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Grand Prix Kobe - Day 2 Coverage

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  • Feature Match: Round 10 – Taichi Fujimoto vs. Shunsuke Aka

    by Bill Stark
  • Game 1

    At the end of the first day of competition at Grand Prix Kobe, only three players escaped without having earned a single loss on the afternoon. Two of them entered Sunday competition knowing they would face one another, and the lucky pairing was Taichi Fujimoto and Shunsuke Aka. They sat down to their first feature match with the tiniest bit of nerves present in their voices, Taichi hailing from Tokyo and his opponent Shunsuke having traveled from Okinawa.

    Shunsuke won the right to play first and opened on a mulligan before playing his first land: Windbrisk Heights. He followed it up with a Plains and a Knight of the White Orchid, though the 2/2 failed to net him an extra land. Had he lost the die roll it would have worked, however, as his opponent cast a Rampant Growth on the second turn. Taichi's deck? Presumably WargateValakut based on his opening of Bant lands and the Growth.

    A second Knight of the White Orchid for Aka did manage to net him a free land and he also played a second Windbrisk Heights. He needed one additional attacker in order to activate the two lands, and Taichi Fujimoto was hoping to prevent that from happening. He cast Explore to further accelerate his mana, then used Preordain to dig into action.

    A Mirran Crusader gave Shunsuke his third attacker, but his opponent was up on the mana count and quickly approaching lethal if he could find a combination of Scapeshift and Prismatic Omen. With half the combo in his hand already, he was 50% of the way there but needed the critical remaining piece. He used a Misty Rainforest to thin his deck of a useless land and moved to his draw step. He peeled the card up slowly and found…the missing combo piece! He slapped his sixth land to the battlefield, cast the Prismatic Omen and then revealed the Scapeshift for exactly lethal. His opponent promptly conceded.

    Taichi Fujimoto 1, Shunsuke Aka 0

    Game 2

    Down a game, Shunsuke Aka tried to kick things off a bit more aggressively in the second by opening on a pair of Figure of Destiny. He pumped both to the level of 2/2 and added a Mortarpod to his team as well. His opponent used Explore to once more accelerate his mana and tried to come up with a means of stalling the game long enough to go off. Rampant Growth helped him develop his mana further, and with Prismatic Omen in his hand he was in a position to win by accident if he was able to topdeck Scapeshift.

    Hoping to prevent that, his opponent cast Spectral Procession to increase the size of his attacking force. The ploy didn't work as Fujimoto cast Prismatic Omen, then used Wargate to fetch up a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. That gave him six lands, two of which were Valakut and he was able to mow down much of his opponent's team with the latest version entering the battlefield from Wargate. What he couldn't finish off, he took care of the following turn with Day of Judgment. That left him with Cryptic Command and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in his hand while his opponent was down to one card.

    The Jace hit the battlefield, netting Taichi a Wall of Tanglecord to help him protect his planeswalker. The 0/6 was a good draw as Aka had been able to cast Student of Warfare in the hopes of continuing to pressure Taichi. When he saw the 0/6, the White Weenie player shook his head in disappointment; he was now facing down a protected planeswalker with an empty hand while his opponent was a single Scapeshift away from earning the victory. Frustrated and facing long odds, Aka conceded the match.

    Taichi Fujimoto 2, Shunsuke Aka 0


     

  • Sunday, 10:45 a.m.: Day 1 – Archetype Breakdown

    by Bill Stark
  • With the help of the Japanese coverage team, headed by Wizards of the Coast's Keita Mori, we're happy to present to you the archetype breakdown from the first day of competition at Grand Prix Kobe:


    Deck Type Count   Deck Type Count
    Valakut 116   BGW Beat 2
    Faerie 79   Bloodbraid Red 2
    UW Mystic 60   Boros PW 2
    Elves 56   Counter Burn 2
    Red Deck Wins 47   Naya Valakut 2
    Naya 33   Pili-Pala Grand Architect 2
    Bant 31   Polymorph 2
    White Beat 27   Quillspike 2
    Boros 23   RG Beat 2
    Tempered Steel 23   UB Infect 2
    Jund 19   UW Control 2
    Crypt White 16   4C Eldrazi 1
    Emeria Control 16   Alley 1
    Omen Valakut 16   Bant Mannequin 1
    Grixis 11   BR Infect 1
    Doran 9   Eldrazi Control 1
    Ooze 9   Esper Token 1
    Vivid 8   GB Control 1
    Esper Faerie 7   Goblin 1
    Kuldotha Red 7   Jund Burn 1
    UR Ascension 6   Jund Mana Ramp 1
    Esper Mystic 5   RB Goblin 1
    Open the Vaults 4   Red Faerie 1
    Tricolor 4   Reveillark 1
    UR Valakut 4   RG Eldrazi 1
    WB Beat 4   RUG 1
    WB Token 4   UB Beat 1
    WG Trap 4   UG Mana Ramp 1
    Esper Control 3   Vamp 1
    Green Eldrazi 3   White Control 1
    GW Emrakul 3   WR Emeria 1
    Merfolk 3   WU Beat 1
    Time Sieve 3      
     

    The big story? Valakut is by FAR the most well represented deck, making up about 1/7th of the overall field. With approximately 30 fewer players, Faeries makes up the number 2 spot which is actually not a big surprise. Many of Japan's biggest stars, Yuuya Watanabe and Yuuta Takahashi among them, have long favored the blue-black deck during its heyday in Lorwyn Block and Standard.

    Rounding out the Top 5 is the new industry standard UW Mystic with 60 fans, Elves slightly behind at 56, and Red Deck Wins at 47. A quick look around the top tables at the end of Saturday indicated bad things for Elves and RDW players, with very few sitting at the top tables. Meanwhile the less popular White Weenie (White Beat) strategy actually had one player who entered the second day of competition undefeated: Shunsuke Aka.

    The question the tournament has yet to answer as we conclude this year's Extended season is which deck will reign as top dog. Tune out through the end of the Day 2 competition to find out!


     

  • Feature Match: Round 11 – Osamu Fujita vs. Shuhei Nakamura

    by Nate Price
  • Game 1

    This round featured two of the more storied members of the Japanese Magic community. Osamu Fujita is a long-time payer with numerous top 8 finishes to his name, as well as a Grand Prix win. His opponent is one of the most well-known Japanese players on the planet. He has three Grand Prix wins, a National Championship, and 21 Top 8s under his belt. Not to mention that he is an extreme world traveler, often making the circuit to every Grand Prix time permits him to attend.

    On the play, Fujita chose to mulligan away a one-land hand, rewarded for his correct decision with a pretty stellar six-card replacement. He got started with a Noble Hierarch and Stoneforge Mystic over the first two turns, holding a handful of gas back to follow it. Nakamura made a Mystic of his own, refusing to fall behind in the arms race. Fujita made sure that the Sword Nakamura searched up was of no consequence, however, playing a Qasali Pridemage to keep it hiding in Nakamura's hand.

    The one thing Fujita was missing at this point was additional lands. He was stuck on the three mana provided by his Hierarch, Forest, and Stirring Wildwood, which limited his options. For his fourth turn, he had to think about how to best use his mana, ultimately deciding to simply play a second Hierarch and pass the turn. At the end of his turn, Nakamura alleviated his mana problems by using Path to Exile to clear the Qasali Pridemage away. With the dangerous kitten off the board, he was free to activate his Mystic at the end of the turn as well, putting his Sword of Feast and Famine into play. After untapping and equipping it to his Mystic, he swung in, forcing Fujita to chump with his Mystic, which put a Sword into play on Fujita's side before biting the dust. After combat, Nakamura made a second Mystic to fetch a second Sword, giving him a clear advantage in the arms race.


    Shuhei Nakamura is deadly with a Sword. Even more so with two.

    Fujita took his turn. Having gotten a Mountain thanks to the Path to Exile, he was now a single red source away from the Inferno Titan in his hand. He didn't have it immediately, though he did have a Verdant Catacombs to fetch up his second Forest. After fetching, he equipped his Hierarch with his Sword of Feast and Famine and sent it in. Nakamura chumped with his unequipped Mystic. Fujita added a Qasali Pridemage to his team after combat, leaving one mana available to blow it should he need to.

    On his turn, Nakamura played and equipped the second Sword to his Mystic and swung in. Fujita chose simply to blow up a single Sword and take the hit. After combat, Nakamura used his regained mana to play a Jace, the Mind sculptor, returning the equipped Hierarch to Fujita's hand. That forced Fujita to reequip it on the following turn to his other Hierarch to kill Jace. Unfortunately, Nakamura had another in hand, keeping Fujita's creatures at bay with his bounce ability. Clearing the path for his attacking Mystic, Nakamura was able to use his countermagic to prevent any more threats from hitting the table, leading to a concession in short order.

    Osamu Fujita 0 – Shuhei Nakamura 1

    Game 2

    Fujita kept his opening draw in the second game with a laugh, hanging his head ever so slightly. It didn't seem that he liked his opening draw too much, but learly enough to keep it. He started with a pair of Qasali Pridemages, dropping Nakamura to 12 by the fourth turn. A Birds of Paradise rounded his fourth turn out. Unfortunately for him, Nakamura was preparing to clear the board, and Day of Judgment ate all three of Fujita's men. He was able to replace a Pridemage on the following turn, despite Nakamura having all four lands untapped. His attack on the following turn dropped Nakamura to 9. Nakamura found a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but was forced to use it to bounce Fuita's creature. Clearly he was sitting on a hand full of nothing, just hoping to buy enough time to put something together.


    Osamu Fujita must trust the heart of the cards to get him there.

    All Fujita could do was just replay the same Pridemage and pass the turn. It appeared that Nakamura was going to get all the time he needed. On the following turn, he one again bounced the Pridemage before playing a Stoneforge Mystic, finally getting the defense he needed. The Pridemage was still a problem, though, preventing him from actually playing the Sword he searched up. This time around, he had a Mana Leak waiting for Fujita, who was stuck on four lands. Fujita sensed this and paused for a moment before deciding that he had to play his Pridemage anyway. Nakamura countered it and the coast was clear. He played his Sword, equipped, and attacked, now firmly in control of the game. A Baneslayer Angel followed that attack, and Fujita looked lost. Within two attacks, the match was over.

    Osamu Fujita 0 – Shuhei Nakamura 2


     

  • Sunday, 12:30 p.m. – Japan after the Earthquake

    by Bill Stark
  • Hardy is a word that accurately describes the island nation of Japan. Over the course of its long history, the volcanic island structure, which lies on the edge of a series of tectonic plates, has rebuilt itself time and time again from serious disasters whether natural or man-made. About sixteen years ago, the very city of this weekend's tournament, Kobe, was decimated by a powerful earthquake.

    On March 11th of this year tragedy once more struck Japan's shores. A powerful earthquake hit the nation near Sendai, Japan (site of the last Japanese Grand Prix in 2010), and shortly after a large tsunami decimated the coast taking a huge toll in lives and property. The Grand Prix, originally scheduled to be held shortly after the disaster, was rescheduled to make room for relief efforts. In honor of those who lost during the event, some pros from the country have even pledged their winnings from the event to help those affected.

    One of the people who was touched directly by the disaster was Makoto Kawamura. The 30 year old level 1 judge is a retail store employee and a 20 year resident of the city of Sendai and was home when the monstrous quake hit in March. He sat down to chat with me about what the earthquake was like, how his life has been impacted, and how the Magic community has reacted. (With translation by Keita Mori.)

    Makoto Kawamura monitors a match at Grand Prix Kobe.

    Bill: Tell us Makolo, where were you when the earthquake hit?
    Makoto: I was in my room when it happened. At first, it was just a little tremor, but went for a very long time. Then there was a big one and my bookshelf and T.V. fell. I was panicking; I was afraid for my life. I tried to steady the things in my room, like my computer monitor, but in my head I was just terrified. I had never experienced anything like it before.

    Bill:What was the damage to your home? Was it significant?
    Makoto: All of my family and our home are located far away from the sea, so we were safe. When the tsunami hit, some of my friends who live closer to the sea had their homes flooded. One had his house and car washed away. He lost everything, but he's safe.

    Bill:What did you do after the shaking stopped?
    Makoto: At that time, I just wanted to reach my family. My father was in the hospital and at first I tried to call him. All the infrastructure was damaged, however, and the phones weren't working. I set off on foot to try to reach him. I walked for two hours to make it to the hospital. It was shocking to walk through the city. There were geysers of water from pipes everywhere, and car accidents. The electricity was out so there were no traffic signals, and after the earthquake people panicked to get away and ran into one another.

    Bill:How has your day-to-day life been impacted by the incident?
    Makoto: Electricity is very restricted. Stores aren't open for as many hours to conserve resources, and I walk more now. Some social services have been affected, but my family and friends are okay so my life is relatively unaffected.

    Bill:Had you planned to judge at the original Grand Prix in Kobe before it was rescheduled?
    Makoto: I had planned to judge originally, yes. Before they postponed the event, I strongly wanted to come. I wanted to let my judge friends know I was O.K. All of Japan is saddened by what has happened, but the Grand Prix is a bright spot, so I wanted to come to be cheered up. Judging is something that makes me happy, so of course I wanted to be here.

    Bill:What has the reaction from your Sendai community been to the disaster?
    Makoto: In my community everyone is safe, fortunately. But our store is unavailable. It's very important for us to have events even though everything is damaged. During this time we work with each other to meet at someone's home to play. Hobby Station Sendai has also begun allowing us to play there.

    Bill:And how has the reaction from the Japanese community at large been?
    Makoto: The northeast half of Japan is reeling psychologically, so the number of players is decreased due to mood. I'm deeply connected with the community, so when I come here to this event I see there are 20-30 players who couldn't bring themselves to come because they knew they couldn't enjoy it.

    Bill:Do you have any closing thoughts you'd like to share with our European and American readers about what the experience has been like?
    Makoto: The entertainment during such a tragic time is very important. We need to motivate ourselves and to give ourselves something to look forward to. So just play Magic! I'm looking forward to Pro Tour Nagoya where it's very safe. I'm very happy for Pro Tour Nagoya!

     

  • Deck Tech with a Hall of Famer – Tsuyoshi Fujita

    by Nate Price
  • Big Red.

    Goblin Bidding.

    Sneak Attack.

    If you don't know what these decks are, I won't be mad at you. Most of the players at the time Tsuyoshi Fujita used these decks to crush tournaments didn't know what they were either. Throughout his career, Fujita has seemed to make it a point to fly against the grain. He has found a niche that allows him to take decks that, while viable in a format, are often slightly underpowered or simply dismissed as to wacky an idea and used them to cement his legacy. I mean, he played a deck that featured Blazing Shoal, Sneak Attack, and Through the Breach to Top 8 a tournament where other players were playing Goblins, Psychatog, Aluren, and the Rock. He won a Grand Prix with a new breed of Goblins featuring Patriarch's Bidding to effectively combo out. That deck completely defined the format from that point forward. And no one can dispute the effect that his Anan Go Big Red deck changed Magic. The metagamed variant on the Big Red deck that was competing with Affinity for supremacy in Pro Tour Kobe 2004 is responsible for giving Masashiro Kuroda the win, and Japan its first Pro Tour Champion.


    Tsuyoshi Fujita

    All in a day's work.

    As expected, Tsuyoshi Fujita has brought a deck that most players have been avoiding all season: Monowhite Emeria. The deck has had some small amount of success in the qualifying season thus far, but it has definitely been flying in the foreboding shadow cast by Faeries, UW, and Valakut.

    "I definitely took that into account when I chose this deck for this tournament," Fujita admitted as I asked him about his choice. "I like it when people are unprepared."

    To give you a brief overview of how the deck works, it uses cards like Knight of the White Orchid and Pilgrim's Eye to build up its mana base while providing a nice defensive backdrop for the deck. It carries the Stoneforge Mystic skeleton that most decks with access to white mana seem to be playing these days. Squadron Hawks provide a touch of card advantage, as well as more blockers to stall things for a little while if needed, or evasive attackers to swing over with a Sword of Feast and Famine. Lastly, it has Sun Titan and Emeria, the Sky Ruin to recur the defensive elements in the deck until it has control and is able to start swinging back. To control creatures, it packs Day of Judgment and Path to Exile. To stop Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, it packs main deck Runed Halos.

    Fujita admitted that the decks seeming unpopularity was one of the major reasons that he chose it, but that unpopularity wasn't just relegated to strangers. His own team didn't want to play it, despite his testing throughout the whole of the season.

    "I had been testing this deck forever on Magic Online. Since none of my teammates wanted to play the deck, I am the only one."

    He says that the deck doesn't do particularly bad against the major decks in the field, though there are things to keep in mind.

    "It fares well against UW decks. Faeries is not a great matchup, but if you get Emeria into play and get to use it, you can't lose. Valakut really comes down to whether or not you draw Runed Halo."

    Considering all of the options that the deck presents, and the fact that its pieces seem at first glance to be rather underpowered, making the most of your draws can be quite difficult. He admitted that the deck wouldn't exactly be the easiest to succeed with for a new player.

    Fujita's Hall of Fame Picture

    "It's quite hard. Always keep in mind that you need to be looking for whether it's time to attack or defend. The deck can do both well. Honestly, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. If you are better served by making your opponent have to spend their turns defending against you, then you should be attacking. The longer most games go, the better. If you get to use Emeria, you cannot lose. It's difficult to explain about when to attack or defend, but if you keep in mind what your opponent wants you to do, just do the opposite."

    The versatility of the deck is actually quite surprising given its monocolor nature. Since most of the creatures are quite janky, they are well suited to playing the defensive game, simply chump blocking until the deck can take the offensive. Considering the importance of Sword of Feast and Famine and Stoneforge Mystic to the format right now, you frequently only have to block one creature a turn, making the defensive plan viable. In addition, since the deck is running that same Stoneforge package, sometimes you can just play a Mystic, get a Sword into play, and swing until you win. Its ability to play both sides of the game makes it quite good in a format where other decks are just as viable and potentially explosive.

    Fujita made one important point, though. The deck is quite difficult to play since you have to maximize the impact of every card. Your creatures are on average worse than your opponent's, so you have to do the absolute most with them. Then, once it's time to switch gears, you have to be able to get the correct cards back with your Emeria or Sun Titan in order to turn things around. Fail to do either, and you just fall too far behind to come back.


     

  • Sunday, 1:50 p.m. - Magic Travel for the Casual Player

    by Bill Stark
  • Yesterday my fellow coverage compatriot Nate Price brought you the stories of a few players who either traveled to Grand Prix Kobe from afar or who frequently travel from Japan to places afar. Today I have a tale of another traveler, though he's not a professional Magic player. Instead, Jay Semerad is a musician and composer who enjoys Magic as a full-time hobby.

    I first met Jay back in February when we were both participants on the Magic cruise run by Legion Events. A few weeks ago he sent me an email letting me know he'd be in Seattle, my home, and wanted to know if I'd be around to visit. Unfortunately, I told him I would have to decline due to my busy schedule as a coverage reporter as I'd be headed to Japan for a Grand Prix. He replied, "Hey, I'm going to Japan too!" As it turns out Jay was coming to Seattle on the first leg of a three-part tour around the world. His planned stops? From Michigan he came out to visit Seattle, then was on his way to Singapore before finally coming to Japan.

    The whole trip kicked off April 6th from his home in the Rust Belt. Having met a number of people from the Seattle area on the Magic cruise, Jay stopped to visit them in Washington. "In Seattle I got to actually play with some people from Wizards of the Coast," he explained, clearly excited to have met some of the people behind the game he loves. "I was sitting next to Ron Foster who at one point explained the significance of Myojin from Kamigawa block. I mentioned to him that I was coming to Japan, the setting for Kamigawa, and he said, 'Hey, that's my event!' I asked, 'You mean, you're going to the Grand Prix?' and he said, 'No, I'm ORGANIZING the Grand Prix!'"

    Jay Semerad, musician and composer

    I asked Jay what his favorite memory from his time in Seattle was and he didn't hesitate in responding, "I got to see [Magic designer] Ken Nagle do karaoke! He sang a 4 Non Blondes song and he NAILED it!"

    The second stop on Jay's trip was Singapore. He expressed amazement with the amount of trading that went on amongst players there, and was excited about having been able to pick up a number of hard-to-find foils and other special cards for his decks. A big Commander fan, Jay even managed to get some games in against some of the players from the local Singapore community. "Their Commander decks were more cutthroat than most, I think," he said. "The whole place is kind of like a giant shopping mall, sort of Cancun meets Las Vegas meets Tokyo." While in Singapore, Semerad even took in a concert. "I got to see a show near the Marina Bay Sands just beneath the world's largest Ferris wheel. Front row for Imogen Heap and John Legend!"

    After the first two stops, Jay was on to Japan with a few friends to take in the Land of the Rising Sun and to scope out the Grand Prix in Kobe. They managed to stop off at a prominent card store owned by Japanese pro Tomoharu Saito, but Jay's favorite part of the trip so far in Japan had been a stop at his favorite Japanese restaurant. "We went to Katsukata, which is famous as the place where tonkatsu started. I had the best tonkatsu I've ever had! I love experiencing the food on trips."

    Kobe is actually Jay's fourth trip to Japan, and while he doesn't necessarily travel for an event solely for tournaments, he does always seem to squeeze Magic into the trips he does take. "When I go on vacation it turns into, 'Where's the Magic shop?'" He explained. "I like the experience of playing abroad to see how a different culture plays the game. I always keep an eye out for the Magic shop."

    Proof positive you don't have to be a world class pro just to take an amazing vacation with some Magic tied in!


     

  • Feature Match Round 14 - Masashiro Kuroda vs. Atsushi Nakamura

    by Bill Stark
  • Game 1

    With only two rounds left to play in the Swiss portion of Grand Prix Kobe, former Pro Tour Kobe champion Masashiro Kuroda was still playing in the hopes of returning to his former glory. The very first Japanese Pro Tour champion, he found himself squaring off against up and comer Atsushi Nakamura. Opening on Noble Hierarch, Masashiro represented Naya colors and when he cast a Stoneforge Mystic on his second turn he erased all doubt. The 1/2 fetched up a Sword of Feast and Famine while across the battlefield Atsushi Nakamura's Doran deck opened on Loam Lion followed by Qasali Pridemage. His manabase was powered by a Murmuring Bosk he had been able to fetch up with Verdant Catacombs, the non-basic land's basic type serving as a double benefit by making it both a legal target for the fetch-land as well as able to pump the Loam Lion.

    With a mana boost from his first turn Hierarch, Masashiro was able to cast an accelerated Vengevine, attacking with it for 5 with the 0/1 Hierarch's exalted trigger. His opponent fired back with his own fatty, a Doran, the Siege Tower. Casting the three-drop left Atsushi tapped out, however, and that meant he was powerless to stop his opponent from using Lightning Bolt to take out his Loam Lion, then absorb a hit from a Vengevine wearing Sword of Feast and Famine. To make matters worse, post-combat his opponent was then able to cast Elspeth, Knight-Errant.

    It was definitely a haymaker turn of events but Nakamura wasn't out of things. He cast a Profane Command to get back his Loam Lion and to take out his opponent's Elspeth Soldier token, knocking into the planeswalker with Doran and finishing her off. That left him with two blockers, Loam Lion and Qasali Pridemage, and his giant fatty. On top of that, the Pridemage could take out the Sword saving him quite a headache down the line.

    Atsushi Nakamura

    The game began to stalemate, and Kuroda slowly built up an advantage. With his opponent drawing more blanks, Masashiro was able to out-creature Atsushi adding a pair of Qasali Pridemages of his own to the battlefield. Alongside his Noble Hierarch, the two Cats gave him enough exalted triggers to start attacking with any creature, instantly turning it into a fatty. Stoneforge Mystic traded for a Doran, and a replacement copy of the 0/5 legend traded for Vengevine. Both trades put Kuroda up as he still had the edge on creatures and had the potential to get his Vengevine back if he simply managed to topdeck two weenie creatures in a row. Across the battlefield, Atsushi Nakamura continued drawing lands.

    Masashiro pressed his advantage until he managed to whittle his opponent down to just 1 life. That forced Atsushi into needing to block every creature his opponent could attack with. He found a Tidehollow Sculler to give him the blockers he needed for one more turn, but when Kuroda ripped a hasty Vengevine he had a surprise additional attacker and the two players were on to the second game.

    Masashiro Kuroda 1, Atsushi Nakamura 0

    Game 2

    Duel number two opened on a mulligan for Masashiro, while his opponent happily kept his opening seven. They got underway after that, each with a two-drop: Putrid Leech for Atsushi while Masashiro had Fauna Shaman. A Doran, the Siege Tower for Nakamura gave his deck its namesake threat, but the Shaman sitting across from him was a very powerful threat.

    Masashiro cast a Noble Hierarch and passed his turn, leaving up the possibility he would use the Fauna Shaman on his opponent's turn. He did exactly that, and again once more a turn later as his opponent found Path to Exile to permanently answer the 2/2 card advantage engine. What Atsushi didn't have were additional attackers, and he was forced to make do with his Putrid Leech and Doran. Kuroda started unloading the creatures he had tutored up with his Shaman, first casting a Bloodbraid Elf that netted him a Stoneforge Mystic which in turn fetched him a Sword of Feast and Famine.

    The Bloodbraid and a Lightning Bolt allowed Kuroda to deal with his opponent's Doran, and he cast a Linvala, Keeper of Silence to take control of the skies. His opponent had a trump in the form of Baneslayer Angel, but instead of rushing it to the battlefield he cast a replacement Doran, the Siege Tower. Kuroda pressed in with his Linvala and began gaining an edge in the race, but Atsushi had been working an angle. He had cast the Doran because it would allow him to use Path to Exile on his opponent's turn, saving himself some life.

    Masashiro Kuroda

    Upon receiving the turn back, Nakamura cast Profane Command. He opted to make his team unblockable and to drain his opponent. With 9 points coming from a Doran and Putrid Leech as well as the life he had lost from the Profane Command, Masashiro realized he was dead. The lethal attack seemed to come out of nowhere, but instead Atsushi had been crafting the scenario the entire game, patiently whittling at his opponent's life until he had just enough of a lead to squeak out the win and send the match to a third game.

    Masashiro Kuroda 1, Atsushi Nakamura 1

    Game 3

    Fauna Shaman appeared on the second turn for Masashiro Kuroda just as it had in the previous game, and his opponent immediately removed it with Path to Exile. Atsushi's first creature of the game was Doran, the Siege Tower who made his third straight appearance for the black-white-green player. Having your deck's namesake in all three of your games is definitely a good sign, but there were still a lot of turns to play!

    The game may have been in its early stages, but due to the players' slow pace, it looked like it might not make it to its conclusion. Time was quickly winding down in the round, and Masashiro tried to move ahead by casting Gideon Jura and using it to force his opponent's creatures to attack the planeswalker. Nakamura's Doran was forced sideways, but the Gideon survived at three loyalty. It was joined by a Bloodbraid Elf that fetched up Great Sable Stag, and Masashiro activated the planeswalker and attacked with his Elf. When his opponent revealed Path to Exile for the Gideon, he muttered with frustration under his breath.

    Across the table, Atsushi worked to craft a win himself. In extra turns he cast Shriekmaw to take out a replacement Fauna Shaman from his opponent, but couldn't get through on the ground. That meant it was unlikely he would be able to win, but could he hold on to prevent his opponent from defeating him?

    He could! Masashiro tried to get through with his Great Sable Stag, but he didn't have enough time to make up the difference in his opponent's life total and Atsushi kept the ground JUST cluttered enough with blockers to salvage a draw from the match.

    Masashiro Kuroda 1, Atsushi Nakamura 1


     

  • Sunday, 4:00 p.m. – The Top Decks in Round 15

    by Bill Stark
  • Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
    It's the final round of Swiss, and after our Day 1 archetype breakdown I decided to take another look at which decks were floating around the top tables here on Day 2. Valakut and Faeries were the top two most popular archetypes at the tournament in general, and their numbers were still strong on Sunday. They easily made up the largest percentage of spots on the upper tables, but they were not overly dominant. In fact, some dozen archetypes could all be seen being played by the various pros and amateurs still in contention for the prizes.


    Stoneforge Mystic
    Stoneforge based blue-white decks were not only popular but very successful. Martin Juza had managed to secure a potential Top 8 spot with his version, starring a mini Faeries package and which had come from a testing group that included Luis Scott-Vargas. Most players seemed to vary either playing Spellstutter Sprite or Squadron Hawk, but generally not both. There were a healthy dosage of aggro decks hanging out near the top tables. Former Pro Tour Kobe champion Masashiro Kuroda was playing Naya as were at least three other players. They were joined by three Red Deck Wins players and two Elves players.


    Emeria, the Sky Ruin
    One of the more innovative decks to come out of the weekend was Hall of Famer Tsuyoshi Fujita's white-based Emeria control/aggro strategy. He was still playing deep into the day, and you can read more on his thoughts behind the deck in Nate Price's interview with him in the Day 2 coverage. The rogue decks that had managed to do well were Grixis Control, championed by Pro Tour Honolulu winner Kazuya "the Chief" Mitamura, and Tempered Steel which started off the Extended season strongly at Worlds in December but had long fallen out of favor.

    With the final round finishing up we've got the Top 8 left to determine which archetype will be crowned champion of Kobe and which player will be playing it!



     

  • Feature Match Round 15 – Shuhei Nakamura vs. Akio Chiba

    by Nate Price
  • It seems to me like I cover a lot of final matches, and I always tend to start them the same way.

    "This is it, the final round."

    "One of these players gets to play in the elimination matches, the other, well…he gets eliminated."

    This time, I'm going to do something a little different. I'm going to rise above. A match as different as this one deserves a different approach.

    I just haven't figured out what that is yet.

    Um.

    This is it, the final round here at Gran Prix Kobe! On the left side of your Internet dial sits Shuhei Nakamura. On the right sits Akio Chiba. Only one of these players can win on to the elimination rounds. The other, well…he gets eliminated.

    Game 1

    This was set to be an interesting matchup, a far cry from any we've seen yet this weekend. Nakmura was running a standard build of UW. Chiba, however, had a little spice in store. He was running the Pyromancer's Ascension combo deck, something I haven't seen in quite some time.

    Unfortunately, this match does involve a lot of filtering and posturing, with very little seemingly getting accomplished on the surface as both players slowly build until someone makes a move. And that is exactly what happened in the first game. Neither player did much for the first five or so turns of the game. Preordains were cast. Some resolved. Some got Mana Leaked. Eventually, Nakamura tried to use a Cryptic Command at the end of Chiba's turn to return a land to his hand. Chiba fought back with a Mana Leak, leaving himself three mana available. Nakamura calmly allowed it. He then untapped and made an Elspeth, Knight-Errant,l eaving two mana available. Chiba tried to counter with a Mana Leak, and Nakamura protected his planeswalker with a Mana Leak of his own. He then made a token and passed the turn.

    For his turn, Chiba made a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which he immediately used to fateseal Nakamura. Unfazed, Nakamura simply lifted his Mutavault into the air and sent it at Jace. Chiba tried to respond to the Elspeth ability by using a Lightning Bolt, but Nakamura kept it alive with a third Mana Leak. Jace fell. This allowed Nakamura to make his own after combat, giving him a clear advantage.

    It was difficult to say what would happen at this point. Chiba was clearly behind on the board, but his Ascension deck completely had the capability of winning from nowhere. He spent his next turn using Call to Mind to continue to dig further into his deck. He was about a third of the way through it now and still hadn't seen an Ascension. He thought for a while about whether to simply pass the turn and use his Lightning Bolts to burn off attackers in response to Elspeth, or to play the Time Warp he'd drawn and try one more draw step. Ultimately, he chose to cast the Warp, but Nakamura was ready with the final Mana Leak, prompting Chiba to pack it up.

    Shuhei Nakamura 1 – Akio Chiba 0

    Game 2

    An unusual draw on the part of both players in the first game gave Nakamura his first win of the match. Chiba's deck failed to provide him even a single copy of his deck's namesake, while Nakamura found all four of his Mana Leaks to stop virtually all of the important spells Chiba played.

    The second game started out roughly the same as the first, with both players doing very little for the first turns of the game. There were some card sifting spells played and fought over, with the edge going to Chiba as far as resolved spells goes. This proved quite dangerous for Nakamura, as he was digging for more lands with his Preordains. He stumbled on the third turn, only to catch himself on the fourth. Regardless, at this point, he had to rely on the top o his deck for mana sources.

    An attempt at a Vendilion Clique at the end of Chiba's turn met a Cryptic Command. Again, Nakamura failed to draw a land. All he could do was pass the turn. Chiba managed to play a Jace Beleren on his following turn, complete with mana available should he need to counter. Nakamura simply let it resolve. At the end of Chiba's turn, Nakamura made a Spellstutter Sprite to start pecking away at Jace, but Chiba had a Lightning Bolt to kill it. Nakamura simply made a fourth land and passed the turn.


    Don't make Shuhei Nakamura angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.

    With the way seemingly clear, Chiba decided to go for it. He played a Swans of Bryn Argoll, the engine that would let him set up his combo. Nakamura didn't counterspell it. From that point, Chiba began attacking, occasionally aiming a Lightning Bolt at his Swans for a red Ancestral Recall. At one point, Nakamura tried to bounce the Swans with a Command, but Chiba Commanded back. Nakamura tried a Mana Leak, and Chiba ended the fight with a Spell Pierce. He tried again on the following turn, but Chiba, his hand full from aiming burn at his own creature, had the counter to protect it.

    Shuhei Nakamura 1 – Akio Chiba 1

    Game 3

    That game went a little differently than the first. This time around, Chiba found an actual engine from his deck, allowing him to actually put pressure on Nakamura. In addition, Nakamura's early mana troubles stole his ability to effectively fight back once the pressure was on.

    Nakamura was forced to mulligan on the play for the final game, which never feels good if you're facing elimination. His start was much better than his others this game, and he recouped his card loss with a second-turn Stoneforge Mystic. At the end of Chiba's next turn, the Mystic tapped to put a Sword of Feast and Famine into play. When Nakamura went to attach the Sword to the Mystic, Chiba killed it with Volcanic Fallout. At the end of Chiba's next turn, Nakamura tried to make a quick Spellstutter Sprite to pick up the Sword, but Chiba stopped it with Mana Leak.


    Akio Chiba has to scratch and claw to pull ahead.

    Now it was Chiba's turn for threats. After Nakamura passed it to him with all of his lands untapped, Chiba decided to try for a Jace Beleren. Nakamura had the obvious Cryptic Command, countering the planeswalker and netting himself another card. Again, he passed the turn with no play. When Chiba passed right back, Nakamura tried for a Vendilion Clique, but it got immediately fried by a Lightning Bolt. Its ability resolved, revealing a hand of two Swans of Bryn Argoll and a pair of Spell Pierces. Nakamura let him keep the cards.

    Now Nakamura had the green light to start swinging with his Mutavault. It picked up a Sword and started swinging, knocking one of the Swans from Chiba's hand. Chiba cast his second Swans on the following turn, but his hand was cleared out after that when Nakamura made and equipped a second Sword of Feast and Famine. Chiba started swinging. Nakamura dropped to thirteen. When Nakamura went to attack on the next turn, Chiba bounced it with Cryptic Command. Nakamura just replayed it and passed the turn.

    The Swans knocked Nakamura to nine. When Nakamura fired up his Mutavault on the next turn, Chiba had a Volcanic Fallout to prevent it from picking up a Sword. Nakamura tried to stem the bleeding with a Cryptic Command to bounce the Swans, but Chiba had a Mana Leak. Nakamura dropped to seven. A swing from Chiba's Swans put Nakamura to three, putting it all down to one card. Chiba cast Preordain, peeling off the top to cards of his deck. He slowly flipped the second one over, revealing the Lightning Bolt to seal the deal.

    After the math, Alex West, who had been watching the match from the sidelines, asked Nakamura how many Path to Exiles he had left in his deck. It was an important question since most Pyromancer's Ascension decks (including this one) have a transformative sideboard. Since this one clearly boarded into the Swans, West reasoned that Nakamura should have left the War Priest of Thunes in the board, opting for more Paths to deal with the Swans. Nakamura revealed that he only had two left in his deck, opting for a hybrid sideboard, just in case Chiba had gone back to the Ascensions for the final game.

    Shuhei Nakmura 1 – Akio Chiba 2


     

  • Sunday, 5:25 p.m. – Commanding an Audience

    by Nate Price
  • In order to support the top of a pyramid, you have to have a stable base. Magic is no different. Supporting all of this wonderful organized play that we have come to love at the Grand Prix and Pro Tours are the legions, and I mean legions, of casual Magic players the world over. It is their love for the game and their desire for fun that afford us competitive players the opportunity to have our wonderful tournaments, festivals, and conventions. It is because of them that we all exist.

    And I mean that in more than just a financial way. The overwhelming majority of Magic player started off casually, playing with their friends or simply attending Friday Night Magic as a way to meet other people who play the game. At our hearts, we are all casual players. It's that casual nature of the game that drew us to it and ironically fostered out love of competition. Without casual play, we would not be here. Or even if we got here, most players tend to hit a point when they need to recharge their batteries. The competitive world can get draining, and sometimes it can be too much. Casual play gives people a chance to take a small step back and enjoy the game for what it is, not necessarily just a vehicle for competition. Casual play enables us in every way to maintain our competitive play.

    In addition to these already incredibly important contributions to the game of Magic, the casual base regularly contributes incredible variants on the game. What would Magic Online be without Pauper, Prismatic, or its most recent addition: Commander.

    Commander has existed for a many years now in one shape or form, steadily growing in popularity amongst players of all skill levels and competitiveness. For those of you unfamiliar with the rules of the format, I'll give you a quick breakdown, but I highly recommend checking it out in detail at http://www.wizards.com/magic/tcg/resources.aspx?x=magic/rules/100cardsingleton-commander. The basic gist is that you pick a creature Legend. This creature will be your Commander and will dictate the colors your deck can contain. Then, you construct a 100-card singleton deck including your Commander. You begin with 40 life and your Commander set aside into a special zone outside your deck. You can cast your Commander anytime you could cast a creature by paying its mana cost plus two colorless mana for each time your Commander has died. You generally play against three other opponents, though it is possible to play with fewer. Basically, it's just basic Magic from that point. The only other wrinkle is that if your Commander deals 21 damage to a player, they immediately lose, regardless of life total.

    This format is just absolutely brilliant. Its mass appeal is no surprise if you look at it. You can find a theme and stick with it. You can build around your favorite Legend. You can try to find a home for your pet card or combo. Regardless of your outlook on the game or your psychographic, Commander has an insidious way of appealing to you, and I love it for that.

    Something that I found surprising as I have been wandering the halls here at Grand Prix Kobe is how many Japanese players have really gotten into the Commander spirit. According to the Japan Organized Play Manager Ron Foster, there were over 90 Commander tournaments run at Worlds in Chiba this last year out of a field of mostly Japanese players. The format has really taken off here. It's almost imposible to wander from one end of the room to another without meandering past a dozen or so Commander games.

    Considering that Ron Foster is fluent in Japanese, an avid Commander player himself, and a playtester for the upcoming Magic: the Gathering – Commander set, he seemed like the perfect person to sit down with me at a table for a little chat with a quartet of Japanese Commander players. Sitting down to the table, we had Mari Omonichi playing Horde of Notions, Sonoda Naohiro playing Child of Alara, Hayato Onuma playing Gabriel Angelfire, and Tatuya Iganawa playing Chainer, Dementia Master. It was nice to hear that some of them had been playing for a while (Omonichi and Onuma had been playing for around a year and Naohiro had been playing for four to five months), but it was especially cool to hear that Iganawa had only been playing for about a week!

    One of the first questions I asked them, and I think the most important question about the format, was what their favorite part about playing Commander is.

    Mari Omonichi – I love deckbuilding! Magic is all about building decks, and Commander lets you build whatever deck you want. And multiplayer is the most fun. You get to laugh and have fun with more people that way!

    Sonoda Naohiro – Commander lets you use older cards, which I love. Also, each game is different, even with the same decks.

    Hayato Onuma – It's great that no two decks are the same, even with the same Commander.

    Tatuya Iganawa – I just love that I can play my favorite card as my Commander!

    Commander games tend to be a little longer and a little more complex, often setting up some fairly ridiculous turns of events. What is the most impressive thing that you've either seen or done since starting to play?

    MO – Well, I keep a sideboard full of all of the Eldrazi. One game, I got to cast a Spawnsire of Ulamog, generate infinite mana, get all of my Eldrazi into play, and then cast All is Dust so that they were the only things left. It was awesome!

    SN – Let's just say that Sensei's Divining Top, Future Sight, and Words of Wind is a lot of returned permanents!

    HO – I used a Boseiju, Who Shelters All to power out a Jokulhaups, floating enough mana to cast Bonehorder and Rancor. It could kill in one hit!

    TI – In a game I thought I was going to lose, I was at only a couple of life. My opponent attacked, and I use a Virulent Swipe to turn the damage to poison, letting me survive another turn!

    With the release of Magic: the Gathering – Commander on the horizon, is there any card that you'd like to see in the mix?

    MO – Something like Time Stop…but with split second!

    SN – How about a card that lets everyone deal with a person who's getting out of control! Or better yet, something like XXBB, each opponent discards X cards.

    HO – I'd like a card that prevents General damage for a turn. Maybe something that makes a General cost less to replay.

    SN – Or more!

    TI – Sadly, I've only been playing a few days, so I'm not sure what I would want to see added.

    Not wanting to disturb their game any further, I thanked them and wandered off with Ron, the whole while discussing our own answers to my questions. If anything, it's great to see this wonderful format spreading across the globe. The more people play it, the less you'll have to look for a game. Plus it's always kind of cool knowing that if I bring my Commander decks with me to a Japanese GP, I won't be hurting for opponents. Now if only we could speed up the release of Magic: the Gathering – Commander…

    Daddy needs a new Commander!

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