Mottainai. Roughly translated into English it means “what a waste”. And that seemed to be the theme of the weekend. From the Japanese stars of Shuuhei Nakamura and Kazuya Mitamura who flew half way around the world at mostly their own expense to fail to win a match to the bevy of big names who blew opportunities in the next to last round it seemed to be a weekend of missed opportunities.
The top 8 was filled with mostly unknowns. Two of the recognizable players have brothers who were ahead of them in pro points going in to the weekend. For the Vieren family they were very close with Peter only having one less point than his brother Pascal, 5 to 6. So it didn’t really matter who made the top 8. However for the Grafenstiener family it was definitely case of having the wrong brother make the top 8. Tobias Grafenstiner, who lost in the finals, didn’t have enough points coming into the event to even make the Wizards standings, but his brother Daniel was tied for 11th on 12 points. Tobias’ getting 8 points doesn’t mean much but if his brother Daniel had earned those points he’d have vaulted into a tie for third in the standings. Lucas Blohon was definitely the player who gained the most from this event. His trip to the top 8 earned him five pro points, jumping him from 10 to 15. That moves him into a tie for 8th with Katsuhiro Mori and puts him squarely in the group to be watched as we head into the D.C.-San Juan swing. The other big name in the top 8 was Bram Snepvangers. His appearance in the semifinals means very little as far as the player of the year race is concerned, but it should be another notch in his belt as far as the Hall of Fame voting is concerned. I already felt he deserved to be voted in but adding another Grand Prix top 8 can only help sway other voters over and possibly provide some protection should another player make a push.
Round 15, round of death.
Four different players who could have really benefited from slightly higher finishes all took crushing losses in round 15. Tomoharu Saito and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa saw their top 8 dreams killed and Simon Gortzen and Martin Juza picked up key losses that. In some sense Wafo-Tapa’s loss has the least relevance. He isn’t likely to be a competitor for player of the year and one extra Grand Prix top 8 shouldn’t really make a difference to his Hall of Fame hopes either, but he needs some resume padding and missing out on a top 8 he was in great position to make isn’t going to do much to help him against so many other deserving candidates. Gortzen and Juza’s losses in round 15 each probably only cost them a point and that assumes that they would win in round 16 like both did in actuality. Still if Gortzen is unlikely to travel that much each extra point he leaves on the table could be critical. And Juza is far enough back that he also doesn’t want to be leaving points on the table. But it was really Saito’s losses in 15 and 16 that did the most damage. If he wins in round 15, he’s likely able to draw into the top 8. So the loss their cost him probably at least 3 points, and possibly as many as 8. Making top 8 would’ve pushed him into second and if he found a way to make the finals he would’ve moved into a tie for the lead and a win would’ve put him in first. For a player like Saito whose stated goal is to win the Player of the Year losing matches to get into top 8 is really unacceptable. And even winning the last round would’ve been worth an extra point. 2 points does push him into a tie for third, but it really feels like he should’ve done more with the weekend.
The PoY chase
Saito, Juza and Gortzen were the three players in the top 10 who were in action this weekend. As noted above all swooned at the end and only Saito had done well enough early to earn any points. Blohon was the lone top 8 competitor who seemed to move into the race with this finish. And while a fair portion of the middle ranks of the standings were in action only one of them earned any pro points that seem significant to me. Petr Brozek did what Juza and Gortzen failed to do, winning rounds 15 and 16 to finish in 34th. Four-tenths of a percent were all that separated him from earning two points, but the one point he did earn still moved him into a tie with Juza on 13. I tagged him as a player to keep an eye on in my earlier player of the year analysis and I think this validates it. I’m curious if he stayed with his red ways in Rise of the Eldrazi.
Hall of Fame notes
We’ve already touched on the two relevant stories, Snepvangers and Wafo-Tapa. Saito is also a player of the year candidate, but I feel he’s so clearly in that we don’t need to worry about it. Unlike the player of the year race, with the pool of candidates here so small, there’s not likely to be that much change at single events. And that was clearly the case this week. Snepvangers confirmed and Wafo-Tapa failed to make a further push, both staying right where I had them.
While it’s definitely hard for me to say too much about the decks from the comfort of my home here in Japan there definitely are some interesting trends to note.
First off is the ability to run three colors in Rise sealed. Four of the six decks that went undefeated on day one ran three colors. And in three of those four cases we’re talking about running at least 4 lands of each type. And one of those three full on three color decks was even not base green and had no artifact fixing. That seems to indicate that the format is fairly slow to provide time to get all your colors on line and that power is more important than consistency. The other interesting thing to note is the dominance of Gruul. All six of the decks had either forests or mountains in them and four of the six decks had both. On the individual card level it surprised me to see three different decks running Jaddi Lifestrider and two decks running Ancient Stirrings. Those might be cards to reevaluate for us middling players. Of course this all comes with the caveat that looking at six decks from a tournament of over 1400 isn’t very statistically rigorous. But it is an interesting jumping off point.
Looking at what little information is available about the drafts it’s hard for us to really say that much about what’s successful in draft. The winning deck certainly is not the makeup for a deck that seems ideal. The black/red removal archetype is one that is often around but it didn’t seem ideal in this format. However Koch seemed to employ a variation of the kiln fiend deck to good effect. Although there are no kiln fiends, valakut fireboar is quite good on an empty board and fills relatively the same role. It’s also encouraging that the tournament winning deck had no rares and only one uncommon that is much above average in Nirkana Cutthroat. The rest of the uncommons are pretty late picks. So it would seem that you can cobble together pretty good decks without having to open particularly well. Conversely the two bomb heavy decks (Snepvangers and Blohon) didn’t perform particularly well. That’s an encouraging sign for the format.
It was a very disappointing weekend for me as a fan, with the Japanese absolutely tanking. Admittedly the small numbers make it rough but the few who show up are supposedly the very best in the game, but they looked nothing like it this weekend. The other country who has to be disappointed in their performance were the French. Despite traditionally being one of the very best countries in all of the game they did a terrible job of defending their home turf. They had no players in the top 8 and only one in the top 16, which is pretty poor especially in light of how two of their rival countries did. Italy had a strong weekend with one in the top 8 and another three in the top 16 but Germany definitely stole the show. Not only did they place both players in the finals but two more in the top 16 and many more spead out through the money places. Germany has been viewed as a waning power, but with a German winning the opening pro tour and their performance here you have to keep your eyes on Germany moving forward.
Grand Prix Lyon ends up being a stand alone tournament, in that it’s the only Rise of the Eldrazi limited Grand Prix. It’s fairly disappointing that Wizards makes such a revolutionary limited format and all we get with it is one limited GP and the draft portion of a Pro Tour. On the pro tour front we get one week off from for Nationals Qualifiers than it’s standard season with 3 Grand Prixs and Pro Tour San Juan squeezed in the middle.