Thursday, May 19: 9:47 a.m. - Down the Home Stretch
Canali and Nuijten prepare for Thursday's rounds.
Just five more rounds to go before the finals.
One would think that these seasoned veterans would be eager to put aside the wackiness of Vanguard Sealed and Auction of the People, but they moved toward Extended with a tinge of regret. Eugene Harvey in particular seemed to be enjoying the challenges of playing unusual formats and unfamiliar cards as opposed to more explored formats. "I am kind of sad to not be playing the weird formats anymore. Now it's back to work."
Not everyone shared his view though. Pierre Canali was especially excited to be making the transition from Limited formats to Constructed. "In IPA anything can happen at any time. I would attack and have no idea what was coming. In Constructed people are not very imaginative and they never play any cards where you do not know what they do."
Thursday: 11:15 a.m. - Greatness, At Any Cost
After three days of build-up, Bob Maher's Invitational card from last year was finally revealed. For the first two days at E3, Bob's card hung shrouded in black among the gallery of past Invitational cards behind the players as they battled to get their likenesses on the wall for next year. When the big moment came Thursday morning, Bob was joined by Mark Rosewater to unveil Dark Confidant. Bob was all smiles as he accepted an oversized version for himself, and joked that he was especially happy that the artist could work his good friend and teammate Neil Reeves into the card art.
Jeroen Remie summed it up best, "That is pretty cool. I want one of those." He was not talking about merely getting a copy of the card -- Remie has long dreamed of being immortalized among the game's greatest players.
After the grand unveiling.
The card ain't too shabby either. It will occupy the same Standard format as Sensei's Divining Top for a full year, so you can expect players to use and abuse those two cards as soon as Ravnica bumps Mirrodin out of the format. This is the first look at any cards from the Ravnica set and it certainly bodes well for what is rumored to be a very potent block.
With the ceremony out of the way, Bob got back to the business of trying to follow up with his Threatening Dragon this year. He was only a couple of matches off of the frontrunners.
Thursday: 12:08 p.m. - Chasing Asia
It seems like players from all over the world have been chasing the top Asian players for the past year. From Japan's secret weapon Masashiro Kuroda to their resident genius Tsuyoshi Fujita, the Japanese have seemingly dominated the professional Magic scene at every turn for the past year.
American Gadiel Szleifer, defiantly clad in a Taking Back Sunday t-shirt, did defeat Kenji Tsumura a couple of weeks ago in the finals of Pro Tour-Philadelphia, but this week it has been back to normal. At the start of play Thursday, the player leading the standings was Fujita at 8-2, with Kuroda and Malaysia's Terry Soh as the only other players at 7-3.
Kuroda lurks behind Soh and Maher.
The Invitational is the last uncharted territory, as the event has never been won by a Japanese player. Should Kuroda manage to win, he would step up as only the third player to win a Grand Prix, Pro Tour, Master Series, and an Invitational. The other two players? 2005 Invitationalists Bob Maher and Kai Budde.
No one is running away with the event, and front-running Fujita was not confident about his chances come the Standard portion of Thursday's action.
"In Standard I will lose," Fujita sighed.
Like many of the players here, he opted to play a fun deck in the spirit of the event but now with victory in sight he regrets that decision. The deck he is playing is an all-common and uncommon Rat deck that he designed with little testing. "Normally I practice very much. Not this time."
Maher was only two matches off the lead and stood an excellent chance of being able to make a run at defending his title, but was also having second thoughts about a deck he chose for fun value. Meanwhile, Soh was quietly lurking in the wings with a no-nonsense Tooth and Nail deck. The R&D invitee could certainly exploit some more casual deck choices in the closing rounds to sneak past Kuroda and Fujita into the finals.
Thursday: 1:11 p.m. - An Admittedly Small Sample, But...
...these were the archetype records for Online Extended (coming soon to offline Extended tournaments at a store near you!) after three rounds. The numbers for Rock don't fully account for Kuroda's dominating 3-0 performance with his version of the deck. The remaining two wins -- and all four losses -- came from Jeroen Remie and Julien Nuijten playing identical lists.
Affinity did not have a dominating three rounds despite being the most-played deck. No one managed to go 3-0 with Arcbound Ravager and friends, although Pierre Canali and Osyp both posted 2-1 records. The real surprise is Sam Gomersall winning two matches with his Battle of Wits deck, with both wins coming against Affinity.
Goblin Bidding: 2-4
Gifts Ungiven: 1-2
Battle of Wits: 2-1
Eternal Slide: 2-1
Standings after 12 rounds
Only the players with their names in bold – anyone with five or fewer losses – have a shot at reaching the finals. Because the players play against each other player once in the tournament, traditional tiebreakers don't really work in this format. Instead the tiebreakers are simple; if you are tied with someone, the player with the head-to-head advantage wins the tie.
This bodes well for Kuroda, who has dished out losses to both Terry Soh and Tsuyoshi Fujita. Players in the five-loss camp need a total meltdown from the frontrunners. Budde has beaten Fujita and Kuroda and has yet to play Soh, so he would be in great shape if he ends up tied. Maher has a tougher road to hoe with losses to both Japanese players, and has also yet to play Soh. Antoine Ruel is also in the same situation as Maher. Carlos Romao has yet to play Kuroda, but has lost to Fujita and Soh. Thursday: 1:58 p.m. - Pressing the Media Flesh
One of the main goals for the exhibitors at E3 is to get media coverage for the products, software, or games they are promoting. Wizards of the Coast is no different than any other company here. There are PR flacks and company executives pressing the flesh and trying to get the word out about MTGO 3.0, the Invitational, and the fact that these 16 bright young stars get to fly around the world playing cards and winning money.
The Invitational was highlighted in the Show Daily (a trade paper for E3) on Wednesday and Thursday was featured in an impressive piece for a San Diego news channel. They interviewed Julien Nuijten, gave face time to Eugene Harvey, Mark Rosewater, and many others, and seemed to get the whole idea of the Invitational as an all-star game for professional gamers. Thursday: 2:01 p.m. - Land Ho!
I was able to slip into the Wizards meeting room that is part of the booth set-up here and snap some more shots of these stunning Ravnica lands. Everyone is pretty tight-lipped about what lands they are, although there have been a couple tantalizing hints.
Thursday: 2:19 p.m. - Tonight See It We Will
My preciousssss.......wait, wrong trilogy.
Randy Buehler began doling out the tickets for Thursday night's group excursion to see the newest entry in the Star Wars saga. The only players not attending are the two Japanese players who are waiting to see a translated version when they go home.
Thursday: 3:02 p.m.: Not all Flores decks are created equal
The first round of Standard saw two Mike Flores creations squaring off against one another. Osyp Lebedowicz was packing a mono-red flamethrower with burn ranging from Magma Burst to Shrapnel Blast. The same creation was offered to Bob Maher when he was looking for a deck but Bob turned it down in favor of something that was "more fun."
Apparently more fun = Red-White Salvagers with Pulse of the Fields and Boseiju to keep it going. The deck tops out at Two-Headed Dragon and also features Wrath of God and Beacon of Destruction. The deck was an almost entirely theoretical creation at the time Mike put it on the table -- and advertised as such. At the time Bob had no idea he would be within shooting distance of a second finals going into the crucial last three rounds.
Bob fell to the mono-red deck in two quick games, giving Osyp his third win of the tournament. "God, I can't even beat Osyp with this deck!" Bob despaired after the round. Thursday: 3:40 p.m.: Kai Stalks, Play Slows
The first round of Standard is over and it seemed to take longer than three entire rounds of the other formats. Kai’s match with Olivier Ruel came down to time and may have ended differently had Olivier more time to play out the final game. Ruel ripped Vedalken Shackles to take control of Kai’s Meloku. Kai drew Eternal Witness and could have returned Viridian Shaman but targeted Terror instead to kill the legend. Olivier’s clock had less than 30 seconds so it really didn’t matter what Kai did as Olivier was on one life and Kai was in the high teens.
With another match in the win column, Kai came one step closer to catching up to the leaders with his favorable tiebreakers. Thursday: 4:23 p.m.: Just your Standard Rat-Ninja Deck
It looked like Carlos Romao had an outside shot of reaching the finals with an impressive run over the last two days of competition, but his hopes of a Pirate Invitational card were sunk when Tim Aten gleefully announced, "Romao down!" That meant another player fell victim to what might very well be the most interesting deck in the Standard field this week.
Terry Soh cemented his spot in the finals after Round 14.
Tim decided to play his mono-black Rat-Ninja deck after watching Cedric Phillips come one win shy of the LCQ Top 8 in Philly. The deck has plenty of exciting interactions utilizing the ninja ability to return Nekrataal and Ravenous Rats for double the 187 fun. He was 2-0 so far taking down Romao and Canali, Check it out -- it could be an interesting alternative to some of the more tired options come time for Regionals.
In other late-round news, Terry Soh rewarded the faith that R&D placed in him with his invitation by locking up a spot in the Friday finals. Congratulations Terry -- we might want to get to know Jin, Master of Disruption. Thursday: 6:08 p.m.: Fujita's Finals Foray
"How in the world did he win that game?" asked an incredulous Randy Buehler after Resident Genius Tsuyoshi Fujita clinched his finals berth alongside Terry Soh. He was up a game on Pierre Canali but looked to be slumping against the ropes in Game 2. Even he didn't think he could win and had the concede prompt up on screen at least five or six times in the match -- but as long as he saw some chance, he didn't want to give up.
Meet your 2005 Invitational finalists.
He managed to draw just the right cards in just the right order – with a little help from his Sensei's Divining Top – and was able to dispatch Pierre's threats one by one. Ravenous Rats and Chittering Rats traded with Eternal Witnesses. Echoing Truth and Ravenous Rats dealt with Crystal Shard. Canali had an opportunity to draw three cards when his Etched Oracle was bounced with Aether Spellbomb but he chose to replay it instead. Annul put an end to that plan.
Go back and watch a replay of their Round 15 game and see if you can find your way out of the seemingly hopeless situation.
Tsuyoshi's win created a three-way tie for last place between Sam Gomersall, Pierre Canali, and Osyp Lebedowicz. They all gathered around Tim Aten's match against Olivier Ruel's mono-blue to see if he would be joining them in a four-way logjam at the bottom of the standings. Tim lost the first game to Olivier's Vedalken Shackles and sided in four Damping Matrix that created some clumsy interactions with the rest of his deck. He took the last two games and escaped the greedy clutches of the last-place crew. That was a 3-0 record for the Rat-Ninja deck, for those of you keeping score at home. Thursday: 7:12 p.m.: Setting Up Friday
Immortality is at stake Friday.
Before this Invitational, there had never been a winner who wasn't from the United States or Europe. That will certainly change this year. The only thing left to be determined is whether the winner will be Malaysian Terry Soh or Japan's Resident Genius, Tsuyoshi Fujita.
Terry was invited to this event with the very last spot, picked by the members of Wizards of the Coast's R&D. The MTGO whiz-kid came to the Magic community's attention when he made the Top 8 at Worlds 2004 and then again reached the Top 4 of Pro Tour-Nagoya with his notorious bluff against Frank Karsten. He has certainly proven himself worthy of the honor, leading the field with a 12-3 record. He ended on a strong note with a 3-0 tear in Standard with his thoroughly playtested Tooth and Nail deck.
His opponent will be Tsuyoshi Fujita, the winner of the Resident Genius ballot and a deckbuilder most well known for developing Goblin Bidding, Big Red, and Sneaky Go. Even with that pedigree, he did not feel confident with his no-rares Standard deck for the final three rounds. Despite his lack of confidence, he managed a 2-1 record -- thanks to a highly improbable win over Pierre Canali in Round 15 -- and prevented his countryman Masashiro Kuroda from backing in on tiebreakers.