Removed From Game – Yet More Disappointments

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Tuesday, June 17th – From 200 all the way up to Charles Gindy in first, Rich Hagon runs his eye over the results sheets from Pro Tour: Hollywood, bringing us his usual blend of insight, wit, curiosity, root vegetables, controversy and – on this occasion – an abject, grovelling apology. Spineless, that’s what I say.

We left the Pro Tour: Hollywood standings at the 200 mark, with Kenneth Castor of the USA settling for the baseline 2 Pro Points in 201st, and Supakit Charoenkul from Thailand getting a bonus point for finishing 200th.

Before we start, I’d like to briefly address something that came out of last week’s missive. First, genuine thanks to the many of you who joined a most excellent discussion in the forums. I hope you learned as much as I did. Having said that, the discussion came at a price, and several of you were sufficiently unhappy with my comments about cheating and investigations (general and specific) to email me directly to vent assorted spleens. With more than a quarter of a million words written here on SCG, it’s inevitable that from time to time my writing skills fail me, and don’t quite convey what I intend. In particular, my suggestion that, in ruling against Jacob van Lunen the powers that be must, effectively by default, be regarding him as a ‘dirty great cheat’ met with profound disapproval in several quarters. Assorted men and women of substance have taken the time to set me straight on this one, and the official view was that a natural mistake had been made, rather than anything underhand occurring. I apologise for suggesting otherwise in such an intemperate fashion. I will of course continue to voice opinions temperate and otherwise, with hopefully a higher success rate than last time out of the gates.

But now it’s time for more tales of misery, as I take you all the way to the top. Let’s go.

Testing Testing 197.

197 – Gerard Fabiano – USA

I understand that Gerard is all about having fun, and that for him part of that is not taking the game too seriously. I was still surprised to hear him on The Magic Show saying that he thinks playtesting isn’t important, especially in light of his recent Grand Prix win. Then again, if he won the GP without testing much, perhaps that works for him. Just a thought, chances are it won’t work for you. Under that fun exterior, Fabiano’s actually very very good at Magic.

Not the Brazil Nuts

191 – Willy Edel – Brazil

There was a time, and less than three years ago, that Willy was on most people’s lists for Top 8 before any given high-level tournament began. His run of success took him to a position as (exchange rates an admitted factor) the most successful player in the world in financial terms. As a married man he has more responsibilities to provide than most on the Tour, and this may turn out to have been his last. If that turns out to be the case, I for one will miss him.

Holding the Fort

188 – Remi Fortier – France

When somebody comes from – apparently – nowhere to win a Pro Tour, as Fortier did in Valencia last year, we want more information. Was it a fluke, or was it the coming of age party for the Next Big Thing? As a young man (now 18 if memory serves) the $40,000 now sitting in Remi’s fledgling bank account probably means he’s not really bothered how he’s categorized. Still, it would be nice to think that he could cement his place among the elite by, I don’t know, making the final of a Grand Prix sometime soon. Oh wait, he has, taking Faeries all the way before losing to the White Weenie deck at the last hurdle in Birmingham the week after Hollywood. So that’s probably a much better indicator than this middle of the road finish.

A Rose By Any Other Name

184 – Sebastian Thaler – Germany

When Sebastian won Grand Prix: Athens back in 2006, his surname was Aljiaj. Since several reporters couldn’t accurately pronounce this name, he graciously agreed to allow members of the creative team at Wizards to give him a new one that was much easier to spell, but retained the flavor of being difficult to pronounce. This last sentence is of course a lie, but something that is true is that since winning the Rookie of the Year title that year and looking poised on the brink of full-time Superstar status with a Top 8 in Pro Tour: Yokohama last April, he’s since been extremely quiet. Whereas a year ago not making Day 2 would have been a noteworthy surprise, now it’s less curious to me, and I suspect to him also. Perhaps Berlin will see a return to form on home soil. I’d like to think so, because, tough opponent though he is, he’s also a really nice guy.

Three Musketeers

152 – Ben Lundquist — USA
153 – Jelger Wiegersma — Netherlands
154 – Osyp Lebedowicz – USA

Underlining the difficulties of making it through to Day 2 come these three, two of whom have won Pro Tours. While Lundquist is comfortably the least experienced – the others have 22 Grand Prix and Pro Tour Top 8s between them – all three will have anticipated progress to at least the lower echelons of Day 2. Whilst the PT winners may be somewhat living on past glories, Lundquist’s performance at Grand Prix: Vancouver, where only Paul Cheon bested him in the final, suggests that he might be on the verge of something even better.

Bubble Burst

148 – Jon Finkel – USA

The most recognisable name in Magic, arguably the best player in the history of the game, we certainly got our money’s worth last time he put in an appearance. Which was Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur, in case you’ve got a brain like a sieve. Which he won, in case that didn’t jog what passes for your memory. While Player of the Year was always likely to be a distant dream shared by fans rather than the man himself, it was still nice to see him travel the 3,000 miles across country to try his hand at this Constructed event. At 4-3 with one round to play, legions of fans were looking for their hero to sneak into Day 2 with his Merfolk, but Pedro Rodriguez of the USA blanked the Hall of Famer 2-0. Given that Jan Ruess of Germany took Merfolk all the way to the final, there were probably some very relieved people on 5-3 overnight looking at Finkel and being very glad he was on the wrong side of that result. So now, all things being equal, we wait for Memphis and Worlds to see Finkel in action again.

You say Either, I Say Either

145 – Jose Nassiff — Venezuela
51 – Gabriel Nassif – France

Alright, I’ve cracked under the pressure. I positively guarantee that what I’m about to say won’t improve your game, so this is strictly for the trivial/insane amongst you, like me. So let’s get it done. First we had Andre Mueller and Andreas Muller from Germany. Now we have two Nassif(f)s, from France and Venezuela respectively. So, assuming that Jose Nassiff and Andreas Muller are our first two qualifiers, let’s see if we can put together an Invitational line-up of 16, featuring players who share a surname with someone with genuine Magic pedigree. Answers in the forums please. My early money involves finding someone rubbish with the surname Jones. And don’t say Craig!

Unintentional, Presumably

134 – Gary Meinl — USA
135 – Nolan Chaney – USA

One very minor but interesting quirk of the scoring system at Pro Tours is that something mysterious happens overnight between Day 1 and Day 2. Draws start being good. Well, at least they can become good, depending on your perspective. For Meinl and Chaney I think we can presume their one draw of the day was unintentional, since it ultimately cost them their place on Saturday. These were the only two players with 4 wins, 3 losses and a draw, finishing up on 13 points. Thing is, on the second day, although that draw is still two points less than the people you’re chasing, it still gives you the lead over the folks chasing you. That may seem obvious, but there’s a powerful impact, since those one point behind know that no amount of tiebreak changing can get them past you. You simply have to lose to allow them past. We saw this to good effect in Kuala Lumpur with Raphael Levy, who achieved 13 points overnight. With two rounds to go, the players ranked 18th-39th couldn’t make the Top 8. Levy with his draw was 17th, and the last player still in with a shout. So sometimes that draw can become priceless. But don’t tell that to 134 and 135.

A Lack of Zac

132 – Zac Hill – USA

I’ve got some good news about the health of the game at the highest level. Sometimes Pros get a bad press because it only takes one of them to complain about a venue, or a prize pool, or a format, or having seven days in a week, whatever, and we’re back on the Whingeing Pro story. But when Zac said his farewells to the PT, at least for a while, he didn’t talk about missing turn 4 kills. He didn’t talk about cards at all, and he certainly didn’t talk about money. Instead, he talked about people, and how much he was going to miss the incredible folk he’d met over the last ten years. And the simple fact is that his attitude is pretty much universal. Sure, Pros are alpha-male competitors, and they want to win, but don’t let anyone tell you that all Pros care about is prize money. In my experience, the number one thing a Pro wants is to stay on Tour so they can continue to accumulate outstanding personal experiences, and that’s why there’s such genuine group tension at events like Worlds where it’s readily apparent that plenty of tickets on The Train are about to be torn up.

Unfashionable Norway

111 – Thomas Refsdal – Norway

Oyvind Andersen, one of the world’s most intriguing and original deckbuilders, has hung up his spurs, and that leaves Refsdal as part of an ever-dwindling high-level Scandinavian contingent. I just wanted to mark your card here, however, as I believe extremely good things are likely in Berlin. This guy is one of the best players you don’t know.

Target minus 104

105 – Paul Cheon – USA

I think I’m pretty much into rinse and repeat mode for Mr. C. He’s clearly good at the game, he wins Grand Prix tournaments left right and centre, and then disappoints at the Big Show. Surely Berlin or Worlds will be sufficient to finally see him over the hump and into Sunday play?

Burnt Toast

269 – Guillaume Matignon — France
99 – Antoine Ruel – France

Of the five players who caused the real deckbuilding buzz of the event with the Manuel Bucher-led Quick n Toast – don’t get me started – only World of Warcraft World Champion Guillaume Matignon failed to make Day 2. See, give a WOW player a complicated manabase and… just kidding. Of the other four it’s probably not a major surprise to find Antoine Ruel out of contention first. His recent Top 8 in Grand Prix: Brussels owed much to his overall skill level and profound longevity in the exalted tiers of the game, and not that much to an all-consuming desire to live and breathe the game. With a new set out for Sealed Play, it was no surprise to see so many veteran Pros take centre stage, including the ultimate winner, Kamiel Cornelissen.

Too Consistent

88 – Steve Sadin — USA
77 – Chris Lachmann – USA

At 9-7 neither of these Americans will have taken much pleasure from proceedings, other than a delight in the success of Jamie Parke, the monster run of Zvi, and a belief that their deck choice was sound, and indeed very good. In particular on Day 2 there weren’t enough Faerie decks to actively prey on, although their pre-event Metagame prediction was pretty close to on the money. Since we’ve now seen Jacob van Lunen and Dale Young filling in for Sadin over on the mothership, it seems the Hollywood mishap that prevented him making the journey for Grand Prix: Birmingham really set him back, so sympathies to him.

A Study in Professionalism

74 – Kenji Tsumura – Japan

For most of the time I’ve been covering Magic events, roughly the start of 2006, Kenji Tsumura has been The Best Player On Earth. I use those capitals intentionally, as it’s the kind of thing people like me need to say about somebody, it’s just a question of who. When people compare Kai Budde and Jon Finkel, one of the main differences suggested is that Kai owed his dominance to a ferocious training regime. That’s playtesting to you and me. Whereas the take on Finkel is that he didn’t practice hugely, and was just fundamentally better than everybody else. So, Kenji in 2008 is starting to demonstrate that he belongs more to the Kai model. Simply, he’s busy studying, and it’s really starting to show.

The Van Whose Wheels Came Off

70 – Stan van der Velden – Belgium

The gallows humor award this time around goes to this Belgian player. Overnight Stan represented 50% of the perfect records alongside Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. The first time I saw Stan on Day 2 was during round thirteen, when I passed him on my way to cover the top tables. Yep, he’d had a shocker. As I walked by in search of people who might make the Top 8, he saw me, grinned and said, ‘Please Rich, kill me now, 0-4 today’. Not nice. Still, the presumption that 8-0 is a passport to Sunday play just doesn’t stack up. Effectively that overnight perfection is like 4-0 in an 8 round Pro Tour Qualifier. From there you still need two wins out of the next three in order to ID into the Top 8. In Pro Tour terms that means 4 more wins and an ID. Sure, that’s a better proposition than being 5-3 overnight and needing 7 straight wins on the bounce, but it really guarantees nothing. Horrible though this fall of grace would have felt, in the aftermath I’d be tempted to look at Day 1 and think ‘I can do that again’ and be really rather pleased with my weekend.

It’s Your Move

69 – Darwin Kastle — USA
38 – Rob Dougherty – USA

So here we are again, discussing the relationship between talent and testing. Neither of these two gentlemen have much time to test. Both these gentlemen have forgotten more about Magic than most Pros will ever remember. And that tends to mean that in the early going they’re well up there in the standings. Dougherty was well in contention deep into Day 2. But then the field coalesces into those players who have really really practiced hard, those players who are really really talented and those decks that are really really well positioned. And the Your Move challenge falters. A couple of current Pros basically said that you could pretty reliably assume that the Hall of Famers from YMG would play some kind of Aggro deck at any given event, and that the deck would be sub-optimal. Only a lack of preparation can account for that, since they have the obvious pedigree to suggest that with time their deck would be thoroughly optimal. That means that, if they ever find time in their busy real-world lives to put the hours in, for example prior to multi-discipline Worlds, it’s entirely possible that either of these could be back on Sunday.

Will you still Need Me?

64 – Thomas Enevoldsen – Denmark

With apologies for the gratuitous reference to The Beatles’ one and only good song, Enevoldsen is someone looking to take his game to the next level. He seems like a classic victim of the Swiss conundrum. Cast your minds back to when you first started tournament play. If you went 0-4, you then won round 5. Next time, you still went 1-4, but your win was in round 2, and it felt ‘better’ because Swiss suggests you’d be playing someone stronger at 0-1 than 0-4. After a while you got to always being 3-3 and just could not get a positive record, but you started managing to get to 2-1 rather than starting 0-3 and making a comeback. You get the gist. Enevoldsen is an example of this writ large. This was apparently his sixth PT appearance, and he’s made Day 2 of precisely all of them. That puts him in the top third of the field every time. Great. But it doesn’t earn you money, or future appearances, or much in the way of extra Pro Points. Five times Enevoldsen made Day 2, five times he went away with no money. At last, this time he does get some cash. But having started Day 2 in a great position to kick on towards a Top 8 berth, he had a moderately miserable Day 2. It seems like the back end of Day 2 on the PT is exactly where he runs into people that he just isn’t quite ready to beat. Can he make it over the hump and be a factor down the stretch? Someone to watch, since he has the attitude to get it right.


57 – Raphael Levy – France

I’m not entirely sure it’s my argument, but there is an argument that says Raphael Levy is the best player in the history of the game, largely because Raphael Levy IS the history of the game. Top 64 is basically a good finish for anyone, because it’s inside the top sixth of the field, and yet when I see this result I think of it as ‘below average’ for Levy. Raph is just about the first name you put in the Top 32, perhaps shortly behind Wafo-Tapa, and he continues to beat most people at most formats in most continents in most years most of the time. For longevity and consistency he’s simply astonishing.

A Decade Later

50 – Jamie Parke – USA

So when I knew I was spending time with Lachmann, van Lunen, Sadin, and Parke on the day before the PT, I thought it might be a good idea to check the memory banks about the guy I hadn’t met, Jamie Parke. For some reason his name rang a bell, but I couldn’t place it. Then the penny dropped. This Jamie Parke was a pre-millennial player, who made the Top 8 of Worlds in 1999, a tournament incidentally that featured a monstrous final octet that included Jakub Slemr, Nicolai Herzog, Gary Wise, and the man who put Parke out in the quarter finals, eventual champion Kai Budde, of whom you may have heard. Now round about the 30 mark, Parke comes across as a true gentleman. Although Zvi finished the highest of the five who played the team’s innovative Red-Green affair, the big triumph was Parke’s, whose 50th place finish gets him an invite to Berlin in November. Since he works next to Chris ‘Meddling Mage’ Pikula there’s no shortage of pedigree, and with the cream of the East Coast to work with, there seems every possibility that, a decade later, Parke may be back in Magic for more than just a cameo appearance.

Just Under, but still Under

47 – Luis Scott-Vargas – USA

I’ve been trying to work out for a while what a realistic expectation going into a Pro Tour is for someone at the top of the game. Especially with Constructed there’s always the possibility of a run of bad matchups, and a single misstepped Draft can knock you out of Sunday contention. Nonetheless, my gut feeling is that Top 32 is about right. On a good day that becomes Top 16, and with a prevailing wind, Top 8. Having said that, given that Top 32 is almost always inside the top 10% of the field, this kind of standard can only apply to the very best. Am I happy to stand by the suggestion that LSV’s performance was slightly under then? Since I do think that he’s one of the best in the game, yes. Not by much, but still a disappointment.

Second Really

41 – Gerard Boyd – Scotland

Now this man has a reason to be disgruntled. Usually if you finish 371st out of 372 there’s still a chance that you weren’t the bottom-placed UK player. In 41st, that’s often about 100 places better than the best these isles can offer. Still, major congratulations to a man who played hard all weekend, beat some very big names, and remained cheerful throughout, clearly enjoying the experience. Still, this was Constructed, so the actual leading UK player was no surprise…..

First Really

33 – Stuart Wright – England

Yes, Stuart Wright continues to impress and frustrate in equal measure. In a way, he’s a bit like Thomas Enevoldsen, but slightly further up the food chain. He’s a clearly outstanding deckbuilder, and plays Constructed as well as almost anyone in the world, yet he never seems to be in legitimate contention. Rather, after the horse has bolted, he continues to beat most people most of the time, and end up just the wrong side of one tier or another. This time he was just outside the Top 32, at Worlds last year he was just outside the Top 8. Surely in Berlin, a format where he has almost no peer in recent years (Extended) can carry him into Sunday action.

Last Time I Czeched

36 – Arnost Zidez — CZE
19 – Martin Juza — CZE
18 – Jan Brodzak – CZE

When it comes to punching above their weight it’s hard to argue with this performance from the leading Czechs. A few years ago Arnost Zidek was pretty much the lone representative, and he himself was only on the edge of the Tour, sometimes qualifying on ranking, sometimes via an earlier PT finish, and sometimes by going back home and winning a PTQ. Suddenly things look a lot brighter, with Juza (pronounced ‘user’, which of course makes him a Magic Juza… sorry) in particular looking very strong. Having seen the European D&D Minis championship won by a Czech, it seems to me that, in inevitably broad brushstrokes, theirs is a temperament ideally suited to high-level gaming success. They seem largely unflappable, clear-sighted about the task ahead, realistic in their goals, and relentless in their pursuit of those goals. Across the upcoming Summer Series of GPs and through the second half of the year, I’ll be watching the Czech contingent with increasing interest.

From Which Champions Are Made

31 – Zvi Mowshowitz – USA

There are a bunch of things that I wish I knew, and I’m never going to find out, because they’re unquantifiable. Among them is the story of what happened after Zvi went 0-3 in Hollywood. First a few facts. From 0-3 he finished 11-5, and at 11-4 he was still playing for the same points as the eighth-placed finisher (although dastardly tiebreaks ruled out a Top 8 berth). He went from 0-3 to 8-3. Now supposing for a moment that his average win percentage on any given day was something like 66% – remember that’s approximately Jon Finkel lifetime percentage – he would get out of Day 1 by winning five in a row approximately one time in every eleven or twelve attempts. (.66 x .66 x .66 x .66 x .66 for anyone who really really cares). So what I want to know is what factors went into that turnaround? And how important were each of them? See, part of it could be that once he’d lost a few he found untuned decks or a part of the Metagame that his deck could prey on. He could have played some people who were in awe of a Hall of Famer. He was almost certainly a better player than some of those he faced from Round 4 on. But I also think there’s probably an element of having said to himself something along the lines of, ‘This is ridiculous. I’m Zvi Mowshowitz and I’ve had enough of losing, thanks very much.’ Because in my experience the absolute best have another ‘emergency’ gear that they can frequently call on where they become nearly unstoppable. In a game like Magic, nothing can be guaranteed, because killer matchups still exist and manascrew and flood still exist. But you can see the line in the sand where the best make their stand and say ‘enough.’ I wonder what impact that had on his result… As I say, we’ll never know.

Well Done Toast

27 – Olivier Ruel — France
17 – Manuel Bucher – Switzerland

I love land, and I always have. Whereas I have little desire, imaginatively speaking, to come face to face with a Hundroog or an Arbiter of Knollridge, there are a huge number of locations within the Multiverse that I’d love to travel to. Longtime readers will know I regard Hallowed Fountain as the ultimate land, not just for what it does but for the beautiful Rob Alexander artwork. This deck is well and truly my kind of deck, containing as it does virtually every type of land ever invented and some that R&D haven’t thought up yet. At least that’s how it seems, as turn after turn yet another land hit play. I don’t propose to replicate the plethora of information available about this deck, since my guess is that if its workings specifically interest you you’ve already tracked down assorted relevant coverage. I will say this, however – this deck strikes me as a real hand grenade, the kind of concoction you really don’t want to play around with unless you’ve had substantial training and really know what you’re doing. That Olivier Ruel picked it up with almost no time before the PT and still made 27th says a lot about his base-level of skill. It’s amazing. As for Bucher, I guess he might be a little disappointed that none of the five who played his deck were quite able to squeeze into the Top 8. Still, an already burgeoning reputation was enhanced here, not only because of the success of the deck, but due to the stellar line-up prepared to trust the young Swiss and play it. Whilst you know all about Ruel you may not be so familiar with Bucher. You soon will be.

The Van Man

20 – Robert van Medevoort – Netherlands

One of these days I’ll cover a round at the PT exclusively featuring the ‘van’ players. That means Jacob van Lunen, Stan van der Velden, Ste’van’ Sadin, F’van’k Karsten, and this guy. Unless I can find some more miserable puns elsewhere. In the meantime, the forefront of Dutch Magic continues to impress wherever he goes. He’s another who now definitely appears in my list of players to pencil in for a Top 32 finish every time he turns up. I don’t think he’s quite Player of the Year material for 2008, especially as 16 points feels like a long old lead to give someone as good as Shuuhei. Nonetheless, the fact that we’re even discussing him in the same conversation as the man who beat him in the final of Grand Prix: Stuttgart to start the season is a strong indication of just how talented van Medevoort is.

Sweet Sixteen?

16 – Nicolay Potovin – Russia

You know I’m a big fan of Potovin. Already a Grand Prix winner, it seems to me only a matter of time before he makes a Sunday appearance at the Pro Tour. Therefore I’m slightly disappointed by this outcome, since I really thought Hollywood might have been it. Still, a big chunk of cash and an announcement that the token Russian Pro is not there to make up the numbers.

He Never Tapa Out

13 – Guillaume Wafo-Tapa – France

Generally I don’t feel guilty about my crap jokes, because you know what you’re getting when you click on one of my articles. Still, I feel faintly dirty making puns around this guy, because he almost certainly is the best player currently on Tour. Watching him navigate his way to 8-0 was a real treat, and at that point someone got really overexcited and asked Ted Knutson what odds they’d get on Wafo-Tapa winning the PT without losing a match! 40-1 didn’t seem too bad, especially when you realised that four more wins at the start of Day Two would put him through with half a day to spare. In the event, Shuuhei Nakamura put paid to the undefeated run, and Wafo-Tapa never recovered (purely coincidentally one presumes), ultimately posting a miserable 3 wins, 1 draw and 4 loss record and picking up a warning for Slow Play. Despite 13th being ultimately disappointing given his start and reputation, the fact remains that GWT already has 26 Points and is right in the thick of things for Player of the Year at the halfway stage. As for the Slow Play and indeed slow play, which is something BDM alluded to during the Sunday podcast, this is a really awkward topic, and since I feel that I’ve already given plenty of ammunition in the last seven days for assorted IRC private chat rooms with titles like ‘whodoeslevelonerichhagonthinkheisdiediedie’ I’ll move on. Coward that I am.

Scheel’s Out For Summer

11 – Brandon Scheel – USA

Not a lot to say here, other than for the second Pro Tour running he’s made Top 16, making him a prime contender for the Best Player You’ve Never Heard Of.

The Power Ninth

9 – Adam Yurchick – USA

Not being a dedicated fan of Vintage I have no idea whether there’s an ordering system for the Power Nine. I guess Black Lotus is number one, and the Moxen are two to six, but what’s ninth? Anyone know for sure? [Yeah, that’ll be Timetwister — Craig, amused.] Whatever it is, you can be sure that being ninth in the Power Nine is rather better than being ninth in the Top 8. Yurchick may have suspected what was coming as he went into the last round, since Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa was reasonably far ahead on tiebreaks, and in the event the Brazilian’s OMW (Opponent Match Win) % held up. However, despite the disappointment of not seeing Sunday action, this result takes Yurchick to 14 Pro Points, and earns him a nice stack of dollars to fund trips later in the year. With only four Americans ahead of him in the POY standings, and two of those PT winners Gindy and Finkel, he’s starting to show signs of being a genuine factor, at least within the top tier of the US. Good job.

The Swiss Top 8

1 – Shuuhei Nakamura — Japan
2 – Nico Bohny – Switzerland
3 – Marijn Lybaert – Belgium
4 – Jan Ruess – Germany
5 – Makahito Mihara – Japan
6 – Yong Han Choo – Singapore
7 – Charles Gindy – USA
8 – Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa – Brazil

The Sound of Silence

Two neat little behind-the-scenes moments to share. If I ever made a PT Top 8 (hmm, look, a flying pig) I think I’d want as much privacy as possible before my match. That’s certainly the way I approach a live performance as an entertainer. Just a few moments to centre myself, remind myself of the task at hand, put aside all doubt and so forth. I’m not sure how I’d feel if my soon-to-be opponent was sitting next to me. But that’s how I found the players waiting for the Top 8 to start backstage on Sunday morning. Sitting four to a table, they were quietly chatting away, and playing games, with Shuuhei and Paulo sitting next to each other quite amicably. And then, with a few minutes to go, the mood changed. Suddenly everyone retreated into their shell and silence descended. If you’ve ever seen ‘Chariots of Fire,’ it’s like the moments before the start of the hundred metres final at the Olympics, where everything the eight guys have worked for over years and years of effort come down to the next few moments. Just watching them sitting there, in company but suddenly very much alone, was a spine-tingling moment of passion, hopes, tension, expectation, and not a little nervousness. If I’d had a camera I’d have shot it and printed it in black and white, because right there in that silent, still moment before curtain up you could see exactly what it meant to them all in the depths of their souls. A real privilege to witness.

Conspicuous Gallantry

For those of you who listened to the Highlights Show penned by yours truly over on the mothership you’ll already know what I’m going to say here. It bears repeating. Marijn Lybaert didn’t just go down fighting. He went down having done every possible thing known to man or beast to come out of an unfair fight against Reveillark intact. He lost 3-0, as he was meant to on the balance of the decks, but I’ve never seen anyone give ground so grudgingly, clawing for any possible foothold and desperately nurturing every possible vestige of hope. With a second PT Top 8 in just over a year, he’ll be looking to build on that performance as the year progresses, and the odds are that he will.

Having Fun

I’m all for competition but I’m also all for politeness. Sometimes the latter gets forgotten in pursuit of the first. Whatever the reasons, and I’m not going to try and pinpoint them here, the fact is that this was a Top 8 filled not only with evident mutual respect between opponents but, almost unbelievably, FUN. Both Nico Bohny and Charles Gindy seemed to enjoy their match together, with genuinely friendly banter (as opposed to calculating edgy banter a la Chapin for example). I don’t want to overstate this, because obviously if you’re in the Top 8 you’d be reasonably happy if your opponent died of heart failure, never mind got hideously manascrewed, but there was an element from Gindy afterwards of ‘Oh, gosh, sorry I beat you 3-0, that was a shame, I thought we’d be in for a really long and close match.’ Both quiet players, Makahito Mihara and Jan Ruess nonetheless enjoyed their tussle, with their dour personas masking their true delight to be playing under the lights. While Lybaert was busy trying to turn back the implacable Reveillark tide, he still found time through his disappointment to offer kind words of encouragement to his Singaporean opponent, and the speed at which Nakamura and PVDdR went about their business with total professionalism and respect was something to behold. Even when we got to the final both players had clearly decided to simply have a fantastic time regardless of outcome. Magic was definitely the winner. Well done to all of them, you did the game proud.

Japan is Back

Is it indeed? I suppose this all depends on what you mean. Incidentally, this isn’t me finding something to write about just for the sake of it, this is something that Shuuhei Nakamura said on the eve of the Top 8. Let’s start with Pro Tour winners. Since Makahito Mihara won Worlds in 2006 we’ve had Mike Hron (USA) in Geneva, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa (France) in Yokohama, Chris Lachmann and Jacob van Lunen (USA) in San Diego, Remi Fortier (France) in Valencia, Uri Peleg (Israel) at Worlds 2007, Jon Finkel (USA) in Kuala Lumpur, and now Charles Gindy (USA) here in Hollywood. That’s four American winners since the last Japanese hands touched the trophy. That’s a definite black mark against Japan. Alright, let’s see if we can find more evidence to support the hypothesis that Japanese Magic is in trouble. Well, although Tomaharu Saitou has a slightly better chance than you or me of being Player of the Year in 2008, it’s only a slightly better chance. At the halfway mark Saitou is languishing in 35th place on only 12 Pro Points. The 2007 Rookie of the Year Yuuya Watanabe, whose stated goal for 2008 was POY, is even further adrift on 10 Points. Kenji Tsumura has only 11 Points, and only two Japanese players, Shuuhei Nakamura and Yuuta Takahashi, hold positions in the Top 20.

However, I think the perception is misguided, largely because some of the more famous players aren’t currently performing. Even those of you with a more passing interest in the goings-on of the Tour are likely to have heard of players like Masami Kaneko, Shouta Yasooka, Kenji Tsumura, Koutarou Ootsuka, Takuya Oosawa, Shingou Kurihara and Tomaharu Saitou. See, the first five of these made Day 2 in Hollywood, it’s just that none of them were able to kick on and make headlines. With slightly more than a third of the field making it through to Day 2, you’d expect somewhere around 14 out of the 40 Japanese players to make it. In fact 17 saw Saturday action. As for making money, roughly one in six players did so. Amongst the Japanese that was nearly one in three, with a full dozen taking away cash. That’s only two fewer than the number of Americans with money finishes, and from a vastly smaller number of competitors. And whilst many of the famous names may not be at the forefront of things, there’s every possibility that Saitou will relinquish his title to another compatriot in Nakamura. So, as things stand, it’s probably fair to say the Japanese game is in transition, and we may have to work hard to come to know a new breed as well as we’ve come to know Kenji and Co. But meanwhile, they very much remain a force.

See you in Gindy?

1- Charles Gindy – USA

There’s something great about a Pro Tour winner who has had a long-term love affair with the game. Not the Tour necessarily, or being a Pro, or earning a living (which as we know isn’t always the same thing as being a Pro), but the actual game of Magic. Time and time again during my interview with Gindy for the highlights programme I was struck by just how much he adores the simple act of playing Magic. Despite the fact that he has had success before now in the Team Limited format, with three separate teams making Top 4s at Grand Prix, Gindy seems just as much at home with a Magic Online 8-4 Draft or a pickup game at the local store or just fooling around with a bunch of crazy deck ideas with his friends. Not only does Gindy come across as thoroughly devoted to Magic, he also seems thoroughly grateful to Magic. Now I accept that it’s kinda easy to be grateful to a game that’s just delivered $40,000 to your door, but Gindy’s gratitude clearly predates his stellar weekend. When we think of all the things we could be doing instead of worrying about our last sideboard slots, agonizing over mulligans and praying for topdecks, it’s pretty clear that we’re blessed to have a relationship with this great game. And Gindy certainly knows that.

The Brazil Nuts

1 – Fogo de Chao – Brazil

My final story of the Hollywood experience is entirely extra-curricular. As a confirmed meatatarian (that’s like a vegetarian except I only eat meat) I had heard of this fabled Brazilian steakhouse restaurant where waiters bring you endless skewers packed full of 15 different kinds of meat. We’re talking fried chicken, all kinds of monumentally fabulous sausages, filet mignon, ribs, sirloin, garlic steak… if you have no objection to dead animal product you may actually think you’ve died and gone to heaven. While we waited for the carnivorous carnage to commence, I spent good times with Tom la Pille, Jamie Parke, Steve Sadin, BDM, Ted Knutson, Zvi Mowshowitz and the R&D contingent, and they helped me put together my Top 8 preview piece for the live webcast the following morning. To be honest, this wonderful place reminded me of my wife when we got married back in 1994 – elegant, sophisticated, sizzling hot, tender, juicy, an irresistible morsel, easy to fall in love with, and very very expensive. I don’t know if it’s legally possible to marry a steakhouse, but I’ll be looking into the possibility after one of the finest evenings of my life. And for those of you worrying about my marriage, don’t. Some things are eternal – she’s still very very expensive.

As ever, thanks for reading.