The Day the Worlds Stopped Spinning

Posted in The Week That Was on December 5, 2014

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

I can safely say that I have never before had a day like this in my Magic coverage career. I am writing my column mid-week and mid-tournament as we have a quiet day in Nice, France, in between the end of the Swiss rounds of the World Championship and the start of the Swiss rounds for the World Magic Cup. It's already been a long week of Magic that started with most of us arriving in town on Sunday, doing pre-show work on Monday. All that before covering fourteen rounds of play, featuring 24 of the best players in the game, on Tuesday and Wednesday; winnowed down to four players, who will come back on Sunday to see who will be crowned World Champion.

As coverage and players alike straggled into the breakfast buffet this morning, you could catch snippets of plans being made for what to do with the downtime. There was talk of a pickup basketball game among some of the taller Magic players. Marshall Sutcliffe, Rich Hagon, and Josh Bennett decided to visit Monaco and walk the course of the Monaco Grand Prix. Still others were talking about museums, local food, and architecture. Some of the national teams were laying out Team Sealed Pools and collecting opinions on different builds.

Myself and others were too tired to think about heading out but not too tired to…well, it is best summed up in this tweet that quotes Randy Buehler.

"I have seen France...I have not seen the inside of those booster packs!" -- @rbuehler 2014

— Brian David-Marshall (@Top8Games) December 4, 2014

Part of the reason we were too tired to do much more than crack boosters and pass them to our left was because Wednesday was such a long, hard-fought day for the competitors in the World Championship. Play began on Tuesday, with the competitors cracking actual Vintage Masters packs. The contents of the packs were generated on Magic Online and assembled by Wizards of the Coast for the event. No, the players did not get to keep what they drafted. That was not a problem for reigning World Champion Shahar Shenhar, who drafted a mean little Goblin deck that just wanted to run over his opponents with common and uncommon red creatures, and burn—although he did have Clickslither and Crater Hellion in case of emergency.

At the end of that first leg of the event, only Shenhar and Pro Tour Champions Patrick Chapin and Stanislav Cifka, and Shenhar were undefeated heading into the choppy waters of Modern. Every person I talked to leading up to the event was nervous about the format, despite a recent Grand Prix featuring that format in Madrid. With such a concentration of the game's best players in the tournament, nobody wanted to be caught unaware by the most recent innovations in the format. Patrick Chapin was the only person to go 4–0 in that format with a finely tuned version of Blue-Red Delver.

Patrick Chapin's Blue-Red Delver—Day One, 2014 World Championship

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The deck that caused everybody to hold their breath, though, was the Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck designed by Josh Utter-Leyton and played by him, Tom Martell, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. The deck eschewed the mana dorks that were normally used to tap and untap to keep the combo engine humming. Instead, it played Fatestitcher, with a back-up plan in the form of Faerie Conclave. Martell came into the Tournament Center to do a deck tech and show us how the deck worked. Trust me, if you are going to play in any of the Modern PTQ qualifiers that are Modern you MUST learn how to play with or against this deck.

Day Two kicked off with Khans of Tarkir draft. We watched as Chapin straddled between an aggressive Jeskai deck that had a pair of Mantis Riders, and a control deck with End Hostilities and Pearl Lake Ancient. The latter came at the expense of a Tranquil Cove that would have smoothed out his mana in the former version. Chapin, 7-0 at the end of Day One, fell back into the pack and came out of that format at 8-2 and still on top of the standings, albeit tied with Kentaro Yamamoto of Japan who went 3-0 in his draft pod.

Yamamoto was something of a dark horse in a field of Hall of Famers, Player of the Year winners, Rookie of the Year winners, Pro Tour Champions, and former winners of this very tournament. But he came into the event with a Grand Prix Top 4 finish just days before the event, when he reached the semifinals of Grand Prix Strasbourg. The event was held last weekend, and not only did Yamamoto reach the semifinals but World Magic Cup competitor Tamás Nagy—who will be heading up the Hungarian National Team—won the whole thing.

Getting back to Yamamoto, the Japanese player made quite an impression on his fellow competitors, including Hall of Famer William Jensen. He wasn't familiar with Yamamoto before meeting the two-time Pro-Tour Top-8 competitor across the table at the World Championship.

Also for what it's worth, was incredibly impressed by Yamamoto in both matches we played and all weekend. Incredible player. #mtgchamps

— William Jensen (@HueyJensen) December 3, 2014

With Khans of Tarkir Limited in the rear view mirror, it was time for Standard. Up to plate stepped Yuuya Watanabe, who had gotten off to a rocky start in the tournament at 0-2 and had been stuck on three losses since round 5. Standard looked like a slow format—the rounds were untimed and players were able to go as deep as they wanted with Sidisi Whip or Blue-Black Control—but nobody told the former Rookie of the Year and two-time Player of the Year Watanabe, who brought a torrid little Jeskai number to shred his way into the Top 4.

Yuuya Watanabe's Jeskai Aggro—2014 World Championship

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The deck uses Jeskai Ascendancy, but not as a combo piece; rather, it's used as a Crusade effect that occasionally doubles as an Overrun. Cards like Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst not only add creatures to your board but also pump up and untap all your existing creatures when they are cast. Just play around a little with convoking a Stoke the Flames with a Jeskai Ascendancy in play and you begin to see the filthiness of this build.

Watanabe is no stranger to playing on Sunday in this event. In 2012, he was crowned Player of the Year when he won the Player's Championship. The event was rebranded the following year as the World Championship, when it was won by young upstart Shahar Shenhar. When Watanabe plays in the Top 4 on Sunday, he will be facing off against Shenhar—who had to win his last match on Wednesday to secure the Top 4 spot—thereby guaranteeing that one of the two previous World Champions will be looking to become the first repeat winner in the three-year history of the event.

Of course, there is the little matter of the other half of the bracket for those two players to contend with. Patrick Chapin managed to settle back into his determined groove once the format switched from Limited to Standard, and locked up his spot in the Top 4 with a round to spare. It was the second of three phases that started when he won Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. It turns out that, ever since reading about World Champion Zac Dolan in 1994, it has been a driving passion of Chapin's to also hold that title. He had gotten as far as the finals in 2007, when he was rebuffed by Israeli National Team member Uri Peleg.

Chapin took for granted that he would have many more opportunities while the title was attached to the regular cycle of Pro Tours, with hundreds of competitors. When the event shifted to a more exclusive opportunity, based on accumulated Pro Points in a season or winning a Pro Tour, Chapin knew that the latter would become his "PTQ" to qualify in Worlds again. The Pro Tour Hall of Famer has been working up to 80 hours a week and, while he still attends all the Pro Tours, he is not able to log the same Grand Prix repetitions he once managed. He paced the field over the two days, and only two more players stand in his way.

Should Chapin manage to get past Kentaro Yamamoto in the semifinals, he could face off against a member of the Israeli National Team in the finals—echoing his last trip to the finals of Worlds. Whoever emerges from the Watanabe/Shenhar bracket will have a chance to win two events this weekend, as both of them are captaining their national teams. In fact, I have to get ready to start covering that event…

…as soon as we are all done "sightseeing".

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