The_Week_That_Was

Setting the stage for the Standard showdown at next week's Pro Tour.

Hollywood Blockbuster

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The letter I!n Thursday's sojourn with relentless killing machines of the deep, Mike Flores examined the current state of the Standard metagame with a look at the results from the mega Magic weekend hosted by Star City Games. Hollywood-bound Pros the world over were anticipating the results from this weekend, but somehow I don't feel we have seen the full range of decks that will be on display in the next week. I mean...you can't have think tanks of top players peppered around the world only to have them all play Faeries...can you?

As one of my more entrepreneurial friends recently said to me, "I wish I bought 1500 Bitterblossoms."

It wasn't a Rock...it was a Ro–Sexy Lobster?

Japanese coverage reporter Keita Mori shared the results of a recent Japanese Regionals tournament with me (Top 8 decks below this paragraph) and he also suspected that there was a tech moratorium. Witness half of the following Top 8, which is populated with those pesky flying creatures—although only one of them cracked the semifinals, which was what was needed to earn a spot at Nationals.



Ebie Kunisato – Reveillark Blink





Crisler Chee – Faeries



With the top Japanese finisher at Pro Tour–Kuala Lumpur coming in at 22nd, there seems to be a real sense of urgency surrounding this event—at least as far as reigning Player of the Year Tomoharu Saito is concerned. The recently married Keita (congrats to you both!!!!) reported Saito has formed an impressive new team for this event that includes the likes of Shuhei Nakamura, Naoki Shimizu, Kazuya Mitamura, Masashi Oiso, Yuuta Takahashi, Yuuya Watanabe, and Kenji Tsumura, as well as numerous PTQ players qualified for this event.

Saito has put together a mighty team of Japanese players.
"He launched his brand new Magic team called 'Sexy Lobster' with his friends," explained Keita, which means Lobster Stompy is no doubt in our immediate future. "He still has a very high motivation to win back-to-back PoY races but this team is not only for him. He is also trying to help/encourage PTQ-level players by this team."

Despite the poor start to the season for Japanese Magic in Kuala Lumpur, I asked the long-time observer of the Pro Tour and of Japanese Magic if he thought that Japan could maintain its current streak of Player of the Year titles that has passed down from Kenji Tsumura to Shouta Yasooka to Tomoharu Saito.

"In this great season, Jonny Magic showed us his great talent again and who could expect such an exciting story like that before the season?" said Keita. "It is probably true that the Japanese Magic peak was the 2005-2007 seasons and some Pros have stopped playing Magic but the stars like Shuhei, Tomoharu, and Kenji are still great. So my personal answer is, 'Yes, nothing is impossible'."

Currently in second place in the pack of Japanese players in the PoY race is Yuuta Takahashi. I asked Keita for a little background on this player and if he is prepared to take a major step forward this season.
"Do you remember Japanese Two-Headed Giant team that was 'poisoned' by the Sliver Kids in the finals of Pro Tour–San Diego?" asked Keita. "That giant was Yuuta Takahashi and his friend Kentaro Yamamoto. Yuuta was known well as a skillful new player in Tokyo area and he proved that again in Grand Prix–Shizuoka 2008. He defeated superstar Oliver Ruel in the Standard format 'Faerie-Faerie Mirror' final match of that tournament. Personally I think that both Yuuta Takahashi and 2007 Rookie of the Year Yuuya Watanabe are the new hope of recent Japanese Magic."

Currently leading the Japanese in the Player of the Year race is the 2006 runner-up Shuhei Nakamura. Keita explained that Shuhei has no plans to slow down his traveling anytime soon...
"Currently, Shuhei is not only a top Pro player but also an ambassador of
the game in Japan," he explained. "He is writing an excellent column entitled 'Play the Game, See the World.' If you can read Japanese texts, I recommend you to check out this series. Even if you can't read Japanese text, I think you can understand that this series of articles are a photo essay of his international travel and tournament experience."

"Shuhei and Tomoharu will attend as many Grand Prix as possible just like the past couple of seasons, so they will have reasonable opportunities to get plenty of Pro Points," assured Keita. "What we learned from the 2007 season was, 'Don't miss any Grand Prix' if your top priority is to achieve the PoY title. If you can apply that rule to this season again, both Shuhei and Tomoharu still have a chance."

Kenji may have slowed down a little, but hey...he's still Kenji.
As for the 2005 Player of the Year, Keita explained that everyone's favorite Magic player has slowed down some in recent months: "Kenji is still enjoying Magic, but he is not a full-time Magic Pro because he started studying English. I think you should interview him at the Pro Tour."

Despite obviously rooting for the home team, Keita's favorite player to cover was the winner of Pro Tour–Kuala Lumpur: "My first international Pro Tour coverage for the Japanese Sideboard was World Championships 2000 in Belgium and Jonny Magic became my second Michael Jordan. I was really happy to watch the video coverage of his big return at Pro Tour¬–Kuala Lumpur."

Looking back for his favorite coverage opportunity on the Pro Tour, Keita found two that were inextricably tied together: "The most precious memory of my Magic coverage is APAC 2000 and Worlds 2005. I was a reporter at the APAC 2000, and one of my best
friends ever Masaya Mori won the event and become a back-to-back Continental
Championship winner. Five years later the apprentice of Masaya—Katsuhiro Mori—became the very first Japanese World Champion of Magic. It is like a real Yoda-Luke story for me."

The Immediate Future of American Magic

While Tomoharu Saito is brewing away in his Sexy Lobster think tank, there are a handful of high-profile teams here in North America doing the same. Magicthegathering.com's own Steven Sadin has surrounded himself with past Pro Tour winners like Zvi Mowshowitz, Jon Finkel, Jacob Van Lunen, and Chris Lachmann, as well as Worlds 1999 Top 8 competitor Jamie Parke and a handful of JonnyDraft regulars to build on his Top 16 finish at Kuala Lumpur.

Elsewhere in the U.S., Patrick Chapin is preparing for his first Pro Tour since his stunning Finals appearance at last year's World Championships. More attention would have been paid to the Faeries deck at that tournament—a blue-green version posted a perfect Standard record on Day One—if not for the format-shattering debut of the Gassy Knoll deck that put both Patrick and Gabriel Nassif into the Top 8 of that event. The core that worked on the deck remains intact for this event with a handful of notable additions.

Nassif and Chapin have reprised their 'Franchise' deckbuilding team to take on Standard again.
"Mark Herberholz, Gabriel Nassif, and I are the Franchise," explained Patrick before heading off to see his Detroit Pistons clinch their playoff series. "We are experimenting with Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon as free agents picked up in the off-season. Also I always represent Team RIW, so Michael Jacob, DJ Kastner, and Kyle Boggemes are helping us test. This is more people than we typically work with, but it is an interesting experiment.

"The objectives vary from team to team, but I know for our team the goal is to help everyone on our team maximize their own personal opportunities to finish highly," Patrick explained when asked what the goals of a Hollywood playtest team need to be. "If you are asking what you need to do to exploit the format, I just think it is a question of what can you do to maximize your EV. That is ambiguous I know, but that is the truth."

How does such a large team prepare for an event?

"Our team's playtesting is very different for different members, so I guess I will just speak for myself," answered Patrick who professed to love preparing for Constructed events. "I was pretty sure that Counterbalance Top was the best deck in the Extended format at the beginning of the season, so I focused on Standard long ago. I spent some time breaking the format with Michael Jacob. Heezy and Nassif showed up two weeks before the PT and helped me fill in the gaps. Cheon and LSV provided additional playtesting and fresh perspectives as problems arose. Like Paul and Luis, Kyle and DJ also helped with metagame analysis and working on pitting all the stock decks against one another."

With so much time to work on the format and such capable teammates, Patrick felt his squad had a pretty good handle on the format—and wondered if other teams would as well: "I am pretty sure most other people are missing just how good combo is and that the format should be a paper/rock/scissors between Faeries, anti-Faeries, and combo."

So where is Patrick's aim pointed at for Hollywood?

"My personal goal for this event is to finish higher than I did at my last Pro Tour," was the mischievous answer from the Worlds finalist. "My personal goal for the PT season is to be the first Player of the Year winner to skip the first PT of the year."

Short Sizing in South America

Not everyone opts for big teams, as Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa explained to me about his Hollywood preparation. Perhaps you could consider his team more of an independent production that is hoping for a big box office splash, and with any luck a trophy.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa is a virtual one-man team for Hollywood.
"Well, currently it's mostly me and... me," laughed Paulo when asked about the composition of his team for the event. "I talk a lot with Joel Calafell from Spain about the deck and the event though, so I guess I could say we have a two-person testing group. We've been friends for some time now, and when we found out we both liked the same deck we started working on it.

"Other than playing with Joel, I play sometimes with Brazilian players who aren't going to Hollywood but are helping me out," he continued. "I also play in Magic-League. He has his own playing partners and we share results and thoughts in the end."

Paulo explained that he was looking at his Pro Tour preparation as more of a tuning process than an opportunity to innovate Standard. For him the advantages lie in knowing the deck he is going to play—and what his opponents might play—inside and out.

"Right now, I've given up on building anything absurdly different myself. I believe—hope—most teams are in the same situation, so I guess the main goal should be perfecting the existing deck you like the most," he said. "To me, there are two kinds of matches in this format: the complete blowouts and the very close ones. You can't help the complete blowout ones most of the time, so the goal, to me, should be picking a deck with the fewest complete blowouts as possible, and then playing as much as I can with it to have a small edge in the very close matches. I also believe that, for this tournament, knowing what to side out will be more important than the sideboard itself, so figuring out what to take out on the play and on the draw is one of the goals of my playtesting too."

Paulo is a fan of Constructed Magic—especially enjoying new unexplored formats like Block—and felt that he and Joel had a pretty good grasp of the format. While as a deck designer he would have liked to see the format more shaken up by the addition of Shadowmoor, as a player it has yielded some unexpected benefits.

"I think we do—unless I'm missing something absurd but that doesn't seem to be the case," he answered when asked if he knew what to expect from the field in Hollywood. "This is also the second time ever that I know what I want to play two weeks before the event, so I think I have a better handle on the format than I've had for some time."

Paulo has two Pro Tour Top 8s on his resume, along with multiple money finishes, and reached Level 7 in the Players Club last season with 40 Pro Points. What is he expecting from this event and the remainder of the season?

"If I said my goal is anything but Top 8'ing, I'd be lying," he admitted. "Of course, like everybody I aim to win it, but the only results that will make me leave the tournament happy and with a sense of accomplishment will be a Top 8. My goals for the season are to remain at least Level 7, which is why I kind of need a very good result now. I'm not going to nearly as many GPs this year, which is where I got most of my points from last year, and I kind of scrubbed out the first Pro Tour already."

"Gerard Fabiano...Come on Down!"

That is what Gerard Fabiano is hoping to hear when he gets to Los Angeles for the Pro Tour next week. Sure he has been working with a group of local players on tech for the event and is also collaborating with Pro Tour veterans Raphael Levy and Jelger Wiegersma, but the real preparation the Grand Prix–Philadelphia winner has been putting in for this event is coordinating a second Pro player outing to a taping of the long-running game show The Price is Right.

You might recall—and if you don't, the video link is right here—that the last time the Pro Tour rolled through Los Angeles, Gerard led a group of players to a Price is Right taping that ended with Mark Herberholz (clad in a Gerard Fabiano Fan Club t-shirt) winning a dinette set, a handful of smaller items, and $5,000 in cash.

Gerard is hoping they will have a repeat performance this year.

"We probably have like 14 or 15 people going," said Gerard. The confirmed guest list includes Mark again, as well as World Series of Poker finalist David Williams. "I want to make my tournament as fun as possible. If you go to a tournament obviously not everyone can win but if we go to The Price is Right it is something we will all remember.

"We made like $500 and Mark got to keep the furniture and toys he won," said Gerard, explaining that everyone in attendance pre-agrees to do a prize split. "The one moment I remember from 2005—more than anything else—was when they called Mark's name out at The Price is Right. I am pretty sure Mark would put it on the same level as winning the Pro Tour.

"I would be unreal happy if I got called, but if any of us get called I would be almost as happy," said Gerard of his goal for this coming week—that, and of course doing well at the Pro Tour.

Firestarter: First-round Coverage of Hollywood

Which player attending Pro Tour–Hollywood are you most eager to see featured in the first round of coverage and why? Do you want to see how veteran players massage the existing decklists to gain an edge or do you want to see something more off the beaten path—and who do you think is the most likely to lead you there? Head to the forums and share your thoughts about who—and what decks—will be featured in the first round of coverage from Tinseltown.

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