Saturday, April 8: 11:03 a.m. - Teams to Watch
Teams featuring Masashiro Kuroda don't lose often
ABEC - Osamu and Tsuyoshi Fujita can often be found battling together during teams season, but this time they have the masterful Masashiro Kuroda on their team as well. This team is surely one of the favorites this weekend.
Bad Boy - Katsuhiro Mori and Masahiko Morita are two thirds of one of the greatest Japanese teams of all time - P.S. 2. However, since Kuroda won't be attending Charleston due to work commitments, Mori grabbed Oiso to be their third, again giving them one of the best lineups in the world.
Fantasista - Ichiro Shimura has been quiet recently, but teams is typically where he shines. This time around he's teamed up with Gatas Brilhantes teammate Shuu Komuro and they've added Shuuhei Nakamura as a ringer. This team would clearly be better named as Ichiro's Shuus… there's still time to fix this oversight before Pro Tour-Charleston.
Limit Break - Itaru Ishida is another team master, but all of his success has been in the Limited arena, so it will be interesting to see what his new team of Ryo Ogura and Takuya Oosawa can do this weekend.
Neck Cut Cycle - Makihito Mihara is one of those Japanese players that is lurking on the edge of Pro Tour success (like Asahara was before his Worlds Top 8), but hasn't quite got there yet. An outstanding deck designer, it's possible that his team will feature hot tech for the PTQ season, not unlike CAL during last season's Extended run.
One Spin - Kenji Tsumura and Tomohiro Kaji are two of the best players on the planet, and Tomoharu Saito is no slouch either. Anything less than a Top 4 appearance for these guys would be disappointing.
Stardust Crusaders - Akira Asahara recruited a couple of locals to team up with him this time around. I'll be taking a peak at their decks later on to see if Asahara has any tech worth speaking of.
The Fireball - Remember those stories about Jin Okamoto retiring? Well they are still true, but few can resist the allure of coming out to battle with friends at a local Grand Prix during team season, just ask Bob Maher. Ikeda and Nobushita make this the official team of dinosaurs in the field.
Saturday, April 8: 1:05 p.m. - Artist Profile: Rob Alexander
Rob Alexander has been a busy man in the last couple of years, coming off of a travel hiatus to attend Richmond in February, Hamamatsu this weekend, and Toulouse later in the year. This is a good thing for fans of Magic though, because he just happens to be the artist in the most demand for the entirety of Ravnica block. I guess having done the artwork for seven of the must-have dual lands in the block will do that (and rumor has it that he did the last three as well, surprise surprise!). This weekend marked his second trip to Japan, and the players here are ecstatic, lining up 30 deep just for a few doodles from his Sharpie. I decided to further tax the man by firing a barrage of questions at him about his extensive career as a Magic artist.
Years worked on Magic: Since the beginning.
Number of cards illustrated: Around 160 (106 uniques plus a whole lotta basic lands).
Primary Medium: Recently it's been predominantly oil paint, though a lot of my older work is watercolor.
Alexander's Exalted Angel
Formal Training: Two years in Calgary at the Alberta College of Art and then 1.5 years in Seattle at the School for Visual Concepts. My freelance work picked up so much my senior year that I had time either to do my school work or to do my freelance work and make money. I figured that I might as well get paid to learn.
What are your favorite cards that you've worked on?
RA: It's just too hard to pick one… I really like the new cycle of dual lands, I think those turned out really well. From the older days I thought Spectral Cloak was good and I like Underground Sea quite a bit as well.
I have to admit that I also quite like Exalted Angel (featured as one of the recent judge promos). It took me ten years to get my first angel, but I did a pretty good job when I finally got one.
You've had a sizeable influence in setting the style for recent Magic sets…
RA: Yeah, I've been on the style guide teams for Kamigawa, Ravnica, and Time Spiral. Doing that has been a lot of fun, and it's a very different experience from doing regular card art.
What do you like most about working on Magical cards?
RA: I've been lucky in that I've been able to do a great deal of exploration and experimentation in terms of designing lands. You often don't have as many descriptive constraints in creating Mountains or Swamps as you do with creating characters or monsters, so that's given me a lot of freedom.
The concept work has also delivered a lot of freedom in a totally different way. Instead of spending a great deal of time on a single piece, you get to collaborate with other artists and go through a very rewarding creative brainstorming process that has you producing a variety of material very quickly. I also have to say that the travel is one a helluva perk.
Saturday, April 8: 2:50 p.m. - Round 3 Feature Match - Limit Break vs. The Fireball
Takuya Oosawa v. Jin Okamoto
Ryou Ogura v. Tsuyoshi Ikeda
Itaru Ishida v. Jun Nobushita
All of these guys are are old hands. Last Emperor Jin Okamoto claims he's retired, but got the call and rallied behind the Fireball banner yet again with shop owners Jun Nobushita and Fukuoka's Tsuyoshi Ikeda. But they had a tough matchup against Limit Break, Itaru Ishida's current crew. Backing up Tokyo's hard working deckbuilder were 2004 standout Ryou Ogura and Takuya Oosawa, a name you should be hearing more of this year. All six have worked with each other over numerous occasions, so they came to the table in good spirits.
Nobushita's discard-heavy Hand in Hand Orzhov fared poorly in the first match against Ishida. He tried to put Ravenous Rats and Dark Confidant on the table, but Ishida's Izzet Magnivore build kept threw Stone Rains, Electrolyzes, and Boomerangs to keep the Orzhov army away. An Ebony Owl Netsuke nipped away at his life, pushing Nobushita into the fangs of a hungry Magnivore.
Ikeda wrinkled his brow as he piloted the Zoo against Ryou Ogura's Orzhov Descent deck. He dialed up Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Kird Ape, and Watchwolf, but Ogura used Mortify and Last Gasp for defense. Ogura made a Jitte and suited up a Descendant of Kiyomaro, and a Ghost Council of Orzhova put Ikeda away.
Ogura grabbed the first match win by taking advantage of Ikeda's threat light draw in the second game to pound down with a Jitte-equipped Descendant of Kiyomaro and Ghost Council. Ikeda had Isamaru, Savannah Lions, and Kird Apes, but couldn't get the burn to keep Ogura's army off the table. They settled in to watch Ishida pound down on Nobushita. Nobushita hoped Ishida's Howling Mine would hand him lots of offense, but kept drawing Mortifies and Phyrexian Arenas instead. Fearing Ebony Owl Netsuke, he played out his Arenas and destroyed them himself, just to keep his hand empty. Ishida kept throwing more sorceries in his graveyard and cleaned up with a Magnivore strike to clinch the match.
Jin Okamoto bought his team a little dignity as he outraced Takuya Oosawa's Zoo with Carven Caryatids and Sakura-Tribe Elders, trying to get his Heartbeat of Spring combo running. Okamoto took his time to win 2-0, slowly transmuting four copies Drift of Phantasms. He wasn't thrilled with his small amount of testing and showed a little less confidence than his career wins would suggest.
Limit Break defeats The Fireball 2-1.
Saturday, April 8: 4:00 p.m. - Round 5 Feature Match - Neck Cut Style v. One Spin
Makihito Mihara vs Tomoharu Saitou
Ippei Sogube vs. Tomohiro Kaji
So Nakamura v Kenji Tsumura
Makihito Mihara griped. Mihara owns a well deserved reputation as a top ranked deck builder. He recruited two fellow Kyushu pros, So Nakamura and Ippei Sogube, to make the trip north. Kyushu's cherry blossom season wrapped up last week, but he and his crew got to enjoy the northern blooms. One Spin crashed their party. Tomohiro Kaji, Tomoharu Saitou, and Player of the Year Kenji Tsumura stood between them and a solid shot for Day Two. The winner would have an excellent shot at advancing, while the loser would face an uphill struggle.
Tsumura blasted into Nakamura with his branch of Orzhov highlights backed up by Hand of Honor and Hand of Cruelty. Nakamura's Rats and Dark Confidant couldn't crack through Tsumura's army, and an Umezawa's Jitte drew the concession. Tsumura felt confident in his sideboard plan. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and more Hands in his sideboard gave him 15 creatures with protection. He could build an impenetrable line and win the life race.
Team leader Mihara's Greater Gifts deck raced ahead of Tomoharu Saitou, ramping mana through Kodama's Reach and Sakura-Tribe Elders. Saitou couldn't break through an imposing Loxodon Hierarch, and scooped when Mihara got Greater Good and Yosei, the Morning Star online. Mihara called out to cheer his team. "Come on guys, we can do it!"
Saitou's thin lips smiled. He went for a sideboard plan of Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach, Godo, Bandit Warlord, Greater Solifuge, Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang, and his own Yoseis. Mihara anticipated more Zoo aggro and reached for his Ghostly Prisons. He was in for a rude surprise. Saitou ramped up his mana in the second game. His beefier creatures slammed into his opponent to force a third match. Mihara never had an opportunity to effectively utilize his Ghostly Prisons.
Meanwhile, Kaji faced Sogube in the center seat. Both players were running Owling Mine. Sogube rolled his eyes as Kaji made an Ebony Owl Netsuke, and followed it up with Howling Mines. Sogube kept Kaji at bay for a few turns with Exhaustion, but didn't draw enough counters and Sudden Impacts to have the opportunity to go for the kill. Kaji forced Sogube to tap out, and played Sudden Impact and Twincast for the win.
Tsumura polished off Nakamura in an utter blowout. His plan of sideboarding into protection creatures went off without a hitch. After two turns of Netsuke pecking, Sogube lost to Kaji in a vicious counter war. Kami of the Crescent Moon and three Howling Mines were on the table. With six mana open, Sogube went for an Exhaustion. Kaji used Twincast to debilitate Sogube, then Remanded the original Exhaustion to get a proper untap step. He used Sudden Impact and a freshly drawn Twincast to bring One Spin the match win. Saitou quickly scooped when Mihara pieced together Greater Good and Yosei.
One Spin defeats Neck Cut Style 2-1.
Saturday, April 8: 4:42 p.m. - Deck Tech: Elvish Mayhem
Hakujin Revolution didn't expect to make Day Two. A trio of American expatriates working in Osaka, they weren't expecting to do very well. Going into Round 6, they're undefeated at 5-0-1. Aaron Lewis is playing _____ , Nick Ware is playing Orzhov Descent, and Michael French is playing with such hot cards as Elvish Warrior and Silhana Ledgewalker. French has been living in Japan for close to a decade. Until today, he hadn't played in a Standard tournament for over a year. He wanted a simple, straightforward beatdown deck.
GP Hamamatsu Hakujin Revolution A
French preferred to be modest about the deck. "It's amazing against aggro, but against control ... well, it can use work. It's only a passable Friday Night Magic deck, really." Faint praise. But Tsuyoshi Fujita gave the build a rousing nod of approval. Fujita suggested to French to cut the Blanchwood Armors against bounce decks and add Jester's Caps, to lure out counters.
French's favorite play today was against an opponent on 5 life with four counters on an Umezawa's Jitte. He attacked with a 6/5 Blanchwood Armored Dryad Sophisticate. His opponent removed the counters to stay alive. French played a Might of Oaks on the humble Ledgewalker to deal 13.
French's teammate Aaron Lewis wanted to add that he will be marrying the love of his life, Yuki Noguchi, on Tuesday.
Saturday, April 8: 5:21 p.m. - Round 7 Feature Match - You Can Do It! Vs. Limit Break
Seat A - Takuya Oosawa (Zoo) vs. X (Ghazi Beats)
Seat B - Ryo Ogura (Hand in Hand) vs. Kentaro Nonaka (Izzetron)
Seat C Itaru Ishida (Draw Go) vs. Norihito (Heezy Street)
Ishida's hand left me completely baffled, as it featured Sleight of Hand, Remand, Ebony Owl Netsuke and… Magnivore? What the heck was going on here? For his part, Morihito Gruuled out early, casting Dryad Sophisticate, Plagued Rusalka plus Scab-Clan Mauler (Remanded), and Burning-Tree Shaman over the first four turns, putting a ton of pressure on Ishida. Itaru cast Stone Rains on Norihito's green sources, but that was about all he did that game, scooping his cards up with only four minutes elapsed on the round clock.
Norihito 1 - Ishida 0
Out came the Owl cards for Ishida and in came control elements and fattie 'Vores. He needed something to help deflect all the damage Norihito did to him in game 1.
Ishida started a little better in game 2, using some early bounce to keep the beats off him and bleed away Norihito's tempo, but he was starving for Red mana this time with three Electrolyzes stuck in hand. Turn 5 and a Sleight of Hand finally delivered a Steam Vents, letting Ishida kill an Elves of Deep Shadow and Dryad Sophisticate, but Gruul did as Gruul does - beat the funk down - leaving Ishida a pile of pounded flesh and giving You Can Do It! a 1-0 lead in the match.
Norihito 2 - Ishida 0
The nice part about teams is that even if you get smashed in 13 minutes or so, you still have two other guys at your back, and Ishida's teammates both won their first games, keeping Limit Break in things. In fact, Sasagawa finished his entire match in the A seat nearly as fast as Ishida lost, leaving the match result riding on the Seat B outcome.
Ogura hit Nonaka with a turn 2 Castigate, stealing Electrolyze while revealing 2 Pyroclasms, Blaze, and Keiga, the Tide Star. Phyrexian Arena for Ogura gave him a huge edge, and a second Castigate a turn later stole Keiga, leaving Nonaka with a bunch of cards in hand to answer currently irrelevant questions. With Ogura drawing twice as many cards as he was, Nonaka never looked like he was in the game… until he drew Meloku with the full Tron on the table. Ogura had resolved an Umezawa's Jitte turns ago, but couldn't keep a threat on the board to go with it, meaning the Arena damage plus two turns of beats from Meloku and friends would be lethal. Ghost Council of the Orzhova finally gave Ogura a Jitte-wielder, but nine and nine is more than 13 - 1 + 4, and Seat B was headed to game 3.
Ogura 1 - Nonaka 1
Nonaka mulliganned a no-lander into a one-lander with a Signet and three two-mana spells, only to see his Signet sent to the graveyard on turn 2, courtesy of Distress. He drew a Signet a turn later, but the discard and a bout of mana screw left him hopelessly behind, and Ogura's men ran him over, pushing Limit Break onto the front page as one of the Day 1 undefeated teams.
Ogura 2 - Nonaka 1
Limit Break 2 - You Can Do It! 1
Saturday, April 8: 5:51 p.m. - Day 1 News and Notes
Katsuhiro Mori's episode of the television show Lifestyles of the Weird and Famous has aired here in Japan. I asked the World Champ if it was good, but he shook his head sadly and described it as "stupid."
Day 1 here was an absolute bloodbath for the name players. The Fujita-Kuroda connection of ABEC went 0-3, drop and nearly every team we profiled at the beginning of the day finished at 5-2, missing out on Day 2 action entirely. The only notables left in the Day 2 mix are now Ishida's team, Akira Asahara's crew, and Romanesque, featuring Ryoma Shiozu. This is shocking to say the least.
Speaking of the big names, here are the decks that four of the more notable squads that are now out of contention ran today:
ABEC: Hand in Hand, G/W, and what Fujita described as "Draw Go" (U/R Control)
Bad Boy: Orzhov Aggro, Heartbeat Combo, Angel Control
Fantasista: Heezy Street, Heartbeat, Orzhov Aggro
One Spin: Fungus Fires, Owling Mine, Orzhov Aggro
Tomoharu Saito's Fungus Fires deck may or may not have featured Godos in the maindeck and multiple copies of Parallectric Feedback, which he could tutor out via Sunforger. Why Parallectric Feedback? Well for Heartbeat Combo decks, of course. Maga me? Okay, take 23 in response. Owwwww.
Let me repeat what I said earlier, since it's a bit staggering. This is the list of players who will not be returning on Sunday to do battle in the Grand Prix: Tsumura, Morita, Mori, 2 Fujitas, Kuroda, Kaji, Oiso, Nakamura, Saito, Komuro, Shimura. That's something like 50 levels of Pro Tour Players Club that finished at 5-2 or below here in Hamamatsu, something that never happens at Japanese Grand Prix.