h, Rochester Draft! The king format of tournament Magic: Skill, luck, and preparation (or lack thereof) mesh together in a very tight, very difficult to handle, very thought-provoking game. Trying to follow a Team Rochester Draft feels like running six individual drafts at the same time, and figuring out the different plans just from looking at the cards being picked can be very hard.
The teams sat down at the draft table, the pairings like so:
| Julien Nuijten
|| Kamiel Cornelissen
|| Robert van Medevoort
Julien was curious: "Going for the double?" he asked Katsuhiro, and the still-current World Champion nodded a confident yes. The way the draft went, the Japanese team was on a good path to overcome one of the biggest obstacles in their way, because the cards did not fall on the right side of the dike.
With Katsuhiro opening the first pack, the first bombs on the table went to the Japanese. From the pack, Errant Ephemeron and Endrek Sahr stood out, and Katsuhiro jumped on the chance to take the pros' favorite color combination, blue-red. His left-hand neighbor Shouhei also was not unhappy with the Master Breeder. Amrou Seekers went to Julien, Premature Burial to Kamiel, Search for Tomorrow to Robert and Corpulent Corpse made it all the way to Hidenori.
In those first picks, the general tendency of the draft already showed: The Japanese drafters would get better opens than the Dutch, but there were some interesting picks along the way to their final decks. Early on, Julien picked Sudden Shock over Empty the Warrens, because he was looking to be red-white and the Goblin generator is not at its best in that archetype - but that enabled the blue-red Katsuhiro to get that Warren and two more along the way.
Hidenori Katayama, Katsuhiro Mori, and Shouhei Yamamoto draft tightly and skillfully.
Shouhei also got lucky and opened Spectral Force, gladly claiming it. Even when Kamiel opened well, the Japanese still got their share. Strangling Soot put Kamiel on possible black (which he accepted). But even when Robert opened a welcome Sporesower Thallid, the next three picks went to the Japanese: Dark Withering to Hidenori, Orgg to Katsuhiro, and Vesuvan Shapeshifter to Shouhei. Why Katsuhiro did not take the Shapeshifter for his blue-red deck instead of passing it to Shouhei, who had no blue cards at all, remained a mystery.
But the Japanese decks were not lacking. The Dutch team was not so happy. After pack 1, Shouhei had his Spectral Force to build around (and lots of left-over red slivers), Katsuhiro was firmly entrenched in blue-red (with Empty the Warrens), and Hidenori was basically black on the basis of removal and Corpulent Corpses.
The Dutch team was getting the slimmer pickings. Julien had to abandon the white part of his plan, but on the other hand, he was getting good red removal like Sudden Shock. Kamiel seemed the most undecided of the drafters at that point, having taken a couple of blue, black and white cards and still looking for his deck. Robert was solidly green, with a touch of white to build on.
The next round of packs fell out better for the Netherlands team. When Hidenori opened and took Sengir Nosferatu, Temporal Isolation and Lightning Axe were up for Robert and Kamiel. (Shouhei got a Scryb Ranger to go with his Spectral Force, by the way.) Yet another good batch came around, with Julien getting a Grapeshot and bouncing Sengir Autocrat around the table to go into black instead of white. Kamiel picked a Tromp the Domains, and Robert supplemented his deck with a Pentarch Paladin.
Both sides got yet more presents in the draft: Julien ended up with two Phthisis and two Conflagrates. Katsuhiro got a total of three Empty the Warrens. Katayama was happy about four Corpulent Corpses in his final deck. And even though Kamiel got a Sol'Kanar the Swamp King and Julien a Pardic Dragon, the card quality was higher on the Japanese side. Katsuhiro had a pack where he opened his second Errant Ephemeron and shipped Verdant Embrace to Hidenori, and also opened Magus of the Scroll.
Julien Nuijten, Kamiel Cornellisen, and Robert van Medevoort concetrate intently on their picks.
One interesting pack was pack 14, close to the end of the draft, where Shouhei (passing to Julien on his left) opened Firemaw Kavu, Mystic Enforcer, Phthisis, Merfolk Looter and Saffi Eriksdotter. The Japanese player took the Firemaw Kavu that would certainly not make his deck to prevent it from getting to the other team, nicely illustrating that sometimes you have to sacrifice a pick to save the day. Julien got his second Phthisis, Kamiel took the Looter and Robert with his green-white deck welcomed the Mystic Enforcer.
The draft ended with Katsuhiro opening up Teferi in the last pack, which made his suspend-storm deck in a flash. The Empty the Warrens resonated well with the seven suspend spells he had, among them a Deep-Sea Kraken. Hidenori was set up with his green-black deck built around Corpulent Corpses. He played two Mwonvuli Acid-Moss in his maindeck to have some action while waiting for suspend to finish. Along with Verdant Force, he also had strategically picked two Viscid Lemures to have an unblockable damage source against Julien's Swamps.
Shouhei left the Firemaw Kavu and the Vesuvan Shapeshifter in his board while constructing a white-green aggro deck. His two Quilled Slivers could be boosted by Might Sliver, and two Scryb Rangers provided untaps for his Spectral Force against Robert's green-white deck. The C-seat Dutchie splashed Lightning Axe for some removal in his deck, but left out the two Ivory Giants he had drafted because his deck had only nine white creatures. Pentarch Paladin and Verdeloth the Ancient provided his late-game bombs - if he could get there.
Kamiel also splashed a third color, red, to give his blue-black deck some reach against Katsuhiro's Goblin tokens. Lightning Axe, Subterranean Shambler and Sol'Kanar could be found by the Ancestral Visions Kamiel also had. Julien's deck turned out black-red with a very strong red removal base plus the two Phthisis, and Pardic Dragon to mop up. He also had the Skittering Monstrosity, which is typically pretty good in removal-heavy decks like Julien's.
Seat A: Hidenori Katayama vs. Julien Nuijten
Seat B: Katsuhiro Mori vs. Kamiel Cornelissen
Seat C: Shouhei Yamamoto vs. Robert van Medevoort
The draft did go better for the Japanese team than for the Dutch players, and the first few turns of their matches confirmed that. Hidenori's Corpulent Corpses served him well, and two of them put pressure on a mana-screwed Julien Nuijten, who was stuck with two Swamps when the first Corpse came into play.
An intense match unfolds.
Katsuhiro did similarly well, putting eight Goblins into play with Empty the Warrens. The short suspend wait on Keldon Halberdiers and Rift Bolt provided the necessary energy. But Kamiel had anticipated this and built his deck accordingly, having Subterranean Shambler to stave off the Goblin beatings.
Meanwhile, an excited Shouhei took down Robert van Medevoort with a huge alpha strike. Among the four cards that entered the proverbial red (but actually black) zone was Endrek Sahr, the card that had put him into black during the draft. Five tokens added their power to the blow, and the Netherlands were two games down. Two? Yes, Julien's black-red removal heavy deck did not cough up enough against Hidenori's Corpulent Corpse army.
Kamiel, still fighting, had held on longer than his teammates, and actually managed to get rid of Teferi. That proved to be a breaking point, and when the players shuffled up for Game 2, Kamiel confirmed that he had actually won that game. (I looked over when they shuffled up and had to ask, because when you cover three matches at once, you just don't see everything.)
Hidenori Katayama 1 - 0 Julien Nuijten
Katsuhiro Mori 0 - 1 Kamiel Cornelissen Shouhei Yamamoto 1 - 0 Robert van Medevoort
Hidenori held a hand that contained both of his land destruction spells against Julien. The hand had merely one Swamp, but his offense would be that very Swamp into double Corpulent Corpse - again. Julien suspended an early Phthisis against that, and this time his mana gave him the red he'd needed for his removal, with added Mindstab suspense.
As Team Captain and reigning World Champion, Katsuhiro Mori guides his team.
Katsuhiro, as the center player, aided Shouhei in his decision to keep the hand of six and suspended first an Errant Ephemeron, then a Deep-Sea Kraken. With a hand of Rift Bolt, Cancel and Teferi, his game against Kamiel seemed all but over. I got a glimpse at Kamiel's five cards, and they were nothing more than Subterranean Shambler and Sol'Kanar the Swamp King. That could just not be enough against Katsuhiro's gas.
Robert fought a losing battle against Shouhei, who brought out Phantom Wurm and Spectral Force. Robert did not find his second color, badly needing a Forest to do anything, but his deck was unkind, and the first Dutch player on the team fell to the Japanese power team.
Power of a different kind pulled out Julien's second game against Hidenori. The Phthisis did its dirty work and Pardic Dragon came out to play. Hidenori was slightly short on mana in the early turns and couldn't keep up with the big mountain-powered flier.
Hidenori Katayama 1 - 1 Julien Nuijten
Katsuhiro Mori 0 - 1 Kamiel Cornelissen Shouhei Yamamoto 2 - 0 Robert Van Medevoort
The decider between Julien and Hidenori started off with yet another suspend battle: Corpulent Corpse on the Japanese side, and Phthisis on the Dutch side. Kamiel looked over from the middle seat. The Dutch champion's face was flushed; he had just had six minutes' time with the table judge over the question if Katsuhiro had blocked with the Teferi he had plunked down during combat. Katsuhiro had moved the Teferi into the red zone as if to block the attacking Skulking Knight, but had pulled the card back before releasing it from the touch of his hand. The ruling was "no block," but Kamiel clearly didn't like that.
Five-time Pro Tour Top 8er (and one-time Pro Tour Champion) Kamiel Cornellisen leads an impressive team.
Julien had also called a judge, indicating two accidentally marked cards in Hidenori's deck. The judge replaced these two with proxies and play resumed. Kamiel (on 16 life) had gotten Katsuhiro down to six and a lethal attack on the board. Katsuhiro flashed out a Viscerid Deepwalker that threw itself in the way of the attack and prolonged his death for another turn.
Julien, meanwhile, was facing down a Corpulent Corpse (with another one suspended with one counter left) and a Spinneret Sliver after having Phthisis'd away the Viscid Lemures that had pecked away at his life total. Julien had one creature, Skittering Monstrosity, but his 6 life were no big buffer between him and a second loss for his team. Julien Conflagrated one of the Corpses, but Hidenori paid the actual mana cost for another one. The former Dutch World champion proved he was a champ and tapped seven mana. Phthisis does not have to be suspended to actually kill something!
Psychotic Episode from Julien revealed that Hidenori had nothing and removed Corpulent Corpse #3 from the Japanese deck. Both players were playing from the top, locked in a stalemate. One table over, Kamiel went into attack mode with Sol'Kanar to bring an end to his opponent. But Katsuhiro, also a champ, did the math and attacked for the win, flying over Kamiel's smaller ground force, tying their match at one game each.
Hidenori Katayama 1 - 1 Julien Nuijten
Katsuhiro Mori 1 - 1 Kamiel Cornelissen Shouhei Yamamoto 2 - 0 Robert Van Medevoort
In the on-going third game between Julien and Hidenori, Sengir Nosferatu made Julien uncomfortable, but it didn't matter. Katsuhiro nudged his teammates and they held a short exchange in Japanese. Japanese coverage reporter Keita Mori related to me what Katsuhiro had said: "This is a tough match. Let's just draw and have a re-match in the finals!"
That was met with approval on the Dutch side of the table. With one match down, the odds were against the Europeans, and the draw gave each team three points - more than the zero for a possible loss. But the next round would be very exciting: The Dutch team had to win outright to get the desired re-match. Another draw or even a loss would not take them there.
Japan 1 - 1 Netherlands