Editor's note: When talking about the National teams present at the 2004 World Championships, one nation in particular was absent from competition: the Potato Nation. Winners of 2000-2001 Pro Tour-New York, Scott Johns, Mike Turian, and Gary Wise have all turned their attention to writing about Magic, rather than playing it. We here at magicthegathering.com reunited the Potatoes to analyze the opening round of the Team Championships.
Clash of the Heavyweights - Draft AnalysisBy Scott Johns
After 18 rounds of individual competition it's the French flag currently atop the leader board. Coming into round 1 of the team competition, France is making good on the hype that put them heavily favored to win the whole thing. In their first draft of the day, they were paired up against the Dutch, another team that many felt could walk away with the trophy. It was an exciting way to kick off the day, giving a look at how well the French players could draft as a team and potentially providing a preview of what could end up being the final match tomorrow as well.
Coming into the draft, the French players had a rough plan of putting white on the left, blue in the center, and green on the right (probably with red, to maximize the number of chances for Vulshok Sorcerer). The Dutch plan going in was to put black on the right, white in the middle (probably with blue) and have a rainbow green deck on the left, allowing them to more easily keep bombs from getting over to the French and setting up the chance for a great sunburst deck in that seat as well.
To cover the draft and play, the vaunted members of Potato Nation descended on this matchup to see what the world's best had to offer.
This is how the players were seated for the draft:
|France:||Alexandre Peset (A)||Olivier Ruel (B)||Gabriel Nassif (C)|
|Netherlands:||Julien Nuijten (C)||Jeroen Remie (B)||Rogier Maaten (A)|
France started off the draft. In the first pack, Olivier took Shrapnel Blast, Nassif got Shatter, and Maaten took Wizard Replica. Right off the bat, Jeroen's pick in this first pack was a good example of the difference in strategy presented by team drafting. He took Auriok Bladewarden over Arrest. Most players planning on going blue-white would probably prefer the Arrest in their deck, because that card provides pseudo-creature removal, something the blue-white archetype often needs badly.
That said, when you draft as a team the key is making the most of all your picks. In this case, it makes more sense for the Dutch to put the Bladewarden in Remie's deck because Nuijten can then splash the Arrest for his planned rainbow green deck. Done the other way, Remie would have the Arrest but Nuijten's pick would then be virtually dead since Bladewarden is much less likely to be a good splash in his planned archetype. By doing it this way both decks get a card they can use. It's a quick decision and one that goes by completely unnoticed for those that aren't as experienced in team drafting, but it's a great illustration of how this incredibly complex format is won one small decision at a time. When you consider just how many of these little decisions come up in the course of each team draft, it's little wonder that Team Rochester is so likely to favor the better team.
"When you draft as a team, the key is making the most of all your picks."
While the early part of the draft went basically according to plan, all three of the Potatoes felt that France's draft took a big turn for the worse in the fifth pack. In it, Peset took a blue/white Talisman, which probably doesn't make sense for the base white aggro deck he's probably drafting (since the white deck would normally prefer to play an aggressive creature on turn two instead). Gary thought he should have taken the Pyrite Spellbomb instead, likely putting his deck into white-red, rather than the white-black the deck was currently headed toward. Done this way, the flexibility to switch to red (either now or a bit later) is there, with the added benefit that the Pyrite Spellbomb doesn't go around the table to the Dutch, rather than taking a Talisman that has more marginal value for an archetype he possibly should be trying to get out of anyway.
When Gary brought this up, Mike and I both smiled, as we each had the same pick listed as a defining moment of when we felt the draft turned against the French. And it came back to bite the French, as the next pack went Skyhunter Patrol -- Betrayal of Flesh -- Mindslaver for the French side, shipping an Electrostatic Bolt that would have been great in Peset's deck and now went over to the opposing team to a deck that needed the removal. Rather than packing a red-white powerhouse, Peset was stuck with an awkward black-white deck that disrupted their color strategy for the rest of the draft.
The next defining moment of the draft was also likely the most significant. Ruel opened a pack with Pulse of the Fields, an incredibly powerful spell in this format. Ruel took Spire Golem for his deck, which was certainly reasonable, but incredibly, Peset took Grimclaw Bats instead of Pulse of the Fields, missing out on a dominating spell and shipping it straight into Remie's blue-white deck in the process. Again, this is one of those things where team drafting is punishing. It's bad enough that Peset didn't get the Pulse for his own deck -- it's doubly bad because Ruel would have to play against it as well. In our opinion it was a clear mistake, and a fairly major one.
Though the rest of the draft went fairly unremarkably, with a final defining moment being a likely error on the Dutch side. Nassif was struggling with his multi-color green deck that just seemed to be able to cast gray ogres. As the Fifth Dawn packs were drafted out, the Dutch had a couple different times where (in our mind) they let Nassif get Dawn's Reflections too cheaply, taking marginal cards rather than defensive-drafting the Reflections. With the help of the Reflections, Nassif's deck was given several opportunities it probably couldn't otherwise have tried. It was a potentially minor issue, but all three of us felt that it let Nassif a bit back into the draft. Handled a bit more defensively they probably could have shut the door on Nassif's deck rather than fiddling around with those last few marginal playables for their own side.
Over the course of the draft, the Dutch plan looked like the better one, and communication and coordination between the Dutch players seemed stronger as well. The French players, by contrast, felt more awkward, nowhere near as polished as the smoothly running Dutch team. When the draft was over the Dutch seemed to have had the better draft and gotten the better decks in the process, but nobody felt the advantage was overwhelming.
The Center Seat takes Center Stageby Mike Turian
Olivier Ruel wanted to bet a dollar that he wouldn't say anything stupid during the first game. Jeroen Remie knows a good bet when he hears one and quickly accepted.
Ruel finished in 27th place in the individual event while Remie placed in the Top 128. Day 4 isn't about individual performance though -- it is all about winning for your country. Neither country has ever won a World Team Championships. Coming into today the teams are first and second so this could be their best opportunity.
In the first game Remie was on the advantage for much of the game thanks to an air assault that Ruel couldn't stop. But while launching a key alpha strike, Remie misplayed badly by casting Pulse of the Fields, incorrectly thinking he would get it back. In a little bit of irony, Ruel drew Fill with Fright next, but Remie's mistake had still cost him at least 3 life.
At this point in the Nassif/Nuijten match, Nassif used one of the Dawn's Reflections the Dutch should probably have kept from him to power out a pretty early Bringer of the Green Dawn. The 3/3 beast producer proved too much for Nuijten to handle, putting the Dutch down a game.
Back to the match at hand, both players were launching repeated alpha strikes on each other. When once again Ruel sent his whole team, after Remie set up his blocks, Ruel cast a devastating Betrayal of Flesh, getting back an Arcbound Worker which then became a 5/5 monster from a 4/4 Arcbound Bruiser's death. Ruel still needed to find a flyer though if wanted to stick around. On the next turn, for the third turn in a row, Ruel made an alpha strike -- but the attack wasn't enough to finish Remie off so the fliers came over to send it to Game 2 at Ruel's expense.
Remie started off strong with a Thought Courier and a Skyhunter Prowler. Ruel made a third-turn Spire Golem. A surprise Baton of Courage allowed the Golem to take down the Prowler. Remie then cast a Spire Golem of his own. The game went back and forth, Ruel emptying Remie's hand with Fill with Fright, then Remie regaining the card advantage on the power of Thought Courier. In the end, it came down to a classic race between air and land. Ruel was sporting a nice flying arsenal while Remie ruled the ground with a Myr Quadropod and a Sawtooth Thresher. The race was on! In the end it was a Regress from Remie that bought the needed time for his beefy ground forces to finish the job, as Ruel was short on mana having previously entwined his Betrayal of Flesh.
"Did you say something stupid in game 1? Yeah, you did," said Remie.
Remie took the match and the dollar. Ultimate victory!
Jeroen Remie 2, Olivier Ruel 0
Pressureby Gary Wise
To use a baseball metaphor appropriate to the locale, does pressure apply itself to Barry Bonds-like greatness or to that entity's support system? Is it more important that the great man carry his team, or that their support system provides the opportunity to do so? When I asked Rogier Maaten and Alexander Peset this question, the answers were telling.
Maaten, teamed with Pro Tour-Seattle champion Jeroen Remie and individual Top 8 finisher Julien Nuijten, feels nothing. If he loses, no one will notice. Julien's proven himself unstoppable this week, Jeroen's a star…what does it matter what the other guy does? Does it matter that he won one of the most prestigious National Championships in 2003? No. What have you done for me lately? If you want a name, you've got to earn it on the big stage.
Peset, teamed with Pro Tour Clown Prince Olivier Ruel and Player of the Year front-runner Gabriel Nassif, is feeling the other end of the spectrum: "If we lose, all of France will say 'it's must be Alex's fault.'" Of course it is. How could the problem lie in the stars, critics will ask. Sure, Peset came into the event leading the Rookie-of-the-Year race. Sure, he's been beating the crap out of Olivier in testing for the last three weeks, but hey, how does that matter? Rookies and fun games? Get real.
Their postures during the match suggest anything but the truth for both: Rogier sits forward, hunched, determined and intense. Peset sits back, relaxed, calm as a cool breeze on San Franciscan beaches. Rogier's piercing gaze is met by the Frenchman's exposed indifference. Little does he know that fear lurks underneath that smooth exterior.
Game 1 goes to Maaten's Soul Foundry, producing Fleshgrafter after Fleshgrafter. The neatly laid-out sleeves, representing black 2/2s, continually turning 90 degrees until Alex begins shuffling for game 2, felled just a little more by the news of a Nassif defeat in Game 1. Game 2 is a war of attrition, permanent trading for permanent, card trading for card. This time, with news of Remie taking a game in the B match, it's Alex, pressure square between the shoulder blades, whose small swarm helps Vanquish a defending Myr Enforcer, sending the contest to a deciding game.
Nuijten defeats the mighty Nassif while Alpha and Suntouched Myrs trade. Remie takes out the Prince as a Scavenger creates French card advantage. The match is decided, the French have lost, the Dutch have won . . .and neither player budges. Pressure, results -- these things are irrelevant. All that matters is victory.
Soul Foundry comes out with Grimclaw Bats underneath, but Alex meets it on his turn with a Vampire of the Mephidross variety, and the ensuing waves of French attack spell the end for Maaten. It doesn't matter though: he wasn't expected to win. He's just along for the ride, but for his opponent, in victory, there is defeat: the French have lost. And surely some are already saying "it must be Alex's fault."