Pro Tour-Los Angeles Preview: Deck Doctors Without Borders

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The letter T!he 2005 Pro Tour season is entering the home stretch this weekend with the last mono-format event of the year – after this weekend only the three-disciplined World Championship stands between the eventual Player of the Year and the finish line.

The format for Pro Tour-Los Angeles is also the big story of the weekend. The 2005 season opened in Columbus on the Extended format, and that will be the format again this time out. But a lot has happened to Extended in the ensuing months. The current format bears as much resemblance to the Columbus one as Hall of Famer Jon Finkel does to Juniors Top 8 competitor Jon Finkel from Pro Tour Columbus 10 years ago. There may something similar in the smile (*cough*Psychatog*cough*), but that's about it.


You won't be seeing these at Pro Tour-Los Angeles.

Gone from the format are all the sets prior to Invasion Block. Can Red Deck win without Cursed Scroll – or Jackal Pup and Mogg Fanatic, for that matter? Aluren certainly cannot without the eponymous enchantment. Both are casualties of Tempest's passing. Many feared that Affinity would run rampant without the threat of four sideboarded Energy Flux – lost when Masques block left to seek its fortune in Eternal formats – but the deck was neutered by the preemptive banning of Disciple of the Vault and Aether Vial.

Other notable losses include format staples such as Vampiric Tutor, Worldly Tutor, Diabolic Edict, Intuition, Brainstorm, Reanimate, and Sapphire Medallion. Decks that remain largely untouched by the rotations and bannings include Psychatog, ScepterChant, Blue-green Madness, and Goblins. Affinity is unaffected by the rotation, but the loss of Aether Vial and Disciple of the Vault should be a big blow to its effectiveness. However, Affinity was discounted coming into Columbus, and we all know how that turned out as Pierre Canali took home the trophy with Affinity. Even in Standard without any of the artifact lands or Arcbound Ravager, players were still having some success with decks that exploited the affinity mechanic. Many more of the parts are left intact for Extended, so don't count that deck out just yet.

What about the additions to the format? Since Columbus, Magic has seen the addition of Betrayers of Kamigawa, Saviors of Kamigawa, Ravnica: City of Guilds, and the release of Ninth Edition. That makes for quite an array of cards for the mad scientists of Magic to put in their Bunsen burners.

It seems that many of the teams working on the format approached it with a Rock-Paper-Scissors take on Extended. Goblins, Tog, and combo – with Balancing Tings and blue-green Storm decks being the combo flavors – should be the most prominent decks among the rank-and-file players, according to one off-the-record competitor. In Rock-Paper-Scissors, the best deck designers look for a hand grenade that trumps the meta-merry-go-round.

Magic reporters live for Constructed events because of times like these. There is nothing more exciting for the man on the scene than the quest for tech. I still remember the buzz from Pro Tour 1 at the Puck Building as word swept through of the success players were having with "crap" rares like Necropotence and Demonic Consultation. Ten years later in Columbus, that buzz was no less thrilling as word (although somewhat tinged with dread) of Canali's success swept through the convention hall. The was much laughter over Cephalid Illusionist in the back room as deck lists were being typed, but as the event progressed we all ate a side dish of crow with our Cephalid Breakfasts.

We will be playing the Hot New Tech guessing game again this weekend, and you can play along at home by following all the online and video coverage. Here are some of the players and teams you should be keeping an eye on.

Szleifer ended a long U.S. drought on the Pro Tour.
American Gadiel Szleifer has made the Top 8 of the last two Constructed Pro Tours, winning his last one in Philadelphia over Kenji Tsumura. Gadiel was one of the key figures in the formation of the team dubbed Taking Back Sunday. TBS was a group of players working as part of a TOGIT-led superteam that broke off on their own. Bridges have been rebuilt – TBS's Tim Aten now lives with TOGIT's Antonino DeRosa – and there is a formidable North American squad that includes all the notables from 7 Kings, TOGIT, Canada, and TBS.

Joining the uberlist for this event is Magicthegathering.com's own Michael J. Flores (who qualified for the event at a Neutral Ground PTQ) and Jeff Cunningham, putting two of the maddest scientists in the game on the team's payroll alongside Eugene Harvey. Combine their talents with Gadiel's Constructed Pro Tour prowess, Antonino DeRosa's recent run of success, and Osyp Lebedowicz's uncanny knack for fine-tuning and North America and its Umpteen Kings may be heading into their best event in years.

An interesting casualty of the North American bridge-mending is Lucas Glavin, who was a member of TBS. You may remember Lucas as the finalist from Grand Prix-Boston who hybridized Life and Cephalid Breakfast. Recently his green-black decklist carried Chris Manning to a Top 8 finish at U.S. Nationals. He is working with an offbeat cast of characters for this event that includes 'Mouth' Kambourakis, Ken Krouner, Mike Long, and Griffin Canyon's resident deck doctor Greg Weiss. If there is a hand grenade to be found in a drawer full of scissors, Greg and Lucas are the pair to do it.

Going back one more Constructed Pro Tour, you can't ignore Rookie of the Year leader Pierre Canali's debut performance. Working with a group of non-Pro players in his home town of Aix en Provence in the south of France, Pierre came to Columbus with Affinity, got out to an early lead, and never looked back until he was the first winner of the 2005 season. Canali finished 38th in Philadelphia – in fact, he has fared pretty well in a number of events since Columbus – but is looking for another high-profile finish.

Canali's Affinity deck delivered the beats in Columbus.
He has returned to his Columbus deck design team for this format, as opposed to the many European Pro think tanks that opened up to him after his win. Canali is very excited about the product of his squad's work for this event and you may see the deck in the hands of at least one other Extended mad scientist. Yann Hammon, who was last seen Top 8-ing in New Orleans, may put his tournament fate in Canali's mysterious creation.

Canali used Olivier Ruel's decklist in Philadelphia and was perfectly willing to reciprocate for this event, but Olivier should not have much trouble scraping together a decklist regardless. While Olivier has only finished in the money twice this season, both times he reached the Sunday stage at a Constructed event. The Player of the Year front runner has spent the past few weeks in a European mini-colony along with his brother Antoine, Alexander Peset, and the Dutchies.

That team combines some of the most successful French players with Constructed powerhouses Jeroen Remie, Jelger Wiegersma, Frank Karsten, Julien Nuijten, and Kamiel Cornelissen to form a blinding array of star power. Jeroen and company had worked with the TOGIT group for the past few events but there is little cross-pond pollination between these two teams for Los Angeles. Somehow both sides of the Atlantic seemed to have emerged with stronger teams.

Reeves re-appeared on the Magic scene at U.S. Nationals.
Missing from the French side of that team is Gabriel Nassif, arguably the best Constructed player in the history of the game. Nassif rattled off a string of Constructed Top 8s within the past few years that had him drawing comparisons to Kai and Jon. Nassif is working with PokerNation for this event as opposed to his country of birth. Gabe Walls, Neil Reeves, and Morgan "Deep Hours" Douglass are rumored to be collaborating for this tournament, which makes sense since Morgan and Gabriel played identical Ninja decks in Philadelphia.

Reeves recently returned to form at U.S. Nationals, playing a Jeroen Remie-built Jushi Control deck. Jeroen will be joining up with the gang at his favorite diner and sleeping in his well-worn spot on Gabe Walls' couch, so don't be surprised if PokerNation is annexed by the French/Dutch alliance.

Not to be overlooked, Tsuyoshi Fujita leads the pack of Japanese players to watch. It seemed like every week of the Extended Grand Prix season saw Fujita breaking out another deck creation. He reached the Top 8 of Grand Prix-Seattle with Sneaky Go and the Resident Genius has been among the very best deck designers in the world for at least three years. In a new Constructed format, Fujita is definitely a player to keep an eye on. Expect to see him featured early in the coverage. I know that the otherwise-isolated Terry Soh was hoping to join forces with Fujita to ramp up for the event, but my well-placed sources in the Far East haven't filed a report lately so we'll have to see how that turned out once we get to L.A..

Oiso and Harvey will have their deckbuilding on display in Los Angeles.
Masashi Oiso reached the Top 8 of Columbus playing Desire and won Grand Prix-Boston with Aluren. If there is a tricky combo deck to be found in the format, expect this five-time Top 8 competitor to be wielding it. Oiso has been working with Katsuhiro Mori and Kenji Tsumura – the player Olivier Ruel dubbed the best player on the planet when they clashed during Pro Tour-Philadelphia – and you can expect them to have a powerful and well-tested creation.

Tech can come from unexpected sources, though. Past performance is no indicator of future success. Cephalid Breakfast was the creation of a handful of unknown players from Spain. Follow the coverage all weekend as we search for the sources of similar tech and the next Constructed Top 8 class to join these impressive graduates from the past few seasons.

2005 Pro Tour-Philadelphia
1) Gadiel Szleifer
2) Kenji Tsumura
3) Steven Wolfman
4) Olivier Ruel
5) Ryan Cimera
6) Jeff Novekoff
7) Mark Herberholz
8) Andre Muller

2004 World Championships
1) Julien Nuijten
2) Aeo Paquette
3) Ryo Ogura
4) Manuel Bevand
5) Kamiel Cornelissen
6) Terry Han Chuen Soh
7) Gabriel Nassif
8) Murray Evans

2003 World Championships
1) Daniel Zink
2) Jin Okamoto
3) Tuomo Nieminen
4) David Humpherys
5) Jeroen Remie
6) Peer Kröger
7) Wolfgang Eder
8) Gabe Walls

2003 Pro Tour-Venice
1) Osyp Lebedowicz
2) Tomi Walamies
3) Jordan Berkowitz
4) William Jensen
5) Gabriel Nassif
6) Darwin Kastle
7) Akihiro Kashima
8) Mattias Jorstedt

2005 Pro Tour-Columbus
1) Pierre Canali
2) Shuhei Nakamura
3) Nicholas West
4) Olivier Ruel
5) Gadiel Szleifer
6) Masashi Oiso
7) Ryuichi Arita
8) Geoffrey Siron

2004 Pro Tour-Kobe
1) Masashiro Kuroda
2) Gabriel Nassif
3) Alexandre Peset
4) Jelger Wiegersma
5) Luigi Sbrozzi
6) Raffaele Lo Moro
7) Ben Stark
8) Stefano Fiori

2003 Pro Tour-New Orleans
1) Rickard Österberg
2) Gabriel Nassif
3) Yann Hamon
4) Masashi Oiso
5) Hans Joachim Höh
6) Eugene Harvey
7) Tomohiro Yokosuka
8) Nicolas Labarre

2002 Pro Tour-Houston
1) Justin Gary
2) Robert Dougherty
3) Darwin Kastle
4) John Larkin
5) Peter Myrvig
6) Mattias Jorstedt
7) Bob Maher
8) Jeroen Remie

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