Removed From Game – Worlds Report Card Part 1

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Wednesday, December 31st – From A to K, the Worlds scoresheet gets the familiar RH treatment. Who were the movers and shakers when it came to the crunch? Who excelled in Extended, scored in Standard, and delivered in Draft? Who got the easy schedules and who destroyed the heavy-hitters? It’s all here, with the rest of the best coming soon!

Three hundred twenty seven players made it on to the Official Finish List for Worlds 2008, and in a disturbing dereliction of duty, I’m going to talk about just 74 of them. This gives me the opportunity to talk about performances I thought were noteworthy, wherever they happened to be in the overall field, and enables you to complain bitterly to me that I didn’t talk about your favorite Pro for the 2nd/7th/53rd PT Report running.

A is for Carlos Amaya Troncoso, and the Colombian made a strong showing, beginning with 5-1 in Standard. Ultimately it was the Draft day that cost him his chance, with an even 3-3. 4-2 in Extended left him in 27th, which is at least one bracket higher than might have been expected.

Akira Asahara aced Standard, intriguingly the only Top 8 competitor to do so. In a conventional Pro Tour, you would expect all of the Sunday players to have records in the 7-1/8-0 bracket overnight, so it’s worth remembering that the decks you saw on Sunday weren’t by any means the best decks and best Standard players per se, but were the product of a multi-Format grindfest. 3-3 in Draft threatened to drag Asahara down, but 4-1-1 on the final day was enough to see him into the elimination rounds in 7th place. Having annihilated Faeries left right and center, his quarter final loss to eventual champion Antti Malin will have been a bitter(blossom) pill to swallow. Still, an outstanding performance, with only 2 Constructed losses all weekend.

Not so long ago, Tim Aten had a Pro card as a Rising Star of Magic. I don’t know for sure, because there may have been something amiss, but two losses to Osamu Fujita and Sam Stein before dropping from the event suggest that he comprehensively lacks one of the key ingredients for success, viz an interest in the game.

B is for Baberowski. Dirk was duly elected into the Hall of Fame, and although he struggled to 2-4 in Standard, he pulled back to an even 6-6 after a successful Draft day, before deciding enough was enough. Of this year’s HOF crop, he may be the most interesting to keep an eye on. Ruel is 100% current, Wiegersma is semi-detached, Rubin showed here that he is a potential monster-in-waiting for 2009, and Turian remains barred from competition (only because of his Wizards employment, for those of you coming to the whole HOF thing for the first time). Dirk meanwhile could turn out to be a regular attendee, or vanish forever (which I believe is the case with Olle Rade, not having seen him take advantage of his invite, as far as I can recall).

Corey Baumeister is a quietly-spoken good guy from the States who, thanks to the concertina effect of the standings at Worlds, where multiple formats tend to compress the field, and getting clear is harder than normal, came into the last day with a shot at Top 8. Although 7 points in Extended wasn’t enough, and never threatened to be, he can still be pleased with 31 points and 78th place, and I expect Corey to become more noticeable at the back end of Premier events next year.

Sam Black had a topsy-turvy weekend. He began by pacing the U.S. Team through Day 1, with a 5-1 Standard record. Draft was a push at 3-3, and then the wheels came off in Extended, with a win over Helmut Summersberger and a draw against Rookie of the Year Aaron Nicastri the only bright spots in an otherwise miserable day. With Black also the Extended player in the team event, that can’t have left him feeling particularly perky going into Sunday, but once there he again played his part in delivering the Team Title. Long after finishing 123rd has faded, his name will remain on the trophy, and for a man who knows the ins and outs of so many games, I believe this was just reward.

You may not know much about Daniel Bretherton, but his 21 points, representing a 7 wins 11 losses campaign, says much about how tough the competition is at the highest level. Amongst his losses: David Irvine, Kazuya Mitamura, Makahito Mihara, Jelger Wiegersma, Uri Peleg, Adam Yurchick, William Cavaglieri… In order to get into contention, probably 5 of these 7 needed to be wins, plus handily defeating the players you haven’t heard of. Swiss itself is a brutal mechanism for finding the best, but when you play names like these and are in the bottom half of the field for much of the time, you begin to realise what a mountain there is to climb.

Cristian Broens from Spain finished 129th, in the last of the 30 point finishes on tiebreaks. I mention him because of his outstanding stickability, something I really admire in players. He started 1-5, but finished 9-3 to compile his 10-8 record. With a better Standard deck, or matchups, he was in Top 8 form.

Petr Brozek made an early push, going 5-1 in Standard, but the man from the Czech Republic couldn’t make any headway in Draft at 3-3. It’s hard to argue with Ben Lundquist, Hannes Kerem, and Patrick Chapin as to the quality of his three losses, and at 8-4 he was in good shape coming into the final day. 4-2 left him in 22nd place, and while nobody wants to settle for less than the best, I reckon if you’d offered him Top 32 at the start of the week he’d have bitten your hand off.

The likeable New Zealander Gene Brumby had kept the flag flying with two opening days of great Magic, leaving him at 9-3 and bang in contention. It wasn’t to be, as a succession of Japanese Pros including Kenji Tsumura and Yuuya Watanabe put paid to his chances, with only Brit Ioannis Kyriazis donating the three points. That meant a major subsidence to 10-8, not really reflecting a good week’s work.

Also coming into the final day on 9-3 was Manuel Bucher, and with Extended coming, you would have felt he was in prime position for a run to Sunday. Didn’t happen, and from 5-1 in Standard things tailed off, leaving him in 26th. It’s a measure of how far he’s come in the game that a year ago he was fairly unknown, with plenty of people shrugging as he went about winning the Team World Title with his Swiss teammates. Now, 26th seems underpar. Massive potential for 2009.

C is for Carvalho. Marcio was one of the four people who could have taken the Player of the Year title away from Shuuhei Nakamura, but he was in a deep 0-2 hole early, and got very little help from his Portuguese team. He battled back to a positive record, something he maintained in all three disciplines, but 45th was as close as he could get, and he was never a threat to the Japanese champion elect.

I expected a lot from Italian National Champion William Cavaglieri, and had Italy as my dark horses to sneak into the semi-finals. It turned out to be a frustrating week all round, with the team not in contention, and Cavaglieri sticking at 3-3, 3-3, 3-3, including plenty of losses against less than fabulous opposition. A missed opportunity perhaps.

Our own Patrick Chapin came in 53rd. He began the week just as he left off in New York, destroying people, and stood at 5-1 overnight. A self-confessed Constructed bias (you knew that, right?) meant that he can’t have been too upset at an even 3-3 that took him into Extended with chances. Jason Imperiale and Carlos Pal handed him defeats that took him out of the reckoning, and he also had a handsome concession to a friend in need. As always, expect a ton of great stories from Mr C in 2009.

Paul Cheon finished 46th in the individual standings, but first in the Team, and that’s no bad weekend. For the second time this year (Kuala Lumpur was the first), Paul was in grim physical shape for a Pro Tour, and was pretty miserable en route to a 6-6 standing after 2 days play. Only Marcio Carvalho prevented him sweeping Extended, and even then could only secure a draw. You might think that this outstanding record was achieved against middle-rank also-rans, but Yuuta Takahashi, Amiel Tenenbaum, Patrizio Golia, Gene Brumby, and Martin Juza are not my idea of an easy schedule. Ultimately, Paul delivered on both Saturday and Sunday, and it’s likely that his wellbeing contributed to his sluggish start. He leaves the Pro scene, at least for now, with another well-deserved title.

It was a case of ‘so nearly’ for Justin Cheung of Australia. He was the unlikely hero of Standard, joining two Americans and two Japanese with perfect records. Partly on the back of that, but with quality input from Brandon Lau and Aaron Nicastri, Australia edged past Malaysia into the Team semi-finals, and dispatched Brazil comprehensively. Cheung might have expected an even busier Sunday, but both Draft and Extended brought him a 3-3 record, and that left him in 23rd place. In the Team final, he found himself well and truly under the spotlight against Paul Cheon. It was a strange match, featuring possibly the most number of ‘draw-go’ discards ever seen on camera. In the end, a paucity of Green mana sources in the deck left him unable to force threats into play as his deck and options dwindled. Nicastri may be the big name in Aussie Magic, but this guy was very, very solid all weekend. If he thinks ‘if only,’ he probably should.

Naming five Croatian Magic players is likely a problem to all of you who aren’t Croatian, and I didn’t know much about Ognjen Cividini beforehand. However, the man we called The Onion (he makes opponents cry) put together a great sequence that left him in 14th place, a tremendous result.

D is for Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa of Brazil. If someone wants to disprove this, good luck to them, but I believe Paulo had the toughest Day 1 schedule of anyone. Willy Edel, Shuu Komuro, Gabriel Nassif, Antoine Ruel, Eduardo Sajgalik were all vanquished, and only Masashi Oiso spoiled the perfect start. With another 5-1 record in Draft, he spent almost the entire Extended portion of the event facing players who would show up for action Sunday. Although that included a win over Jamie Parke that finalized his place in the Top 8, Parke would get his revenge the following day. I think Paulo perhaps doesn’t get the recognition globally that he deserves. This was his 4th Pro Tour Top 8, and I think it’s his uncomplicated approach to the game (‘Faeries is the best deck, I’m one of the best players of the best deck, therefore that gives me a good chance’) that successfully masks a really deep thinker. I also think this case is ably supported by his monstrously in-depth Worlds report which features subtlety of decision making many of us can only aspire to. Once more, 2009 will see him as a serious threat at every event he enters.

Luiz Guilherme De Michielli was another Brazilian having a great run. A draw in the middle of the second day against Wai Kin Au Yong possibly cost him a Top 8 slot, although the final nail was driven in by Akira Asahara, the only man to beat him in Extended. Top 16 and Team semi-finalist. Surely that was at the top of his expectations coming in?

E is for Willy Edel, and our third Brazilian running. Losing to PVDdR in the opening round saw Edel spiral down towards the basement, and his 4-2 record in Draft included three free points via a Bye. You can’t fault him though, since he made the most of that boost to pile his way through Extended, losing only to John Pelcak on the final day. His 33 points, good enough for 66th individually, were a big part of Brazil’s unexpected run to the Team semis.

F is for Gerard Fabiano, who is starting to worry me a little. Thing is, he’s had a very good year, and this was a fair reflection of that, featuring a positive record across all three Formats, culminating in 43rd place. So why the concern? Simply, he doesn’t seem to be having much fun anymore, and the bounce has gone out of his stride. It’s to be hoped that his zest for the game can be rediscovered, because he’s a valuable part of the Pro scene, and as he has shown this year, is able to mix it with the very best.

Another player with a positive record across the board was Remi Fortier of France. The Pro Tour: Valencia winner was the very model of consistency, with consecutive 4-2 finishes. 36 Points was good enough for 28th place, but there were several losses against unfamiliar opposition that might have led to another Sunday run had he managed to convert. Nonetheless, I think it’s now time to elevate him in our perception from ‘curtailed Pro Tour winner’ to an ongoing shortlist candidate, and with the shift to multi-format Pro Tours next year, his stock looks set to continue to rise.

Right alongside Fortier, in 25th place, came Osamu Fujita. He was in good shape coming into the final day, having found only Frank Karsten better in Draft, but 3-3 in Extended left him well shy of the finish line. He was the victim of a vicious circle of defeats that successively knocked contenders out as the rounds ran out. Of his Extended defeats, only Antti Malin made it to Sunday, while Ben Rubin and Koutarou Ootsuka were unable to make their victories count.

G is for Charles Gindy, the Pro Tour: Hollywood winner. His Constructed prowess was on display in Extended, where he posted 5-1, but even records on the first two days left him far too much to do, leaving him on a creditable 33 Points. Can’t argue with his year as a whole, though — a part of Magic history is never a bad return.

H is for Mark Herberholz, who broke even at 9-9, but in a most uneven fashion. 4-2 in Standard was a decent start, and only Yuuta Takahashi could best him in Extended. If you’ve done the math, you’ve correctly identified that this left him with a grand total of zero Draft wins. I’m not entirely sure his heart, mind, or indeed either were present for the second Draft, but first Draft losses against Raphael Levy, Anton Lunau, and Glenn Shanley can’t have been easy to swallow for someone who is undoubtedly one of the most talented players in the game.

I is for Tsuyoshi Ikeda, who went about his business in a most effective manner. Aaron Nicastri prevented the Japanese man acing Day 1, and team captain Masashi Oiso also prevented a perfect record, this time in Draft on Day 2. The 10 Points he garnered in Extended were comfortably enough to see him through to Sunday play. Once there, he administered a comprehensive battering to the badly matched Frank Karsten, and then faced Jamie Parke in the semis, where his outstanding weekend came to an end. Incidentally, as one of the Japanese players I don’t know terribly well, I was really struck by his outstanding demeanour towards his opponents, whether in victory (frequent) or defeat (occasional). A real ambassador for the game, even under the lights, where pressure can reveal more than we might like about ourselves.

Two Americans come next in our round-up, and both were within a whisker of the Top 8. Jason Imperiale kept himself in contention with 4-2, 4-2, before making a push in Extended. Jamie Parke effectively ended his chances, and although finishing 10th, he was a clear point shy of Sunday. Perhaps looking back he’ll look to losses against Harald Stein and Igor Gurov in Draft and wonder what might have been. David Irvine meanwhile can both be tremendously proud and also somewhat exasperated, after a stellar comeback post-Standard. On the face of it, 10 Points was no disaster from six rounds on the opening day, and the fact that only Seth Manfield in Draft and eventual champion Antti Malin in Extended could take Points away from him indicates an extremely accomplished player, who really should have a PT Top 8 by now, given his skill set. Unfortunately those tiebreaks came back to haunt him, as he fell 0.7% short. Even more tediously, the tiebreaks weren’t against someone with a fabulous 6-0 record from Standard. Instead, they were up against Jamie Parke, who himself had only managed 7 Points in Standard. When it’s your time, it really is, and Jamie’s opponents clearly did the business when it came to beating up on others in the draw. Irvine, though presumably appropriately distressed at that final outcome, can derive plenty of satisfaction from being in what BDM calls the ‘virtual’ Top 8, places 9-16. He just probably wishes it wasn’t ninth.

J is for Michael Jacob, the U.S. National Champion. My perception of him coming into Memphis was of an extremely private, taciturn man who actively shunned attention, and was in some ways quite intimidating in terms of the psychological wall he established between himself and his opponents. Having spent a deal of time watching him in action at Worlds, that wasn’t the case. For the most part, he was smiling, apparently relaxed, joking with friends and opponents alike, and seemed an altogether happier player for it. In the main event his even 3-3 record in Standard was highlighted by wins over lesser lights and defeats against the better known trio of Robert van Medevoort, Manuel Bucher, and Charles Gindy. His 10-7-1 record is obviously only half the story, since he seemed to excel at Team play. Whether winning or losing individually, he was a superb teammate, both looking for advice and giving it. Probably relieved that his five-card hand wasn’t required to pull off a major underdog victory in the Final, he was a deserving World Champion with Cheon and Black, and to my mind his openness and apparent ability to enjoy the game can’t have done him any harm.

Denmark hasn’t had a ton to write home about of late, but David Jensen nearly catapulted them into the spotlight with an outstanding run that saw him finish 12th, just a point away from the Top 8. For the most part he faced a reasonable schedule, with Paul Cheon (win) and Matthias Kunzler (loss) his main opponents in Standard. He reversed that loss to Kunzler on Day 2 in Draft, and added Raphael Levy to his conquests. At 8-4, he was able to avoid many of the big names on the final day, but you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and he did so, until Petr Brozek of the Czech Republic ensured he would end up close, but with no cigar.

A year ago, we could have looked at the 33 Points of Martin Juza and said something highly complimentary. Twelve months on, and that seems a disappointing return, especially when you look inside the numbers. 4-2 in Standard (probably a win shy of his expectations) and 5-1 in Draft (which included wins over Kenji Tsumura and Masaya Kitayama) left him in good shape. Theoretically, he also had an edge over many of his rivals, having gone almost all the way in the Extended Pro Tour: Berlin only a few weeks earlier. David Irvine, Stephen Murray, Jason Imperiale and Paul Cheon showed that a few weeks can be a very long time in a Metagame, and 6 Points from the final day was a miserable return. Still, let’s look on the bright side. 50th place here was, astonishingly, his worst Pro Tour return of the year. He finished inside the Top 10 in the Player of the Year Race, played in relatively few Grand Prix tournaments, and now looks to 2009 as one of the most promising recent additions to the Pro ranks, with every chance of repeating his outstanding reliable finishes of this year. A tremendous 12 months.

K is for Frank Karsten. One of the more surreal conversations of my week in Memphis was explaining to him exactly why I’d picked him in my speculative Top 8. Highlight of his path to the Top 8 was for me his loss in Draft to Olivier Ruel, incidentally Karsten’s only Draft loss in the last two years at Worlds. That’s 11-1 at Worlds 07/08, in case you’re wondering. He was undefeated in Extended, comfortably drawing his way into Sunday against Hannes Kerem and Tsuyoshi Ikeda. Given the way that matchups fell, Karsten might have regrets that he didn’t try to — technical term coming up — shaft Ikeda in the dying rounds of the Swiss, since he certainly felt the pain come Sunday morning. How much time FK has for the game in 2009 is uncertain, but his outstanding analysis of the Metagame, deckbuilding, combat math, and his undisputed title of Skipping Pro of the Year are just some of the reasons the Pro Tour is a better place with the Dutchman in it.

Also making the Top 8 was one of the real surprises of the event, Hannes Kerem of Estonia, here by virtue of being National Champion. His Kithkin deck had taken him to a strong 5-1 start, and he replicated those numbers in Draft, only Sam Black preventing him from sharing the overall lead coming into Extended. Although he posted losses to both Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa and Kenji Tsumura, his nerve held, and he faced Tsumura again on Sunday. In a tense match, he again stood firm, and bested Kenji by 3-2. In an all-Euro clash in the semis, Champion Antti Malin proved the stronger, but with 16 Points here to go with 10 from his Nationals victory, Kerem will now have 2009 to look forward to as a fully-fledged member of the Pro ranks.

The last of the Ks is Shingou Kurihara. Twelve months ago he was in the thick of the Player of the Year Race, but 2008 saw him cut down his schedule. Off a minimal testing regime he was admirably consistent, with 11 wins and a draw spread evenly across the Formats. With so many talented Japanese players, we tend to very quickly forget players who leave the main stage for a while, but Kurihara has shown before that he is not to be discounted, and a fuller calendar in 2009 would make him one to watch.

Okay, 35 down, 40 or so to go, and we’ll head from L to Z next week, when the world will be just that little bit older. Happy New Year, and, as ever, thanks for reading.