Saturday, December 13, 8:50 a.m. – At the Top of the Tree
by Rich Hagon
Players have any number of measures by which to judge their progress in the game, whether it be winning a foil at Friday Night Magic, finally reaching parity of 3-3 at a PTQ, or maybe getting all the way to the Big Show. Whatever their level, there’s always something to strive for. The same is true in the judge community. From the first time you pull on the famous black and white stripes, every event is a learning experience that brings new challenges, situations, rules interactions, and almost certainly tales of aching feet—judges walk a LOT!
One of the greatest strengths of the DCI Judge Program is the system that sees fellow judges nurturing talent from around the world, carefully shepherding them through the levels in the community. When a respected judge reaches the pinnacle of the game, it’s a cause for celebration, and rarely has it been more deserved than when Italian Judge Riccardo Tessitori took the final step up from Level 4 to Level 5. I spoke with fellow Level 5 Sheldon Menery, a fixture on the Pro Tour scene, most recently as Head Judge for Pro Tour Berlin. I began by asking him just how rare this promotion is....
Sheldon Menery is one of only four Level 5 judges in the world.
“There are only four Level 5s in the world right now,” said Sheldon. “There’s Toby Elliott, Jaap Brouwer from the Netherlands, myself, and now Riccardo. It doesn’t happen every day, that’s for sure.”
The path towards the summit comes in two broad bursts. Former U.S. Air Force man Menery brings us this military analogy:
“Level 1s are the footsoldiers of the DCI. They’re there making all the decisions that make all the difference to the smooth running of thousands of events all over the world. Level 2s are the NCOs. Typically, they’ll be Head Judging events like Prereleases, and PTQs at a local or regional level. Once you hit Level 3, you’re kind of the Junior Officers. The focus between 2 and 3 shifts from an event focus to a community focus, since Level 3s are mostly responsible for a large region within their own country. In many ways, Level 3s are the most important, because they represent the pinnacle of the community, and a good Level 3 can grow a successful player base. Level 4s are your Colonels, typically Head Judging massive events like Grand Prix, and then Level 5s are your Generals, who mostly Head Judge Pro Tours and Worlds.”
So is Level 3 as far as most Judges get?
“It’s certainly the end of one journey, and the start of the next towards Level 5 is another long path,” allows Sheldon. “Level 5s lead the global Judge Program. We formulate and develop policy, we’re responsible for all training and resources globally. We’re definitely the Senior Management.”
As the Levels progress, the emphasis changes, with an ever-widening perspective on the global community. That can be a long, arduous journey from first finding out about the stack. So what is it that made Riccardo such a natural choice to join this most exclusive group? Sheldon is quick to respond:
”Leadership. Riccardo has taken on the Italian Magic community—not just the judge community, but the player base as well—and has turned that country into a model of how to turn a disparate community into one where everyone is supportive of one another, climbing towards a common goal, and you only need to see the rapid emergence of Italian Magic as a global force to see the fruits of his labors.”
Newly minted Level 5 judge Riccardo Tessitori
There’s no doubt that adding Riccardo to the ultimate heights within the DCI will be good for the game.
“From Level 4 we’re already asking Judges for their opinions on the direction of the game from a judging perspective, and Riccardo has consistently displayed the qualities that make him an outstanding candidate. Our job is to make the rules clear and concise, and provide the best experience for players at every level around the world. Riccardo makes that job easier.”
The path that began many years ago has come to fruition with Riccardo Tessitori, one of the nicest people in Magic, standing at the pinnacle of the community alongside his fellow Level 5s. Congratulations to him. The game is in good hands.
Saturday, December 13, 9:41 a.m. – Big Event Warriors
by Bill Stark
It’s common knowledge that big events like the World Championships are perfect for all Magic enthusiasts whether they’re coming to battle in the big event, or simply enjoy their favorite hobby in an exciting setting. Walking around the tournament hall, it’s easy to see why Pro Tours appeal to so much more than just competitive players. The Champions Challenge gives all takers the chance to battle famous Magic personalities, like creator Richard Garfield, absolutely free. Not far away, the artists who actually bring life to the cards being battled with chat and sign cards for fans. A sneak preview of the upcoming novel Agents of Artifice is on hand, as well as the opening ceremony and Hall of Fame presentation. And that’s before we even get to the massive amounts of Magic actually being played this weekend! The coverage team got the chance to speak to a few players enjoying themselves outside the main event to see what brought them to Worlds and how they were enjoying their experiences.
Iowan Josh Schroeder drove 600 miles to be here.
Dave Williamson and Josh Schroeder drove over seven hours and covered more than 600 miles to see their first World Championships. Hailing from Davenport, Iowa, the two started the trip with a bit of tenuous weather. “When we left there was two inches of snow on the ground,” Dave said. “Fortunately it cleared up right away.” When asked why they had decided to come to the big event, Williamson quickly spoke up: “For me it was the only class of tournament I haven’t been to. I’ve seen Pro Tours, Grand Prix, and Nationals, but never the World Championships.”
Josh, the quieter of the two, had a more practical addition to Dave’s explanation: “When we found out it was essentially in our backyard, we knew we had to go.”
So how had the two been keeping themselves occupied on the weekend? “I’ve been playing a lot of Alpha games with Richard Garfield and [R&D Head Designer Mark Rosewater] in the gunslinging area.” Dave excitedly described.
“We also took part in the Question Mark contest last night.” Schroeder added. The event, hosted by Mark Rosewater each year at Worlds, is always one of the most entertaining portions of the tournament. In addition to Question Mark, Josh had also played in a Two-Headed Giant tournament for an iPod with his girlfriend. “I was surprised to find out you could win prizes with just a .500 record!” he said.
This isn’t the first time the two have traveled to an event together along with a group of mutual friends. “We try to travel as much as possible. It’s a lot of fun,” Williamson said before adding, “I’m looking forward to going out in Memphis tonight!”
Dave even laid out the story of his highlight of the weekend so far. “Last night I played an epic game of Alpha decks [decks built entirely out of original Alpha cards and using original Alpha rules] against Richard Garfield. By the end, a small crowd had surrounded us and when the game ended, a German player asked me if I would autograph a card for him. Signing an autograph and playing Alpha decks? My weekend is complete!”
Two other friends making the most out of their World Championships weekend are Philadelphia residents Jon Becker and Matt Urban. Becker, who has a good-natured reputation for being a bit of a curmudgeon, is a longtime player who has even done official event coverage. “I’ve played in one Worlds, done coverage on two, and attended two more.” Why does he keep coming back to the events? “Honestly, it’s the good times. I hadn’t been to an event in a while and I love drafting. I have so many friends attached to Magic and most of them come to Worlds.”
Jon Becker, left, and Matt Urban are old hands on the Pro Tour scene (but don’t tell them we called them ‘old’).
Matt Urban is a benefits administrator and echoed Jon’s sentiment. “I’m here to draft, play Elder Dragon Highlander, and trade!” Urban is no competitive slouch, having played ten Pro Tours, finishing as high as 6th. Even though he’s seen the very heights of Pro Tour success, Matt is just as content playing Public Events as throwing down for the championship title. He excitedly showed a number of the trades he had picked up over the weekend, including a collection of extended-art cards that dazzled the eye.
See the best in the world, enjoy the game however you love to enjoy it, and spend a fantastic weekend in an exciting locale. What more could you ask for?
Saturday, December 13, 10:41 a.m. – Team Ukraine vs. Team USA
by Bill Stark
Headed into the final day of Swiss team play, an interesting name stood atop the standings: Ukraine. Perhaps not the first team one thinks of when imagining Magic powerhouses—yet—the Ukrainians led the field after solid individual performances from team captain Yuri Babich and his teammates Igor Gurov and Dmitry Kholyavko. They had a big name to take down for their first match of Saturday play: the United States.
Igor Gurov, representing Standard and playing Faeries, was quickly down and out against American captain Mike Jacobs and his Black-White Tokens list. After a mulligan to five in the first game followed by a two-land mana-screwed hand in the second, the Ukrainians found themselves in a 0-1 hole. On the far side of the table, captain Yuri Babich hopped out to a one-game lead in Extended against Sam Black by using the burn from his Red Deck Wins list to contain Sam’s Elves. Unfortunately for him, the sideboarded games saw Sam coming prepared with a combination of Burrenton Forge-Tender and Umezawa’s Jitte, spelling doom for Yuri’s red army.
The final match, between superstar Paul Cheon and Dmitry Kholyavko, saw a Legacy mirror with both players running Stifle ‘Naught (Stifle / Phyrexian Dreadnaught combo). Their first game went long, with Paul taking the lead after sticking a Counterbalance/Top lock, and by the time Dmitry was sideboarding for the second game, his team had already lost. Still, being in first at the start of Day 2 was a pretty auspicious beginning for a potential new team powerhouse. The three, each at their first World Championships, were excited to see play on the Pro Tour.
“The U.S. is excellent,” said Dmitry. “We’re having a lot of fun. Even our hotel is fun!”
When asked how they had determined who would play which format, the team demurred to Igor who answered with a smile, “We just rolled dice!”
We’ll have to wait until the end of the day to see whether team Ukraine can keep their momentum going forward or whether the early loss to the Americans will spell an end to their run for the weekend.
Saturday, December 13, 12:21 p.m. – Preparing for Extended
by Rich Hagon
Standard is gone, except for the lucky few coming back for Super Sunday action. The only drafting going on is in the Public Events arena. The Legacy decks are being put away for another year. Now just Extended remains, with six individual rounds determining the lineup for the live webcast Sunday. I got a chance to talk with some of the best players as they completed their preparations.
Stuart Wright has a fantastic track record in Constructed at Worlds. Indeed, but for a critical loss in draft he might well have multiple Top 8s, rather than the Top 16s and 32s he’s actually managed. This time around he’s going with Zoo. Why? “I played the deck in Berlin to a 4-4 record. It’s solid against Elves, because it has cheap removal and pressure, plus I have a decent sideboard against them.” On 22 points, yet another decent run could see the currently 64th-placed Brit on the verge of Sunday action.
Hall of Famer Jelger Wiegersma hasn’t done much testing, but that’s what friends are for, and Jelger has plenty—he was the overwhelming player choice for the 2007 Magic Invitational. He’s playing Urzatron this time around, allowing him to run Chalice of the Void and Engineered Explosives against the dominant deck from Pro Tour–Berlin. Sitting next to him, Belgian star Marijn Lybaert confesses to a few nerves coming into this third day of action.
“I haven’t done much testing since Berlin. I’m playing Blue-black Faeries, and I’ve tested enough to know that I beat Elves, but that’s about it,” said Lybaert.
It’s understandable that Lybaert would want to know rather more than this, given that he currently sits in sixth place in the individual competition.
Doise, Karsten, and Lybaert plotted long and hard about the shape of Extended.
Perhaps his fellow Belgian Jan Doise can shed some light on the format. He’s practicing with Frank Karsten, a man who knows a thing or two about succeeding at Worlds, having finished in second in 2005 at Yokohama. The Dutchie sits in 17th place coming into Extended, and both are playing versions of the Elf deck that served them so well in Pro Tour–Berlin. Given all the supposed hate around for the pointy-eared ones, I wondered about this choice.
“The thing is, I believe experience with a deck is really important” says Frank, “especially a difficult Combo deck like Elves. There’s no way you play optimally when you first pick up the deck. Every match you play helps you towards an understanding of the subtle interactions that can make the difference in a tight match.”
They’ve made some changes to counteract the hate that they expect to see. “Essence Warden doesn’t really help you beat the hate, so we’ve found room for maindeck Thoughtseize.” They also have some interesting Sideboard tech, but that would be giving a bit too much away. Other players know where magicthegathering.com is too! Meanwhile, Karsten is curious to see whether this Extended format pans out much like Mirrodin.
“In that year, many players brought in a few hate cards and claimed that this gave them a positive matchup against Affinity,” he said. “Turned out they were wrong. Affinity was just too strong and too consistent, and blew their way through the hate.” No doubt Karsten and Doise will be hoping for the same to pan out here Saturday.
Prize for the best conversation of the weekend thus far, however, goes to the man who currently leads the Individual event, Ervin Tormos. They say that Knowledge is Power, but that isn’t always the case. Witness this conversation between Tormos and Pro Tour–San Diego Champion Jacob van Lunen that took place at about 10 p.m. last night...
ET: So Jake, what do you think I should play tomorrow?
JvL: How about Faeries?
ET: Faeries? Why would I play Faeries?
JvL: Because it beats Elves.
ET: Elves? ELVES? C’mon Jake, this is Extended, nobody plays Elves...
Saturday, December 13, 12:42 p.m. - Magic: The Gathering Worlds on Facebook
by Bill Stark
The World Championships are now available on Facebook! Beginning this weekend, the 2008 Magic World Championships are available on the popular social networking site. It’s a great place to read about all the exciting things happening this weekend, as well as catching out even more coverage! With dozens of photos not seen anywhere else and updates all weekend long, players can enjoy an unparalleled amount of Worlds coverage that has never been seen before.
In addition, you can join an online community of players who are all plugged in to the official Facebook pages of Magic: The Gathering and the Magic Pro Tour. Network with friends to find out who’s going to the next big event, read their stories, post your own, and more! To check out exactly what’s going on, simply login to Facebook and search for “Magic: The Gathering“ and “Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour.” Exclusive coverage and stories await, so open up a new tab in your web browser and maximize your 2008 Worlds experience!
Saturday, December 13, 1:35 p.m.: Agents of Artifice
by Bill Stark
The World Championships are famous for offering Magic enthusiasts of all types something special and unique to enjoy, and this year in Memphis hasn’t disappointed. For the first time in recent memory, Wizards of the Coast has been handing out special advance reading copies of the upcoming Planeswalker novel “Agents of Artifice“ to lucky fans all weekend long. On top of that, the lucky recipients also get the opportunity to offer feedback on the book to Wizards. We spoke with Helene Bergeot, the senior marketing manager for Wizards of the Coast, about the unique promotion.
“Agents of Artifice is a different type of Magic novel,” Helene described. “It’s all about the storyline, especially in regards to planeswalkers.”
The novel itself is a fantastic-looking work (this lucky reporter managed to snag himself a copy for “press” purposes....) with a new interpretation of the iconic Jace Beleren by Aleksi Briclot, none other than the illustrator of the original, as its cover art. From the blurb on the back of the book: Planeswalker Jace Beleren, a powerful sorcerer whose rare telepathic ability opens doors many would prefer closed, is at a crossroads: the decisions he makes now will forever affect his path. What decisions will that entail, and who will he be joining him in making (or forcing) said decisions? Not having read the novel yet, your guess is as good as mine, but Liliana Vess and Tezzeret are just two names that have been floated as being involved.
As for getting advance looks at novels now and in the future, Helene mentioned that similar promotions can be expected at future World Championships, Pro Tours, and at large conventions like Comic Con. “There are also sample chapters in Fat Packs to allow players a chance to preview the novels early,” Bergeot said.
Wizards of the Coast has put a strong focus on its Magic novels lately, putting out an extra push to find the best authors to bring the stories of the Multiverse to life. With the advance reading copies, they’re reaching out to their very player base to hear directly from Magic fans what they enjoy most about the novels, and even to offer suggestions about the things they’d enjoy reading about in the future. How have the early reviews been so far this weekend? Said Helene, “I gave a copy to one excited fan yesterday. He came back this morning and said ‘I read it all last night and I have to say, I love it!’”
Will you? You’ll have to find out by checking out similar promotions at upcoming Pro Tours and conventions as well as scoping out the Fat Pack sample chapter. Agents of Artifice is written by Ari Marmell and will be released to the public on January 27.