By the time this article goes up, we will already be halfway through the Swiss rounds of the 2009 Magic: The Gathering World Championships. Six rounds of Standard—which is looking a lot more lively than the Jund-mongers would have you believe—will be completed, and we should be halfway through the Zendikar drafting for this event. I thought I would catch you up on some of the sights from the days leading up to the event, some of the goings-on that took place before Round One, and the faces you should be keeping an eye out for in the coverage that will continue all weekend, right up to the Sunday webcast when we will see the Top 8 players battle it out for the title of Magic: The Gathering World Champion.
The players will be fighting it out in the feature match Arena on Sunday, but there was no shortage of Magic being played at Rome's most famous Arena, the Coliseum. Players have been hanging out in Rome days in advance and taking in the sights. During an excursion to Rome's most famous tourist attraction for a video shoot the team found multiple groups of players settled in on a piece of ancient stone testing their decks against a Standard gauntlet.
Players could not get into the tournament site until Wednesday evening, when registration would begin and Public Events would open for business. With €5 drafts and free Standard eight-player tournaments, there was plenty of excitement to get into the hall.
Players poured through the doors and formed a never-ending queue for the Public Events. Most of the players lined up on Wednesday may not have been qualified for the main event, but they came to play.
By the time the dust settled on Wednesday evening, the Public Events staff had overseen a flurry of 200 drafts and Standard events.
In addition to Public Events, attendees this weekend have the opportunity to meet their favorite Magic artists. With Gabriel Nassif pulling of the Ultimate on Nicol Bolas in a Standard match in the main event, D. Alexander Gregory may find some additional demand for the planeswalker he brought to life.
By the time Thursday morning rolled around, everyone had had their fill of tourism and whistle-whetting public events. It was time to get the main event underway. Rich Hagon served as emcee for the opening ceremonies.
It was quite an impressive sight to have all sixty-four of the represented nations lined up on the stage.
Players in the auditorium cheered as the representatives from their respective nations strode upon the stage bearing their countryies' flags.
The loudest cheer came from the hometown crowd for Italian National Champion Luca Ravagli. The home country's champion is always introduced last at Worlds.
With the flag ceremony completed, it was time to honor three of the game's best players. As the Pro Tour Historian I get to introduce the incoming members of the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
Frank Karsten was the first to get introduced. Each player was introduced with a video segment that highlighted their careers ...
... but the biggest surprise for the inductees were busts of them that Wizards had sculpted for this event.
Players joked that the stoic Kamiel Cornelissen's likeness was captured perfectly in stone.
But he was jubilant to be enshrined in the Hall; despite his gaudy resume, Kamiel was nervous about making it on the first ballot.
Antoine Ruel—the leading vote-getter for the 2009 class—was looking a little scruffier than his sculpture...
... but he cleaned up nicely in time for the ceremony and the Green Lantern Corp shot that is the obligation of every incoming Hall of Fame Class.
As the inductees posed for pictures the audience streamed out to find their pairings for round one. It was time to get down to the business of sorting out who all this hardware was going to belong to when four days of play were in the books.
To keep things fair, Head Judge Shelden Menery was working with one of the largest judge staffs ever assembled for a Magic event.
There were more than a few players looking to repeat their victories or retain their titles from last year. One of the few players who could not possibly repeat was reigning Rookie of the Year Aaron Nicastri.
Brian Robinson was nowhere to be found this weekend, so that made the Rookie Race a three-person sprint to the title. Japan's Yamimoto Akimasa was fighting off the lingering effects of a cold, but came in holding the lead.
Fueled by his Top 8 in Paris, and with the potential extra points from membership on the German National team in his back pocket, Lino Burgold was right behind Akimasa and closing fast.
Similarly fueled by a GP Top 8—his in Minnesota—Brad Nelson had some ground to cover but was within 6 points of the lead.
Quietly, Shi Tian Lee has picked up points at a handful of Grand Prix and has the extra bonus of leading Hong Kong in the team competition. He could be a dark horse in this Rookie of the Year race.
Last year's World Champion, Antti Malin, has had a quiet 2009 season but would love to close it out in the same fashion as last year.
Reigning Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura also leads his National team. Right in the thick of this year's race as well, he gets no bonus from the team event, as PoY frontrunner Watanabe is also on the team.
It is hard to argue with Watanabe winning the award this year. Just this season alone, he has as many Grand Prix Top 8s as two of this year's Hall of Fame inductees.
Tomoharu Saito did not want to root against the Japanese National Team but said it would take them falling apart, with neither Shuhei or Watanabe picking up much in the way of extra points, along with a finals finish for him in order take to the lead.
Martin Juza checks on the status of Yuuya Watanabe after every win and is armed with only his individual performance to overtake the lead.
As the captain of the Brazilian National team—and with former World Champ Carlos Romao to serve as copilot—Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa has a modicum more control over his destiny but still has a lot of ground to cover.
He called his shot with Cruel Ultimatum in Kyoto, pulled of the Ultimate ability on Nicol Bolas in the early rounds of Standard this event, and was sporting a rather nefarious-looking mustache. It is hard not to root for Gabriel Nassif, but he is facing long odds. We can likely look forward to him being a first-ballot Hall of Famer this time next year when his career finally crosses the decade mark.
Keep your browser tuned to the coverage all weekend long as we sort out which hardware goes home with whom.