Tuesday, May 17: 11:14 a.m. - T-Minus 12 Hours
The players and staff for this year's Invitational are sequestered in Santa Monica about 30 minutes away from the Convention Center but only a stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean. Players drifted in from all points on the globe as Mark Rosewater nervously ticked them off on his master list waiting to start the Auction of the People on Monday evening.
Olivier Ruel flew in from Japan along with Masashiro Kuroda and Tsuyoshi Fujita. Ruel looked pretty ragged by the time he arrived. Apparently he missed just about every flight from Philly to Japan and Japan to Los Angeles since he left the Pro Tour. As the players collapsed onto the couches in the lobby waiting to reach the critical mass needed for both dinner and auction, they talked about the decks they would like to win in the Auction.
Carlos Romao earned a spot via the Latin America fan vote.
Carlos Romao laughed as players talked about best and worst decks. "I don't know which ones are good. Does anyone have the lists?"
Antoine Ruel also wanted to see the lists. "So when is the auction happening?"
When he was informed that it was imminent, his eyes went wide. "What?!? Not in three or four days?"
Bob Maher just wanted to get a deck with a large opening hand size and plenty of life. That has been his strategy for past Invitationals and it has served him well. Bob does not really play the game anymore and he looked over the lists for cards that he recognized. 'Blue' caught his eye immediately. "This deck looks nice...oooh Merchant Scroll."
Kai Budde chuckled, "Bob, that deck can only get Flash of Insight with the Scroll."
Bob winked, "And I am going to get it. Plus, that's one blue card in the bin. Hey Kai? Do you have a pen?"
Players scour the Auction of the People decklists prior to bidding.
Bob shoved the printout of decklists in Kai's direction. "I want you to rank these for me."
Jeroen Remie may want to win this event more than anyone else here and was the only player to put in a significant amount of playtesting. Most players did not need to do much testing to recognize 'Light' – pretty much a White Weenie deck – was the best deck. Jeroen announced that 'Mind' was the worst. "That deck is uncapable of winning a game."
Jeroen arrived early in the morning, and when asked what he did to occupy himself during the daylight hours he laughed, looking over at a grumpy World Champion. "We locked him on the balcony for about two hours. That was fun."
"No, it wasn't," glared Julien as everyone laughed. It's never easy being the smallest, youngest person in the room but Julien is not one to back down. He swore revenge on his much larger countryman.
Jeroen shook his head knowing that when Julien got him back, he would never see it coming. "He is just going to wait until I am sleeping."
When asked about the amount of playtesting he did compared to the others in the tournament, Jeroen suspected that any playtesting with the Auction decks was more than most of the players – now frantically poring over decklists provided by Mark Rosewater. "I am the actual only one. I am not going to have an advantage though."
Randy Buehler agreed with that line of reasoning as he watched Kai Budde, Olivier Ruel, Bob Maher, and others discuss the pros and cons of each deck, ideal starting hand size, and match-ups. "You get ten of the best Magic minds in the world cramming and it should be effective."
Tuesday: 1:27 p.m. - Players Prep for Play
Late-arriving flights for Osyp and Eugene juggled the schedule a little last night as 14 of the players were treated to a nice steak dinner at Houston's before the Auction began. Once everyone was in Los Angeles the draft started -- with everyone except Osyp and Eugene contented and well-fed.
Let the auction begin!
The players jockeyed for seats and, even more importantly, pens. Pierre Canali may be joining Olivier Ruel on the Japanese bandwagon. He spent most of dinner flitting back and forth between the French table and Masashiro Kuroda's table. When I tried to reclaim a pen I had loaned him at dinner, he put his hand behind his head and offered to use the Japanese equivalent of Rock, Paper, Scissors for the writing implement. "Junken for pen?"
One of the main concerns many of the players had coming into the meeting was regarding when we would all get a chance to see the new Star Wars movie this week. More importantly, who would be riding herd over that effort. Osyp turned to Paul Sottasanti, his former CMU/TOGIT teammate-turned Wizards R&D member. Paul just leaned back in his chair and smiled.
Osyp yelped as he realized why Paul was smiling. "You saw it already?"
"WotC screening," preened Paul, who caught the film Sunday morning.
Osyp seemed sincerely envious, "Working for Wizards is sooooo cool."
Mark started to take the players through the mechanics of this week's tournaments, from the Auction to the Vanguard cards to the hand-size issues to the standard chess clocks that would be used for all the matches. Sam Gomersall smiled, "Can we actually time people out then?"
Mark ignored him and explained that the players would have to submit their Extended and Standard decklists by the end of day Tuesday. "[Expletive deleted]," said Bob Maher.
Next up was the subject of the cards each player would submit as their proposed designs. Each card will have two chances to see the light of day; first by winning the Invitational and earning their likeness on the card, and the second purely as a card design. The latter will rely on the outcome of one final fan vote to take place this week when all the card designs are revealed.
Antoine Ruel's hand shot up – he had already been told that penguins would not make the cut this year. "Are there going to be gold cards in the block?"
Mark revealed nothing, "Design whatever you want." Just not a penguin.
E3 was in the process of setting up while the Invitational started.
Finally Mark explained that everyone would be playing Tuesday while forklifts and heavy equipment were in use getting everything set for the rest of the hall. No one would be allowed into the convention center with open-toed shoes. Osyp slumped and looked down at his flip-flops. "That is going to be a problem. I figured we were in L.A."
"That is one of the things that should have gone out in an email before the event."
"It did go out in an email," pointed out Jeroen.
Sam Gomersall – the uber-drafter -- raised his hand sheepishly when they started to discuss the computers the players would be using all weekend. "Can they run two copies of Modo should I have time to draft?"
Many of the players personalities were brought into focus during the meeting. Randy advised the players that they would not be sitting down in front of the same terminal each team and consequently should take a moment to check and see that the settings were correct.
Two players in particular stood out for their reactions. Osyp's eyes went wide with glee at the thought of how much mischief could be inflicted by changing the settings. Maher, who is looking to gain any advantage he can to offset his limited play experience in the past year, narrowed his eyes and glared at Randy, "You ruin everything!"
One would think that after missing five flights and gaming non-stop for the past few weeks, Olivier Ruel might want to take a couple of days off to recuperate after the Invitational. You would be wrong.
"Is there a Saviors Prerelease anywhere in L.A. this weekend?" asked the Road Warrior.
Tuesday, 4:15 p.m.: IPA Draft for Beginners
Everyone had a big laugh Monday night when they realized that two of the 16 players had never done an Invasion draft before this weekend. Neither Julien Nuijten nor Pierre Canali had ever cracked a Flametongue, Magma Burst, or Spiritmonger. A group of Japanese and French players set up a practice draft and Julien hunkered down behind Olivier hoping to learn a thing or two.
"You have got to be kidding me," Julien threw his hands in the air and walked away in disgust. The packs were all Japanese.
Tuesday morning it was my turn to peer over Julien's shoulder as he sat down for the first IPA draft of his career. Both he and Pierre were in the same pod and were passing cards to Jeroen Remie -- good news for the man who won the Writer's Ballot.
Julien looked at an opening Invasion pack with Explosive Growth, Quirion Elves, Shoreline Raider, and Obliterate. He thought for a while and announced he was taking the rare. "I had it once in an 8th Edition draft and it was good."
Julien did his best to follow up with red and green cards, taking Quirion Sentinels and Hooded Kavu but both he and Pierre were slowing down the draft pod. One draft was a whole pack ahead of the other due to the two players's inexperience.
Kai laughed at how long it was taking for the newer players. He nodded over at Sam's screen, "Sam is actually in another draft while he is doing this."
While there was nothing terribly exciting slipping past the two beginners, they were missing some good cards to Jeroen's benefit. He clicked on a way-too-late Hypnotic Cloud and rubbed his hands together. "I got one of the secret cards these kids don't know."
Julien pleaded with forces that be in MTGO to deliver him a Flametongue Kavu – he knew enough about the format to want that – but had to settle for Thornscape Battlemage: "I got half a Flametongue." He missed a chance to pick up Horned Kavu from the next pack, instead opting for Thornscape Familiar. He also picked up a Thunderscape Battlemage for his green-red-black deck along with some mana-fixing Kavu.
As their draft moved into Apocalypse, Jeroen demanded a fattie from MTGO. "C'mon. One time for Spiritmonger." He nearly fell out of his chair when the one-time Rock staple appeared in the lower right portion of his pack. "Yaaaaaaaaaass!"
Osyp looked over from his computer and frowned. "C'mon. If I knew that trick worked I would have shouted for something."
Jeroen was also frowning. "You can't chat while drafting? I wanted to tell the world that I opened Spiritmonger."
Julien found himself a Penumbra Wurm to combo with his Obliterate and finished off the pack with a late Ceta Sanctuary and random red and green critters.
In the end, sitting downwind of the two IPA rookies and opening up Spiritmonger allowed Jeroen to run the format to a 3-0 record. Joining him in perfection were Olivier Ruel and Tsuyoshi Fujita. Neither rookie went 0-3 (they both finished with 1-2 record), with that indignity falling on the shoulders of format veterans Osyp Lebedowicz, Gabriel Nassif, and Sam Gomersall.
Results of IPA Draft
Tuesday, 5:36 p.m.: Seen Around the Hall
Not the shuttle to the players' hotel.
Tim Aten, losing with eight lands in hand.
Osyp's forehead, coming to a theater near you.
APAC representing (including honorary Duel Masters celebrity Paul Sottosanti).
The Great One and The Cool One.
Tuesday, 5:57 p.m.: Ruel's Believe it or Not
Antoine Ruel played his brother during the last round of the Day One. He mulliganed to three cards and missed his first two land drops. I would not be reporting this if he did not somehow go on to win the game. Don't believe me? Just go watch the replays.
Osyp has to wait to see 'Revenge of the Sith.'
Poor, poor Osyp.
He can't catch a break Tuesday. After 0-3 the draft portion he followed up with zero wins in the Auction of the People. It looked like he might be able to steal one game from Masashiro Kuroda with Words of Wilding and Epic Struggle, but the Japanese player took out the bear factory with Altar's Light, from which Eternal Witness could not retrieve it.
Osyp bid on the deck to stir things up, "I was sure someone would go 8 cards 24 life!" The joke was on him though. On the positive side, he could revive "The Curse of the Invitational" which saw three straight Invitational last-place finishers win a Pro Tour that following season.
"Hey Osyp," shouted Mark Rosewater. "Don't worry, players have gone 9-6 and made the finals. Once I think."
Results of Auction of the People
Tuesday, 6:34 p.m.: Looking Ahead to Wednesday
With Day One of the 2005 Magic Invitational in the books, there were no players left with perfect records. Tsuyoshi Fujita, Antoine Ruel, and Magic Online whiz kid Terry Soh were on top of the heap with 5-1 marks. Kai Budde led the small pack of 4-2 players, which also included Eugene Harvey and Masashiro Kuroda.
Of the five players with even records, three of them accomplished that by splitting the formats with 3-0 and 0-3 records. Jeroen Remie and Olivier Ruel each swept through the IPA drafts only to crash on the rocky shores of the Auction of the People. Gabriel Nassif turned around an inauspicious start to sweep through the next three rounds.
Alter egos of former Invite winners loom over Eugene and Kai.
The players ended the day by building their Champions-Betrayers Sealed Decks for Wednesday and selecting which Avatar they are going to use with their card pools. Birds of Paradise was the choice of many players, as it allowed them to play with all of their cards. Jeroen Remie grinned as he showed off what would look like a pile under other circumstances.
"I'm playing Birds for my Wicked Akuba, Samurai of the Pale Curtain, Kodama of the South Tree deck," said Remie.
Sam Gomersall looked up from his build screen and shook his head. "I am using Birds as well, but it is really hard to build. I am up to 15 cards..."
Bob Maher was equally perplexed, stuck looking for cards No. 22 and 23 for his five-color deck. Julien was also going to play the Birds avatar and was happily pulling the best cards from each color and adding them to his deck. "I love this format."
Surprisingly, not everyone was opting for the mana fixing goodness of the Birds. Olivier Ruel was not even expecting most people to opt for it. He figured that people were much more likely to go with Flametongue and as a result felt that Akroma was most suited to his tight black-white deck.
The most interesting choice has to be Eugene Harvey, who built his deck with Joyous Respite, Vital Surge, Nourishing Shoal, and Genju of the Fields to gain life to fuel the poisonous touch of Phage. His win condition? Now that would be telling...
Tune in Wednesday to see how it all turns out, plus we'll debut the 16 cards submitted by this year's Invitationalists along with a poll for you to decide which card will come to life!