by Gary Wise
For the last half year or so, I've lived with that record, knowing I may be the only player in Magic history to 'achieve' it . Round after round, last year's Invitationalists lined up and took their shots, giggling with delight as they watched the good ship Gary Wise sink further and further into the depths of mediocrity.
Well folks, get ready for round two. When compared with my co-Invitationalists, I come up lacking with regard to my ability to pick up a new format. It takes me a bit of time to become competent in an environment, be it limited or constructed, and as a result, with my having done no play testing once again, it looks like the Invitational footprint may become permanently engraved on my ass in about a week's time.
With my mediocrity firmly established, I now move on to my opponents. Wizards of the Coast has gathered a number of big fish from large and small ponds alike for the purpose of competing for the title of Invitational Champion, a spot in next year's event and the right to design the next Avalanche Rider or Rootwater Thief. Here then is a look at those competing. Pick one and cheer them on this week, and may the best man win.
Trevor Blackwell - When Trevor qualified for his PT in a year at GP San Fransisco, it's unlikely he understood the ramifications. One of the latest pros to join the ranks of Internet writer, Trevor went to LA and proceeded to win the whole damn think, along with $25000 and a spot in the Invitational. Proving LA was no fluke with a 10th place finish in NY, this is his first appearance in the most exclusive tourney in the World, Trevor should do fairly well, with Sydney roommate Ben Rubin providing solid playtesting assistance.
Noah Boeken - Last year, Nicolai Herzog set the European Magic scene ablaze with wins at Norwegian championships and European Championships to go with his top 8 finish at Worlds. This year, Boeken is the European who has caught fire, with his European Championship setting the pace for a resume that has recently added a 3rd place finish at GP Manchester and a win at GP Helsinki. Look for Boeken to do well in the limited events and play some sort of beatdown in constructed.
Kai Budde - For the second year in a row, Kai will be joining me a few days in advance of the other Invitationalists at te tourney site so he can catch some local flavor. A former World Champ and player of the year, Kai earned his invite trough the Internet vote. Equally adept at constructed and limited, Kai's challenge for this event will be preperation ,seemingly a common theme with Chicago around the corner. With a record three GP victories, there is no doubt that the new Hamburg resident is one of the most consistently strong competitors in the game.
Jon Finkel - Is there any doubt that this is the greatest player in the history of the game? One of only two players with multiple premiere level victories, Jon is the only World Champ to also take home a PT crown. With approximately 1500 top 8 finishes, a couple of GP wins, a national title and both World Championship and PotY belts, Jon, who has recently started rededicating himself to the Pro Tour (Thanks to the Masters Series) is looking as strong as ever. The one title that has eluded our version of Tiger Woods is the Invitational Championship. Look for him to make a strong run at this year's title.
Ryan Fuller - So are there two Canadians or two Dutchmen in this year's tourney? Fuller, the Canadian Champion, recently picked up and moved to Amsterdam, and could stay there for a considerable amount of time. After some time away from the game, Ryan led team Canada to a 2nd place finish, falling only to the Finkel-led Americans.
Gerardo Godinez-Estrada - Some of you may be thinking 'who is this guy?', by Godinez-Estrada has been around for a while, with five years under his belt. The first Latin American to appear at the Invitational, Godinez-Estrada was in second place after day two at World Championships 1999 before a hard day three. Look for him to compete with Dave Price for the Price deck in the auction.
Yoshikazu Ishii - While I do know something about Godinez-Estrada, I don't know ANYTHING about this gentleman. Ishii is a last moment replacement for 17 year old Kazuhiro Mori, who had to decline his invitation due to the threat of his flunking out of high school. The Japanese have become legendary for bringing unusual and creative decks to the Invitational. Expect more of the same for Yoshikazu.
Darwin Kastle -Darwin's recent GP victory at Manchester, amazingly enough, is the highest level sanctioned event he's ever won, but don't forget his Invitational victory three years ago. A member of PTDC Champion Team Your Move Games, Darwin excels at both constructed and limited, with his work ethic being unparalleled. Look for a solid showing from the big Boston resident.
Mike Long - There are so many thing you'd all love to read here, but you won't. His reputation aside, Long is to Magic as Vader is to Star Wars: sometimes you love him, sometimes you hate him, but his pure charisma makes you want to see more. A PT Champion (Paris), despite the Magic community's dislike for the man, he got voted into the Invitational, so someone out there must like him. Regardless of your feelings towards him, you have to admit things are a lot more interesting when Mike is around.
Bob Maher - It was less then a year ago that The Great One was calling himself a wash up, and there wasn't a lot of disagreement going on. With Bob running a business, there wasn't much time for Magic and his results came up lacking as a result. Fortunately though, PT Chicago came along and allowed Bob to play the Oath deck he'd played for over a year professionally, and that practice paid off with a victory. When people started wondering if he could still play other formats, he hauled ass at Worlds, finishing second and collecting Player of the Year honors. People don't say bad things about Bob's game anymore: People don't like to be wrong.
Zvi Mowshowitz - The creative genius behind first Mogg Squad and now Kobra Kai, So much has been made of Zvi's Net presence getting him into the Invitational that it seems his merits as a Magic player have almost been forgotten. With Top 8s at NY '99 and US Nationals '99, Zvi's perceived drop off is a hoax, with two Top 16s this year. Throw in the fact that he's one of the top 5 deck builders in the game right now and you have a player who would be deserving if he hadn't written a single word.
Chris Pikula - I think that any time Chris qualifies for a tournament, it makes that tournament better. Better for a quote then any player on the planet, Chris' quick tongue almost eclipses his accomplishments in this game. The defending Champion, Chris has three PT top 8s to his credit and has been one of the central figures on the pro tour from the beginning. With Chris flying in deck builder Dave Humphreys for the event as a result of his winning last year (when Humphrey's gave Chris decks to play), look for Chris to do about at well as Darwin Kastle.
Dave Price - In a game with inconsistencies like mana screw, Dave Price has been the constant. Only one player in the history of the game has been to every single Pro Tour, and this is the guy. Whether he's winning PTLA 3 or winning another qualifier, the King of Beatdown, has been, is, and will remain one of the game's top stars. Staying visible through his popular column work (now appearing at www.starcityccg.com) you'll be able to follow Dave closer then most, with his deck choices for the Invitational usually appearing in his work about a week ahead of time.
Ben Rubin - Making this Invitational may inadvertently hurt Ben's reputation. After bring snubbed by Invitational criteria despite two second place finishes in 1998, Ben earned the reputation as perhaps the best player in the game to have never been selected to appear at the event. Now, with this season producing his third and fourth PT Top 8s, Ben has firmly entrenched himself in the game's annals as one of the all-time greats. A true workhorse, look for Rubin to come to the Invitational more prepared than a number of his colleagues.
Alex Shvartsman - No offense to Ben, but Alex makes him look like the laziest man alive. Despite only one Top 32 finish at a Pro Tour stop, Alex was able to finish fourth in the Player of the Year race thanks largely to his willingness to travel to GPs around the globe, where he'd both play and nourish a solid singles trade. A master networker, with the Masters Series providing other pros the inspiration to do the same, it will be interesting to see how his numbers stack up this year, but no one can take away from his birth in this year's Invitational. Tradition is on Shvartsman's side, as Alex seems to do pretty well on GP weekends.
Gary Wise - Blowhard? Sure. Loudmouth? Yep. For whatever reason, it seems like some people appreciate my willingness to speak my mind, as proven by the fact that this is the second year in a row in which a vote of some kind has snared me the invite. I have a strange habit of doing really well at the tournament following the vote, with last year's Worlds (7th) and this year's New York being my two final day appearances. As I've already said, I haven't prepared one iota for this tourney, so expect mediocrity, but I'll do what I can to fill Kyle Rose's sizeable shoes. This year's goal is 3-12. Wish me luck.