Removed From Game – Worlds Report Card Part 2

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Wednesday, December 23rd – Another forty names get their turn in the spotlight, as the Pro season gets put to bed before gearing up for another global onslaught in 2010.

We ended last week with a look at Yuuya Watanabe, who managed to survive a 10-8 record to be crowned Player of the Year. Now we continue our climb up the leaderboard, starting with…

32 points — Mat Marr: The likeable American — and just to be clear, I don’t mean The likeable American, since there’s at least two — Mat ended his year with an unexciting 5 points in Extended. That pushed him out of contention, which was a pity, since he’d come into the final day with a 9-3 record, and was loving every second. That last day disappointment shouldn’t detract from the fact that he’s had a thoroughly good 2009, which began with a Top 8 at Grand Prix: Los Angeles, and there were signs in Rome that 2010 is going to be even better.

33 points — Mateusz Kopec: It’s fair to say that Poland isn’t exactly stacked with Magical talent, so it’s possible that Kopec is rather more in the spotlight than he might be if he were, say, French. He came to prominence winning Grand Prix: Vienna in 2007 in a huge Extended field, and here he didn’t disappoint, destroying the field on the final day, going 6-0 in his favorite Format. Had he been a bit closer than 5-7, that undeniable talent could have resulted in a higher-profile result. Nonetheless, any time Extended is in the mix — as it will be once again at Pro Tour: Amsterdam — Kopec is the real deal.

33 points — Ari Lax: Ari needed to make the Top 200 in Rome to secure his first season of Magic as a fully-fledged Pro at Level 4. On the back of a perfect Draft day, he achieved his goal. I suspect he’ll be worth watching next year, not least because he uses every trick in the book to find an edge. Some players have a knack of beating you even when you’ve got the better cards. There are few players I’d less like to face than Ari.

33 points — Patrick Chapin: Self-awareness is a massive asset in this game, and it’s one of the few attributes that almost all successful players share. PC was very open about his lack of success this year, and that in itself is a positive sign for next year.

33 points — Akira Asahara: For many people, 11-7 would be a major achievement. Asahara was at the sharp end twelve months ago, and looked every inch a contender. In that context, coming into the final day on 7-5 must have felt very ordinary. Asahara doesn’t have the reputation of some of his fellow Japanese stars, but to my mind that’s an oversight, since (most of the time) he operates at a very high level.

33 points — Luis Scott-Vargas: A most perplexing 2-4 in Standard put paid to LSV almost before his challenge had begun. To be fair, it’s still been a great year, with that spectacular run to the final in Pro Tour: Kyoto probably the highlight. Whether he will ever become Player of the Year is debatable, since it’s increasingly clear that he isn’t going to be doing the whole run of global Grand Prix, not least because he’s busy with his other Magic interests away from the tournament tables.

The way that the 2010 season is set up, it’s designed so that Pros will take part in the Grand Prix immediately preceding each Pro Tour. With two of those being in North America prior to Pro Tours in San Diego and San Juan, you can be sure of a significant European and Japanese showing at those events, and that’s the kind of place (like Grand Prix: Los Angeles this year) where LSV might look to make up ground.

33 points — Asaf Shomer: One of the great things about Worlds is that it gives us the chance to highlight talented performers who don’t live the Pro lifestyle. Asaf Shomer isn’t a name many of you will know, but he’s been turning up for Worlds on a semi-regular basis for ages, and scored yet another creditable positive record, continuing a fine Israeli tradition at this event, highlighted of course by Uri Peleg winning in 2007.

33 points — Seraj Haroun: In my Team preview, I remarked, perhaps a little slightingly, about South Africa having six career Grand Prix Top 8s, and all of them coming in Cape Town. I was rightly taken to task by several from that proud nation, who pointed out some geographical and economic truths that cause players from there some serious difficulties in globetrotting. With just three losses coming into Extended, Seraj was right in the mix to become the first South African in a Pro Tour Top 8. His six points from Extended suggest a chastening experience, but his four losses were to Tomoharu Saitou, Makihito Mihara, Mario Pascoli, and Lukas Jaklovsky (part of the all-conquering Czech Team). Certainly not a disgrace, any of them, and a good result overall.

33 points — Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa: As well as sharing the same points total, Paulo has some other things in common with our previous entry. On the face of it, Paulo’s 3-3 record in Draft represented a miserly return, but two of his three defeats were to Shouta Yasooka, and the same Makihito Mihara that Haroun couldn’t beat when it counted. It says much about Paulo’s standing in the game that 11-7 has to stand as a disappointment. That Brazil also missed out on Sunday action was another blow, but safely looking forward to a year of Level 8 benefits in 2010 will have softened the impact.

33 points — Adam Yurchick: Magic is a game full of opinions, and it’s often a case of who can shout the loudest. At Pro Tours, quiet, thoughtful, and good guys like Yurchick sometimes get lost, as we focus in on Player of the Year and so on. It’s therefore taken me a while to realize what an asset Yurchick is to the Pro game. In particular, he handled the disqualification of Team leader Charles Gindy, and still went on to post a decent record. He’s been breathtakingly close to a Pro Tour Top 8 before now, missing out on tiebreaks in Pro Tour: Hollywood 2008, and I expect him to take that next step in 2010.

34 points — Christopher Wolf: Now this is freaky. I mean, seriously weird. So, the reason I’m giving Chris a mention is that he was the Austrian who came to Worlds last year and managed to Draft an incredible deck featuring a bunch of Glaze Fiends. I wasn’t quite sure how many, even though I knew it was an absurd number, but thought I’d better dig through the archives to check. Turned out, it was seven. Now comes the weird bit. Right next to my article about Chris is another blog piece by Bill Stark about another player who managed to Draft seven copies of the 0/1. That player? No, not Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Adam Yurchick. The links, they just keep on coming…

34 points — Raphael Levy: Generally, I have a good imagination, but trying to get inside the mindset of R. Levy is well beyond me. You’re a Hall of Famer, you have multiple Grand Prix titles, you’re consistently better than most people on the Pro Tour. It doesn’t matter what the Format is, it doesn’t matter how many rounds, it doesn’t matter who the ‘best’ players are that year, Raph continues to play at a magnificently high level.

However, he still doesn’t have a Pro Tour title. Now, in Austin, he was millimeters away from the Top 8, so it seems reasonable to assume that he turns up thinking he can win one of these things. And yet, when you’re so regularly better than most other people, but can’t get over the hump, do you travel more in hope than expectation? Frank Karsten told me with a few rounds to go in Memphis last year that he never won anything, ever, and didn’t expect to. Does Levy feel the same, and settles for beating most of the people most of the time, or is he screaming inside in frustration at the space on the mantelpiece for a Pro Tour trophy?

34 points — Naoki Shimizu: Three losses in Standard against moderate opposition more or less torpedoed Shimizu’s challenge in Rome, but he went 5-1 in Draft. Coming on the back of a Top 8 performance at Pro Tour: Austin, he showed enough at Worlds to suggest that he could contend again sooner rather than later.

34 points — Gabriel Nassif: I’ve already related the story of Gab going Ultimate with Nicol Bolas, but while that certainly adds to the collection of great memories down the years with Nassif, the deck didn’t really do him any favors, with him ending Standard on 3-3. To his credit, he fought back on Draft day, posting a 5-1 record which still left him in the hunt, but he couldn’t maintain his challenge down the stretch. And so, the season ended without a Player of the Year title, but with a Pro Tour title from Kyoto, and a Grand Prix title the week later in Chicago. Not too shabby, really. Imagine if he decided to devote himself to the game again, rather than treating it as a hobby. Scary.

34 points — Conley Woods: It’s possible that 2009 is the last we’ll hear of Conley Woods, Master Deckbuilder. If that’s true, his four points from Extended, when ten would probably have secured a Top 8 berth, will be seen as failure to grasp his one real opportunity to turn quality decklists into quality results at the highest level.

Much more likely, is that this is just a stepping stone on a journey that could well propel him to the top of the game. With ‘real life’ lining up nicely behind a run at something special in 2010, Conley seems well-positioned to benefit from the relatively recent transition in Pro Tour seasons, whereby every PT features at least one Constructed Format. If he’s at 10-2 after two days next year, don’t expect him to run out of steam again. By Chiba, he could be battling for the biggest title in the game.

34 points — Martin Juza: Like Conley Woods, Juza was well in touch coming into Extended, and well out of it by the end. Having started out an immaculate 5-0, Juza ran into the Metagame roadblock that was Joel Calafell with his Jacerator deck, and although Martin exacted a measure of revenge on Day 2 in Draft, Yuuya Watanabe remained uncatchable in the Player of the Year Race, much as Martin had said he would, as the Grand Prix, and then Rome rounds, started to run out.

36 points — Niels Noorlander: I get to do many, many interviews each year, and you start to develop a sense of when you’re hearing something that’s going to sound great coming out of speakers around the world. I got that feeling when interviewing Noorlander at Grand Prix: Paris a few weeks before Rome. Ostensibly, I was talking to him because he’d made the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Paris in 2008, which at the time was the largest Magic tournament in history. He was also a Team member of the Netherlands Team for Worlds, and I asked him how he felt about that. In utterly straightforward words, straight from the heart, he said:

‘I love Magic. I love my country.’

Worlds of course combined the two for him, and I’m glad that he had such a successful time, both personally, and from a Team perspective, where they reached the semi-finals.

36 points — Mario Pascoli: Since playing second fiddle to Jon Finkel in Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur in 2008, this multiple Italian Champion has been fairly quiet. At this point in the standings, we’re dealing with people who usually have at least two successful Formats, and in the case of Pascoli, things kept getting better. 3-3 in Standard, 4-2 in Draft, and 5-1 in Extended left him four points short of the Top 8, but still with a good end to the season.

36 points — Brad Nelson: I’m always a little bit nervous when it comes to making the lifestyle video piece at Pro Tours, because a lot of it depends on what kind of connection I make with the players concerned. I’ve known the Ruels for a while, and like Brad’s brother Corey a good deal. Brad was the unknown quantity in the equation. Thing is, he’s quite forbidding at first glance. He’s a big guy, a smoker, doesn’t seem to smile a lot… in the brief time he’s been on Tour, I’ve never felt the urge to just go and strike up a conversation.

As it turned out, Brad’s a top man. A 4-2 record across each of the three formats slightly distorts the fact that he was in contention for much of the contest, rather than catching up once his chance had gone. With this only his third Pro Tour, there are few more exciting prospects than seeing him attack a full Pro season next year.

36 points — AJ Sacher: In a successful campaign, AJ took some notable scalps in Rome, including Gabriel Nassif and Rookie of the Year contender Akimasa Yamamoto in Standard, and Luis Scott-Vargas in Extended. More significant were his Draft day defeats to the likes of Christophe Gregoir and David Ochoa, which contributed to a 2-4 middle day that effectively ruined his chances. AJ is part of a large group of competent U.S. players, any of whom could emerge from the pack on any given day, and two 5-1 performances in Constructed bode well for 2010.

36 points — Brandon Scheel: Coming into the final day, Brandon stood at 8-4, with no losses left to give. How different things might have been if he hadn’t opened 2-4 in Standard. Although it’s tempting to suggest that he had an easy run on Draft day, because he faced a pod of 2-4 and then 5-4, the fact is that his 6-0 run came at the expense of some decent players – Matthias Kunzler, Lucas Blohon, and Yoshitaka Nakano amongst them.

36 points — Makihito Mihara: The 2006 World Champion began strong and fell away down the stretch. In the end, he couldn’t win the matches that really mattered, with every one of his defeats coming at the hands of players in contention, including David Reitbauer, Marijn Lybaert, Bram Snepvangers (all Top 8) plus the stupidly tough to beat Tomoharu Saitou, Shouta Yasooka, and Robert Jurkovic. And two of those are up next…

37 points — Tomoharu Saitou: With Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Gabriel Nassif, and Martin Juza gradually falling away, the Player of the Year Race came down to a straight fight of Saitou versus the tournament. There was nothing Watanabe could do except watch to see if Saitou could take the contest into the final day of the year. He certainly made things interesting by acing Standard 6-0, but I suspect quite low on his Christmas card list will be Marijn Lybaert, who defeated Saitou in both Draft and Extended. In the end, it came down to a final round match against the Czech player Adam Koska. Although that made it close, the reality is that 6-5-1 isn’t a two day record that you expect to be rewarded.

37 points — Shouta Yasooka: Worlds was a tournament that seemed to have all sorts of ‘dual’ storylines. Snepvangers plus the Netherlands could have been double Dutch. Reitbauer plus the Austrians could have happened. Robert Jurkovic was in contention for Top 8 in the main event and the final of the Online Championship, and that was also the case for 2006 Player of the Year Shouta Yasooka. Like Mihara, Yasooka’s scores fell downward through the week (15,12,10) and the majority of his defeats were against players who made the Top 8.

It was ultimately a disappointing 24 hours for Yasooka, who lost the Online final on Sunday morning in double-quick time to Anssi Myllymaki.

39 points — Michael Jacob: MJ was one of the players I was following through the event coverage, as someone who had a particular goal that had nothing to do with winning the actual tournament. With five rounds to go, Jacob stood in 89th place, and needed to accelerate past 56 others to reach the Top 32. His reward would be Level 6 benefits for next season. With wins over Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Johan Sadeghpour, Per Nystrom, Julien de Graat, Tobias Grafensteiner, and Brad Nelson, Jacob completed his mission with room to spare.

On a personal note, he’s always struck me as a highly intense player, and that’s something that he shares with much of the RIW team. That said, Rome found him the most relaxed and at peace with himself that I’ve ever seen him, and I do wonder whether that contributed in some way to his success. Either way, as a relative newcomer to the Pro scene, it’ll be good to see his progress next year.

39 points – Przemyslaw Nagadowski: There are some bits of Magic knowledge that, in the normal run of events, you just shouldn’t know. With respect, ‘A History of Magic in Luxembourg’ qualifies in this regard. Thing is, one of the traders on the European Grand Prix lives there, and regularly gives me chapter and verse on the state of his great nation. Then, in a ritual that never gets old, he asks me whether I’ll be covering his National Championships the next time around. Well, I’m still not thinking that’s too likely, but your boy certainly done good. Creaming his way through Extended, Luxembourg’s finest ended up just a point out of the Top 8, and I’m fairly confident that this represents the best individual performance from that nation.

39 points — David Ochoa: I’ve started this entry three times. First attempt was this: ‘Another member of the powerful Luis Scott-Vargas stable.’ I had to kill that opening, because it suggests there’s some kind of top secret genetic research facility owned by LSV, breeding a race of super-players. Then I went for this: ‘Yet another successful LSV acolyte,’ and realized that had to go as well, because it suggests that there’s a group of less-talented players trying to feed off the success of LSV. I don’t want to give that impression either. Here’s the third attempt:

At any given tournament, it’s a good bet that someone close to LSV will be in the hunt. This time it was David Ochoa coming right to the edge of the Top 8. There seems to be a growing group of talented players who have coalesced around LSV in California, and are pushing each other to higher and higher standards. Softly spoken, and, even amongst hundreds of smart people, someone for whom the term ‘cerebral’ applies, Ochoa had a series of near-misses on Draft day. He could easily have been 5-1 out of that Format, but ended 3-3, and that ultimately left him coming up short. If you don’t know him yet, watch out, because next year you probably will.

39 points — Petr Brozek: 5-1 became 10-2, and Brozek came into Extended in great shape. Unfortunately, he could only manage an even 3-3 on the final day, and all three defeats came at the hands of players who would make the Top 8. Highlight therefore would have to be Draft day, where he monstered his way past William Cavaglieri, Martin Juza, Tomoharu Saitou, and Shouta Yasooka. That suggests that he’s yet another very serious Czech export.

39 points — Robert Jurkovic: The man from the Slovak Republic had an identical record to Brozek, going 3-3 in Extended, but I do wonder what part fatigue played in that final day. Jurkovic was part of the Magic Online Championship, and so had played three extra rounds after close of play in the main event on each of the first two days. It’s clear from both Jurkovic and Shouta Yasooka that it’s entirely feasible to suggest that next year somebody could be involved at the sharp end of all three major competitions — Main, Team, and Online.

In that scenario, it’s possible that someone would have to play up to thirty seven rounds of Magic across four days. I believe ‘herculean’ is the word that applies to that task. Picture the scene. You play six rounds of Standard on Day One. Then you play for the Team in two further rounds, probably playing a different Format. Then you play three Online rounds. Then you go to bed. On Day 2, you ‘just’ do three Drafts and play nine rounds, six in real life, and three online. On Saturday, when you’re potentially facing matches worth thousands of dollars, you play two Team rounds, then six Main event rounds in Extended, then three more Online rounds.

Then you come back on Sunday morning. You play your Quarter Final. Then you go play the Team Semi-Final while the rest of the Quarters are finishing. During ‘lunch,’ you go and win the Online Championship. You play your Semi Final. Then you play the Team Final. And then you win the Final and become World Champion, Team World Champion, and Magic Online World Champion.

You might be thinking this is all pretty far-fetched, and to the extent that a collection of high-pressure matches have to all line up in one direction you’d be right. However, even without thinking for more than a couple of seconds I could name you a Brad Nelson, a Shouta Yasooka, a Robert Jurkovic, or a Luis Scott-Vargas who could all easily be on their National squad next year, and in the Magic Online Championship. The new Iron Man of Magic award is waiting to be collected…

39 points — Adam Koska: And so we come to the last man who didn’t make it to Sunday play, and for the second time this year it’s Adam Koska of the Czech Republic. He missed out on tiebreakers, and I guess it’s easy to see why. On the final day, only Florian Pils of his six opponents made it to the Top 8, and Koska lost that match. In terms of pure performance, you’d have to be happy if you were Koska. So few players get within sniffing distance of the Top 8, and he was there twice in four attempts during 2009. The only real downside, apart from missing out on the Sunday experience, is that the cash payout rises so steeply once you’re over the threshold. Still, Koska gets automatically added to the list of awesome Czechs who are turning out in increasing numbers, and who may turn out to be the story of the 2010 season.

8th place — Florian Pils: Solid but unspectacular would probably describe Pils as a Pro quite nicely, and solid but unspectacular certainly describes his three days. 4-2 in Standard, 5-1 in Draft, 4-1-1 in Extended… none of these performances were in and of themselves extraordinary or headline-grabbing. What they all were was consistent, efficient, and devoid of gigantic metagame errors that always spell doom for a Worlds campaign.

On Sunday, he faced David Reitbauer, which was as good a matchup as he could have wished. I’m not saying that from a card point of view, where the Jund mirror was always likely to be something of a toss-up, but in terms of playing Reitbauer. Sunday play can really affect some players, but Pils and Reitbauer are long-time friends and Pro Tour travelling companions, and proceeded to have a fantastically good-hearted quarter final, which the Austrian swept 3-0. Still, Pils had a terrific run, and can’t quibble with the best part of $10,000 for his work.

7th place — Marijn Lybaert: Since he lost in the quarter final for the third time, it’s tempting to feel sorry for Marijn. I absolutely don’t, since his primary goal of leaving the door open for another Pro year was achieved with this result. Marijn is a good example of why betting on the outcomes of Pro Tours would be a hazardous business, since he’s a machine when he’s had time to practice hard and learn a Format thoroughly, and an also-ran when he hasn’t. Whilst he’s unlikely to be making any kind of Player of the Year run in 2010 because of this, there’s a good chance that it will all come together at least once in the next twelve months.

6th place — Manuel Bucher: One thing we simply don’t have the resources to do during the event itself is to look in detail at the standings round by round. Yes, we get to catch our breath at the end of each day, and we all understand that there’s a chance that somebody will piece together a run down the stretch and come from virtually nowhere to claim a Sunday seat. Trying to spot Manuel Bucher at 5-4 as the man who would do exactly that is the proverbial needle in the haystack. He only really came into view with a couple of rounds to go, by which time Manuel was already on a 7-0 run.

Evan Erwin compelling video evidence suggests that Manuel was stretched to the limit. As the pairings went up for the final round, he was imploring the Ruels to take the decision out of his hands, and simply tell him whether he needed to play the final round, or could afford to draw in. Their suggestion that he might well draw himself out of the Top 8 was clearly a blow, and it’s to his credit that he squared up to yet another must-win encounter and came through it.

In the event, that was the last match he won on the weekend, with Terry Soh claiming victory by the odd game in five. Whilst I’m sure that was disappointing for Bucher, it came at the end of a season where he couldn’t buy a win when it mattered, and those precious Pro Points has him coming back as a Level 5 next year.

5th place — William Cavaglieri: It was great that there was a home turf representative in the Top 8, and Cavaglieri took the pressure of huge expectation in a calm manner. Like Bucher, he had come into Extended needing a perfect day, and had delivered exactly that. His quarter final matchup against Bram Snepvangers looked like it could favor him, with all his many ways to generate tokens being a serious roadblock to the Boros deck of his Dutch opponent. In a long and drawn-out match, Bram patiently maneuvered his way to victory 3-2, and the last chance of an Italian Champion was gone. Still, a terrific performance.

4th place — Bram Snepvangers: It took twelve rounds to do it, but Bram was the man who finally ended Marijn Lybaert unbeaten start to the event. Thereby leading into the final day, Bram suffered a first round reversal in Extended courtesy of Marijn’s awesome 1 v 1 Metagame call to switch decks. Unfazed, Bram — who really has seen it all before — edged his way to the Top 8, and in the process broke the 300 lifetime Pro Point barrier, taking him into some seriously elite company.

Following his lengthy quarter final against Cavaglieri, Bram returned for a semi-final matchup against Andre Coimbra. Bram led 2-1, but Coimbra held his nerve and took the decider. With yet another Top 8 to his name, Bram had to be pleased with his working week, but a Pro Tour title remains elusive.

3rd place — Terry Soh: The main reason the Malaysian had travelled to Rome was to accompany his brother, Joe. Together they had played successfully in the Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour in San Diego, and here Joe was playing as the Malaysian National Champion. It was Terry who put in the stellar performance, with a decent 4-2 in Standard leading to 5-1 in both Draft and Extended.

Soh faced David Reitbauer in the semis, and this one also went the distance. Jund prevailed, but Soh went home having made a good many friends by his excellent demeanor at and away from the table, and also $15,000 better off.

2nd place — David Reitbauer: Reitbauer first came to our attention on the coverage when he sat down for Pod One at the start of Day Two. He was sandwiched in and amongst some phenomenal talent, and it was easy to dismiss Reitbauer as just another journeyman Pro, about to get blown away by bigger and better names. That seemed confirmed when he went 1-2 in his first Draft, but he recovered with a 3-0 that left him in great shape coming into Extended.

Reitbauer was the third player in the Top 8 to have an undefeated Standard deck, and must have felt he was favorite coming into the final, despite the fact that Coimbra’s deck was supposedly a ‘Jund killer.’ Unquestionably, that’s how it all turned out, with the deck utterly savaged in the mana department. That said, it’s always nice when you can see what it means to a player to be living the dream, and with each win, Reitbauer couldn’t contain his excitement. I think that’s great, and his perseverance in the middle ranks over the last few years is an example to many. Your day may not come, but it certainly CAN.

1st place — Andre Coimbra: As can happen in multi-Format events, the Best Deck doesn’t always win, and even with the final win over Reitbauer, Coimbra ended on 7-2 in Standard, a win behind Reitbauer. Still, he got the job done when it really mattered, and in truth it was during his second day performance, where he went 6-0 in Draft, that this Worlds was really won.

At the close of the final, he seemed to be utterly in a state of shock, and with a plane to catch less than an hour after the final ended, I imagine his sense of unreality and dislocation prevailed for a while. With just one Pro Tour invite via his Level 3 status, Coimbra literally took it to the max, and has Level 5 next year as a result. For various reasons, the last three World Champions (Makihito Mihara, Uri Peleg, and Antti Malin) haven’t been especially prominent the following year, either by their presence, or their success. It would be nice to think we’d see Coimbra contending next year, and not waiting until Worlds before we see him again.

And, until the whole circus kicks off again in February, we’re done with the Pro scene. Over the next couple of Holiday weeks, I’ll be running a series of mini-articles designed to help newer players with some insights into the world of Standard… a sort of ‘Standard Academy,’ if you will. But for now, as ever, thanks for reading, and a very happy and peaceful Christmas to you all.