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2004 World Championships Feature

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The letter O!n Wednesday, Paul Sottasanti profiled Gabriel Nassif and his pursuit of the Player of the Year title. Gabriel Nassif posted a 5-1 record for the Standard portion of the event. Considering his prodigious achievements in Constructed events over the past couple of years, nobody was terribly surprised by his strong start to Worlds.

Nicolai Herzog -- the player that Gabriel is chasing -- was somewhat surprised by his own performance with a blue-white control deck. He finished 4-2 despite feeling out of his element in the constructed end of the pool.

"I don't enjoy constructed as much as Limited," he said. "I especially do not like playing blue-white control but I do seem to do well whenever I play with it."

But Thursday was the Limited portion and this is where Nicolai has really shined over the past two seasons. After losing to Kai Budde in the finals of Pro Tour Chicago 2003, Nicolai followed up this season by winning TWO Limited Pro Tours. If Gabriel is a Master of Constructed, then you have to consider Nicolai a Grand Master of Limited.

Nicolai was not terribly optimistic about his chances. He felt he had not brought his best game this weekend and was feeling easily distracted.

"I have not prepared as much as I would like to have for this event," he said. "I recently became involved with a new girlfriend and that has consumed a lot of my time. Plus, I am really bored with Magic right now. Not the game but this block in particular. I am really looking forward to playing with the cards in the new set."

I followed Nicolai throughout the day and watched him draft, build his deck, and play out his matches. Let's find out how he fared.

Draft One

Seat 1 Wen Jien Hwang (TWN)
Seat 2 Jon Finkel (USA)
Seat 3 Arelius Areliusarson (ISE)
Seat 4 Brent Kaskel (USA)
Seat 5 Nicolai Herzog (NOR)
Seat 6 Simon Bertiou (GRC) National Team
Seat 7 Roger Maaten (NLD) National Team
Seat 8 Shu Nu Zhang (CHN) National Team

Herzog was faced with a tough choice in the first pack as he put the chaff in the back and only looked at Deconstruct, Plated Slagwurm, and Leaden Myr. He wanted to take the green card but because he was drafting with players with very little Pro Tour experience he was leery that Simon to his left would take the Plated Slagwurm as a signal to go into green. He chose the Leaden Myr and shipped both of the green cards -- the Deconstruct would reach Jon Finkel as a sixth pick.

He had two very easy choices in with his next two packs as he was handed Shatter and Detonate. His fourth pick was a Copper Myr and he debated between Predator's Strike and Moriok Scavenger for the fifth Mirrodin card in his pile. The next pick offered him the choice between Nim Shambler, Moriok Scavenger, Rustspore Ram, and an Irradiate. He took the Shambler although he seemed to regret not taking the Scavenger or a removal spell as soon as it hit the top of his pile.

The only other card of note in the Mirrodin packs was an eighth-pick Serum Tank. Serum Tank seems to have fallen out of favor in draft circles but Nicolai is still very found of it, especially in red-black decks with heavy removal.

In Darksteel he did not have many choices in the first pack and isolated Darksteel Ingot, Grimclaw Bats, and Unforge, choosing the creature. His second pick was Oxidize and Essence Drain and Arcbound Bruiser followed. He had no way to tell it was all coming but he passed a pair each of Spire Golem and Hoverguard Observer along the way to those picks. He took another Essence Drain and did not select another legitimate card for the rest of the way in Darksteel. When the pack came to a conclusion he looked back at me and pantomimed cutting his throat to indicate how awful the packs were for him.

Things looked brighter when he was greeted on the first pack of Fifth Dawn with a Razormane Masticore. His next three picks were Vulshok Sorcerers and suddenly a deck was born. He rounded out the pack with the standard Cackling Imps, Rain of Rusts, and a Wayfarer's Bauble. He instantly regretted taking his second rain of Rust as it came at the expense of a Dross Crocodile. He had plenty of removal but was a little light on creatures and obviously regretted a chance to pad out his meager but well equipped army.

As he laid out his cards to register and whittle them down to a deck he was still upset with himself, "I really should have taken the Crocodile. I am probably okay since I have twelve guys but I definitely regret that pick. He would have actually been good in my deck with two Myr and all this artifact kill -- good lord! I have five artifact kill spells!"

He was not going to splash his Oxidize that he had taken with a second pick. His eighth pick from Mirrodin was definitely making the cut, "Serum tank is going to be sooo good in this deck." Still he did not feel the deck was quite as good as it felt like it had been going in the draft. "One more dude and this deck would have been so much better. I guess Ensouled Scimitar counts as a dude."

When asked what went wrong he could only speculate about what the players on either side of him were doing.

"I was hoping to be red-black in the draft but you can't just try and force it -- it almost needs to be served to you."

When asked is the deck was "served" to him he answered emphatically. "Not at all. I am sure I was getting stabbed on both sides in black. I'm not sure if I was getting stabbed in red too. I am happy with three Sorcerers but I was expecting more late cards like Battering Golem."

When pressed for a prediction about what record he would achieve with the deck he was cautiously optimistic. "I guess a 2-1 record. If I face three artifact heavy decks in a row I could go 3-0 with all my destruction. I have too few guys. . ."

Justin Gary was watching the deck being built and interjected, "But one of those guys is Razormane Masticore. I have never said anything bad about a deck with him."

Round 7: Wen Jien Hwang

While shuffling up prior to this match, Nicolai accidentally flipped one of his cards face up. It was Razormane Masticore -- of course! "If there is one card in my deck I did not want you to see…"

In the first game, Wen's turn-two Vedalken Mastermind gave Nico fits and he had to Essence Drain it twice to get it off the board -- once to bounce it and once to actually kill it while it was summoning sick. Despite his abundance of artifact removal he was not able to deal with a Mind's Eye and Wand of the Elements and he dropped the first game with a Masticore on the board -- Pearl Shard rendered it into a pinger.

Game 2 was like a replay of the first one as Mind's Eye came down after Nico had Shattered an Icy and Detonated a Pearl Shard. The card-drawing artifact found his opponent Wand of the Elements after Nico's card drawing via Serum Tank was nullified with a Psychic Overload.

Nico lost 2-1 and went to 4-3 for the tournament.

While they were talking about their game, Simon Bertiou wandered over and remarked, "You're black-red too? That made three drafters in a row! There was so much good black going around."

Herzog groaned and put his head in his hands.

Gabriel won and went to 6-1.
Osterberg lost and went to 4-2-1.

Round 8: Simon Bertiou

Herzog dropped the first game when he could find no answer for a Whispersilk Cloaked Nim Lasher. He took his second game with Sorcerer and Masticore. He was in danger of losing Game 2 when a Scale of Chiss-Goria screwed up his plans to pick off a pair of 1/1s. Eventually he managed to stabilize at five tanks to his old friend the Masticore and he took Game 3 and improved to 5-3 on the weekend.

Nassif won again and was near the top of the standings at 7-1.

Osterberg also won and was just ahead of Herzog at 5-2-1.

Round 9: Arelius Areliusarson (ISE)

Aurelius came out of the gate strong in Game 1 with a turn-two Talisman and turn three Solemn Simulacrum. One of the players at the next table looked over and commented, "I was happy with that draw in Standard yesterday."

He lost the first game to a Goblin Cannon that wiped out his team but he came back to take the match on the strength of double Vulshok Sorcerer and Masticore in a tight Game 2. As they shuffled for the third game, Herzog commented on the multiple colors in Aurelius' deck as well as two Clockwork Condors.

Aurelius defended his draft skills, "I don't like splashing. I don't like Clockwork Condor and I don't like my deck!"

Herzog won and managed to go the predicted 2-1 with the deck.

Both Nassif and Osterberg won as well. The Frenchman was 8-1 while the Original Slacker was 6-2-1. Nicolai was 6-3 going into the final draft on the day.

Draft Two

Seat 1 Frank Karsten
Seat 2 Akira Asahara
Seat 3 Shu Nu Zhang
Seat 4 Nicolai Herzog
Seat 5 Aniol Alcaraz
Seat 6 Federico Dato
Seat 7 Gerard Fabiano
Seat 8 Hisaya Tanaka

Offered a selection of Atog, Terror, and Tel-Jilad Archers in the first pack, Herzog quickly took the removal spell. He then got passed three straight Neurok Spies followed by a Bonesplitter. He opened Darksteel with Echoing Ruin, Leonin Bola, and Barbed Lightning for his first three picks. He also picked two Neurok Prodigies around a Behemoth and an Echoing Truth.

His picks in Fifth Dawn seemed to put his deck over the top. He had to chose between blue cards in the common, uncommon, and rare slot in his opening pack. He elected to take the Vedalken Mastermind over Trinket Mage and Acquire. He quickly snagged a second pick Trinket Mage and his fourth pack made him choose between Synod Centurion and Furnace Whelp -- he went for the pumpable flier.

He then was handed back-to-back Thought Couriers followed by an eye-popping Iron-Barb Hellion. He finished off his draft with a pair of Quadropods, Avarice Totem, and Rain of Rust.

He was very excited by the quality of his cards at the conclusion of the draft but was looking at a traditionally dismissed-as-unplayable Screaming Fury to compliment all of his fliers and evasion. "It would be so cool in my deck. It is definitely a Lava Axe for three mana in my deck. But I think I am going to run 17 lands. I can pitch any extras to my Couriers and I want to make my land drops."

He was playing Avarice Totem for the first time ever. Many of the contemporaries speak highly of the card and he felt it would be a perfect deck to try it out in. "I will always be the aggressor and that is when the card is good."

He kept coming back to the Screaming Fury and was wavering on his commitment to the extra land, "Maybe I can play it and run sixteen lands. I think that many land will be good enough."

And with that, Screaming Fury made the deck. When asked if he felt he could run the table with this draft he nodded, "I might. I think I could be bold enough to predict three-oh. It is a strong table though. I have nothing but respect for Karsten and although I have never played Fabiano he is supposed to be very good. The table is full of good players not everyone might now but are very good."

Things did not go as well as Herzog had anticipated. The probably went worse than he could possibly imagine with his deck. He ended up 0-3 with the triple-spy build. His first opponent was Frederico Dato and he was quickly mowed down by an army of Razor Golems and a Fireball in two games. He dipped to 6-4 on the weekend while both of the players chasing him won their matches.

All three of the Player-of-the-Year contenders lost in the 11th round. The matches were all covered by Paul Sottosanti in Friday's blog. Nicolai lost in the final round as well to pull the exact opposite of his 3-0 prediction. He was understandably not lingering around the hall after is third match and we will have to wait until Saturday to get a reaction from him regarding his 6-6 record on the weekend.

Both Nassif and Osterberg continued to win and they were at 30 and 25 points respectively. Coming into the day Nicolai had a lot of control over whether or not he maintained the lead in the race but now he will be the one playing catch-up tomorrow and hoping that Block is not as kind to the two challengers as Standard and Draft have been thus far.

Nassif, who is also on the French National team and can earn additional points through that tournament, will be playing six more rounds of Block Constructed. His deck design skills in that format placed both Jeff Garza and Alexandre Peset into the Top 8 of Grand Prix-New Jersey. If he can do even close to that well for himself he will get the four wins he needs to ensure a Top 8 berth.

The actual payout difference among the top three players in the race is minimal. The prize only slides down $200 for each spot, which means each of them is in line to win close to $20,000 when the cash is handed out on Sunday. Aside from the honor of being named Player of the Year and unseating Kai Budde, who has won three years running, there is the travel award. The Player of the Year gets his airfare and accommodations paid for by Wizards of the Coast to every Pro Tour for the following season

Tune in Saturday when we follow Rickard Osterberg through his Day 3 race as he attempts to capitalize on the dramatic tumble by leader Nicolai Herzog.

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