By Randy Buehler
Seventy players traveled to Vancouver to try to win the right to represent Canada at the upcoming Magic World Championships in Brussels, Belgium, in August. Canada is the only country other than the United States to have won the Team Championship at Worlds, so the rest of the world always keeps a close eye on this tournament. This year, Canadian Nationals is even more interesting because it's the first major Constructed tournament where Prophecy is legal. Most players seem to think that Standard will be fairly untouched by the inclusion of Prophecy. There are certainly some cards that will be played, but the word on the street is that the set won't introduce any new archetypes. Check back on Saturday when the Standard portion of the tournament starts, and we'll find out whether anyone has any well-kept secrets.
Day 1 consists of six rounds of Mercadian Masques/Nemesis/Prophecy Booster Draft. If U.S. Nationals is any indication then the format is fairly balanced color-wise. White used to be amazing, but it's weak in Prophecy (with the notable exception of Troubled Healer, probably the best common in the entire block). Black is amazing in Nemesis but clearly the worst color in Prophecy. On the other hand, red used to be weak but it's amazing in Prophecy. All in all, any color is draftable and the successful drafters will be those who figure out which colors are underdrafted around them. In particular, the smart players will draft black if they can cut it off from the players on their left and red it no one on their right wants it.
Players to keep an eye on (in alphabetical order):
Ryan Fuller - Believed by many to be the most talented Canadian player (at least since Paul McCabe and Terry Borer stopped playing), Fuller has one Pro Tour Top 8 to his credit in Chicago in 1998.
Jeff Fung - Fung burst onto the scene with a Top 8 at Chicago '98 and was popular enough on tour to be first alternate for a berth in the Magic Invitational. However, Fung has fallen on hard times within the game and he failed to win any of the three "meatgrinders" (qualifying tournaments) he participated in yesterday. Look for him doing Sideboard coverage all weekend.
Gary Krakower - Krakower has dominated this tournament. He won it twice and he finished 2nd last year. Krakower is widely believed to be one of the best players never to make Top 8 at the Pro Tour itself.
Pete Radonjic - Pete won this tournament two years ago. He also had a Top 8 way back at the Pro Tour-Columbus, the third Pro Tour ever held. School has prevented Radonjic from doing consistently well on tour, but no one doubts his talent (though some do doubt his ability to draft).
Mark Rajotte - Rajotte is the defending champion, but he has locked himself into his own basement to play Everquest all weekend rather than come here to defend his title. Last year Rajotte came out of nowhere - Nationals was only his third tournament ever - but he proved that drawing Dark Ritual and Hatred every game is a good thing.
Gab Tsang - Gab was #1 after the Swiss for two Pro Tour events in a row, but that was in 1997 (New York and Worlds). This Tsang has fallen off tour in recent years, but it's been through lack of attention, not lack of talent. He made Top 8 with "Bargain" here last year and is certainly a threat to do it again.
Terry Tsang - One of the Pro Tour's more popular players, Tsang has been integral in forming and maintaining "The Jumble", a widespread conglomeration of Magic talent that has produced good decks for most of the recent Constructed Pro Tours.
Matt Vienneau - Legendary more for his complaining than his playing, Vienneau has nonetheless managed to stay on tour for most of the last five years. He'd love to provide himself with something to write about that actually involves playing Magic and he's fresh off a 5th place finish last weekend at Grand Prix-Pittsburgh (with teammates Gary Krakower and Dave Price).
Gary Wise - Certainly the loudest player in the field and the best networker, Wise had an excellent season last year, including a Top 8 at Worlds and an invitation to the Magic Invitational. However, he's never made the Canadian national team.