Top 8 Profiles

Posted in Event Coverage

By Sean McKeown

Antoine Ruel

Antoine Ruel, along with his brother Olivier, make an unmatched duo in the European Magic circuit; the two are generally considered to be the best Magic players France has to offer, as the pair's win at Grand Prix-Cannes with team Black Ops begins to show... but match that with their 11th-place finish at the first Team Pro Tour in Washington, DC and their 6th-place finish at this season's Team Pro Tour in New York City and you can see there is definitely something behind that hype.

The two have had less success in individuals play, in many parts due to their fairly recent appearance on the scene compared to most of the well-known professionals acclaimed as being at the top of their game. Before today, Antoine's highest finish at an individual Pro Tour was 121st place, but today he stole a little bit of thunder by winning through eighteen grueling Swiss rounds to make the Top 8 at the World Championships. In addition to striking a win for France, which is not one of the more prominent European regions for professional Magic, Antoine struck a win for himself, and for his brother too.

With his trusty blue-black-red variation on the more traditional Nether-Go deck, Antoine is looking for a win in the first round against two-time Pro Tour champion Tommi Hovi, and he surely wouldn't mind taking home the title as well.

Dave Williams

Dave Williams has been one of the Pro Tour mainstays, a player everyone knew and everyone liked who showed up to every event, but who never quite seemed to get what he deserved with the much-desired Pro Tour Top Eight. Until this season Dave had been denied, but with his first Top 8 at Pro Tour-Tokyo, this Top 8 at Worlds shows that Dave Williams has finally arrived into his own as a player, with enough of both luck and skill needed to navigate through the Swiss and take it to the elimination rounds.

In addition to these individual successes, Dave also won Grand Prix-Yokohama just a few weeks ago, as a member of Team, playing and winning with that team like there was nobody else playing. Dave had previously done well for himself on the Grand Prix circuit, and there was never anyone who believed he didn't earn his gravy train status, but only now has he been able to reap the rewards of all the effort that he has put into the game over the years.

Dave chose Saproling Burt for this tournament, the combo-control Spontaneous Generation deck that many considered to be the top deck of the format. Dave faces a tough matchup in his first round, as Tom Van de Logt with his Plague Spitters (and worse) will be a serious issue, especially since he has no answer to the Spitter in his maindeck if it manages to enter play.

Alex Borteh

Alex Borteh is the Worlds Top 8 competitor that you've never heard of. Alex qualified for US Nationals on rating, and did well enough there to maintain his rating to qualify him for Worlds, making the Top 8 but missing a space on the team. Before his appearance at Worlds, Alex had played in two professional-level events, playing in the individuals Pro Tour at New York in 1999, and again at New York for the Teams Pro Tour this season. Nobody can complain if they make Top 8 at their first World Championships, as eighteen rounds of Swiss competition before making the cut is more than enough of a test to prove one's mettle.

While Alex may not be well known, he is definitely well-liked. In many cases this is a cop-out description, but for Alex it is definitely true; he showed up at Regionals this year because he just wanted to play, but found out he couldn't and had to go to Nationals, instead. The same must have applied for Worlds, as well, and unlike some of the players at Worlds, who showed how far they were willing to go for the brass ring, Alex had a smile on his face the whole way, having a blast whether he was winning or losing. And he did a lot more winning than losing, as did everyone in the Top 8 here. Smile on his face, he's going to be playing it out against Standard Day Winner Jan Tomcani, to see if the man who 6-0'd the Standard portion can beat him.

Jan Tomcani

Jan Tomcani is another player you haven't heard of, for no fault of his own. Jan's at the start of a very solid run, first with a Top 32 finish at Pro Tour-Tokyo, then an unlucky ninth-place finish at Barcelona, and now the Top 8 that he doubtlessly feels he was due at Barcelona. This isn't just a recent string, though, because he has also finished highly at two separate Grand Prix, first Grand Prix-Milan 2000 and Grand Prix-Prague 2001. It's been quite a year for Jan, and what better way to end a season?

Jan Tomcani came to Worlds to represent the Slovak Republic, after losing in the finals of his National Championships where doubtlessly he was looking for the title to take to Worlds. Playing a very unconventional Fires design, he first 6-0'd the Standard portion to earn the Day Winner's title, then pushed through the other two events to pick up another seven wins altogether, bringing him to the elimination rounds in seventh place. Considering he won the day without a hitch during the Standard portion, it would seem that Jan Tomcani is definitely a player to keep in mind for the final day of play at the World Championships. Win or lose, it's a feather in his hat to put a great ending to a great season, and 'win' is definitely the plan.

Mike Turian

Man? Machine? Potato? Who knows how best to describe Mike Turian? Mike has been a mainstay member of Team CMU and remains so despite the many roster changes, and until this season Mike was considered by most to be the best player to never have won a title for himself. Mike Turian, in the company of Gary Wise and Scott Johns, won the Team Pro Tour in New York this season, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. "Potato Nation" gave Mike the acclaim he has long since deserved, and it has been a relatively dry season since then, but a Top 8 at Worlds is enough to make any Pro Tour diehard happy.

Potato. Mike Turian believes in potato power, and it has gotten him this far, and more. His choice of deck for Standard was Dave Price Red, which many believe to be an excellent choice for a metagame in which Fires is not expected to be a prominent (or at least successful) deck, and for Extended he brought Secret Force, which got him a Top 32 finish at Grand Prix Philadelphia in a Trix-filled metagame. Mono-color decks that are not among the prominent decks in the metagame, but are nonetheless excellent choices for a practiced player... oh, and they beat down too. Thus is the way of the potato.

Mike Turian came prepared for this Top 8, putting in the playtesting hours to figure out how best to try to win his initial match, which for him is one of the hardest in the Top 8. His quarterfinals opponent is Italian player Andrea Santin, playing a Static Orb-Opposition deck that, after sideboarding, is destined to give him fits with creatures he can just never kill, like Glacial Wall, and the ability to take control of the game in a swing that can shut him out of the game at any moment.

Andrea Santin

Another relatively unknown player, Andrea Santin has a longer history of professional experience than some, but never enough success to make him a repeater: just a few points of the Gravy Train, Andrea is looking to pick up enough points in the Top 8 to push him over that plateau. With a few prior successes, such as a Top 32 finish at his 'hometown' Pro Tour-Rome and 15th at Grand Prix Florence, again in Italy, Andrea has been putting in the work to reach that level of performance, an effort pushed on by his close friend Antonio De Rosa, who conceded to Andrea without any talk of prize agreement when he learned that the two were paired, and only Andrea could make the Top 8 with a win.

Andrea Santin is playing one of the dark horse decks of the Standard portion: with the German Opposition deck, the Godzilla beatdown-Opposition design, and blue-green Saproling Burt being the more-played variations on the Opposition-Static Orb deck theme, it was Andrea and his Merfolk Opposition, plus Alex Borteh with a similar design, that brought Opposition to the Top 8. Dave Williams showed up with Saproling Burt, but by weight of numbers it is "OppoFishin'" that proved to be the best design of the day. Paired against Mike Turian in the first round, experience places him as the definite underdog.

Tommi Hovi

Two-time Pro Tour Winner (Rome '99, Los Angeles '97) Tommi Hovi is by far the most experienced player in the Top Eight, despite such longtime mainstays as Dave Williams and Mike Turian... both have been on a streak as of late, and their names have been more in the spotlight, but Tommi Hovi hasn't been skulking in the shadows himself, and who else in the elimination rounds can ask, "And have you won two Pro Tours?"

Not that the soft-spoken Finn from Helsinki would ever say that, but the weight of experience rests upon his shoulders, and picking up a World Championships title would put him in a class only a few share: World Champions. Pro Tour winners who have won the World Championships include Kai Budde and Jon Finkel, the two players considered to be the best in the game to this date. Tommi Hovi would be happy to put his name among theirs, as a reminder of the days where his name was the first at the top of the charts, as the first player to win two Pro Tours.

Tommi Hovi is playing the European variant of Probe-Go, taking the counter-discard element and adding even more to it with Apocalypse's Black-White additions of Vindicate and Gerrard's Verdict, and that is a deck that is known by many to be one of the most powerful in the metagame, though not the most consistent. His quarterfinals opponent, Antoine Ruel, is playing Black-Blue-Red Nether-Go, and that matchup could literally go either way, with play skill historically winning the day in control-on-control matchups like that. For the first round of elimination, at least, Tommi is probably liking his chances.

Tom Van de Logt

Tom Van de Logt is a repeat Top Eight competitor here at the World Championships, finishing fifth at last year's Championships, where he lost to Benedict Klauser after putting a strong showing through the first three days of Swiss competition. Once again Tom has pushed through the grueling eighteen rounds that start off the World Championships, and if nothing else the repeat performance speaks volumes about his strengths as a player. With three different formats, four overall between the two years, Tom has put up good results consistently in all of them, and has definitely earned his chance at the title this year.

Last year Tom brought the Dutch team to a fourth-place finish in the teams competition, and repeated that level of performance this year with a sixth-place finish now that he is leading the team as the National Champion. A repeat Worlds Top Eight after a repeat Dutch National Team achievement, it's no wonder that Tom is one of the most highly acclaimed Dutch players around, and he is looking to pull off the Finkel feat: National Champion, World Champion. Tom is playing a Black-Red variant of the 'Machine Head' archetype, the specific design of which many agree was one of the best choices for the tournament: acceptable against Fires, and exceptional against everything else, this was an excellent deck to run with, as could be seen by the fact that many of the European players 'in the know' played the deck in the Standard portion as well.

Facing down Dave Williams and the Saproling Burt deck, which coincidentally his deck was designed to beat, Tom is hoping to pull through the first round without a hitch, and from there on in it's anybody's guess. Tom made a gambit when he played the deck at all, and seeing whether his understanding of 'the metagame' is the correct view is the least Tom can expect to see happen during the elimination rounds.

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