Let's Give 'Em a Hand

Posted in The Week That Was on September 17, 2010

By Brian David-Marshall

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about how infect is going to change the way we play Magic. It makes blocking harder. It makes not blocking almost impossible. And it could shorten games considerably as players choosing an infect strategy have to do half as much work as the rest of the Magic players who still want to deal 20 damage the old-fashioned way.

I know I have been keeping an eye out for first-striking creatures to hold the infectious swarm at bay and could easily see myself more willing to play Fog effects than I normally am in Limited. Unfortunately, today's preview card does a nice little bit around blockers, Fogs, Propagandas, and whatever else you might do to not get poisoned.

Click here to see what I mean.

That's right. It is an infect lord. The bonus will be nice but what really makes the Hand shine is its ability to finish off the game without actually having to use the red zone. I have not played with the newest brand of poison that Ramp;D has whipped up, but in the past you could always take your poison counters right up to nine and then worry about blocking those pesky Swamp Mosquitos. Those days are gone.

With the threat of Hand of the Praetors you can ill afford to get yourself anywhere close to toxic levels. Imagine having stabilized a game at six poison counters and deciding that you can afford to take a hit from a Plague Stinger. That could quickly prove fatal.

You attack with your flyer and resign yourself to another poison counter. Your opponent casts today's preview card, gets two poison counters on you with another Plague Stinger attack, and then casts another infect creature and something that proliferates.

Even if you decided not to attack, preferring to trade your creature with the Plague Stinger, you would still have to deal with the bonus from the Hand. And if you did stabilize the red zone your opponent can just bide their time and finish you off with a couple of timely infect creatures from their hand and/or just a dash of proliferation.

    Player of Year Update

Here are the latest standings in the 2010 Player of the Year race including last weekend's Grand Prix–Portland. Sitting atop the standings is the hottest player in Magic, Brad Nelson.

PlaceFirst NameLast NameCountryPro Points
1BradNelsonUnited States55
2Paulo Vitorda RosaBrazil46
5PaulRietzlUnited States37
8BrianKiblerUnited States35
9KyleBoggemesUnited States33
9LucasBlohonCzech Republic33
12LuisScott-VargasUnited States32

How hot is Brad Nelson running these days? Well he just played in a 1300-person Grand Prix, finished in the Top 64, won some money, earned a precious Pro Point, and yet it has been called a disappointing finish by armchair magicians following along at home. It is hard not to consider anything less than a Top 8 a disappointment though when you look at his recent run of events that is low-lighted by a "mere" Top 8 at U.S. Nationals.

The result of Brad's run, which includes his second-place finish at Pro Tour–Amsterdam, is a lead in the Player of the Year race with only a handful of events to go. Most of us could only dream about playing deep into Day Two of a 1300-person Grand Prix, much less besting Kai Budde in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour. I caught up with Brad to ask how the last few months have felt for him and what the last few months of the Player of the Year race hold in store for him.

"It feels really good. I have worked very hard on my game in the last six months and to see it work out is very refreshing," said the Pro Tour–Amsterdam finalist. "The best part about this run is that I am still striving to improve my game and myself even after it is over. I did not have the focus at Grand Prix–Portland, and it cost me my first draft. My entire article this week at Channelfireball.com is about focus where I go over more details about its importance."

The result of Brad's quarterfinal match with Kai Budde represented an 8-point difference in the two players' final Pro Point tally for the event. No player has won as many Player of the Year titles as Kai and no player has ever been as tough to defeat on a Sunday as the German Juggernaut. Coming into Amsterdam, Kai was seven of nine in winning once he started play on Sunday and the only two players to ever push him off that Sunday stage were Bram Snepvangers and William Jensen.

"When I started playing on the Pro Tour all I could dream about is playing the game's best," said Brad of his Top 8 match-up with the game's most trophied player. "This was an opportunity I never thought I would get a chance to have. Playing Kai was the most important match of my life thus far and was I was very glad to come out of it on top. It is nice that the cards did fall in my favor when it was all said and done, but I knew going into it that I would need some luck to beat the man. I would really like to be able to face him again with as little variance as possible."

Brad Nelson is not only chasing a Player of the Year title, he is chasing history. With a couple of events and one Pro Tour remaining Nelson can shatter the record of Pro Tours played to reach 100 lifetime Pro Points. Mark Justice did it in only nine Pro Tours played, while in the modern era Gadiel Szliefer needed only thirteen Pro Tours and Randy Buehler only twelve. Brad could accomplish that feat in seven if he acquires 18 points between now and the end of Worlds and still have a Pro Tour to spare to beat Justice if he misses that total in Chiba.

Brad has played in a mere six Pro Tours so far with a 9th place in Honolulu, 6th place in San Juan, and his 2nd place in Amsterdam. In his three other Pro Tours he went 0-5 in Austin to only pick up the "thank you for playing" points, just missed Level 6 at Worlds when he lost to Michael Jacob in the last round to finish 33rd, and got off to a slow start to this season with a 4-4 finish in San Diego.

Despite a couple of human-looking results Brad seems headed for a Pro Tour trophy—something he came up three games short of in Amsterdam. Is it something Brad sees himself accomplishing?

"I really do," he answered frankly. "This may sound weird but it is the truth—if I won either of the last Pro Tours it would not have meant as much to me as it did for Paulo [Vitor Damo da Rosa, Pro Tour–San Jaun winner] and Paul [Rietzl, Pro Tour–Amsterdam winner]. These men have been playing for so many years and it was a culmination of all their hard work. I know I would not have appreciated it as much if I won a Pro Tour so early in my career. I want the look that was on their faces much more than the trophy and title."

Brad thinks he can get the points needed to win the Player of the Year title. He estimates that it will take a point total of around 18 to 20 points to get there—just about the same number of points needed to cross the 100 point total that would make him eligible to be the first qualified member of the Hall of Fame class of 2019. Keep in mind that there are currently no eligible members of the 2017 or 2018 classes of the Hall of Fame and only Yuuya Watanabe and Gaudenis Vidugiris showing up early for class in 2016.

"Winning Player of the Year would be great title to achieve but playing at a higher level—and more consistently—is a bigger goal," said the always level-headed Nelson. "Being the best is not as important to me as knowing I am the best I can possibly be. I just need to continue to play as well as I can. Anything can happen and there are too many possibilities that I have no control over. I have a good shot as long as I continue to work hard at my game and be focused."

You can expect to see Brad playing in Grand Prix–Toronto, Grand Prix–Nashville, and The World Championship in Chiba. Brad will be playing for a little bit more money in Chiba than most of the other competitors as he is part of a small set of Worlds competitors also qualified for the Magic Online Championship Series, which has a purse of $100,000 with a whopping $25,000 earmarked for the winner.

"Magic Online gave me the opportunity I have today. Winning this tournament means a great deal to me," said the MTGO prodigy better known as FFfreaK before we all knew the name on his birth certificate. "I will be putting as much work into this tournament as I will be for Worlds. It will be a ton of work getting prepared for the weekend in Chiba but it will be well worth it. I WILL have my game face on."

Brad will be playing in a couple of other events in the coming weeks. First, he is going to be gunslinging against all challengers at Paradox Comics and Cards in Fargo, ND for the Scars of Mirrodin Prerelease. Second, he has to start evening out a disparity on his resume between him and his little brother Cory Baumeister.

In typical little brother fashion Cory brought Brad down to earth the other day when he asked Brad how many times the Pro Tour finalist, Player of the Year frontrunner, and Grand Prix Champion had won a State title.

"Me? Zero," confessed Brad before adding his brother's results: "Him? Two!"

With all of that on his plate in the coming weeks he couldn't possibly find time for any more Grand Prix beyond the two in North America that he has circled in indelible markers on his calendar ... right?

"It all depends on how well Paulo does this weekend," said Brad with an eye on the coverage page for Brazilian Nationals, while reaching for a pencil and remainder of the European and Australian schedule of events.

While Brad finished in the Top 64 of Grand Prix–Portland last weekend, Pro Tour–San Juan Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa was closing ground on the lead that Brad overtook from him in Amsterdam with a Top 8 finish at that same event. Despite losing to eventual Grand Prix–Portland Champion Martin Juza, Paulo was within single digits of the Player of the Year lead and has double digit points on the table waiting to be consumed at Nationals this weekend.

With such a strong performance in the Magic 2011 Limited event one would think that Paulo would feel well prepared for that leg of his National Championship this weekend.

"I had an incredibly strong sealed pool, and that was what powered my Top 8," Paul said. "In Draft I only went 3-3. I do not feel unprepared, but I don't think I mastered the format just yet—though hopefully no one does."

Paulo was definitely aware of the players around him—and ahead of him—in the Player of Year race and will be making a push to close the gap between himself and Brad. He has won Nationals twice in the past—2006 and 2009—and was hoping for a repeat performance this year. Of course a couple more GP Top 8s would not hurt either.

"I am going to Sydney and Toronto," said Paulo of his travel schedule. "I've always wanted to go to Australia and Toronto is a little bit 'on the way back.' I'm also going to Nashville, because it is cheap, comparatively speaking. I'm not going to Europe, because it is too expensive and there are too many people, and I cannot skip more classes at the University, so I have to choose some of them."

Like Brad, Paulo believes he can post the necessary results to take the PoY title out of Japan for the first time in half a decade.

"Winning it would mean a lot," said Paulo. "I did not realize how much it would mean until Brad passed me. I will work very hard to be Player of the Year. I need to do well in the tournaments I'm attending. I think the single biggest thing is Brazilian Nationals this week—if I manage to be on the National team, that will give me a big advantage since neither (Nelson nor Tomoharu Saito) is on theirs."

Paulo has posted some incredible finishes and makes the Top 8 roughly 25% of the time that he plays on a Pro Tour—even better than the 20% rate that newly elected Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif has posted. I asked Paulo what he will be thinking about when watching the four players of this year's class get enshrined in Chiba.

"Well, I can't say it hasn't crossed my mind," Paulo admitted. "I definitely look forward to 2012, which is the year I become eligible. I think that, if there are not very drastic changes, I have a decent chance of making it!"

All eyes will be glued to the coverage this weekend as Paulo tries to add a third National title to his already dizzying resume. I asked him whom else we should be watching for throughout the weekend.

"I think there are many players that might be interesting to watch," Paulo said proudly. "Aside from the obvious Carlos and Willy, there are some guys who have been doing well lately—Allison Abe just made Top 4 of Gothenburg, and Guilherme Merjan got a Top 16 in San Juan. There are also some friends of mine who I know are good, like Paulo Cortez, Lucas Berthoud, and Eduardo Borges. Then you have the guys you might have heard of on Magic Online, like Bolov0, Batutinha and L1x0."

You can follow the coverage of Brazilian Nationals on the Event Coverage Page all weekend long courtesy of intrepid reporter Richard Hagon.

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