I am counting the days until the World Championships in Rome for a number of reasons. First of all...It's Rome! I've never been there and a chance to see such a marvelous and historic city is just one of the perks that makes working on and around the Pro Tour such a sweet gig. I am going to get there early to do some sightseeing, eat some great food, and do whatever Romans do when in Rome.
On the less self-involved side of the ledger I am eager to see how Yuuya Watanabe closes out his season. In case you missed it he followed up on his "disappointing" Day 2 finish from Grand Prix–Tampa with his seventh Top 8 finish in eight premier level events at Grand Prix–Kitakyushu this weekend. You know you are in the midst of a hot streak when your mere presence—and prompt Quarterfinals exit—in the Top 8 of a Grand Prix overshadows an elimination bracket that included former World Champion Katsuhiro Mori and umpteen-time Top 8 competitor Masashi Oiso. With Martin Juza finishing outside of the Pro Point payout, Yuuya managed to pad his lead by five points. Not including what happens this weekend in Paris, and the following week in Minnesota, Yuuya will likely be defending that lead over four different formats in Rome.
In addition to Standard, Extended, and Booster Draft Yuuya is on the Japanese National team and can no doubt see points ripe for the plucking in that event. Fantasies of the team of Shuhei Nakamura—who is also still in the mix for back-to-back Player of the Year titles—and Yuuya being rounded out by alternate Kenji Tsumura have been dashed by Kenji rescinding his spot at Worlds, meaning that the last spot on that team will be made up by rightful team member Yuma Shiota or fifth-place finisher Naoki Sakaguchi. That should offer some modicum of relief to other National teams, but not much, as a team of Shuhei, Yuuya, and any third player is still about as formidable as any National team you're going to find in Rome.
One of the most exciting events at Worlds will be the 2009 Magic Online Championship. Before the current spate of Magic Online PTQs were added to the digital landscape of Magic there were seven Magic Online Championship Series qualifiers for an eight-person event at Worlds with a $13,000 first prize and a guaranteed minimum payout of $4,000 (the eighth slot was given to the Magic Online Player of the Year). On top of that, each of the eight players was extended an invite to compete in the World Championships themselves. It will make for three long days for those eight players but the $4,000 minimum should keep them going each day for three rounds after Worlds. The players will have to compete in three rounds each of Classic Constructed, Zendikar Booster Draft, and Standard Constructed and they must use the accounts they qualified on and provide their own decks—making the Classic portion just a tad more challenging.
The eight winners who will be fighting it out for the Championship are Stefan Steiner, David Guiffault, Justin Cheung, Robert Jurkovic, Anssi Myllymäki, Federico Daniel Rivero Franco, Ivan Kulbich, and Magic Online Player of the Year (and former Pro Tour Player of the Year) Shota Yasooka. Obviously all the competitors are seasoned online veterans but when it comes to playing on the Pro Tour their experiences range from absolutely none as with the Uruguay's Federico Daniel Rivero Franco, Finland's Anssi Myllymäki, and Austria's Stefan Steiner to winning Pro Tour–Charleston and the Player of the Year title in Japan's Shota Yasooka.
Steiner, who has only been playing on MTGO for about one year, was looking forward to his first Pro Tour experience in Rome.
"$13,000 sounds awesome. Hopefully I will get it," said Stefan who has been practicing on MTGO everyday since Zendikar was released. "It was very bad for me when I read that one format in the Championship online final will be Classic—I have no idea what I should play."
The breadth of Robert Jurkovic's experience on the Pro Tour exceeds that of all the other competitors. The 31-year old from Bratislova, Slovakia first played on the Pro Tour more than 12 years ago at Pro Tour–Mainz and has participated at that level of play roughly 15 times. He is coming off of his best individual Pro Tour finish with a Top 16 showing at Pro Tour–Austin to complement a 6th-place finish alongside Arnost Zidek at the last Pro Tour–San Diego. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that his strongest finishes have come after he started playing MTGO as a tool for self-improvement.
"I started [playing MTGO] before the World Championships 2005 when I started testing more than for previous PTs," said Jurkovic of his relationship with MTGO.
For Anssi Myllymäki, a 21-year old student from Tampere, Finland, it took him a couple of days for the full impact of qualifying for the event to sink in.
"After the final game had ended I was pretty shocked and had a hard time believing I had actually won the thing," Anssi recalled. "A couple of days after the tournament I started to realize what had happened and I must say it felt really good. Countless hours of drafting and playing online finally paid off big time. And now I'm getting more and more excited every day as the tournament is getting closer.
"I played in the fifth season championshp which was Magic 2010 Limited. My Sealed Deck was a pretty solid blue-white with some nice rares but no huge bombs, and I went 8-1 with 3 byes, losing in the last round," he continued. "For the Top 8 draft I went all-in with monoblack—the strategy I had the most success with in M10, but one with big risk–first picking Sign in Blood. The deck ended up solid but not spectacular. The most memorable game was the last game of the finals when I enchanted a Black Knight with Unholy Strength against a monowhite-splash-Fireball deck, and raced his Serra Angel while keeping my fingers crossed for him not to draw a—minimum—$4000 Fireball."
While it will be Federico Daniel Rivero Franco's first trip to the Pro Tour, the 21-year-old student from Montevideo, Uruguay was not heading to Rome with stars in his eyes.
"Meeting pro players doesn't get me excited that much," said Federico. "What I'm really looking forward to is meeting players from the Magic Online community; respected/known players—at least by me—such as Goliat2, Fcormier, Tulio_Jaudy...I could be listing names forever. It would also be great to see them playing live."
One online player who has had a fair amount of success at the pro level is Shota Yasooka. Federico was looking forward to facing off against the only player to win both of the Magic Player of the Year titles.
"I was really shocked when I was told that yaya3 [Shota Yasooka] beat duotianshi203 on the MTGO Player of the Year race," he continued. "I guess it adds a challenging factor to the tournament and makes it even more exciting. I've faced him several times online, and as long as I get as lucky as I usually get against him, I will be fine."
- Summing up Austin
What was the most played card from Pro Tour–Austin? Think about it a little bit and I will give you the answer at the end of the column along with the Top 10 maindeck cards and Top 10 cards overall.
- 2010 Grand Prix Schedule Unveiled
If you have not already seen it, the schedule for next year's Grand Prix events was unveiled on Thursday and it can found here. The schedule kicks off in Oakland, California just one weekend before Pro Tour–San Diego. Last year's success of holding Grand Prix–Seattle a week before Pro Tour–Honolulu has influenced the schedule makers to set things up in such a way that Pros looking to coordinate their travel can double up from Oakland to San Diego in one trip. Similarly the weekend before Pro Tour–San Juan will feature Grand Prix–Baltimore which provides an excellent launching point for travelers heading to Puerto Rico. Players planning to attend Pro Tour–Amsterdam will also have a convenient nearby GP a weekend prior in Gothenburg, Sweden. Also revealed along with the schedule was next year's attendance giveaway which will be an alternate art Umezawa's Jitte.
For former Player of the Year turned single-card dealer Tomoharu Saito, the giveaway was as exciting as any city on the new schedule.
"The prize–a foil new art Jitte–is awesome from many perspectives," said Saito. "It will be a great collectible and a strong option to your [older] format decks. I feel like Wizards is trying to encourage the community around older formats. That's why they printed Chrome Mox for 2009 and Jitte for 2010."
Certainly the Eternal formats community will be excited to see two Legacy Grand Prix on the schedule next year. For Saito, looking at the schedule itself, he was excited to see fewer core set Limited GPs and more Block Limited ones for next season. The Magic 2011 events will be in Gothenberg and Portland at the start of the last leg of the season while the remaining five events will be "Lights" Limited.
"There was too much M10 Limited this season," said Saito. "So two GPs for M11 Limited will be better."
Saito was looking forward to the two Grand Prix in his home country and expected that Yokohama would be very well attended.
"Yokohama is well known to people abroad because we have had a couple of Worlds/PTs held there," explained Saito. Sendai may be less well known to Pro Tour players but the former PoY promised that it had plenty to offer. "Sendai is the northeast city in Japan well known for Sendai Castle and delicious beef tongue. If you're not familiar with Japanese style beef tongue...just try it."
- Summing up Summing up Austin
The single most played maindeck card in Austin was Misty Rainforest–which is no surprise considering the preponderance of Zoo decks. Similarly unsurprising is that if you broaden the scope to include sideboards you see that Path to Exile is the most played overall. Generally I have found that if you want to find surprising cards, you need to look to Conley Woods. If you happened to notice the four copies of Castigate and the singleton Sorin Markov that he showed off in the deck tech we did for his Markov Cocktail, they were the only copies of those cards in the entire tournament. Here are the Top 10 cards played maindeck and overall:
- Friday Night Foils: One Ring to Rule Them All
I don't know about you but every time I play Standard on MTGO I find my opponent has multiple planeswalkers in their deck and I have found myself packing Oblivion Ring in most of my sideboards that can support it. I would love to put together a deck that can bounce an Oblivion Ring and not just for the Narrow Escape/Journey to Nowhere shenanigans I like pulling off in Limited. Against a planeswalker you can exile it under an Oblivion Ring and then when your opponent inevitably casts a second copy of that planeswalker you bounce your Ring and legend rule them both to death while still having an Oblivion Ring in your hand; fun stuff that could go into a monowhite strategy with Kor Skyfisher–a card that I have been seeing a lot in Standard online.