I love Worlds. It's always an interesting tournament to watch and it's always held in a cool city to visit. This week I'm going to walk you through the highlights (so far) of my week in Berlin – consider it my way of trying to share some of the experience with you, and also my shameless attempt to get you hyped up to watch the live broadcast of the Top 8 on Sunday. The Top 8 begins Sunday morning at 9 AM Berlin time (which is 3 AM on the East Coast of the US and midnight on the West Coast) and the finals will probably end about eight hours later. Brian Kibler and I will be doing the commentary and all the streaming video will also be archived so you can watch it whenever it's convenient for you (though I don't know exactly when the archive will become available or for how long).
I left for Germany a couple of days early so I would have an opportunity to see some of the sights. During the days before Worlds began I visited the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, “Checkpoint Charlie,” a number of other interesting buildings, and the former location of the Berlin Wall. I know many of you are too young to remember when the Berlin Wall came down, but it was a pretty important moment in history. For all of my childhood, America was portrayed to me as one of the world's two superpowers, fighting the good fight against the evil Soviet Union while hoping neither side ever felt the need to blow up the entire planet with nuclear weapons. One of the (symbolic and literal) fronts in this Cold War was in Berlin, where Germany had been carved up after World War II into the American-friendly half and the Soviet-friendly half. That line went right through the middle of Berlin and the Soviets even put up a wall to keep the two sides separated. When the wall crumbled, it signified not just the reunification of Germany and not just the end of a leftover consequence of World War II, but it also the end of the entire Soviet Empire. The Cold War pretty much ended that day and the world has felt like a much different place to me ever since.
Anyway, now I own a small piece of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into a refrigerator magnet and the most surprising thing about all this to me was how hard it was to even find the place where the Wall used to be. We were reading a sign that claimed the Wall had been just meters away, but we could not find any evidence of it. Eventually we noticed a row of bricks running through the middle of the road that marked the spot. Other than an appropriate number of historical markers, the city of Berlin has quite effectively and efficiently removed all traces of the Wall and put itself back together again.
But you guys probably came here to read about Magic, not politics…
Day 1 consisted of 6 rounds of Standard constructed play. Both Eighth Edition and Scourge were making their debut on the Pro Tour and 312 competitors from 54 countries showed up to try them out. Mirari's Wake decks turned out to be the most popular, and you can make a good case that the blue-white-green control deck was also the most powerful deck since two of the three players who managed to post perfect 6-0 records on day 1 were running Wake. One of those players – Tuomo Niemenen – used his 6-0 record to help put his team into first place in the national team competition. Team Finland posted a very impressive 16-2 mark on day 1, with each of the other two team members putting up 5-1 records with blue-green Madness decks. The other 6-0 Wake player was Jeroen Remie, from the Netherlands.
The plaque for winning day 1, however, did not go to either Wake player. Instead, the winner on tiebreakers was French player Sylvain Lauriol, who ran a Goblin-Bidding deck. Ever since the release of Scourge, Goblins have been by far the most popular tribe on the Pro Tour. Goblin Warchief, Siege-Gang Commander, and Sulfuric Vortex have all added a lot of power to Goblin decks and there were two varieties that showed up in large numbers at Worlds. One was a reasonably straight-forward mono-red build that simply tried to dish out 20 damage as quickly as possible. (Some ran Sulfuric Vortex in the main deck while others lived in fear of opponents who would sideboard in Transcendence against their Vortexes (and become immortal) and thus abandoned the Vortex in favor of more big creatures like Clickslither, Goblin Goon, and “Siegy.”) The other variety of Goblin deck, which was actually more popular than the mono-red builds, was the Goblin-Bidding deck that was first unleashed on the world by Germany's Wolfganag Eder at the European Championships, and then again by Japanese player Tsuyoshi Fujita at Grand Prix - Bangkok a few weeks ago. The idea is to splash black to gain access to Patriarch's Bidding, which does all kinds of amazing things after the game has been going for a little while. Skirk Prospector allows a Bidding player to turn his Goblins into mana, which can then be sent through a Siege-Gang Commander to turn the other goblins into shocks. Meanwhile the Goblin Sharpshooter goes nuts, gunning down anything and everything you point it all while all these creatures are going to the graveyard and coming back again and going to the graveyard again. Did I mention that the Warchief gives everyone haste while all this is happening? The deck looked like a lot of fun to play, and several players commented to me that “If Goblin Matron had been in Eighth, this format would have been totally different – Goblin-Bidding would have been stupidly good.” I have to admit that I did not realize how relevant the Matron would turn out to be when we took it out of Eighth, but even without Matrons to fish for any missing pieces of the combo, the Goblin-Bidding decks seemed plenty powerful. Like I said, Goblin-Bidding helped Lauriol win the Day 1 prize, though the real lessons about Worlds Standard are usually decided on Sunday, when the players use the same Standard decks they ran on Wednesday to decide who will be World Champion.
The other popular decks on Day 1 were blue-green madness (which was the second most-played deck, trailing only Wake), red-green beatdown (which was the most played deck at US Nationals a little over a month ago but seems much weaker without Llanowar Elves and Karplusan Forest), and Reanimator. Cycling decks based around Astral Slide also showed up, as did Psychatog decks, but neither made up a very large percentage of the field. I find the lack of Psychatog decks in particular to be kind of interesting. That toothy grin has been omnipresent in constructed tournaments for two years now and it even helped Carl Winter win the Type 1 World Championships at GenCon two weeks ago. I think you can make a case that Psychatog is the best creature ever printed, but the Standard ‘Tog deck is no longer a popular choice now that Eighth Edition has come out and shaken up the metagame.
Day 2 was six rounds of Rochester draft. Three different players managed to post perfect 6-0 records on day 2 and the one with the best tiebreakers was none other than Kai Budde. The “German Juggernaut” won the Rochester Draft Pro Tour back in Chicago in January (the seventh Pro Tour win of his illustrious career–no one else has more than three) and Kai continued his mastery of this format while defending his home turf at Worlds. Some people had actually begun to question the all-time leading money winner's game since he hadn't posted a high finish since that January PT (and Jon Finkel had actually closed the gap a bit on the career earnings leader board), but adding his 6-0 draft record to a 4-2 mark in Standard puts 1999 World Champion Budde in fifth place overall. Even if he stumbles and fails to advance to Sunday's Top 8, he's in spectacular shape to clinch his third straight Player of the Year title (and fourth overall).
The other two players who ran the table on Thursday were Berna Da Costa Cabral (from Belgium) and Nao Atsuta (from Japan). Another interesting draft day result was posted by Tuomo Niemenen and Jeroen Remie. Both went 6-0 on day 1 and both went 5-1 on Day 2, leaving them in a tie with each other for first place. Even more interesting, Remie's only loss came to Niemenen when they played during the first draft pod and Niemenen's only loss came to Remie when they played during the second pod! Since they are the only two players with 11-1 records, they are also guaranteed to play for a third time in the first round of day 3 (which uses the Extended constructed format), but what they're really hoping for is an opportunity to play each other for a fourth time, on Sunday.
Niemenen, Remie, and Budde are joined at the top of the standings by two other Europeans. 2001 German National champion Daniel Zink is on 10-2 and in third place (trailing Budde on tiebreakers) while French star Gabriel Nassif is the only other player with 10 wins and thus sits in 4th. I'm not sure if it's jet lag, a lack of preparation, or just a shifting base of talented players, but the players from the United States are not used to seeing so many non-Americans at the top of the standings. The leading American is Jordan Berkowitz, in 9th place with a 9-3 record, while Jon Sonne is right behind him in 10th (also 9-3).
One storyline that I'll definitely be keeping an eye on tomorrow is Brazilian Carlos Romao's attempt to repeat as World Champion. This is the tenth Magic World Championship, but no one has ever managed to win the title twice, much less back to back. Romao is 9-1-2 and in 6th place as he goes to bed Thursday night and he also has Team Brazil sitting in second place in the Worlds Team competition. No one was predicting either him or Brazil to make it to Sunday, but they're both in great shape right now.
Finland has been going wire-to-wire in the team competition so far. They opened up a 10-point lead on day 1, which Brazil whittled down to 7 points over the course of day 2, but it's still the Finns on top right now. Team USA, which has won the team competition in 6 of the 8 years it was held, currently sits in third place while Argentina, France, Malaysia, and China (to the surprise of many) round out the Top 8.
U.S. National champion Josh Wagener is actually making his Pro Tour debut this weekend. He came out of nowhere to take the national title in San Diego, but so far in Berlin he has been making the case that San Diego was not a fluke. His 8-4 record means he is still in contention for the individual Top 8 and he has certainly contributed his fair share of points to the team's cause.
One thing that is new to this year's worlds in that one competitor won his invitation via Magic Online. Andrew Cuneo (aka “Gainsay”) qualified through the Magic Online Worlds Qualifier and he has been acquitting himself quite well. Like the US champ, he's currently on 8-4 and remains in contention for a Top 8 berth if he can put together a good record on Day 3.
Another player that lot of spectators were watching is Jon Finkel. “Jonny Magic” has been having a good year, and visions of a return to the Top 8 for the 2000 World Champ were starting to dance in people's heads when he reeled off four straight victories to start Day 2, but Finkel faded late in the day, dropping his last two matches (including a defeat in a rematch of the 2000 World Championship match against Bob Maher). With a 7-5 record right now, Finkel would need to win every match on Day 3 and then there's still a chance he would miss the Top 8 on tiebreakers.
Meanwhile, reigning Magic Invitational champion Jens Thoren – who has his card coming out in Mirrodin – would like to be World Champion when that set hits the stores and he's very much in the thick of things at 9-3.
There are a lot of different cards you can play in Extended right now – every set since Tempest (which was released in late1997) is legal. However, two Scourge cards have been dominating conversations so far this weekend. Everyone I've talked to is expecting a ton of combo decks based around Mind's Desire to show up. This storm card didn't show up at all in Standard, but Extended has a lot more ways to abuse it, especially the “free spells” from the Urza block (like Frantic Search, Cloud of Faeries, and Snap). The other Scourge card that everyone is buzzing about is Pyrostatic Pillar. It's the perfect foil to the Mind's Desire decks since almost every spell they cast will cost them two life and they can't win without casting a whole bunch of spells. Goblin decks had already gotten better with Siege-Gang Commander to put into play with Goblin Lackey, but it's the Pillar that may be their most important card tomorrow if the field really is full of Mind's Desire decks. (Interestingly, I also heard some players talking about running Battle of Wits decks because the usual kill card for Mind's Desire decks is usually Brain Freeze, and it's awfully hard to deck someone with upwards of 250 cards in his deck.) It should be a crazy day and when it ends, we'll know which eight players will be duking it out on camera on Sunday.
These are just some of the storylines that you can read about if you check out the live coverage of Worlds over on the Sideboard. If you want to read more, I highly recommend browsing through their coverage, which gets updated round by round throughout the entire event.
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Looks like about half our audience is cheering on Josh, Gabe, and Justin, while the other half is pulling for their own compatriots.