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Caster Called Shots for the Innistrad Championship

December 01, 2021
Rich Hagon

The 2021–22 season is upon us with the first major event—the Innistrad Championship—and that means our broadcast team is gearing up. We chatted about the upcoming Championship weekend with the news desk crew, Maria Bartholdi, Mani Davoudi, and Corey Baumeister, and the "duel" duos from the booth, Marshall Sutcliffe and Paul Cheon, Eilidh Lonie and Cedric Phillips.

The field for this event comes from far and wide, and their paths to the event are also varied. Whether it's the two Leagues, past performances, Magic Online, MTG Arena, or premier events, this field has some awesome talent, and picking contenders is no easy task.

Which is, of course, precisely what we made our casters do.

The Leagues

With 72 players to choose from across the Magic Pro League and Rivals League, it says something loud that three of our seven casters all went for Jean-Emmanuel Depraz.

Jean-Emmanuel Depraz

Paul, Cedric, and Eilidh all focused on the French superstar, but as Paul said:

"For somebody that has proven himself to be one of the best players in the world, it still feels as if Jean-Emmanuel Depraz is a bit underrated. Depraz has put together an incredible resume over the past few years, and I believe that Depraz is playing on another level relative to most of the field."

Japan is represented, with Mani looking to Yoshihiko Ikawa to build on his World Championship performance, while Maria went straight to the top of the pile:

"Yuta Takahashi—I know, I know, I'm cheating here picking the reigning World Champion. But like, what are you gonna do? Come at me, Rich."

Yoshihiko Ikawa

Yuta Takahashi

You all saw that she actually said the words "come at me, Rich," right? Alright then, real talk. Maria has spent the last year routinely picking Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa for absolutely everything, because

  1. "How can you go wrong with the reigning World Champion?"
  2. he is, in fact, quite a capable player, and
  3. it increases her word count every time she says Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa.

Now, Damo da Rosa is no more. Mere seconds after losing his world title, he now has to watch as Maria spends the next year answering "Yuta Takahashi" to everything. Most important composer of organum plurum? Yuta Takahashi. Favorite chocolate bar? Yuta Takahashi. Your pin number? Yuta Takahashi.

Maria, you were saying?

"Yuta's dominance at the World Championship was absolutely incredible, going undefeated in Standard across the entire tournament,' she said. "We'll just leave Draft out of it, because hey, this tournament does, too—which would appear to be in Takahashi's favor."

Past Performance

Karl Sarap, Matt Nass, Bernardo Torres, Greg Orange, and Toni Ramis Pascual give an wider flavor to the caster recommendations from this group.

Karl Sarap

Matt NAss

Greg Orange

Appropriately, though, Maria came through with what we can only describe as a news desk update:

"Tomáš Pokorný is a Czech player who made his pro play debut by casually making it into the Top 4 of the Zendikar Rising Championship and finishing just outside of the Top 8 in this year's Challenger Gauntlet. I wanted to mention him because he's just had a bit of awesome news—he's going to be in the Rivals League next year! A spot opened up when Chris Kvartek joined R&D at Wizards of the Coast—giving Pokorny a pretty nice surprise. I'm betting he can ride that energy to a nice finish here."

Tomáš Pokorný

Chris Kvartek

Magic Online

No doubt, the headline act among the Magic Online qualifying players is Guillaume Wafo-Tapa.

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, winner Pro Tour Yokohama 2007

Paul, Cedric, and Corey all focused on the French Hall of Famer.

"Hey everyone. Magic dinosaur Cedric here again. Here's a quick shortcut for you—if control is viable in either format, Wafo-Tapa should be a heavy favorite to win the event. If control isn't viable? He'll at least cash. Yes, he's that good with an Island."

"I can't wait to see what he's going to brew up for the event, and you better believe that I'll be importing that list onto MTG Arena the moment decklists are revealed," Paul said.

And Corey summed things up very neatly:

"Blue cards are good in standard. Check."

"Blue cards are good in Historic. Check."

"I like Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's chances whenever both of those statements are true!"

MTG Arena

This is the largest group of competitors, but that isn't reflected in our caster spotlights. First, though, here's Marshall and Mani with their picks:

Marshall: "Thirawat Chaovarindr was the captain of the Thai national team that improbably finished runners-up to team Italy in 2015, and I'd love to see him get more time in the spotlight."

Mani: "Seeing a legendary name like Willy Edel at a Championship is certainly a treat, but I'm particularly excited to see what the midrange master can do in a format like Historic that has been particularly kind to midrange decks in the past."

Willy Edel, Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame Member

Fine choices. Everyone else arrived at the same name—Kenji Tsumura.

Kenji Tsumura, 2005 Player of the Year

Here's Cedric with the details:

"Is it weird to me, a Magic dinosaur, that people reading this sentence may not know who Kenji Tsumura is? Yes, it is. Six Pro Tour Top 8s, fourteen Grand Prix Top 8s (with two wins), and inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame in 2012 doesn't even begin to detail his greatness. As the kids say, if you know, you know (IYKYK)."

Corey, meanwhile, has this to share:

"Kenji Tsumura is a player I have been watching for so long that I actually remember having to ask my mom to politely get off the phone so I could use the dial-up internet connection to watch Kenji play in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour."

Premier Events

This small group of qualifiers, all coming from independent tournament series around the world, still have some big hitters amongst them. There was a lot of love from our casters for Arya Karamchandani.

Arya Karamchandani

First, Maria:

"I want to shout out Arya here who is a two-time VML (Venus and Mercury League) champion. If you don't know what the VML is, it's a fantastic league for people of marginalized genders—and winning it twice is no small feat. She's also the organizer of a brand-new pro testing team made up of players of marginalized genders which is really cool."

Eilidh and Mani added to the Arya fan club, while Paul said:

"I was very impressed with Arya's abilities after following her streams and watching her casting. If Arya can continue stringing together qualifications, it feels like it's only a matter of time before we see Arya competing in the Top 8."

Corey and Marshall both spotted Simon Nielsen of Denmark in this group.

Simon Neilsen, second from right, was a member of the 'Daneblast' victory for team Denmark at World Magic Cup 2014 alongside (left-to-right) Thomas Enevoldsen, Martin Müller, and Lars W. Birch.

Marshall's advice:

"Don't sleep on Simon, he's had big performances in the past at both individual and team events, and he's got the work ethic to put him in a good position to have a strong finish."

And, if you're looking for a name that might not be known globally yet, Cedric's got you:

"Will Pulliam. No one dominated the SCG Tour Online quite like Pulliam did. It took him a little bit longer to finally get his win on that circuit than I'm sure he would have liked, but now that he's here, anything is on the table. Don't be surprised to see a strong finish here."

One For The Top 8

Plenty to ponder, then, but can our casters narrow things down to just one pick for a possible Top 8 spot? Of course they can:

Paul: Jean-Emmanuel Depraz

Cedric: Jean-Emmanuel Depraz

Corey: Seth Manfield

Eilidh: Jean-Emmanuel Depraz


Marshall: Gabriel Nassif

Mani: Jean-Emmanuel Depraz

It seems like a certain Frenchman is going to be carrying a lot of caster hopes this weekend . . .

Standard Fare

As usual, our Championship weekend features two formats—Standard and Historic. What are our casters looking forward to in Standard?

Paul: "Tribal decks. Innistrad: Crimson Vow looks like it may have the missing pieces to make tribal archetypes such as Vampires, Zombies, and Clerics into viable competitive strategies."

Cedric: "There's a saying about broken clocks being right twice a day. Well, I'm going to put that theory to the test, because if Mono-White Aggro isn't good for this event, I don't know when it will be. The addition of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is huge, the deck is littered with incredible three-drops, and it gets to play the best land in the format in Faceless Haven."

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 503874

Eilidh: "I'm looking forward to mono-green and mono-white doing what they do best: turning sideways. I'm also keen to see if anyone brings something completely unexpected that hasn't been seen yet."

Maria: "All I want for Christmas is a great Vampires deck in Standard. Someone here simply must have put together a format-busting list. I just know it. In my cold, undead bones."

Historic Picks

But what about Historic, the format that will determine the winner on Sunday?

Mani: "I'm hoping to finally see Merfolk make an appearance at the top level in Historic!"

Maria: "It turns out that I'm a terrible person and actually like a good prison deck—when it has to do with enchantments! I really love Enchantress in this format because you get to draw approximately one billion cards, lock your opponents out of being able to win, and have yourself a really nice evening."

Eilidh: "The usual big, dumb, busted stuff that Historic is known for. You never know what you're going to get in the format, but you know it won't be 'fair.'"

Paul: "I want to see somebody beat an Enchantress player by killing them with their own Nine Lives by managing to successfully put nine counters onto it."

Enchantress's Presence 485351

When asked about what deck he might be rooting for in the Top 8, Paul replied:

"Despite my previous answer of hoping to see an Enchantress player lose to their own Nine Lives, I would also be rooting for the deck to succeed in the Top 8. The deck is really great at the thing I love doing most in Magic: drawing an obscene number of cards."

Wedding Gifts

To wrap things up, we wanted to talk about Innistrad: Crimson Vow, and specifically about a key event—that wedding. Using card names only, we invited (See what happened there?) our casters to select the optimal wedding gift. These were the top three:

Paul: "A 1961 Vintage 'Wine of Blood and Iron.' A perfect way to celebrate any special vampire occasion."

Marshall: "A nice Blood Clock for the mantel."

What civilized humans Paul and Marshall are—wine; a clock; lovely. Not so Maria:

"Human Frailty—yes, I am straight-up giving them a human to eat. Do you know the rules text of this card? 'Destroy target human creature.' I rest my case."

And finally, who would be the worst guest at a vampire wedding? Mani makes a good case for Slayer of the Wicked, with Eilidh offering Vampire Slayer, which is also pretty compelling. Paul took things a little further:

"It has to be Sigarda. She replaced Avacyn and is the current protector of humans on Innistrad. The last time she showed up to a vampire wedding, she killed and injured many of the wedding guests. If she hadn't been imprisoned I'm sure she would have helped prevent a certain couple from turning into wedding-cake toppers."

But Cedric left nothing to chance:

"Heliod, God of the Sun".

Yep, that'll do it.

So, with the delightful combo of pop and sizzle marinating in our brains, it's time to remind you to join Maria and the team for every fang-tastic moment from the Innistrad Championship, live December 3–5 beginning at 9 a.m. PST each day at See you all there!

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