1. The Hall of Fame
Despite some complications I look forward to this year's induction ceremony as much as any of the previous five classes. The induction occurs on the morning of Day One as part of the opening festivities, which includes the flag ceremony where a representative of each of the teams participating in Worlds bears their country's flag. It will be a historic induction ceremony because each of the new Hall of Famers is playing at the top of his game.
There has never been a previous class of the Hall made up entirely of active players. And not just active—each player elected into this year's class has made a Pro Tour Top 8 within the last three seasons and have combined for multiple Pro Tour wins in the last two years. Wouldn't it be something to see Gabriel Nassif—the leader of the 2010 class of the Hall of Fame—get his 10th Top 8 in the last event of his 10th season on the Pro Tour? Which leads me to ...
2. The Last Chapter of 2010
Every stop in the 2010 Pro Tour schedule has had an amazing story. It started in San Diego with the historic undefeated Swiss run by Luis Scott-Vargas. Lost somewhat in the buzzkill of LSV's semifinal exit was the introduction of two formidable Pro Tour competitors in the finals. Both Kyle Boggemes and San Diego Champion Simon Görtzen will achieve Level 7 status in the Players Club when they register for Worlds. Both also have a chance to hit the penthouse level with another strong finish.Luis-Scott Vargas on a hot streak.
Next up was Pro Tour–San Juan, and does an event get much better than that? (Well, actually, Amsterdam might have topped it ... ) The Top 8 was packed with superstar talent making their Sunday debut. Online superstars Brad Nelson and Josh Utter-Leyton finally crashed through into Sunday as did well-respected French pro Guillaume Matignon. Despite the star power of those three, any follower of the Pro Tour can't help but beam at the sight of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa enjoying a well-deserved rest in a hammock with his Pro Tour–San Juan trophy in his sixth performance on the Sunday stage.Kai Budde and Brian Kibler.
The penultimate chapter featured one of the most start-studded Top 8s in recent memory. Hall of Famer Kai Budde was the big story, but Hall of Famer elect Brian Kibler making his third Top 8 in six events since his return to the Pro Tour was kind of a big deal too. U.S. National Champion and Worlds Team Champion Michael Jacob finally breaking through to Sunday, Marijn Lybaert's retirement party, Thomas Ma's Pro Tour debut, and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's successful return would all be exciting storylines on their own. Now throw Brad Nelson surging into the lead of the Player of the Year race and Paul Rietzl winning it all with a White Weenie deck designed by Hall of Famer elect Gabriel Nassif and you have the components of the most exciting Top 8s of all time.
Each event throughout the season has amped up the excitement and I can't wait to read the final chapter of 2010.
3. Player of the Year
It has been ten years since an American player has won the Player of the Year title and it has been half a decade since the trophy has been handed to anyone living outside of the country of Japan. Brad Nelson has a dominating 15-point lead over the next closest competitor. Mathematically only six players can catch Brad but for most of them it will require a deep run into the Top 8 with a minimal point finish for Nelson, who will have 65 once he registers for the event. Even if Brian Kibler—and his 39 points coming in—won the tournament and the front-runner bombed out Nelson would win by one point. That leaves Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Martin Juza, Shuhei Nakamura, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Yuuya Watanabe as the players who can pass Nelson in a single event with their combined twelve Pro Tour Top 8s and pair of wins between them.Brad Nelson, Josh Utter-Leyton, Guillaume Matignon.
Two players who can sneak up from more than 25 points away are Pro Tour–San Juan Top 8 competitors Josh Utter-Leyton and Guillaume Matignon, who get to double dip on Pro Points during Worlds as members of their National teams. Of course, Brad can shut down the chase with yet another dominant performance and no matter how it plays out I will be hanging on every point and permutation throughout the weekend.
4. Rookie of the Year
This is always such a hard race to handicap due to all the rookies that come to the Pro Tour via the team competition at Worlds, but personally I am pulling for one of my local guys—Christian Calcano. Christian snuck into Worlds with a strong finish at Nashville getting him over the 15-point hump needed for a one-time Pro Tour invite. I will be happy for anyone who pulls off the title but having known Calcano for such a long time I would be lying if I said I was not putting my journalistic objectivity in my back pocket for this race.Christian Calcano
5. Old Faces
With all the different methods of qualification for Worlds you usually see some players you haven't seen in some time. Whether it is qualifying through Nationals, Continental ratings, or Hall of Fame induction, there is always someone surprising at Worlds. I am looking forward to seeing Pierre Canali (one of the truly good guys of the Pro Tour), last year's World Champion André Coimbra, and Hall of Famer Nicolai Herzog slinging spells again.Pierre Canali, André Coimbra, Nicolai Herzog
6. New Places
China's stunning win in the Team World Championships was a reminder of Magic's global reach and that every year a new crop of players get to experience the highest levels of Magic competition via their National teams. Will China defend their title or will a new country stake their claim to the team trophy? The home team is quite formidable with Katsuhiro Mori as their captain but I think the favorite has to be France with Antoine Ruel and Guillaume Matignon flanking their captain Julien Perez.
7. The December Dozen
I know that Brad Nelson coined the phrase "the December Twelve" to describe the players participating in the Magic Online Championships in Chiba but it has since been redubbed the December Dozen. Preparing for two events while working on his Paulo voodoo doll did not leave him much time for alliterative activities. Brad is, of course, the poster child for this event, which will pay out a $25,000 first prize. Should someone (and you can't help but think of Brad as that "someone," although Carlos Romão and Akira Asahara have both played on Sunday at Worlds in the past) win both events there is the chance for one of the biggest pay days in Magic history.
What I am really looking forward to from the December Dozen is to see who might follow in the digital footsteps of Brad and translate their online skills to paper competition. Can Reid Duke, Logan Nettle, or Bing Luke become one of the most dominating Magic players in the world in the coming season? How they—and the remaining three-quarters of the dozen—perform at this event and throughout Worlds could go a long way to answering those questions.
8. State of Standard
For this weekend the State of Standard is Virginia. There has never been a World Championships prefaced by as high-profile a Standard tournament as the StarCityGames.com Invitational taking place this very weekend in Richmond, Virginia. With $50,000 on the line in the main event and some of the best Standard grinders from North America qualified to compete, every Worlds competitor will be refreshing their browsers throughout the weekend hoping that all their hard work is not eradicated by the latest tech to emerge from this no-tech-barred event. If you want to get an idea of what Standard will look like next weekend be sure to check out the decks from this event and the TCGPlayer.com Standard event in Atlanta.
9. Reexamining Extended
Coming into the Extended leg of Pro Tour–Amsterdam the combination of Grove of the Burnwillows and Punishing Fire was a machine gun nest pinning down the field. Faeries was virtually nowhere to be found and players eschewed decks that did not have creatures capable of hitting 3 toughness. Just look at the levelers and Honor of the Pures in the winning White Weenie deck, or the 3 toughnesses of Treehouse in the runner-up deck as examples. Worlds will be the first major Extended event since the release of Scars of Mirrodin which caused the Time Spiral—and the machine gun belt field that was Grove of the Burnwillows—to be rotated back into the Eternal formats.
There is always something spicy that gets brewed up in the last few rounds of Worlds for Extended—I always think of Gabriel Nassif's 6-0 run to the Top 8 with Trinket Angel in Paris—and can't wait to see what this new version of this still-new format yields.
10. The Survival of Legacy
The banned and restricted announcement will go up on December 20 as usual—after Worlds. If any player is going to come up with a strategy to beat the Survival of the Fittest decks that have been dominating the format then the Team Competition may be the last chance that they get to do so before it is defeated through legislation.
Scars of Mirrodin was just an excuse to have a kick-ass party in Amsterdam and the middle rounds of Worlds will be the first chance to see the best players in the World draft the format at the Pro Tour level. Get a load of some of the names that have won and made the Top 8 of recent Grand Prix event utilizing the Scars format and you can see that this is a skill-testing format that still has secrets to yield. Luis Scott-Vargas recently wrote about going to the Sky-Eel School and drafting blue cards—a color that has been much maligned.
Other players have remained staunch advocates of infect and when you see a deck like the one Martin Juza won his Grand Prix with you can understand the appeal. The archetype that remains fascinating to me are metalcraft decks and how far the game's best players will go to make sure they hit the mark of having three artifacts in play. I know I am looking forward to coming home and reenacting a Worlds draft through the Draft Viewer feature.
All of the stories from the December Dozen to the World Champion and the Player of the Year will culminate on-camera on Sunday, which is conveniently located on Saturday night for those of you here in the States. Rich Hagon and I will be bringing you all the action from the Top 8 to the Team Finals to the handing out of the hardware. Be sure to tune in and watch with us as the last chapter of the 2010 season is written out live.