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Grand Prix Kobe - Day 1 Coverage

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  • Saturday, 9:10 a.m.: A Look Back at Kobe
    by Bill Stark
  • Kobe, Japan has a storied tradition when it comes to hosting Magic tournaments. Prior to this weekend the professional circuit (Pro Tour or Grand Prix level) has been to town five times. Walk with us now down memory lane as we take a look back at each of those events.

    Grand Prix Kobe, 2001

    The first Grand Prix held in Kobe, a decade ago in 2001, was a record breaker. Not only was it the largest Magic tournament ever held in Kobe, a not unsurprising figure considering it was the first premier event held in the city, but it was the largest Grand Prix EVER. The event was the very first Grand Prix to break 1,000 players with a whopping 1,350 showing up to battle using the Invasion Block Constructed format.

    The Finals saw two of the country's biggest stars squaring off: Itaru Ishida and future Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura. Ishida's blue-white-red control deck proved victorious as he became the first Kobe champion.


    Read more from the event in the coverage archive.

    Pro Tour Kobe, 2004

    It would be three years before the professional circuit returned to Kobe, but when it did it would bring the Pro Tour to the city for the first time. Featuring the Mirrodin Block Constructed format, Pro Tour Kobe 2004 would become arguably the most important Pro Tour held to date in the nation. The reason? Its champion, for the first time, would hail from Japan.

    The format had been utterly dominated by the powerful Affinity deck, fully charged with artifact lands, Disciple of the Vault, and Skullclamp, many of which would later become banned. When the Top 8 was announced it featured big names in the likes of Ben Stark, Jelger Wiegersma, and Gabriel Nassif. Quietly lurking amongst them was Masashiro Kuroda. The unassuming Japanese star was not playing Affinity, but instead a Monored Control deck built to take advantage of his opponents' love of artifacts. Though his Finals opponent, Nassif, was himself playing an innovative non-Affinity deck called Twelve Post, Kuroda had the power of an entire nation's support urging him on. When the dust settled and he was handed the title, he became the very first individual Pro Tour champion from Japan paving the way for many more to follow.


    Read the coverage from the archives.

    Pro Tour Kobe, 2006

    The next visit from the Pro Tour came to Kobe in 2006 and marks the only time the city has ever seen a title won by a non-Japanese player. The winner of that tournament? European Jan Moritz-Merkel, who was playing in his very first Pro Tour as a 17 year old. It was not for lack of trying, however, that Japan lost the title. Three Japanese players managed to make the cut to the Top 8 of the event, including superstars Tomoharu Saito and Kenji Tsumura at the height of his career.

    The format was Time Spiral Booster Draft, and Moritz-Merkel showed a solid understanding of the format by drafting a powerful blue-green tempo build. Though it was his first Pro Tour and he was only 17, the German demonstrated a masterful comprehension of the game's finer things by out playing Brazil's super star Willy Edel in the Finals of the event.


    Read the coverage from the archives.

    Grand Prix Kobe, 2008

    In a trend that has been true for the majority of Kobe events, the 2008 Grand Prix held in the city once again featured a Block Constructed format, this time of the Lorwyn variety. After watching a non-Japanese player win a title in the city for the first time just two years prior, the nation came out in force for the event. The Top 8 was dominated by Japanese players, who took up 100% of the possible single elimination spots.

    The winner? Yuuta Takahashi, hailed by the likes of the country's most respected players as the future of Japanese Magic, who took the title down playing a deck he would become known for: blue-black Faeries. On the back of Cryptic Command and Bitterblossom he made short work of his opponents and took down a title that helped propel him on to success across the professional stage.


    Read the coverage from the archive.

    Grand Prix Kobe, 2009

    The very next year the Grand Prix circuit returned to Kobe for its final stop before this weekend. The format then was the same as it is now as players brought their Extended decks to the battlefield. The contents of those decks, however, were markedly different than they are today thanks to a wider breadth of blocks being allowed for competition and the sets stretching back further in time (though they naturally lacked the sets that have been released afterwards).

    The victor of that event was Tomoharu Saito playing a teched out Zoo list that sought to gain an edge over its opponents by playing a full playset of Ethersworn Canonists maindeck. With Tarmogoyf and Umezawa's Jitte, his beasts proved too much for the rest of the field to handle and he took down the title.


    Read the coverage from the archives.

    That's where the game has come from here in Kobe, but to find out where it's going you'll need to check back all weekend long for updates from the floor as Grand Prix Kobe 2011 concludes!


     

  • Saturday, 9:25 a.m.: What to Expect: Extended Leading Up To Grand Prix Kobe
    by Nate Price
  • As Grand Prix Kobe prepares to begin, the qualifying season for Pro Tour Nagoya prepares to draw to an end. Over the past months, players have kneaded and prodded the Extended format into its current state. But what state is that? Looking at the past few weeks' worth of Extended data, I've gathered a pretty good idea of what to expect moving forward with this tournament.

    If the number of types of decks both to make Top 8 of or win a PTQ is any indication, the current Extended format is wide open. There were over a dozen distinct deck types that manage to get their blue envelope this season. There were over two dozen types of decks that made it to the Top 8 of the many PTQs held this season. Clearly, much as in Legacy, if you play a deck you know well, you have a decent chance to succeed in this format.

    Despite the wide open nature of Extended, there were definitely a few kings of the hill. Of the dozens of decks to succeed at the PTQ level, there were three that were played with such an overwhelming frequency and level of success that I dub them the decks to know. They are Faeries, the various faces of UW, and Valakut.

    If you've been paying attention to the Extended format over the past months, these names should not be foreign to you. Since the very first week of the Nagoya qualifying season, these decks have made their presence felt. As the season went by, they were clearly the most powerful decks in the format, and players were never able to come up with a deck that was able to consistently dethrone them atop the standings.

    Faeries has been a staple in every format in which it was legal since Lorwyn was printed. Much like Psychatog before it, the powerful black/clue deck features a host of permission, removal, and card drawing backed up by a set of game-ending creatures. Unlike Psychatog, this deck features the flashy Faerie suite of Spellstutter Sprite, which doubles as countermagic; Mistbind Clique, which effectively doubles as a Time Walk; Vendilion Clique, which can derail an opponent's strategy; and Bitterblossom, which provides a fairly quick, difficult to deal with clock.

    Faeries runs considerably more like a Blue Skies deck of old than a control deck, using its meager amount of permission as support for the cheap threats it tosses on the table. In addition, since most of the creatures it pays have flash, it is able to be completely reactive, choosing to deal with cards an opponent plays or add a threat to the table as suits the situation. This incredible flexibility makes it a serious threat and explains why it has qualified more players than any other deck throughout this season.

    Blue/White is an interesting case study in the impact of one format on another. As it exists today, the UW decks have merged a basic Faerie creature build, useful for the same reasons as in the Faerie deck described above, with the Stoneforge Mystic package from Pro Tour Paris's winning Caw Go deck. The Standard powerhouse used Squadron Hawk to gain card advantage and provide evasive attackers to hold the Swords that it's Mystics fetched up.

    In Extended, access to the Faeries gives the deck more versatility with its creatures, just as much card advantage, and a generally quicker clock than its Standard progenitor. Once a Sword of Feast and Famine is equipped, the deck can feel free to tap its mana more or less with impunity, allowing it to play cards like Gideon Jura, Sun Titan, and Mirran Crusader without feeling vulnerable. The discard effect is also incredibly powerful against Faeries. While some decks have chosen to keep the Squadron Hawks in the deck, it appears that the more successful build is the one that uses the reactive Faeries instead.

    Valakut is the most played deck in the Top 8s of the PTQs, though it doesn't have the same qualification pedigree as the other two decks. The deck uses various mana ramping cards, most notably Primeval Titan, to power out enough lands to turn on Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. After that, killing an opponent is nothing more than playing Mountains.

    The main difference between the Standard version of this deck and the Extended one is a little card called Scapeshift. Scapeshift allows the deck to win from seemingly nowhere. Once you reach seven lands, you simply play Scapeshift, search up your Valakut and some Mountains, and extend your hand to your opponent as he dies under a slew of triggered abilities. This explosiveness gives Valakut something the other deck lack, which is part of what draws so many people to it: sometimes it just wins, even in unwinnable games. Unfortunately, despite the general redundancy in the deck, it does have a slight weakness to bad draws and to interference from an opponent.

    Since Faeries is effectively built on interfering with an opponent, as well as killing them quickly, it has kept Valakut from putting more people through to the Pro Tour. However, the sheer overwhelming power of the deck has kept it a player favorite from the beginning of the season. I don't anticipate that changing here at Grand Prix Kobe.


     

  • Saturday, 10:05 a.m.: Bye, Bye, Bye
    by Nate Price
  • In addition to being one-third of an insidious plot by 'N Sync to take over the minds of the world's youths, the bye is an equally powerful tool in any Magic player's arsenal. A bye is effectively a free win! And who doesn't like winning? Anyone out there with a raised hand, please leave this blog entry. This isn't for you.

    Ahem.

    Now that those of us who love winning are alone, let me break it down for you. Since most Grand Prix are about fifteen or so rounds of Swiss, getting three free wins is one-fifth of those you need to get yourself into the Top 8. That's huge! The best part is that since the wins come at the beginning of the tournament, they go a long way towards improving your tiebreakers, since you start playing opponents with perfect records. It also gives you three more hours before your tournament actually starts to get yourself mentally prepared to play Magic, which is often overlooked, yet integral to success. In short, byes make you significantly more likely to succeed at Grand Prix.

    For those of you that don't know, byes can be gained in a couple of different ways. First, they are given as rewards to successful players. The higher your rating in a given format, the more byes you get. Consider this an incentive to play as much as you can. The more you play and win, regardless of the level of the event, the closer you get to getting those all-important byes. It's possible for you to have multiple byes at your first Grand Prix having played in no event other than your weekly Friday Night Magi tournaments, provided you consistently do well at them!

    The next way, and the one that will apply to most players out there, myself included, is the Grand Prix Trial. GPTs are run throughout the course of the year by tournament organizers throughout the world. They come in two flavors: generic, which are byes useable at any one Grand Prix for the rest of the year, and specific, which are good only for a single Grand Prix. To find the next Grand Prix Trial in your area, just check with your local tournament organizer to see when they've got one planned.

    If you make it out to a Grand Prix to play a little Magic but don't yet have your byes, don't fret. There are Grand Prix Trials run all day on Friday, each one giving away the set of three byes to the winner. Grand Prix Kobe 2010 is no exception. As coverage reporters, we like these Grand Prix Trials because they give us one last glimpse into what to potentially expect for the tournament's field in the days to come. Maybe we'll see your name up here at a Grand Prix in the future!

    Here are the decklists used by players this weekend to pick up their byes:










     

  • Saturday, 10:35 a.m.: Kenji Speaks
    by Bill Stark
  • Japan's Kenji Tsumura commenced his Pro Tour career in Chicago. The year was 2003, and the Top 8 of the event was one of the game's most legendary featuring three future Hall of Famers and both Kai Budde and Jon Finkel. But for Kenji it was simply an introduction to professional play. He stayed under the radar throughout the 2003 and 2004 seasons before setting the Magic world on fire in 2005. A money appearance at the first stop of the season was a preview for Pro Tour Atlanta, where he made the Top 8 for the very first time, playing on the big stage on a Saturday.

    The very next stop on the 2005 season, Philadelphia, welcomed the diminutive star back to the Saturday stage as he managed a back-to-back Top 8 performance there before losing in the Finals. He would Top 8 once more that season, in Los Angeles, truly one of the most outstanding seasons of any professional career. Before stepping away from the game to focus his attentions on studying a few years later, Kenji would dominate the Pro Tour as part of a Japanese community that seemed to win every event on the map. Though the title of Pro Tour champion would elude him, he managed to earn so many Pro Points he was crowned the 2005 Player of the Year, beating Olivier Ruel by a single point and harboring in an era of Japanese Players of the Year that would remain locked up until this past season when his country's stranglehold on the title was broken by American Brad Nelson.

    Despite taking some time off from the hardcore Pro Tour lifestyle to conclude his studies, Kenji remains one of the game's elite players. In the nearly two decade history of the Pro Tour, only a half dozen players besides Kenji have managed to play on the Saturday stage of a Pro Tour more than five times. With a lull in his studies due to Spring Break, he arrived at the Grand Prix this weekend looking to get his game on and perhaps even add another title to his already very impressive resume. I sat down to speak with him during the bye rounds.


    Bill: What brings you to Grand Prix Kobe this weekend, after you've missed a number of events over the past few years?

    Kenji: Kobe is very close to my home town of Osaka. It's only about an hour away.

    Bill: How much Magic are you playing these days? Is it still a big part of your life even though you're studying full time?

    Kenji: I play about five hours a day on Magic Online, but mostly Standard. School started again so I will have to cut back. I have three more years of studies, but Magic is still a big part of my life. It's not my job right now, but it's still my life. I can't live without it. I write for the Japanese Magic site, so writing and playing Magic Online is how I enjoy the game.

    Bill: And after your studies finish, what will you do then?

    Kenji: I hope to work for Wizards. I'd like to organize tournaments, so I'd like to work in Organized Play.

    Bill: How has the Pro Tour changed over the years that you've been playing on it?

    Kenji: Magic Online became good practice in about 2004. It's very important for winning now. Brad Nelson is a MTGO superstar. Every player has an average deck now because they can see the decklists from Magic Online, so the program really makes us better. The top tier of players is much closer in skill level now than they used to be. That makes it harder to win, but it's good for Magic.

    Bill: You burst onto the scene in 2005 as Japan began dominating the Pro Tour. Since that time Japan has cooled off and other countries, like the United States, have surged back to the forefront of the Pro Tour. Why do you feel that is?

    Kenji: Many pros from then got jobs and don't have time to play Magic. Back then we played Magic every day without jobs or school, like 12 hours each day. But now we can't, and it's really hard to keep up competitively. Three years before my big season Japan was not good, and teams like YMG [Your Move Games] were dominant. Then things switched, and now they're back. The U.S. has Luis Scott-Vargas, Owen Turtenwald, Michael Jacob, Brad Nelson...those players were growing up then, just like we were before them.

    Bill: Do you think that will change for Japan in the near future?

    Kenji: Yes. We have our own rising stars who will be good in the future, like Ken Yukuhiro and Yoshiko Ikawa.

    Bill: Finally, do you have any predictions for your chances this weekend?

    Kenji: [Laughing] To be honest, I didn't practice too much. Right now I just hope to make Day 2!


     

  • Saturday, 10:59 a.m.: West (and Juza) Meet East
    by Nate Price
  • Wandering through the event hall as the player sat down for their player meeting, I spotted a couple familiar faces that I've come to expect at these Japanese Grand Prix: Alex West and Martin Juza. Considering that I've been fortunate enough to work at least one Japanese tournament each of the last three years, I've gotten a pretty good idea of the players that regularly make the journey here for the Grand Prix. For me, these tournaments are the ones I look forward to the most each year. I love chances to get out to Japan to explore a culture I am incredibly fascinated by. I love the train rides that I have to take to get from Tokyo to whichever city the event is taking place in. I love getting to go out for sushi, karaoke, and drinks with friends. I love getting to see the incredible architecture an history that surrounds me every time I wander about.

    Considering Juza and West are more or less regulars on the Japanese circuit, I was interested what it was about Japan that fascinates them enough to get them to make the long journey time after time.

    Alexander West

    Nate: You guys are pretty much regulars as far as making it to the Japanese Grand Prix. What is it that draws you to Japan?

    Martin Juza: I just really like it out here. These trips are easy for me because I can always stay at Shuhei Nakamura's for a few days before the day to test and get rid of my jet lag. Also, the people are really nice here. I like basically everything about this nation, especially the food and drink. I'm always looking forward to eating udon. I guess it doesn't hurt that the Grand Prix here are always smaller than those in Europe, too.

    Alex West: Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite place to travel to is, I always say Japan. Honestly, it's mostly for the food. I am a huge sushi fan and the fish out here is just absolutely the best in the world. I will admit, though, that this is my first trip to Kobe, and if we had steak like this at home, I would probably eat steak three or four times a week! The people here are also incredibly courteous and helpful, it's really nice. As a westerner, this country just seems to make sense. Everything is laid out and planned very well, it's all logically done. I also have a soft spot in my heart for trains. I wish there were more trains in the US like the ones they have here in Japan.

    Nate: Do you do a lot while in Japan other than play Magic?

    Martin Juza

    MJ: Heh, I'll probably go visit the castle in Nagoya, but other than that, not really. I would go shopping, but everything in Japan that's like an extra-large is a small in Europe, or a super small in the US!

    AW: Hmm, that depends on the trip. I often do. This trip, for example, I woke up extra early in Tokyo to go visit the massive fish market. It's mind-bogglingly large. I'm talking six or seven city blocks full of people out selling fish bright and early in the morning. I also really enjoyed stopping by one of those pod hotels. You know, the ones with the sleeping tubes. Those have always intrigued me.

    Nate: What is the coolest thing you've seen or done while in Japan?

    MJ: Hmm, I'd probably say the parties that Tomoharu Saito used to throw for players. Umm, I'll be honest, I don't really remember too much about them, but I definitely remember that they were a good time!

    AW: Honestly, I love people. I'd have to say that my favorite parts about coming to Japan are the amazing parties that Saito threw at the end of every tournament. After two days of doing nothing but playing Magic, it's great to have a chance to unwind, hang out with friends, and meet new ones. I've met a lot of great Japanese players I might not have otherwise known had it not been for those chances to get together. They're just great for the social community of the game.

    Nate: Are you looking forward to Pro Tour Nagoya and Grand Prix Hiroshima?

    MJ: Yeah! I'm definitely coming for the Pro Tour, and Kenji Tsumura told me I could stay with him for the Grand Prix, and it's a Limited Grand Prix, so there's really no reason not to come!

    AW: Of course! The cool thing about living on the west coast is that Japanese tournaments are so easy to get to!


     

  • Round 4: Kenji Tsumura vs. Naoto Sekine
    by Bill Stark
  • It has been over half a decade since Japan's Kenji Tsumura burst onto the Pro Tour during the 2005 season. He ripped off an impressive three Pro Tour Top 8s that year before narrowly defeating future Hall of Fame candidate Olivier Ruel for the title of Pro Tour Player of the Year (by a single point!). His opponent for the round was Naoto Sekine of Kanagawa who was hoping to steal the victory as the David to Kenji's Goliath.

    Squadron Hawk was the first creature to the battlefield entering play on behalf of Sekine. His opponent matched it with a Stoneforge Mystic calling forth the ubiquitous Sword of Feast and Famine to Kenji's hand, a move that constantly seems to follow the 1/2 whenever it's cast. Naoto had the first equipment on the battlefield, however, spending his third turn's mana on a Sword of Body and Mind which could be picked up quite efficiently by his Hawk.

    Not wanting to lose Sword advantage, Kenji cast a Squadron Hawk of his own to serve as a blocker. That didn't stop Naoto from equipping and charging in and the game settled into a stall as both players began deploying Hawks while trying to maneuver for superiority in the red zone with their equipment.

    Kenji Tsumura

    A Spectral Procession gave the edge to Naoto who managed to significantly expand the number of evasive attackers he had on the battlefield for just a single mana more than casting yet another Squadron Hawk. He was also able to use a Path to Exile to clear the way for a Sword'ed creature to connect and Kenji found himself seriously behind on the battlefield. He used a Jace, the Mind Sculptor in an attempt to catch up, then cast a Stoneforge Mystic for a second Sword of Feast and Famine but neither was close to sufficient and he found himself succumbing to his opponent's massive army of attacking, Sword-bearing flyers.

    Naoto Sekine 1, Kenji Tsumura 0

    Though he had managed to win the first game, Naoto Sekine found himself in a bit of a hole to kick off the second, having to take a mulligan while his opponent opened on Stoneforge Mystic for Sword of Feast and Famine. Naoto also had a Mystic, but his fetched Mortarpod. The Germ token could help him keep his opponent's weenie creatures under control, but because it was black it was unable to deal with Kenji's next threat: a Stillmoon Cavalier. The 2/1 effectively had protection from Sekine's deck, and it promptly picked up Sword of Feast and Famine and began putting Kenji ahead in the game.

    Trying to stay caught up Naoto cast a Spectral Procession, but could only watch as his opponent resolved a Squadron Hawk and a second copy of Stoneforge Mystic. He used Jace, the Mind Sculptor to temporarily remove the Stillmoon Cavalier, but lost the planeswalker in the ensuing counter attack from his opponent. He cast a Squadron Hawk and his Mortarpod and slowly began attempting to crawl back into things.

    Naoto Sekine

    Across the table Kenji Tsumura could feel the tempo of the game slipping from his grasp. He shuffled his hand and quietly leaned over the table, trying to figure out a plan to keep momentum in his favor. When none was forthcoming he simply re-cast his Stillmoon Cavalier and passed the turn. Still, the play was good enough to stall the game for a moment, forcing Naoto to hold his forces back and continuing building by casting two more Squadron Hawks, then allowing Tsumura to get an unblockable attack in with his Cavalier wearing Sword of Feast and Famine.

    The extra mana generated from the Sword of Feast and Famine untap trigger proved too much for Sekine. He tried to battle in, but unable to come up with a solution for his opponent's Cavalier, the plucky upstart found himself far too behind to stay in the match and the score was evened up to one game a piece.

    Naoto Sekine 1, Kenji Tsumura 1

    Showcasing his deck's more beatdown oriented roots, Naoto Sekine kicked off the final game of the match by casting Figure of Destiny followed by Stoneforge Mystic. The 1/2 hunted up a Sword of Feast and Famine, which hit the battlefield a turn later, and Kenji worked to clutter the table with duplicate copies of Squadron Hawk. A Jace, the Mind Sculptor for Naoto drew the flyers' attention, clearing the way for his creatures to connect wearing Sword of Feast and Famine.

    So far in the match it had been a truism that the player who managed to connect with a Sword first had been the victor, and the third game showed no signs of that changing. Naoto continued flooding the battlefield with creatures, adding a Student of Warfare alongside his Figure of Destiny and Stoneforge Mystic, and between Sword of Feast and Famine and Jace Kenji was very far behind.

    Sekine cast Cryptic Command in an attempt to tap his opponent's blockers, but Kenji had a Mana Leak. Naoto was still able to connect in the red zone, and when Kenji went for a hail Mary Day of Judgment the following turn, his opponent crushed his dreams by using Mana Leak to stop the play.

    Naoto Sekine 2, Kenji Tsumura 1


     

  • Saturday, 12:45 p.m.: Kotoba No Kabe Ga Atsui
    by Nate Price
  • If you didn't understand the title of this blog entry, don't worry, I didn't either. Unlike 99% of the players and judge staff here at Grand Prix Kobe, I don't speak more than a handful of words in Japanese. I had to get this phrase from our illustrious Japan Organize Play Manager and guide to Japan extraordinaire Ron Foster. Ironically enough, it's the Japanese phrase for language barrier.

    One of the most intimidating things for most people about traveling to a foreign country, myself included, is the language barrier. In the length of time I've been traveling for Wizards, this has diminished somewhat but I still worry about not being able to find my way around, or get help should I need it, or even do something as simple as order food. Thankfully for me, English is one of the most used languages in the world, and most countries have signs posted in English as well as the native language. This has helped immensely for my travels abroad. But what about those players that don't speak English? It's not like you see signs in Spain written in Japanese. How do these players cope with the language barrier presented to them as they travel abroad?

    Shuhei Nakamura is one of the most known and well-traveled Japanese players. Considering how long he's been playing Magic, and how often he travels, he has run into a communication barrier many times over his years.

    "For me, it was not really a matter of language," he said, thinking of a story from his early paying days. He proceeded to tell me a story about something that happened to him at a Grand Prix Los Angeles. He was playing Faeries and his opponent went to remove one of his attackers in mid attack using his last card. When Nakamura countered the spell, his opponent made a move to stack and organize his lands, a motion that Nakamura had been instructed was the motion for concession.

    "In Japan, that motion did not exist. I had to learn what concession was. Since the only thing I knew was that motion meant concession, I thought my opponent had conceded to me and packed up my cards. By the time he managed to stop me, I had already shuffled my hand and board back into my deck."

    Shuhei Nakamura

    While his opponent in the story did seem to be a little shady with his actions, it did highlight an important point about the language barriers inherent in the game. While Nakamura said that the issue wasn't a barrier to language, I disagreed with him. There was a language barrier that existed, but it was a barrier between knowing and not knowing the language of the game.

    This language barrier is one that Japanese players have come a long way in overcoming since the early days of competitive Japanese Magic. Since that time, they've taken the English words for various parts of the game and added them to their Magic vocabulary. Drafto. Judgi. Tappu. Untappu. These are words that mimic the words we use in English. Thanks to their knowledge of these, most Japanese players have no problem playing the game and communicating with non-Japanese players under most circumstances. They have shrunk the language barrier.

    Even better than that, the actual language barrier shrinks as each day goes by. More and more Japanese students are studying English, and they're getting better at it than the older generation of players.

    "Younger players are much better at English than we were. My English is very bad," Nakamura said to me with a laugh. I told him that his English couldn't be too bad. After all, he is able to conduct interviews and holds a pretty decent conversation in English. Admittedly, it is a bit piecemeal, but he still does quite well.

    "I always hated English," he laughs, "But I try. Lots of practice makes it easier."


     

  • Round 5: Makihito Mihara vs. Shuhei Nakamura
    by Nate Price
  • While shuffling up each other's decks before the match, Nakamura tapped on the table in front of me to get my attention, knocking me out of the beautiful daydream I was having. He then carefully laid out Mihara's deck one card at a time. When he got to card sixty, he started giggling as he put cards sixty-one through sixty-four into their piles.

    "Sixty-four cards," Nakamura said with a smile as he made sure I took notice.

    Mihara jumped out to a quick start, playing an Explore to net him an early third land. Nakamura played what is arguably the best two-drop in the format on his turn, fetching a Sword of Feast and Famine with his Stoneforge Mystic. Mihara spent his third turn using his extra mana to dig a little deeper into his deck with a pair of Preordains and a Manamorphose. He rounded things out by dropping a Prismatic Omen, setting himself up for an eventual Scapeshift. Nakamura was ready for it, choosing to play a main phase Vendilion Clique, stripping Mihara of his Scapeshift, but leaving him a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Cryptic Command in his hand. Mihara simply drew, played a basic Island, and passed the turn.

    With 64 cards, Makihito Mihara walks the line between too many cards and not enough.

    With the threat of Scapeshift now gone, Nakamura began to attack. He first sent his Faeries in, choosing to leave the Mystic back so he could activate it. He then went after Mihara's mana base, choosing to use his Tectonic Edge to get rid of the Seaside Citadel in pay rather than wait for the Valakut he knew to be in Mihara's hand. After Mihara once again just drew and passed the turn, Nakamura used his Mystic to drop a Sword of Feast and Famine into play. Untapping, he put it on his Faeries and swung in. Mihara discarded a land and watched all of Nakamura's land untap.

    On his turn, he finally had enough land that his Valakut could trigger upon entering play, and it erupted at the Faerie, leaving Nakamura with simply a Mystic and a Sword in play. That all changed when Namakura tapped for a second Sword. Mihara used a Cryptic Command to counter it, choosing to counter the Sword and draw a card. After attacking and untapping his lands, Nakamura added a Baneslayer Angel to his board, immediately getting a concession from Mihara.

    Makihito Mihara 0 – Shuhei Nakamura 1

    For the second game, it was Nakamura's turn to mulligan. Mihara started off in a similar fashion to the previous game, with an Explore on turn two, but the first wrinkle came on the following turn. A Vexing Shusher from his sideboard made an appearance, giving him a shield against Nakamura's counterspells. When Nakamura tried to lock Mihara out of a draw step with a Vendilion Clique, Mihara countered with a Cryptic Command. Nakamura had no way to capitalize on his tapped out opponent except to use a Cryptic Command of his own to Repeal one of Mihara's lands. Mihara untapped and added a Qasali Pridemage to his team. Once again, Nakamura used Cryptic Command to return a land to Mihara's hand, keeping him out of the danger zone. Unfortunately, he wasn't really getting anywhere. As the next couple of turns passed, Mihara kept replaying lands and attacking with his creatures while Nakamura did nothing. Eventually, the Shusher passed a Scapeshift through and the game was over in a flurry of Mountains and Volcanos.

    Makihito Mihara 1 – Shuhei Nakamura 1

    With both of their one-sided games out of the way, the players showed great sportsmanship when they both decided to start down a card in the deciding game of the match. In terms of sheer cards, I believe this gave the advantage to Mihara since he would have 58 cards remaining in his deck to Nakamura's 54, a point I'm sure Nakamura would find hilarious.

    The action was slow and unfurious as things entered Mihara's second turn. With Nakamura showing two mana available, Mihara chose not to play his Explore, fearful of the many counterspells in Nakamura's deck after sideboarding. Of course, this was all fine with Nakamura, who simply played a third land, used it to Preordain, and passed it back to Mihara with a couple of lands up. Mihara started to bait the counterspells out of Nakamura's hand. A Wall of Tanglecord met a Mana Leak that could easily have been put to a better spell. On his turn, Nakamura made a Stoneforge Mystic to fetch a Sword of Feast and Famine before tapping out to play a Preordain.

    Shuhei Nakamura fell into a burning ring of fire.

    This caused Mihara to think. With free reign on his turn, how could he best take advantage? He started by Exploring, getting a Forest into play, and following with a Prismatic Omen. This allowed his Valakut to be a Lightning Bolt on the following turn, eating Nakamura's Mystic, but not before it snuck the Sword into play. A Rampant Growth hit Nakamura for three, and then he passed the turn to a more or less defenseless Nakamura, who passed it right back. When Mihara went to play a second Valakut on his turn, Nakamura responded to the ability by using Cryptic Command to return the Omen to Mihara's hand, turning both his Valakuts off. When he tried to replay it, Nakamura attempted to counter it with a Cryptic Command. Mihara was ready to protect it with a Command of his own, forcing the enchantment back onto the table. Mihara then went on to play a land and burn Nakamura for six.

    All Nakamura could do was attempt to dig for a War Priest of Thune to remove the pesky Omen. He attempted a last-ditch Vendilion Clique on himself, but found nothing. He just equipped his Sword and passed the turn. Mihara drew for his turn, simply needing a land to go with his Misty Rainforest in play to deal lethal damage to Nakamura. When he found a thirdValakut, Nakamura was well beyond dead.

    Apparently, sixty-four is the new tech. Who's laughing now?

    Makihito Mihara 2 – Shuhei Nakamura 1

     

  • Saturday, 5:00 p.m. – Quick Hits - Compleat-ly Casual

    by Nate Price
  • How do you feel now that the Phyrexians have won the war for Mirrodin's future?

    Mr. Okubo

    "It's great! All will be one!"

    Mari Omanishi

    "I am very disappointed! I'm a Mirran supporter. I hope Mirrodin will rise again from the ashes some day!"

    Glenn Bickham

    "I think it was expected. I was on Richard Garfield's team at Worlds, so I was a Mirran. I just can't get over being beaten by infect decks in draft, though!"

    Hitomichi Itou

    "Blightsteel Colossus is a very strong creature in Vintage! Of course Phyrexia won!"

    Tatsuya Ozakawa

    "I'm Mirran! Super thumbs down! I am very sad."

    Kawai

    "Since I was Phyrexian from the start, I knew we would win."

     

  • Round 6: Yuuta Takahashi versus Masaya Kitayama

    by Bill Stark
  • Once called the future of Japanese Magic, Yuuta Takahashi has benefitted from a career playing with some of Japan's biggest names. It doesn't hurt that he is a former Grand Prix Kobe champion, but his opponent for the round was no slouch either. Masaya Kitayama is not a stranger to the Top 8 stage, and with both on undefeated records midway through Day 1, they were clearly hoping to repeat past success this weekend.

    Yuuta led off with Thoughtseize, indicating he was playing the deck that made him famous: Faeries. The sorcery removed a Cruel Ultimatum from his opponent's hand, and the matchup looked like it was gearing up to be a blast from the past, Five Color Control versus Faeries. The matchup defined Standard for a few years, but new cards like Tectonic Edge and Jace, the Mind Sculptor promised to fundamentally shift how things would play out.

    Yuuta Takahashi

    A Spellstutter Sprite from Yuuta began getting its beat on while Masaya was content to spend each of his turns playing lands and saying go. When his opponent attempted an end of turn Mistbind Clique, Kitayama said no with Mana Leak. The game settled once more into a back and forth affair, Kitayama trading a Volcanic Fallout for his opponent's Spellstutter Sprite, Takahashi a Tectonic Edge for Creeping Tar Pit, and the first spell of the game to resolve of any import was a Jace, the Mind Sculptor for the Faeries player.

    Still, if you're going to resolve a single spell in a game, Jace is as good as you can hope for. The planeswalker set its sights on Masaya's library, fatesealing the control player's best cards to the bottom of his library each turn while he struggled to come up with an answer. At risk of facing an ultimate from the powerful card, he attempted to use Cryptic Command to reset it but had his effort stopped by a copy of the Command from his opponent. That allowed him to resolve a Jace of his own, however, and the game was reset to boards of mostly lands.

    Yuuta attempted Vendilion Clique and it resolved successfully, but he lost the 3/1 almost immediately to a Volcanic Fallout. He followed up with Bitterblossom and began pressuring his opponent's life total with a Creeping Tar Pit. Masaya tried to stop the creature-land with a copy of Go For the Throat, and when that was countered with a third Spellstutter Sprite, he attempted to immediately repeat the play with a second copy of the removal spell. Yuuta had Mana Leak for that one and they were on to the second game.

    Yuuta Takahashi 1, Masaya Kitayama 0

    A double mulligan opened things off for poor Yuuta Takahashi, giving his opponent ample time to establish control early on. Masaya worked to do exactly that, casting Preordain and Esper Charm to grow his hand and Thoughtseize to shrink his opponent's. A Vendilion Clique out of Takahashi robbed him of a Lightning Bolt, but he promptly topdecked a second and took the 3/1 out. When Yuuta tried for a Jace, the Mind Sculptor Kitayama drew the other card he had drawn since the Clique: Mana Leak.

    "Ahhhhhh!" Takahashi mock screamed, having cleared the way for his planeswalker only to have two lucky topdecks foil his plans.

    Masaya Kitayama

    The Jace went to work Brainstorming for Masaya, who worked to build his lead. With a stocked hand against his opponent's topdeck trumped grip, Kitayama was clearly the heavy favorite. Takahashi seemed to agree. With a nervous eye on the clock, he conceded to his opponent's superior board position rather than try to battle back wounded in order to save time for the final game.

    Yuuta Takahashi 1, Masaya Kitayama 1

    Vendilion Clique was the first creature to the battlefield in the second game, but after surveying his opponent's hand, Yuuta Takahashi opted to leave it as it was rather than give his opponent a free draw. Masaya used the opportunity to cast a Thoughtseize and Preordain, stripping a Jace, the Mind Sculptor from his opponent's hand while digging for more lands drops for his own.

    With the turn back, Takahashi began attacking with his Vendilion Clique and cast Jace Beleren, drawing himself an extra card. His opponent fired back with Great Sable Stag, but missed a land drop. Sensing an opening, Yuuta pressed in activating a Creeping Tar Pit and sending his team sideways for 6 of his opponent's life; if Masaya was going to get back into the game, he would not be given much time in order to do so.

    The Great Sable Stag bashed into Jace Beleren finishing the planeswalker off before being joined by a second copy. A Pithing Needle set to "Creeping Tar Pit" cut the Faeries offensive in half and Yuuta was forced to discover turnabout was fair play. He continued pressing in with his Clique anyway, using a Tectonic Edge to blow up a Reflecting Pool from his opponent. Yuuta switched to a mana denial plan, using Cryptic Command to bunce a Vivid land from his opponent, and Masaya shook his head. He didn't have a solution to the Clique, and he wasn't going to have the mana to win the race. His Sable Stags weren't enough and with a smile for his friend, Masaya conceded defeat.

    Yuuta Takahashi 2, Masaya Kitayama 1

     

  • Sunday, 6:00 p.m. – Who is the best Japanese player of all time?

    by Bill Stark
  • Kazuya "the Chief" Mitamura

    "Kenji [Tsumura] or [Masashi] Oiso."

    Kenji Tsumura

    "Masashi [Oiso]."

    Masashiro Kuroda

    "Tsuyoshi Fujita."

    Tsuyoshi Fujita

    "[Masashi] Oiso or Tadayoshi Komiya."

    Makihito Mihara

    "Yuuya Watanabe."

    Chikara Nakajima

    "Shouta Yasooka."

    Yuuya Watanabe

    "Shouta Yasooka."

    Shouta Yasooka

    "I'm not sure."

     

  • Round 7: Alex West vs. Kentarou Nonaka

    by Nate Price
  • Alex West had to laugh as he saw who his opponent or this feature match was.

    "Invariably, the one person you show your entire deck to, card for card, is the person you play in the feature match."

    Apparently, West had shown Nonaka his deck yesterday when he was asked, and now it has come back to potentially haunt him.

    Both players kept their opening draws, and things got underway. Nonaka made a Stoneforge Mystic to get a Sword of Feast and Famine on his second turn, giving him a leg up on West, who simply passé the turn. Nonaka played his land and passed back. He stopped West during his draw step, choosing that moment to activate his Mystic and put the Sword into play. West dealt with the Mystic with a Path to Exile, giving Nonaka yet another land. This was only really relevant since West didn't appear to have any of his own. He was stuck on two lands. Nonaka used his four lands to play a pair of Squadron Hawks, eager to find a set of hands (talons?) to pick up his Sword.

    Alex West wishes that Path to Exile targeted players...

    West finally managed to play a third land and passed the turn to Nonaka with all his mana available. Nonaka declined to waste his mana equipping the Sword, content to just attack with his birds and pass the turn. He was rewarded when West tried to cast a Vendilion Clique during his end step, which he countered with a Cryptic Command, bouncing West's Mystic Gate in the process. West played a Celestial Colonnade on his following turn, revealing that he had found a fourth land. Since all he had remaining was two Islands in play, Nonaka was no longer afraid of getting blown out by Path to Exile and equipped one of his birds before attacking. After combat, he dropped the rest of his Hawks onto the table. West countered one with Mana Leak before taking his turn and looking for a way out of this hole.

    He found a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which he dropped into play and Brainstormed, leaving the poor planeswalker vulnerable. At the end of his turn, Nonaka played a Spellstutter Sprite, giving him yet one more flier to crush the planeswalker. He made a second copy of Sword of Feast and Famine on his turn before going into combat. He fired up his Mutavault and sent it and the Sprite at Jace while sending the rest of his troops at West directly. The planeswalker died and West dropped to nine. West found a Cryptic Command to tap all of Nonaka's team for a turn, but the following attack did him in. His mana screw put him too far behind to gain a real foothold in the game, and Nonaka punished him for it.

    Alex West 0 – Kentarou Nonaka 1

    Things began rather ominously for West in the second game. After losing a game to mana screw, he was forced to start down a game and a card on the play in his effort to even the match up. His second hand was much better, and he kept it with little thought. True to form, the game played out with a series of land drops and passed turns, each player looking for a window to cast spells. West was the first to test the waters. He played a Sword of Feast and Famine on the fifth turn, drawing a Mana Leak from Nonaka When West Leaked back a Spell Pierce gave the first counter war to Nonaka.

    Draw go. Riveting!

    Into the vacuum West had created, Nonaka managed to resolve a Stoneforge Mystic and the Sword of Feast or Famine he had searched up. West didn't let the Mystic stay on Nonaka's team for long, stealing it away with sweet, sweet promises from a Sower of Temptation. A Path to Exile sent that away, returning the traitorous Mystic and netting West a new land. Nonaka followed that with a second Sword, leaving two mana available.

    West drew his card and thought about his turn. He had made up for his mulligan with the land he got from Path to Exile, but he was still behind on the board. When Nonaka fired up his Celestial Colonnade to swing over, West killed it with a Tectonic Edge, forcing Nonaka to tap it to use his own Edge to kill one of West's lands. Not wanting to take another hit from that Sword-wielding Mystic, West made a move to tap it with a Cryptic Command, but Nonaka had the Mana Leak to stop it. West managed to find a Sower of Temptation to steal it once again, but Nonaka had the Path to Exile to force the concession.

    Alex West 0 – Kentarou Nonaka 2

     

  • Sunday, 7:15 p.m. – Still Going

    by Nate Price
  • Magic: the Gathering is one of those games that makes it really hard to step away. Every year, there are shiny new cards released, ready to draw people back in with their sickening magnetic allure. There's a reason it's called cardboard crack; it really can be that addictive.

    Look, I'm not saying that like it's a bad thing. I've been playing Magic since Beta (not well, mind you), and I've only missed the release of Urza's Saga in all that time. Nowadays, I couldn't fathom not being present for a set's release. The glorious sound of cracking a pack, that crisp smell of a freshly-opened booster, the wonder of seeing new cards in the ink for the first time…I'm getting all itchy just thinking about it.

    Masashiro Kuroda

    Japan's first Pro Tour winner was Masashiro Kuroda, coincidentally enough right here in Kobe. In 2004. Japan's first Pro Tour win came seven years ago. And he's still playing today! Kuroda doesn't get around quite as much as he used to thanks to work, but the Pro Tour champion still makes it out to almost all of the Japanese Grand Prix, and this one is no exception. And he's not the only member of the old guard of Japanese Magic to still be making the rounds at events. In fact, there are quite a few notables duking it out in Kobe.

    Tsuyoshi Fujita

    Joining Kuroda here in Kobe is fellow Hall of Famer Tsuyoshi Fujita. Fujita-san has a resume just as long and impressive as Kuroda's, though heartbreakingly without a Pro Tour win. It's always interesting to see him at Constructed events to catch up on what the latest brew he has come up with is. Renowned as one of the finest deckbuilding minds the game has ever seen, he always has an interesting take on formats. In fact, he's the man behind the deck that Kuroda used to win his Pro Tour! For this tournament, Fujita decided to eschew the mainstream and bust out his Plains for a monowhite control deck featuring Emeria, the Sky Ruin, Pilgrim's Eye, and Sun Titan! This deck made some very small ripples in the PTQ season, and Fujita apparently feels strongly enough about it that he's made it his deck for the weekend.

    Also joining these Hall of Famers here in Kobe are three Japanese Pro Tour winners. Shuu Komuro, who won Pro Tour Nagoya in 2005, is here. No doubt he will be in attendance here when the Pro Tour returns to Nagoya in a couple of months as well! Makahito Mihara, the World Champion from 2006, is in attendance as well. Lastly, Kazuya Mitamra, the Chief himself, is slinging cardboard for a chance at the Grand Prix Kobe title!

    Shuu Komuro
    Makahito Mihara
    Kazuya Mitamra

    It's great to get out to these events and see these players who have been so integral to the rise of Japanese Magic still going strong. If past results mean anything, it doesn't appear that they'll be stopping anytime soon, either. The long-term appeal of Magic is what keeps them coming back. That, and the social aspect of getting to see their friends and enjoy a weekend of playing the game they clearly can't live without. Honestly, that's why all of us dinosaurs of Magic keep showing up to these events. We want to have fun, and there's no better way to do that than with a deck and a friend.

     

  • Round 8: Kazuya Mitamura versus Hajime Nakamura

    by Bill Stark
  • "I'll mulligan," Kazuya "the Chief" Mitamura informed his opponent, Hajime Nakamura, as they sat down to their feature match in the eighth round of Grand Prix Kobe. The former Pro Tour champion was sitting on a single loss, as was Hajime, and both were hoping to enter the second day of competition in good position for the Top 8.

    Content on six cards Kazuya watched as his opponent exploded onto the table quickly. He opened on Llanowar Elves, then the following turn cast Heritage Druid and Arbor Elf, tapping all three to cast Lead the Stampede. The sorcery netted Hajime two more Elves and he cast a Joraga Warcaller with two +1/+1 counters to really pressure his opponent's life total. Kazuya was ready, however, using Go For the Throat to take the Warcaller out, then Volcanic Fallout to take out the rest of his opponent's team. Nakamura tried to reload with Ezuri, Renegade Leader, hoping his opponent continued to miss finding a fourth land.

    Kazuya Mitamura

    A second Volcanic Fallout for Kazuya allowed him to once more wipe his opponent's team from the battlefield, and he finally managed to stabilize. With Hajime on no cards in hand, he was left hoping to topdeck a solid spell each turn in order to draw out of the situation. Meanwhile, Mitamura's Grixis Control strategy allowed him to resolve a Jace, the Mind Sculptor in order to begin pulling further ahead. Staring the powerful planeswalker down with no offense of his own, Hajime quickly conceded to move to the second game.

    Kazuya Mitamura 1, Hajime Nakamura 0

    Down a game, Hajime Nakamura found himself taking a ride on the mulligan train for the first time after having not received any benefit from his opponent doing so in

    Game 1

    . Luckily for the downtrodden player, his opponent had to return to the land of the six card hand. Six wasn't sufficient for Nakamura, however, who found himself going to five while the Chief got to stick with his half dozen. The Elf player's five card hand drew nothing but laughs and he sent it back for four, then THAT back for THREE. "I need Lead the Stampede," he said, keeping.

    Hajime Nakamura

    Though he was on a quite precarious three cards, Hajime Nakamura was able to start with Joraga Warcaller and Llanowar Elves. His opponent crushed the start with Pyroclasm, however, then nabbed a Devoted Druid from Nakamura's hand with Inquisition of Kozilek. Hajime followed it up with Arbor Elf and an attempt at Ezuri, Renegade Leader but conceded the farce of a game when his opponent once more cleared the board of creatures and revealed a full grip of powerful cards to his empty hand.

    Kazuya Mitamura 2, Hajime Nakamura 0

     

  • Sunday, 8:00 p.m. – The Top Tables on Day 1

    by Bill Stark
  • Round 9 marked the last round of play for Saturday, the perfect opportunity to get a gander at what the top players still in contention are pinning their Top 8 hopes on. A look at the top 15 matches revealed a healthy mixture of deck archetypes. The red-blue-green take on Turbo Land from Grand Prix Atlanta was squaring off against Faeries at table numero uno, and a walk down the line showed a healthy number of players competing with the blue-black Faeries deck. That's no surprise, really, as top Japanese pros like Yuuta Takahashi and Yuuya Watanabe have long favored that particular archetype.

    There was only a single Red Deck Wins style burn build as well as a single copy of Elves, but White Weenie had three representatives. Considering one of them was Hall of Famer Tsuyoshi Fujita, it stands to reason that the deck is the real deal! Grixis Control was being played by Kazuya "the Chief" Mitamura while Valakut cluttered almost as many table spaces as RUG and Faeries. The specific breakdown from the 30 players I saw:

    Faeries 8
    RUG/Turbo Land 4
    UW Stoneforge 4
    Valakut 4
    Naya 3
    White Weenie 3
    Red Deck Wins 1
    Grixis Control 1
    Jund 1
    Elves 1

    We'll have a closer archetype breakdown of the Day 2 field when we return for the last six rounds of Swiss play Sunday.

     

  • Round 9: Yuusuke Sasaki vs. Yuuya Watanabe

    by Nate Price
  • As Round 9 approaches, it becomes painfully clear to a good portion of the field that crunch time has arrived. For half of the players with eighteen points, they will advance. For the other half, they will be watching from the sidelines. Former Player and Rookie of the Year, Yuuya Watanabe, in his trademark turquoise plaid, found himself in that exact predicament. His opponent this round, Yuusuke Sasaki was seeking his own admittance into Day 2 here at Grand Prix Kobe. Only one could survive this elimination match!

    This was a classic matchup, featuring two of the biggest decks in the format: Watanabe's Faeries against Sasaki's Valakut. Sasaki made the first move, drawing a Mana Leak from Watanabe for his Rampant Growth. A Khalni Heart Expedition met the same fate. Watanabe was using his Mana Leaks while they were still effective, which wouldn't be long against the mana-ramping Valakut deck. An Explore on the following turn allowed Sasaski to put himself up to five lands in play. At the end of his turn, Watanabe decided to take a peek at his hand with a Vendilion Clique. The Clique died to a Lightning Bolt before its ability resolved, washing a Primal Command into a Rampant Growth. Sasaki also held a Scapeshift and a Primeval Titan.

    Yuusuke Sasaki is a man of many threat. Unfortunately, his opponent is a man of many answers.

    Watanabe simply untapped, played a land, and then passed. Sasaki built his mana base a bit further, using two Rampant Growths to put himself to seven lands. He pondered for a moment before deciding to try for a Scapeshift, leaving enough mana to pay for another Mana Leak should he need to. Watanabe let it resolve. Sasaki searched out six Mountains and a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. With the triggered abilities on the stack, Watanabe used Cryptic Command to return a single Mountain to Sasaki's hand, shutting his Valakut off. Sasaki replayed the Mountain, bolting Watanabe.

    On his next turn, Watanabe made a Bitterblossom and a Sword of Feast and Famine. Sasaki passed the turn. Watanabe tried to lock Sasaki down during his next draw step with a Mistbind Clique, forcing him to Volcanic Fallout in response. After drawing his card, he played the Mountain from his hand to finish the Clique off. Another turn brought another Clique. This one stuck. After picking up a Sword, it started to turn sideways, locking Sasaki down to his draw step. Within a couple of swings, he was dead.

    Yuusue Sasaki 0 – Yuuya Watanabe 1

    Letting Sasaki resolve his Scapeshift in the first game was an interesting play on Watanabe's part. With the Scapeshift resolved, he left himself open to future Mountains, but he also made sure that most of the Mountains were ripped from Sasaki's deck. The brilliant bounce of the land effectively countered the Scapeshift since Sasaki was clearly swinging for the fences and going for the kill. It also returned a land to his hand, negating all the damage the combo would deal. Sure, it put a Lightning Bolt back in Sasaki's hand, but in order to go for the kill, Sasaki had to sacrifice all of his Forests, leaving him with no green sources in play. It was a gamble that was clearly worth the risk.

    Watanabe started the second game off with a pair of discard spells, knocking Volcanic Fallout and [] out of Sasaki's hand. He held three copies of Primeval Titan that Inquisition of Kozilek couldn't hit, but Sasaki was also stuck on three lands. He managed to find a fourth and fifth land, but not before Watanabe had assembled a Bitterblossom and two Mindlock Orbs. Unable to search his library, his Terramorphic Expanse was a complete blank, and his Primeval Titans were nothing more than 6/6 tramplers, assuming he could find the mana to cast them that is. Meanwhile, Watanabe was swinging with a pair of Mutavaults and some Faerie tokens. Sasaki found the mana for the Fallout, stopping Watanabe's team.

    Eventually, he found himself the mana for the first of his Titans. The following turn, the big boy got to turn sideways, dropping Watanabe to ten, matching his own life total. After Watanabe played a Spellstutter Sprite to stop an Explore, Watanabe had three 1/1 flying attackers on the next side, as well as a single point damage shield. Unfortunately for him, the answer he held for the second Titan was stopped with Guttural Response. Watanabe drew his card, checked the board one more time, did some quick phantom-abacus math, and conceded.

    Yuusuke Sasaki 1 – Yuuya Watanabe 1

    That game proved quite interesting. Watanabe had plenty of disruption in the early game, but a limited amount of pressure. Once his board was cleared with Volcanic Fallout, his game was pretty much over. All Sasaki needed to do was get to the point when he could start casting his Titans, and their overwhelming size and trample were able to take things down.

    Watanabe started the final game off with a Thoughtseize, stripping a Nature's Claim from a hand also containing Rampant Growth, Khalni Heart Expedition, and Prismatic Omen. Clearly he had a Mindlock Orb he wanted to protect. Sasaki got to play his Expedition on the following turn. The two-drop enchantment was completely outclassed, however, by Watanabe's Bitterblossom. During Sasaki's third draw step, Watanabe hit him with a Vendilion Clique, choosing not to replace his Rampant Growth, Harrow, or Prismatic Omen. The Harrow and Rampant Growth filled up his board, as well as his Expedition.

    Watanabe's next turn brought the Mindlock Orb he'd telegraphed by taking the Claim with his Thoughtseize. Sasaki responded by searching with his Expedition, thinning his deck. His draw step brought him an Explore, which he turned into a Prismatic Omen. He had drawn a Primeval Titan, but he chose not to play it, opting to set up the enchantment instead. Watanabe's air force dropped him to eleven.

    Like the professional he is, Sasaki ripped the Nature's Claim needed to smash the Mindlock Orb. Watanabe thought for a minute before choosing to play a second Vendilion Clique, killing the one in play, but washing the Titan from his hand. Unfortunately, the card he drew to replace it was the even more deadly Scapeshift, which he immediately tapped to play. Watanabe just smiled and put his head on the table.

    You drew what?!

    Yuusuke Sasaki 2 – Yuuya Watanabe 1


     

  • Day 1 - Undefeated Decks

    by Nate Price
  • Considering how played and successful decks like Faeries, Valakut, and UW Stoneforge have been in recent months, it was kind of shocking to me to see that only one of those decks managed to go undefeated here at Grand Prix Kobe. Joining Taichi Fujimoto and his Valakut deck are two rather unorthodox deck choices.

    First, Ken'ichiro Omori's Fauna Shaman Zoo deck is one that many people had left for dead this season. Despite the power of Fauna Shaman and Vengevine, the deck just seemed too slow (which I never thought I'd say about Zoo) and unwieldy to compete against the other major decks in the field. Clearly, Omori as figured out how to put things together right to surf to a perfect 9-0 record.

    The final undefeated decklist is one that I had ever thought to see. Shunsuke Aka build a deck paying lots of Plains that didn't have the usual Emeria, the Sky Ruin or any of the other requisite control cards. His deck was aggro! Riding Student of Warfare, Figure of Destiny, Mirran Crusader, and his own Stoneforge Mystic Package, Aka managed to simpy out-muscle every deck he played against yesterday.

    Taichi Fujimoto
    Grand Prix-Kobe 2011 (Extended)

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