While there are many, many special things about each World Championships, one of the most exciting is always watching the Player of the Year race wind down. This year has proven to be extra exciting right to the wire.
Eternal PoY bridesmaid Shuhei Nakamura finally looked to seal the deal and bring the Player of the Year title home after narrowly missing out the past two seasons. He started 2008 strong by winning the very first Grand Prix of the season in Stuttgart, just a week removed from last year’s World Championships. He continued putting up high-level finishes with a Top 8 in Pro Tour–Hollywood. When the announcement was made that Nationals tournaments would award pro points for the first time in the game’s history, Nakamura was given an additional opportunity to pad his total. Unfortunately for him, he missed the cut for points, though he left the event in the lead with a slight edge over his fellow pros.
A number of players doggedly kept up with Nakamura over the course of the season. Renowned world traveler Olivier Ruel traded tit for tat with his Japanese friend, and the two entered the World Championships separated by 14 points. Ruel had an advantage over Nakamura, however, because he had managed to make his national team and would earn extra pro points during the team competition. American Luis Scott-Vargas made a late surge to catch up to the two players, winning Pro Tour–Berlin, then following it up with a GP win a few weeks later. The final two players within reach were Marcio Carvalho of Portugal, also a member of his respective national team, and Tomoharu Saito, last year’s winner.
At Worlds, the players faced a long weekend of Magic. They battled hard across three separate formats: Standard, Extended, and Shards of Alara draft. Olivier and Carvalho got extra chances during the team portion of competition, while Luis Scott-Vargas fought his way to the Top 16 in the individual portion. In the end, however, the workhorse Nakamura, who had played some 22 of 25 weekends of premier level play during the 2008 Pro Tour season, managed to hold on and claim the title.