The players sat down for the draft in the following order:
1. Nicolai Herzog
2. Angel Perez del Pozo
3. Mike Turian
4. Anton Jonsson
5. Ben Stark
6. Antoine Ruel
7. Mark Herberholz
8. Masashi Oiso
Both Angel and Anton were very aware of that fact that Mike drafted White/Red cards the whole weekend. And Turian started the draft right on track as well - with a first pick Slith Ascendant over Bosh, Deconstruct and Pyrite Spellbomb. Anton was less fortunate with his opening pack. The two most powerful cards were Fatespinner and Consume Spirit. He chose to go into black, passing the Patrol to Antoine Ruel who happily scooped it up after a first pick Blinding Beam. Ben had to be worried that the two guys on his left would take the red cards, but as Ruel's first pick was white as well it worked out for both of them.
When Anton's second pick came around, he faced Mike's powerful pack and chose a Deconstruct over the two red cards (Bosh, Pyrite Spellbomb). Ben Stark took a Tel-Jilad Chosen from Anton's rather weak pack and happily took the red spellbomb third. By now Mike had a Skyhunter Cub and a Pyrite Spellbomb and was going for his favorite archetype - White/Red. Ben was looking for Green/Red and Antoine on Stark's left was mono-white. Jonsson took a Neurok Spy with his third pick and now had a Black, a Green and a Blue card. As there were no more Green cards coming his way, he settled into a base blue affinity-deck rather soon after picking up a Silver Myr and a Thoughtcast along with a Cathodion and a Scale of Chiss-Goria. Stark stuck with his Green/Red as well. He took an Isochron Scepter fourth and then a Tel-Jilad Exile over a Rustmouth Ogre with his sixth pick.
While the players were reviewing their picks from the first pack, I walked around and looked at the decks. At this point Mark Herberholz seemed to be in great shape with a Looming Hoverguard, the Fatespinner, Bosh and other good cards like Shatter and several cheap artifacts that the affinity deck he was most likely looking to draft desperately needs. A first pick Arc Slogger in pack 2 certainly helped him as well. Stark wasn't as lucky but still looked at a powerful collection of cards with Myr Enforcer, Skyhunter Patrol and the Electrostatic Bolt. With the Scepter waiting for support, the Bolt was a pretty easy pick for him. Anton faced a tough decision once again. He finally chose to pick a Viridian Longbow over a Terror while passing both Arrest and Leonin Abunas to Turian.
Stark's draft went rather smoothly from that point. A Deconstruct was an easy second pick, followed by Vulshock Battlegear, Altar of Shadows, Predator's Strike and Hematite Golem. He chose the golem over a Slith Firewalker, which seemed a bit odd as he already had several removal spells and the Predator's Strike to clear the way for the Slith but he was also quite creature light at that point and the Hematite Golem also works very well in a removal heavy deck.
Anton to his right wasn't sure what color he was drafting other then Blue yet. He took the Myr Enforcer second, then chose a Sun Droplet over Cobalt Golem and then finally got a signal with a quite late Barter in Blood. He still wasn't convinced though and took an Aether Spellbomb. When he got a Slith Bloodletter next, he finally took the black card and two Nim Shriekers meant that he would be Blue/Black.
After pack 2 it was Antoine Ruel who seemed to have the best deck. He was still almost mono-white with two Blinding Beams, cheap equipments and a really good collection of creatures. Herberholz had a very good deck as well but most other players would need some help from their Darksteel packs. Oiso got it in the form of a Skullclamp, but the two players who were rewarded the most were Antoine and Mark once again. Ruel gladly chose a Sword of Fire and Ice, which he can even search for with his Taj-Nar Swordsmith and Herberholz got a Furnace Dragon, which is competing with the sword and Death Cloud for the best card for limited play in Darksteel.
Anton didn't open a good rare, but he still got a Murderous Spoils. Stark was also happy with a first pick Barbed Lightning. I thought he made another odd pick when he chose an Essence Drain over a Panoptic Mirror when his deck already had several excellent spells to imprint. When I asked him about that pick, Ben explained that he played quite a lot with the mirror and just doesn't like the card a lot. He already had the Altar of Shadows and the Isochron Scepter for the long game and he picked up two talismans that produced black mana which he was going to play anyway, making the Essence Drain an easy splash.
After that the packs were good to both Anton and Ben. Jonsson got a good Blue or Black card out of almost every pack including a Quicksilver Behemoth, a Spire Golem, a Verdalken Engineer, an Echoing Decay, a Neurok Prodigy and a Dross Golem. Stark ended up with a second Barbed Lightning and a very late Oxidize which turned his scepter from mediocre to very, very good.
In the end both Ben and Anton were pleased with their decks while Anton merely thought that his was okay. To quote Stark: "If I had the option to play this deck in all of the 15 swiss rounds, I'd definitely take it!", expressing extreme confidence in his deck. He might have a problem in the Quarterfinals though as he is facing Nicolai Herzog's Black/Red draft stocked with creature removal and both Myr Matrix and Darksteel Gargoyle, which are impossible to deal with for Ben.
As I saw most of the decks, I'll try to give predictions for the top 8:
Herzog against Stark:
Both decks are good but Greater Harvester and Darksteel Gargolye are almost impossible to deal with for Ben. Nicolai should advance to the semis.
Ruel against Perez del Pozo:
Antoine's deck is probably the best in this top 8 draft. Two copies of Blinding Beam, a good creature base including Auriok Steelshaper and Leonin Shikari along with tons of equipments and a Sword of Fire and Ice. Angel does have a lot of artifact removal including an Unforge, so he might be up to the task. I still believe that Antoine is going to win this Pro Tour though.
Oiso against Jonsson:
Masashi drafted a Green/White creature deck with two Arrests and Skullclamp. His deck has quite a few creatures with protection from artifacts as well and that should give Anton's Blue/Black Affinity deck problems. It's going to be close but Oiso will advance to the semis here.
Turian against Herberholz:
Mike's deck is certainly okay and he did open a Grab the Reins in pack 2 as well. But I don't think he can stand up to the power level of Arc Slogger, Furnace Dragon and Fatespinner. The white deck matches up very well against affinity though so maybe Mike will pull an upset. I think 3-1 for Mark will be the result though.
According to those predictions the Semifinals would be:
Herzog against Herberholz:
Herzog's deck has enough removal to deal with Mark's creatures and Herberholz will have a tough time against Panoptic Mirror and especially Greater Harvester as well. Herzog advances.
Ruel against Oiso:
Masashi's deck was good against Anton, but there is no way he can win this. Two Blinding Beams are already ridiculous against Green/White and Antoine's superior equipments and tricks don't really improve things. Vive la France!
If I happen to be right, that means Antoine Ruel is going to face Nicolai Herzog in the finals. Cheap white guys with equipments against a Black/Red removal deck. I think that matchup favors Antoine although Nicolai does have the artifact removal to deal with the Sword of Fire and Ice at least. It might be about time that France wins a Pro Tour after Gabriel Nassif lost in the finals of the last two constructed events. Edge to Antoine!