After twelve rounds of swiss, eight players ended up with 27 points or more, advancing to the final playoff. After going 5-1 in the draft portion of the German Nationals, 24-year-old Mario Zemke played his Fires deck to a stunning 6-0 record, finishing on top of the standings at 33 points. "I am very satisfied with these two days. I've been lucky, but I've also played well," he smiles. The sports shop attendant was less happy about his quarterfinals matchup, and that kind of lowered his mood a little. "I've felt really bad since I got to know the pairings. Stephan Valkyser killed five Fires decks today, it's incredible. I'll be the sixth."
Mario had a hectic tournament schedule. First, he played the nationals draft. Then he went on to play an Apocalypse pre-release, where he went 5-1. Finally, he figured that he needed a deck for the Standard portion of nationals. "I came without a deck, saying that I would figure it out after the draft. I'm not a control player, and black/red wasn't too good in the metagame. There were other decks, but I hadn't tested them so I said okay, it's Fires."
Mario had no idea how he managed to go 6-0. He is pretty sure though that his streak will end in the quarterfinals. "Normally, in best out of three, you can win because your opponent draws poorly or because you get lucky. But in best out of five, the deck decides. And then it doesn't look too good for me at all. But I hope that I beat Stephan. Then I would be satisfied," he says, voting for Patrick Mello as the favorite for the title.
Compared to many others, Patrick Mello had a fairly easy way to the top. The 25-year-old economy student from Hamburg played nine rounds only instead of the normal twelve. "I started in the draft by getting a bye in the first round because I was at a seven man table," he explains. Patrick went on to go 5-1 in the draft. Then, during the Standard portion, Patrick faced Kai Budde when he was at 7-1 and Kai was at 6-1-1. "One of us had to concede. We had the same 75 cards, and one of us would win. The conclusion was that I was in a better position for the top 8 because I had two more points than him, and he still had a shot if he went 3-0, so he conceded to me."
Patrick went on to lose to Fires, the one matchup he should win, and then in the eleventh round he got an unintentional draw against a blue and white control deck. So he had to win in the last round. With multiple nightmare matchups he was lucky enough to face Jan Brinkmann. Brinkmann was with Machine Head, one of the worst matchups for Orbosition, but for that reason exactly did Jan want Mello in the top 8, and so he conceded as well, sending Patrick into the playoff. "Today was just ridiculous," Patrick agrees. "But regardless of the way I got in, I'm still pretty happy."
The Orbosition deck that Patrick played was developed by a playtest group consisting of both German, American and English players, and top 8 finisher Christian Lührs is with the same deck. Five Hamburg players chose to play Orbosition, and their decks would have been exactly the same if only they had been able to find all the cards they needed. "Sleight of Hand, the Portal card that is in 7th Edition is really hard to get, and we only had a handful of copies. So we decided to split them up so that the guy in the best position after the first day got four, then the next one would get two and the others would have to play Opt instead. There we were, Pro Tour players, but we weren't able to get the cards. I played two, and I think Christian plays one," Patrick reveals. He admits that he wants to win, although he doesn't believe he will make it. "But I will try my best," he says.
After he won his final match to sneak into third place in the swiss, Michael Neumaier was just smiling. He also had to phone a friend of his to tell him the good result. "I didn't have high expectations, I was merely hoping to do well. Of course I was dreaming of the top, but you can't really expect that," the 36-year-old quality manager says. He definitely did not expect it when he started the tournament with a loss and a draw. But then Michael started winning. "I won the third match, and then I went 3-0 in the second draft, my third Rochester draft ever," he smiles.
Still, in spite of his 4-1-1 record, Michael needed a deck that could go 5-1, and so he went for a deck he knew well - Fires. "I played Fires in Regionals, but I had problems against control decks and I needed good draws to win. My brother made me play Fires without the Fires and with a splash of black for some really good sideboard cards. I also have Duress main deck, and they are really good against control," he explains.
In the quarterfinals, Michael plays against a burn deck, and he figures that whomever gets the better draw will win. "I would say it's about 50/50 before sideboarding. I don't have a sideboard against burn, but my main deck is okay, and I will think about how to sideboard later," he says. Michael's goal is to win one match. But naturally, he hopes to become the National Champion. "I would be a liar if I said I didn't hope to win, but I don't think so. I don't even know if I'm good enough for Worlds. But I'm very satisfied, and even if I hadn't made the top 8, this would have been more than I expected."
Jan Brinkmann from Mainz came to the German Nationals without any expectations. Having played very little Magic for a while, he was surprised to find himself at a 6-0 record after the Rochester Draft. Still, the good result made him feel a bad. "I'm feeling fine now, but it's bad to go 6-0 and have to go 3-3 when everybody says that it's so easy," he admits. Jan chose to play a red and black Machine Head deck in the Standard portion of nationals. The 28-year-old computer scientist had seen the Orbosition deck, but without playtesting he feared the mirror matchup. So instead, he chose to go for a deck that could beat Orbosition.
His choice of deck gave him a pretty good matchup in the quarterfinals. Patrick Mello plays Orbosition, and Jan reckons that his chances of advancing are good. "I don't like to make predictions," he says. "Last year the same thing happened, I played Janosch Kühn in the quarters and everybody said I had no chance. Then I won. Afterwards, I played two decks and everybody said I had good matchups, and I lost in the finals. It's always easy to say something, but no matchup wins 90%," he points out. He knows that the Machine Head - Orbosition matchup is all about the Plague Spitter, though. "If I get one on the table, there is little that they can do," he admits.
Having come this far, Jan hopes to make the national team yet again, and preferably with his friend Mark Ziegner and Patrick Mello. "I will be a little disappointed if I don't make it," he reveals, but adds that he is really satisfied just by getting to the top 8. "But I enjoyed being on the national team quite a lot, and it is a lot of fun. So I will test a lot against the blue deck tonight," he smiles.
Christian Lührs from Hamburg was happy about making the top 8. "It was nice. I think the Orbosition deck was good in the field," he smiles. Christian came to Würzburg of course, hoping to do well and finish at least near the top. "I haven't played that much, I've been trying to work on my studies so that I can finish in two years or so," he explains. Still, he managed to go 4-2 in the draft portion, and the Orbosition deck gave him the 5-1 record that he needed to get a slot in the playoff.
The same deck might give him trouble in the quarterfinals though. "I will definitely lose my first match. There is no way I can beat Jan," Christian thinks, knowing though that he can manage to make the team through sneaking in from the loser's bracket. The 25-year-old's technical engineering student believes that his first round opponent might in fact win the whole thing. "He will beat me, then he can beat Stephan and maybe Patrick will play the finals without any chance at all," he says, hoping though that his prediction will be wrong.
Like Jan Brinkmann, Mark Ziegner came to the German Nationals almost without playtesting. But the Jon Finkel look-alike was all smiles when he made the top 8. "This is really cool. I didn't expect this much. I just hoped to get some DCI points and perhaps finish near the top 8," the 28-year-old says. Mark was 4-2 after the first day and needed to go 5-1 during the Standard portion to make the top 8. That wasn't a problem at all. "My deck started to love me from the beginning and gave me what I needed. At that point, I knew everything was possible," he grins.
The law student played a mono-red burn deck designed by the King of Beatdown himself, David Price. The deck was played in a grudge match from Neutral Ground where it went 5-0. Still, Mark hadn't prepared to play it. "I made the deck 20 minutes before the start of the tournament," he reveals. There were several reasons why his deck was chosen that late. The first reason: He came to Würzburg along with Jan Brinkmann. "We had one card pool with us, and he was 6-0 so he got the full choice of the cards he wanted. I had to take what was left. I also think that Fires is boring because it is the deck to beat. Last year I played Replenish, and I met all the hate decks."
The second reason why Mark ended up with burn was the fact that they accidentally left the car keys in the car. At 09:40 some players from Mainz arrived with an extra key, and Mark didn't have time to look through the card pool, he just had to see what he could play from what he found immediately. In fact, he wanted four Blood Oaths in his sideboard, but as he only found two, he put in two Ensnaring Bridges instead. "The Bridges won me two matches today, so if I hadn't left the key, I wouldn't be in the top eight," he laughs. Now, he thinks that his matchup against Fires is okay. "I can beat it, but after all, I just want to have a good time without making too many mistakes when many people are watching," he smiles.
Out of the top eight players, Daniel Zink is the youngest one. At 16, he has already made one Grand Prix top 8 though, in Grand Prix Cologne. Daniel was still thrilled about making the top 8. "I hoped to make it, but I thought I wouldn't. I drafted 3-3, so my expectations weren't that high," he says. However, Daniel played the Counter-Rebel deck he had made along with his friend Felix Schneiders and played it to the perfect 6-0 record he needed to sneak into the playoff. Unfortunately, he had to play his friend in the very last round. "It was bad to have to play him, I had to beat my friend out of the top eight. In the first game, I went first and he had no chance. Then he got mana screwed. To win because of mana screw is bad when you play a friend," Daniel explains.
Daniel chose to go with Counter-Rebels because he wanted a deck that could beat Fires and control. Meddling Mage main deck along with no Wrath of Gods seemed to be the solution, and after winning the three first rounds, he felt that things were going his way. "My girlfriend told me that I would do well. She's my lucky charm," he grins. Now, the Bochum resident believes that he can win against Patrick Mello and Orbosition. "Before sideboarding, I think I should win, but I don't know after boarding. I think he has a lot of cards to bring in against me," Daniel says. "I hope to make the National Team or at least go to Worlds. That would be great."
The final player to make it to the top eight was no other than the veteran Stephan Valkyser. "I had no expectations at all before the tournament, but I'm happy, it's good to make the top 8 again," he thinks. At Pro Tour Barcelona, Stephan actually said farewell to most players. He had decided that Barcelona would be his last Pro Tour, he wanted to end his Pro player part of Magic. "I just went here to see friends I only see once a year. So I was really surprised when I made the top 8," he says.
Needless to say, Stephan didn't playtest a lot before the Nationals, he only spent about twelve hours total to prepare. The Standard deck he played was a creation by a fellow player from Aachen, Thorben Woehler. "He was really good in 96-97, but now he plays for fun. But he is a good player," Stephan points out. The weird green, white and red creation with Charging Trolls turned out to be a real Fires killer. The 36-year-old mathematician faced five Fires decks and crushed them all, going 10-1 in duels.
In the quarterfinals, Stephan faces yet another Fires deck. He believes he will beat Mario Zemke, but then he thinks he will lose in the semi-finals. "I'll lose to Jan Brinkmann. I predict him to be the Champion," Stephan says. Still, in spite of all him not taking the game too seriously anymore, when Stephan sits down to play, he concentrates and plays his best. "I could win it all, but I don't think so," he says.
Stephan is already qualified for Euros, but he won't go to Milano to play. "Going to Pro Tours took too much of my holidays. Last year I spent all my holiday going to Pro Tours, and that is too much," he explains. In fact, Stephan doesn't even know if he will go to Worlds. "I might. If I make the team, then I will definitely go, and even more definitely if our National Team is Team Draften Und Spielen," he grins. Since both his teammates from the 2000 Team Pro Tour New York are in the top eight, there is a possibility that the three of them might end up playing together one last time, for Germany. "That would be the most amazing thing ever," Patrick Mello says, and Christian Lührs agrees: "That would be incredible."