Sunday, July 24: 9:10 am - Round 9: Shuu Komuro vs. Yasuda Masahiro
Shuu Komuro vs. Yasuda Masahiro
When I sat down for the match, Shuu told me that I messed his name up in yesterday's coverage, exchanging the "o" at the end of Komuro for an "a". He's only Japan's last Pro Tour winner… you'd think I could get his name right. Sorry Shuu.
Anyway, we're covering this mid-standings match this round because it features a particularly interesting deck matchup. Komuro worked with Rich Hoaen over the past week on Hoaen's Heartbeat of Spring control deck, one that Hoaen swore to me last week probably breaks the format, but nobody knows about it yet. Komuro ran it to a 6-1-1 record yesterday while falling victim to a few too many mulligans in his losses. On the other side of the table is Niigata resident Yasuda Masahiro, who is playing the White Weenie legends deck running Honor-Worn Shaku, Day of Destiny and Konda's Banner while splashing blue for Meloku.
This match also has some extra significance historical significance tying Magic in with the real world. Last October, Niigata underwent a terrible earthquake that devastated the city and injuring thousands of residents. Because of the devastation, the TO here had to postpone a PTQ until December 4 and he moved it from Nagoya to Niigata as a charitable gesture. It was at that very PTQ that Shuu Komuro qualified for the Pro Tour that he later won in Nagoya. Impressive, no?
Masahiro started with a turn 2 Sensei Golden-Tail after Komuro's double-mulligan, while Shuu used Time of Need to fetch Kagemaro, First to Suffer from his deck. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails joined the weenie squad as Komuro tried to remover from his mana problems by casting Kodama's Reach, snatching two Swamps from the library. Tragically for Shuu, Masahiro had Hokori, Dust Drinker, locking up Komuro's mana for another turn. Shuu thought for a moment on his turn and then cast Sensei's Divining Top in attempt to search for a Sickening Shoal. He passed the turn to Masahiro, let Hokori's effect resolve, and then used his Top to draw his top card from the deck and then playing Sickening Shoal via its alternate cost to get rid of Mr. Winter Orb. Masahiro had no action on his next turn except to swing, dropping Komuro to ten.
On Komuro's turn, he cast Kagemaro and passed, only to get smashed to two by a Konda's Banner equipped pair of legendary foxes on the counterattack. Kagemaro wiped the board clean on Shuu's next turn after he attacked (because Shuu is a good player), and then Komuro cast Kodama's Reach and Sensei's Divining Top, looking to recover. Masahiro proved he was a good player too, drawing Hokori off the top and equipping him with the Banner. Komuro paused on his turn to ponder all his outs before casting Time of Need for Myojin of Night's Reach, digging once with the Top in search of Sickening Shoal, and packing it in for game 2.
Masahiro 1 - Komuro 0
Masahiro started game 2 in style, throwing down Konda's puppy and 8.5 Tails on turns one and two. Komuro's first spell was a Sensei's Divining Top on turn 3 and then a pass of the turn as he was slightly mana screwed (he had two Tendo Ice Bridge on the board and Kagemaro plus two Kiku's Shadow in hand) and lacked any mana fixers. Digging with the Top yielded a Sakura-Tribe Elder at the cost of the reusable Brainstorm. Sickening Shoal got rid of 8.5 Tails while Masahiro was tapped out, but two turns later Komuro still hadn't stabilized the board and was suddenly facing down Hokori. Kiku's Shadow dispatched that problem, but Komuro's life total continued to plummet each turn as the puppy and now Masako the Humorless nibbled away at what was left. Shuu Shoaled Isamaru in response to Day of Destiny, but Masahiro had Hisoka's Defiance for it and the next attack killed Komuro, giving him his second loss on the weekend.
Masahiro 2 - Komuro 0
Sunday, July 24: 10:12 am - Round 10: Koichiro Maki vs. Isamu Fujieda
Every once in a while guys who write or even guys who do coverage have to get their game on. Surprisingly, these "writers" have seemed to have a pretty good time of it lately, what with Craig Jones kicking some tail at Pro Tour: Philadelphia and the performance of these two here. Isamu Fujieda can usually be seen doing coverage for the Japanese sideboard at these Grand Prix, but he decided to run it this weekend and is currently sitting at 7-2 running a very saucy mono-black deck. Across the table from him is the man I have dubbed "The Face", Koichiro Maki. The nickname came back in November because when you watch him play, his skin seems practically rubber while mulling over his various play options. It also helps that these two players are two of the more likeable Japanese guys around, Magic player or otherwise. Anyway, Maki (who is generally considered a Limited specialist) is running the exact same Fujieda-designed decklist that carried him to a surprise 7-1 record yesterday.
Game 1 started Wicked Akuba and Takenuma Bleeder for Fujieda and Hand of Cruelty plus a Bleeder for Maki. Fujieda cleared Maki's board via Sickening Shoal and Kiku's Shadow to swing for six, but had the same done to him on the next turn, while Maki added Nezumi Graverobber to the board. Play was fast and furious, but ended with Fujieda at 9 and Maki dead, having drawn a few too many lands and Psychic Spears to keep up with the Onslaught.
Fujieda 1 - Maki 0
Maki sideboarded out all the useless cards like Psychic Spear, Pithing Needle, and Nezumi Cutthroats for a Swamp, Razorjaw Onis and some extra removal. The time between the games was pretty jovial as the two friends jawed back and forth about various topics, making it a sad fact that the coverage writer couldn't understand a word of it to relate to you here. Maybe next year.
Maki got the nuts start in game 1 playing Wicked Akuba, a Bleeder, and Razorjaw Oni on the first four turns against Fujieda's board of 2/2s. Back that up with a pair of removal spells and the match was suddenly even at one game a piece, taking about eighteen minutes total off the clock for the two games plus shuffling.
Fujieda 1 - Maki 1
Maki spent a lot of time thinking about his hand for game 3 before choosing to keep it. It had a Sickening Shoal, a host of 2/2s and a Bleeder, but no Kiku's Shadow and only two lands. Fujieda led with a Hand of Cruelty and Kiku's Shadow on Maki's hand, taking an early lead. Maki traded a Bleeder with the Hand, but Isamu simply added a Bleeder of his own to keep on the pressure. The race began in earnest when Maki added a Wicked Akuba to his side, following that with a couple more weenies and then a Razorjaw Oni as Fujieda flooded on lands. Fujieda struck back with an Oni of his own, but Maki's counterattack made the life totals seven to eleven in favor of The Face. Fujieda attacked again but lost his Bleeder to two Sickening Shoals (one hard cast, one removing a Cutthroat) and he died on the counterattack.
Maki 2 - Fujieda 1
Total Match Time: 30 Minutes.
Sunday, July 24: 12:29 pm - Round 12 - Takafumi Sugeki vs. Ryoma Shiozu
Ryoma Shiozu is one of the underground Japanese pros that fare reasonably well at Grand Prix and Pro Tours but never quite make the push into the limelight. At the last Limited Grand Prix Shiozu drafted a ridiculously cool Ire of Kaminari deck that had the whole tournament site talking about it, while this weekend he chose to go rogue and run Mono-Blue Control against the field. His opponent is Takafumi Sugeki, a twenty-two year old from Toyama City that is playing the ubiquitous Gifts Ungiven deck.
Sugeki resolved an early Sensei's Divining Top after Shiozu had to take a mulligan. He then had a Kodama's ReachHindered, but resolved a hefty Kagemaro, First to Suffer before his Top was shut down by Pithing Needle. Kagemaro got his beat on while Shiozu waited to draw a sixth land for the Keiga in his hand. Consuming Vortex bounced Kagemaro back to Sugeki's hand on the next attack and then Disrupting Shoal pitching Azami made sure it didn't hit play again. Sugeki tried again on the next turn with another Rosewater demon spirit, but Minamo's Meddling countered that and Shiozu slowly looked to take over the game.
Ryoma resolved Meloku on his turn, but this left him tapped out and helpless against the Myojin of Night's Reach that Sugeki rawdogged off the top of his deck. Hooooow lucky. To make matters worse, Sugeki also had a Sickening Shoal to dispatch Meloku, and Shiozu scooped after his next draw phase, since he had no hand and practically no outs to deal with the Myojin stealing his life away in five-point chunks.
Sugeki 1 - Shiozu 0
Pithing Needle from Shiozu shut down Sugeki's first-turn Sensei's Divining Top, while Hisoka's Defiance and Minamo's Meddling countered consecutive Kodama's Reaches from Sugeki. The two players went draw, go for a while before Shiozu cast Meloku the Clouded Mirror only to see it immediately Shoaled for four, a spell that was foiled when Shiozu bounced Meloku back to his hand with Consuming Vortex. Sugeki found a Meloku of his own and created three illusions before Shiozu brought it down with its doppleganger. The token beats combined with the work a Sakura-Tribe Elder had done before lowered Shiozu to seven life, a total further complicated by two fresh Nezumi Graverobbers. Shiozu completely flooded on land, but the truth is that this seems like a terrible matchup and it's nearly impossible for Mono-Blue to stay ahead of Gifts. One more attack spelled doom for Shiozu and gave Sugeki the match.
Sugeki 2 - Shiozu 0
Sunday, July 24: 12:40 pm - Scrounging for Deck Tech
Masahiro Nogami loves Magic!
Tech this weekend has been few and far between, but with the help of Keita Mori and the Japanese Sideboard staff, this is what we have discovered.
In London, Brian David-Marshall could be heard exclaiming "Enduring Ideal is at Table 1!" while looking over one of the PTQ side events for hot tech during his stint on the blog. Unfortunately his exuberance was quickly shattered when he realized that the seating for the tournament was random and the player running the Enduring Ideal deck was far from tops in the standings. Well BDM, today's your lucky day, because one very special Japanese player managed to make Day 2 running not only Enduring Ideal, but backing it up with all five Hondens. I can see the more casual or fun PTQ players out there going nuts right now as they finally have a solid template to base their qualifier creations off of. The man to thank is Masahiro Nogami, a young Tokyo-based player who finished Day 1 at 6-1-1. In addition to running the full boat of Hondens in his deck, Nogami is packing 4 Ghost-Lit Stalkers in the board, since he can channel them away even while he's in Epic lock, giving him a major boost against control decks.
On the other end of the spectrum is Pro Tour winner Shuu Komuro. Shuu could probably have his pick of decks from any of the Japanese deckbuilders, but chose to enlist the help of a Canadian for this particular tournament. After the Japanese did so well with Heartbeat of Spring in Philadelphia, one might have figured that it would play a crucial role in summertime PTQ metagames, but that has not proven to be the case. Rich Hoaen decided to see what he could do with that deck's skeleton though and developed a Heartbeat Control deck revolving around Kagemaro and counterspell elements with Maga, Traitor to Mortals thrown in to boot. Shuu was intrigued by the deck from Minneapolis and apparently got in touch with the Limited master last week and tweaked the deck to his liking. If you find yourself reminiscing fondly of playing Mana Flare in Constructed environments, then maybe this deck is for you.
The last decklist we'll cover today (aside from those that make the Top 8) is the Japanese follow-up to Andy Stokinger's Mono-Blue deck from last weekend. Japan as a whole is generally obsessed with playing Mono-Blue Control decks, regardless of what the format happens to be. Technically this deck was developed independently of any silly American influence, but it's Block Constructed and nearly mono color, so there are only so many cards to go around. One of the interesting wrinkles for this decklist is the lack of maindeck Jittes and Honor-Worn Shaku in favor of 2 Pithing Needle and extra Threads of Disloyalty and counterspells. Ryoma Shiozu piloted this particular Mono-Blue deck to a Day 2 appearance as well as is looking to move up in the standings the further Sunday progresses.
Block Mono-Blue Control
Sunday, July 24: 2:02 pm - Okay, I Lied or "The Great Red Hope"
Alright fine, one more decklist before the Top 8, this time displaying a deck that tries to abuse the most underused color in Kamigawa Block - Red. Akihiro Shimizu's deck has actually done quite well against the majority of the field this weekend and may be the great Red hope that rogue players have been searching for this season, though he lost in round 12 to a lurking Masashiro Kuroda who is making a strong move to get back into Top 8 contention.
The Great Red Hope
Sunday, July 24: 3:11 pm - Round 14 - Kenji Tsumura vs. Itaru Ishida
'Old Man' Itaru Ishida
Itaru Ishida has been around the game forever. Only 25 years old now, he started playing Magic: the Gathering at age 14 and was seemingly destined to become a Team Limited mastermind birth. In recent years he has also become a highly respected deck designer as well, and it was he who was behind Kenji Tsumura's second place Block Constructed deck at Pro Tour: Philadelphia. Imagine his dismay then when after 13 rounds he was forced to play his young protégé, a youth who many of the top players consider among the best in the world, in order to gain entry into the Top 8 of this Grand Prix. Tsumura has done some astounding work this weekend as well. In fact, he's the only undefeated player left in the tournament, but he has an astounding four draws to his record, putting him on the bubble for top 8 qualification, which he will miss if he gets another draw here.
Both players chose Gifts Ungiven decks this weekend, though there are some minor variations (like Godo, Bandit Warlord) between the versions.
Both players started with the standard green mana accelerators, though Tsumura was missing a Top to go along with his. Ishida cast Gifts Ungiven at the end of turn 4 to fetch Shizo, a Swamp, an Elder, and Kodama's Reach from his deck. Kenji gave him the lands and sent the shuffle effects to the graveyard. Ishida's turn 5 Meloku was matched by a rawdogged Ink-Eyes from Tsumura, who then followed that with Kokusho, the Evening Star. Ishida had Meloku at the ready to provide perpetual blockers, but he'd need to find a solution to the legends eventually. An end of turn Gifts gave Ishida a chance to snatch Kagemaro, Ink-Eyes, Myojin of Night's Reach and Kokusho from his library, getting Koko and Kagemaro in his hand for his trouble.
The next turn was where Ishida really made a move, casting Cranial Extraction for Tsumura's Gifts Ungiven while splicing Goryo's Vengeance onto it targeting Ink-Eyes, terminating Kenji's rat queen. Tsumura would have none of it though, casting Death Denied at the end of Ishida's turn and then ninjaing Inky into play, getting a Myojin for his trouble. Kenji's next attack went awry when Ishida spliced Vengeance onto Hideous Laughter this time, again killing Ink-Eyes, taking down the stolen Myojin, and taking only three from Kokusho. Ishida then cast his own Kokusho to negate the awesome black dragon's leave play trigger, but losing his Meloku to a Sickening Shoal in the process. All of this action and yet the life totals were still relatively high - 14-11 in favor of Tsumura.
The pair traded Kagemaros while a Tribe Elder beat down for Tsumura as both looked for more cards to try and put the game away. Ishida found it first in the form of an arcane spell, letting him splice Goryo's Vengeance onto it returning Meloku to play and summoning seven illusion tokens to do his bidding. He then cast the Vengeance to put Ink-Eyes into play, only to watch Tsumura play Death Denied, alternate cast a Sickening Shoal on Ink-Eyes, and take nine to the nug. He now had Kagemaro in hand though, letting him get rid of the illusionary horde, and then mop up the game a turn later by ninjaing out Ink-Eyes in place of a Hana Kami and putting Ishida's Kokusho into play.
What a battle!
Tsumura 1 - Ishida 0
Tsumura mulliganned his opening hand for the second game in a row and the script continued to play out exactly like the last game, with both players finding early mana acceleration but Ishida adding a Top to his. Kenji changed the script on turn 4 though, casting Godo who drug Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang out with him. Ishida had to cast a Gifts Ungiven for land on his turn 4, but had a Sickening Shoal to dispatch Godo on Kenji's attack step before he could do any damage. Tsumura next called Meloku to the front lines and Ishida answered back with Keiga, complicating Kenji's plan of attack. The spiky-haired kid chose to cast Gifts Ungiven for his next plan of attack, giving Ishida the option of Hana Kami, Death Denied, Ink-Eyes, and Ghost-Lit Stalker. Ishida gave Tsumura the creatures rather than let him establish the loop, then lost his hand from a cycled Stalker on the next turn but not before he cast Gifts Ungiven to put Meloku, Ink-Eyes, a Top, and Goryo's Vengeance in the bin. Tsumura then completed the violation by alt casting Sickening Shoal on Ishida's Hana Kami. Avoiding any funny business with Goryo's Vengeance.
Once again, however, Ishida wasn't done. He attacked Tsumura with Keiga and Tsumura blocked with an illusion, making sure Ink-Eyes couldn't come be ninja's into play. Ishida merely shrugged and cast Sickening Shoal on his own Keiga, stealing Meloku. Tsumura then cast Godo, snagging Jitte from his deck and equipping the samurai with Tatsumasa, threatening some real violence next turn if he got to attack. Wear Away from Ishida got rid of the sword, so Kenji just cast Gifts Ungiven on the next turn, getting Kagemaro and Myojin of Night's Reach in hand. Kenji equipped Godo with the Jitte and attacked, losing the Warlord to three illusion tokens that left Ishida tapped out. It was at that point that Tsumura once again showed his brilliance, casting Soulless Revival splicing Goryo's Vengeance for Meloku, causing Ishida to put his head in his hands before conceding that Tsumura had far too much firepower left for him to keep up.
Tsumura 2 - Ishida 0
Sunday, July 24: 3:40 pm - Top 8 Preview and Judges!
So the Top 8 is nearly set here and it looks to be a doozy. Katsuhiro Mori, Kenji Tsumura, and Masashi Oiso (calling themselves Team Rush) all played Mori's "Godo's Gifts" deck to a Top 8 appearance. I'm not quite sure whether this speaks to the strength of Mori's Gifts build or not, since you could probably give Kenji and Oiso sixty-card sealed decks and this point and they'd make the Top 8. Joining them are in-country superstar Akira Asahara, Ryoma Shiozu, Suhan Yoon, Tomohiro Aridome, Takuya Oosawa. The deck breakdown is 5 Gifts decks, 2 Mono-Blue decks and a 3-Color Meloku-Thoughts of Ruin deck run by Korean Japanese player Yoon. Going into today Gifts comprised 22 of the Top 64 decks, but it now occupies more than 60% of the Top 8 slots, proving that the Japanese pros who chose to run this deck over everything else clearly made the right choice.
Oh and before we start the elimination rounds, I have one last thing to show you. Here there be judges!