Underneath the Surface of Worlds

Posted in The Week That Was on December 4, 2009

By Brian David-Marshall

The 2009 Magic World Championships—and the 2009 Pro Tour season—are in the books, and all the hardware has been passed out. Yuuya Watanabe held onto his impressive lead and won the Player of the Year title without actually winning a Pro Tour. Building on his Top 8 finish from Grand Prix–Paris, Lino Burgold passed the two players ahead of him in the standings to take down the Rookie of the Year title. Despite never playing a sanctioned Legacy match in his life before the first round of the team competition, Bo Li rattled off six straight wins with his Legacy Fish deck. His winning streak was the key to unlocking the Team Championship for China and his teammates Zhiyang Zhang and Wu Tong.

The most coveted piece of hardware—the $45,000 check for winning the individual World Championship title—went to Portugal's Andre Coimbra. He emerged victorious from a Top 8 that included quarterfinalists Marijn Lybaert of Belgium, Florian Pils of Germany, William Cavaglieri of Italy, and Manuel Bucher of Switzerland; semifinalists Terry Soh of Malaysia and Bram Snepvangers of the Netherlands; and finalist David Reitbauer of Austria. Eight different countries were represented in the individual Top 8, and all total there were ten countries playing on Sunday when you account for the Czech Republic and China in team competition.

It was the most globally diverse Worlds Sunday in the history of the game, showcasing Magic's expanding reach around the world. Notably absent from play on Sunday were perennial powerhouses the United States, Japan, and France. Don't fret about the Magic future of those three countries, though, as all three nations put players into the Top 10 of the Player of the Year race and both the U.S. and Japan had multiple players finish high in the Rookie of the Year race. There were also multiple Japanese and American players in the Top 16 of the individual standings.

Based on reviewing the career finishes of Hall of Famers I have come to appreciate the Top 16 finish as a herald of things to come in the future. All three of the players who were inducted into the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame in Rome, Frank Karsten, Kamiel Cornelissen, and Antoine Ruel, started their careers with strong finishes that fell just short of Sunday. I don't know whether or not an induction ceremony is in the future for any of the players who made the Top 16 of Worlds but I do know that they are players I will be paying closer attention to in the coming 2010 season to see if they can build on that finish—much like Guillaume Wafo-Tapa built on his Top 16 at the first PT–Honolulu and Martin Juza built on his Top 16 from Kuala Lumpur.

Mongkol Techarattanaprasert of Thailand became the highest-finishing player from that country with his 16th-place showing in Rome. He posted consistent finishes in all three formats, with a 4-2 in Standard and Limited and 4-1-1 in Extended. This is his third solid finish at Worlds, after finishing 15th in 2003 and 33rd in 2005, and the second time in the last two seasons that a Thai player was one win away from the Sunday stage (Sukhum Kiwanont was 10th going into the final round of Pro Tour–Berlin before a loss put him in 20th). Techarattanaprasert ended up with 18 points for the season, with Thailand's 9th-place finish in the team competition and Thailand Nationals getting him the other half of his points for the year. His Top 50 finish assures him an invite to San Diego and another well-placed finish there could set him up with invites for the remainder of the 2010 season.

Shouta Yasooka finished 15th and needs little introduction. He is a Pro Tour winner, former Player of the Year, and Magic Online Player of the Year. When Shouta was on top of the world a couple of seasons ago he was known for his intense preparation for the game, and Magic Online seems to have given him a newfound focus and finds him sitting at the top tables. He participated in the Magic Online Championship series and in Rome, getting as far as the finals and claimed to be putting in 18 hours of preparation a day on Magic Online in the weeks leading up to Worlds. He posted a Top 64 finish in Austin and was in Top 8 contention throughout all three days of Worlds. He started out 5-1 in Standard with the ubiquitous Japanese Jund deck. Limited saw him go 4-2 before he faltered down the stretch in Extended with a 3-2-1 record, losing to Florian Pils in a win-and-in match in the last round of Swiss action.

Shouta Yasooka's Jund

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Last season's U.S. National Champion, Michael Jacob, had another strong Worlds tournament this season. After a shaky start that saw him rack up all of his losses on the first two days of action—he went 4-2 with the Unearth deck that was featured in a Day One deck tech, and only had a 50% win rate at the draft tables—Jacob swept through Extended to come up just short of the Top 8. He closed the season very strong and ended up with 32 points and a full slate of events laid out before him for the 2010 season. I was very impressed with Michael when we did the Deck Tech on his Unearth deck in terms of his ability to explain the ins and outs of the deck and why certain sideboard cards that seemed like unusual choices—Blister Beetle, Immortal Coil, and Spreading Seas—all filled very specific roles against known archetypes. In addition to looking forward to seeing him build on this finish in 2010, I hope he joins the ranks of Magic columnists to share his clear analysis and out-of-the-box thinking on a more regular basis.

Michael Jacob's Rubin Zoo

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Luxembourg's Przemyslaw Nagadowski had an identical path through the formats as Michael Jacob with a 4-2 Standard record, 3-3 in Draft, and then a 6-0 finish in Extended. Those of you looking for an Extended deck for the upcoming PTQ season should not be sleeping on Hypergenesis. It could have easily won the whole shebang in Austin if not for a missed trigger, and it proceeded to sweep through the field at Worlds in the hands of Nagadowski. He becomes the highest-finishing player from Luxembourg in Pro Tour competition. He will need to mount another strong finish in San Diego if he wants to make a habit of playing on the Pro Tour; his Pro Point total is in the single digits, with everything coming from his finish at Worlds.

Przemyslaw Nagadowski's Hypergenesis

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David Ochoa has been a long-time presence on the Pro Tour and high ranking member of the Cheontourage. His strong finish at Worlds left him with 29 points and a full schedule of Pro Tours for 2010. It was the second money finish in two tries for Ochoa, who placed 21st in Austin. His 29 points are impressive when you consider that he finished poorly in Kyoto and did not participate in Pro Tour–Honolulu. The only thing standing between Ochoa and his first Top 8 was the drafting tables. He went 5-1 in both of the Constructed formats but split his draft rounds to end up a win shy when the Swiss came to a conclusion. David is plugged into one of the most exciting networks of players in the game and has demonstrated the ability to play deep into high level competition. Although it has been many years in the making, I feel like Ochoa is one of the players who could become an overnight sensation in the coming year.

David Ochoa's RoflThopters

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I had the opportunity to cover Petr Brozek's draft for the Draft Viewer and tried to get a handle on the Czech player, whom I knew little to nothing about. I asked Martin Juza, Adam Koska, and Matej Zatlkaj if there was anything i should be aware of about Brozek before watching him draft. To a man they said: "He will draft red." They were right, as he opened his first pack, promptly took a Spire Barrage and never looked back. Brozek played mostly Mountains throughout all 18 Swiss rounds of the tournament and went 5-1 on the first two days before splitting his Extended rounds to miss the Top 8. He definitely seemed to have a David Price–like affinity for aggressive red decks, and I asked if there was a story there.

Petr had been a fixture on the Czech scene for a long time and was known as a classic control player who liked to deny his opponents the ability to play spells, loathed the attack phase, and never—ever—tapped his mana on his own turn unless it was absolutely necessary. He stepped away from the game for a while and returned for a Constructed Grand Prix with little preparation. He wanted to play in a Trial for the event and scrambled for a deck. His friends were able to cobble something together for him with stray burn spells, tiny creatures, and Mountains—uncharted territory for Brozek. Attacking for 2 was an epiphany for him; he won the Trial and has never returned from the Mountains. His Standard deck is likely to be a popular choice in this weekend's State Championships as it did well, does not require ownership of four Baneslayer Angels, and is being touted by a certain Top Decks author as an optimal deck for this weekend. Hopefully we will see more of Petr in 2010, but in the meanwhile you should get used to seeing his deck.

Petr Brozek's Barely Boros

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Robert Jurkovic has strung together two Top 16 finishes at his last two Pro Tours after playing on the Pro Tour since Pro Tour–Mainz in 1997. His previous best finish before Austin was 6th place in the Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour–San Diego—essentially the equivalent of Top 16 in an individual event. The Slovakian player was also a participant in the Magic Online Championship Series, I interviewed him for a pre-Worlds column about the impact that Magic Online has had on improving his game since he started using it in 2005. Jurkovic's path through the Swiss rounds mirrors that of Brozek, with only two losses at the end of Day Two. Perhaps the extra rounds of Magic Online play at the end of each day took their toll on him as he went 3-3 down the stretch and finished in 10th place. His last two events of the season would be an admirable career for most of the players that qualify to play in the Pro Tour, but I get the sense that Jurkovic is not done with his resume just yet. I look forward to watching him during the 2010 season.

While all of the players above are worthy of your attention in the coming season, none of them are as intriguing to me as Adam Koska of the Czech Republic. You may remember Adam as the player from Pro Tour–Kyoto who went 4-3 on Day One and then proceeded to sweep the tables on the second day only to find himself decimal points away from the Top 8 despite having only three losses. The people who make the policy decisions about the Pro Tour felt that everyone who makes Day Two should have a shot at being in the Top 8 if they run the table, and the extra rounds added at the remaining events this season have been unofficially known as the "Koska Rule." The World Championships are an entirely different animal, though, and once again Adam had to content himself with a virtual Top 8 finish as three players jostled for two actual Top 8 berths at the end of 18 rounds.

Think about this for a second. Adam played Magic at the highest level of the game, for two events, well enough to make the Top 8 of each event. Had the decimal points tumbled a little differently, two Top 8s would make him one of the game's most well-known names at the end of the season. Did I mention that these were the only two Pro Tours he played in last season? I am very impressed with Koska and caught up with the 9th-place finisher from Worlds and Kyoto to find out more about him.

BDM: How did you get started playing Magic and what was the first set you played with?

Koska: I started when my high school classmates brought the cards to school. The first sets I played with were Exodus / Urza's Saga.

BDM: When did you first start playing competitive Magic and what attracted you to that aspect of the game?

Koska: We started attending tournaments with some friends pretty much immediately, since there were a couple of places that held tournaments every now and then near the place where I've lived in Prague. At first, the tournaments had this "oomph" effect, with lots of people attending and the feel of the "big competition." As I started to play more often, I wanted to win more as well.

BDM: What was your first taste of tournament success?

Koska: My first tournament success came in 2002, when I made a Top 8 at Czech Nationals—while being probably the most random person in the room. This qualified me for the Europe Championship in Amsterdam where I obviously posted a horrible record ... but despite this record, I still gained a bunch of DCI points there—which shows just how bad my rating was.

BDM: Aside from your two PTs this year what notable finishes have you posted in your career?

Koska: Before Kyoto, I had several PT appearances, was on the National team in 2006, and finished in the money at a couple of GPs (Krakow 2007, Vienna 2008). My top pre-Kyoto achievements were probably recieving a $100 bye in Round 1 of PT–Philadelphia (the one with the skins payout) and being one game win from making money in the Time Spiral Block Constructed GP–Strasbourg with a Wild Pair deck. :)

BDM: Two 9th-place finishes on tiebreakers is pretty heartbreaking. Can you describe what was going through your head as the Top 8 was announced for Kyoto?

Koska: In Kyoto, it was pretty tough, since I had a small tiebreak lead over Masayasu Tanahashi (who ended up edging me out) going into the last round, so I was almost sure I was gonna make it if I won. After the Top 8 was announced it felt, of course, really bad. But then eventually, it sank a bit and I realized how big success it was for me .... So of course looking back I can't be upset about it in the slightest.

BDM: And then for Rome?

Koska: In Rome, it was a totally different situation, since I knew my tiebreakers were really bad and the chances of me not making the Top 8 even with a win in the last round were quite high. When I found out how the other relevant matches went, I knew almost for sure I didn't make it. So when the Top 8 was announced, I wasn't really surprised. In the end, I wasn't disappointed at all, considering I picked my Extended deck twenty minutes before the start of the Extended portion ... and went 5-1 with it.

BDM: Why did you skip the two middle PTs this year?

Koska: I decided to slow down with Magic in the autumn of 2008, stop grinding PTQs, and stop taking Magic as seriously (at least for some time) as I used to before. The PTQ Kyoto that I won was pretty much the only tournament I played in that time and even going to Japan was more about having fun than aiming for the "high goals." I had finished my B.A. degree in February 2009 and decided to go to work to Turkey in the spring-summer season. At the time PT–Honolulu was taking place, I was having an awesome time hitchhiking along the Turkish borders of Iraq, Syria, and Iran with some friends of mine—this had been arranged in advance and I didn't want to change it. I didn't go to Austin because I took up my studies where I left them in February and I was quite busy at the time Austin was taking place.

BDM: What are your plans and goals for next season of the Pro Tour?

Koska: Right now I'm Qed for San Diego and San Juan, so I'm definitely planning to attend those PTs. If I manage to squeeze out five extra points from those PTs plus some GPs, I level up for the rest of the season and can go chase more Top 9 in Amsterdam and Chiba as well. So that's my goal at the moment—to get on the train for this season.

BDM: There has been a lot of talk about the surge of eastern European Magic players doing well on the Pro Tour. What do you attribute this recent success to?

Koska: I'm not sure if it's enough to call it a "surge," but the fact is, there's quite a lot of people playing this game in Czech Republic. I'm not really sure about the reason for this "surge," but taking into account the high number of people playing the game, the odds of some of them doing well are quite high. And once they do, it's easier for the others to "catch up," since there's somebody "in touch" with the high level competition already.

BDM: You have been playing on the Pro Tour for some time now. To what do you attribute your recent successes?

Koska: That's a hard question, since the thing that has been most apparent to change was that before Kyoto, I stopped taking Magic as seriously as I used to before. I guess I have a lot more relaxed attitude to Magic now. I'm really wondering if that's what makes you better. :) But now that I think about it, what also changed is that now when there are more Czech players on the Tour and we also have some players near the very top, it's easier to get the new "tech" and estimate the metagame a lot better. In the "old days," there were just a couple of Czech players going to each PT and our decks were mostly really terrible compared to the ones of "elite" players. This has changed for sure.

    Friday Night Foils: Respect Your Elders

Ben Stark showed off his Extended Valakut deck in a deck tech for the Tournament Center in Rome, which highlighted the power of Sakura-Tribe Elder for finding your deck's essential Mountains. If you are looking to trick out your version of the deck, you should head to your local FNM and try to win this little number. You can find FNM locations with the Store amp; Event Locator.

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