Once again, the Queen Mary is filled with Magic-players. A total of 338 players have come to the glamorous ship to play in the 18th Pro Tour event, Pro Tour Los Angeles 1999. This year, the format is Rochester Draft - a challenging draft format that it takes a lot of skill to master.
During the last days, the halls and the corridors of the Queen Mary have been filled with Magic-playing boys and girls. While some of them played mostly for fun, most of them made the final preparations for the Pro Tour event.
"I have spent about 30 hours a week preparing for this event, and I've drafted about two to five drafts every day,"Gary Wise admitted the day before the action started. Gary, 26, from Toronto in Canada is a true limited player, and has done consistently well in limited tournaments. His best result so far in a Pro Tour is being number 18, but this year, he'd like to make a top eight.
While most players want to do well, some players have to do well in order to stay on the Tour. Both Brian Weissman, Shawn "Hammer"Regnier and John Yoo had to play in qualifiers to earn their invitations, and several of the pros need to gain important Pro Tour points in order to stay on the Gravy Train.
The Pro Tour started at eight Friday morning with a player meeting. After instructions and a round of questions, the players went to the playing tables to draft. Even though no-one was allowed to speak during the draft, the players' facial expressions and gestures clearly showed that some of them were happy about the cards and that some of them were not. The quality of the boosters varied a lot. One of the tables had a total of eleven Embraces, four of them Zephid's Embrace. Some tables had an extremely high amount of power cards, while others saw few of even the good commons like Corrupt and Pestilence.
Pro Tour Player of the Year and 1997 Pro Tour New York champion, Jon Finkel managed to draft an extremely good deck. The deck was black and green and contained two Pestilences and two Corrupts. No-one was surprised that the American went 4-0 in the first draft.
Top eight finisher from Worlds 1998, Chris Pikula, was one of the players that didn't do too well. Pikula drafted a mono-black deck, but unfortunately, he was only able to get one of the two strongest black common spells, a Pestilence. Without Corrupts and other game-breaking cards, he went 0-3 and dropped. "I was unlucky both in the draft and in the games. I was set up in the draft so that no-one around me played black - but there were no black cards in the packs. I thought would get a good deck, but it turned out to be mediocre. In addition, my first opponent played nine Arc Lightnings in three games. How can you deal with that? I've never been this well prepared for a draft format before, so of course I'm disappointed. Now I'll play Texas Hold'em instead,"Pikula sighs.
In every Pro Tour, players get byes because of various incidents. This Pro Tour introduced the trash-byes. Players were given game losses for being environmentally challenged (by for instance leaving pieces of paper on the playing table.) Norwegian Sigurd Eskeland floated through the first three rounds on byes. First, he got a bye as there were seven players in his drafting pod. Then, he hosed his opponent with his main deck RoP: Blue, after which he got a trash-bye. Finally, when he got to play his three-colour deck, he lost. "My opponent's deck was simply better than mine,"Eskeland explains.
The first draft also saw Deadguy Worth Wollpert overcome his feature match complex. Before Pro Tour LA, his sad record was 0-14 in Pro Tour feature matches. That was to change when he met Rudy Edwards in the third round. "I've lost 14 feature matches in a row, and I started keeping track in LA2. It's not like I'm nervous or anything, it's just bad luck. When I beat Rudy, I felt like I wouldn't lose a match ever again. I'm on the roll now,"Worth smiles.
After the first draft, 20 players were 4-0, among them the Deadguys Jon Finkel and Worth Wollpert, Erik Lauer from Team CMU, Steve OMS and Nate Clarke. More top players were at 3-1, and the competition tightened as more good players would draft on the same tables.
The second draft was slightly delayed because a very unlucky Danish player got injured. He walked into a metal box, got a head wound and was brought to the hospital. "The bleeding stopped after five minutes, but I had to sow two stitches in the hospital. Unfortunately, I couldn't continue playing, as I missed the second draft. That sucks, but I get free side events. At least I was the one who kicked myself out of the tournament, and I can live with that,"says the unlucky guy.
Once the draft was started, it went smoothly. Several good players were more satisfied with their new decks than they had been with their previous one, and Brian Hacker was one of them. He drafted an extremely solid black and green deck, including two Pestilences, a Dark Hatchling, a Diabolic Servitude and a Corrupt. "My deck was amazing, brutal. It was a Deadguy shredding machine, because I beat Tony Tsai,"Brian smiles. He went 6-1, and was very happy about the good result. "This feels good. I'm always hoping to reach the final eight, and I've always thought that I had a shot at it, but now it is more realistic."
Hacker actually got what must be considered the comment of the day after the last match. A random women went up to him, looked at him with sad eyes and said: "You've got such a handsome face. Why did you dye your hair blue?"
Several Pro Tour regulars didn't make it to the second day, among them Pro Tour Rome champion Tommi Hovi, 1998 World Champion Brian Selden, 1997 World Champion Jakub _lemr and 1998 World Championship top eight finishers Ben Rubin, Scott Johns, Alan Comer and Chris Pikula. While this came as a surprise to many people, the biggest surprise of the day was Terry Lau. He went 7-0 and throned on top of the list after day one along with Erik Lauer, who also went 7-0. The third undefeated player, with a 6-0-1 record, was Dutch player Bram Snepvangers.
Terry Lau explains,"I started off in a seven man pod, and the decks there are stronger, so I ended up with an extremely strong deck with three Zephid's Embraces. As a result, I was 4-0 on that table. At the 4-0 draft table, I was one of three people drafting black, I splashed green and got a little bit of removal and quick creatures and I was able to maintain my momentum throughout the day,"Lau explains.
The twenty-eight year old Canadian hadn't really expected to top the list after the first day of play. "I thank the people I playtested with, they are too many to name. This feels great, and now it's just the journey up to top eight. I'll try my best and see what happens, but my goal was to make top 32, so top eight is just icing on the cake."