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Pro Tour–Nagoya Preview

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The letter E!xpect excitement in Nagoya, Japan, as the Pro Tour train makes its second stop of the 2005 season Friday, Jan. 28. In addition to the tournament, the print coverage, the video coverage, the commentary, and all the other Pro Tour staples, expect to hear a couple of announcements that impact the Pro Tour. There will also be some exciting information about how readers of Magicthegathering.com can impact the Magic community in an unprecedented fashion. You will have to tune into the live webcast Sunday (that's Saturday night in the United States, for all you yanks) for all the details, though.

Welcome to Nagoya!
The 2005 Pro Tour makes its first of two stops in Japan this weekend, settling in the country's fourth-largest city for Rochester Draft action. But what do you do in Nagoya if you're not playing Magic? Eli Kaplan has all the answers in his review of Nagoya, which he describes as "one of Japan's better-kept secrets."

First and foremost is always the tournament itself. Pro Tour–Nagoya will be the last major Limited tournament to incorporate triple Champions of Kamigawa. Triple Champions has been heralded as one of the best Limited formats of all time and it will be going out on a high note. The format for Nagoya is Rochester Draft -- a format many of you may recall from the Top 8 tables of the relevant PTQ season.

Individual Rochester is considered one of the most challenging and skill-testing formats of the Limited disciplines. Because all the cards are laid face-up on the table, all of the picks are made in full view of all the other players in the draft pod. Not only does it require solid draft skills but players need to walk a very fine line of diplomacy, bullying, and -- at the format’s very best moments -- just a little bit of treachery.

Just looking at the Top 8 results from the past two Rochester Draft Pro Tours turns up many of the brightest stars from across the world.

Pro Tour–Amsterdam 2004

1. Nicolai Herzog (Norway) $30,000
2. Osamu Fujita (Japan) $20,000
3. Anton Jonsson (Sweden) $15,000
4. Olivier Ruel (France) $13,000
5. Kamiel Cornelissen (Netherlands) $9,500
6. Aeo Paquette (Canada) $8,500
7. Farid Meraghni (France) $7,500
8. Michael Turian (USA) $6,500

Pro Tour–Chicago 2003

1. Kai Budde (Germany) $30,000
2. Nicolai Herzog (Norway) $20,000
3. Jon Finkel (USA) $15,000
4. Dustin Stern (USA) $13,000
5. Eugene Harvey (USA) $9,500
6. Fabio Reinhardt (Germany) $8,500
7. Abraham Snepvangers (Netherlands) $7,500
8. William Jensen (USA) $6,500

Last year in Amsterdam, players came to the triple Mirrodin Pro Tour with new approaches and card valuations. Prior to Amsterdam, many players put Bonesplitter much higher in their common pick orders than Viridian Longbow, but when Mike Turian (among other Pros) showed the world how to first-pick the previously undervalued common, it moved up on everybody’s lists for the rest of the block.

The Dampen Thoughts deck -- a draft deck that attempts to run the opponent out of cards with Dampen Thoughts by abusing the Splice onto Arcane mechanic -- has been talked about extensively online and has been attempted at high-level Rochester Draft Grand Prix throughout the previous season. It is not going to take anyone by surprise when the first draft pod starts, but it will certainly be on everyone’s mind.

The deck requires the drafter to pick cards such as Dampen Thoughts and Peer through Depths where you would normally take critters and removal. It is tricky to draft in a run-of-the-mill booster draft, but in a Rochester draft -- where everyone can witness your shenanigans -- it is doubly so. A well-placed counter draft of an Ethereal Haze or Eerie Procession can undermine the deck significantly. It will definitely be a story that bears following through the weekend -- especially if anyone can do well with it. Will there be some other undervalued cards that suddenly shift in value? Will any new draft archetypes emerge? More stories to keep your eye out for over the weekend.

Players not to watch

Two familiar Pro Tour faces will not be making the trip to Japan. Having recently returned to school, Kai Budde will be skipping a Pro Tour for the first time in recent memory to focus on his studies. Fear not, Juggernaut fans -- Kai will rise again along with the rest of Phoenix Foundation at Pro Tour–Atlanta in March.

Nicolai Herzog will also be absent to defend his Rochester Draft title. Nico won two Limited Pro Tours last year and just missed the Player-of-the-Year title when his efforts in the draft portion of Worlds left him a couple of points behind Top 8 competitor Gabriel Nassif. I’m not sure what Nico’s reasons for skipping, are but I was informed by Anton Jonsson that this was the case.

Players to watch

Anton Jonsson
Well, how about the aforementioned Anton Jonsson for starters? Anton finished in the Top 8 of both of last season’s Limited Pro Tours and more recently finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix–Helsinki. He is considered to be one of the top Limited minds in the game and is a serious threat to win any Limited (or Constructed for that matter -- he has two PT Top 8s in that half of the game as well) Pro Tour. The only X-factor for Anton is how much practice he has been able to get in. The Swedish Magic scene is not what it once was and Anton has found himself without easy access to high-quality playtesting.

While we are looking at the Amsterdam Top 8, we have to cast our gaze over to Olivier Ruel. Ruel has categorized his success over the past year to being “abnormally lucky” but he has been playing the game for a long time and found success at every step along the way. Olivier is coming off of a Top 8 appearance in Columbus and a Grand Prix win in Helsinki -- the same one where Anton made the Top 8.

Olivier will also have an edge on almost all of the other non-Japanese competitors since he has spent the past few weeks in Japan, hanging around with the likes of Kazuki Katou and Masashi Oiso. While many of the other players will still be trying to adjust their body, it will be old hat for Olivier.

Speaking of old hats . . . what about Gabriel Nassif? Gabriel is the reigning Player of the Year and in Columbus he fell short of the Top 8 mark in a Constructed event for the first time in more than a year. It was not the most auspicious way to begin a title defense. If Yellowhat wants to give Pierre Canali a run for his money (a literal statement, in this case) a strong Limited Pro Tour is needed. While most of the world regards Nassif as the best Constructed player in the game, he actually is bothered by the idea because it diminishes his reputation as a Limited player. A strong finish this weekend would not only right the ship that veered off course in Columbus, but announce to the world that Nassif is simply, in the words of William Jensen, “The best player in the world.”

While we are talking about France, there are a few other players I would be remiss in not mentioning. Alex Peset just missed out on the Rookie of the Year title after Julian Nuijten’s remarkable Worlds performance and his name always seems to bob near the top of the standings. Someone you should absolutely not discount based on past performance has to be Farid Meraghni. Farid has two Pro Tour Top 8 appearances, and both of them are in the Rochester Draft format -- including a win three seasons ago in San Diego.

Pierre Canali will be under a microscope to see how he fares in the Limited environment. He did not sound optimistic about his chances when I interviewed him a couple weeks ago but, come to think of it, he did not sound too confident at any point during the weekend of Columbus -- even after he won $30,000.

Tsuyoshi Fujita
No group of players enjoys the home-crowd advantage quite like the Japanese. The Japanese Magic community always seems to rise to the challenge in hometown events. All of their breakthrough events have been on home soil from Tsuyoshi Fujita’s second-place finish at Pro Tour–Tokyo to Masashiro Kuroda’s Big Red victory in Kobe.

Either of those two Japanese heroes, along with Amsterdam Top 8 competitor Osamu Fujita -- or all of them -- could easily be sitting down to the final draft on Sunday. But if you ask any Japanese player who they expect to see in the winner’s circle the name most likely to come out of their mouths will be Masashi Oiso.

Oiso was part of the Class of Columbus, along with Ryuchi Arita and Shuhei Nakamura, and has now made the Top 8 four times (including two Limited events). He has never won a Pro Tour -- Kuroda is the only Japanese player to bag that prize -- but urged on by the energy of is home crowd and his increasing levels of confidence, Oiso might very well finally achieve this next level of success in his remarkable career.

Kazuki Katou
There are so many Japanese players who could emerge victorious this weekend -- Jin Okamoto, Itaru Ishida, Akira Asahara . . . the list goes on and on. If you are looking for a dark horse to follow this weekend, keep your eye on Kazuki Katou. Katou has won back-to-back Rochester Draft Grand Prix events in Japan -- triple Mirrodin format in Shizuoka and triple Champions in Yokohama -- and has been hob-nobbing with Pro Tour vets like the Ruels and Oiso.

Joining France and Japan on the list of emerging world super-powers for Magic has to be the Netherlands. Kamiel Cornelissen had a quietly efficient year that saw him snap his string of second-place finishes. As a member of Von Dutch (Kamiel Cornelissen, Jelger Wiegersma, and Jeroen Remie) Kamiel was finally able to take a victory lap in Seattle after three other Sunday appearances. He capped off the year with a Top 8 appearance at Worlds. He also made the last Rochester Top 8 in Amsterdam.

There is a high concentration of good players in the Netherlands and they are all able to play and test together. Whether it is World Champion Julien Nuijten, Kamiel’s teammates Jeroen and Jelger, or Vial Affinity front man Frank Karsten, I would not bet against seeing back-to-back Pro Tours without a Dutch representative.

Speaking of absences, here's a date for you: Sunday September 14, 2003.

That was the last time an American won a Pro Tour, when The Rockefellers (William Jensen, Matt Linde, Brock Parker) won the team event in Boston. If you are looking for an individual win you have to go back to March 23 in Venice, when Osyp Lebedowicz slid to victory.

American Magic has been in something of a transition as the older players find themselves pulled away from the game by the distractions of “real life.” Whether the fresh crop is ready for harvest remains to be seen. Mike Turian was the lone American in the Top 8 of Amsterdam, and was joined by Ben Stark and Mark Heberholz for the Top 8 of San Diego later in the year. Turian would be the player most likely to return America to Sunday glory, but now that he is working for Wizards of the Coast, that task will fall to someone else.

Any takers? There were a few high finishes by Americans in Columbus, including Kyle Goodman (10th) and Jeff Garza (16th), but it is unlikely that either of these high-school age competitors will be making the trip to Japan. Instead, look to the highest-finishing American in the Columbus Top 8, Gadiel Szleifer.

Gadiel Szleifer
Gadiel is a brash young man with more than enough skill to back up his highly charged talk. He recently bragged that he could win a Constructed PTQ with a Limited deck, but now the challenge will be to win a Limited Pro Tour with one. No stranger to winning, Gadiel should be unfazed by the pressure. After finishing seventh at Pro Tour–Seattle with :B (along with John Pelcak and Tim Aten), his team went on to win Grand Prix–Chicago. Keep an eye out for all three members of the winning team from Chicago, as well as other new faces such as Gerry Thompson and Josh Ravitz.

Speaking of Ravitz; don’t discount the TOGIT squad to represent apple pie and Chevrolet, either. Osyp, Gerard Fabiano, Craig Krempels, Eugene Harvey and the rest of those crazy kids from New Joisy have been sequestered behind TOGIT’s walls, thoroughly testing the format.

Check in with our live coverage all weekend, including the blog, feature match coverage, draft breakdowns, videos with your favorite players -- including an Oliver Ruel Nagoya travelogue -- and of course the streaming video coverage of the Top 8.

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