No. Stop. Wait. Please. This bit isn’t just about the order that things are happening this weekend. Hopefully it’s a bit more than that. Go on, just trust me.

Here are the bare bones. Day 1 has 5 rounds of Standard, followed by a Triple Lorwyn Draft plus 3 rounds. Day 2 begins with a second Draft plus 3 rounds, and then it’s Constructed all the way. Five rounds of Legacy finish off Friday, by which time we’ll know the identity of the Top 8. Saturday is Lorwyn 2 Headed Giant Draft for 3 Drafts and 6 rounds. On Sunday we have the Top 8 of the Individual event, Top 2 of the Team event, and the finals of the win-a-car tournament (see magicthegathering.com for details).

Okay, now let’s go inside these details a little, since the scheduling and weighting of the formats has some serious ramifications.

Standard – Since this kicks off the event on Thursday morning, everyone (and by everyone you can expect over 400 people to make the start line) will still be in contention. Lorwyn Standard seems to have been largely defined by Grand Prix: Krakow, where the standout new decks were Guillaume Wafo-Tapa mono-blue affair, and the Makeshift Mannequin deck piloted by Olivier Ruel. Planeswalkers were a big part of the tournament, and there was plenty of room for niche strategies like the exceptionally cute Skred Red deck which former PT winner Jan-Moritz Merkel played amongst others. There was a general feeling among high-level deckbuilders and theorists that the Faeries deck that Robert Jacko used to reach Top 8 had plenty of scope for improvement, and you can expect to see the evolution of that deck on show on Thursday. One of the more interesting questions is how the field will react to the stultifying ‘no’-ness of the mono-blue deck. My feeling is that Wafo-Tapa’s deck was a deck of answers to generic questions.

‘Do you want to counter my spell?’
‘Hmm, is it a spell I need to counter?’
‘I’ll counter your spell.’

Wafo-Tapa and Amiel Tenenbaum spent the entire weekend having conversations like this. Significantly, they didn’t have many conversations like this:

‘I’ll Venser your guy back to hand.’
‘It’s untargetable.’

‘I’ll Desert your guy.’
‘It’s untargetable.’

‘I’ll block your guy with Teferi.’
‘It’s unblockable.’

‘Cancel your guy’
“It’s uncounterable’.

In short, there’s a lot of nasty questions that the mono-blue deck didn’t get asked in Krakow, and there are some darkened rooms around the world right now where people are making sure that those questions get asked on Thursday. The evolution of Standard is ultimately going to determine the outcome not only of the World Championship, but likely the Player of the Year too. My only near-confident prediction is this – at States, most people couldn’t make white weenie work, and that was before somebody came along and put together a half-decent control deck. The likelihood of someone topdecking Kithkin Greatheart to lift the trophy thanks to Gaddock Teag holding off a Damnation in the final is slim to none, and, as they say, Slim’s out of town.

Lorwyn Draft – We can’t be sure, but the likelihood is that 11 or 12 wins will be needed to reach Sunday. In either of these scenarios, there will be players who are already out of the running by the time we hit the Limited portion of the event. Of more relevance are the players on 3-2 or 2-3 who may feel that they need to ace both Draft pods across two days. I believe that Lorwyn lends itself to gambling draft strategies, since it’s possible to take a first pick like Wizened Cenn, Smokebraider or Lys Alana Huntmaster and nail your colors to the mast then and there. You already know how much I like them, and I believe that Kithkin are the ideal all or nothing strategy, since better analysts than me have correctly identified them as individually underpowered. In triple Champions of Kamigawa Draft, England’s Quentin Martin is credited with discovering the Dampen Thoguht archetype. It seems unlikely that a similar deck remains undiscovered in Lorwyn, with the two closest analogies – Drowner of Secrets/Judge of Currents/Summon the School, and Entangling Trap + Clash – being already well-known, even if the Entangling Trap strategy is pretty far under the radar for non-readers of Grand Prix coverage. That brings us to crunch time….

Legacy – This is a super-powerful format that doesn’t quite have the stupidity of Vintage. Before I get letters from the vintage community, I’m not debating for one moment that Vintage is an interesting format. Simply, it isn’t something you really want to watch. Rolling a dice and then showing your opening hand doesn’t strike me as a terribly user-friendly thing, and that’s what we got in the final of the Invitational. Steve Menendian did Vintage a lot of favors at Essen. Vintage didn’t do itself any favors at all. Meanwhile, back at Legacy, and the most interesting thing about the setup this time around is that the format comes at the end of two days of competition. Last year, one of the more entertaining sights was Quentin Martin hurtling around assorted trade stands with seconds to go before the Extended kicked off, desperately trying to complete a viable deck. Given that Legacy is not a readily-accessible format – it isn’t on modo in other words – and also given the fact that a large portion of the field will only be playing for fun and pride by the time Legacy rolls around, and you have the makings of a very strange metagame indeed. Last year, a bucketload of people simply took their Standard Boros Deck and changed a few cards to turn it into an Extended version. While the same translation probably won’t happen in quite the same way, I expect Goblins to be far more popular inside the Javits Center on Friday than they would be in the real world, wherever that might be. Players looking to get cute should make sure they come prepared to beat Aggro round after round after round, because from where I’m sitting that looks like the default option to stick in your suitcase when packing for Worlds. For the heavyhitters, Legacy marks the point where the finishing line is in sight, and I expect the top contenders to plump for extremely solid, unsurprising decks that are unlikely to misfire and cost them a Top 8 berth. Is there room for innovation in deck design? Two answers. First, always. Second, there’s a view that apart from Columbus the Pros haven’t had a good crack at the format yet, so someone somewhere will come along and completely transform it, since only the humble Legacy community have had a go so far. I don’t buy this one, but the French contingent, plus Herberholz and Nassif working together, are prime candidates if such a breakthrough is going to occur.

On and Off the Train

Level 2s – Armin Birner, Yuuta Hirosawa and Matthias Kunzler are guaranteed their Pro card for next year as long as they compete. Eugene Harvey has an excellent shot at Level 3, needing a T100 finish. Another American, Owen Turtenwald, needs T32 to make it, while Stewart Wright of England and Brazil’s Francisco Braga could be helped by being in their National teams. Although currently on 12 points, you wouldn’t bet against Masaya Kitayama being a Pro next year – he’s the Japanese National Champion, and should therefore pick up considerable points in the team competition.

Level 3s – three Japanese players head the Level 3s. Yuuya Watanabe, Masahiko Morita and Yuuta takahashi will all be Level 4 next year, and as long as he makes the top 200, they will be joined by Remi Fortier, the Pro Tour: Valencia winner. Dutchie Rogier Maatern is among those needing T48 for Level 4. Ben Rubin, who so narrowly missed out on the Hall of Fame this year, is safely Level 3 for 2008, as are 36 of the current Level 3s. Following a decent season, the softly-spoken David Irvine needs T200 for a Level 3 slot, as does Malaysia’s Terry Soh. Osyp Lebedowicz has not been much in evidence this year, but the top 100 is well within his reach should he care to attend. Former PT Champ Pierre Canali is down on 15 points, and will need T48 to be a Pro next year. He’s one of the bigger names in jeopardy of falling off the train, along with ex-US champ Craig Krempels (top 32 needed), 3rd in Paris Nick Lovett (T32), Jan-Moritz Merkel (T32) and Chris McDaniel and Billy Moreno, two Americans who would both need Sunday play to secure Level 3 for next year.

There are currently 25 Level 4s, headed by Mike Hron, who only needs a T200 finish to go up to Level 5. Also in with a good chance of going up to 5 are Valencia runner-up Andre Mueller, Luis Scott-Vargas (needing a T32 finish) and Andre Coimbra, Marijn Lybaert and Koutarou Ootsuka, all of whom will level up with a T24 result. T100 will see Frenchman Gabriel Nassif maintain Level 4, while others who have Pro status assured include Englishman Quentin Martin, Ruud Warmnehoven of the Netherlands and Antonino de Rosa of the USA. Below them, however, are some very big names who may very well not be back in 2008. Former World Champion Julien Njuiten needs T100, as does Geoffrey Siron of Belgium and Japan’s Katsuhiro Mori, assuming Mori comes back following his 6 month ban from the game. German’s David Brucker and Aaron Brackmann need T48 and T32 finishes respectively, and Bram Snepvangers and Kamiel Corneilissen of the Netherlands are also in a lot of trouble. Bram must make Top 32 here, and only top 16 will prevent Kamiel slipping from the Pro ranks. And at the bottom of this year’s Level 4s? Craig Jones, with just 8 Pro Points. Only a Sunday appearance will safeguard his invite for next year.

All the current Level 5s are assured of having another crack at it next year. Paul Cheon and Raphael Levy have outside chances at Player of the Year, while Mark Herberholz can leap to Level 6 with a Top 8 appearance, something I fully expect him to accomplish. Willy Edel of Brazil and Canada’s Richie Hoaen have had disappointing campaigns, and are currently looking at Level 3 next year, as is the Reigning World Champion Makahita Mihara.

As for the Level 6s, 5 of them (Saitou, Tsumura, Kurihara, Wafo-Tapa and Ruel) are involved in the Player of the Year Race. Shuuhei Nakamura has had a horrid season of near misses, but things started to come right with his semi-final appearance in Valencia. He will at least be Level 5 next year. Two more should make Level 5 for 2008, with Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa and Shouta Yasooka both needing to finish inside the Top 100. As for Tiago Chan, only a Top 8 finish can propel him beyond his current Level 3 position.

Who Will Be World Champion?

It’s important to remember that the eight players involved in the Player of the Year Race are not necessarily the best eight Magic players on the planet. They’re certainly eight of the best players on the planet, but there are many other contenders for the World title. Of the eight, I suspect Olivier Ruel has the most flair, Wafo-Tapa the best deckbuilding skills, Shingou Kurihara is the most solid, Levy is the most competitive, Cheon is the most focused, Scott-Vargas the most relaxed, and Saitou and Tsumura are the most successful. How any of that translates across a week of Magic is anyone’s guess. As I’ve indicated, I suspect two is the approximate number of these 8 who will make it to the Sunday Showdown. As last year, I believe that the leader in the Player of the Year Race (Yasooka in Paris, Saitou here) will have to sweat it out on the sidelines while a pair of their rivals try to navigate their way to a World Title and POY Title double whammy. I’ve already indicated my belief that Kurihara will be there. As for the others? Wafo-Tapa is ultra-consistent, but to me that puts him T24 or T16 rather than T8. Ruel certainly has the all-round game to get the job done. Cheon has some question marks about getting over the finishing line, and It’s hard to say at the moment whether LSV is a World Champ as well as a National Champ. Levy has yet to win a PT, and wouldn’t be in my fantasy Top 8. That leaves Kenji. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I feel Kenji has been running on empty for a few months, and that he may be found out at Worlds. Sorry not to be more specific, just a gut feeling that if anyone’s going to blowout early, it might be Kenji.

What of the rest of the field? Antonino de Rosa is a ferocious competitor and will grind and grind and grind, and that’s not to be taken lightly here. He has that in common with playtest partner Ben Rubin, who should make at least the Top 32. I expect Mihara to defend his title with honor, but to relinquish the crown sometime on Friday afternoon. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa made Top 8 last year, and I see no reason why he shouldn’t do it again. Another who will be mightily prepared is Frank Karsten. I suspect he may have more on the line this year, as he’s likely to take a back seat next year with real life being the focus. The runner up from 2005, he seems like an eminently live candidate to be under the lights. Rookie of the Year 2006 Sebastian Thaler has made Level 4 without doing much after his Top 8 appearance in Yokohama, but continues to play Magic of a very high quality. My last two names are currently testing together in North America, and it’s here that I see the individual Champion. Mark Herberholz and Gabriel Nassif are a monster pairing. It’s reasonable to assume that between Standard and Legacy they will each rack up at least 7 wins (ie 4-1 Standard, 3-2 Legacy). If they can then go 4-2 across two drafts, a not unreasonable proposition, that puts them at a minimum 11-5. That wouldn’t be enough for a Top 8 finish, but just one more win would put them right in the mix. I believe at least one of them, and possibly both, will be vying for the Individual title come Sunday.

So, in conclusion, my gloriously unlikely to come true Top 8 predicition is:

Shingou Kurihara
Shuuhei Nakamura
Mark Herberholz
Olivier Ruel
Antonino de Rosa
Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa
Frank Karsten
Sebastian Thaler

Herberholz will defeat Shingou Kurihara in the Final, but that will be enough for Shingou Kurihara to be crowned Player of the Year 2007.

And that just about wraps up all there is to know about Worlds 2007 – until the whole thing kicks off Wednesday with the opening ceremony. Join me and my European Grand Prix coverage partner Ben Coleman for five days of blistering Magic in the Big Apple, starting Wednesday on magicthegathering.com. I’ll be back in 7 days with my Worlds Non-Pro, Non-Player Blog, including news of the Podcast Championship of the World, featuring my very own moxradio going up against the might of BDM and the top8magic crew. Yes, we’re going to die, but we’re going to die with dignity, and that’s what us Brits are good for, right?

Until tomorrow over on the mothership, take care, and as ever, thanks for reading.