Saturday, November 20: 1:18 pm - Deck Tech with Player Type - Legendary
Champions of Kamigawa sealed deck is different from anything that we've seen with recent sets, as players are forced to balance tribal concerns, splice/arcane spells, color considerations, mana curve, and overall deck power in order to find the strongest possible combination of cards. We decided to sit down with three of the Legends of Japanese Magic and see what they have done with their card pools.
Current National Champion Tsuyoshi Fujita was the first Japanese player ever to make the Top 8 at a Pro Tour. When I walked up to him to ask about his deck however, he gave a rueful smile, and explained that his card pool wasn't particularly strong, forcing him to make some tough decisions.
For starters, when looking through Tsuyoshi's sideboard, I noticed a lonely Glacial Ray hanging out, a card that nearly every player will easily splash for. Tsuyoshi explained that his mana requirements basically prohibited a splash. If you look at his card pool, he has a series of double black spells that he needs to cast in the early and middle game like the two different Oni and Wicked Akuba, and then has the triple green required to play Jugan, the Rising Star, leaving him in no position to run Mountains and still be able to cast his spells consistently.
I was also a bit curious when I looked at his pool and saw Distress in the maindeck. Fujita explained that he feels hand destruction is strong in this format (he also has a Waking Nightmare in the main), so he's running Distress. "You need instants to break through stalemates, and I don't really have many in my deck. Distress knocks those out of your opponent's hand, however, and gives you an information advantage. Plus it also takes care of the instant enchantments (instantments) before they can be used as a combat trick."
He has two in-color 2/1s sitting in his sideboard in Orochi Ranger and Cruel Deceiver. When I asked him about these, Fujita explained that both cards are stopped by Zuberas, and while they are solid draft creatures, he doesn't particularly like to play them in sealed. A sixth-turn 2/1 is not a great play to make in this format.
Prediction: He only 2 Byes in this tournament, so he said 6-2 seemed like a pretty good prediction, and if his tiebreakers are good, he will maybe make Day 2.
Masashi Oiso's cards
Even at the young age of 22, Oiso has made a huge impression on Japanese Magic, garnering four Pro Tour Top 8s in his three years playing the game. Though he's generally considered a Constructed specialist, he is skilled at running the forty-card decks as well, as illustrated by his Top 8 in Booster draft at Pro Tour--Yokohama.
Looking at Oiso's pool, it appeared very powerful. He has two Glacial Ray, a Blind with Anger, Konda, Hanabi Blast, Cage of Hands, Mothrider Samurai, and some solid tricks like Indomitable Will and Blessed Breath. However, he has a gaping hole for creatures in what is perhaps the most important spot in the current Sealed deck format - the three-slot. Most red/white decks would have at least one of Ronin Houndmaster, Kabuto Moth, or Kitsune Blademaster just chilling, waiting to be cast on turn 3, but Oiso isn't so lucky.
It's not as if red and white were Oiso's only possibilities either, as he had enough black cards to make him consider running a splash, perhaps for Scuttling Death and Thief of Hope, but in the end he chose consistency over a splash in his maindeck, though he said he might run some of the black cards out of the sideboard. It's not like his deck is lacking in strong removal spells, but it will be interesting to see if his lack of three-drops puts him behind the gun, making it tough to recover the tempo advantage his deck inherently gives to his opponents.
Since he has two Glacial Rays, I pondered the idea that Lava Spike might not be bad, but Oiso said that he hates cards that only target players, particularly in sealed deck, and while it might be decent, he wasn't going to run it as a matter of personal preference.
Prediction: When I asked if he would Day 2, Oiso just laughed and shook his head, not so much lacking in confidence as not wanting to jinx himself before beginning play on the day.
Kuroda was the first Japanese player to finally conquer the Pro Tour mountain, taking home the title at Pro Tour--Kobe earlier this year for his efforts in Block Constructed.
When I sat down with him, he immediately told me that he misbuilt his deck, as he was getting color-screwed far too many times in testing. When he was initially building his deck, he figured that splashing three green cards in order to take advantage of Kodama's Might, Strength of Cedars, and Moss Kami was a good plan, but now that he's played with the deck for a while, he believes it would have been better to go with a more consistent build by running two Ashen-Skin Zubera and a Yamabushi's Storm.
The rest of his pool looks quite solid, though he's a little short on spirits for his Devouring Greed, as only nine of his fourteen creatures meet that criteria. The creatures that he does have are solid, and are complemented by a Yamabushi's Flame and a Glacial Ray, plus the green pump spells I mentioned before.
Prediction: "Well, I have 3 Byes, so 6-2 is not out of the question. My deck isn't all that good, but 3-2 on the day plus some good tiebreakers may mean I get to play tomorrow."
We'll try and catch up with these players again at the end of the day to see how their predictions panned out, and to give you their deckists.
Saturday, November 20: 2:33 pm - Round 4 - Akira Asahara vs. Masahiro Kuroda
Akira Asahara is a renowned Constructed deckbuilder here in Japan who has attended many Pro Tours, but has never quite broken through, in spite of winning a Limited Grand Prix here in Japan. His opponent is the lone Japanese Pro Tour winner thus far, Masahiro Kuroda. When we talked to Kuroda earlier today, he said his misbuilt his deck, while Asahara appeared to have a very solid but unspectacular red/white/black build.
Asahara started off with the Magic Online fix, meaning he had one land in each of his three colors, plus a solid assortment of white spells. A Kabuto Moth from Asahara was stunted by Pain Kami from Kuroda, giving each player a problematic creature to work around. Asahara added Kitsune Healer to his team, and then Oathkeeper, Takeno's Daisho, equipping his Moth, giving him a big flying beater and making real trouble for Kuroda. Waking Nightmare from the Pro Tour winner knocked Rend Flesh and Indomitable Will from Asahara's hand, while all Asahara could do was beat back with his team, dropping Kuroda to thirteen. The pace of play slowed to a crawl after this, as each player spent long periods considering the position of the board and their cards in hand. Cage of Hands locked down Kuroda's Moss Kami, and Asahara continued to apply the beats, dropping Kuroda to eight before his attack stalled with the appearance of Wicked Akuba, and then Gutwrencher Oni.
A swing from an equipped Lantern Kami dropped Kuroda to four before he brought his firepower to bear, attacking with the Oni, Pain Kami, and Wicked Akuba into a Daisho-equipped Moth and Kitsune Healer. Asahara blocked the Kami with his Healer, saving it from death. Kuroda used the Kami to ping Lantern Kami for one, which Asahara then saved with his Kabuto Moth, forcing Kuroda to then Devouring Greed, sacrificing two spirits, and gaining six life, dropping Asahara to four. Asahara simply untapped, played a land, and then cast the last card Kuroda probably expected to see here in Reverse the Sands, switching his life total with Kuroda's before attacking for the win.
If you like innovation in Magic, you absolutely must love the Japanese.
Time taken for game 1: 30 minutes
Asahara 1 - Kuroda 0
Game 2 was much more brisk, as Kuroda came roaring out of the gates with Hearth Kami and Villainous Ogre on turns 2 and 3, and a Swallowing Plague for Asahara's Kitsune Blademaster on turn 4, bashing through for a ton of early damage. Kuroda was able to drop Asahara to five before the Constructed specialist made a comeback by adding Scuttling Death, Ronin Houndmaster, Battle-Mad Ronin, and Devoted Caretaker to his team, turning the tide firmly in his favor. Kuroda fought valiantly, putting himself into position to win if he could only draw Devouring Greed or if Asahara left no blockers on his team, but Asahara's deck proved to be too much in the end, delivering all the tricks he needed, and making sure Kuroda could never quite get back on the offensive.
Asahara 2 - Kuroda 0
Saturday, November 20: 4:25 pm - Side Event Shuffle
One of the best parts about visiting a Pro Tour or Grand Prix event is that there are always thousands of other Magic players in attendance with whom to chat, trade, or enjoy a fine game or three of Magic. Since this is the first monster Kamigawa event in Japan, the tournament organizers brought out all the stops to keep attendees busy throughout the weekend.
The priestesses under the huge traditional Torii you see are actually the ones handing out prizes this weekend for the huge Arena league that Hobby Japan is running. You can play anyone in your Arena group at the event, and once you meet the requirements, you show your piece of paper to the nice ladies in the costumes and then play a form of Japanese lottery, pulling a colored stick out of a container in order to figure out what prize you win. Prizes range from Arena foils, to out-of-print booster and tournament packs, to binders, deck boxes... the works. It's a neat little piece of flavor that that enhances an already enjoyable weekend.
In addition to the Arena league and the more typical Draft and Standard 8-man tournaments, there will also be special Unhinged release events on Sunday, as well as a large junior open tomorrow with special prize support. Even though the new prizes aren't going to be widely available until the end of the year, the folks at Wizards decided to break out some of next year's prizes a little early, meaning every participant in tomorrow's event will receive a promo Slith Firewalker with the new sunburst foiling technique. The new winner card for junior events will be an even more spectacular Royal Assassin, which I haven't seen yet, but I've been assured that it is quite awesome.
Now this is far from certain, but if one puts two and two together, you can guess that these two cards are both likely to be in 9th Edition, since it's unlikely that they would be creating new foils that will only be able to be played for a few months before the new base set is released.
If you get a chance, I highly recommend checking out one of the premiere event stops near you, as the cool factor from the people you meet and the events you can participate in is very high indeed.
Saturday, November 20: 6:10 pm - Round 6 - Kouichirou Maki vs. Tomoharu Saito
Kouichirou Maki is a name unfamiliar to many U.S. and European readers, but he's a big name here in Japan. In fact, he's not unlike MagictheGathering.com's Mike Flores - he's small, is as old as dirt, frowns a lot when he plays, and he is one of Japan's most popular writers, known for both his humor and his strategic insights. Tomoharu Saito is coming off of a 7-0 Day 1 performance Grand Prix--Brisbane that turned sour during the draft portion when he 0-3'd his first pod on Day 2 to put him out of the running for the Top 8. He's looking to redeem himself this weekend, but first he has to make it the stiff sealed deck competition here in Yokohama.
Game 1 was a back and forth affair where Maki got early acceleration into a series of mediocre creatures like Scuttling Death and Kami of the Painted Road, only to be matched by Saito's Nezumi Graverobber, Gibbering Kami, and Wicked Akuba, though Saito's mana development stopped at four. Eventually the ground stalled for seven turns (yes, I was counting) and Saito was able pull out of his land stall to take over the game. He used the Graverobber plus a series of tricks like Blessed Breath and Indomitable Will to protect his creatures and whittle away Maki's life, eventually ending things in one big swing with some help from Dance of Shadows.
Game 1 time: 28 minutes
Saito 1 - Maki 0
Game 2 was all about two little words: mana screw. Saito parised his first hand of six Swamps and a white card, and kept a four-land, all five-drop hand, but it didn't matter since Maki's deck decided to step out for a bite of dinner during the first eight turns of the game. In its absence, it left him a measly two lands, Ember-Fist Zubera, and Hearth Kami, while Saito had all the mana he needed to cast spells like Ghostly Prison and Seizan, the Perverter, though it was clear that Saito waited a while before casting the card-drawing Spirit so as not to help Maki's mana screw an earlier than necessary. Bash, bash, Horobi, Death's Wail, kill Maki's team, and it was all over.
Saito 2 - Maki 0
Saturday, November 20: 7:47 pm - Round 8 - Jin Okamoto vs. Shuuhei Nakamura
Jin Okamoto has never quite crossed over that final hump in his Magic career, though the heights he has achieved are ones that most player's would give their left ... let's just say that most players would be very happy if they had achieved what Jin has done instead. Nicknamed "The Last Emperor" for his victory in the final APAC championships, Okamoto finished second at Worlds in 2003 and again with his team Shop Fireball in Seattle. With achievements like that, a relatively local Grand Prix might seem like pretty small potatoes, but Okamoto's impressive resume lacks a Grand Prix win.
Sitting across the table from Jin is rising star Shuuhei Nakamura. If that name sounds familiar, and it should, it's because Nakamura was a finalist at Pro Tour--Columbus last month, where his Red Deck Wins deck tore through the competition before finally falling to Pierre Canali's Affinity deck in the finals.
After a deck check and a short debate about whether or not they were drawing, the players chose to run it.
Nakamura used Kodama's Reach to ramp directly into Teller of Tales (blasted by Yamabushi's Flame) and Moss Kami. Okamoto's side of the board was a bit less impressive, as he cast Ember-Fist Zubera, Kami of Ancient Law, and Sokenzan Bruiser. Strength of Cedars on the Moss Kami took out the blocking Bruiser and Zubera. While Okamoto was trying to use Devoted Retainer and Honden of Infinite Rage to stabilize, Nakamura was casting gas like Petals of Insight, and Orochi Ranger followed by Seshiro the Anointed. Hisssss, Nakaura's creatures said as they bashed, dropping Okamoto down to two at no cost to his own team. When Nakamura protected Seshiro the Anointed from Hanabi Blast with a Serpent Skin, the Last Emperor scooped, sending the match to game 2.
Nakamura 1 - Okamoto 0
Game 2 was practically over on turn 4 when Okamoto cast Initiate of Blood to go along with his Honden of Infinite Rage, and followed that up with Hikari, Twilight Guardian. Frostwielder was added to the savagery, and seeing as how Nakamura only had land and two-butt creatures in his hand, the verdict was that he wasn't going to win that one. An appearance from Moss Kami simply gave Kitsune Diviner something to do, and the match was now even at one a piece.
Nakamura 1 - Okamoto 1
Okamoto had to double mulligan in game 3, but Nakamura had little gas in his opening hand, so Jin would have time to catch up. Kitsune Diviner and Kami of Ancient Law for Okamoto meant he would have very little catching up to do, as he seemed to draw the faster half of his deck. On the other side of the board, Nakamura got in some early beats with Cruel Deceiver and Dripping-Tongue Zubera. Cage of Hands on a fresh Soratami Mirror-Mage from Okamoto slowed the beats for a moment, but nine land and four spells for Nakamura proved to be a recipe for disaster, as his deck delivered nothing to stop the beatings from continuing until he was dead.
Okamoto 2 - Nakamura 1
Sunday, November 21: 10:38 am - Around the World in 40 Kanoots
I'm going to use the presentation of the staff photo for this event as an excuse to give an exhortation of sorts. One of the best parts about the Pro Tour and Grand Prix series that often doesn't get mentioned is that it gives you an impetus to travel the world. There is no better way to broaden your horizons than to step outside your own country and visit someone else's, particularly one where you don't speak the language.
I have to confess that this trip to Australia and Japan was my first time outside of the United States, and quite simply, this trip has been awesome. Each country has its own feel and charm to it, and I discovered that it's actually pretty simple to make your way around both areas, even without a car or more startling, without knowing the language. I got sick in Brisbane, or else I would have taken a trip up the Gold Coast and explored some of the Australian wilds, but the city of Brisbane itself was ripe with interesting things to see and people to talk to.
Regarding Japan, I was initially a bit worried about making my way around, but many of the signs are in English, the train system is marvelous, and with decent directions you can make your way anywhere. I've often said that New York City feels like a different country to Americans who are visiting the country for the first time, but if NYC is a different country, Tokyo is on a different planet, where the people speak a different language, and everybody has someplace to go. Don't get me wrong though, Tokyo is ridiculously cool, and the cool factor is heightened by the fact that the whole country is basically populated by gamers. You see random older people here reading comic books on the subway, the market for collectible items here including card games is astounding, and everybody knows how much the Japanese love video games and arcades. The Japanese people are exceedingly polite, and many of them are willing to go out of their way to help you if you ask for it, even if it's in English or stuttering, awful Japanese. In short, this is a place where Magic players should feel right at home.
What all this translates to is that if you qualify for the Pro Tour and get a chance to go visit another country, make the trip, and do it a little early so you can explore the countryside. Instead of eating at Wendy's and McDonald's, try out the local cuisine. Grab a travel book and visit the local sites, or talk with the local gamers and find the cool, non-touristy places to visit.
Play Magic, have fun, see the world. I may be a little biased, but that sounds like a pretty good plan to me.
Sunday, November 21: 11:01 am - Draft 1 Analysis
Right from the start this table looked strange, when at the end of the first six packs, there were five black drafters, two green-white drafters, and one player each in red and blue. Talk about your skewed cardpools...
1 Rei Hashimoto
2 Akihiro Takakuwa
3 Makihito Mihara
4 Masahiko Morita
5 Ming Huang Royce Chai
6 Tomoharu Saitou
7 Shogo Ito
8 Teruya Kakumae
Tomoharu Saito had clearly signaled during the beginning of the draft that he was going to be in black, but that didn't stop Royce Chai from hopping into black when Hideous Laughter came his way in pack 4. This had a negative impact on both of their decks, but the cardpool tried to make up for it by gifting Saitou with Kokusho, Kiku, two Devouring Greeds, and a He Who Hungers along the way, while Chai cleaned up the white cards that came his way in between scrapping for black with the rest of the table. When I asked Chai about his thinking for the switch, he said that he thought he could push Saitou out of black entirely and then he was in the perfect position for black, this giving him a good chance at the best of both worlds. Unfortunately it didn't quite work out that way, though for having an astounding five black drafters at the table, some people still ended up with very strong decks.
Another interesting development was that two players - Takakuwa and Kakumae - both chose to draft white-green right from the start, and they didn't waiver from that strategy in spite of some weakness in one or both of the colors along the way. The players explained to me that they felt this color combination generally has a strong tempo curve and good tricks to work with, though both ruefully admitted that some of the best common tricks like Kodama's Might and Blessed Breath were nowhere to be seen in this draft, nor were there any Cage of Hands.
Because black was so strong from start to finish, it was interesting to see card values fluctuate mid-draft. Dance of Shadows, normally a game-ending bomb, went seventh twice in the draft, and Nezumi Cutthroat's stock clearly dropped as more players hopped into black. It will be interesting to see how things play out, since while many of the decks have some real powerhouse cards in them, they also have some consistency problems. Those that don't are generally missing the fat beats that the less consistent decks contain.
5 Nezumi Cutthroat
3 Nezumi Graverobber
2 Kokusho, the Evening Star
2 Hikari, Twilight Guardian
1 Keiga, the Tide Star
1 Nagao, Bound by Honor
1 Kiku, Night's Flower
1 Kodama of the North Tree
1 Glacial Ray
1 Kodama's Might
0 Cage of Hands
Sunday, November 21: 1:12 pm - Round 10 - Makihito Mihara vs. Akihiro Takakuwa
Makihito Mihara has been raising his game of late, Top 8'ing Japanese Nationals this past summer before going 8-0 during the sealed portion of this event yesterday. His opponent, Akihiro Takakuwa, is considered one of the best young Limited players in Tokyo and was one of the names I was told to watch for before this tournament. Takakuwa also finished yesterday with an unblemished record from sealed play.
Both of these players lost the first round of this draft pod, and a second loss here would put them near the Top 8 bubble for the rest of the day, meaning they might have to run the table in order to earn a seat at the final draft. Mihara was one of the five black drafters at the table, and ended up with one of the strongest decks of the bunch, as he drafted a delectable black/red number heavy of the early beats and removal spells. Takakuwa was sitting right next to him during the draft and was one of the two drafters who chose green/white right from the start, though when the best cards in those colors failed to appear, his deck paid for it.
Mihara kicked things off with a turn 2 Nezumi Graverobber followed by a spicy Honden of Infinite Rage to clear away Takakuwa's Kitsune Diviner. Takakuwa attempted to stabilize with Hundred-Talon Kami, but Godo's Maul on what was now Nighteyes the Desecrator made sure that wasn't happening. The young Tokyo player finally gummed up the ground game with Moss Kami, and continued to add to the beats with Mothrider Samurai and Kami of the Hunt, but the Honden continued its inevitable whittling of Takakuwa's life total, and the combination of Nighteyes plus Mihara's ticking clock finished the job.
Mihara 1 - Takakuwa 0
Mihara gain got out to a fast start in game 2 with a turn 2 Cruel Deceiver, as Takakuwa simply ramped his mana with a turn 3 Kodama's Reach. Honden of Infinite Rage again made an appearance for Mihara, though it was a Matsu-Tribe Decoy that now stood in the way of his beaters instead of an unimpressive fox cleric. Indomitable Will on the Decoy gave Takakuwa a nice element of board control, for while he couldn't really kill Mihara's guys, he could make sure they only untapped every other turn. The body count slowly increased, as the players traded creatures while pushing through damage. Order of the Sacred Bell was not the droid takakuwa was looking for, especially after Blood Rites hit the board for Mihara. Takakuwa tried to fight back, swinging for a few points of damage here and there but when Nezumi Graverobber appeared, he turned the battle of attrition into a slaughter. Takakuwa died with thirteen lands and a Sakura-Tribe Elder on the board.
Mihara 2 - Takakuwa 0
Sunday, November 21: 3:07 pm - Round 11 - Koichiro Maki vs. Ichirou Shimura
Watching Koichiro Maki play is fun, even if you can't understand what he has to say, you can tell he's generally enjoying himself. In the States, he'd have a nickname like "The Face" given to him by friends and enemies alike, but here he is simply known as Maki. His opponent is in the process of making a name for himself as well, as Ichirou Shimura won Grand Prix: Sendai back in March, and is looking to continue moving up the ladder here in order to still have a chance at the Top 8.
Game 1 was a prolonged technical affair with many swings in life and board control. Shimura took the early lead with Orochi Ranger and Villainous Ogre beatdown, but Maki was able to stabilize at a relatively high life total and started locking down Shimura's creatures with Cage of Hands while Frostwielder pinged away wildly. The presence of Zozu on Maki's side of the board made the strategic decisions a bit more interesting, as it forced both players to maximize their mana usage even more than usual in order to avoid taking unnecessary points of damage. The game eventually ended after twenty-seven agonizing minutes when Maki used Indomitable Will on Kitsune Riftwalker plus one last ping from Frostwielder to finish Shimura off.
Maki 1 - Shimura 0
Game 2 was a repeat of the first one except it went about fifteen minutes quicker and turned in Shimura's favor. Instead of making good trades and stunting Shimura's early beats, Maki found himself eventually run over, no thanks to Zozu, who did an extra four damage to him along the way. This left the players shuffling up for game 3 with ten minutes left in the round
Maki 1 - Shimura 1
Maki parised his opening hand in game 3, and that left him just far enough behind that Shimura was able to overcome Maki's early beats and eventually smash through with fat while keeping back enough blockers to deal with an Uncontrollable Anger and Indomitable Will pumped Zozu. If Shimura had had one spirit less, or if Maki had drawn one of his numerous burn spells at the appropriate time, he probably would have been able to pull it out. As it finished, however, Shimura still had four life left when he swung with his team to do just enough damage to Maki to seal the deal. Kami of the Hunt plus Thief of Hope and a host of spirits is just too good sometimes.
Shimura 2 - Maki 1
Sunday, November 21: 3:29 pm - News and Notes
Every Grand Prix usually has an artist or two in attendance and this one is no different, except for the first time ever, the artists attending are both Japanese. First on the list is the amazing Ittoku, who in addition to crafting the art you see on Soratami Rainshaper and Keiga, the Tide Star also designed much of the concept art for the world of Kamigawa. The other artist visiting this weekend is Ryusei, the Falling Star's designer Nottsuo. Both artists began working on Magic with Darksteel, and we can expect to see more of their work in future sets. I'll try and sit down with them later to discuss their work, if time allows.
Also attending this weekend is 3-D Magic maker Ookubo, who we profiled in our coverage of Worlds in San Francisco. He has just recently begun working on Kamigawa artwork, and delivered two different 3-D cards to both Nottsuo and Ittoku as gifts. Apparently he does this for every visiting artist that attends a Japanese Grand Prix. Neither of the Kamigawa artists had ever seen Ookubo's work before, but needless to say they were astounded by his gifts.
Speaking of artwork and really cool stuff, right now as the second draft is occurring, there is also a charity auction going on over on the far side of the hall. Proceeds from the auction will go to the victims of Niigata earthquake that happened last month, and included among the prizes is one of the super-rare Wyvern Fallen Empires cards that most people have probably never even heard of. Thankfully there are a few collectors around who are aware of the value of these cards, and it should raise a sizeable chunk of change for a good cause, though probably not as much as the set of Arabian Nights that is also up for auction. Bidding apparently started at $900, but where it will end is anyone's guess.
To catch up on yesterday's Sealed Deck tech article, Kuroda and Oiso were able to accumulate enough points to make it through to day 2, but Tsuyoshi Fujita was not so lucky. In the end his lack of tricks and top-heavy mana curve apparently did him in. Going into Draft 2, Oiso was sitting pretty in fifth place, while Kuroda wasn't faring quite as well, as he's all the way down in 41st place, and needs to do some work just to make the money.
Wrapping up our Draft 1 coverage, here are the final records of the players in the pods. Along with their records in the draft, I've also included their current placement entering round 12.
1) Masahiko Morita - 3-0
2) Shogo Ito - 2-1
9) Ming Huang Royce Chai - 2-1
10) Tomoharu Saitou - 2-1
12) Makihito Mihara - 1-2
14) Rei Hashimoto - 1-2
33) Teruya Kakumae - 1-2
34) Akihiro Takakuwa - 0-3
It looks like Saitou and Chai's battles over Black didn't negatively impact their decks that much, but it was Masahiko Morita's green/blue deck that splashed black for Rend Spirit that took the pod, finishing 3-0 and probably guaranteeing him a spot in the Top 8 even before Draft 2 takes place. As of right now he's the last remaining undefeated player. Over on the gloomy side of the bracket, the combined record of the two players that chose to draft green/white was 1-5, dropping Kakumae and Takakuwa from the top pod down to 33rd and 34th places respectively.
Sunday, November 21: 4:33 pm - Round 12 - Masashi Oiso vs. Kazuki Katou
To anyone who pays attention to recent happenings on the Pro Tour, Masashi Oiso needs no introduction. His four Pro Tour Top 8s place him in rarified air in Pro Tour history and he's the only Japanese player to every reach that milestone. His opponent for this round is Kazuki Katou, winner of Grand Prix--Shizuoka in November of 2003. Coming into the final draft, both players were in pod 1, putting them in good position to reach the elimination rounds. Two more wins from either of these players will ensure that they make the Top 8, but the loser of this match will have to win both of their remaining matches in order to secure on of the remaining seven spots.
Katou kicked in the door with flying beats by casting Lantern Kami, Soratami Cloudskater, and Soratami Rainshaper during the first three turns of the game. He then broke out the toolbox and actually repaired the door and closed it behind him by casting Ghostly Prison. This forced Oiso to choose between beating down with Cruel Deceiver and Kitsune Blademaster or developing his board position. Oiso finally found a flying blocker at three life, but Teller of Tales made his presence felt, tapping down Hundred-Talon Kami to put Katou up a game.
Katou 1 - Oiso 0
Game 2 went much better for Oiso, as he played some early beats and then was content to sit behind Honden of Night's Reach as it gradually destroyed Katou's hand, while Kitsune Healer and Thief of Hope helped keep him in what little life race their was. Oiso cast a Blood Speaker and sacced it on the next turn, searching out Gutwrencher Oni for his troubles, but forgot to return it to his hand from his graveyard when he cast the Demon Spirit. Katou mounted a comeback when he finally found his third Island to cast Azami, Lady of Scrolls, letting him draw four cards a turn (Kitsune Riftwalker is a Fox Wizard - who knew?) while losing only one to Oiso's Honden.
When Katou played a Soratami Mirror-Guard now letting him draw five cards a turn while Oiso still couldn't mount much of an offense due to the pair of Mystic Restraints tapping down his big beaters, you could see Masashi start to wonder if this game was going to slip away from him. He had his answer when Katou played Hikari, Twilight Guardian as well, and it was all downhill from there. Honden of Cleansing Fire and Ghostly Prison shut down any beats from Oiso, and with Hikari as an air force, Katou looked like he would definitely lock up the game before drawing the last of the seven cards left in his library.
Oiso gave one last gasp when he tried to cast Yosei, but was countered by Hisoka's Defiance, and that ended it. Oiso had no fliers or non-spirit creatures in play, and though he managed to remove Hikari with a Rend Spirit, Katou beat him down three points at a time with Kitsune Riftwalker and Soratami Cloudskater.
Katou 2 - Oiso 0
Sunday, November 21: 4:58 pm - Round 14 - Akira Asahara vs. Masashi Oiso
Coming into this round, an astounding twelve players still had a chance to make the Top 8, a situation made all the more interesting when you consider that some of Japan's biggest names are still on the bubble, two of whom are featured here. Akira Asahara is a renowned Constructed deckbuilder here, but his only real success at the Premiere level was a victory at Grand Prix--Kyoto. SInce he has hovered near the top tables for most of Day 2, Masashi Oiso has already been heavily featured in this coverage, but had to fight back from some early setbacks in the last draft to put himself in position to finally win a trophy. The winner of this match makes the Top 8, while the loser will be relegated to spot on the sidelines.
The game began at a leisurely pace, with Oiso playing a third-turn Kitsune Blademaster and fourth-turn Cruel Deceiver to Asahara's Kodama's Reach (fetching a Mountain and an Island to go along with his Forests), and Ember-Fist Zubera. Order of the Sacred Bell joined the fray for Asahara, as did Sakura-Tribe Elder, while Oiso remained stuck on four lands, only one of which was black. Things stalled for a bit while Oiso looked to draw out of his mana screw, and Asahara waited to draw enough land to cast Vine Kami. Yep, that's right... Vine Kami, meaning Asahara has played Reverse the Sands and Vine Kami on consecutive days in Grand Prix-level Magic. You gotta love the Japanese. Of course, Oiso immediately cast Rend Spirit on the Kami, but Asahara still gets an "A" for the effort there.
But wait, there's more... with nine land in play, Asahara cast Lure on his Ember-Fist Zubera, attacking with his team of the Zubera, two Houndmasters and an Order of the Sacred Bell, and then casting Strength of Cedars on the Order. Take seventeen, please.
Asahara 1 - Oiso 0
Game 2 was simply a relentless assault from Asahara during which he played a creature nearly every turn of the game, including Meloku the Clouded Mirror, until he again finished the game with Strength of Cedars. Oiso and Yosei fought a brave battle, but in the end were completely overwhelmed by Asahara's three-color bashings. Akira Asahara has guaranteed himself a shot at another Grand Prix title.
Asahara 2 - Oiso 0
Sunday, November 21: 7:00 pm - Final Draft Analysis
The final draft this weekend features a very experienced crew with four former Grand Prix winners and only one amateur among them. Most of the drafts we've seen thus far on the weekend have been relatively cooperative, especially when compared to what happened last weekend at Grand Prix--Brisbane, but there is a fine line between cooperating and drafting cards that when combined, don't add up to a complete deck.
So far on the weekend, Masahiko Morita has been practically untouchable. He went undefeated on the weekend until he secured a slot for himself in the Top 8, after which he conceded and drew with his next two opponents. Unfortunately, that invulnerability seemed to run out in this draft. Things started well for him, as he drafted Soratami Rainshaper (somewhat curiously over Sire of the Storm), Ronin Houndmaster, Glacial Ray, and Soratami Mirror-Guard in the first four packs, but then the wheels came off. Akira Asahara was also drafting Blue two spots behind Morita and literally for the rest of the draft, all the good blue cards ended up in Asahara's deck. When he was building his deck at the end, he was actually considering running ten creatures, and eight arcane spells, plus sundry others, so that should tell you something about the quality of the rest of the contents of his deck. Man cannot live on Glacial Rays alone.
Sitting right next to Morita was rookie Takashi Akiyama, who started out in the perfect seat for Black until some late moves from other players cut off the best of his supply. His final build was a very solid white-black deck that splashed red for Honden of Infinite Rage to complement both the black and the white ones in his pile. Akiyama's opponent also drafted a decent black-white deck, though it's power level isn't quite the same as the amateur's.
Akira Asahara and Rei Hashimoto may have ended up with the best decks at the table. They were sitting next to each other and managed to cooperate brilliantly, as Asahara ended up with a blue-white deck featuring tons of fliers and some solid tricks, and Hashimoto finished with a surprisingly fast red-green deck that still has a lot of fat on the back end to help him do well in the late game.
Rounding out the table we have Katou with an lightning fast red-black deck that will do well provided it gets going early, Ren Ishikara with an okay green-white deck adorned by Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang (though green-white decks have not performed particularly well this weekend), and finally Tomohiro Kaji who is playing a deck that features good green, but never really found a second color, and is probably not good enough to make it out of the quarters.
If I had to predict an outcome here, I'd say that Asahara and Hashimoto will probably make it through to the finals, though Katou and Akiyama both have a reasonable shot.
Sunday, November 21: 7:48 pm - Quarterfinals: Takashi Akiyama vs. Koutarou Ootsuka
Poor Koutarou Ootsuka. His name carries weight as a former Japanese national champion, and though he has been on a recent string of successes, including the Aichi Prefectural Championship, he hasn't posted a major victory recently. He faces an uphill battle today. His neighbors constantly nipped at his heels, switching into white and denying him his initial color. When Ootsuka switched gears and moved to black, he just couldn't get a break. Sitting in the seventh seat was bad news for him.
On the other side of the table sits Takashi Akiyama, an amateur from Chiba. This is Akiyama's first GP Top Eight, and he has the four winds and the fates on his side. Not one, or even two, but three Hondens are on his side, along with the best white removal. The rookie also has a savagely efficient curve. Gutwrencher and Painwracker Oni, a pair of Villanous Ogres and a Blood Speaker, and a tight Soulshift curve grace his side. It would be absolutely no surprise if Akiyama were the latest in the long Japanese tradition of amateurs taking it all home at the Grand Prix. His draft went smoothly, with no neighbors stealing away black goodness while leaving the occasional white grab open. Pretty good for a guy without any byes.
The match favored Akiyama, whose Befouls and more efficient bears could wreck holes in Ootsuka's lines. A pair of Blessed Breaths, which were going quite late in the draft, could throw a wrench in Akiyama's spot removal efforts, however.. Ootsuka also had a pair of Kami of Ancient Law on his side. If he can develop a large enough spirit army, his own Devouring Greed could make for an upset.
Ootsuka came to the table dressed in his trademark sweatshirt with skulls.. Akiyama wouldn't be out of place on front stage at a Roppongi visual rock club with wild tea-colored hair and nail polish as black as his deck. Both players were in good spirits as they shuffled up.
Akiyama kept a risky hand. Plains, Blood Speaker, Sensei's Divining Top, all three Shrines, and a Nezumi Graverobber. On his next upkeep, he saw three swamps ready to go. The gambit had paid off. Ootsuka pulled a Cruel Deceiver, and Akiyama followed up with his Nezumi Graverobber. The Deceiver attacked and went through unmolested. Ootsuka followed this up with a Kami of Ancient Law. Akiyama opted to play the Honden of Night's Reach, which prompty got totaled. Ootsuka's Kami got removed with the Graverobber, which flipped into Nighteyes the Desecrator. The pace was slow and deliberate. St
The rookie's fate would hinge upon the fate of Nighteyes. Ootsuka took the advantage with a Harsh Deceiver taking the offense, and added his second Kami of Ancient Law to his army. Akiyama played a Blood Speaker and let his opponent swing throguh with his Harsh Deceiver, dropping down to 12. Ootsuka mustered a Kami of the Painted Road, which could slide through Akiyama's nearly mono-black defenses. Akiyama made a Gutwrencher Oni with the assistance of Blood Speaker, and Ootsuka decided to attack Akiyama's hand with a Waking Nightmare.
The Nightmare rattled Akiyama, who discarded Villainous Ogre and the returned Blood Speaker, keeping the Hondens of Infinite Wrath and Cleansing Fire in his hand. He then made a huge mistake by returning the Villanous Ogre to play the following turn. Ootsuka had the attacking tempo, and Villainous Ogre couldn't block.
The game soured for Ootsuka, though, as he turned into a land drawing machine, and Nighteyes turned his own army against him. Ootsuka kept his armies at home, and Akiyama had a Scuttling Death to keep the Kami of the Painted Road from slipping through. It would take two spells from the Arcane World or a Devouring Greed to get the win in. He didn't have it, and Akiyama scooped.
The second game started with three and a half minutes on the clock, Stalled at two mana, Ootsuka blasted out an army of bears (two Kamis of Ancient Law and a Cruel Deceiver. Akiyama stalled with an Ashen-Skin Zubera and a Nezumi Graverobber which learned the ropes quickly. But Akiyama had the land and made a Scuttling Death to keep the defense up. Ootsuka added a Thief of Hope and swung with his army, bringing Akiyama down to nine as time elapsed. Akiyama traded the Scuttling Deat for a Kami of Ancient Law, but Blessed Breath kept Ootsuka's offensive steam going. The Onslaught of Spirits and Arcane spells locked the game into a tie on extra turn 3.
Akiyama untapped with nine life, six mana, and only Nighteyes on the table. He used a Cage of Hands to stop the Kitsune Blademaster and threw the returned Zubera in the way. The game went into a tie in game 3 with lethal damage on the stack, but Akiyama conceded in the face of a dangerous sudden death match where the first life change would determine the match, and went home with the top amateur prize.
Ootsuka wins 2-0.
Sunday, November 21: 8:44 pm - Semifinals - Akira Asahara vs. Katou
This is a matchup between two fast, evasive decks that absolutely steamrolled their opponents in the quarterfinals. Asahara's blue-white deck is built almost exclusively out of fliers, with a couple Mystic Restraints included for creature control and a Hinder added to deal with anything his fliers can't. It puts the full power of the Soratami tribe on display and backs it up with some of white's best tricks. Katou's deck is much more direct. He has something like seven two-drops in his deck, Akki Avalanchers, and a small complement of removal spells to get rid of his opponent's more troublesome creatures. It's beatdown, pure and simple, and the question here is whether or not Asahara can find a way to hold on long enough for his air force to win the day.
Game 1 started exactly as predicted. Asahara won the die roll and cast fliers, starting with Soratami Cloudskater and Kabuto Moth, and ramping up to Teller of Tales. Along the way, he managed to put Mystic Restraints on a Nezumi Cutthroat, stifling Katou's first line of offense. That crucial play proved to be enough, as Katou was slowed just enough to let Asahara's fliers win the damage race while Kabuto Moth made attacking problematic.
Asahara 1 - Katou 0
Game 2 didn't even last long enough for Asahara to find a fourth land, as Katou's team exploded onto the field, ramming two-point bites of damage straight down Asahara's throat. Swing swing swing went Nezumi Cutthroat and threeHearth Kamis, and bam, game 2 was in the bag. At this rate the whole match will be over before the other semifinal finishes a game.
Asahara 1 - Katou 1
Game 3 was a huge war, as these two outstanding decks traded blows, but only one play was let battered beyond recognition. Katou got out to an early lead behind Wicked Akuba and Brutal Deceiver, while Asahara tried to play catch up behind Kabuto Moth, and Soratami Rainshaper. Then the heavy hitters began to enter play. Asahara cast Soratami Savant and Nagao, Bound by Honor on consecutive turns and looked about to change the momentum of the game, but Hanabi Blast and Frostwielder went to work on his team, decimating the ranks before you could even say "BoyIfreakinghateplayingagainstNagao." By the time Godo entered play dragging Tenza behind him, all that was left was mop-up work, which is something the double-attacking Samurai is quite suited for. The beatings almost make you feel sorry for whoever Katou's opponent happens to be in the finals.
Katou 2 - Asahara 1
Sunday, November 21: 9:29 pm - Finals - Tomohiro Kaji vs. Kazuki Katou
707 players. Fourteen rounds of swiss. Two more elimination rounds. All to get here, to these final two players duking it out for a trophy, scads of money, and above all - glory. Katou won last year's Mirrodin Rochester Grand Prix and is looking to reprise his role as the Japanese Rochester Grand Prix champion. Tomohiro Kaji's best finish was Top 16 at 2003's Pro Tour--New Orleans. This is his first Grand Prix Top 8 and he's done very well to make the finals, but to take home the trophy his green-blue deck is going to have to perform spectacularly, since Katou's deck is ridiculously fast and has some decent evasion to boot. I have to admit that I don't see how Katou can lose this, but like many things so far in Yokohama, this match could be surprising.
Game 1 started out like all the other games do, with players playing land and casting spells. In this specific instance, Kaji played an Orochi Sustainer and some weenies like Budoka Gardener, while Katou played a couple of Hearth Kamis and built his own army of weenies, waiting for the right time to go aggressive. While Kaji was choking on land, Katou was doing everything in pairs, eventually casting two each of Frostwielder, Hearth Kami, and Kami of Fire's Roar. Two savage attacks and one more draw step later and Kaji was scooping up his cards, wondering where all of his good creatures disappeared to.
Katou 1 - Kaji 0
The game play slowed in bit game 2, though the beatings continued, since morale clearly had not improved. Once again Katou got off to a solid early start (his deck has practically no other kind), and Kaji simply could not find any creature big enough to stand in the way. Frostwielder, Tenza, Distress, and Waking Nightmare all caused problems for Kaji, but in the end it was the last weenie that got him.
Katou 2 - Kaji 0
In two games Kaji did a total of seven points of damage to Katou, and neither game was remotely a contest, making Kazuki Katou your 2004 Grand Prix--Yokohama champion!