Saturday, September 24: 10:10 am - Thursday's Adventure
My Moscow adventure began at just past nine on Wednesday evening (unless you count a frantic dash to London last week to sort my visa out). My flight was scheduled at the horrifically early time of 6:25am and as I don't drive and the rail service in England is notoriously bad there was no other option but to spend a night at Birmingham airport. Thankfully a combination of books, PSP and laptop meant I got through the night without feeling the need to rampage through the airport on a boredom fuelled killing spree.
Raphael Levy and Osyp Lebedowicz
I linked up with Raphael Levy, Mattias Jorstedt, Bernardo Da Costa Cabral, Geoffrey Siron and what seemed like a large portion of the WotC Belgian office at Brussels airport and a few hours later was touching down on Russian soil. One of the great things about Magic is the opportunity it has given me to travel as both a player and reporter. I missed Moscow when the GP was last here in 2001 and was keen to add another country to the list.
A few days before the event I'd been mailed a meticulously planned table detailing which person was getting into which taxi to get to one of the two hotels that had been booked for the event (As well as a set of instructions that made me wonder if I was heading off to a war zone - surely Moscow wasn't that bad). So of course it didn't quite go perfectly to plan. Oysp Lebedoowicz was apparently stranded in the travel nightmare that is the UK and our minibus sped off without him.
During the hour long minibus ride from the airport to the center of Moscow the Best of the Rest took the opportunity to study the form guide on the Local Heroes. With Olivier Ruel reading out the names you can imagine this was not exactly serious. Some of the profiles were less than impressive. Denis Tagunov was singled out for much of the mirth with a profile that only highlighted a 24 hour playing spree back in 1998.
On paper it might seem like a total mismatch but I think expectations of a massacre might be a little premature. Players from the former Soviet states might not have the PT finishes but this is partly because they don't get the opportunity to go to these events. There are also a number of factors in their favor: It's on their turf, it's in their language and they're going to be hungry. 9th Edition sealed is not exactly a format the Pro's will have practiced much either.
You are now Entering the Borg Collective … or Maybe Not
Hotel Rossija is the biggest hotel in Europe and has about a squillion rooms. Mattias Jorstedt's comment was that it looked a little like a Borg cube from Star Trek. I think I'd go along with that. It's a massive concrete block with windows about a sniper sight away from Red Square.
Meticulous planning. Hmpth. Somebody forgot to put the sideboard reporter on the list. Surely my coverage from the last few GP's wasn't that bad.
Oh well. I got to stand at reception while they tried to sort it out. Head judge Adam Cetnerowski was in a similar position as they had him down as coming down tomorrow. I did have documents detailing my reservation (to get a visa to enter Russia you need proof of a hotel reservation) but they were currently saved on my computer. No problem, just turn on my computer and show them the papers. Unfortunately a night of playing Civ 3 at the airport had left my battery completely drained. This led to a rather comical scene of me squatting down next to one of the pillars in the middle of reception trying to siphon off some juice from a wall socket.
"We are Borg. You will be assimilated … around Wednesday next week, possibly, if we're not busy"
As this is a special tournament to commemorate the release of 9th Edition cards in Cyrillic the players were taken to fancy Chinese restaurant for a meal. The meal was courtesy of WotC but the players were asked not to go too mad, especially with the drinks. Next I looked up Viking boats full of salmon slices were going by. Oops.
Originally the room was segregated into three tables: one for the Best of the Rest, one for the Local Heroes and one for the staff. After a few vodkas Olivier Ruel and Geoffrey Siron decided to mount an incursion into Local Heroes territory to get to know the enemy with Masashi Oiso in tow. I dropped in on the table mainly to steal Russian Vodka.
You don't see many pictures of me in the coverage and the photos the Ruel brothers took were perfect examples of why (No, I'm not going to put them up so don't even think about asking).
I don't actually know what the final bill came to, but I imagine it was pretty impressive/horrifying given that players seemed to have ordered the entire contents of the menu.
Rustam Bakirov and the Problems of Getting to Major Events
During the meal while I dropped in on the Local Heroes (to steal their vodka) I chatted a little with Rustam Bakirov. Bakirov became the first Russian to win a major event when he won Grand Prix Leipzig earlier this year.
Most of the events I travel to only require a passport. Russia is the first place I've been to where I needed to pick up a visa. This was an adventure in itself. The documents I needed to apply for a visa were quite late in coming and in the end I had to take a train down to the embassy in London, queue outside for two hours and then pay through the nose to get the papers to go through at express speed. It seems like a hassle and a pain in the neck but is nothing compared to the problems faced by Russian players wanting to travel out of Russia.
Bakirov outlined the typical process to me. Firstly it was expensive. A Russian player would first have to cough up around a hundred bucks just to attempt to get a visa. After waiting around three or four days the applicant would then have to go to the embassy for an interview. Assuming that was successful (a lot are turned down) the player would then need to wait for another 3 or 4 days for the paperwork to come through. In the face of this it's a wonder we see any Russian players at these events at all.
Vodka, Beer, Babes and Excessive Cruelty to an Ashtray…
After the meal it was back to the hotel for another couple of beers and a chance to meet up with the recently arrived Dutch contingent: Jeroen Remie, Kamiel Cornelissen and current World Champion Julien Nuijten. Also fresh from the airport was another former World Champion in Carlos Romao and the only American at the event Oysp Lebedowicz.
Then it was off to… [censored] … bed for an early night in preparation for a tour of the Kremlin tomorrow.
(This may in fact be a bit of a teensy-weensy lie but I can categorically assure readers that the reality had nothing to do with the inevitable consequences of mixing fine food, vodka and copious amounts of beer. It also had nothing to do with gross corporal punishment to an ashtray.)
Have You Seen Kai?
There was some confusion as to whether Kai had arrived. During the meal Gis Hoogendijk was ringing around trying to make sure a taxi was available to pick up any delayed players from the airport.
During the exchanges between staff, PR agencies and cab firms the situation seemed to be that a taxi was waiting to pick up Oysp Lebedowicz and the driver was waving a big Magic sign around. The story as I got it was that Kai's plane had landed, he'd approached the driver but been told that it wasn't for him. It did present a certain comical image of an irate Budde trying to convince the cab driver to take him to the hotel.
Three hours later and the hotel had no record of Kai checking in. This Invitational is very much a publicity event. Having the World's best player abducted from the airport and taken to a Siberian turnip factory is not exactly good publicity.
The morning came and still no Kai. Rather prosaically it turned out that he had not been on the flight in first place. It's a shame the world's best player will not be on show this weekend. While this is a mystery in itself it seems most likely that his visa didn't come
through in time.
A Tour of the Kremlin.
The release of 9th Edition in Russia is a big event and to celebrate it WotC have brought over 16 of the World's best players to play against local talent in an invitational tournament. As an incentive each player is getting $1000 for their troubles. There are also a number of extras to make the event seem more like a holiday. One of the extras was a tour of the Kremlin on the Friday before the tournament.
The hotel is conveniently located adjacent to Red Square allowing easy access to such sights as St. Basil's Cathedral, Lenin's Tomb and the Kremlin. The Kremlin itself is a large collection of buildings contained within a triangle and is the current seat of the Russian government. Highlights included the highly decorated interiors of cathedrals inside the Kremlin and a tour of the Armory. The Armory itself contains enough treasure to keep a flotilla of pirates satisfied for the rest of their lives.
During the tour the attrition of walking for an entire morning began to tell as first the French players disappeared and then steadily other players slipped away.
At home you might be thinking that all this background is pretty but not exactly what you came here for. Not to worry. As I'm writing this (at half one in the morning I might add) the venue is taking shape around me. Sixteen tables draped in funereal black wait beneath a cold metal framework. Tomorrow in this arena sixteen of the World's Best Players will slug it out against the best Russia, Ukraine and Belarus can offer.
Saturday, September 24: 11:09 am - The Release Begins!
Good morning from Moscow!
Well it's bright and early on a fresh (translation: chilly) Moscow morning. The venue is split into two rooms. The Best of the Rest get to face off against the Local Heroes in an exhibition tournament while players queue to enter the release tournaments held in the other room.
Before the tournament in the main room we had a speech from Vice President of Wizards owned TCG's, Joe Hauck, welcoming Magic into Russia and outlining the benefits the game offers to players. He mentioned a quote from the foreword of a recent David Kushner book, which I'm probably now going to get wrong. "If you want to find the entrepreneurs of the future, go down to your nearest games store"
Saturday, September 24: 11:37 am - A Fair Handicap?
Well it was meant to be 16 of the World's best, but that hasn't quite happened. Joining Kai Budde on the absent list is Englishman Sam Gomersall. Unfortunately Sam is based in the States at the moment and found it too difficult to get a visa organized in time. There was some talk of letting me replace him as the token Englishman (1 GP title, 1 PT top 16, 1 PT top 32) but then the Best of the Rest decided they were better off with BYE.
I suppose it makes for a fair handicap as it means the Best of the Rest will start each round two matches down. I'm just wondering how Kai's ranking will handle the sixteen straight losses (just kidding!).
Saturday, September 24: 11:51 am - Trophy Update
There isn't much money at stake in this exhibition tournament, but there are a couple of nice trophies. Both the winner and runner-up (effectively the best placed finisher in each team) will receive one of these trophies.
All players also get to keep the nameplates created specially for this tournament. And from these pictures you can see they're pretty nice.
Saturday, September 24: 1:22 pm - Round 1: Julien Nuijten vs. Karyagin Svyatoslav
And the action kicks off as I follow current World Champion Julien Nuijten against Karyagin Svyatoslav from the Ukraine. Svyatoslav broke the ranks and sat at the Best of the Rest table at the Chinese Feast on Thursday night.
It's a strange format.
"You want the rest of your team to lose so you can finish in the top four," Nuijten explained before the game.
Svyatoslav started by skipping land drops, never a good idea when the round is decided by a single game. While Nuijten ramped up his mana with a Rampant Growth and Fellwar Stone he couldn't take advantage of his opponent's tardy mana development as none of his monsters had more than 1 power in offence. Blessed Orator and a pair of Crossbow Infantry were perfectly acceptable forms of defense when Nuijten really wanted offense. The lack of offence allowed Svyatoslav back into the game until the board completely gummed up.
Both players were running green-white-red and both had Blessed Orators and Master Decoy's out. Despite Svyatoslav having the largest monster in Emperor Crocodile it was Nuijten who held the advantage with a couple of fliers.
Svyatoslav was able to stay in the game though discarding excess land to a Peace of Mind, but his board position was much weaker. His Decoy was locked down by Nuijten's, he had no fliers to oppose Nuijten's Aven Flock and Pegasus Charger, and the double Crossbow Infantry meant he couldn't even mount a counter attack on the ground.
Nuijten piled on the pressure with an Ancient Silverback. The Ape swung in once and then on the following turn Nuijten went for the throat with an all-out alpha strike. No tricks from Svyatoslav and Nuijten racked up a win for the Best.
Julien Nuijten beats Karyagin Svyatoslav.
Honours were equally shared from the first round as the Best of the Rest offset their two player disadvantage with an 8-6 win in real games.
Saturday, September 24: 1:40 pm - Sealed Deck One
Sealed Deck with 9th Edition is a little different as there are no tournament packs. Instead a player has five boosters with which to construct his deck. During deck construction I wandered around to see who'd picked up the goodies.
First stop was Gabriel Nassif, who appeared to have cornered the market in rare board sweepers. Sitting in his pile was Wildfire, Plague Wind and Evacuation. A Rathi Dragon rounded out a busty set of rares for the Frenchman.
Fellow Frenchman Raphael Levy had a very strong looking deck with Form of the Dragon, Orcish Artillery (combo anyone?) and a pair on Anaba Shaman. Rampant Growth x 2 and a Shivan Reef allowed him to splash for a Sift and Thought Courier to give him a way to turn excess land into cards in the late game.
Everywhere I looked I saw some fat busty monsters. The tournament is being overlooked by the new artwork for Mahamoti Djinn and the busty blue flier has cropped up in a number of decks.
Geoffrey Siron could quite possibly break the no time limit rule today as his deck has Oracle's Attendants, Story Circle and Worship.
Amongst this Olivier Ruel gets to fight with his … erm Righteousness. Oh well, so not everyone gets to open a broken dragon or angel.
Saturday, September 24: 2:13 pm - Round 3: Anton Jonsson vs. Artem Dushkevitch
Well the tournament is rattling along at a fair old pace. Not that making excuses for running behind or anything. The Best are currently leading 15-13 or losing 17-15 depending on how harsh you want to be on taking absences into account.
Jonsson and Dushkevitch have both fallen foul of the single game format with Jonsson picking up one loss and Dushkevitch two to the dreaded mana screw.
This looked like it might be a decent game though. Jonsson likes blue in 9th because of the large amounts of card drawing and he started off with Counsel of the Soratami. Duskevitch had his own forms of card advantage as a Nekrataal dealt with the Swede's first monster. Jonsson fought back as Dushkevitch's Serpent Warrior and Nekrataal went down to a Shock and Volcanic Hammer.
The problem with playing against black in 9th edition as there's always a pesky Gravedigger around to reuse Nekrataal. Jonsson had his own form of graveyard recursion as an Anarchist enabled him to reuse a Volcanic Hammer.
A Treasure Trove might have allowed Jonsson to pull away with the game but he was drawing land and Dushkevitch was drawing monsters. An Anaba Shamen appeared too late as Dushkevich swung with Nekrataal, Gravedigger, Ravenous Rat and Flowstone Shambler. The Lava Axe in his hand was enough to seal the deal.
Artem Dushkevitch beats Anton Jonsson.
A 10-4 round for the Best opens up a 25-17 lead after three rounds.
Saturday, September 24: 2:39 pm - Sealed Deck One Breakdown
A longish round 4 allowed one of my clones to have a flick through the decklists in search of patterns for those of you (myself included) who like to draft 9th on Magic Online.
What was surprising was the number of three color decks. Even most of the two color decks had splashes with Volcanic Hammer unsurprisingly being one of the more common splashes.
That's quite a diverse combination. It probably makes sense to break it down into the separate colors.
And that seems to indicate a fairly good distribution of power within the colors to me.
Saturday, September 24: 3:02 pm - Round 5: Olivier Ruel vs. Sergey Paigusov
Round 4 saw the Local Heroes rally with an 8-6. The tally in games is now only 31-25 in favor of the Best of the Rest.
Despite opening what looked like a pile with barely a single playable rare Olivier Ruel is currently cracking along at 3-1. To be fair his deck is an aggressive combination of green, black and white cards and is fairly lethal if the mana comes out.
The Frenchman got off to a flier as Llanowar Elves powered out a second turn Serpent Warrior. After that he stalled a little with only a Wood Elves. Treetop Bracers sent the Warrior flying past Paigusov's Order of the Sacred Bell. Paigusov was catching up on the race as a Trained Armodon joined his Balduvian Barbarians and Order. As Olivier Ruel had still failed to summon anything after the Wood Elves he needed to keep the Warrior at home this turn.
Paigusov swung with everything, losing the Armodon in the process. A Giant Spider looked as though it might stabilize enough for Ruel for his unblockable 4/4 Serpent Warrior to take the game back.
It was not to be as Paigusov finished off the Frenchman with a couple of prods from a Rod of Ruin and a Shock.
Sergey Paigusov beat Olivier Ruel.
Round 5 saw honors evenly taken with a 7-7 tally. That still leaves the Best of the Rest with a six match advantage
Saturday, September 24: 3:51 pm - Round 8: Oysp Lebedowicz vs. Sergey Markov
It's round 8 and the sky isn't quite falling in on the coverage but it's close. 16 rounds in one day. The fools! The fools!
Okay after mild reporter breakdown we head off into round 8. Two 8-6 rounds from the Local Heroes have pulled the scores back to just 50-48. The more observant will notice I'm not even bothering with the handicap any more. I told you these guys would be hungry.
Oysp Lebedowicz opened what is commonly know as "the pile", and has so far only managed to finesse a single win from it. Sergey Markov is not doing much better as his blue-white deck has only given him two wins so far.
Markov had to mulligan. His Glory Seeker traded for Oysp's Rogue Kavu and from there on the game got steadily worse for the American. His third turn play was a stone rain, a good indication of a sub-par collection of cards if ever there was one. Markov strangled the ground with a pair of Foot Soldiers. Lebedowicz tried to bust through by sticking Treetop Bracers on a Goblin Chariot. An Inspirit on a Thieving Magpie snuffed out that hope. The portable flying Howling Mine continued to take the game away from Lebedowicz and he eventually packed up his cards, eager to throw them into the trash where they belonged and get a fresh set.
Sergey Markov beat Oysp Lebedowicz.
Overall round 8 was much better for the Best. A 9-5 tally allowed them to go into the lunch break with a 6 match lead. The score 59-53.
Saturday, September 24: 4:36 pm - Release Action
The unholy triumverate: Tedin, Giancolo and Avon
To commemorate the release of 9th Edition over in Moscow this weekend there's not one, not two but three artists in attendance this weekend. John Avon, Mark Tedin and Donato Giancolo form the unholy triumvirate. It looked like the local players would be keeping them busy as the queues were stretching back to the other side of the room. Pinned to John Avon's wall were some prints of the new Ravnica land and it does look absolutely gorgeous.
The master genius himself, Richard Garfield, is also present and was giving an interview for Russian TV last I looked. This truly is a special event. I think I might just slink off and raid the food from the VIP area.
Saturday, September 24: 4:50 pm - Rogues Gallery
Russians get their first opportunity to bust open 9th
Alongside the exhibition tournament there is also the official release tournament of 9th Edition taking place and it's proving very popular with the locals. On one of my regular sorties into the next room to get the results from scorekeeper Jason Howlett I quizzed Henk Classen and Adam Cetnerowski on how the release tournaments were going. First they shouted and threw blunt objects at me so I guessed they were pretty busy. After whipping out a shield I stole from the armory yesterday I jumped through and ran off with their laptop.
So I can now tell you that so far (as of around 2pm local time) there have been a total of 7 flights run. The first two had 40 players, the third 22, the fourth 18 and from then on they've been starting as soon as sixteen players have signed up. That makes 168 sealed decks according to my rather shaky maths. Throw in another 5 side events and you have a very successful day. And it's only lunchtime (well three o'clock - but then I consider lunchtime any time I get a chance to steal food. Talking of which, I'm sure the VIP area has some delicacies left…)
Saturday, September 24: 4:51 pm - At the Halfway Point
Well we're at the halfway stage and Goliath is not exactly stomping on David, but he isn't flat on his ass either. The Best of the Rest are holding a slender 6 game advantage over the Local Heroes held up mainly due to a 8-0 performance from Antoine Ruel. Second place in the Best is held by current World Champion Julien Nuijten. His fellow countrymen Kamiel Cornelissen holds third place. Then you have to go down all the way down to 11th position to find the 4th place member, another former World Champion Carlos Romão.
The overall standings are partly skewed as there are two more members of the Local Heroes, meaning that each of the local players is guaranteed 2 byes over the course of the tournament.
It is important to remember that it isn't the top eight overall finishers but the top four finishers from each team. In essence the players of each team are also in competition with each other. For the local heroes those top slots are held by Egor Guskov, Alexander Gerasimenko, Kirill Efimov and Albert Khamzin.
The players are cracking open the second round of booster packs right now. Julien Nuijten is looking good. When I passed his table I saw Wrath of God and Vulshok Morningstar. (Which means I've probably just cursed him into oblivion - sorry Julien).
Saturday, September 24: 5:22 pm - Round 10: Efimov Kirill vs. Masashi Oiso
Going into the tenth round the Best have lengthened their lead to eight games. Efimov Kirill is one of the Local Heroes with a good chance of making the cut to the Rotisserie draft tomorrow. He thinks this is unlikely though as his second sealed deck is not the best. Masashi Oiso is currently rated as one of the best players in the world. I don't get the opportunity to cover the Japanese events (hint, hint) and so this is the first opportunity I've had to see him play.
Oiso seemed a little flooded for this game. His Venerable Monk negated a Goblin Chariot and he had a Pacifism waiting for Kirill's Thieving Magpie. Kirill followed with an Aven Windreader.
"I never thought I'd make this play," Kirill said, using Time Ebb on his own Magpie.
Oiso had a contingency plan as he summoned a Master Decoy.
Kirill had a contingency for the contingency plan and Shocked the Decoy out of existence.
Efimov Kirill aiming to maintain his position near the top
He didn't have an answer for the Needle Storm that emptied his side of the board and the game started to swing in favor of the Japanese player. It swung even further when he summoned first a Rootbreaker Wurm and then a Scaled Wyrm. Kirill took a whack from the first Wurm before taking it out of the game with Dehydration. A Tidal Kraken gave Kirill hopes of blocking only for Oiso to seal the game with an Inspirit on his Wyrm.
Masashi Oiso beat Efimov Kirill.
Saturday, September 24: 5:58 pm - Sealed Deck 2 Breakdown
Sergey Markov armed to the teeth
The second round of sealed decks and again it seems pretty even.
Green is partly ahead, mainly because I think its creatures are a lot more superior than those of other colors. They may not be fancy but they hit hard. That's my tuppence (US translation: two cents) anyway.
If you happen to draft with me on Modo then you should completely disregard everything I've just said. Repeat after me: "Green is bad. Green is bad."
"Hahahahaha all your Trained Armodon are belong to me!"
Saturday, September 24: 6:26 pm - Round 12: Denis Tagunov vs. Antoine Ruel
Ruel was the early leader but now finds Nuijten and Cornelissen hot on his tail. Denis Tagunov is also still in with a shout of being one of the four Local Heroes to enter the draft tomorrow.
It's been a bad couple of rounds for the Local Heroes. 9-5 in round 10 and then an 11-3 drubbing the last round leaves the Local Heroes on the wrong end of a twenty point deficit.
This looked like it might be a slow defensive game as two white decks faced off against each other. Ruel had the advantage of an airforce of an Aven Fisher and then an Aven Flock. Tagunov had a Decoy while Ruel had his own irritating white creature in a Samite Healer.
Ruel got very aggressive, swinging with all his men bar the Healer. Tagunov smelt a rat or possibly a Giant Growth as an innocuous forest had joined Ruel's collection of Islands and Plains.
A Diabolic Tutor fetched a card of Tagunov's choice from his deck. His deck didn't seem to have many options. At this point the best he could go for was a plains.
Gunning for a place on the draft - Denis Tagunov
A Hell's Caretaker appeared, but no Nekrataal to really abuse it. He was forced to replace other creatures with a chumping Bog Imp just to stay alive.
Meanwhile Ruel kept adding to his airforce. Wind Drake, Aven Fisher, Aven Flock, Azure Drake… Just too many fliers for Tagunov to deal with.
Antoine Ruel beat Denis Tagunov.
Round 12 was also really good for the Best as a 10-4 performance lengthened their lead to 26 games. Hmm, maybe it's time to bring back the handicap.
Saturday, September 24: 7:01 pm - Round 14: Gabriel Nassif vs. Matvey Linov
Matvey Linov scrapping for a place on the draft
We're into round 14. While it looked like the Best were pulling away, the Local Heroes managed to peg them back with a 10-4 record last round. It will still take a Herculean effort to overcome the 20 game hole they're in.
Matvey Linov is up near the top and a few wins away from coming back to draft tomorrow. There is still the small matter of getting past current Pro Player of the Year Gabriel Nassif. The Frenchman has had a pretty rotten day so far and it didn't look like his luck was about turn any time soon.
Sadly there wasn't much to report here. Nassif summoned a Grizzly Bear, a Trained Armodon and then failed to make another land. Linov slapped him around for a bit with a Braced up Anaconda and then put him out of his misery with a Flame Wave.
Matvey Linov beats Gabriel Nassif.
Nassif listens to guidance from himself
Overall it's starting to look quite exciting as to who makes the draft tomorrow. Antoine Ruel and Julien Nuijten are a long way ahead of the field and pretty much guaranteed at this point. After that it's very open. Kamiel Cornelissen's early charge has been blunted and he now finds himself trailing Olivier Ruel and Geoffrey Siron.
As for the Local Heroes it's anyone's guess. Five players are at the top all with 24 points and another five are only a win behind. That's a really tight race.
Saturday, September 24: 7:19 pm - First pick from the Rotisserie Draft
I'd been meaning to do this after BDM posed the question in last Friday's article. Given the choice of every Ninth edition card, which one do you take as first pick? This is of course assuming no grubby rare grabbing. One of the tourist places on Red Square does a nice line in some fairly nice looking axes. I'll be sure to use one if I see a single Llanowar Wastes go before its appointed time.
In the end the straw poll turned out to rather less interesting.
"Wrath of God."
Mattias Jorstedt - "Wrath of God!? Carlos hasn't played Magic in four years!"
Saturday, September 24: 7:42 pm - Round 15: Sergey Kuznetsov vs. Kamiel Cornelissen
It's getting tight near the top with only two rounds left. Sergey Kuznetsov is one of ten of the Local Heroes all within a win of each other. Cornelissen was looking steady in third place but now has to fight off a strong challenge from Siron and Olivier Ruel.
The team battle looks all but over as another 10-4 round to the Best now puts the score 111-85.
The game saw a patient build up from both players. Kuznetsov's Crossbow Infantry was good enough to hold off Cornelissen's Piker and Charging Pegasus. A Mana Leak stopped a Shard Phoenix from arriving on the board and then Kuznetsov took an early advantage with Anaba Shaman and started picking off Cornelissen's forces.
Cornelissen pulled back with an Air Elemental only for Kuznetsov to trump with Aladdin's Ring. Cornelissen took advantage of a very narrow window of opportunity to send through an Air Elemental turbo-charged by a Seething Song fueled Enrage. The 13 point hit took Kuznetsov to 1 life.
Kuznetsov scooped a little prematurely in the face of Cornelissen's returning Shard Phoenix. I don't remember it damaging players directly but then I am old and the mind starts to go.
It was academic in any case as a Flame Wave was a couple of draw steps away in any case.
Kamiel Cornelissen beats Sergey Kuznetsov.
Saturday, September 24: 8:09 pm - The last round … well not exactly
There is only one round remaining. The team challenge is over. With the deficit at 32 games there is no way for the Local Heroes to come back. Now it's all about grabbing the top 4 spots to draft tomorrow and boy is it a tight race.
The last round
Julien Nuijten and Antoine Ruel locked up their slots hours ago. Olivier Ruel and Kamiel Cornelissen had the remaining two slots provided they didn't stumble. They didn't, so it was all fairly straight-forward for the Best of the Rest.
The Local Heroes situation was much more complex. Denis Tagunov was guaranteed a place and Rustam Bakirov and Matvey Linov had a 3 point lead over the rest. However there were 8 more players in the chasing pack.
Linov and Tagunov duly booked their places and then it became really complex. In total there were six players on the same points for the last two slots. Tiebreakers weren't applicable as everyone had played everybody else.
Head judge Gis Hoogendijk decided the fairest way to decide was a straight knockout and then a round robin between the remaining three competitors (and pray it didn't end up with one win for each - although winning life totals would be used as a tiebreaker).
The game I got to see was between Alexander Gerasimenko and Sergey Kuznetsov see-sawed back and forth before Gerasimenko decided it with a Chastise on a Shivan Dragon.
In the other games Sergey Paigusov overcame Rustam Bakirov and Andrii Alieksieiev beat Kirill Efimov.
In the round robin Alieksieiev virtually guarateed a place as he beat Gerasimenko with 19 life points left.
Not quite the last round ... now the playoffs.
In the second round robin game Gerasimenko got off to a lighting fast start, curving out Norwood Ranger, Glory Seeker, Trained Armodon and then Order of the Sacred Bell. Paigusov put out a speed bump in the form of Whip Sergeant and then a bigger bump when Giant Growth made Goblin Chariot stick around.
Gerasimenko's draw was an Onslaught. Master Decoy, Infantry Veteran, Sacred Guardian. Paigusov could only barely fend him off. Slate of Ancestry refilled Gerasimenko's hand and the only strategy left to Paigusov was to swing with a Flowstone Crusher and play for the tiebreakers.
Paigusov now needed to beat Alieksieiev without his life total dropping below 13. This very swiftly looked unlikely as he didn't get a fast start while Alieksieiev came at him quickly with unblockable Razortooth Rats and Pegasus Charger. A Spirit Link on the Rats meant life totals wouldn't come into this as Paigusov was swiftly eliminated with two losses.