by Sideboard Staff
What does each player have at stake? Here's a quick rundown of this year's sixteen competitors:
Chris Pikula, 1999 Invitational champion
Pikula claims he's "good at playing good players." Having lived the impossible dream by defeating Jon Finkel in last year's Invitational finals, as well as having been only an accidental mana burn away from the finals the year before, Pikula has proven that the Invitational is "his kind of tournament." Will he be the first not only to repeat but to do so back to back?
Jon Finkel, Magic® world champion
Finkel has often been called "the Tiger Woods of Magic." With two Pro TourTM champion titles, including a world championship, a U.S. national title, two world team titles, and three Grand PrixTM wins, Finkel has achieved more than most players can dream of. The one title to elude him so far? Invitational champion. Victory was in his grasp last year when Chris Pikula stole it away. Is this the year "The Machine" finally adds the Magic Invitational to his shining trophy cabinet?
Bob Maher, Jr., Pro Tour-Chicago champion
The very first Invitational was won by then-current pro player of the year, Olle Rade. That feat has never been repeated. (Although, to be fair, 1997-1998 pro player of the year Jon Finkel did make the finals the year after his win.) Can "The Great One" top off his phenomenal season with an Invitational victory?
Trevor Blackwell, Pro Tour-Los Angeles champion
Earlier this year, Trevor Blackwell was one of eight players invited to another invitational event, the U.S. National Draft Challenge. Up against Magic heavyweights such as Jon Finkel, Michael Long, and Darwin Kastle, Blackwell triumphed. Will this tournament prove Trevor's affinity for invitational tournaments?
Darwin Kastle, Pro Tour-Washington, D.C. champion
One of three previous Invitational champions attending this event, Kastle hopes to be the first repeat Invitational champion. Kastle has a reputation for putting in more practice for the Invitational than any other competitor. Will his hard work pay off with a second Kastle-designed Magic card?
Alex Shvartsman, highest ranked player by pro points
Shvartsman earned his way to this year's Invitational by becoming King of the Grand Prix. In fact, if the Invitational hadn't been held in Sydney, Shvartsman is the one player who would've certainly come to Sydney anyway-for Grand Prix-Sydney. Will Shvartsman's overseas mojo help him become the first player to win a Magic Invitational without a single pro-level top 8 finish in his resume?
Ryan Fuller, highest ranked player by DCI, North America
Fuller garnered his invitation by being the second highest-rated player in the world. (Jon Finkel is highest.) Fuller, the current Canadian national champion, would be the first player with a national title to win the Invitational. (Jon Finkel would also be the first should he win.)
Gerardo Godinez Estrada, highest ranked player by DCI, Latin America
Godinez is the first player from Latin America to attend the Invitational. A victory for Gerardo would mean many firsts: first Latin American Invitational champion, first Mexican champion, and first champion without a Pro Tour top 8 finish.
Noah Boeken, highest ranked player by DCI, Europe
At the Invitational in Barcelona, Sturla Bingen, then the European champion, was one game away from winning. A victory for Boeken at this year's Invitational would make him the second European winner (the first was Olle Rade), the first Dutch winner, and, of course, the first winner to have clinched both an Invitational and a continental championship.
Yoshikazu Ishii, highest ranked player by DCI, Asia Pacific
Ishii is the unknown factor at this year's Invitational. Although he has a Grand Prix championship and a few Pro Tours under his belt, he is the least known among the invitees, and the competitor whose play style and deckbuilding preferences are the greatest mystery. A victory for Ishii would bring Japan and Asia overall their first Invitational win.
Zvi Mowshowitz, favorite player by ballot
Mowshowitz owes his invitation to this year's event to his online Magic writing. Thanks to his well-earned Internet fame, Mowshowitz won the players' ballot by a significant margin. Last year Mowshowitz finished third, losing the chance to advance to the finals by tiebreakers alone. Will he fare well enough this year to fall on the winner's side of the fence?
David Price, second favorite player by ballot
Price has often been called "the people's player." Despite a lackluster Pro Tour season, Price earned an invitation through sheer charisma. During the first players' dinner, Price commented that he was unsure about how many years in a row he could nab a spot on the players' ballot. "Maybe," he thought aloud, "I'll just have to win it this year."
Kai Budde, third favorite player by ballot
Budde was pleasantly surprised that he was invited to this year's event. A victory for Kai here would be one of several firsts: first German champion and first world champion to win the Invitational. It would also mean a few second-time occurrences: second European champion and second Pro player of the year to win the event.
Ben Rubin, fourth favorite player by ballot
It's a little-known fact that Rubin was robbed of an invitation to this tournament two years ago. Because of unfortunate Pro Tour schedule timing, Rubin made his second finals at the 1998 World Championships after the ballots had already been turned in the day before. The invitation criteria were later corrected to close this loophole, but Rubin's opportunity had passed. The players rectified that injustice this year by voting him in. Will Rubin capitalize on his overdue invitation?
Michael Long, fifth favorite player by ballot
Because Sigurd Eskeland couldn't take advantage of his invitation this year, Long continues his unbroken streak of Invitational attendance-he's the only player to attend all five Magic Invitationals. Long has an enviable Invitational record. Besides being the only repeat Invitational finalist, he's the only player who's been in contention for the finals in every single Invitational. Like Pikula and Kastle, Long hopes to be the first Invitational competitor to nab a second championship. Mike always treats the tournament very seriously. Will his intensity earn him a third trip to the Invitational finals?
Gary Wise, sixth favorite player by ballot
Gary Wise has Kyle Rose to thank for his invitation; Wise was more than happy to step up when Rose couldn't attend. Wise has the dubious distinction of having the worst Invitational finish, with a 2 - 13 performance at the Kuala Lumpur Invitational. (In Wise's defense, Jason Zila technically finished 0 - 15 by failing to show up for the Rio de Janeiro Invitational.) Wise isn't bothered by his results, though-his primary purpose is to have as much fun at the Invitational as possible. Perhaps the fact that he has no illusions about winning will help him beat his own personal best.