Removed From Game – Worlds Pro Report Card Part 1

Read Rich Hagon every week... at StarCityGames.com!
The results are in, the data has been collated, and Rich Hagon is here to tell you what it all means. In Part 1, he focuses on the Level 2s trying to reach Pro status, and the Level 3s. Some are on the way up, some are just trying to survive as a Pro, but all had goals going into Worlds. Find out who reached them and how in the company of the man who talks for England.

As usual, we have a stupendous amount to get to, so let’s go.

We’ll begin with the Level 2’s, players hoping to level up and reach the barrier of 20 points that would guarantee them an invite to every Pro Tour next year, plus three byes at any Grand Prix they care to attend. At the time of writing there is some question as to whether the appearance fee of $500 per Pro Tour will remain in place for 2008. Given that there are currently 56 Level 3’s slated to take their place on Tour, you can quickly see that eliminating that payment would save roughly $100,000 during the year, assuming 80% attendance rate among Level 3’s. It’s also quite hard to see why encouraging Level 3’s to attend Pro Tours is gaining anything for Wizards. Almost by definition there are few big names at Level 3, and those that are – let’s take Tiago Chan, Willy Edel, Rich Hoaen, and Jelger Wiegersma for starters – are highly likely to go to PTs anyway in search of a return to more exalted sections of the Players Club. As the saying goes, watch this space.

The other issue occupying players’ minds as the year closes is the potential “moving the goalposts” scenario regarding Club Levels for 2008. You may recall that last year 20 points for Level 3 was considered a fraction too high, and Wizards announced that 18 points would be sufficient. As things stand, 88 players have Level 3 or higher status. Were the boundary to be lowered to 18, a further dozen that include some big names – Canali, Siron, Nuijten, Oiso, Szleifer, Harvey for example – would make it a nice round 100 Pros for ’08. If you’re one of these dirty dozen on the brink, this 100 sounds like an excellently round figure. However, part of the reason for the lowering of the threshold last year was because of the enormous success of both the Pro Tour and Grand Prix organised play programs. Put simply, too many Amateur players were taking away too many Pro Points in proverbial wheelbarrows to get the “right” number onto the train. So sure, 100 is a neat number, but if 88 is considered “enough,” expect those I’ve listed above plus half a dozen more to be left out in the cold.

To the Level 2’s then.

Armin Birner, Yuuta Hirosawa, and Matthias Kunzler were guaranteed their Level 3 status by playing in Round 1, but all three made it deep into the tournament, finishing 49th, 54th and 29th respectively, which was a decent showing from all three. Birner’s apparently care-free attitude to the game will be very welcome next year. Neither Eugene Harvey or Valencia Top 8er Giulio Barra could find the four points they needed to level up. Needing a potentially daunting Top 64 finish, both Mattias Kettil of Sweden and Saul Aguado of Spain narrowly made it in to Level 3, with 44th and 53rd place. Congratulations to them. Best placed of all the Level 2’s was England’s Stuart Wright, who once again demonstrated his powerful hold over all things Constructed by going 4-1 in Standard and 5-0 in Legacy, adding to his 6-0 in Extended last year. Missing out on tiebreaks from a Top 8 berth at Worlds, Stuart was heard to say, “I wish I was better at Limited,” and you feel his powers of self-analysis have not gone astray. A 3-3 Draft record put paid to his chances. On the plus side, quite apart from $5,500, Wright makes the Tour for the first time in his own, er, Wright.

Of the rest of the Level 2’s, none of Owen Turtenwald, Masaya Kitayama, Marco Camilluzzi, Jose Luis Echeverria Parredes or Zack Hall managed the significant finishes that could have sent them over the top, and spare a thought for Francisco Braga of Brazil. If memory serves, back in Yokohama Pierre Canali was playing a new-to-the-tour Asian player, who, somewhere around the early part of Day 2, calmly unfolded a neat piece of paper between games. When asked by the fascinated Canali what he was doing, the Asian explained that it was a chart detailing his sideboard plans. This, you may be surprised to hear, is more than a little frowned on by the DCI, and one swift investigation later there was one less player in the tournament. Unfortunately, Braga hadn’t heard about that one presumably, as he was the first man disqualified from Worlds for exactly this offence. There was clearly no attempt to wilfully cheat, just someone who didn’t know every nuance of the can’s and cant’s at the highest level. He must have felt rubbish.

Level 3

Now it’s on to the guys who have already tasted life inside the exclusive echelons of the Players Club. As we went into Worlds there were a large group of scenarios. For the more successful, such as Yuuya Watanabe and Masahiko Morita, Level 4 for next year was already assured. For many, with Level 3 locked in, Level 4 was the target. And then there were the players who hadn’t yet secured Pro status for 2008, ranging from John Sittner needing a Top 200 finish right the way down to Rosario Maij, for whom only a semi-final appearance or better could give him the Points he needed.

Yuuya Watanabe, Japan. 61st, 5 Points, $430. Job well and truly done for the newly-crowned 2007 Rookie of the Year. Despite an early wobble he maintained his composure and won with points to spare, and is comfortably Level 4.

Masahiko Morita, Japan. 236th, 2 Points. Nothing to write home about, but Level 4 was already certain.

Yuuta Takahashi, Japan. 24th, 7 Points, $1,800. It looked for a time as if Takahashi might reach all the way to Level 5, but Top 8 was beyond him this time.

Remi Fortier, France. 203rd, 2 Points. With a newly-flattened hairstyle it was hard to spot the Pro Tour: Valencia winner here in New York, and it was hard to spot him through the tournament too as he battled right on the cusp of Level 4 throughout. Needing Top 200 to generate the crucial third point he fell tantalisingly close, but still has “Mum I’ve just won $40,000” to look back on.

Rogier Maaten, Netherlands. 161st, 3 Points. Never really in contention to level up, Maaten is the true embodiment of the Pro lifestyle – capable of beating anyone, enjoying the game as well as the frequent victories, amiable at almost any win-loss record (I’ve yet to see him pout or whine) and definitely one of the good guys.

Ervin Tormos, USA. 157th, 3 Points. One of the Americans who was spotted on the European Grand Prix Circuit this year, there’s a good chance that Tormos will be back in 2008. I shall phrase my next sentence carefully, since I do not doubt that my friend will be reading this. His fashionable attire throughout the weekend added immeasurably to my Worlds experience. There. That leaves lots of room to the imagination, doesn’t it?

Steven Wolansky, USA. 382nd, 2 Points. Let’s start by saying that Steven had a good year. Anytime you get 27 Pro Points in your Rookie season you have to feel a sense of accomplishment. Yet Wolansky was one of the real crash and burn stories of Worlds 2007. Starting out the weekend with not unreasonable ambition in the Rookie of the Year Race, he quickly fell from contention with a truly hideous win loss record that from memory ended up at about 1 win and 463 losses. Or something. What impressed me though is that he came through what must have been a bruising experience. Come Sunday morning, he was there bright and early, in pole position to watch the Top 8, learn and maybe have some determination to be there himself next year. An impressive year, a rubbish weekend.

Masami Kaneko, Japan. 9th, 8 Points, $6,000. Kaneko’s performance in winning Grand Prix: Florence would probably be my standout performance of the year, but for Paul Cheon coming along at the last minute and staging an almost literally breath-taking win at Grand Prix: Krakow. Here he demonstrated that he is well and truly the real deal, and only tiebreaks prevented him displaying his talents on the largest stage of all. The 8 points comfortably make him Level 4 for next year.

Osamu Fujita, Japan. 47th, 5 Points, $640. Needing Top 32, Fujita fell short of Level 4, but remains a Pro next season.

Jonathon Sonne, USA. 92nd, 4 Points. Top 32 was beyond him, but Sonne remains a solid Pro who can beat anyone, just not often everyone.

Genki Taru, Japan. 91st, 4 Points. Comfortable Level 3 next year for the San Diego final four man.

Jim Herold, Germany. 13th, 8 Points, $4,000. It’s been a cracking year for the German, and it really looked as if he was going to bookend the season with Top 8 appearances. Still, 13th was good enough to Level up to 4, a nice reward for a nice guy.

Nicolay Potovin, Russian Federation. 83rd, 4 Points. Having started off 3-0, Potovin was right to be cautious about his chances. Not able to chase down Watanabe in the Rookie race, he nevertheless completes a good season that sees him return at Level 3.

Jacob van Lunen, USA. 371st, 2 Points. Having taken a gamble in Standard with his mono-White lifegain Martyr deck, van Lunen fell victim to some nasty matchups and a near-implausible defeat to Potovin on Day 1, when he appeared to have the Russian decked with quad Rites of Flourishing and double Howling Mine in play. But the Russian, having used Mistbind Clique to tap out van Lunen used the end of turn step to cast Pestermite, tapping down a Howling Mine, then casting Venser, Shaper Savant to return the Pestermite to his hand, then recasting the Pestermite to tap the other Howling Mine, before untapping, drawing 4 extra cards from the Rites of Flourishing, drawing his last card of the library as his card for the turn in his draw step, and then passing back to van Lunen who died to his own 7 cards drawn a turn. An incredible game, but one that may have left van Lunen feeling that not everything was exactly going as planned. He was right.

Chikara Nakajima, Japan. 372nd, 2 Points. Already Level 3, still Level 3.

Chris Lachmann, USA. 50th, 5 Points, $580. A great season came to a close with Lachmann promising much before falling away a little. 4-0 was as good as it got, and like Potovin and van Lunen he couldn’t overhaul Watanabe. Only Top 16 would have helped him to Level 4, so Level 3 it is for next year. Another welcome addition to the Tour. Although unlikely to match the scarf of Katsuhiro Mori, I expect to see Lachmann’s Germany football scarf on display at some high tables soon.

Fried Meulders, Belgium. 77th, 4 Points. Another solid Level 3 for next year.

John Pelcak, USA. 239th, 2 Points. I expected rather more from JP, and I imagine so did he. Still, he gets a crack at it again next year.

Paulo Carvalho, Portugal. 385th, 2 Points. I believe my Mum may have finished behind him at Worlds this year, but I’m not sure that anybody else did. Seriously, once you’re out of contention it doesn’t matter where you finish, and all this position means is that he dropped out early and went and did something else, like try to win a car, which was the default second option for early exiters this year. Level 3 again.

Steve Sadin, USA. 55th, 5 Points, $490. Top 8 would have made Level 4. Top 64 feels about where he is in the world right now.

John Fiorillo, USA. 382nd, 2 Points. 2 Points for being alive and in the right chair for Round 1 pretty much gives you the Fiorillo highlights package of Worlds 2007. Level 3 for 2008.

Ben Lundquist, USA. 169th, 3 Points. An okay finish for a guy who looks like he might turn into a “next big thing” or might carry on getting a bit more than the minimum and stay at Level 3.

Carlos Romao, Brazil. 228th, 2 Points. Former World Champion never threatened here. Level 3.

Jan Doise, Belgium. 96th, 4 Points. With 20 points already in the bag, only a super performance here would change anything for next year. 96th is fine, but not super.

Robert van Medevoort, Netherlands. 268th, 2 Points. Despite a sub-optimal individual performance, van Medevoort led the national side to within a round of going head to head for back-to-back team titles. Level 3 next time.

Florian Pils, Germany. 23rd, 7 Points, $1,900. Result. 27 points this year indicate a man on the way up rather than a man struggling to make the Pros.

Adam Chambers, USA. 71st, 4 Points. Chambers did fine, knowing that just the two points for attending were enough for another year in the big leagues.

Rasmus Sibast, Denmark. 373rd, 2 Points. Somebody has to lose almost every round, and this year that was the great Dane. Still Level 3 though.

Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Japan. 381st, 2 Points. Ouch.

Sam Stein, USA. 93rd, 4 Points. Still only 18 (19?), Stein will be Level 3 again next year after this solid but not spectacular performance.

Gerard Fabiano, USA. 367th, 2 Points. On home turf you can be certain that Gerard won’t have enjoyed this performance. You can also be sure that it won’t have spoiled his weekend. Most of all, you can be sure that he’s relieved that he already had 18 points before Worlds began. And frankly, so am I, because the Pro Tour needs players like Mr. F.

Klaus Joens, Germany. 56th, 5 Points, $480. Following his disqualification at Pro Tour: Valencia, Joens returned to form with a decent finish that promises a good year in 2008.

Wessel Oomens, Netherlands. 279th, 2 Points. Former Grand Prix winner did nothing much on the Magic front, but probably enjoyed playing bridge between rounds rather more. Still Level 3 for next year.

Now we’re into the players who actually needed some kind of finish to guarantee themselves a starting slot next year.

John Sittner, USA. 131st, 3 Points. It was a nervy Worlds for Sittner, who needed a Top 200 finish. 131st sounds comfortable, but it was only at the very last that he could relax with the job done.

Terry Soh, Malaysia. 128th, 3 Points. Also good enough to see the former Invitational winner return in 2008.

David Irvine, USA. 122nd, 3 Points. It seems odd to talk of finishing in the top third of the field as below expectations for someone you may not have heard much of, but having finished top of the Swiss at a GP this year, I had Irvine down as one of those make-a-run-at-Top-8 kind of guys. Still, he did what he needed to maintain Pro status, so that’s something.

Jan Ruess, Germany. 64th, 5 Points, $400. I guess this is one of the nicest positions to finish if you’re not truly in contention. It certainly beats the hell out of coming in 65th and getting infinitely fewer dollars. Ruess too, remains Level 3.

Osyp Lebedowicz, USA. 112th, 3 Points. Hmm, our first genuine casualty. For Osyp, Magic is no longer the be all and end all, if it ever was, and he didn’t travel to all the Pro Tours. In purely mathematical terms this cost him his Pro invite, but I doubt whether this will concern him overly, and I’m sure we’ll see him at occasional Tours, probably by being in the Top 50 on ranking. Still, I’m sure he’d rather have come 99th and had the invite secured.

Masashi Oiso, Japan. 234th, 2 Points. No joy, no Level 3.

Gadiel Szleifer, USA. 240th, 2 Points. Another former PT winner who isn’t really in the game anymore. 2 Points means he’s even less in the game for next year.

Georgios Kapalas, Greece. 62nd, 5 Points, $420. Success! It’s always nice to see someone from a country outside the regular Magic powerhouses, and George is a real flagbearer for Greece, along with Vasilis Fatuoros. Needing Top 100 to maintain Pro status, he did it with rounds to spare.

Pierre Canali, France. 155th, 3 Points. One of the twelve players on 18 or 19 points who will be waiting anxiously for any possible movement on the Level 3 boundary. Ultimately, due to work commitments, Canali was unable to attend as many GPs as he would have liked, and just one more Grand Prix Day 2 could have generated the two points he fell short. If, as he has indicated, he decides to quit the game, he will be sorely missed on the world stage. A true entertainer, and a gentleman.

Shuu Komuro, Japan. 11th, 8 Points, $5,000. I didn’t truthfully expect Kumuro to manage the Top 32 he needed to be Level 3, so fair play to him, he more than surpassed that.

Craig Krempels, USA. 57th, 5 Points, $470. One of the images I’ll keep of 2007 was Krempels teamed up with Sam Gomersall in San Diego, quite clearly having a whale of a time. 5 Points leaves him marooned on 19, and without Wizards dispensation I’d be surprised to see him back on Tour, which would be a shame. A man who’s been at the top (U.S. Champ) and has some perspective on the game, and a ready smile.

Nick Lovett, Wales. 238th, 2 Points. Last year it all went right for Nick Lovett as he so nearly made the final at his first Worlds attempt. This year he couldn’t get going, not only at Worlds but in general. As a result, Level 3 status has gone, at least for now.

Roel van Heeswijk, Netherlands. 8th, 12 Points, $8,000. This time last year, Frank Karsten sat testing a heavily underpowered matchup for Tiago Chan the night before the Portuguese man would face France’s Gabriel Nassif in the Top 8 of Worlds 2006. Last week he tested a heavily underpowered matchup for Roel van Heeswijk the night before the Dutchman would face France’s Gabriel Nassif in the Top 8 of Worlds 2007. Once again no way could be found to turn the matchup around, and Roel duly succumbed to the Frenchman. Nonetheless, this was a brilliant performance that rewarded the likeable Dutchie for persistence throughout a year that hadn’t generated big results. Still, the season lasts 12 months, not 11, and Roel can go into 2008 with confidence as one of the game’s more solid Level 3’s.

Celso Zampere Junior, Brazil. 227th, 2 Points. It really wasn’t a great weekend for Brazil in general, and Zampere was never in the running for the Top 32 he needed to maintain Level 3.

Antti Malin, Finland. 26th, 6 Points, $1,600. One of the true good guys in the game, Malin is one of those players who is as mild-mannered away from the table as he is ferocious on it. Always within the spirit of the game, he’s a true competitor who has spent a large chunk of time in the Stuart Wright-esque border between really good Level 2 and solid Level 3. Needing Top 32 here, he made it with consistent performances across all three formats, and it will be great to see him in action across a full PT season in 2008.

From here on in the players needed phenomenal results to keep their Level 3 status. Top 16 was a minimum, and for most they would need to see Sunday play. Needless to say, most didn’t make it.

Akira Asahara, Japan. 192nd, 3 Points. Three points was nowhere near enough.

Tsuyoshi Fujita, Japan. 360th, 2 Points. The Hall of Fame was a moment to treasure. The tournament wasn’t.

Mike Thompson, USA. 46th, 5 Points, $660. A decent performance from a man with a hard-luck story to tell. Thompson was comprehensively ill before Valencia, meaning that he sensibly decided against a transatlantic travel plan. When the first day got cancelled, he was within range of making it in time for Saturday, and almost decided to go for it. Again, staying in bed was the sensible call, but it did cost him 2 Pro Points. Admittedly even those 2 would have left him stranded on 19, but there’s every chance he would have picked up more than the minimum in Spain. With the PTQ circuit in the States hideously difficult to escape, I for one hope he can make it back sooner rather than later.

Bernardo da Costa Cabral, Belgium. 225th, 2 Points. And so the Tour says farewell to one of its stalwart European figures. When moxradio first came on the scene the best part of two years ago, it was apparent that Bernardo had already contributed his best performances. Yes, he had talent, but he also worked hard, and was at the nexus of several European testing teams that reaped substantial benefits. Several Brits amongst others would have reason to be grateful to the gravel-voiced Belgian, and he leaves the Tour at peace with the game and himself, which is a trick that’s surprisingly hard to pull off. He now turns his attention to a game store in Brussels, which we’ll be covering when the European Grand Prix circuit gets there in the first half of 2008. Meanwhile, with Marijn Lybaert, Fried Meulders, Jan Doise and more frequently at the top tables, he leaves Belgian Magic in the best shape it’s ever been. We wish him well.

Robert Dougherty, USA. 267th, 2 Points. As a Hall of Famer, Dougherty had no need to sweat on the need to make Top 8 to generate enough points for a “real” Level 3 berth. I have to admit to finding him one of the more puzzling players I deal with. Your Move Games represented the pinnacle of the game, and when you look at most of them you can see why. Darwin Kastle is a seriously intimidating guy across the table. Zvi Mowshowitz (who several of you reminded me was indeed a part of the YMG story) is just an elemental force of nature, in-game and out, while players like Chad Ellis, Justin Gary, Dave Humpherys – these are clearly heavyweights in the history of the game. So my question about Dougherty is this: how can a man so comprehensively nice have battled his way to the top of the pile? In a roomful of Alpha males, he seems the kind of guy who would be most likely to charmingly hold the door open for his opponent, rather than seize the opportunity to kick him viciously down the stairs (these, by the way, are metaphors, if you were uncertain.) So what’s the deal? Well, as far as I can see there are three possibilities. First, I’ve got him wrong and he’s actually one of the most ruthless cutthroat pirates on the high seas (wow, buy one metaphor, get one free). Second, he used to be one of the most ruthless cutthroat pirates on the high seas, but discovered (cue nice New Age music) that he had other priorities in life, and allowed his ultra-civilised persona to come out to play. Then there’s possibility number three, which is that he basically had a complete handle on everything that was going on in Magic, and was the calculating general, plotting the decks that would take down the opposition. This role, the master planner, instinctively feels right, but since I know that someone reading this knows a lot more about it than I do, I’d welcome some illumination in the forums. Who is Rob Dougherty, apart from one of the nicest guys on Tour?

Chris McDaniel, USA. 283rd, 2 Points. There’s a group of people with great intelligence who focus relentlessly on something, get scarily good at it, then find something else that takes their attention away. I’m not sure what that something else is right now, but Chris McDaniel certainly isn’t focused on Magic in any way, and it shows.

Billy Moreno, USA. 224th, 2 Points. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Billy over the last couple of years, for two main reasons. First, he finished runner-up to Antoine Ruel in Pro Tour: Los Angeles in 2005. Second, he’s very much part of the Top 8 Magic scene, and that means BDM, Flores, Sadin and chums. Now life is taking a different turn, and Billy’s attention may well be elsewhere in future. The community will miss him and his deckbuilding talent, but we may yet see him back.

Jonathon Rispal, France. 45th, 5 Points, $580. Needing Top 8 to rescue Level 3 for next year, Rispal was never on course for that. However, this was a good result, and goes some way to making up for Worlds 2006, where on home turf he stumbled in the final rounds when a Top 8 berth looked on the cards.

Wesimo Al-Bacha, Germany. 111th, 3 Points. Having spent the last year deeply immersed in studies, Wesimo came into Worlds knowing that Level 3 would be gone for next year. He’ll remain a live contender for any Grand Prix that he cares to attend next year.

Ryuichi Arita, Japan. 281st, 2 Points.
Thomas Didierjean, France. 277th, 2 Points.
Marcio Carvalho, Portugal. 74th, 4 Points.

Although Carvalho finished inside the top 100, none of these have ever threatened during the year, and seeing them lose Level 3 status was no surprise to me, and almost certainly no surprise to them either.

Darwin Kastle, USA. 58th, 5 Points, $460.
Jon Finkel, USA. 139th, 3 Points.
Bob Maher, USA. 109th, 3 Points.

Three giants of the game finish Part 1 of our round-up. It must have seemed very much like old times when Kastle faced Dougherty on Day 2. Talking with Kastle a year ago in Paris, he stated that he believed it wouldn’t be very long before a Hall of Famer made Top 8. While it’s easy to look at Raphael Levy in this regard, there was a feeling that several of the Hall members had set aside some time and actually tested for New York. It’s hard to tell whether the results reflect this or not. On the one hand it’s tempting to say that most of their wins came as a result of natural talent or instinctive understanding of the game from the thousands upon thousands of games they have under their belt. That’s probably not quite right, because we’ve seen any number of talented players fail to keep up results once they stop testing. At this Worlds, Kai Budde would be the most obvious example of this. A legendary tester, he came to Worlds unprepared and got, for the most part, spanked. Therefore this trio of Invitational winners (Avalanche Riders, Shadowmage Infiltrator, Dark Confidant) probably reaped the rewards of the testing they did. As you can tell by my “not quite sure” attitude, I regard the performance of Hall of Famers as one of the more interesting stories coming up in 2008, as with 15 of them now enshrined, we may get a reasonable amount of data on who could once again be the real deal.

But for now, it’s time to wrap up our review of Worlds. Next time out, we’ll look at Levels 4,5, and 6, and I’ll bring you the story of the two Kithkin lost in the Gilt-Leaf Forest, a joke so bad that even Chris Millar may disown me.

Until then, as ever, thanks for reading.