Friday, Aug 25: 11:13 a.m. - Round 1: Masashi Oiso vs. Akira Asahara
Oboro for Oiso followed by Shivan Reef and Eye of Nowhere for the next two turns. Asahara did manage to land a Sensei's Divining Top on turn one but he was discarding by the second slow Boomerang. He pitched Snow-Covered Plains.
Oiso wasted no time against the control deck and dropped a 2/2 Magnivore. Azorius Signet for Akira. Oiso grimaced at his hand - he was on four land with many Wildfires - and decided to 'pump' his Vore with Pyroclasm.
Court Hussar dug Ashara toward land but it was quickly Demolished. He found another in Scrying Sheets and regained some lost life with Faith's Fetters. Asahara had all the parts in place for an amazing card advantage engine but when Oiso played a fresh Magnivore he found himself under the gun. Still he had the Hussar to absorb a blow and had to wait one turn to get his Counterbalance going.
Oiso read the card, "You may?" He Stone Rained the Sheets and Ashara declined to activate. Wrath of God cleared the board. A sly grin formed at the edges of Oiso's mouth as he eyed the Mikokoro he was about the play and the Counterbalance that he was growing wary of. His good humor was tempered by the fact that Ashara had two Tops.
Asahara was well in control now as he topped into a new Scrying Sheets. Suddenly the control slipped as Oiso - who had been digging with his Mikokoro - played Boseiju. Asahara decided this was as good a time as any to cast Enduring Ideal for Zur's Weirding. Oiso's hand: Sleight, Pyroclasm, two Wildfire, and a land. Asahara's hand: Who cares he had already played Enduring Ideal and his kill cards were still in the deck.
Form of the Dragon was in play a turn later. Oiso worked his Mikokoro - most likely just to see as much of Asahara's deck as possible - but the game was already over.
I did not get to see how Asahara sided exactly but while he was shuffling I did catch a glimpse of a spicy little number that I hoped would see some action in the remaining game(s).
Coldsteel Heart, naming blue was the first play from Asahara. He followed up with Counterbalance but without Top he could only hope to synch up with his foe's spells through random chance. He missed on both Stone Rain and Tidings but a Court Husaar soon found him the infernal Champions artifact. Oiso winced and aimed Demolish at an Island - Asahara peeked but chose not to reveal. "Yes," proclaimed Oiso, who still had nothing in play and was slowly being nibbled to death by the Hussar.
Shattering Spree targeting the Heart and the Top with two copies aimed at the Heart. Akira drew a land with his Scrying Sheets, flipped his Top, and let things go at that. He had dealt with all of Ashara's blue sources once he cleared the Heart. Sleight of Hand was countered by the Top on top but Eye of Nowhere returned Counterbalance with no visible means of replaying it next turn. That's when our spicy number stepped in - Asahara Comandeered the Eye by pitching another Comandeer and Hussar to bounce one of Oiso's lands instead.
Oiso reolved Tidings on the next turn but he had thrown out his shoulder trying to hoist the Counterbalance the previous turn and could do nothing to stem the inevitability that seemed to be creeping into the game as Asahara's Scrying Sheets revealed a second copy of the powerful rare land.
Stone Rain took down an Island - Asahara's only blue source - and, with threes obviously in the clear, Oiso dug deep with Compulsive Research. Court Hussar bought Asahara a fresh set of cards to Top with but he still could not find a two to deal with Eye of Nowhere on his enchantment. Magnivore came rushing in with no resistance save for the Courth Hussar the fell beneath its wheels. He took eleven from it on the following turn. Oiso stayed true to his game plan of denying Ashara blue mana and they were soon onto the rubber game.
Boreal Shelf for Asahara was followed by a Pithing Needle with a slip of paper that simply read 'Top'. Stone Rain took out Scrying Sheets and a second one took down the Shelf but not before Ashara revealed an ominous Commandeer on top of his deck. Magnivore revealed a second Commandeer - without the Top the Counterbalnce was pretty random. Faith's Fetters held the Magnivore at bay. Oiso attampet to Eye of Nowhere the Magnivore and - despite holding two Commandeer - Akira offered no resistance. The recast Magniovre was Condemned the following turn.
Another Magnivore hit the board and the top of Ashara's deck revealed Enduring Ideal, which can only hope to counter something one day. The two players got into an exhange of fire over Stone Rain with Oiso's Remand as the last shot fired.
Time was called on the round just as Ashara put Faith's Fetters on top of the Vore. The round ended without either side able to claim victory.
Friday, Aug 25: 12:07 p.m. - The Real Japanimator
One of the more popular decks this weekend should be The Real Japanimator, what amounts to a steroidal version of Solar Flare. The deck is blue-black and does not fool around with mamby-pamby white cards. This deck utilizes the likes of Ideas Unbound, Drowned Rusalka, and Thought Courier to fill the graveyard early and often for a buffet of reanimation spells that includes Zombify, Vigor Mortis, and Footsteps of the Goryo. Reanimation targets include the usual dragons, Simic Sky Swallower, and the Wrath-resistant Protean Hulk.
Iron Man Ken-ichi Fujita was playing the deck, as was everyone's favorite Masashiro Kuroda. Fujita got the deck from Kuroda as the two players have shared a close bond since they were on the 1998 Japanese National team together. The deck is something of a community project for Kuroda and other Osaka pros including Osamu Fujita.
Fujita was in the feature match pit for round two against Naoki Shimizu. You may not recognize Naoki's name but you are definitely familiar with his work. The young player was part of the original offline development team for Solar Flare. In fact he was the player who added the reanimation suite to the deck back when it was just a plain ol' black-white-blue control deck.
While The Real Japanimator (and that's what people here were calling it) seemed like a pretty solid deck it seemed like it was disadvantaged in this match up. In Game 1, all of Osamu's hard work was undone by a single Wrath of God and he did not have one of his own to deal with the end results of all of Naoki's card advantage. In middle game, Osamu displayed the fearsome might of Drowned Rusalka when he sent Mindslicer binward with an advantaged board. In the final game, Osamu could not navigate a gauntlet of four consectutive Remands on his reanimation spells while Naoki set up a backbreaking Zombify to take out Dimir Aqueduct with Angel of Dispair while Fujita's mana was already challenged.
Solar Flare - 2 The New Japanimator - 1
Friday, Aug 25: 12:32 p.m. - Decklists: Grinders Decks
Watanabe Kazuki - 5CM/5
Top 2 - Solar Flare - Japanese Nationals Grinder #1
Hirotoshi Ito -
Top 2 - Solar Flare - Japanese Nationals Grinder #1
Takayuki Rita - Sun Field
Top 2 - Solar Flare - Japanese Nationals Grinder #2
Top 2 - Vore - Japanese Nationals Grinder #2
Top 2 - Snakes - Japanese Nationals Grinder #3
Nobu Ishige - Dark Boros
Top 2 - Dark Boros - Japanese Nationals Grinder #3
Yoshihiko Ikawa -
Top 2 - Snakes - Japanese Nationals Grinder #4
Hirofumi Koyano - SGI
Top 2 - Boros - Japanese Nationals Grinder #4
Winner - Rhythm Method - Japanese Nationals Grinder #5
Toshiyuki Kadooka - Sun Field
Winner - Japanese Nationals Sealed Deck Grinder #1
Friday, Aug 25: 1:09 p.m. - Round 3: The Debut of Yaso Control?
There was no way I could win my wager with Mike Flores. We had been joking about the likelihood of Shouta Yasooka playing Sensei's Divining Top and Counterbalance by turn two of round one of this weekend's tournament. Shouta is the frontrunner in this season's Player of the Year race and recently won Pro Tour Charleston as a member of Kajiharu80. He is also the most renowned control player in all of Japan. Island lovers anticipate his control creations - known as YasoControl decks - each season and he did not disappoint this weekend - other than me and MichaelJ. He was playing Counterbalance but only in the sideboard - specifically for the Heartbeat matchup.
There was no control to be found for Yasooka in Game 1 as he was behind from turn one of the game when his Rakdos opponent enchanted a land with Genju of the Spires. If you have any doubts about how good Dark Confident is you only needed to see how quickly Hidenori Katayama dispatched them - one with Shock and the other with Demonfire. I was unfamiliar with Hidenori before this round and the Japanese reporter sharing the table with me whispered what I though was, "He is a writing star in Japan."
It did not take me watching the match for very long to realize that what he actually said was, "He is a rising star in Japan."
In Game 2 Yasooka pitched Spell Snare to Disrupting Shoal a Genju on turn one. As a result he had no answer for Rakdos Guildmage or the Cruel Edict that took down his Phyrexian Ironfoot over the next few turns. The Rakdos Guildmage did the bulk of the work, eating up Yaso's life total in ragged four point bites. Eventually Yaso was able to play Meloku but the only way that was going to help was if he had another turn. With Hidenori Katayama holding on to a grip full of Char, Demonfire, and Volcanic Hammer it was obvious - at least from my vantage - that it would not.
The rising star was off to a 3-0 start for his Nationals weekend while Shouta fell back into the crowded 2-1 pack.
Car availability is always an issue when you are building a deck in the opening weekend of a new format but Hidenori's story was one of the more unusual scenarios I have seen. As I watched him dismantle Shouta in two quick games I noticed that he was playing snow-covered lands with no snow cards in sight. I flipped through his sideboard and saw no Skreds or Rimescale Dragons.
"Originally I was going to side Ironfoot," he explained while fanning a set of Bottled Cloisters that he put in their place at the last minute. He held his hands up in a gesture of futility when I asked him why he still had the snow lands: "I could not find normal Mountains."
Friday, Aug 25: 1:42 p.m. - Time Spiral Promo Art
As I was clearing off some workspace in the coverage room I stumbled across these stunning promo pieces for the next Magic set lying around. While the art from the two cards was not designed as a set - and were actually drawn by two different illustrators - the art was selected for the promo pieces to make it look as if the two characters were preparing to do battle. Each character was assigned a couple of lines of dialogue as well, which I was able to get translated by Ron Foster (remember, this gets read from right to left!)
Nasty looking gas masked guy reading from a scroll as depicted by Greg Staples: "I proclaim to you now, the time for a new battle has come!"
Kick-ass angel with a jagged sword as drawn by Scott Fischer: "Drawn by the spiral of time, predestined war is about to begin… anew!"
Friday, Aug 25: 3:35 p.m. - Drafting with Kenji Tsumura
Reigning Player of the Year Kenji Tsumura has been gearing up for the home stretch of the 2006 season. The shortened Pro Tour season has left him chasing after points on the Grand Prix path. With 16 of his current 27 Pro Points coming on the back of his two GP wins and one 3rd place finish you can bet that he will be chasing after more points wherever he can get them. A return to the Japanese National team would be an excellent opportunity for the Hiroshima resident to make up some additional ground in his attempt to go back to back in PoY titles (not to mention hitting Level 5 or Level 6 again).
He went 2-1 during the Standard portion with Heartbeat and was looking for a solid 3-1 or 4-0 in Ravnica block draft to put himself in good shape for a Day Two run at the National Team. Both of his Grand Prix wins featured RGD as the draft format so he seemed a natural player to stand behind, notepad at the ready, entering the Limited portion of play. I can see a case for covering Osawa and Komura, the two Limited Pro Tour winners in the room, who were sitting next to each other one table over but they seemed destined for a showdown. I penciled them in for a future feature and hunkered down behind the PoY.
Ravnica offered him a choice of solid common and uncommon creatures and pseudo-creatures but only the rare slot featured removal and Kenji - who wanted to go red-green-black coming into the draft - took Char. His second pick was somewhat more difficult. He wanted to take the Last Gasp but seemed surprised to fine Halcyon Glaze still there. He went back and forth between the two cards before shaking the cobwebs out of his head and taking the removal. The rest of the picks seemed to go according to plan with Darkblast, Shambling Shell, and Carven Caryatid all sitting in the pile in front of him before the packs winded their way around the table. Going into Guildpact he had a decent menagerie of critters - with the fat of the deck scheduled to arrive in pack two - and primo removal.
Guildpact kicked off with nary a Gruul card in sight. Izzet Chronarch, and Blind Hunter lobbied on behalf of their respective guilds but Kenji stuck to his plan and opted for the mana-fixing goodness-and-oh-yeah-I-can-block-fliers attitude of the Starfletcher with his first pick. Kenji seemed a little nervous when he could only pick a card with half a foot in his preferred guild. Pyromatics is nothing to sneeze at but Kenji was looking for the booming footfalls of Streetbreaker Wurms. He reluctantly passed another Starfletcher and Douse in Gloom for the Gruul Guildmage but that was about it for green for the rest of the second set. He did manage to nab a pair of Izzet Boilerworks after he dipped into blue for Izzet Chronarch. Going into the final pack Kenji found himself more or less at the mercy of the person to his right to answer the questions his deck was posing. Was it going to be Rakdos or Simic? What would he do if all he saw was Azorius?
It looked like the answer was Simic as Kenji wrestled between Crime//Punishment, Aquastrand Spider, and Assault Zeppelid. He took the fattie flier despite the lure of the grafty two-drop. Minister of Impediments was a no-doubter for his second pick but he took the maximum amount of time to decide between Pantaga Viper and Aquastrand Spider and reluctantly he took the flier and friends. He finally was able to pick a Spider with his fourth pick but he had to pass Simic Growth Chamber to do it. The picks petered out and as the draft wound down it was pretty clear from his body language that he was not happy with how the draft turned out.
"I wanted Gruul," he explained later that he was looking for Streetbreaker Wurm, Ghor-Clan Savage, and Scab-Clan Maulers and was perfectly willing to have first picked any of them had he seen one.
"Zero, zero, zero - and no Elves of Deep Shadow!" he complained about the amount of boom-booms there were for him to draft in that second pack. He fanned his Starfletcher and Guildmage dejectedly, "That was it for green. It is going to be rough. I was hoping to go 3-1…"
"This may have been a mistake," lamented Kenji as he looked at the Viper he passed Aquastrand Spider for. "Maybe I should have switched to blue-red-black."
As he laid out the deck and started to finalize his build he made a guttural hissing noise. Ron Foster leaned over to me and stage whispered, "Here is your Japanese 101 lesson for the day… That sound means, 'I am not happy'.
Kenji went back and forth on whether or not to include his small suite of black cards in the deck. Every time the Last Gasp, Darkblast, Shambling Shell, and Rakdos Signet would drift toward his playables it would wreak havoc on the mana he was trying to balance. He was laying cards face down to indicate how many of each basic lands he was going to need to play and it was a challenging enough exercise with three piles of land types - he didn't know if he could get away with only two Mountains along with his pair of Boilerworks. The black removal did not offer enough to offset having to add a fourth pile of face down cards.
The black was cut entirely in the end and replaced with a lowly Simic Initiate and two Leap of Flame. Even with the streamlined mana it was going to be an uphill battle for this deck to eke out the three wins Kenji felt he needed to count Day One as a success.
2006 Japan Nationals Draft 1 Deck
Friday, Aug 25: 4:47 p.m. - Round 6: Takuya Oosawa vs. Shuhei Nakamura
This match could end up being pretty relevant when the tape at the end of Player of the Year race is finally snapped. Pro Tour Prague trophy holder, Takawa Oosawa and back-to-back Grand Prix miser Shuhei Nakamura are third and second, respectively, in the Player of the Year standings. If either of them are going to catch or pass Shouta Yasooka they may very well need a National team berth, and the bonus Pro Points associated with the doing well in the team competition, in order to do it.
This was an uneventful game with only a Seal of Fire from Osawa before he stalled on two lands. Shuhei scuffled briefly but even with that had three lands, Signet, and a Terraformer to make it all work. Osawa found an Island to play Silkwing Scout but Shuhei got it out of the way with Sparkmage Apprentice.
The Prague winner let out an exasperated sigh as Compulsive Research resulted in him discarding two green cards and still not finding a land. Meanwhile, Shuhei was massing his troops along the red zone. Tattered Drake was joined by a Streamcore Weird - taking out Bloodscale Prowler - and Shuhei was able to take Game 1 without having to reveal the Mark of Eviction he had been holding onto all game.
This game started with a mulligan for Shuhei. He found Sparkmage Apprentice off the top of his deck on turn four to deal with a freshly cast Silkwing Scout but Shuhei would have gladly taken land number three instead. Takuya played Wojek Embermage and dug with Compulsive Research.
Land number three for Shuhei created a problem - he could not choose between casting Terraformer or Hit // Run. Instead he just passed the turn. Oosawa was reluctant to use his Embermage on a 1/1 of the same color and went to his own turn and attacked. Shuhei's patience was rewarded and he took out the pinger and cost Oosawa four life.
Oosawa followed up with a vanilla Izzet Chronarch and Birds of Paradise. Shuhei sent his Sparkmage into battle and Oosawa blocked with the Chronarch. Shuhei finished the job with Riot Spikes and added a Tin-Street Hooligan to his scant forces.
It looked like he might be able to stabilize until Oosawa played a giant, red, hasty monster - Stalking Vengeance. Shuhei forestalled the inevitable by chumping with and repealing his Tin-Street. Oosawa suddenly dumped an army of guys into play - Vigean Hydropon, Bloodscale Prowler, and Simic Guildmage. Shuhei looked at the Hex he was holding, calculated the number of turns/topdecks he would need to reach six mana, and scooped.
Shuhei chose to draw in Game 3 and both players kept. Simic Guildmage led things off for Oosawa while Shuhei had to discard for his Karoo. Should Oosawa win the Player of the Year race this season there can be little doubt that it was in no small part due to graft. Takaya's deck made like Tammany Hall over the next few turns, showing off the skill that led him to victory in Prague. After casting Vigean Hydropon on turn three he attacked for three with Guildmage on turn four. Fists of Ironwood came down after that attack and made two 2/2s that threatened to become 3/3's next turn. Shuhei Repealed one token in search of land and when he was unsuccessful bounced the Guildmage with his second Repeal. He found a Swamp.
Oosawa just shrugged and blew out his Hydropon to make a 3/2 Silkwing - no Apprnetice shenanigans this game - and a 3/3 Guildmage. Shuhei was still hoping for red mana but it never arrived and he was overwhelmed by Oosawa's under-the-table army.
Final result: Takuya Oosawa - 2 Shuhei Nakamura - 1
Friday, Aug 25: 6:22 p.m. - Round 7: Katsuhiro Mori vs. Akira Asahara
Had a couple of key plays bounced a little differently for Asahara during the semifinals of 2005 World Championships this could have been a rematch of the finals from that tournament. As it was it was showdown between two of the country's finest players. Mori was looking to become one of three potential 7-0 players with a win this round. Asahara - who got started with a draw - was looking to end his day at 6-1-1.
Mori came out early behind Hydropon with a pair of buffed up Verdant Eidolon and a burly Gruul Guildmage. Akira was hiding behind Benevolent Anscestor and hoping to get to use his freshly cast Gelectrode. Mori hit a bit of a land pocket and that was all the window Ashara needed to try and steal back the game. He was able to power up his Gelectrode with a series of cantrips - two Repeals and Withstand - and clear Mori's board. With the discard side of Rise // Fall he was even able to make the Guildmage go away forever after it was Repealed to Mori's hand. Enemy of the Guildpact and Skyknight Legionnaire constituted an offense for Asahara and he took Game 1.
Mori came out fast in the second game as well with Minsister of Impediments and Scatter the Seeds. Asahara had Weird for the tapper but Mori even had Gather Courage to save it. He played a pair of Ghor-Clan Savages over the next two turns - super-sized, of course. Both players had land and spells but Mori's were bigger and faster.
With a potential 7-0 on the horizon, Mori began to slap himself in the face as he always does when he needs to focus himself. Asahara also stayed in character - he was calm, quiet, and polite. He didn't even gripe about mulliganing his opening hand or being stuck on one land. It was only for a turn though and he had kept the second hand on the basis of two Signets in his grip. He found land on turn three and was in business.
Mori kicked the creatures off with a Hydropon while Asahara had Gelectrode. Mori put six points of power into play at instant speed thanks to Scatter the Seeds. Asahara nudged his Wee Dragonauts into the red zone to either eat an oncoming token or bait a trick - he hooked Gather Courage. When Mori added Ghor-Clan Savage to his side of the board it looked like the 7-0 was all sewn up. Especially since it appeared that Asahara was not playing sharp. He missed a chance to deal with two tokens when he Repealed one and did not double Gelectrode the other. It did not matter - much - as he 'cycled' into another Repeal and finished off the remaining two.
Mori just shrugged and played Leaf Drake Roost. Now all Asahara had to do was figure out a way to deal with a fattie and an Outpost. He shot the Hydropon to death while bouncing the Savage and regrowing his Wee Dragonauts with Rise // Fall. He attacked with Skyknight Legionnaire - all in all an impressive showing for the Worlds semifinalist. He still had the World Champion's Roost to deal with though - not to mention a freshly baked Gruul Guildmage.
Asahara played Rakdos Guildmage and passed the turn. Mori made a roost token. Mori untapped and began allocating mana for all the things he wanted to be able to do by time his next turn rolled around and he was just shy of being able to make a flier and a fattie. The two fliers traded and Mori just played Terrarion with the ability to churn out a flier every turn and back it up with his Guildmage.
Wee Dragonauts saw play again and Mori made a token. He considered attacking but decided to wait for a better position. Asahara used his Guildmage EOT to force Mori to tap down four to save it. This meant Mori would have to choose between making a token and saving his Guildmage on Ashara's turn.
Ashara chose to force the issue and discarded another land targeting the Guildmage. Mori used its ability again and Asahara did the final two by making his Gelectrode dance to the Macabre Waltz - getting back Steamcore Weird.
It was a complicated game state and Asahara was very deliberate in all his actions - Mori glanced nervously at the clock. The Weird took down one flying token but another quickly replaced it - unless Asahara could find his Absolver Thrull he would eventually be overwhelmed by fliers. Or would he?
At eight mana he was able to generate a token and kill a flyer every turn - provided he was willing to throw away a card. Mori found a Mortify for the Guildmage and it looked like he was going to make it all the way to 7-0 but a timely appearance by a Hellbent Cackling Flames allowed Asahara to wrap it up and end his day at 5-1-1.
Final result: Akira Asahara - 2 Katsuhiro Mori - 1