Predictions for the World Championships

September 16, 2018

After my last article, I thought I’d have more time to play Magic and do more writing but as it turned out that was far from being the case. Between finishing school projects and spending the past two weeks in Japan, I’ve had a very busy month and have basically not played any Magic. So instead of going over decks or strategy today I shall assess the potential roster for this year’s World Championships!

As many of you know, the World Championships is an exclusive event for the very best MTG players of the season. This event, alongside the World Magic Cup, replaced the old version of Worlds in 2012 as Wizards wanted a more focused event showcasing the most powerful and successful players from the past year. Both World Championship events so far have been 16 player events. However, this year Wizards have decided to increase the size from 16 to 24 players, with a proportional prize pool increase from US$100,000 to US$150,000! These five players are already invited to play at the 2014 World Championships:

• 2013 World Champion: Shahar Shenhar
• Pro Tour Theros Winner: Jeremy Dezani
• Pro Tour Born of the Gods Winner: Shaun McLaren
• Magic Online Champion: Lars Dam
• National Champion from 2013 World Magic Cup winning team: Raphael Levy

The following 12 players would also be invited to Worlds based on pro points if it was held tomorrow:

• Player of the Year: Jeremy Dezani (Already Locked – PT Theros Champion, slot passed down to At-large (see below))
• Rookie of the Year: Jared Boettcher
• North America Top Pro #1: Reid Duke
• North America Top Pro #2: Owen Turtenwald
• Latin America Top Pro #1: Willy Edel
• Latin America Top Pro #2 Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
• Europe Top Pro #1: Jeremy Dezani (Already Locked – PT Theros Champion, slot passed down to At-large)
• Europe Top Pro #2: Shahar Shenhar (Already Locked – World Champion, slot passed down to At-large)
• Japan Top Pro #1: Kentaro Yamamoto
• Japan Top Pro #2: Shuhei Nakamura
• APAC Top Pro #1: Shi Tian Lee
• APAC Top Pro #2: Jingwei Zheng

Based on these standings there would be 8 “At-large” slots remaining for the other players with the most pro points. Currently these are:

• Sam Black
• Josh McClain
• Ben Stark
• Alexander Hayne
• Jacob Wilson
• William Jensen
• Tom Martell
• Yuuya Watanabe

That brings us up to 22 to players. The final two invites are for the winners of Pro Tour Journey into Nyx and Pro Tour Magic 2015, which could be anyone!

To recap, if the World Championship was held tomorrow the player list would look like this:

1. ShaharShenhar * Israel
2. Jeremy Dezani France
3. Shaun McLaren Canada
4. Lars Dam Denmark
5. Raphael Levy France
6. Jared Boettcher United States
7. Reid Duke* United States
8. Owen Turtenwald United States
9. Willy Edel* Brazil
10. Paulo Vitor Damo da Ros Brazil
11. Kentaro Yamamoto Japan
12. Shuhei Nakamura* Japan
13. Shi Tian Lee* Hong Kong
14. Jingwei Zheng New Zealand
15. Sam Black United States
16. Josh McClain United States
17. Ben Stark* United States
18. Alexander Hayne Canada
19. Jacob Wilson Canada
20. William Jensen United States
21. Tom Martell* United States
22. Yuuya Watanabe* Japan

*Also competed in the 2013 World Championships

But only five of these 22 players are certain to be playing in the event. How close is the competition for the remaining open slots?

Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year
Currently, Jeremy Dezani is leading the Player of the Year race with 63 points – a pretty significant lead of 13 points over second place, Reid Duke ,with 50 points. Sam Black, Owen Turtenwald and Josh McClain round out the Top 5, each with over 40 points. Due to the 5-GP limit, I don’t expect these players to get many more points at GPs. All of them have already had a list of impressive finishes on their record to the point that some of them have stopped attending GPs altogether. This means the following two Pro Tours will be crucial for those trying to compete for the Player of the Year slot. A strong finish from any of these players at the next PT could pull them ahead of the pack. It’s worth noting that at the next PT, Dezani will automatically be awarded 3 points so even a Top 8 finish by Sam Black or Josh McClain would still not be enough to enable them to take the lead.

Jared Boettcher currently leads the Rookie of the Year race with 27 points, with Rasmus Bjorklund of Sweden and Neal Oliver of the United States right at his heels, both with 25 points. Boettcher has had a VERY impressive run so far, starting with his 2nd place finish at GP Washington late last year which qualified him for Pro Tour Born of the Gods, where he placed 9th. Although Boettcher is only two points ahead of Bjorklund and Oliver, he is the only one qualified for both of the two upcoming Pro Tours. This means Bjorklund and Oliver will both be relying on a good finish at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. Placing within the Top 25 would award them at least 10 points and an invite to Pro Tour Magic 2015, which will help them significantly in trying to catch up to Boettcher.

You can read more about Boettcher in an interview he gave with Brian David-Marshall:

North America
Reid Duke and Owen Turtenwald currently hold these two slots with 50 points and 46 points respectively. Both slots basically function as At-Large invitations as the players with the most points in North America will certainly have enough points to qualify at At-Large. When the top five or so players from North America all get an invite to the World Championships, the battle for 1st and 2nd place isn’t especially relevant. This situation can be attributed to the fact that North American players have access to the most events, as nearly half of all the GPs in the world are held in North America. It is interesting to see that North America isn’t being completely dominated by the United States anymore, as three Canadians also hold a place in the Top 8 (Shaun McLaren, Alexander Hayne and Jacob Wilson).

Latin America
As expected, the Brazilian duo of Willy Edel and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa leads the way in this region. At this stage, Willy Edel with 32 points is so far ahead of his competition that he’s basically locked for a slot. The number two invite is more hotly contested, as Marcelino Freeman’s 18 points is only three fewer than the 21 of Paulo. Both players are qualified for the two upcoming PTs but a strong finish by Freeman at either of them could easily put him ahead of Paulo. Another possible contender is the Chilean former Rookie of the Year Felipe Tapia Becerra, currently just behind Freeman with 16 points. Unfortunately he is only qualified for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, but he would only need four more points to hit Silver and get an invite to Pro Tour Magic 2015, which means a Top 100 finish at PT Journey into Nyx would be enough. These points from Pro Tours are a much bigger factor for players from Latin America than the points from GPs simply due to the scarcity of local GPs in the region.

As with North America, the players who win these two slots are expected to have enough points to qualify with an At-Large invite so discussion of the possible candidates isn’t very meaningful. Jeremy Dezani and Shahar Shenhar currently hold the positions of top European pros but both of these players have already locked a seat for the World Championships through their performances at other events. This means that for the time being, these invites are allocated as non-regional At-Large invites. The other top players from Europe include Patrick Dickmann with 33 points, and Matej Zatlkaj, Stanislav Cifka and Pierre Dagen all with 32 points. For any of these players to get enough points to take the slot from Dezani or Shenhar would also likely mean having enough points to qualify with an At-Large invite anyway.

Japan may currently be the most exciting region, with many good players all very close to getting a seat at the World Championships. Leading the charge is Kentaro Yamamoto with 38 points, while Shuuhei Nakamura, Yuuya Watanabe, Makihito Mihara and Shota Yasooka make up the rest of the Top 5. Nakamura, Watanabe and Miharaare are only just behind Yamamoto as they all sit on more than 30 points. Yasooka is trailing slightly at 27 points but a reasonable finish at one of the next two Pro Tours will put him firmly in the race. Perhaps what makes the Japanese conference the most exciting is that not only are many players close in terms of points but they have all proven to be very successful on the Pro Tour (apart from Yamamoto, all are former World Champions and/or Player of the Years). A strong result from any of these players wouldn’t be surprising so we can expect to see these two invites being fought for right up until the very end of the season.

One player who has surprised many is Kentaro Yamamoto, the current leader of this region, who seems to have come out of nowhere and has had a staggering season so far. At the beginning of the season, he Top8′ed GP Kitakyushu with an innovative GB Rock deck in the last standard season. He then showcased his love for innovation and Rock strategies again at Pro Tour Theros, where he showed off the Mono Black Devotion deck which he carried to a Top 8 finish. When people initially saw his list, many laughed at his questionable card choices, such as Pack Rat and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. However as we now know, he ended up breaking the format. He then followed that up with a 2nd place at the Team GP in Kyoto alongside Makihito Mihara and Jun’ichiro Bandou. Since then, he has quietly been crushing APAC GPs as he made back to back Top 16s, currently holding a crazy 79% win percentage in Constructed GPs. In a country with so many powerful players, it is hard for an unknown player to stand out and make a name for himself but it seems that he has managed to do just that.

Asia Pacific
Like in Latin America, it is very hard to become a professional Magic player in the APAC region, due to the scarcity of PTQs and GPs. Living in New Zealand we get one PTQ per season and two GPs a year (which are both in Australia – flights cost about US $400. The next closest GPs are in Southeast Asia, which is about 12 hours away and costs US $1000). This is understandable due to the smaller local population of Magic players, but it just highlights how hard it is to even qualify for the Pro Tour, let alone stay on the train. For this reason, professional players in this area tend to have been PT regulars for quite a long time, such as Shi Tian Lee and Tzu Ching Kuo.

As most of you know, Shi Tian Lee has had a good season so far, using the innovative Blue Moon deck to get a Top 8 finish at the most recent Pro Tour. At 36 points, he is the leader in this region by a large margin, which almost guarantees that he will be one of the two APAC Top Pros. Tzu Ching Kuo, on the other hand, has had an awful season. After falling two points short of Platinum last season, he hasn’t been able to maintain his amazing run at GPs like we’ve seen in past years. He sits all the way down in 7th place with a meager 17 points! For the first time in quite a while we’ve been seeing other players do well on the pro scene. Currently in 2nd place is Jingwei Zheng of New Zealand with 24 points and Raymond Tan of Malaysia right behind with 21.

I personally know Jingwei Zheng and would like to take a moment to talk about him. I’m going to straight up say that he’s one of the most talented Magic players I’ve ever seen. In New Zealand he has always been well-known as a good player but made a real name for himself at the beginning of last year, winning a Modern PTQ to qualify for PT Dragon’s Maze and following it up by winning the first WMCQ in our country just a couple of weeks later. Although he didn’t do so well at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, he was part of the New Zealand team at the World Magic Cup that went all the way to the Top 8. He played in both the limited and constructed sections and people say he didn’t drop a single match all throughout the tournament until the Top 8. Although losing in the Quarter Finals meant that he left without any more invites, on his return to New Zealand he won the PTQ for PT Born of the Gods, essentially winning three premier events in NZ in a row (he skipped the PTQ for PT Theros). Basically we then started to call him a “machine” because it seemed like he just couldn’t lose. And we were right, because at PT Born of the Gods – only his second PT – he managed to go all the way to the Top 16 which locked him as Silver and qualified him for the next 3 Pro Tours! And if that wasn’t enough, he then flew from Valencia straight to GP Melbourne and got a Top 8 finish there. So in the past year and a half he won all three PTQs he played in, finished in the Top 8 at the one GP he played in, finished in the Top 16 at a Pro Tour and helped carry New Zealand to Top 8 at the World Magic Cup. Seriously, this guy is VERY good and I think he’s truly a world-class player who has finally had a chance to string some Pro Tours together and make a name for himself. With a three point lead over Raymond Tan and being qualified for both of the next two PTs (Raymond is currently only qualified for the next PT), I believe Jingwei has a very good chance of making it to the World Championships.

At-Large Invitations
Overall, the At-Large Invitations are too hard to determine at this stage of the season. However the way that players compete for these slots has changed from the past two years. With the introduction of the 5-GP cap and return of a fourth Pro Tour, there is a lot more emphasis on doing well at Pro Tours. At last year’s World Championship, Brian Kibler, Shuuhei Nakamura and Martin Juza qualified mainly due to the large amount of points they attained from GPs as none of them did very well at PTs (Kibler had the best finish of all of them with a Top 25 at PT Dragon’s Maze). However, with the 5-GP Rule in place it’s a lot harder to accumulate points from GPs like they did. The return of the fourth PT also devalues points from GPs a significant amount as Pro Tours are a lot more generous than GPs in terms of awarding pro points to top finishers. Therefore the players who will qualify at-large this year will be those who have consistently done well at Pro Tours this season. Having said that, many of the players who are on the ‘at-large’ list right now are those who have done well at GPs, such as Sam Black, Ben Stark, and Alexander Hayne. But most of them have already had five strong finishes at GPs which means they have basically hit their ceiling in terms of Grand Prix Points. For them to keep their position, they will have to perform well at the next two Pro Tours. This is especially true for William Jensen. He already has six Grand Prix Top 8s from this season, so for him to get any more points from a GP he’ll have to get at least a Top 4 finish. Even then, a semi-final finish will only give him one additional point! But despite his success at GPs he has only 36 points, which puts him dangerously close to losing his position. Some of the players with a similar amount of points, such as Paul Rietzl and Patrick Dickmann, still have room to grow their total from GPs so he’ll really have to put up a strong finish at the Pro Tours to keep his spot.

As a side note, I decided to see what the World Championships would have looked like last year had it been a 24 man event with the same qualifying requirements. The event would have included the following eight players in addition to the original 16:

1. Tzu ChingKuo Taiwan
2. Felipe Tapia Becerra Chile
3. Paulo VitorDamo da Rosa Brazil
4. Owen Turtenwald United States
5. MakihitoMihara Japan
6. Luis Scott-Vargas United States
7. Conley Woods United States
8. Gerry Thompson United States

I hope you enjoyed this article. The potential roster for this year’s World Championships looks very impressive so far and I’m very excited to see how the second half of the season will change that! Let me know if you’d like to see similar articles from me in the future or send me suggestions for future topics you’d like me to cover. As always if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to comment here or tweet me @mtgzen and I’ll try to get back to you!

Zen Takahashi
@mtgzen on Twitter

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