Worlds 2006 – A Coverage Guy’s Report

Paris is a city I have a little familiarity with already, but the prospect of the World Championships in the Louvre was still enough to make everything seem fresh and new. You couldn’t see any artwork from where you were playing, beyond that which was on the cards, but the venue itself was pretty impressive, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the stellar selection of artists at the event were actually there so that they could mention that they’d had some of their artwork on display there.

Don’t look directly at it, and try not to think what it is, either while you’re eating it or immediately after, and you’ll be fine.

This is my best advice on eating snails.

Paris is a city I have a little familiarity with already, but the prospect of the World Championships in the Louvre was still enough to make everything seem fresh and new. You couldn’t see any artwork from where you were playing, beyond that which was on the cards, but the venue itself was pretty impressive, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the stellar selection of artists at the event were actually there so that they could mention that they’d had some of their artwork on display there.

Due to a colossal lack of organisation on my part, I had ended up short on holiday for Worlds, and somehow or other a little out of the loop on coverage – getting in on things from Thursday onwards. As Limited and Extended are my two favourite formats, this was just fine, though I was a little disappointed not to be able to watch the opening ceremony, which I hear was the best ever, or to hear BDM’s speeches as people were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Unlike last year’s class, I have actually interacted with various of this year’s hall of famers, and couldn’t help but think that they are all a sound bunch who I’m happy to see back at big events… though of course Raph has been there the whole time. The rings that the class got stand out due to their size and weight. On a Gary Wise-like giant hand they look pretty impressive, but I couldn’t help but think that for those of us with more slender digits the ring had the potential to dwarf the individual. They are very impressive though, and bloody heavy. Gary used his as collateral to borrow a full Extended deck from a trader on Friday, so for a while it looked as if one might be on sale. Suffice to say, while I’m sure it would be easy enough to get your own copy fabricated, the true value of the real ones is priceless.

My Worlds story begins later than most – on the Wednesday night where, after spectacularly failing to find the correct metro stop for my hotel (Hot French Girls On Trains To Talk To 1 – 0 Tim’s Sense of Direction) I finally crashed very late, after a hard day’s work that was entirely un-Magical. I found out that a Welsh guy called Nick had gone 6-0 in the Standard, and spent much of the evening trying to conjure a set of circumstances that made Nick West Welsh, in spite of clear evidence to the contrary. Suffice to say, I learned more of Mr. Lovett later in the weekend.

Most of the weekend’s actual play was pretty well covered in the coverage itself. No real nail buffing and faux modesty from yours truly – I wasn’t as involved with coverage as I have been at various other GPs and PTs (thanks to coming in as a bonus reporter, like blisterguy), so I feel safe in describing it as excellent. I am always happy to be on coverage at premier events, just for the people, and the potential for some spicy drafts against members of R&D.

On the first day (actually the second), the big stories were largely about disqualifications. Apparently a line was set early on in the tournament at 6.5 disqualifications for the tournament. While Ben Rubin showed a little interest on the over, he didn’t put down any green (or in the case of the Euro, pink, blue, orange, whatever) on it. His loss.

I wasn’t an eyewitness to any of the events that led to DQs, though I did hear quite a lot of talk surrounding them. I don’t want to start spreading what can only be described as hearsay on the various events, but I do have a few thoughts. First, deciding to run anything even vaguely resembling the cheats against Gary Wise in a feature match when you are leading the Rookie of the Year race strikes me as a few blocks past foolish. While the line has probably been used already, I can’t help but think that the title of “Rookie Mistake of the Year” is rather apt.

There were various people that were suggesting that there were too many disqualifications this year at Worlds. Personally, I disagree. As far as I’m concerned, I’d much rather see exactly the number of DQs as the rules would deem appropriate. If lots of players are caught on offences that warrant a DQ, then I want to see them out. It wasn’t as if the judges were going overboard with some agenda to their penalties. I saw one match where it was spotted (during a Fact or Fiction flip) that some cards in one player’s deck weren’t the same orientation as others. Now clearly, there could be marked cards issues there, but the ruling came out that while there was, there wasn’t intent, at which point the penalty was less severe than the DQs that were flying around. I love the idea that at the pro level these days, if you are shady, you will get punished.

My first draft of the weekend was spurred on by the standard topic of conversation whenever I’m around on the coverage team. The English inability to draft. BDM had already had words with Becker about how he got cast in the Woody Harrelson role for team drafts, but if there was a white man that couldn’t jump for that evening, it had to be the English guy. Obviously, given these circumstances I couldn’t really help but end up with an amazing deck, sporting such winners as Akroma, Angel of Wrath, various good slivers supported by Pulmonic Sliver, and triple Riftwing Cloudskate. We won that draft, and with it, I began to shake off my “English” status (though it has been suggested that my trash talk is a little to highbrow to be considered trash… something to work on… or maybe not).

Jon Becker, and to a lesser extent BDM, are adamant enough about the English inability to draft that they have offered to play any three English players, who in turn get to pick their third player, in team draft format. Awkwardly, they always had to stipulate that their third couldn’t be me, as I was English, and would rather water down their argument regardless of the result. My English status has a while to go yet. [Funnily enough, whenever the challenge was officially laid down and the match was ready to play, Mr Becker and Mr David-Marshall always made themselves strangely absent. Charlatans, the pair of them. – Craig.]

The Extended day was the one I was most looking forward to on the weekend. I loves me some ridiculous combo decks, and this is traditionally the format for them. I was stood watching “Dirty Kitty” (as it was dubbed such by Scott Johns), and as soon as I started looking at just how silly Skirk Prospector is in that deck, I knew it would be what I would play for the whole Extended season. A few Extended seasons ago I had a very silly Goblin Lackey deck that could win on turn 2 with Skirk Fire Marshall and Mogg Maniac, and the combo potential of this deck just laughs at the “40 Thieves” deck (40 Goblins plus mana, for stolen wins aplenty).

The French egg deck, on the other hand left me cold. While it seems a very powerful combo, and more resilient to hate than some commentators have suggested, it is just the most miserable deck ever. In one round I watched two different players of the deck going off simultaneously. They were about ten tables apart. Walking between the two while they were going off didn’t really hamper my ability to take in what either was doing – which inevitably took fifteen minutes or so once it was time to kill. I loved the idea of the Dutch slow-rolling this deck using their Sudden Shocks, but to be honest, I’m not sure I could bring myself to sit through watching this deck go off again. I really hope it doesn’t make too much of a splash in PTQs in the near future, as watching it doing its thing was painful enough when the likes of Pierre Canali and Antoine Ruel were behind the wheel.

If you are going to play a French combo deck, play the deck that Raphael Levy was playing. If you are going to play another combo deck, play Heartbeat of Spring. If you aren’t keen on the brain-strain of much of Extended combo, then play Rock, Stuart Wright‘s Destructive Flow deck, or Boros with Pyrostatic Pillar. Psychatog might not actually be dead, but I think that nonetheless it is time to move on there. There’s your metagame.

My very late night draft after Extended day was far from my finest hour. Teamed up with Paul Sottosanti, Aaron Forsythe, and Eugene Harvey’s girlfriend, we were up against Eugene himself, BDM, Becker, and Mark Gottlieb. In spite of the mockery of a deck coming from me, and my worst draft performance in recent memory, our team managed to scrape a draw. If Eugene hadn’t topdecked Conflagrate I might even have been able to win it for us. Oh well.

Running off less sleep with every day, the team competition day rather fell into a haze. The English team was well and truly out of the running to do much, and as such was in boisterous form. Cast much like Trinidad and Tobago from the World Cup, they were just out there to have a good time, and made the most of the new rules on talking during team Rochester, by having a good natter about whatever was on their minds the whole way through the draft. This new rule might not improve the quality of players’ decks, but it definitely makes team Rochester a lot more fun, something I for one am all for, as it is a format I really enjoy playing.

The Welsh team was all business for the weekend. With Roy Williams having 6-0’d the Extended, and Nick Lovett having sealed his top 8 berth, the Welsh team was right in the running to take the team title and potentially to have a World Champion. Every time I mentioned this to Stuart Wright he exploded a little inside. As a consequence I mentioned it quite a lot.

Unfortunately, a lack of experience with the format rather kept Wales out of the running for a big trophy, but the boyos definitely put in a fair performance, and got Nick enough points that his quest to jump from amateur status to Level 3 in a single tournament looked eminently achievable.

Nick did have to face Katsuhiro Mori in the first round of the Top 8 though. Nick had already beaten ex-World Champion Julien Nuijten earlier in the tournament, and it seemed he was well set up to do the same with the current one. My thoughts / view of the match got splurged down as it was happening and is now immortalised in the coverage. Mori’s draws seemed a little crappy for the matchup, but irrespective, Nick played well, and probably had a matchup advantage from the get-go.

I didn’t get much of a chance to speak with Nick between his winning this match and his subsequent loss in the Top 4. Ultimately he seemed a little disappointed not to have won his match against Ogura in the semis, given the way that the other semi-finals worked out. Much like everyone else at the tournament, Nick felt he had a fair match against Dragonstorm. I have seen enough unfair things from the deck that I’m not yet convinced.

While it was very exciting to have a fellow Brit battling for the top spot on Sunday, the team finals were if anything more exciting. Katsuhiro Mori had been calling the team from the start, and I don’t know if it was the pressure of his Top 8 match, or some internal team ructions, but it appeared that his head wasn’t quite as “in the game” as it could have been during the face-off against the Dutchies. Mori’s match was a blowout, though no fault of his own, and Nuijten’s got stopped at 1-1, looking close, but probably in favour of the Japanese. The really interesting match was at the bottom of the table.

There were some very intriguing attack choices from Japan, including Magus of the Disk into Keldon Halberdier that seemed to be throwing victory away. While the Netherlands was stuck on two life, the Japanese had a little work to do to push the final points through, and either misplayed or got greedy. Mori walked away from the table before the end of the game in either boredom or disgust, and was not allowed to return to it, lest he had communicated with a player outside the game. This left Team Japan without its main pilot. Whether Mori’s impression of Captain Oats signalled the end of the Japanese chances at a repeat is something that I can see being up in the air for some time, but it was certainly a dramatic end.

Following the tournament itself, there was more team drafting, where once again I worked on getting rid of English status, and my persiflage, against the best that R&D could offer. My Red/Black deck was beyond absurd. BDM had a look through and asked if I had raided somebody’s rare binder, and not without due cause. Double Sengir Nosferatu, Greater Gargadon, Sedge Sliver, and Ib Halfheart set the gold standard, and were helped by a good selection of powerful Red/Black slivers and removal. We won that draft pretty handily.

With only the staff dinner remaining, on a boat going down the Seine, it seemed very unlikely that there would be any more drafting, simply more good times, good food, and great conversation. Throughout the weekend, hanging out with the coverage staff – who tend to be pretty good at storytelling – was a hell of a lot of fun, and this last meal was no exception. Almost as soon as we got in, the circular tables were spotted, and we had one last set of packs to crack. At this point I got to play Blisterguy for the first time, and Kaervek making a nearly unsuspended Ivory Giant sad aside, I secured the win in the one unfinished draft of the event.

As we drifted past the Eiffel Tower late in the night on our little frigate, I was asked if I was interested in trying my luck at skiing in Geneva.

Two words…

Hell yes.

See you in Switzerland!

Tim Willoughby