Saturday, 11:07 a.m. - Morita Sticks To His Guns
As I sat down behind Masahiko Morita to cover his draft the spectators along the rail nodded approvingly. Morita is still something of an unknown outside of Japan when compared to his more famous countrymen. Most of his anonymity can be tied to a reluctance to travel outside of Japan for the Pro Tour. It is only this past season that Morita has started attending every Pro Tour event. He has even begun to travel outside of his time zone for Grand Prix events, going to tournaments in Boston and Seattle. Andy why not? He is one of the most successful Grand Prix players of all time with 14 Top 8 appearances and three trophies.
Jun Nobushita looked over at me and my pen and paper and then up at Morita. He gave me the thumbs up on my coverage choice, "He is our number one player!" Actually he was number five by the Round 7 standings but who is going to argue?
Morita opened his first pack and looked at nine playable cards including Sosuke, Mothrider Samurai, Kodama's Might, Nezumi Cutthroat, and Candle's Glow. The best card in the pack was clearly the snake legend but it was clear from how far back in the nine cards it and the Might got shuffled that Morita was not a huge fan of the Forests. He selected the white flier and looked hopeful that the Candle's Glow or a Brutal Deceiver would come around ninth.
Red seemed unlikely to make it around that late as the player to his right had opened up Honden of Infinite Rage. It seemed unlikely that he would be seeing any late white picks either when that same player was passed a second pick Nagao. Morita's second pick was either a second Mothrider or Yamabushi's Flame and stuck with white.
He drifted toward red with a third pick Frostwielder over Befoul, Godo, and Otherworldly Journey but he did not see much in either red or white for the rest of the pack. He took a stab at blue with River Kaijin despite some meaty green cards in the fifth pack - Moss Kami and Kashi-Tribe Reaver. The next pack also had high quality green and black cards - Scuttling Death, Kami of the Hunt and Orochi Sustainer but Morita chose Blessed Breath.
There may have been only one green drafter somewhere at the table because Burr Grafter came around with only two or three cards left in the pack. When the first pack wound down Morita fanned his picks and only had three blue cards, 3 white cards, and two red cards to work with. Betrayers started off promising with a choice between Genju of the Falls and Ninja of the Deep Hours - Morita took the enchantment. He followed up with Split-Tail Miko and Waxmane Baku. Ronin Warclub, Moonlit Strider, and Kami of the False Hope came late but each time there was a superior green card. He ended up with about a dozen playable blue-white cards by the time the flow of the picks switched back to the left in Saviors.
Shinen of Flight's Wings seemed like the obvious pick out of Saviors until Morita saw the last card in his pack - Charge Across the Araba. From there his plan was clear as he took blue fliers over just about anything with three Moonbow Illusionists finding their way into his pile within the first half dozen picks.
I was still amazed by the quality of the green that was flowing around the table as green Shinen after green Shinen traveled downstream into some happy green mage's waiting hands. Outer Calm Inner Strength, Stampeding Serow and Okina Nightwatch all passed through Morita's hands way later than they had any right to be going and I could only imagine the blue-green deck that Morita could have had. Without the Charge to kick off Saviors, Morita's deck would have been a below average blue-white deck. Even with the Charge it is little better than mediocre.
I asked Morita about his choices after the draft, specifically about the late green that seemed ripe for the picking in every single pack. Morita, who thought his deck was only so-so himself, waved his hand under his scrunched up nose, "I don't like green. I like blue-white."
Saturday, 11:40 a.m. - Round 8: Masahiko Morita vs. Jun Nobushita
Scorekeeper Yuu Kanazawa's eyes bulged as he fanned through Nobushita's mono-black monstrosity. While watching Morita draft I was struck by two things. The first was that green seemed underdrafted. The second was that so was black with late Scuttling Deaths and Befouls being passed around the table like hot potatoes. It all made its way to Jun's waiting hands and his deck featured Befoul, Clutch of Kagemaro, Horobi's Whisper, two Throatslitters, Devouring Greed, and Dance of Shadows.
Game 1 was all Nobushita. Morita's turn two Split-Tail Miko was killed when Nezumi Cutthroat unzipped to reveal that it was actual Throatslitter in disguise. Four turns later Morita was rocked as the Cutthroat - which was giving his blue-white deck fits to begin with - pulled the same trick with the second Throatslitter.
Game 2 saw Jun mulligan and although he again had a turn two play that turned into Throatslitter this time it was not as good. His Raving-Oni Slave dealt nine to him between a pair of summons and one bounce for the ninja. With No-Dachi making Morita's guys nigh unblockable it was a small matter for him to do the final eleven points of damage.
Morita had Charge in his opening hand for Game 3 as well as Kami of False Hope, Minamo Sightbender, and Genju of the Falls. With a little help from Raving-Oni Slave he had Jun down to ten on four. The only problem was that Jun was matching him swing for swing with the Slave and a Skullsnatcher. Morita's turn three Waxmane could have been the difference maker but a clutch Clutch on turn four cleared the path for five more points of beats.
Morita lost his Kami of False Hope while attacking to Horobi's Whisper. The only attack he was able to mount was with his Genju which effectively neutered his Charge in hand until he could hit eight mana. Without the Kami the race suddenly shifted in Jun's favor and he attacked Morita down to two and Morita could not attack on the next turn.
Jun was scared of Mending Hands even though he could send in all of his guys to force through the final two points. He chose not to attack at all and played Deathspeaker. Morita played his seventh land and tried to maintain the bluff for one more turn but Jun didn't bite and sent everyone in for the win.
"I did not like the look in Morita's eye. He wanted me to think he had it so I thought he didn't," explained Jun who was now 7-1 and in excellent shape to make a run at the elimination rounds.
Saturday, 12:21 p.m. - Draft Like the Wind, Rogues!
Hopefully Akira Asahara, Ryouta Imai, and Oliver Oks have solid draft decks for the first three rounds of action on Day Two. I am throwing journalistic impartiality right out the window and rooting for these three players with unusual decklists to reach the Top 8 and spare me another set of elimination matches with nothing but Viridian Rats and Bluetooth.
Akira Asahara was in 12th place after 8 rounds of action and stood the best chance of the three. His deck is a three color Rats deck that sports Trinket Mage and a couple of silver bullets. He went 2-1 with the deck yesterday and will be playing four more rounds with it to close out the Swiss rounds
Akira Asahara - Rainbow Rats - "G. O. D."
Standard Decklist, Japanese Nationals 2005
Oliver Oks is an Australian ex-patriot living in Japan teaching English. He has done well at a number of recent Grand Prix and has been accepted into the inner circles of Japanese Magic. He will often sport the latest deck innovations that the top Pros bring to events but for this event he looked homeward. He found and old mate on Magic Online who he hadn't spoken with in some time and he suggested the green-red Kird Ape deck that Oliver was running this weekend. After eight rounds Oliver was in 18th place with a 6-2 record - one loss in each format.
Oliver Oks - Red-Green Beatdown
Standard Decklist, Japanese Nationals 2005
Ryouta Imai is a top ranked Japanese player who was invited to this event by virtue of his high composite rating. Even the most seasoned reporters on the Japanese coverage team were familiar with this young man who seemed to come out of nowhere and sweep the first three rounds with his blue-white ninja deck. He was in 22nd place after 8 rounds and had picked up two Limited losses after getting off to such a hot start.
Ryota Imai - Deep Weenie
Standard Decklist, Japanese Nationals 2005
Hopefully all three of these players will be involved in meaningful matches come the last four rounds of the tournament when we check back in with them.
Saturday, 1:29 p.m. - 20th Century Boys
This is the tenth anniversary of Japanese Nationals. There is only one player who has played in all ten of those events and that is Ken'ichi Fujita. Ken'ichi and players of his vintage are playfully called the 20th Century Boys (the name of a popular manga) because they have been playing for so long. He began playing the game around the release of the Dark when he and his friends had to use a Japanese/English dictionary to puzzle out the cards. He went on to win the first Asian Grand Prix in Tokyo during the 96-97 season and took another title in Taipei during 98-99.
After nine rounds of play Ken'ichi has shown that he still has what it takes to play with those fancy thinking machines from the future. He dispatched Tomaharu Saito in the eighth round and climbed up to 26th place in the standings. Should Ken'ichi hold on and make the National team it would be the second time he achieved that honor since…well…the 20th century. He was on the National team in 1999 alongside another player who has had success on both sides of the century mark - Masashiro Kuroda.
Saturday, 2:12 p.m. - Revenge of the Old Timers
It's not just Ken'ichi Fujita who is showing that players from the old days can hold their own at Nationals against the new wave of talent. Jun Nobushita has been on top of the standings for the past few rounds and felt confident heading into the Standard stretch with his BlueTooth deck. He was in first place and only needed one more win before he could start to draw his way into the elimination rounds.
Jun has been around forever although he has never posted the same kind of results as his more famous teammates like Jin Okamoto. Jun did have a hand in Jin's fame as he was responsible for Jin and company bringing the GobVantage deck to Berlin.
Other players who have been around the Urza's block a time or two include Kazuhiko Mitsuya who was the 2002 Japanese National Champ. Kazuhiko was in third place going into the Standard rounds. Right behind him was 2004 Grand Prix Sendai Champion Ichirou Shimura. Shimura was last seen in the Top 4 of Pro Tour Seattle alongside Ryuchi Arita and Masami Ibamoto.
Reiji Ando in another 20th Century Boy who has been lingering near the top of the standings all weekend. He has made the Top 8 of APAC Championships and GP Shizuoka 2001 but has never had a big breakout performance. At 8-2 and in 9th place going into the last four rounds he only needs a couple more wins to make his big splash in the 21st century.
Some of the more familiar names start to pop up once you get into the 7-3 bracket - players who are already in the single elimination portion of the competition. One more loss will probably all but eliminate Masahiko Morita, Masashi Oiso, Katsuhiro Mori, Ryou Ogura, Kenji Tsumura, and Shuhei Nakamura.
Saturday, 2:34 p.m. - Help me Ryouta Imai, You're My Only Hope
Oliver Oks and Akira Asahara both have taken the critical fourth loss before crossing the Standard threshold of the tournament. While not mathematically eliminated, they are probably not going to reach the Top 8. Only the enigma known as Ryouta Imai and his Deep Weenie deck remains a viable rogue contender from my earlier pool. He was 7-3 heading into Standard.
Saturday, 3:00 p.m. - Draw Go
Katsuhiro Mori and Tsuyoshi Fujita locked up in what looked like an 11th round elimination match. Both players had 3 losses and a 4th seemed like it would be fatal. Both players chose to play mono-blue decks for this tournament and they settled in for a long match.
Mori was playing BlueTooth - the same exact deck as Masashi Oiso - while the Resident Genius and reigning National Champion Fujita was playing the Neil Reeves-ish Jushi Control with a couple of minor tweaks.
After two long, drawn-out, and rules-intensive games (weeks after U.S. Nats and players are still confused about the interactions between Vedalken Shackles and Memnarch) the two players were too spent to keep fighting. After a brief discussion they decided to take their chances with a draw and preserve both players' chances.
Neither of them had any losses left to give after the draw and were truly in single elimination for the last three rounds.
Saturday, 4:08 p.m. - Round 12: Tsuyoshi Fujita vs. Ryouta Imai
I have to confess to having mixed feelings during this feature match. I first became familiar with Tsuyoshi Fujita at my first solo Grand Prix gig in Bangkok a few years back. He stormed that tournament with his Goblin Bidding deck and turned the Standard format on its ear heading into Berlin Worlds. I was impressed by him on so many levels. I was awed by his deck design ability, his play ability, and most importantly his ability to always have fun while playing. 'Discovering' such a talented player at the first event I ever covered on my own has led me to take an almost proprietary interest in Fujita's career.
On the other hand, I have been rooting for Ryouta Imai all weekend ever since he stood out from the rest of the players in the first leg of Standard with his blue-white Deep Weenie deck. Fujita was 7-3-1 coming into this round and was facing elimination. At 7-4, Imai still had an outside shot if he won this match but was likely playing for 9th or 10th at this point.
"Ninja!" exclaimed Tsuyoshi Fujita as Ryouta Imai's turn one Suntail Hawk actually got in for two and a card on the second turn. Fujita was not worried though as he calmly played a turn three Vedalken Shackles. Ryouta got in for another card before the Shackles would come online.
Fujita stole the ninja during Imai's attack step but he made another with the Suntail Hawk and had so many cards in hand he had to discard. Tsuyoshi had made some minor tweaks to the Reeves build of Jushi Control that he was running. The most important change for this game was the addition of the Diamond Valley-like Miren, the Moaning Well. Fujita was able to remove one of Ryouta's creatures each turn while stockpiling a handful of countermagic.
He kept the second ninja to start drawing cards but Ryouta Raised the Alarm and blocked his own guy with the two tokens. Tsuyoshi could have used Echoing Truth or any number of Counterspells but was happy to sit back and animate his Stalking Stones. Neither player did much except make notations on their scorepads as the Stones ticked off three points of Imai's life at a clip - Fujita was discarding Jushi Apprentices and Vedalken Shackles like they were nothing, waiting for Imai to make a move.
Imai finally returned the Shackles with Echoing Truth. Fujita allowed it to resolve and discarded two cards. Imai offered Savannah Lions and the two players traded Mana Leaks. Fujita replayed his Shackles and another counterwar ensued. Imai came out ahead when he untapped and played Damping Matrix.
Fujita was still way ahead on life though and his Stalking Stones traded with the Lions and a Blinkmoth Nexus. Tsuyoshi had another Stones in hand ready to take its place. Ryouta tried to buy another turn with Raise the Alarm but the resident genius had the Last Word.
Fujita - 1 Imai - 0
Fujita immediately sided out his four Last Words and replaced them with Culling Scales. Two Thirst for Knowledge were swapped for a pair of Meloku the Clouded Mirror. Finally two Rewinds and an Annul were desleeved in favor of three Threads of Disloyalty.
Fujita seemed quite pleased with his opponent's deck and kept chuckling about his surprise at being ninja'd in Constructed. Imai kept his opening hand but Fujita could not do the same. He was staring at one land and most of his more expensive spells including both Meloku.
Savannah Lions led off Game 2. It was followed with Suntail Hawk. Fujita's Jushi traded with the Lions but the Hawk once again turned out to be Deep Hours. Fujita's Vedalken Shackles were bounced with Echoing Truth and the ninja kept up the pressure - and the card advantage. After a Jushi Apprentice from Fujita, Imai got in for more cards and added Isamuru to his board. A turn later he added Savannah Lions. Fujita could not keep up with the weenie swarm. Imai had back-to-back Mana Leaks for Shackles and for a Boomerang that would have bought Fujita a turn.
Fujita - 1 Imai - 1
This game was Imai's turn to go down to six cards. His Adarkar Wastes on turn one made a Savannah Lions. Fujita made a Jushi Apprentice and tried to decide if he was going to block or not. The tome-guy stepped out of the way and the Lions were, of course, a ninja. Fujita's Vedalken Shackles meant he would have to let the ninja through one more time.
Fujita stole the ninja before attackers. Ryouta attempted a Damping Matrix but Fujita had Annul. He attacked with Imai's ninja and the quiet player put his Lions in the way. Fujita had to be reminded that both creatures went to Imai's bin. He smiled sheepishly.
He looked through Imai's graveyard and smiled at this young player with the rogue deck, "Weird!"
Spire Golem showed up to play this game and Fujita sat back drawing cards with his Jushi while the Golem took two point bites out of Imai's scorepad. Imai was sitting on three lands for most of this game and could not really do anything. Fujita sculpted an unbeatable control hand with his Jushi while beating with his Spire Golem and eventually a Stalking Stones. There was no question that the reigning National Champion would live to fight another round.
Fujita smiled apologetically at his vanquished opponent - was there a touch of rogueish envy there as well? - and shrugged about how little interaction they had in the last game, "Mana screw."
Fujita - 2 Ninjas - 1
Saturday, 4:08 p.m. - Round 13: Katsuhiro Mori vs. Jun'ichirou Bandou
Katsuhiro Mori and Tsuyoshi Fujita agreed to a draw in round 11 rather than play a grueling third game in the Jushi Control/BlueTooth match-up. Both players knew they would be running a single elimination gauntlet for the remaining three rounds. Both of them emerged unscathed from round 12.
In round 13 Mori found himself staring down the barrel of Jushi Control once again. This time his opponent was Jun'ichirou Bandou last seen finishing third at Grand Prix Taipei with a block Jushi deck. Bandou is a Tokyo player who works with Akira Asahara for events. He is one of those players who always do well but rarely Top 8's. Like Mori, he had an 8-3-1 record coming into this round and needed two wins to post back-to-back Top 8 finishes.
Both players played draw-go for the first four turns. Bandou blinked first with Jushi Apprentice. Mori took that opportunity to try for Thirst for Knowledge but Bandou had a Mana Leak. Mori played Oblivion Stone and when he used it a turn later, Bandou saved his Jushi with Boomerang.
Mori nodded and summoned Meloku. The two players fought over Bandou's Vedalken Shackles but Bandou won the battle with a Hinder and stole Meloku on the next turn. Bandou used Meloku as a 2/4 flier and just kept laying lands and drawing cards with his Jushi.
Mori completed his tron and attempted Memnarch but Last Word meant there would be no fight. Mori was holding a pair of Condescends and used them on his own spell to sift through four cards.
Bandou was not content to sift through four cards. He wanted to draw that many and did so with Tidings. He played two free Spire Golems and Mori conceded to the overwhelming board position and card advantage.
Bandou shuffled his entire sideboard into his library and began pulling out fifteen cards one by one. He took out seven of his original sideboard cards and searched for eight main deck cards to pull out. He hemmed and hawed, ultimately taking out all of his Shackles and Spire Golems for his Acquires and such.
Mori led off with Boseiju and Jun'ichirou 'wastelanded' him on the second turn. The two players traded Mana Leaks over a Serum Visions but that was all the action for the first few turns. Bandou got out ahead on mana and was able to activate his Stalking Stones while Mori was still stuck on four.
Bandou offered up a Jushi Apprentice and Mori needed to sit back and think. He certainly did not want Bandou to get his Jushi on but was also scared what would happen if he tapped out. He tried a Rewind and Bandou had Last Word.
Mori made his tron on the next turn and was able to keep up plenty of mana when he cast Meloku. Bandou tried Acquire on his own turn and Mori Twincast it. Bandou nodded that it was okay since there were no artifacts left in his deck. The same was not true of Mori's deck and Bandou Mindslavered him. Mori picked up three lands in response.
Mori slid out of his chair as the top of his deck yielded Oblivion Stone and Bandou cleared his board. Bandou took his own turn and drew four cards with Tidings and then four more the following turn. Mori looked crestfallen as there was nothing he could do about the Stalking Stones which eventually did him in.
Final result: Mori was now eliminated from Top 8 contention while Jun'ichirou Bandou needed one more win to get his second career Top 8 in the past few weeks.
Tsuyoshi Fujita won the penultimate round after drawing with Mori. Fujita's techy Miren, the Moaning Well worked overtime against Shunsuke Kamei in a Jushi Control mirror match. Despite the win, Tsuyoshi thought his draw gambit was going to backfire and leave him in ninth place.
Saturday, 6:17 p.m. - Something's Got to Give
"I have to win my round," announced Tsuyoshi Fujita as he looked at the standings and pairings going into the final round of the tournament. "And then I need stuff to happen."
There were four pairings with 30 point players at the four tables ahead of him. Tsuyoshi had 28 points and terrible tiebreakers. Even if he won if all the first four tables drew he would most likely fall to 9th. Two of the four tables took the draws - Masashi Oiso vs. Ichirou Shimura and Jun Nobushita vs. Yuuta Hirosawa - but the top two tables featured players with more than 30 points paired down against 30 point players. They had nothing to lose by playing and a repeat Japanese National Champion to gain.
Jun'ya Iyanaga chose to play against Kouji Nose in an agro-red mirror match while Takama Morofuji and his multi-colored Tooth and Nail deck took on Kazuhiko Mitsuya and his mono-colored Tooth deck.
Fujita went up one game against Makahito Mihara's multi-colored Tooth deck and the tumblers began to fall into place for him. Jun'ya quickly dispatched Kouji Nose which made a little room at the top. Just as one piece fell into place another fell apart for Fujita as Takuma and Kazuhiko decided upon the draw.
Everything suddenly came down to Fujita winning and the results of the match between Jun'ichirou Bandou and Masahiko Morita. It was just last season that he got his first ever individual trophy at Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur when Tsuyoshi conceded to him in the semifinals. While nothing was said between the two players that had to be on Morita's mind when he was paired up with no shot at the Top 8 against Jun'ichirou.
Morita went up one game pretty quickly in the Jushi Control mirror. In Game 2, despite flipping a Jushi and outdrawing Morita by a ridiculous margin, Jun-ichirou could find no answer to a Spire Golem that eventually went all the way.
Now all Fujita needed was to win his match and have nothing else go awry - like losing games two and three to Mihara. Which is exactly what happened; the only chance at a repeat champion would be Kazuhiko Mitsuya.
Saturday, 6:26 p.m. - Setting the Standard
Tomohiro Kaji and BDM get personal.
One of my early picks to win the whole tournament was Tomohiro Kaji - one of my favorite up and coming Japanese players. His draft rounds did not go nearly as well as his Standard ones and he finished with yet another Top 16. Alright, 'did not go nearly as well' is polite understatement. He had a catastrophic 3-4 performance. Now maybe 'catastrophic' sounds like overstatement but consider this; Kaji was the only player to 7-0 the Standard portion of the tournament. One more win in Limited and he would be in the Top 8 on Sunday.
His deck was an agro red deck that was sporting Granite Shard in the sideboard for the mirror match - much better than the Honden of Infinite Rage most similar decks were sporting. Kaji pointed out that was almost impossible to kill a Blinkmoth Nexus with a Honden.
“Rage against the Machine” by Tomohiro Kaji
Standard 7-0 Deck