Friday | Saturday
Popular Magic columnist and international man of leisure Brian David-Marshall is roaming the halls of Pro Tour London to bring you all the entertaining stories and tidbits straight from the tournament floor.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 10:14 am - Pizza, Pizza
- 11:22 am - How about now, Randy?
- 1:07 pm - I Want a New Blood
- 2:17 pm - Your Move Games Reborn
- 2:45 pm - The Invasion Continues
- 4:01 pm - Bowled Over
- 4:38 pm - Always the Bridesmaid
- 5:02 pm - One of These Things Is Not Like the Other
- 5:31 pm - Cool New Toys
- 6:15 pm - Bad Beat for Glasses
- 7:02 pm - Don't Bust out the Crap Rare Box Just Yet!
It is a long running joke among the coverage veterans to suggest getting pizza for dinner when in a new country for the first time. Back in the day that was often the only choice if you wanted to dine on the company, since the powers that were did not have very sophisticated taste in food. For my first dinner in Japan I was offered a choice of pizza, McDonalds, or the Hard Rock Café.
As the site has evolved from Sideboard.com to magicthegathering.com, so have the palettes -- as evidenced by the fattiest tuna from Nagoya, tapas in Philadelphia, and steamed stingray in Singapore (Scott Johns: "Did you mention the Kobe beef? Don't forget the Kobe beef!").
It is always a struggle to find decent food after a long day of three sets of drafts and seven rounds of play, but it seems especially hard here in London. In light of recent events, we are not venturing very far from the hotel/tournament site and most places seem to stop serving around 9 p.m. The only thing Randy, Ted, and I were able to find for dinner last night ended being the dreaded pizza.
Now, I am something of a pizza snob. I grew up in Brooklyn and have some pretty strong ideas about what constitutes a good slice of pizza. There have been some long heated debates between me and Chicago-bred Chris Galvin about the proper depth of a pizza. I was braced for the worst as we sat down for London-style pizza. Surprisingly it was excellent with a thin, crispy crust, good cheese, fresh basil, and some salty Parma ham.
Saturday, July 9: 11:22 am - How about now, Randy?
While we ate the surprisingly high-quality pizza we discussed Day One and looked for the emerging storylines. Both Ted and I brought up Nicolai Herzog and Tomi Walamies making it through to Day Two. Randy dismissed those as variants on a well-worn story of formerly great players returning successfully to the tournament scene.Tomi Walamies' last PT Top 8 was Venice 2003.
I'm sorry Randy. I don't think you fully appreciate what Tomi had to do to get to Day Two. He lost his first two rounds and then won his next three only to run up against Umezawa's Jitte in the final round. That is also the start of the story of Jeroen Remie getting eliminated in the sixth round but Tomi's ends on a happier note.
"The thought in my mind was that I started 0-2, went 3-0, and then I was going to lose to Jitte."
There were a couple of key cards in the decisive game, including a timely Pull Under and a certain legendary creature. "The entire game was about my Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. He had to keep using his Jitte to gain life and I had enough mana open to make it really difficult for him to kill anything other than a 1/1 flier."
That was not the key to victory though. "The key turn was when he equipped a flier and I had Mending Hands to prevent the damage. That made it hard for him to get enough counters to overwhelm my Eight-and-a-Half-Tails."
Once he got past that hurdle there seemed to be no stopping the former Finnish superstar, who rolled off seven straight wins thanks in no small part to his own bomb rare from Betrayers of Kamigawa. "I have gone 6-0 with two decks where I switched into black on Ink-Eyes in the second pack. It has been a real gamble that has paid off."
I asked Tomi if his play has improved over the two days to explain his turnaround but he felt that his play has been at the same level.
"I got better in terms of the tournament pressure. I had been away from the game for a year and a half. When I first sat down I was really nervous but once I started playing I regained my mental game."
Tomi has actually had multiple opponents ask him if he was playing in his first professional tournament. "I tried a couple of different approaches. The first time I was really humble. The second time I bragged a lot. The first approach worked a lot better."
The reason that Tomi has been away from the game for the last 18 months was to pursue his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. He didn't even need to take time away from the dream to play in this event, as he will be performing Sunday night at a local club.
2 Camden Walk
8 p.m. Sunday
0 Angel Tube Station
£5 cover charge
"It's very unglamorous - it is just the upstairs of a pub. There are usually only 10 or 12 people there."
Perhaps Tomi should place an over/under wager with his fellow comedians as to how many people will be in the audience for their show since just about every Magic player here plans on attending. Actually, he might want to make an over/under wager on whether or not he makes in there in time, if he is playing at the final draft table on Sunday I am setting the line at 1/2.
Saturday, July 9: 1:07 pm - I Want a New Blood
After about a dozen events scattered about the globe for the past two weeks, the PTQ season for Pro Tour-Los Angeles hit its full stride this weekend. There are over a dozen in North America alone. The format is Kamigawa Block Constructed, which means you will likely visiting the Tournament Center quite a bit over the next few weeks as the decklists start flooding the Top 8 page.The PTQ drew a large crowd.
In the meanwhile, I thought I should wander around the 170-person PTQ that was taking place Saturday here in the side events area and see what some of the big names who have fallen on hard times were playing. The big deck that almost everyone seemed to be playing was the Monoblack Aggro deck that recently won an Arkansas PTQ in the hands of Brett Reason (featured in Swimming with Sharks this week). Flores dubbed the deck Black Hand and that seems to be the name that is going to stick.
Pro Tour-New Orleans Top 8 competitor Yann Hamon successfully slapped his first two opponents down with Black Hand. Raffaele Lo Moro was also running the deck.
"I think it might be the best deck in the format," claimed Hans Joachim Hoh, another alum from the Top 8 class of New Orleans. He did not play the deck however, opting instead for an aggro version of snakes. "I just did not have the cards to build it."
Black seemed to be a popular color all over the room. Japan's Jun Nobushita and Italy's Emmanuelle Canavesi were both running Swamps and the occasional Storehouse. The former's deck was a rat beatdown concoction with a legendary ninja in the mix. The latter was running a deck that bore a passing resemblance to Kai's Kite-Top build from Philly but he replaced the plains and Final Judgments with Swamps and Kagemaros. Luigi Sbrozzi was last seen in the Top 8 of Pro Tour-Kobe and found himself chasing the gravy train as it lurched from the station this week. His deck of choice for the PTQ was a green-white Legends toolbox that touched blue for Meloku.
I will try to bring you the Top 8 decklists depending on which event reaches its cut to the elimination rounds first. That pizza won't eat itself, you know.
Saturday, July 9: 2:17 pm - Your Move Games Reborn
While writing the event preview for London, I was struck by the absence of Your Move Games while discussing North American players. There was time when YMG would go toe to toe with powerhouse teams like Tongo Nation, CMU, and TOGIT. The three stalwarts of the team -- Rob Dougherty, Darinw Kastle, and Dave Humpherys, have all receded from the limelight and await the final results of the Hall of Fame ballot.Edwards is following in some large footsteps.
Craig Edwards is a stand-out player for one of those other card games. His success has led him to focus more energy on playing Magic competitively. It also helps that the Kansas City native moved to the Boston area two years ago and hooked up with the YMG crowd. Craig was proudly wearing the red dragon (or poorly drawn pigeon, as the Neutral Ground crowd liked to call it) this weekend and doing it proud.
He had been staying near the top of the standings all weekend and after nine rounds he had only taken one loss on the weekend. Not bad considering his third draft deck was a spicy little number that was splashing a card with double blue in its casting cost.
When asked which YMG style the deck was drafted in Craig thought for a moment and dismissed Kastle. "Darwin would never, ever, play a deck like this one. He would not splash cards - he would just play underpowered cards in his colors. This deck is much more in the Dougherty tradition."
He went 3-0 with the deck…Rob would be so proud.
Saturday, July 9: 2:45 pm - The Invasion Continues
"Somehow that story hasn't worn thin for me," mused Randy Buehler last night as we talked about the continued dominance of Japanese players on the Pro Tour. Of the 35 players who attended this event 45.7 percent -- known in some circles as 16 -- of them reached Day Two. Hidden in the shadow of their tremendous Day Two penetration is the fact that this the highest Japanese attended Pro Tour outside of the APAC region.
The reason for the increased attendance comes in two parts that go hand-in-hand according to Japanese newshound Keita Mori.
"The Japanese PTQ players who qualify are coming to these events more than ever," Mori said. "They think 'I have a chance on the PT' because in the most recent events they have seen their friends go from the PTQ ranks to being a big star in a short period of time."
It was barely two years ago that Masashi Oiso and Kenji Tsumura were playing in Hiroshima PTQs. Actually Tsumura was still playing in PTQs up until last year's Japanese Nationals, when he made the National team.
"The environment in Japan is really good right now. There are lots of great opportunities for new players to practice Magic," continued Mori. He explained that the Pro players make a concerted effort to lift up the qualified PTQ players and encourage them to playtest and practice draft with them - very similar to the Dutch Magic community.
Tokyo's Itaru Ishida is especially generous in this regard. While he is barely past the halfway point of his 20s, Ishida has been playing Magic since before it was released in Japan. Keita likened him to a sensei for newbies; drawing them into drafts with local pros like Akira Asahara, Shu Kumuro, Tomohiro Kaji, and Tomoharu Saito.
"In Osaka, Tsuyoshi Fujita is the same way," Keita elaborated. Players such as Shuhei Nakamura, Masahiko Morita, Osamu Fujita, and Masashiro Kuroda all help to build up the quality of players emerging from that area. And let's not overlook the Nagoya region, which can lay claim to Ryu Ogura and Jin Okomoto.
Going into the final draft, Kaji and Oiso were on top of the world with a combined 21-3 record. They were the most likely Japanese players to reach Sunday's stage. Tune in later to see if any of the beneficiaries of their tutelage will be joining them.
Saturday, July 9: 4:01 pm - Bowled Over
Jon Becker was like a dog chewing on a bone all day Friday. He could not figure out the origins of the country code next to Top 8 hopeful Yves Sele's name near the top of the standings. CHE stands for Switzerland but that has not been the assumption that Sele's opponents normally make, "Not so much this weekend but usually at Grand Prix players think I am Czech. I think it would be better if the country code was SUI or something like that."
Jon was thinking along similar lines and was asking anyone who would listen to explain the logic behind it. Finally, Scott Larabee sent him a link to a wikpedia listing which explained that it was short for Confoederatio Helvetica, the Latin name for the country. By using Latin, it avoids choosing any of the four official languages of the country; important for a country that is known for remaining neutral.
Jon went around sharing the info with everyone he had asked earlier. When Jon asked Randy if he had asked the question of him earlier, Buehler told him that he had not. He wanted Jon to share the question and see if he knew the answer before Jon told him.
"That's easy, Confoederatio Helvetica."
"How did you know that?" replied an obviously impressed Becker.
"I was on College Bowl," shrugged Randy.
"I was on College Bowl, too," pouted Jon. "I guess his team would have beaten mine."
Saturday, July 9: 4:38 pm - Always the Bridesmaid
You would think that winning between $3,000 and $5,000 at every Limited Pro Tour would not be something you would not grow to find tiresome. But then you are not Rich Hoaen. Much has been made of Richie's ridiculous streak of high finishes, and barring a major meltdown he should be right up in the Top 16 players again this weekend.
Rich's fourth draft ended with a pair of losses and a surging tide of pessimism from the Canadian draft wizard. When informed that there was the likelihood that one four-loss player could be drafting on Sunday, Richie could only look to the future through half-empty glasses.
"This means I will finish ninth again, great."
Saturday, July 9: 5:02 pm - One of These Things Is Not Like the Other
Magic: The Gathering illustrator Jim Murray is going to need to find himself a catchy one-word name like Snapper, Bassface, or something if he wants to fit in with his fellow VIPs, Chippy and Puddnhead, this weekend. The three artists have been signing cards and selling artwork all weekend.Chippy was one of three artists signing at Pro Tour-London.
Chippy (who does introduce himself as Brian) has been complimented on his work all weekend but has found a pattern to the cards with art that people really like such as Footsteps of the Goryo.
"They always tell me that they like the artwork but that it is such a bad card. They never like the artwork on the cards they say are good."
He pointed to Spiraling Embers as an example of a card with an illustration people don't seem to care for. "I rather like this one though."
Saturday, July 9: 5:31 pm - Cool New Toys
No, it is not a Raving Oni-Slave action figure, but a new way to review the draft coverage of the Top 8 this Sunday. Magicthegathering.com developer Doug Beyer greatly expanded on the card viewer that is a staple of the Top 8 coverage to come up with a way to present a first-person perspective of each player's draft choices.
When the players sit down for the final draft of the weekend they will each have their very own judge leaning over a shoulder and recording each pick. From there, the data will be entered into a draft tool so that you can look at each players picks each pack throughout the draft. Look for all the data to be posted by the start of Sunday's semifinals.
Have you ever wondered how your card evaluations stack up against Richie Hoaen, Masashi Oiso, and Tsuyoshi Fujita? Well, if those guys get a couple of more wins you will be able to experience each of their choices firsthand and see for yourself.
Saturday, July 9: 6:15 pm - Bad Beat for Glasses
Steven "Glasses" Cohen is a New York player who played in his first individual Pro Tour this weekend. Predictably, he was playing in the PTQ Saturday morning. His deck of choice? A creatureless burn deck that has good matchups against almost everything in the field except for White Weenie.
Glasses lost Game 1 of his third-round pairing against his worst matchup and looked to be in terrible shape. His opponent had Umezawa's Jitte in play and none of the New Yorker's sideboarded artifact removal was anywhere near the top of his deck. He had burned his opponent down to 8 but with nothing to stop his equipped critters from coming across and piling on the counters the life race looked like it was not one he could possibly win.
Glasses, who had seven mana in play, used Sensei's Divining Top and suddenly saw a slim ray of hope. He tapped three of his remaining six mana and fired off Flames of the Blood Hand. His opponent read the card and decided to remove one counter from the Jitte in response.
"You're at 10, now?" asked Glasses.
His opponent slouched down in his chair. "Crap."
Glasses flipped his Top and played his eighth land and tossed Hidetsegu's Second Rite onto the table. He turned to his teammate Mark Schmidt and they exchanged high-fives at the highly improbable turn of events. His opponent had not conceded yet though. He thought for a few seconds and reread Flames of the Blood Hand. He was holding Shining Shoal and redirected enough of the damage back at a shattered Glasses.
Saturday, July 9: 7:02 pm - Don't Bust out the Crap Rare Box Just Yet!
There was a buzz in the air when it became apparent that the player sitting at Table 1 of the PTQ during Round 6 was running an Enduring Ideal deck. Nmandi Ogbechi used the abundant mana acceleration in Kamigawa Block Constructed to ramp up to an early Enduring Ideal. The Epic spell would then churn out Honden after Honden, Genju of the Realms, Night of Soul's Betrayal, or Meishin, the Mind Cage.The crowd gathered to see what everyone thought was new tech.
Eric "EDT" Taylor was among the throng of rapt onlookers as Nmandi took on White Weenie for what looked to be a Top 8 berth in the PTQ. The crowd was all elbows as people jockeyed for position to see the new deck change the metagame.
"It might only be a one week deck and this is the week," assessed EDT, worried that players would be packing Cleanfall next week.
I sifted through the decklists and prepared to type up the details when scorekeeper Savvas Themistocleous informed me that he was using random table assignments to set the players. He printed out the standings and I scrolled down for Nmandi's name. He was not on page one.
He was dead last.
After five rounds of play he had won one match and drawn another. I didn't have the heart to tell the onlookers the details in front of the players. If I crane my neck from the coverage room I can see them still gathered around the table. Time has run out. It looks like Nmandi is going to pick up his second draw on the day.