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Around the Worlds in Fifteens Years

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The letter W!elcome to Worlds Week! That's Worlds as in the Magic: The Gathering World Championships. We are celebrating the World Championships because later this week the sixteenth one will be held in Rome, Italy. This Worlds is a bittersweet one for me as it breaks my streak. Up until this week, I was the only person on Earth to have attended every single Magic: The Gathering World Championships. Unfortunately, due to a family vacation planned from before Rome was booked as a site, I am unable to attend. (As Richard Garfield is planning to attend Rome, I believe he catches up with me for the most Worlds attended at fifteen—yes, Richard missed Worlds one year.)

I decided for today's column that I would look back to the first fifteen Worlds and share memories from each of them. Note that some of my Worlds memories have nothing to do with the competition itself but with other things that happened at the event.

1994 World Championships
Location: Milwaukee, United States
Champion: Zak Dolan
Champion's Home Country: United States
Team Champion: None
Countries to Have a World Champion: 1 (United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 1 (North America)

Mark Rosewater keeps careful track of everything Zak Dolan does.

Back in November of 2005 I wrote an article (A Different Worlds) all about the very first World Championship, one I actually played in and covered as a journalist. As that column covered it pretty well, I don't see a need to repeat myself. Feel free to hit the link to read all about it.

1995 World Championships
Location: Seattle, United States
Champion: Alexander Blumke
Champion's Home Country: Switzerland
Team Champion: United States
Countries to Have a World Champion: 2 (Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 2 (Europe, North America)

Wizards decided that the Magic World Championship was important enough to have it held as its own event. The 1995 Worlds was held at a hotel near the airport (the Red Lion Inn for the trivia buffs out there.) I wasn't yet working for Wizards, but I managed to convince them to fly me up to Seattle for the event. I covered the event for The Duelist magazine, worked as a judge on the early days and helped organized the video coverage on the final day. If you ever watch the video from this Worlds, you can see me behind the players. I'm the spotter reporting back key information to the commentators and the director.

What I feel was my biggest contribution to this event though was a lot more behind the scenes. While there were a handful of Nationals run in 1994 (The United States, France and Belgium are the ones I know for sure), a significant number more (in the 20s if my memory serves me) were held in 1995. As such, there were a significant number of national teams playing in the event. (In fact, at the time, being on the National team was just about the only way to get into Worlds; the only exception I can think of was that Zak Dolan was invited as the defending World Champion.) I assumed this meant there would be a team competition and was surprised to learn that no such thing was planned when I showed up at the event.

"We could have a winner if we just kept track," I said. The head judge at the time had no interest. "Would you care if I kept track?" I asked. He said he didn't care. So I did. If you look in the record books, you will see 1995 as the first year of the team competition. Note there were no trophies for the winning National team and nothing more than a passing mention was made at the awards ceremony, but a winner was declared. Why? Because I kept track of it.

Justice (right) had luck and a hot streak through regionals and nationals, but it ran out in the world semifinal match against eventual champion Blumke (left).

The winning team, for those of you who might not know, was the United States. It was an impressive team comprised of Mark Justice, Henry Stern, Mike Long, and Peter Leiher. The U.S. team's average was the cut-off to make Top 8. Both Justice and Stern would play in that Top 8 (both losing in the Semifinals) with Long a match away from joining them.

This Worlds was a rough one, but it showed the potential of what the event could be and paved the way for the exciting things to come.

1996 World Championships
Location: Renton, United States
Champion: Tom Chanpheng
Champion's Home Country: Australia
Team Champion: United States
Countries to Have a World Champion: 3 (Australia, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 3 (Australia, Europe, North America)

This Worlds is most famous for being held at Wizards Corporate Headquarters (our last building, across the street from where we are now) in Renton. The Finals are famous for Mark Justice making a crazy double Demonic Consultation play that blew up in his face and, many commentators believe, put him enough on tilt that he lost the match. Also at this event, the American team (including current R&D developer Matt Place) won the team event for the second year in a row but almost lost to an impressive Czech Republic team lead by a player named Jakub Slemr that would go on to win Worlds a years later.


My fondest memory of this Worlds was that Henry Stern had delayed his start in R&D to be able to play in it as his last hurrah. Henry ended up coming in third (again—he had achieved the same feat the year before) and ended his short Pro Tour run on a high. Henry would be the first pro player to join R&D as a developer, but it would become a trend.

1997 World Championships
Location: Seattle, United States
Champion: Jakub Slemr
Champion's Home Country: Czech Republic
Team Champion: Canada
Countries to Have a World Champion: 4 (Australia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 3 (Australia, Europe, North America)


In 2007, Wizards of the Coast had decided to get into the retail business. Our flagship retail store was in the University District of Seattle and was the home for this Worlds. My biggest memory of this event was that it was the first Worlds where we recorded it to be shown on ESPN (well, okay, ESPN2). At the time I was the liaison between the Pro Tour and the ESPN show, so I was responsible for doing a lot of prep work to set up the shooting.

One of things I was responsible for was setting up pre-tournament interviews with players we thought would do well. Although Jakub didn't have a great Pro Tour resume yet, I put him on the interview list because I just had a feeling about him. It worked out great because we had all this footage about Jakub talking about how he was going to do before he actually did it.

Another funny story was the amount of energy we took to track down t-shirts with an American flag on them for the United States team to look good on camera—and then the team didn't even make the Team Finals. Canada would become the second county to ever win the team title. (Quick trivia fact: That team would include future R&D member Mike Donais.)

1998 World Championships
Location: Seattle, United States
Champion: Brian Selden
Champion's Home Country: United States
Team Champion: United States
Countries to Have a World Champion: 4 (Australia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 3 (Australia, Europe, North America)

The trend of holding Worlds in Wizards' backyard continued, this time at the University of Washington (a stone's throw away from the Wizards Tournament Center). The theme of the 1997-1998 Pro Tour season was the United States' domination with Americans winning every Pro Tour of the season including this Worlds. In fact, Raphael Levy from France was the only member of the Top 8 that wasn't American. Fitting the theme, the Americans took back the team title.

Quarterfinals   Semifinals   Finals   Champion
1 Finkel   Finkel        
8 Comer   Rubin
       
4 Johns   Rubin   Selden
5 Rubin    
       
2 Levy   Levy
7 Hacker   Selden
       
3 Selden   Selden
6 Pikula    

My biggest personal memory was that this was the Worlds during which my sister got married. I was at the wedding. My sister and I are close, and I wasn't about to miss her wedding in Cleveland, Ohio. But didn't I say I was just now breaking my streak? Well, here's how it played out. I spent Day One and Two (Wednesday and Thursday) at Worlds, traveled home for Friday and Saturday to attend the wedding and all the festivities around it, and then flew back on the earliest flight Sunday morning to be back in time to oversee the Top 8 broadcast (which, interestingly enough, was the first time Randy Buehler did commentary, albeit color commentary, for the Quarterfinals because normal commentator Chris Pikula was playing. After losing in the quarters, Pikula hopped back in the booth—he only time ever I can remember that a person did commentary on a Top 8 that he had played in).

1999 World Championships
Location: Yokohama, Japan
Champion: Kai Budde
Champion's Home Country: Germany
Team Champion: United States
Countries to Have a World Champion: 5 (Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 3 (Australia, Europe, North America)

Year six is where Worlds became an international event as it was held in Yokohama, Japan (a companion city of Tokyo). The big story of this event was the first win of a little-known player named Kai Budde. At the time, he was building a reputation on the Grand Prix circuit—placing second, first, first, first in four consecutive Grand Prix. There was concern at the time because we were putting a lot of focus on Worlds with our ESPN coverage and everyone at Wizards really wanted the winner to be one of our best players. I spent much time assuring everyone that Kai was not going to disappoint. Little did I know by how true that would later be.

Mark Le Pine and Kai Budde (left). Kai Budde receiving a big check from 1998 World Champion Brian Selden (right).

The other, related major story of the event was the dominance of the German National Team, who came within a hair's breadth of winning the team championship only to be held off by a strong American team including Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz (who would later go on to have an internship in R&D).

My favorite memory of the event came months later when we were trying to edit together the Finals into a show. The Finals had been so fast that even including every second of game footage from all three games in the finals match, complete with several minutes of the players just goofing off during one of the games, we were still short by about ten minutes for the half-hour show.

2000 World Championships
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Champion: Jon Finkel
Champion's Home Country: United States
Team Champion: United States
Countries to Have a World Champion: 5 (Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 3 (Australia, Europe, North America)

When you ask any player in the know who is the best pro player of all time, you're going to get one of two answers: Kai Budde (who had just one the year before) or Jon Finkel. The previous year was Kai's Worlds. This one was Jon's. Finkel had decided to reinvest his focus on the game and managed the impressive feat of winning U.S. Nationals and the World individual and team titles all in one crazy summer. Finkel's Final against fellow future Hall of Famer Bob Maher is one of the most exciting Pro Tour Finals ever.

Jon Finkel, World Champion.

Trivia question: What Magic title has been held by more members of R&D than any other? The answer, if you've been paying attention, is World Team Champion. Henry Stern accomplished the task in 1995. Matt Place did it in 1996, Mike Donais in 1997, and Zvi Mowshowitz in 1999. In 2000, the task was achieved by current R&D Director of Magic, Aaron Forsythe as he, along with Jon Finkel, took the Americans to their fifth team win.

2001 World Championships
Location: Toronto, Canada
Champion: Tom Van de Logt
Champion's Home Country: Netherlands
Team Champion: United States
Countries to Have a World Champion: 6 (Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 3 (Australia, Europe, North America)

Tom Van de Logt, Alex Borteh, Antoine Ruel, and Andrea Santin.

Worlds returns to North America, but this time to the country of Canada. I'll be honest, I don't have any great memories from this Worlds. I do remember watching Jon Finkel miss making Top 8 because he lost on his 50/50 Cursed Scroll pull three times in a row. I remember the Americans pulling out their sixth team win, this time against the Norway team led by future Hall of Famer Nicolai Herzog. Dutch player Tom Van de Logt pulled off a win in a very impressive Top 8 including three (well, three that we know of) future Hall of Famers (Antoine Ruel, Tommi Hovi, and future R&D membe, Mike Turian; somehow Mike didn't manage to be on the winning U.S. team).

2002 World Championships
Location: Sydney, Australia
Champion: Carlos Romao
Champion's Home Country: Brazil
Team Champion: Germany
Countries to Have a World Champion: 7 (Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 4 (Australia, Europe, North America, South America)

2002 world champ Carlos Romao.

This Worlds had all sorts of memorable stories. For starters, for the first time ever, a South American won a Pro Tour, and not just any Pro Tour but a World Championship (it's interesting to note that both Australia and South America had a World Champion before Asia). The team event turned into a nail biter as the Americans, whom everyone had written off, won four straight team matches to force a playoff match against Denmark. The Americans made it to the Finals, but fell to the German team including Kai Budde. It took eight attempts before a non-North American country could take home the team title. And the foremost didgeridoo player in the world played at the opening ceremonies.

2003 World Championships
Location: Berlin, Germany
Champion: Daniel Zink
Champion's Home Country: Germany
Team Champion: United States
Countries to Have a World Champion: 7 (Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 4 (Australia, Europe, North America, South America)

Germany becomes the second country both to have multiple World Champions and to have a win by a national while Worlds was being held in their country. The United States bounced back from the previous year's defeat to win its seventh team title.

Daniel Zink vs. Jin Okamoto

The biggest impact on Magic, as far as I'm concerned, occurred not in the tournament hall but at the breakfast table. While eating with Richard Garfield, Matt Place got into a discussion about what he wanted to do with his life. Richard suggested Matt think about getting a job in R&D (there was an open internship spot at the time). Matt came to me and several other R&D members for an endorsement and left Berlin intent on becoming an R&D member. Obviously it worked out, and Matt has become one of the core developers of the game. His influence on Magic in quite potent, and it all boils down to Matt deciding to take advantage of a Worlds invite that he had earned through a high rating.

2004 World Championships
Location: San Francisco, United States
Champion: Julien Nuijten
Champion's Home Country: Netherlands
Team Champion: Germany
Countries to Have a World Champion: 7 (Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 4 (Australia, Europe, North America, South America)

A visual representation of how much money people have win on the Pro Tour -- and that's using thousand dollar bills!

The Netherlands joins Germany and the United States with multiple World Champions. Julien Nuitjen also holds the record, at 15, of being the youngest World Champion to date. (Note that if a 15-year-old wins in Rome, he would be younger than Magic.) Germany defeated Belgium to win its second team title.

Probably the most memorable thing from this Worlds to me was a promotional gimmick we did where we wanted to show how much money we had given away in the Pro Tour. Using Wizards "bucks" to stand in for American dollars, we filled a giant see-through column with money. It was many feet wide and deep and stood over twenty-five feet high.

2005 World Championships
Location: Yokohama, Japan
Champion: Katsuhiro Mori
Champion's Home Country: Japan
Team Champion: Japan
Countries to Have a World Champion: 8 (Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 5 (Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America)

The theme of this Worlds was simple: Japan, Japan, Japan. The event was held in Japan. It was won by a Japanese player (Katsuhiro Mori). The team event was won by the Japan National Team. The Japanese domination, which was occurring all Pro Tour season long, was pretty much felt as strongly at the event as it could be felt.

The best in the world shared the stage, but the week belonged to Japan.


But the Japanese didn't win everything. Yes, there was one event there that day that was won by Americans. Aaron Forsythe, Richard Garfield, and I participated in an event where the three of us played against the champion team from a large Japanese high school league. The event was Unified Team Standard, meaning that all three of our decks, when piled together, would be a Standard-legal deck (meaning only four of any one card between all of our decks). Aaron built all three decks. He gave me mine, and I spent a majority of my gunslinging time playing it.

Aaron quickly won his match while Richard quickly lost his. I was still in Game 1 when I was informed that it was all "up to me." I lost the first game. I had a great draw the second game and won it, although I dragged the game ten or more turns than necessary playing not to lose rather than playing to win. It all came down to the final game. I took a mulligan, trading in a slow seven-card hand for a much faster six-card hand. Aaron told me later that it was an important but subtle mulligan to take.

The third game came down to a single play by my opponent. He was able to go get a creature card out of his deck and chose to get a Maro even though he didn't yet have the second Forest to play it. My best guess was that he was going for style points trying to beat me with my namesake. I was able to take advantage of this hiccup to take control of the game and win. As I explained later, I believe that it was a game that literally only I could have won, because if my opponent had simply gotten a creature he could have played right away, my deck would have lost. It was his desire to beat me with Maro that gave me the opening I needed to win. I don't play competitively much so it was nice to for once to "win one for the team." (For more on this match-up including Aaron's take on it and our deck lists, click here.)

2006 World Championships
Location: Paris, France
Champion: Makihito Mihara
Champion's Home Country: Japan
Team Champion: Netherlands
Countries to Have a World Champion: 8 (Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 5 (Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America)

Makihito Mihara

Budde had his Worlds, Finkel has his Worlds. The Worlds in Paris seemed destined to become Gabriel Nassif's Worlds. While Nassif is not in the Hall of Fame yet, that's because his name has not yet appeared on a ballot. When he becomes eligible next year he is as close to a shoo-in that you get not named Budde or Finkel. Everything seemed aligned for Nassif to have his day. The event was even held in France, his home country. Everything unfortunately came tumbling down in the Semifinals when Nassif let his guard down for one calculated second only to have his opponent, Makihito Mihara, have every possible thing go his way. In the end, Japan got back-to-back Worlds wins and Nassif walked away, no doubt wondering what could have been.

2007 World Championships
Location: New York City, United States
Champion: Uri Peleg
Champion's Home Country: Israel
Team Champion: Switzerland
Countries to Have a World Champion: 9 (Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 5 (Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America)


Sometimes the big story is the Finals, and sometimes it's another match that walks away as the "it" match of the tournament. Uri Peleg from Israel walked way the champion but it was the Semifinal match between Gabriel Nassif and Patrick Chapin that was the match of the event. The key moment was an Ignite Memories with four copies aimed at Nassif, who was at 9 life. That meant that five times, Nassif would reveal a random card from his hand and take damage equal to that card's converted mana cost. Thanks to storm, Chapin would get five chances to do a combined 9 damage.

First card: Grapeshot. Drop to 7
Second Card: Grapeshot. Drop to 5.
Third card: Grapeshot. Drop to 3.

Nassif now has only 3 life left and Chapin gets to pick two more times.

Fourth card: Rite of Flame. Drop to 2.
Fifth card: Rite of Flame. Drop to 1! Nassif survives!

Nassif went on to win the game, but Chapin took the match.

I didn't get to witness this match, though, because I was busy having my personal favorite memory of the event. I don't want to take the space here to spell it all out as I did so very elegantly in a previous column (Seeing the Forest for the Treefolk). The story involves attacking with a 27,648/27,642 creature and gaining 55,296 life.

2008 World Championships
Location: Memphis, United States
Champion: Antti Malin
Champion's Home Country: Finland
Team Champion: United States
Countries to Have a World Champion: 10 (Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland, United States)
Continents to Have a World Champion: 5 (Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America)

Which brings us to last year's Worlds, held in Elvis's hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. After a four-year drought, the United States managed to bring the team victory back to the States. Old timer Jamie Parke came back to almost take the event only to have it snatched away by Finland's Antti Malin.

United States team champions Michael Jacob, Paul Cheon, and Sam Black (left). World champ Antti Malin.

The highlight of my trip to Worlds was my chance to spend some time with Richard. Although we both live in Seattle, I don't get as much chance to hang with him as I once did. Richard had brought his daughter Terry to the event and the three of us played numerous games of Werewolf, in all of which but one I was a werewolf. (Werewolf is a great game, if you've never played it—well, great if you like figuring out who you can trust and who will kill you come sundown.)

For gunslinging at that event, Richard made a deck out of cards that he had designed. He had me look at it beforehand, and I helped him tweak a number of the cards. This got us talking a bit about Magic design, and trust me, for someone who lives and breathes Magic design there is little thrill greater than talking to Richard about it. When I returned from the event, Richard dropped me a note saying that he'd love to work with me again on a Magic design and the next time I led a set to give him a call. Well, several months ago I started the design for "Shake," and I'm quite happy to announce that Richard is on the team. Richard and I have worked together on four previous design teams (Tempest, Odyssey, Judgment, and Ravnica), so I know the value of having Richard on a design team. It's a real treat.

Journey to the Center of the Worlds

What does this sixteenth Magic World Championships have in store? Unfortunately I won't be able to personally tell you, but you can check out our coverage this week and see for yourselves.

Join me next week for part two of my interview with myself.

Until then, may you become part of your own tradition.

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