What I Really Learned at Worlds

Posted in Latest Developments on August 23, 2002

By Randy Buehler

I started writing this article on the airplane on the way back from Sydney. Worlds was quite a week so I figured if last week’s poll turned out to show that you guys were interested in the Pro Tour that I would share my perspective:

How do you feel about the Pro Tour?
It annoys me. 394 8.6%
I'm indifferent. 628 13.7%
I'm slightly interested. 1142 25.0%
I'm mildly interested. 870 19.0%
I usually follow it. 716 15.7%
I'm into it. 566 12.4%
I love it. 258 5.6%
Total 4574 100.0%

Fair enough. Most of you care at least a little bit about the Pro Tour and I feel like I have a lot I’m interested in talking about.

The teams competition definitely lived up to the hype. Early on it was Ireland on top – they weren’t expected to stay in contention, but captain John Larkin kept his team near the top all weekend while putting up an individual Top 8 of his own. The Dutch made a nice run on Thursday, drafting their way up to the top of the standings. Then on Friday it was the Germans’ turn. Kai Budde had been having a mediocre week up to that point, but his 5-1 and his teammate Mark Ziegner’s Top 8 finish propelled the Germans into a slim 1-point lead going into the team day. But what of the Americans? Historically they’ve dominated this competition, winning 7 out of 8 years. The American team didn’t look all that good this year and neither did their results. They had an ok Day 1, but a 1-7-1 mark in the first set of draft pods on Thursday led most observers to write them off. However, they made a tremendous charge on Saturday. They were the only team to win all four team Rochester draft rounds and that included a final round win over the previously undefeated Germans, who had already clinched a spot in the finals. Kai knew the Americans could be dangerous in the finals and he very much wanted to end their dream, but he couldn’t. The Americans still needed some help, but they got it when Denmark knocked off an impressive squad from Argentina. The Americans then beat the Danes in a playoff (thus winning 125% of their Day 4 matches) and surprised everyone by earning a seat on stage on Sunday.

Could the Americans really win it again? Or would the best player the game has ever seen finally knock them off?

All eyes were on the Eric Franz/Felix Schneiders match, a key part of the team finals.

The Germans had a surprise in store for the Americans during the draft. American Eric Franz had been drafting an aggressive red-white deck in the A-seat every round and so Kai directed Felix Schneiders to draft green – a strategy that should match up very well against Franz. However, American national champion Eugene Harvey figured out what was up right away (he was helped by the fact the Germans opened up an early Beast Attack and gave it to Schneiders) and Harvey called an audible. He sent Franz into blue-white instead of red-white and Franz was able to beat Schneiders in two straight. However, the Americans weren’t used to drafting blue in that seat and it sent the rest of their strategy into a bit of chaos. Harvey wound up with red-green instead of his usual blue-green and Budde was able to take advantage of him. Harvey’s deck looked good on paper with a bunch of 2-drops along with both Elephant Guide and Arcane Teachings, but Budde drafted blue-white with fliers and multiple copies of Cagemail. Cagemail shut down Harvey’s enormous, enchanted attackers while Budde’s creatures just flew over them for the win. Mark Ziegner was also able to beat Andrew Ranks and the run of American dominance finally ended. It was a great event to watch, with both teams drafting extremely intelligently. The Americans showed tremendous heart in putting together a very impressive comeback, but in the end the Germans were the better team … and a worthy successor.

Mark Ziegner resolves a Duress against Carlos Romao in the finals.

When the finals of the individual competition started I fully expected German Mark Ziegner to win. After all, Ziegner was running Kai Budde’s version of the Psychatog deck. Ziegner also had Kai coaching him between rounds, telling him how to sideboard, etc. In addition to all that, I had watched Carlos Romao play during the earlier rounds and he didn’t seem to understand the matchup very well. I did think it was quite cool that the South Americans had finally banded together. The members of the Latin American Alliance clearly worked very hard during the months leading up to Worlds and they showed up prepared to do well. Their efforts paid off to the tune of two guys in the Top 8, but when I watched Diego Ostrovich take on his teammate Romao in the Psychatog vs. Psychatog mirror match, it just didn’t look like they were playing it correctly. Both players were willing to let Fact or Fiction resolve, even if they had a Counterspell in their hand that could have stopped it.

I was doing the commentary for the Top 8 and I figured I should defend Romao’s strategy because, well, someone had to; in my heart I still thought he was just wrong. However, the more I watched and the more I defended him, the more I actually started to believe in him. Romao had played against five Psychatog decks on Day 1 of the tournament and he had won all five matches. In fact, he won each of those matches by a 2-0 game score. In the quarterfinals he swept Tuomas Kotiranta 3-0 and then in the semis he finally dropped his first game, but still won the match. Interestingly, that first game loss came to a teammate who had the same approach to the mirror match that Romao had.

I watched as Romao allowed Mark Ziegner to resolve all the card drawing he wanted in game 2 as Romao saved his countermagic to fight either the Psychatog itself or Upheaval. Those were the two cards that could actually kill him, so those were the cards he wanted to fight. At first glance, that plan shouldn’t work. Usually if you let a blue deck resolve its card drawing spells then they’ll set up a hand with both threats and permission spells to defend them. However, modern Psychatog decks have become so inbred that they don’t actually have all that many threats or counters. Ziegner’s deck, for example, ran only three copies of Memory Lapse and three copies of Circular Logic as its permission spells – he didn’t run a single Counterspell. Meanwhile on the threat front Ziegner had just four ‘Togs and a lone Upheaval – and that Upheaval was in the sideboard where it could only be accessed with Burning Wish.

Thus Ziegner kept drawing extra cards with Deep Analysis and Fact or Fiction, but he wasn’t actually drawing anything important. He got some land and he got some random cantrips (like Fire/Ice and Repulse), but he was never able to resolve an Upheaval in the entire match and he rarely got a Psychatog into play that didn’t die immediately. At the same time, Ziegner was fighting against Romao’s card drawing and the main result was that when Romao eventually drew an Upheaval, Ziegner wasn’t able to stop it.

Champion Carlos Romao surrounded by his Latin American partners.

A couple games of watching this pattern repeat itself turned me into a believer. Romao went 8-0 versus Psychatog because the Latin American Alliance simply understood this matchup better than the rest of the world. Psychatog decks run so much card drawing that you can’t possibly counter all of it, but to make room for all that card drawing they took out so many threats that it’s ok to let the card drawing resolve. Romao and his teammates decided what they really did want to fight over and they saved their counters for the important battles. The result of this tremendous insight was a third place finish for Diego Ostrovich and a career-defining moment for Carlos Romao. He gets a trophy, $35,000 in cash, and his life will never be the same. I love watching hard work, preparation, and dedication pay off. At first glance it may seem bad to have a “no name” world champion, but upon further review this world champion thoroughly deserves his title and his is a story that can inspire Magic players everywhere.

Now that I’ve indulged the fanboy inside me, I’ll switch to analyzing the cards and the formats that are the real reason I was there. That’ll be the subject of next week’s article.

On that note…

Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.

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