Day 2 Coverage of Grand Prix Niigata

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EVENT COVERAGE

 

  • Sunday, 9:02 a.m. – Undefeated Day 1 Decklists
    by Event Coverage Staff
  • Over 700 players entered Day 1, but only three exited with unblemished records. Here are the decks they played to those records!

     

  • Sunday, 10:16 a.m. – Drafting with Ren Ishikawa
    by Bill Stark
  • Ren Ishikawa, at the top of the standings.
    Ren Ishikawa managed to escape the first day of battling with a perfect record. He was atop the standings as the players sat down to draft, and the coverage team decided to follow him to see what his Booster Draft strategy would be after a day of Sealed play. With a judge cadence patiently counting down the time left for selecting a card in the background, Ren opened his first pack and flipped through the cards.

    In industry terms, the pack was a skill tester. It didn’t have any outright bombs, and the most powerful card in the pack was arguably Pyroclasm. Ishikawa scooted the WoG-like sorcery to the front of the stack, then slid Wall of Frost, Snapping Drake, Oakenform, and Sign in Blood to the front of the line as well. He flipped back and forth between the almost half dozen cards, then pushed the Wall of Frost to the top and slid it onto the table. It looked like Ren Ishikawa was going to make himself out to be a blue mage.

    The second pick begged to differ, however, offering up a relatively weak selection of cards, none of which were blue. Ren flipped back and forth between a Stampeding Rhino and an Oakenform before finally putting the 4/4 into his pile. The third pick included a Lightning Bolt and a Snapping Drake, but rather than slide into what looked like an open opportunity for red despite passing the first-pick Pyroclasm, Ishikawa stuck to his guns and slid the 3/2 flyer into his pile. After that he selected Essence Scatter and Divination, trying to cut blue to his left, but when offered a choice between Canyon Minotaur and Ice Cage, he opted to take the 3/3. A second Stampeding Rhino over Flashfreeze, then a Craw Wurm and a series of Cancels rounded out the first pack for Ren. As he flipped through the first 14 cards he had selected, it looked like he was crafting himself a blue-green style flyers and fatties build.

    The first pick of the second pack offered up quite a few juicy cards for Ren. He pushed Giant Growth, Howl of the Night Pack, and an Essence Scatter to the front of the pack. In the rare slot a Royal Assassin gazed at him forlornly, but a flashy rare wasn’t enough to distract Ren from his plan. He shuffled the cards around for the full duration of the selection process before finally dropping the Howl into his stack. His second pick was Ponder over Ice Cage in a set of cards that was weak for both green and blue. After that he took Wall of Bone over Merfolk Sovereign, a somewhat surprising pick considering the Royal Assassin he had abandoned in the first pick of the pack. Could Ren be defensively drafting the Wall so early to allow his green creatures to get through on the ground? There was nary enough time to answer as the next set of cards were handed to him.

    Llanowar Elves or Oakenform was his next decision, and he opted to take the 1/1 accelerator. After that he had to choose between two unblockables: Phantom Warrior or Whispersilk Cloak. He took the equipment, a wise decision considering the 2/2 Warrior would only be attacking for 2 each turn while a Cloaked up Craw Wurm could bash for considerably more. An Enormous Baloth joined his team over Rampant Growth, then an Entangling Vines over Mold Adder. When his next pack brought him a Levitation over a second Entangling Vines and another Mold Adder, Ren practically slammed the enchantment into his pile. The blue card, much maligned under normal circumstances, was actually very powerful for Ren. His fatties would allow him to stall the board, then drop the Levitation onto the battlefield to get there in the air entirely out of the blue. He rounded out the pack with a second Entangling Vines and a Craw Wurm over Merfolk Sovereign.

    As Ren shuffled through his cards for the second deck examination period he seemed satisfied in an average fashion. That is to say, he had developed a plan and it was coming together, but he wasn’t too excited about the plan itself. He headed to the third pack needing some playables to flesh out his deck. The first pack was quick to oblige, revealing an Overrun but Ishikawa actually shuffled a Llanowar Elves to the front of the pack in addition to the game-ending sorcery. Shockingly, as the timer ticked down he placed the 1/1 into his stack, not the Overrun! Truly a considered play; few players on Tour would be willing to stick to a plan of accelerating fatties into Levitation when offered the power of Overrun, but Ishikawa was a man with a plan.

    The second pick offered up an additional Llanowar Elves alongside Awakener Druid, Essence Scatter, Fireball, and a Lightning Bolt. Somewhere down the line some red mages were going to be exceptionally happy, but Ishikawa barely glanced at the burn spells. Instead he flicked back and forth between the Druid and the Elves, before selecting the three-drop 1/1. He then took Deadly Recluse over Elvish Piper and Horned Turtle, and an Enormous Baloth over Deadly Recluse and Polymorph. A third copy of Enormous Baloth joined his deck, followed by Acidic Slime over Centaur Courser and Deadly Recluse over Entangling Vines. He rounded out his deck with Rampant Growth, Cancel, and an Elvish Piper he again slammed into his stack after getting the rare to table.

    As Ren shuffled through his deck before heading off to build, a few things were clear. He had developed a plan, he had stuck with the plan at all costs, and he had cobbled together a reasonable deck based on that plan. It wasn’t the most powerful construct the Magic world had ever seen, but he definitely had a shot. It was all up to playing the matches...

     

  • Feature Match Round 10: Takaya Saitou VS Ren Ishikawa
    by Bill Stark
  • Three players had finished the first day of competition undefeated, and two of them sat down to face one another in the Round 10 Feature Match. They were Ren Ishikawa and Takaya Saitou. Ishikawa, who was just one month removed from a Top 8 at Japanese Nationals, had a reputation amongst Japanese players as being a bit of a comedian. His opponent had been a source of hope for opponents on Day 1, who had despaired at being paired against Saitou thinking it was former Player of the Year Tomoharu Saito, only to rejoice at realizing it was simply someone with the same last name (no relation). Their excitement was short lived, however, as not a single one was able to defeat Takaya, regardless of the fact he had never been Player of the Year.

    Minor mistakes cost Takaya Saitou significantly.
    Firing, Ishikawa quickly cluttered the battlefield with creatures, casting a Llanowar Elves, Deadly Recluse, and Wall of Frost. His opponent was close behind with Veteran Armorsmith and White Knight, using Excommunicate to force his opponent to re-cast Wall of Frost. At that point in time, Takaya began missing land drops, short the red mana he needed to cast most of the cards in his hand. Ishikawa, meanwhile, plopped Levitation onto the board. The enchantment was a key portion of his deck, allowing him to get evasive with his gigantic green creatures, but for the first game at least it simply allowed the Recluse and Llanowar Elves to bash in the air.

    Saitou continued missing land drops, though he managed a second Veteran Armorsmith. He may have been color screwed, but his opponent was fatty screwed, unable to cast anything of relevance. Or at least, not until he finally drew a Stampeding Rhino, plopping the 4/4 onto the battlefield but conspicuously leaving 1UU up, representing Cancel. As if on cue, Takaya’s deck finally gave up a Mountain, and he used it to cast a Berserkers of Blood Ridge. The 4/4 resolved successfully, and Saitou passed the turn back to his opponent.

    Ishikawa attacked with his Stampeding Rhino, then had an elbow drop for his opponent: Acidic Slime to blow up the lone Mountain Takaya had just drawn. Saitou did not approve, grimacing visibly before untapping his team. He cast a Stormfront Pegasus, then passed the turn forgetting to attack with his Berserkers, a requirement of the card. A spectator in the crowd was quick to catch the mistake, and Saitou received a warning for his complacency.

    The mistake hardly mattered as Ren began pressing in the air with his flying Stampeding Rhino, but Takaya drew a second Mountain to try to help his situation. He did some math, but it was far too late to catch back up. He conceded to save time for two more games.

    Ren Ishikawa 1, Takaya Saitou 0

    Saitou’s hand for the second game was much tidier than in the first, containing both sources of red and white mana. His first creature was a Viashino Spearhunter, which he cast on his third turn. He then tried to cast Lava Axe on his fourth turn after attacking for 2, but Ishikawa quickly pointed out Takaya’s spell cost five mana, not four.

    Ishikawa had also been doing his part to develop the battlefield, casting Elvish Piper after a second-turn Deadly Recluse. The 1/1 Piper met its fate at the hands of a Sparkmage Apprentice, but Ishikawa was able to use a Cancel on his opponent’s re-cast Lava Axe. The 1/2 Deadly Recluse was holding off Takaya’s side of the battlefield admirably, with Saitou only able to attack with the first striking Spearhunter each turn. Deciding he’d had enough of the Spider ruling the red zone, Saitou threw caution to the wind and attacked with an Elite Vanguard, the Sparkmage, and his Spearhunter. The play cost him his 1/1, left the Recluse on the table, but snuck some points in on Ren.

    Could Ren Ishikawa remain undefeated?
    Firing back, Ishikawa cast a Llanowar Elves and Whispersilk Cloak, taking another 2 from Viashino Spearhunter but forcing his opponent to keep the Vanguard in check. Trying to dig into some action, Ren cast Sage Owl, rearranging the top four cards of his library. The 1/1 flyer then chumped Spearhunter while Saitou had no plays of his own. Happy to see that, Ren untapped and plopped an Enormous Baloth onto the battlefield, sliding his Whispersilk onto it as protection. Takaya didn’t seem happy about that, casting a Lightning Elemental that had to stay back in the hopes of blocking somehow.

    Unfortunately for Saitou, Whispersilk Cloak didn’t go well with blocking, granting Ren’s 7/6 Baloth super evasion and allowing him to swing for a large chunk of his opponent’s life. Post-combat Ren had a second Enormous Baloth, and Takaya smiled at how the fates were conspiring against him. Running out of options, he had to alpha strike with his team and hope for a miracle. Ren made the correct blocks, preserving his life total at all costs, and when Takaya’s post-combat Blinding Mage was met with Essence Scatter, the match was Ren’s.

    Ren Ishikawa 2, Takaya Saitou 0

     

  • Sunday, 11:45 a.m. -- Quick Hits: What Do You Want to Draft in M10?
    by Bill Stark

  • Gaudenis Vidugiris: “Blue-White. I’m not sure, probably try to draft the good cards. Maybe Monoblack?”


    Katsuhiro Mori: “Monowhite, splashing any other color.”


    Shuhei Nakamura: “Black, blue, or white. I don’t like green or red.”


    Mat Marr: “I don’t know. I talked to [Martin] Juza and Oli [Ruel] and I think I’m going to just try to stay open.”


    Koutarou Ootsuka: “Blue with anything.”


    Makihito Mihara: “Monoblack. It’s the best.”

     

  • Round 12 Feature Match: Akira Asahara VS Makihito Mihara
    by Bill Stark
  • Japanese standout Akira Asahara
    Round 12 got underway with a bevy of announcements about the impending draft to follow, but for Akira Asahara and Makihito Mihara, it was all business. The two players had cordial smiles for one another, but former World Champion Mihara put aside niceties to bury himself in the ritual of shuffling. Akira Asahara, a very successful Japanese Pro who has yet to take down a Pro Tour title for himself, won the die roll and led off with a Plains.

    Mihara played Island, then cast Ponder to set himself up for the first few turns. Not liking what he saw, he re-shuffled his deck before drawing a card. The creature offerings from the two players were pretty mild, with a 1/4 Palace Guard from Asahara drawing first blood. Mihara cast Bog Wraith in an effort to get on the board himself, but when he attacked into Akira’s Forests, Plains, and Palace Guard Asahara called the bluff and blocked with his creature. Makihito simply cast Kelinore Bats and passed the turn.

    A Gorgon Flail from Mihara threatened to make life difficult for Akira Asahara. The deathtouch-granting equipment would allow Mihara’s Bog Wraith, or any other creature, to attack aggressively into Akira’s 1/4 Palace Guard. Fighting back, Asahara used Entangling Vines to keep Mihara’s Kelinore Bats locked down. A turn later he added a Cudgel Troll to the battlefield, but had to do so without leaving regeneration mana up. That was all the opportunity Mihara needed to use Tendrils of Corruption to take the creature out.

    Essence Scatter from Mihara aced a Blinding Mage from Akira Asahara, but Akira used his last two mana to cast Pacifism targeting Makihito’s Bog Wraith and nullifying a second creature by way of an aura. A second Cudgel Troll from Asahara, this time with regeneration mana up, drew a chuckle from his opponent. Mihara untapped and laid waste to the remainder of his opponent’s hand with Mind Shatter. That was quickly followed by Mind Spring, putting Makihito Mihara very far ahead in the game, though Asahara struggled to stay in it attacking with his Cudgel Troll.

    White Knight was a glimmer of hope for Akira Asahara, as the protection from black ability on the first striking 2/2 was particularly good against his opponent’s deck. It wasn’t enough, however, as Mihara’s Mind Spring yielded him creature after creature. Alluring Siren allowed Mihara to disrupt his opponent’s ability to block, forcing creatures to attack at inopportune times, and when he cast Royal Assassin and Illusionary Servant to both pick off his opponent’s threats and provide a beefy clock in the air, Asahara conceded.

    Makihito Mihara 1, Akira Asahara 0

    Akira Asahara started the second game off with a mulligan while, for the second game in a row, Makihito Mihara had a first-turn Ponder. A Duress from Makihito two turns later revealed Pacifism, Cudgel Troll, White Knight, Stampeding Rhino, and Rhox Pikemaster in Asahara’s hand; he was forced to discard the enchantment. Minor mana troubles forced Akira to stumble in the early game, and when he finally found himself with four mana, he ran his Cudgel Troll onto the battlefield once again with no regeneration backup.

    Former World Champion Makihito Mihara
    Unlike the first game, his opponent wasn’t able to capitalize. Mihara could kill the 4/3, but he could slow it down casting Wall of Frost to serve as a blocker for the Troll. Rhox Pikemaster was next up for Asahara, but he lost the rest of his hand to a Makihito Mind Shatter. Asahara used an Excommunicate on Mihara’s Wall of Frost to allow himself an attack, drawing an impressive three straight action cards after his opponent’s discard spell. That allowed him to drop Mihara to 12, but Makihito went right back to stabilizing casting Alluring Siren, re-casting the Wall of Frost, and finding himself a Horned Turtle too.

    Mind Spring for Makihito ensured he’d have the gas to keep going, but Asahara had a Prized Unicorn that spelled trouble for Mihara. The 2/2 would allow Akira to alpha-strike for 7 damage, dropping his opponent to 5, and perhaps provide a large enough advantage in life for him to sneak the game from beneath Makihito’s clutches. Asahara made the attack, then cast his second Cudgel Troll post-combat. It was all up to the contents of Mihara’s hand.

    Tendrils of Corruption on a Cudgel Troll put Makihito back to 12 and killed the 4/3, then Royal Assassin entered the battlefield to finish Mihara’s turn. Asahara had no choice but to all-in an attack, hoping for a miracle but when Mihara fell to a relatively safe 9 life after the combat step, Akira decided to scoop rather than try to soldier on.

    Makihito Mihara 2, Akira Asahara 0

     

  • Sunday, 1:46 PM – Drafting with Masashiro Kuroda
    by Bill Stark
  • Masashiro Kuroda will always hold a special place in Japanese Pro Tour history: he was the first Japanese player to win a Pro Tour title. As Grand Prix-Niigata rounded the bend in the direction of the Top 8, Kuroda was in 2nd place overall, behind just Ren Ishikawa though both players had accumulated 33 Swiss points. When choosing someone to railbird for a draft, you can hardly do better than as prolific a champion as Kuroda.

    The first pack of Magic 2010 was a bit weak for Kuroda. He fanned between the rare, a Great Sable Stag, Phantom Warrior, Assassinate, and Veteran Armorsmith. After much consideration, the 3/3 rare hit the table for Kuroda. He then took a Giant Spider over Levitation and Divine Verdict, then a third-pick Nightmare over green creatures and a Stormfront Pegasus. The Nightmare was a very powerful pick to come that late, and signaled black was very probably open for Masashiro. His next picks stayed on the green-black path with a Prized Unicorn, Bog Wraith, Craw Wurm, and Weakness all joining his team. A late Windstorm drew a quick inhalation of breath from the seasoned vet, who was clearly excited to pick up such a potentially powerful hoser so late. He ended the pack on a blue note though, with his final few picks being Unsummon, Levitation over a Mold Adder, Cancel, and Sage Owl.

    Masashiro Kuroda tries to draft his way into another Top 8
    Fanning through his cards before the second pack, it seemed probable Kuroda wouldn’t abandon his Nightmare pick but it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. He had gotten enough relatively playable blue cards towards the end of the first pack to make a blue-green deck an outside shot. The first pick of his second pack kyboshed that idea, however, offering up a Royal Assassin. Kuroda hurriedly slipped it into his deck, almost afraid that if he didn’t nab it quick enough it would magically disappear from the pack altogether. The second pack saw him take Stampeding Rhino over Child of Night, Prized Unicorn, and Mind Rot. His third pick saw him pause over a Capricious Efreet, but double red proved to be too much of a hassle and he went for the much safer Borderland Ranger. A Vampire Aristocrat was next up, then Black Knight and Craw Wurm. He closed out the pack with Enormous Baloth, Naturalize for his sideboard, and Llanowar Elves to hasten his Wurms and Baloths onto the battlefield.

    It was all down to the final pack, but Kuroda looked to be in good shape based on his first two packs. His green-black deck wasn’t exactly overpowering, but many players had done far worse than solid green creatures with some removal backup from black and Nightmare and Royal Assassin in the potentially bomby rare category. The first pick from the final pack added a Centaur Courser to Kuroda’s deck, though he gazed longingly at a Sleep and a Looming Shade. A 3/3 Courser wasn’t as pretty or flashy, but it would get the job done.

    Acidic Slime joined the team over a Mind Rot and Entangling Vines, then Kuroda squirmed in excitement as he found a Cudgel Troll staring back at him from the next pack. He happily nabbed the 4/3, then was given another gift in the form of a late Borderland Ranger. A second Prized Unicorn joined the team, threatening to allow its owner to alpha-strike repeatedly with big bruisers that could go lethal. Kuroda finished up the last draft of the Swiss portion of the Grand Prix with Weakness, Emerald Oryx, Mold Adder, and a Bramble Creeper. Not too bad, but not awe-inspiring. Still, in the hands of a champion like Kuroda there was no telling what he could make happen with the build...

     

  • Round 13 Feature Match: Ren Ishikawa VS Masashiro Kuroda
    by Bill Stark
  • It was a battle between both players the coverage team had followed during the Draft portion of Grand Prix-Niigata; Ren Ishikawa, who we followed in the first Draft, and Masashiro Kuroda, who we followed in the second. They sat atop the standings with Ren in 1st place and Kuroda in 2nd. Both were solid contenders to find themselves playing in the single elimination rounds, but one of them was leaving the duel at hand with a loss.

    Ren Ishikawa could lock up the Top 8 with a win...
    Black Knight was the first creature onto the battlefield, finding itself in the employ of Ren Ishikawa. Kuroda quickly trumped with Great Sable Stag and, judging by the Drowned Catacomb Ishikawa had led the game off with, the 3/3 was going to be a powerhouse in the matchup. Ishikawa cast Wind Drake while Kuroda missed a land drop, still managing a Centaur Courser. Warpath Ghoul also joined Ren’s team, but the pro needed to find a way to race Great Sable Stag; his Wind Drake wasn’t powerful enough to do it on its own.

    Kuroda finally caught back up on his land drops by casting a Borderland Ranger to find himself his second Swamp. He then went into the tank to consider his options for combat before sending just the Sable Stag. Ishikawa fell to 14. Wind Drake got in for 2 to put Kuroda on 16 with Ren following the attack up with a second Warpath Ghoul before passing the turn. Masashiro wasted no time using Weakness to neuter his opponent’s Drake, then casting a Cudgel Troll albeit it without regeneration mana available.

    Things were getting desperate as it started looking more and more like Ren Ishikawa didn’t have a maindeck answer to Great Sable Stag. He sent both of his Warpath Ghouls to the red zone to trade for Masashiro’s Borderland Ranger and Centaur Courser, then cast a Wall of Bone. Kuroda fired right back with a Prized Unicorn; if Ren couldn’t answer the 2/2 he’d be taking 7 damage the following turn.

    Looking to do exactly that, Ishikawa cast Mind Spring to dig himself up some help, but took the aforementioned 7 damage from his opponent’s attack while tapped out. He followed that play up with Mind Shatter, but the spell was only to gain free information for the following game. He perused the cards discarded by his opponent, then conceded.

    Masashiro Kuroda 1, Ren Ishikawa 0

    Ren Ishikawa had a solid curve for the second game with Drudge Skeletons leading into a Warpath Ghoul. But he held his breath as Masashiro Kuroda tapped 1GG on his third turn to cast...Borderland Ranger. Ren smiled in relief; it looked like his opponent didn’t have Great Sable Stag to start off the second game! With that bullet dodged (at least until Masashiro drew the 3/3), Ren traded his Warpath Ghoul for Borderland Ranger, then cast Dread Warlock.

    ...but so could Masashiro Kuroda.
    A bombtastic three-drop hit the battlefield for Kuroda, but it wasn’t the Great Sable Stag. Instead, his Royal Assassin made its first appearance in the match, but was quickly dispatched by a Weakness from Ren. Kuroda’s follow-up to the play? A Weakness of his own on his opponent’s Dread Warlock, then a topdecked Great Sable Stag. His land for the turn was even a Gargoyle Castle and Ren Ishikawa bemoaned his misfortune.

    Unholy Strength on the Weaknessed Dread Warlock freed up the 2/2 to attack, and Ishikawa used Essence Scatter to counter an attempt at Cudgel Troll from Kuroda. He got in a big attack, including a Looming Shade he had snuck onto the battlefield, and all of a sudden Masashiro Kuroda had to keep his Great Sable Stag back to block. He activated his Gargoyle Castle, then cast a Craw Wurm, but Ren had a timely removal spell to allow himself an alpha strike for the final few points of his opponent’s life. Ren Ishikawa had managed to dodge a Great Sable Stag-sized bullet!

    Masashiro Kuroda 1, Ren Ishikawa 1

    Kuroda kicked off the rubber game with a mulligan, agonizing over whether he should keep his six-card hand or not. He ultimately decided to do so, and was punished as he played a Swamp and a Gargoyle Castle, then missed a land drop. His opponent offered up no mercy, casting Dread Warlock and Howling Banshee. Kuroda found a third land, another Swamp, and cast Vampire Aristocrat to block his opponent’s Warlock.

    Weakness was next up to slow down the pace of the Howling Banshee, but Looming Shade and Zombie Goliath hit the table for Ishikawa and it was all but over for Masashiro Kuroda. When his Mind Rot did nothing to slow Ren down, and he continued failing to find any sources of green mana, the match concluded with Ishikawa the victor.

    Ren Ishikawa 2, Masashiro Kuroda 1

     

  • Sunday, 2:57 PM – Quick Hits: What Public Events Are You Playing Today?
    by Bill Stark
  • Didn’t make Day 2? No problem! There’s plenty to do in the convention hall. Here’s what some of the big pros who missed the second day of competition are doing to keep busy on Sunday...


    Sam Black: “The original Lightning Bolt art tournament.”


    Naoki Shimizu: “The Lightning Bolt tournament.”


    Matteo Orsini-Jones: “I’m waiting for the artist [Christopher Moeller] to sign my EDH box.”


    Martin Juza: “Drafting!”



    Chikara Nakajima: “Many Drafts!”



    Kazuya “The Chief” Mitamura: “Drafting!”

     

  • Sunday, 3:28 PM – Play the Game, See the World
    by Bill Stark
  • Despite being a Level 1 pro, Mike Bernat of America loves traveling for events.
    It is a mantra uttered time and time again: “Play the game, see the world.” Grand Prix-Niigata has been no different, with some big names traveling from far and wide to attend. In recent years, the Pro Tour and Grand Prix circuits have been shifted to coincide peacefully with one another, meaning many players have been going on extended road trips to hit up numerous competitive events in a row. This could be seen at Grand Prix-Seattle, which was conveniently on the way to Pro Tour-Honolulu, and over the past few weeks as Grand Prix-Brighton fed Grand Prix-Bangkok, which preceded this weekend’s Grand Prix-Niigata, culminating in next weekend’s Grand Prix-Prague. The coverage team sat down to chat with Czech Martin Juza, Japanese super pro Shuhei Nakamura, Brit Matteo Orsini-Jones, and Americans Mike Bernat, and Sam Black to ask them about their recent globe trotting exploits, which had brought them all the way to Japan for the Grand Prix.

    The first question was how many of the players were traveling for Pro status and the answer was surprising. Matteo Orsini-Jones is presently a Level 4 thanks to his Top 8 at Pro Tour-Kyoto. Shuhei Nakamura is a whopping Level 8, the reigning Player of the Year, with Martin Juza just behind him at Level 7. Sam Black is a Level 5, but Mike Bernat was simply a Level 1. What makes traveling to Magic events so enjoyable for him that he opted to fly halfway around the world for a Grand Prix despite being a PTQ regular? “I love hanging out and playing Magic,” he answered. “There’s sightseeing, eating at nice restaurants.”

    Martin Juza made Level 7 largely by traveling.
    Other players echoed those sentiments, with Juza explaining “I like meeting friends and being in a different country every week. I’ve used 10 different currencies in the last three weeks.” Shuhei added an overly practical point, indicating he was happy to rack up frequent flier miles while on long trips. Of course seeing the sites, meeting people, exotic food, and playing Magic were the travel perks he exclaimed having the most love for.

    The players’ itineraries over the past few weeks varied. Matteo Orsini-Jones had started his travels at United Kingdom Nationals which fed immediately into Grand Prixs-Brighton, -Bangkok, and –Niigata (with a Top 8 in Bangkok thrown in for good measure!). Both Sam Black and Mike Bernat had hit Gen Con instead of Grand Prix-Brighton, with Sam also attending Grand Prix-Boston before both players headed off on separate flights to Bangkok and Niigata.

    Of course, a large part of the fun of traveling internationally is doing it with friends. When asked who he was traveling with, Martin Juza said “My best friend, though he isn’t playing much Magic anymore, and Lucas Blohon. We stayed at Michal Marcik’s in Tokyo and are meeting the usual suspects in Prague.” Shuhei Nakamura had a cavalcade of big names he kept company with. “Tomoharu Saito, and Japanese guys like Yuuya Watanabe, Yuuta Takahashi, and Kazuya Mitamura.” That’s a Pro Tour champion, a former Player of the Year, and who knows how many additional Pro Tour and Grand Prix Top 8s shared amongst the travel group.

    Wise words from PoY Shuhei Nakamura: You can always win the next one.
    So what does the cadre of seasoned travel experts have for advice to the next generation of traveling Magic players? Sam Black had a most practical answer saying “Travel light. Only take things you really need if you’re flying.” Martin Juza also had a very practical point for readers at home, adding “Book your tickets and hotels in advance so you don’t have to pay infinite for last minute arrangements simply because you were too lazy to do it early (in my case).” Wise words indeed.

    Matteo Orsini-Jones and Shuhei Nakamura had more tournament-minded responses, with Matteo’s advice ringing true for him on the weekend in Niigata. “Don’t get too down if you don’t make Day 2,” he pointed out. “I didn’t Day 2 a Grand Prix until Madrid last summer, despite playing ‘competitively’ since Ravnica. I stuck it out and eventually started getting the results I was aiming for.” Shuhei added “No one wins all the time. You can always try to win the next one.”

    Play the game, see the world. It has been said before, and it rings through today. Magic is a great game, and a wonderful opportunity for many to travel the world doing something they love, meeting new friends, enjoying new experiences, and generating stories they can tell for years to come.

     

  • Round 15 Feature Match: Kenta Kubota VS Yuuya Watanabe
    by Bill Stark
  • The final round of Swiss was upon the players of Grand Prix-Niigata, and it promised to be a tough one. Yuuya Watanabe, one of Japan’s rising stars and both a former Rookie of the Year as well as two-time Nationals Top 8er, was on the play-and-pray. He had to win the final round and hope his tie breakers were good enough to slip him into the Top 8. His opponent, fellow Japanese countryman Kenta Kubota, was in the exact same boat. The winner had a shot, even if it was an outside one.

    Kenta Kubota was hoping to sneak a win to get into the Top 8.
    Sign in Blood netted Yuuya Watanabe two additional cards on his second turn, but it cost him 2 life. Against his opponent’s aggressive White Weenie style deck, that payment could prove lethal. Kenta Kubota quickly got on the battlefield with creatures, casting Veteran Armorsmith and Silvercoat Lion to stay ahead against his opponent’s Kelinore Bats. Neither player had deviated from a monocolor path, with Kenta representing just Plains while Watanabe had only Swamps.

    The Armorsmith met its demise at the hands of a Tendrils of Corruption, which put Yuuya well ahead in the life race. He cast and immediately equipped Magebane Armor to his Bats, attacking with the 4/5 which was now devoid of flying. Kubota could have blocked with a freshly cast Palace Guard, but he opted to take the damage so he could attack back with the 1/4 and his Silvercoat Lion the following turn. He did exactly that, then cast Siege Mastodon before shipping the turn back to Yuuya.

    The former RoY considered his options carefully before finally deciding on Looming Shade. He then equipped his Magebane Armor to the 1/1, allowing his Kelinore Bats to attack in the sky again. The life totals were 15-12 in Watanabe’s favor. Kubota made the first non-Plains, non-Swamp land in the match, playing an Island and then a Snapping Drake. He was dismayed to see his opponent cast Mind Rot the following turn, however, as it forced him to discard his Ajani Goldmane. He had slowrolled the casting of the planeswalker to surprise his opponent with it, but instead he had simply lost it to no effect. Kubota laughed with Yuuya at the turn of events.

    Kubota hit a series of blanks while Yuuya found a second Looming Shade. That freed up his first to start getting into the red zone. With his board cluttered with Swamps, an attempt by Kenta to block would simply be met with enough pumps to send the hapless chumping creature to its death. Slowly Yuuya plinked his opponent to 8, before ripping a Whispersilk Cloak. The second equipment promised to send a lethal Looming Shade attack through to his opponent, and Kenta had just one turn to find a solution. He peeked at the top card of his deck and scooped up his board for the second game.

    Yuuya Watanabe 1, Kenta Kubota 0

    Not willing to go out of the match without a fight, Kenta Kubota came blaring out of the gates for the second game. He cast a Stormfront Pegasus, then a Blinding Mage and a Palace Guard. Yuuya found a Drudge Skeletons, but had to cast Sign in Blood on his third turn instead of a creature. If he could keep up with the breakneck pace of his opponent’s army, Yuuya would emerge from the match a winner, but Kubota wasn’t making it easy.

    Yuuya Watanabe was in the hunt for antoerh accomplishment for his resume.
    Watanabe cast a Looming Shade, but was falling behind to his opponent’s attackers. Kubota cracked Terramorphic Expanse to find an Island, then cast Snapping Drake with just enough mana to activate his Blinding Mage on his opponent’s turn. Moving to his combat step, Yuuya tried a game of Chicken, but his opponent didn’t bite. Not afraid of an attack from Watanabe, Kubota held off activating his Blinding Mage in the event his opponent cast a more relevant creature that needed tapping later in the turn. Yuuya kept the team back, and instead cast Sign in Blood to draw two cards, then a Mind Rot targeting his opponent. Kenta discarded Harm’s Way and Safe Passage.

    Yuuya was behind on the battlefield, but his opponent was down to no cards. If Kenta were to draw some blanks, Yuuya might just be able to claw his way back into things. In a perfect example of comical timing, Ajani Goldmane popped right off the top of Kubota’s deck, and he cast the planeswalker with a smile, pumping his team and giving them vigilance. Yuuya shook his head in dismay at the topdeck, did some quick mental math and conceded.

    Yuuya Watanabe 1, Kenta Kubota 1

    Yuuya Watanabe had a third-turn Looming Shade for the final game of the match, but Kenta Kubota was already on the battlefield with a Stormfront Pegasus. He followed his 2/1 up with a Griffin Sentinel, while Watanabe had Magebane Armor to pump up his Shade. Veteran Swordsmith increased the size of Kubota’s army by one, and he played a Terramorphic Expanse to find one of his splashed Islands.

    The Looming Shade picked up the Magebane Armor, and Yuuya attacked, pumping his creature once. That set the score at 14-13 in Kenta’s favor; a post-combat Black Knight from Yuuya posed problems for Kubota. His mostly-white deck would struggle to deal with the 2/2s protection from white static ability. A turn later Yuuya found Whispersilk Cloak to make his Magebaned Looming Shade unblockable and untargetable, and he attacked to put Kubota to 10.

    It was a tenuous situation. Both players were on 10 life, with Kenta’s board including Silvercoat Lion, Veteran Swordsmith, Stormfront Pegasus, and Griffin Sentinel. Yuuya had a Looming Shade with both of his equipments attached and six Swamps, lethal if he found himself another source of black mana. He only had a single blocker, however, in the form of Black Knight. The 2/2 was immune to Kenta’s white removal, but if Kubota had enough pump effects he could attack around the creature to take care of his opponent. The crowd pressed in against the chain barriers keeping them from the action to see how the match would conclude.

    The Pegasus and the Griffin Sentinel attacked for Kenta, not enough to kill Yuuya. Watanabe survived the turn at 7, then inhaled sharply as he found a Swamp waiting for him on the top of his library. He started considering options from his opponent to figure out what possible outs Kubota could have to survive the turn. Ultimately he decided to attack with both of his creatures. Kubota couldn’t block, and Yuuya pumped his Shade with all of his mana save two. Kubota extended his hand in defeat, devoid of outs.

    Yuuya Watanabe 2, Kenta Kubota 1

    After the match, Yuuya revealed he was holding a Sign in Blood, which explained why he left two mana after pumping his Shade. Even if Kubota had a hail mary to survive combat, Yuuya would be able to cast the sorcery as a burn spell afterwards to finish the game.

     

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