Removed From Game – Worlds Pro Report Card Part 2

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In a move destined to resonate with moviegoers, Rich Hagon brings us a sequel to his award-winning Worlds Pro Report Card Part 1, trickily entitled Worlds Pro Report Card Part 2. Yes, it’s the same article again but with a different cast, a different cola product placement, a different bad guy, and a different ending. But what the hey, it’ll still do great box office, and that’s the important thing.

Welcome back, and season’s greetings. This time around we look at the performances of those Pros who came into the event at Levels 4, 5, and 6, and we begin with the top of the Level 4s, Pro Tour winner Mike Hron.

Level 4

Mike Hron, USA. 52nd, 5 Points, $540
It was easy to look at Hron’s victory in Geneva back in February as a “no-name” getting lucky, but you only had to listen to people at the heart of U.S. Magic (BDM, Flores, and more) to see that there was a lot more to Hron’s game than drafting Black. He further emphasised his legitimacy by stockpiling points throughout the year, and came into Worlds needing a Top 200 finish for Level 5. He was never in danger of missing out on this, and that puts him inside the top 20 on current form.

Andre Mueller, Germany. 359th, 2 Points
Making no impact at Worlds will have been a source of disgruntlement to the big German with the big voice and big opinions. Mueller can get under your skin if you let him, but away from the table he’s one of the nicest guys around. Always good value, he had Level 4 assured before the tournament began, which given his Standard performance was probably just as well.

Luis Scott-Vargas, USA. 25th, 6 Points, $1,700
Setting aside all miracle scenarios, LSV would certainly have set his sights on achieving Level 5, and that would require a Top 32 finish, although it was possible that his teammates might contribute to his overall total via the National event. The U.S. team didn’t really deliver, being well out of contention long before the end of even the first day, but having won multiple Premier Events this year Scott-Vargas probably wasn’t budgeting on getting any help. He finished 25th, and the 6th point put him over the edge into Level 5 territory. That’s important, because it puts him at a level where it might just be in his interest to join the club of major players – Saitou, Tsumura, Nakamura for Japan, Levy, Coimbra and the Ruels for Europe – who regularly travel to almost every Grand Prix on the planet.

Andre Coimbra, Portugal. 72nd, 4 Points
I’m reluctant to use the word failure in connection with Andre Coimbra, since he’s actually had a very good year. However, his stated goal coming into the home straight was to get to Level 5. Needing to reach the Top 24, he fell short, leaving him on a highly-creditable 37 points, but missing out on achieving his target. He’s better than plenty of players who finished ahead of him at Worlds, and his innovative deck designs were a feature of 2007 that wasn’t widely acknowledged, but led to some very fine results (I think in particular of Grand Prix: Florence).

Marijn Lybaert, Belgium. 31st, 6 Points, $1,250
One of the problems with knowing as much about Magic as someone like Marijn is that false hope doesn’t get to enter into your calculations. As we stood waiting for the final standings, he knew that his tiebreaks just weren’t going to be good enough to push him into the Top 24, which is what he needed to make Level 5. Now truthfully I think few players would have been more deserving of Level 5 status, since lurking under a smiling exterior lurks the mind of a Magic machine. Worlds has so many storylines it’s just impossible to keep track of them all, and it’s a strange world where the man in 31st (Lybaert) will have been distinctly underwhelmed, while another Level 4 Pro who finished 32nd was ecstatic. More of him later.

Koutarou Ootsuka, Japan. 4th, 16 Points, $14,000
Ootsuka is one of those players you tend not to know much about, in part because he’s one of those players I tend not to know much about. There are three good reasons for this. First, he doesn’t travel to the European GP circuit, so there’s no chance to sit and chat with him there. Second, he doesn’t have truly stellar performances that elevate him to the status of a Saitou or Tsumura. This year for example he’s had 3 Grand Prix Top 8s, and lost in the quarters each time, in Montreal, Bangkok, and Singapore. Then there’s reason number three. Please, no howls of protest – I have no problem with this third reason, but it contributes to his anonymity – he’s not media-friendly. He doesn’t smile much, he has no super-special backstory, like his Dad being the Pope or anything, and he speaks possibly the same amount of English that I speak Japanese (we’re tied at two words each.) His breathtaking performance here was comfortably the best of his career, and had he managed to overcome Uri Peleg in the semi-final we would have had another Level 6 mage, which should give you an insight into the full quality of his achievement. To be mentioned in the same breath as Saitou, Tsumura, Levy, Cheon, Ruel, Wafo-Tapa, and Kurihara is a significant step up. Perhaps we’ll get to know him next year.

Kazuya Mitamura, Japan. 82nd, 4 Points
Top 16 was a tall order to reach Level 5, but at Level 4 the man who made Top 8 in Yokohama is comfortably amongst the game’s higher echelons.

Frank Karsten, Netherlands. 30th, 6 Points, $1,300
Frank Karsten believes that he will never win a major event. For fans of the Road Warrior, that may come as a surprise. Of course, there are a couple of reasons why he may be right. First, there’s the statistical evidence that says he’s made seven final tables and not yet won one, meaning he’s almost out of chances to be “average” in the Top 8. Also, while there are anomalies (Mihara has played very little this year and still will be Level 4 next season), the Player of the Year list doesn’t, as a whole, lie. Therefore it’s fair to say that there are a bunch of Level 5s and 6s that would start any given event as more likely winners than Frank. However, what surprised me was the reasoning behind his belief, and I guess it demonstrates once again his clear-sightedness and understandings of the inner workings of the game. Essentially, Frank believes he won’t win because he always plays the best deck. Pardon? Have I lost the plot entirely? Here’s what he means. Frank defines the Best Deck as the deck that will beat most of the opposition most of the time given any kind of balanced metagame. (That’s my approximation of Frank’s definition by the way, so don’t hold him to it word for word.) What that means in practice is that Frank will always play a deck that is likely to produce positive results, but he rarely plays a deck that can generate incredible results or a blowout result, depending on the metagame. Let’s take two examples to illustrate this. At Grand Prix: Florence, Frank played Mystical Teachings, a deck that he had consistently championed as the Best Deck throughout Time Spiral Block Constructed. Since four Teachings deck made the Top 8, you could clearly say that Teachings was indeed the Best Deck. However, since Teachings didn’t win the event, you can make a case for Kaneko’s UG deck being the Best, if the winning deck automatically gets that title. At Worlds, the likelihood of Frank playing the new Dragonstorm deck would have been extremely small, since it’s the kind of deck that struggles to outplay its opponents, and dies to significant sideboarding. The Worlds Dragonstorm deck is a prime example of a deck that can do outstandingly well or hideously poorly, and that kind of variance has never appealed to Frank. As a result, Karsten finishing in the Top 32 was one of the safer bets coming into the event, but Karsten going all the way, at least in Constructed, may be something we never see, at least if you believe the man himself. Personally, until he stops taking the game seriously, he would always be in my top 10 of players capable of winning a Constructed Pro Tour.

Amiel Tenenbaum, France. 95th, 4 Points
Level 4 was assured, and only Top 8 heroics could change the level for next year. Finishing in the top quarter of the field probably accurately reflects his position in world Magic right now.

Sebastian Thaler, Germany. 81st, 4 Points
The last of the 2007 Level 4s already guaranteed to maintain that status for 2008, the 2006 Rookie of the Year had a decent season, and like Tenenbaum ended with a Worlds result roughly in keeping with his Level, inside the Top 100 in the world.

Gabriel Nassif, France. 3rd, 16 Points, $15,000
So let’s go back a few weeks to Grand Prix : Krakow. When Gabriel Nassif told me that he was going to the States to work with Mark Herberholz prior to Worlds, it was a signal that good things were going to happen. When I wrote my Worlds preview I spent an age vascillating back and forth between Nassif and Herberholz, since there wasn’t quite room in my fantasy Top 8 for both of them. I plumped for Herberholz, but Nassif was one of the big stories of Worlds 2007. Playing the Dragonstorm deck du jour, Nassif was never far from the top of the leaderboard. In the space of approximately two seconds on Super Sunday we saw the real man on display. I get to spend time with people when they are in real pressure-cooker situations, and although I hope I’m not a sadist (actually, that’s not true, but too much information…), I do find it absolutely riveting viewing seeing how players cope under the weight of their own expectations. The book on Nassif is that he’s really laid back and basically doesn’t care whether he wins or loses. Er, no, not true. Is he laid back? Yes, sure, but mistaking that for a lack of will to win is foolish. I think a lot of people found out just how badly he really does care during the semi-final against Patrick Chapin. When he realised that he could have improved his odds against an upcoming Ignite Memories, he couldn’t restrain a cry of anguish that was both explosive and, ahem, rather rude. The phenomenal standards that he had set himself had slipped, and he was furious with himself. Less than two seconds later, the fundamentally decent human being reasserted himself with an instant apology that was as much directed to the fans and to the game itself as to his semi-final opponent. That Nassif was livid after the match was possibly underselling it – I’ve rarely seen anybody so desperate to get the hell out of there and rage in a quiet corner where nobody could see. That he is also a fantastic part of the Pro Tour, and that a World championship title may not be far away, should also not be in doubt.

Ruud Warmenhoven, Netherlands. 32nd, 6 Points, $1,200
So here is the man who finished 32nd. 33rd place would have relegated Warmenhoven to Level 3, while 32nd kept him at exactly the points he needed to maintain Level 4. If you look at the Players Club levels there isn’t an enormous amount of difference between Levels 3 and 4. Psychologically, and philosophically, there’s all the difference in the World. I regard Level 3 as a staging post of sorts. It’s one of three things. First, it’s the last refuge of the players who used to be good who no longer devote time to the game, and are relying on “muscle memory” to stay on tour. Eventually a couple of bad results come along at once, and they slip from the Level 3 ranks. Then there are the guys for whom Level 3 is base camp on the ascent of the Pro mountain. Having got themselves an invite to all the PTs, they can concentrate on building a social network amongst the Pros, without having to worry about 300 player PTQs around the country. From Level 3, if they work hard, they can ascend through Level 4 towards the pinnacle of the game, arguably all those at Level 5 and 6. Finally, and there aren’t many of these, there are the players who sit consistently year after year in the top 100 without ever getting any further up the greasy pole. At Level 4, chances are you’ve proved that you’re well above the trials of PTQ-land, and that you’re a live contender for a PT title. Since Ruud falls as close to the borderline between 3 and 4 as it’s possible to get, you can take your pick which group he belongs to. For me, Level 4 feels much closer to his threat level at any given PT.

Quentin Martin, Great Britain. 377th, 2 Points
It’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that however much the fundamentals of Limited may remain, you know, fundamental, success in each new format really does depend on serious amounts of practice. It’s no coincidence that Mike Hron won Geneva with a clearly conceived plan, and the same holds true for Lachmann and van Lunen in San Diego. Since Quentin is giving up his Limited Information column due to real world work commitments, you could be forgiven for thinking that his best chance of PT glory is behind him, and you would probably be right. The first of our Level 4s for 2007 who hasn’t maintained the Level for 2008, it’s hard to see him climbing back up the rankings next year.

Antonino de Rosa, USA. 28th, 6 Points, $1,400
To reach Level 4, Antonino needed to make Top 8, and although his finish was very good, it wasn’t that good, so he slips back into the ranks of the “ordinary” Pros at Level 3.

The rest of our 2007 Level 4s needed next to impossible finishes in order to safeguard their Level 4. Instead, most of them were looking simply to stay on the train, and Level 3 was what they were really seeking.

Johan Sadeghpour, Sweden. 151st, 3 Points
Having played in relatively few GP events this year, Sadeghpour still made Level 3 with exactly the 3 points he needed.

Katsuhiro Mori, Japan. 7th, 12 Points, $9,000
Wow, what a story! The wheels truly came off the Mori machine when six months away from the game was the enforced penalty courtesy of the DCI in Yokohama. To come back and make it to the Top 8 for the third year running is an achievement that I can’t really find the words to do justice to. Top 8, then Top 8, then Top 8, that’s simply (insert huge compliment word of choice here). Perhaps the most impressive part of Mori’s performance was that he had played precisely one Lorwyn draft before doing it for real at the biggest tourney of all. Although this would have been a mistake, you can imagine quite a few happy Nassifs, Chapins, and Ootsukas when Mori was swept from the Top 8 by eventual winner Peleg. Of course, Mori being Mori, he will probably be considerably upset by the quarter final loss, since a win would have sent him to an improbable Level 4. Six months off, and almost Level 4. Scary.

Julien Nuijten, Netherlands. 134th, 3 Points
I’ve often said that Magic is the best game on Earth, and I do genuinely believe that (not that I’ve played every game on boardgamegeek.com, so I just may have missed one or two), but it’s also true that high-level Magic comes at a price, and that there comes a time for many people when the price isn’t worth paying any more. You can spot the player on the edge pretty easily. They’ll generally be standing in the middle of the room, staring vacantly around them. You see, GP venues are indeed Testing Grounds for the Best, they are indeed Temples of Excellence, they are Examinations of Magical Expertise (the capitals are intentional, by the way.) If you’re really good at the game – and remember Nuijten has 2 Grand Prix wins, and a World Title in the bank that came when he was just 15 – when you’re knocked out of contention, the venue can change. Suddenly, it becomes a large former aircraft hangar 10 miles from a city you don’t know in a country you’ve been to eight times before, and it’s only Saturday teatime and you won’t get back to your home until Monday night, and your friends are all still playing because they’re still dedicated to the game, and you’re really not that bothered anymore because there’s always poker to play, and besides, poker pays much better than Magic if you’re good at it, and it always remains the same whereas Magic changes every few months or even weeks so you always have to stay on top of it, and what have you got to prove anyway, you’ve reached the pinnacle of the game, and loads of your friends have stopped travelling to the GPs anyway, and most of the players from your home country you don’t know as well because they’re the next generation of players who haven’t been to this other country eight times yet, and… … … I’ve seen Nuijten with that faraway “why am I here?” look several times this year, and his failure to make the top 100 here, which would have left his invite open, feels like more of a release than a disaster. Maybe he’ll rediscover his love for the game, but more likely he’s moving on to pastures new, where he’ll have bigger questions to answer than what to play in Legacy, like, “How can I possibly choose to do something I really want to do with my life when I can play poker really well and poker earns me lots of money, and I do like to have lots of money?”

Geoffrey Siron, Belgium. 129th, 3 Points
Much of what I said about Nuijten applies to Geoffrey Siron, a man who makes no secret of a burning will to win. I believe Siron suffered from a failure to meet his own expectations following his outstanding PT win in London in 2005. Although he subsequently made a GP quarter final in Phoenix the following year, he never established himself as one of the definitive top tier Pros. Instead, he was more of a Quentin Martin figure – respected, a worthy opponent, and capable of going all the way, but someone you would happily face at the back end of a tournament rather than, say, Nassif or Saitou or Mori. When his Two-Headed Giant pairing with Raphael Levy didn’t work out, he moved away from the game to another area of intellectual challenge, World of Warcraft, and that’s where he currently “resides.” A great performance at Pro Tour: Valencia gave us a hint of what we’re going to be missing in 2008, but 129th left him one point short of the fabled blue envelope.

Ryou Ogura, Japan. 356th, 2 Points
As new players succeed, the pressure mounts on old ones to generate enough points to survive on Tour, and Ogura couldn’t.

Bram Snepvangers, Netherlands. 116th, 3 Points
Now this to me is a real changing of the guard. Bram needed Top 32 for Level 3, and it never looked especially likely. Bram is a complex character who certainly doesn’t fit into the conventional Magic mould. For one thing, he resolutely failed to dress down to the occasion, his only concession to it not being a day at the office was no tie. Looking and sounding every inch the Civil Servant that he actually is, Bram was on Tour for a decade with 5 GP and 3 PT Top 8s to show for it, starting with Grand Prix: Amsterdam back in 1999 and culminating with Pro Tour: Kobe in 2006. But he never won one of these prestigious events. It seems ironic that in the year he was introduced onto the Hall of Fame Ballot he lost his Level 3 status. Bram does a phenomenal amount of work back in the Netherlands as a tournament organiser, including the famous/infamous Bramvitational, and as a result he may not be able to simply pick up the PTQ circuit and try to get back on tour. There are few certainties in Magic, and at Pro Tours basic land and Bram were two of them. Not anymore.

Tomohiro Kaji, Japan. 73rd, 4 Points
A decent performance, or even a good one, but not enough for Level 3.

Kamiel Cornelissen, Netherlands. 250th, 2 Points
Having played very little this year, Kamiel wasn’t expecting to make it into the Pro ranks for 2008, but he would probably be underwhelmed with this performance.

Craig Jones, Great Britain. 94th, 4 Points
And so another chapter comes to a close. Although we may see the Professor from time to time, the likelihood of more Honolulu-like classic moments seems unlikely for the time being, with real life sending him to a remote island paradisium for the official contender in the ‘I’ve-been-a-student-all-my-life-but-|-just-got-my-dream-job’ competition. His modest shrug in victory or defeat will be missed.

And now we’re on to the Level 5s. Every single one of these had already secured Pro status, so it was just a case of how high a Level they could procure for themselves.

Level 5

Paul Cheon, USA. 117th, 3 Points
With only an outside chance of making Player of the Year, the important thing for Cheon was not to be stuck in an airport somewhere, and not to get disqualified. Having achieved both those things, his place among the absolute elite was assured, although you can’t imagine him being too impressed with this end to the season.

Raphael Levy, France. 15th, 8 Points, $3,500
I spoke at length last week about Levy and his streak-like tendencies. In many ways this is a distinct advantage. Consider. Which would you rather do, go 4-2 in two consecutive PTQs, or go 0-4 one week and then 8-0 the next? Only the second set of results lets you win a PTQ. At this level, Levy is a kind of anti-Karsten. Whereas Karsten will churn out good finish after good finish, Levy is more likely to bomb out on Day 1 and then turn up and win the whole thing. The prize structure of PTs really favors this kind of streak too. You could finish 42nd (like Helmut Summersberger) at every Pro Tour for almost a decade, and you’d end up with the same cash payout as the winner of just one of them. Magic doesn’t really lend itself to exuberance, so I find it tremendously exciting when you see someone genuinely pumped and on the charge, as Levy was at the back end of Day 2. A fantastic achievement to make Level 6 without a mighty PT performance to boost the points tally, this was one of the feel good stories of 2007.

Mark Herberholz, USA. 107th, 3 Points
At last, some headway. Herberholz is right up there in my list of players I don’t feel I understand. There seemed to be two people, and I only ever saw one of them. The Herberholz that almost everyone I spoke to this year talks of a warm, charming, funny guy who is the life and soul of the party, a real vibrant life force. The Herberholz I’ve seen this year has been monosyllabic, distant, supremely focused to the point of almost total indifference, and 100% unsmiling. Since I trust the opinions I was receiving, I came to the conclusion that maybe he had issues with me – I was maybe too ginger, too fat, too English, too me. And not everybody enjoys having a microphone thrust at them, however politely. So in the end I got the opportunity to talk to him at Worlds and just asked him straight up about these two characters. What’s the deal? An answer I couldn’t have expected. Thing is, Herberholz finds Magic funny, and when he’s utterly mutilating someone – you know the kind of thing, Goldmeadow Stalwart into Wizened Cenn into Wizened Cenn plus Goldmeadow Harrier into double Lash Out – he used to just laugh about it during matches, because it was simply too much fun not to. Then he came to the conclusion that maybe that was being taken the wrong way by his opponents. Not only did he not want to appear like a d*ck to his opponents, but he didn’t want to put them off the game. So, in the end, he’s still laughing, but now mostly on the inside. Now I know, and now you know too.

Takuya Oosawa, Japan. 298th, 2 Points
Oosawa only needed to make the Top 100 to reach Level 5 again, and to have failed so comprehensively is a surprise.

Antoine Ruel, France. 291st, 2 Points
Talking en route to the Magic Invitational, Antoine basically suggested that only Level 5s and 6s are genuine ‘Pros’ ,with Level 4s having a more-or-less free hobby, and Level 3s having an expensive hobby. With this bottom quarter finish, Ruel drops to the “free hobby” brigade. Although he’s still clearly a good player, philosophically his attention has shifted, and winning is definitely not the only thing that matters to him. It will be interesting to see whether, without that competitive fire, he can push himself back up the table next year.

Willy Edel, Brazil. 166th, 3 Points
Ouch. This was a hefty fall for the Brazilian. I fully expected him to make Top 64 to at least be Level 4 next year, but he was well off the pace, and I can’t tell you why. Assuming that he bounces back, he’ll be one of the most dangerous Level 3s out there.

Makahito Mihara, Japan. 18th, 7 Points, $2,800
If Makahito Mihara had been Norwegian, or British, or Bolivian, his winning Worlds last year would have been seen as more of a surprise than it was. A lot of watchers kind of shrugged and said, “well, we may not know much about him, but he’s Japanese isn’t he, so, there you go” (or words to that effect). I’ve talked before about those other knocks on Mihara’s credibility, the fact that he won with Dragonstorm – I can count to nine – and the fact that he couldn’t (always) count to nine, as in the Top 8 in Paris. Add in the fact that work commitments have thoroughly taken him away from the game this year, and you really have to hand it to him. Only a whisker away from Top 16, he did more than enough to secure Level 4 on, as I say, a less than full season of play. We may not come to look on Mihara as one of the great World Champions, but nobody could claim that he hadn’t worthily defended his crown, here and elsewhere through the year.

Rich Hoaen, Canada. 182nd, 3 Points
Individually this was a poor result. However, with his teammates on Team Canada Hoaen had quite the ride on Worlds Saturday, pulling the maple leafers all the way to third spot in the final table. This was one of the outstanding performances of the whole event, bearing in mind that you couldn’t make substantial progress unless both team pairings won. By the looks of things, Canada won a lot. Good stuff.

Helmut Summersberger, Austria. 42nd, 5 Points, $750
Starting the tournament on just 21 points – and again, let’s put that in context and point out that 21 points is already a guaranteed Pro next year again for the Austrian – it looked as if Summersberger was going to plummet a full two Levels from the 5 that he started 2007 with. In the event, two things came to his rescue. First, the multiple GP winner found a decent vein of form. Those five points were by no means enough however. More significantly, teammates Stradner, Reitbauer, and Preyer were similarly successful, and together they pulled out all the stops on Saturday, leading to a finals appearance against Switzerland. Whilst I’m sure they would have liked to win, for Summersberger the big news was the points that he would get from reaching the team final. Those 5 points at least granted him Level 4, by the narrowest of margins, and it was hard to imagine a more successful outcome to the weekend.

Jelger Wiegersma, Netherlands. 12th, 8 Points, $4,500
On 19 points, Jelger had to avoid disqualification to retain Level 3, but he hadn’t played a huge amount of Magic in 2007 so perhaps dropping a Level or two was no surprise. Until Raphael Levy beat him at Legacy, Jelger was right in the thick of things, and his outstanding finish indicated what a tough tournament this was to do well in – when you’ve not only got the Big Names to beat, plus the Hall of Famers, plus the rising stars, plus the people with serious Levelling Up agendas, plus the people trying to save and secure Pro status, the last thing you want is someone like Wiegersma hitting stride. The money is nice, but the eight Points weren’t enough to conjure up Level 4. Like Willy Edel, he will be an extremely dangerous Level 3 opponent next year.

And now we come to the Level 6s. I’ve already covered the first five of these in my initial thoughts on Worlds, so I won’t offer much additionally.

Level 6

Tomaharu Saitou, Japan. 37th, 5 Points, $950
Did enough, and was a very happy man by the end.

Kenji Tsumura, Japan. 39th, 5 Points, $850
It took a dozen rounds to put a kink in Saitou’s armor, and you got the impression that Kenji wasn’t especially hopeful at any point in proceedings. Getting the 2005 Player of the Year into that mindset is another indication of Saitou’s outstanding year.

Shingou Kurihara, Japan. 370th, 2 Points
Another blowout for Kurihara left plenty of room for the doubters to point to another crucial tournament that didn’t go to plan. Forget all that. This is the guy who made Top 8 in Geneva at the first event of the Pro season, and remained in contention to the penultimate day of the Magic year. This from a man whose previous best was 7th place in Japanese nationals. Worlds was rubbish for Kurihara, but 2007 was great.

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, France. 22nd, 7 Points, $2,000
Wow, this guy’s temperament is something else. I’ve remarked before about his ability to not reveal what he’s feeling, but I’m starting to wonder whether that’s a good acting job or rather that he doesn’t have strong feelings to hide. When I compare him with the other big name French stars – Ruel x2, Levy, maybe Amiel Tenenbaum, it’s easy to spot when these guys aren’t happy. Even Nassif’s armor cracked on Super Sunday. But Wafo-Tapa? Needing a win against van Heeswijk in the penultimate round, and having fought his way back from a mulligan to four, and then having lost, and then still having a chance by beating Stuart Wright in the last round, and then losing that round too, he just shrugged in a “ho-hum never mind” kind of way, and I’ve come to the conclusion that what he was actually thinking was “ho-hum, never mind.” Except in French, clearly.

Olivier Ruel, France. 146th, 3 Points
Not even Ruel could conjure up what he needed after his 1-4 start in Standard, but Level 6, if you listen to Wafo-Tapa, is what really matters, and Ruel had that before Worlds began, courtesy of the aforementioned French colleague.

Shuuhei Nakamura, Japan. 280th, 2 Points
Shuuhei won’t have been sorry to see the back of the 2007 season. Valencia was the highlight, but it wasn’t hard to select, since there really weren’t many highpoints to the year. Worlds was similarly uninspiring. Basically, I’m telling you he had a rubbish season, for him. And he still made Level 5 for 2008.

Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, Brazil. 67th, 4 Points
Starting the weekend on 36 points, PVddR needed to make the Top 100 to avoid a substantial drop to Level 4. 67th was good enough, and he goes into next year at Level 5, still right amongst the best the game has to offer.

Shouta Yasooka, Japan. 79th, 4 Points
Yasooka, in his final week as the holder of Player of the Year, stayed in touch through most of the week, and ended with exactly what he needed to ensure Level 5. Coming from Japan, he was overshadowed this year by the big three of Saitou, Tsumura, and Kurihara, but that doesn’t mean he suddenly got bad at Magic.

Tiago Chan, Portugal. 144th, 3 Points
A horrible season for Tiago found him marooned at Level 3 for next year and thinking hard about his commitment to the game at the highest level. That thought process can’t have been made easier by the drop to Level 3. Wherever you draw the Pro line, the financial difference between Levels 3 and 6 is substantial, and Level 3s have little financial reason to globetrot.

And that pretty much wraps up Worlds. Outside the top five Levels, we should acknowledge once again the achievement of Uri Peleg, who may be less visible than Mihara was during the coming year, but is nonetheless a worthy champion. Congratulations too of course to Patrick Chapin, who has known enough of both triumph and disaster to treat those two imposters just the same. But as we close the book on Worlds, my abiding memory will be of the Swiss team, whose play was so dominating throughout that it looked as if they’d been destined to win the whole thing since half past Tuesday. I’ll be very surprised if we see such a pillar to post win again for a while.

And with that, it only remains for me to wish you a mana Christmas, and a card draw New Year. As ever, thanks for reading.