Wednesday, May 18: 10:45 a.m. - Downtime Distractions
So what do 16 of the game's best players do at night after a long day of Magic Online? Why, play Magic offline, of course.
On Monday evening the players and Wizards staff spread out through the lobby of the hotel for series of team drafts using Champions and Betrayers packs. The draft format was one almost everyone was familiar with and people settled into their favorite archetypes. Sam Gomersall will always draft a Dampen Thought deck if he finds the deck's eponymous card in his opening packs. He did so on Monday with mixed results.
One player not so familiar with the current draft format was Bob Maher Jr. Bob has been more concerned with such things as consumer reports on the best baby stroller and what color to paint his impending twins' new room than drafting. He had drafted a solid but lumbering green-red deck and lost the first game to Sam's Dampen deck. Bob may not play that much lately but he is still The Great One. He searched through his sideboard for some way to speed up his deck and pulled out Hall of the Bandit Lord and looked at it for awhile before shuffling it into his deck.
He led off the game with Hall and used it to activate turn-two Budoka Gardener. He had five mana in play by turn three and was able to haste up Jugan not long thereafter. Largely on the basis of hasty creatures, Bob was able to come back to take the match by a narrow margin in the final two games. "I am just happy I got to Hall him out," grinned the ever-competitive Maher.
Big deal drafting Kamigawa Block, right? You can do that any day of the week at your local card shop or online. How about drafting fullKamigawa Block? That's right; players (and a lucky reporter) were treated to a special pre-Prerelease of Saviors on Tuesday night where we drafted the full set in a four-on-four team draft. It was Wizards staff vs. the Pros. I was the only non-R&D member on the WotC team, which was filled out by Randy Buehler, Paul Sottosanti, and Matt Place. The Pro squad included Julien Nuijten, Tim Aten, Terry Soh, and Sam Gomersall.
I can't give you any details about the set that aren't already available but I can tell you this: it makes for a very exciting draft format with plenty of powerful and thought-provoking cards in all of the colors. Sadly I only managed a 1-3 record but the rest of the team pulled through for the remaining eight of the nine wins necessary to seal victory.
Wednesday: 11:43 a.m. - Osyp's O-fer
Alex Werner, the bearer of bad news for Osyp.
Osyp got off to an unfortunate 0-6 start this weekend. Wednesday started out rather ominously in his first match of the day against Terry Soh. Osyp complained to Mark Rosewater that he had spliced Horobi's Whisper onto an arcane spell but Terry's creature was still alive. Alex Werner, a spectator, leaned over and explained the problem to the frustrated Lebedowicz. "You don't control a Swamp."
Wednesday: 12:17 p.m. - Quiet ... Eugenius at Work
Eugene Harvey was the only player to choose Phage for Wednesday's three rounds of Vanguard Sealed. "I had the card pool to pull it off," explained Harvey. "I had life gain and Dampen Thought." Dampen was his unrevealed kill card from Tuesday night's teaser.
He squared off with Tim Aten in Round Seven and took him down 2-0. He won the first game with creatures.
"He can't really block my guys and I had the green Honden," said Eugene.
In the second game, he was able to stay alive long enough to run Aten out of cards with Dampen Thought.
Wednesday: 12:45 p.m. - From the "You Oughta Be Here" Department
The Wizards booth is festooned with art from upcoming releases, including 9th Edition and Ravnica. There are a set of four mousepads being given away to booth visitors along with the Core Game CD for MTGO, with plenty of cool art as well -- including one piece from Ravnica.
Ravica, City of Sweet Lands.
There are a number of giant panels set up throughout the booth. Two of these bad boys are proclaimed as being artwork from the 9th Edition set. The rest feature art from lands in Ravnica. Some of these have already been previewed elsewhere, but they are actually breathtaking and deserve a second peek. As you can see they are completely unlike anything that has come before in the game's impressive gallery of land cards.
Wednesday: 1:07 p.m. - News and Notes
Speaking of land...
So Osyp was one of eight players using the Birds avatar. They did not fare well early on. Tim Aten lost to Eugene's less-predictable Phage and Osyp fell to Terry Soh's Flametongue. The only win by a Bird player was Sam Gomersall, who defeated fellow Bird player Jeroen Remie.
Just because your deck is five colors doesn't mean you don't need specific lands, though – think Torrent of Stone or Horobi's Whisper, for example. Osyp did not realize that you needed Swamps to splice Horobi's Whisper.
"I have them in my sideboard. But Terry didn't realize it either," Osyp said, referring to his unsuccessful attempt to kill one of Terry's guys with a spliced Whisper. "We thought it was a bug. I'll be siding those Swamps in."
Despite his now 0-7 record, Osyp was not getting down on himself, "Time to go on a winning streak!"
Bevand stopped by to cheer on his friends.
2004 Worlds Top 8 participant Manuel Bevand popped by the booth to cheer on his countrymen. Bevand works for a software firm exhibiting here this weekend and took a break to check out all the Invitational action.
Weary Road Warrior
As we waited for the shuttle this morning I noticed that all of Olivier's recent travels have began to take their toll on the normally enthusiastic French player, who earned his Invitational spot by winning the Road Warrior ballot. Leaving the east coast of the United States after Pro Tour-Philadelphia, he made the trip to Japan for last weekend's Grand Prix and then came back to the west coast for this event.
I asked him how he was feeling and he confessed that he had no idea what time his body clock was set to and he was feeling uncharacteristically sullen. "I don't like it. I was getting angry yesterday when I lost, which is not how I like to play Magic."
The Road Warrior learns to find a pillow anywhere.
"Are you just going to travel to every Grand Prix?" asked Osyp. He was referring to Oli attaining Level 6 status in the Pro Players Club, which means he gets a $500 appearance fee for every Grand Prix he attends in addition to any winnings.
The weary Ruel sighed, "If you ask me right now, the answer is no." Then he brightened and flashed a much more characteristic impish grin. "But if you ask me next week it will probably be yes."
Wednesday: 2:17 p.m. - Catching up with the Kobe Champion
After seven rounds of play, Masashiro Kuroda was in a good position to make a run at the finals with a 5-2 record. Kuroda is here as the representative for the APAC region. Masashi Oiso was voted in initially but could not attend due to school commitments. Kuroda stepped up and, much to the surprise of people familiar with Japanese Magic, accepted the invitation as the second-highest vote getter in that region.
Kuroda may very well be one of the best players that Japan has to offer. He was the first Japanese player to win a Pro Tour when his Big Red deck burned up Kobe in 2004. Earlier this year, he was once again playing on Sunday when he made the Top 8 of Pro Tour-Nagoya.
Masashiro Kuroda on his first trip to the U.S.
How did he fare in the Pro Tours in between his win and his Top 8? Not too well, since he didn't attend any of them. Kuroda started a family just after Kobe and has a demanding full-time job that does not allow him to travel for Pro Tours outside of Japan. He does have a wife and child to look after, and when asked if he was raising another future Magic star, he laughed and said, "She has touched some cards but mostly she just puts them in her mouth."
This trip to E3 marks his first visit to the United States. He has been enjoying the sights and sounds of California, although he is somewhat overwhelmed by American serving sizes when it comes to food. "It is too much."
I asked him why he decided to finally attend this event. He had originally intended to go to Pro Tour-Philadelphia but changed his plans when this opportunity arose. "This event is very special. It has been my dream since the beginning of my Magic history."
His card design for this event arose from his desire to "make a strong creature I can play in Red Deck Wins." His original design bore a passing resemblance to Shock Troops, although it could be sacrificed to deal damage to a player as well. "It was not so unique," explained Kuroda.
His next design was a creature costing which was the beneficiary of +1/+1 counters when it came into play. It too could be sacrificed to deal damage equal to its power to a creature or player. "That seemed much too strong." He finally settled on the design for Lightning Bringer, which you can see here.
Kuroda would love to attend more events outside of Japan "if I can get days off from work." Besides winning the Invitational, his dream is to be the Magic: The Gathering World Champion. This year's Worlds are going to be in Japan and he is currently near the head of the pack in the Invitational. Who knows; maybe both of his dreams can come true.
Wednesday: 2:44 p.m. - Manifest Destiny
The glow of E3.
E3 is a sprawling convention that covers every square foot of the Los Angeles Convention Center and it has for several years. Yet the show continues to grow. Where can a show go when it has used up all the usable square footage?
Several of the larger exhibitors – the Microsofts, Nintendos, and Sonys of the world – have built booths that go up as high as three stories. Not only does it allow for visually stunning displays that tower over the room and can be seen from any vantage, but some serve as offices away from home where company executives can wheel and deal from the best seats in the house – provided they have an office with a window.
Wednesday: 3:17 p.m. - If You Only Watch One Game...
...make sure it is Game 2 of the Round 8 match between Tsuyoshi Fujita and Eugene Harvey. Coming into the round, Fujita and Harvey were jockeying near the top of the standings. Fujita was one of two remaining players with only one loss while Harvey was among two others with a pair of losses. Terry Soh, the remaining 6-1 player, lost his match making the Harvey/Fujita bout one for the tournament lead.
Fujita was playing a three-color deck utilizing the Akroma avatar. Although many of the players had opted for Birds of Paradise when building their decks, most conceded that Akroma or Flametongue were probably better routes to victory. Harvey chose not only the road less traveled, he went off down a road nobody else even had a map to. His card pool offered him four flavors of life gain and he decided to use and abuse the life-intensive abilities of Phage for his deck.
The masses gather to listen to Eugenius.
After Eugene took Game 1, Fujita proved himself worthy of the Resident Genius label that earned him his spot here. He went to his sideboard for Overblaze in hopes of counteracting Harvey's lifegain abilities.It looked like Harvey had the game – and the match – all locked up when a deckless Fujita used an Overblazed Heartless Hidetsugu to burn Eugene out all the way from a high even life total that was well into the thirties. The emphasis is on even because had Harvey simply paid one life via Phage to go to an odd total, he would have ended up on one instead of zero when the dust settled.
Just like you don't want to give a great baseball team four outs in an inning, you don't want to give someone like Fujita any extra games. He took the third game of the match as well. Overblaze once again was a factor, although mostly as an arcane spell to put another counter on Waxmane Baku to clear the way for a lethal attack. As the turn was made down the back stretch of the tournament, Fujita stood alone as the only player with one loss.
Wednesday: 3:45 p.m. - E3 in Full Swing
You lookin' at me? You lookin' at me?
Matt Place and Randy Buehler, soaking up L.A.
Come by the Wizards booth and pick up some goodies.
A sprinkling of 9th Edition art.
Eugene and Tsuyoshi compare notes on how they'd take over the world.
Wednesday: 4:04 p.m. - Burning the Candle's Glow at Both Ends
"I'm lagging behind a little bit," claimed Sam Gomersall as he put the finishing touches on his seventh side draft deck during this year's Invitational.
Sam Gomersall doubles up on MTGO.
Sam is known as the consummate drafter; always eager to draft after hours on the Pro Tour with his pals or online at any time, day or night. After all, he earned his spot in this field by winning the Pro Players' vote, which asked "Who is the most feared side draft opponent?" Over a normal two-day period, he figures he would have done about roughly 15 MTGO drafts.
Some people thought we were joking when we suggested that Sam was flipping back and forth between his Invitational account and his actual account to double up on MTGO action, but it was 100 percent true. I tried to talk to Sam about it, but as you can imagine his attention was focused on the two games he was playing this round. Currently sitting at 2-7 in the Invitational, Sam preferred not to dwell on that record, "I am 9-2 so far in side games, so I am a little bit ahead."
Wednesday: 5:15 p.m. - Affinity slayer
"Should my deck beat anything?" asked Sam Gomersall when asked about his deck's matchup with Affinity. "I don't know. I made the list up on the plane ride here."
Gomersall was nowhere near his wit's end Wednesday.
Sam's opponent for this round was Kai Budde, playing the dreaded Ravager Affinity. Kai kept a pretty solid hand in Game 1 but was foiled at every turn by Gomersall, who led off the game innocently enough with only a black-blue Talisman. Sam Force Spiked a Ravager, Excluded a Disciple, and dispatched a pair of Myr Enforcers with Barter in Blood. Kai had no idea what he was up against until he glanced at the number of cards in Sam's library – well over 200 cards. Yes, Sam had engaged Kai in a Battle of Wits.
A couple of turns (and a Smother, Rend Flesh, and Engineered Plague) later, Sam used Insidious Dreams to set up the Battle and Kai conceded. He went to his sideboard but there were not any Naturalizes to be found – only Shamans and Oxidize.
The deciding game was even more brutal with Sam able to cast Insidious Dreams at the end of turn three and play Battle of Wits on turn four. "He didn't kill me on his turn four," smirked Sam.
Wednesday: 5:45 p.m. - Boom Goes the Dynamite!
Osyp Lebedowicz has the be happy to reach the Constructed portion of the tournament – the Constructed portion where he constructed his own deck, as opposed to bidding on one, to be precise. He got off his 0-9 schneid in the first round of Online Extended by taking down Tuesday's front-running Antoine Ruel, who was now on an 0-4 slide of his own.
Wednesday: 6:17 p.m. - Vanguard Tallies
Despite being much-ballyhooed Tuesday, Birds of Paradise did not fare well during the Vanguard Sealed portion of Wednesday's competition. None of the nine players who chose that avatar posted a record better than 1-2. Four Flametongues and three Akroma's crowded up in the 3-0 and 2-1 brackets, with Eugene quietly sneaking in with Phage at 2-1.
Kai Budde, who posted a 2-1 record with Flametongue in his corner, was not surprised at the poor showing by players choosing Birds. "They had the worst decks so they needed Birds to fix their mana."
Terry Soh went 2-1 with Flametongue as well but felt that he should have chosen Akroma as his corner-person because of the extra life the avatar awards. Percentage-wise, Akroma posted the best results:
Overall Avatar Records:
Akroma 8-1 (.888 win pct.)
Flametongue Kavu 9-3 (.750)
Phage 2-1 (.666)
Birds of Paradise 5-19 (.208)
Vanguard Format Standings:
Maher (Flametongue Kavu)
O Ruel (Akroma)
When these guys talk Magic, people listen.
Budde (Flametongue Kavu)
Kuroda (Flametongue Kavu)
Soh (Flametongue Kavu)
Aten (Birds of Paradise)
Gomersall (Birds of Paradise)
Nassif (Birds of Paradise)
Nuijten (Birds of Paradise)
Remie (Birds of Paradise)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Looking Ahead to Thursday
Canali (Birds of Paradise)
Osyp (Birds of Paradise)
A Ruel (Birds of Paradise)
What a difference a day makes.
After two formats Tuesday, it was Tsuyoshi Fujita, Terry Soh, and Antoine Ruel at the head of the class. But on Wednesday, Antoine has been left back after failing the next subject, taking an o-fer in Vanguard Sealed. Tsuyoshi (8-2) and Terry (7-3) are still going strong and have been joined by Masashiro Kuroda (7-3), following through on the powerful performances from the APAC region throughout the past year.
All of the players here are formidable opponents, but there was quite a pedigree bunched up in the 6-4 bracket -- led by the game's winningest and most famous player Kai Budde.
Also quite high on the all-time money list and last year's winner, Bob Maher, Jr. looked to be in fine form despite entering semi-retirement to take a job and prepare for fatherhood. He's also quite patient, awaiting for the unveiling of his Invitational prize, which will debut later this week and be available in Ravnica.
Interestingly, if you go by the all-time money list you find that with the exception of a couple of blips, the standings have some general relation to each player's all-time payout. Six players with $100,000 or more in winnings are near the top while four players with under $60,000 are near the bottom.
Blip on this -- Terry Soh's 'meager' $33K in winnings near the apex of the standings after 10 rounds and the nadir that is Osyp's week thus far after nine fruitless rounds (capped by a victory in Round 10), despite close to three times the lifetime winnings of the MTGO wunderkind.