Event_Coverage

Ikeda Sacks Niigata!

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Shingou Kurihara was a week removed from winning Grand Prix-Bangkok when he found himself back in the Grand Prix Finals hotseat. After going up a game in the match, he seemed like a shoo-in for the title. Tsuyoshi Ikeda, his last opponent, begged to differ. Overcoming a stumble on mana, Ikeda managed to come back from behind in order to take down the title. His blue-white deck featured powerful aggressive creatures, particularly those that had flying. Twin copies of Illusionary Servant managed to avoid being targeted by anything from his opponents.

Tsuyoshi Ikeda is your 2009 Grand Prix-Niigata champion!


Quarterfinals   Semifinals   Finals   Champion
1 Kurihara, Shingou   Kurihara, Shingou 2-1        
8 Saitou, Takaya   Kurihara, Shingou 2-1
       
4 Nakamura, Hajime   Nakamura, Hajime 1-2   Ikeda, Tsuyoshi 2-1
5 Sho, Ishikawa    
       
2 Ishikawa, Ren   Ishikawa, Ren 2-0
7 Watanabe, Yuuya   Ikeda, Tsuyoshi 2-0
       
3 Ikeda, Tsuyoshi   Ikeda, Tsuyoshi 2-0
6 Vidugiris, Gaudenis    

EVENT COVERAGE TWITTER

  • by Bill Stark
    Finals:
    Shingou Kurihara VS Tsuyoshi Ikeda

  • by Bill Stark
    Semifinals:
    Shingou Kurihara VS Hajime Nakamura

  • by Bill Stark
    Semifinals:
    Tsuyoshi Ikeda VS Ren Ishikawa

  • by Keita Mori
    Quarterfinals Roundup

  • by Bill Stark
    Quarterfinals:
    Tsuyoshi Ikeda VS Gaudenis Vidugiris

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Top 8:
    Deck Lists

  • by Bill Stark
    Top 8:
    Draft with Gaudenis Vidugiris

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Top 8:
    Player Profiles


  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Day 2 Coverage


  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Day 1 Coverage

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Info: Fact Sheet

INFORMATION
 1.  Ikeda, Tsuyoshi $3,500
 2.  Kurihara, Shingou $2,300
 3.  Ishikawa, Ren $1,500
 4.  Nakamura, Hajime $1,500
 5.  ishikawa, sho $1,000
 6.  Saitou, Takaya $1,000
 7.  Vidugiris, Gaudenis $1,000
 8.  Watanabe, Yuuya $1,000
Pairings Results Standings
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  • Top 8 Player Profiles
    by Event Coverage Staff
  • Ren Ishikawa
    Current Residence: Kanagawa Prefecture
    Age: 24
    Occupation: Magic Online player

    Tell us about your performance at the Grand Prix.
    • Day 1 (Sealed): 9-0
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Acidic Slime and Magma Phoenix.
    • Draft 1: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Green/Blue
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Elvish Piper and Enormous Baloth.
    • Draft 2: 1-2
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Mono-black with just a touch of blue.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Unholy Strength.

    What colors/archetype are you hoping to draft in the Top 8? What common card do you hope to get as your first pick?
    I would love to be able to kick off drafting green with either Borderland Ranger or Giant Spider.

    Which Magic 2010 card do you think is most underrated in draft?
    Elvish Piper.

    What was your hardest match-up/opponent in the Swiss rounds?
    I played a match with Katsuhiro Mori that really came down to one more turn.

    When did you start playing Magic?
    During Fifth Edition.

    What are your other significant Magic achievements?
    This is my second GP Top 8. I’ve also been in the Top 8 of Japan Nationals twice, coming in second one time.

    What are your non-Magic hobbies?
    I’m a devoted follower of the yaya3 and duotianshi MO Player of the Year Race!!


    Shingou Kurihara
    Current Residence: Tokyo
    Age: 26
    Occupation: System engineer

    Tell us about your performance at the Grand Prix.
    • Day 1 (Sealed): 8-1
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Air Elemental.
    • Draft 1: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Blue-white flying beatdown.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Air Elemental.
    • Draft 2: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Green-white beatdown.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Serra Angel.

    What colors/archetype are you hoping to draft in the Top 8? What common card do you hope to get as your first pick?
    Blinding Mage, leading off blue-white flying beatdown.

    Which Magic 2010 card do you think is most underrated in draft?
    Ice Cage.

    What was your hardest match-up/opponent in the Swiss rounds?
    Against Ryo Tasaki, the winner of the first Limits Championship.

    When did you start playing Magic?
    10 years ago.

    What are your other significant Magic achievements?
    I won Grand Prix Bangkok last week.

    What are your non-Magic hobbies?
    Watching movies on the Internet.


    Tsuyoshi Ikeda
    Current Residence: Fukuoka Prefecture.
    Age: 36
    Occupation: Card shop owner, pro player, father of two

    Tell us about your performance at the Grand Prix.
    • Day 1 (Sealed): 8-1
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Chandra Nalaar, Shivan Hellkite, Siege-Gang Commander.
    • Draft 1: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Blue-white.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Harm’s Way.
    • Draft 2: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Blue-red. Blue draw spells, red rares.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Chandra Nalaar, Earthquake, 2 Mind Controls.

    What colors/archetype are you hoping to draft in the Top 8? What common card do you hope to get as your first pick?
    None, actually. I don’t want to have to pick a common first.

    Which Magic 2010 card do you think is most underrated in draft?
    Act of Treason.

    What was your hardest match-up/opponent in the Swiss rounds?
    Kentaro Yamamoto. He’s a very clever player, and it was a true battle of wits. It’s hard to get a read on him.

    When did you start playing Magic?
    When I was 25.

    What are your other significant Magic achievements?
    Pro Tour Top 4, lots of Grand Prix Top 8s. I was also on the national team in 2000.

    What are your non-Magic hobbies?
    Watching my kids grow.


    Hajime Nakamura
    Current Residence: Tokyo
    Age: 24
    Occupation: Second-generation Mr. Planeswalker’s Cup

    Tell us about your performance at the Grand Prix.
    • Day 1 (Sealed): 8-1
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Tendrils of Corruption.
    • Draft 1: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Blue-white.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Armored Ascension
    • Draft 2: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Red-white.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Dragon Whelp and Sparkmage Apprentice.

    What colors/archetype are you hoping to draft in the Top 8? What common card do you hope to get as your first pick?
    Blue-white, starting with Blinding Mage.

    Which Magic 2010 card do you think is most underrated in draft?
    Righteousness.

    What was your hardest match-up/opponent in the Swiss rounds?
    Yuuya Watanabe. I was able to win only after two lucky topdecks.

    When did you start playing Magic?
    During 6th Edition.

    What are your other significant Magic achievements?
    None.

    What are your non-Magic hobbies?
    Cooking.


    Yuuya Watanabe
    Current Residence: Tokyo
    Age: 20
    Occupation: First-generation Mr. Planeswalker’s Cup

    Tell us about your performance at the Grand Prix.
    • Day 1 (Sealed): 7-2
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    None in particular.
    • Draft 1: 3-0
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Green-white beatdown.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Awakener Druid and Overrun.
    • Draft 2: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Mono-black.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Looming Shade.

    What colors/archetype are you hoping to draft in the Top 8? What common card do you hope to get as your first pick?
    Something with blue in it. It’s an uncommon, but I would love top open a Mind Control.

    Which Magic 2010 card do you think is most underrated in draft?
    Awakener Druid.

    What was your hardest match-up/opponent in the Swiss rounds?
    Masaya Kitayama. His deck was really strong, especially after sideboarding.

    When did you start playing Magic?
    During Invasion, when I was around 11.

    What are your other significant Magic achievements?
    This is my 3rd GP Top 8. I’ve been on the national team twice, and I was the 2007 Rookie of the Year.

    What are your non-Magic hobbies?
    Watching Japanime.


    Gaudenis Vidugiris
    Current Residence: Madison, WI (USA)
    Age: 20
    Occupation: Law school student

    Tell us about your performance at the Grand Prix.
    • Day 1 (Sealed): 8-1
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Mind Contol and Merfolk Looter.
    • Draft 1: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Blue-white.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Merfolk Looter.
    • Draft 2: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Black-green
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Garruk Wildspeaker (third pick!)

    What colors/archetype are you hoping to draft in the Top 8? What common card do you hope to get as your first pick?
    It depends on the pack. You just have to take the best common you see.

    Which Magic 2010 card do you think is most underrated in draft?
    Merfolk Looter. I’ve seen it come around as a 7th pick.

    What was your hardest match-up/opponent in the Swiss rounds?
    Yuta Ushie. I played him twice this weekend and lost both times.

    When did you start playing Magic?
    During Onslaught.

    What are your other significant Magic achievements?
    Finalist at GP Denver and GP Indianapolis.

    What are your non-Magic hobbies?
    Sports and traveling.


    Shou Ishikawa
    Current Residence: Tokyo
    Age: 26
    Occupation: Saké shop owner

    Tell us about your performance at the Grand Prix.
    • Day 1 (Sealed): 7-2
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Dragon Whelp and Shivan Dragon.
    • Draft 1: 3-0
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Blue-white angel stompy.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Baneslayer Angel.
    • Draft 2: 3-0
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Blue-red flying beats.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Merfolk Looter.

    What colors/archetype are you hoping to draft in the Top 8? What common card do you hope to get as your first pick?
    Snapping Drake.

    Which Magic 2010 card do you think is most underrated in draft?
    Stormfront Pegasus.

    What was your hardest match-up/opponent in the Swiss rounds?
    Shota Yasooka. I had trouble because his deck completely changed between Game 1 and Game 2. He’s also a good player, always has a plan, and never gives you an opening. I lost due to a mistake I made with an attack, and it re-emphasized to me the importance of thinking about what you’re doing.

    When did you start playing Magic?
    After Tempest.

    What are your other significant Magic achievements?
    I’ve won the Five Dragons Cup and the Planeswalker’s Cup.

    What are your non-Magic hobbies?
    I like hanging out with my friends from the Ikebukuro Amenity Dream store. I’m a fan of pro wrestling and the Rakuten Eagles as well.


    Takaya Saitou
    Current Residence: Niigata Prefecture
    Age: 22
    Occupation: I work at Kokoichi

    Tell us about your performance at the Grand Prix.
    • Day 1 (Sealed): 9-0
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Ant Queen.
    • Draft 1: 2-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Red-white.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Honor of the Pure.
    • Draft 2: 1-1-1
    What colors/archetype did you draft?
    Red-white.
    Which card(s) were your top performers?
    Fireball.

    What colors/archetype are you hoping to draft in the Top 8? What common card do you hope to get as your first pick?
    Lightning Bolt. I like to build decks out of cheap red cards.

    Which Magic 2010 card do you think is most underrated in draft?
    Coat of Arms.

    What was your hardest match-up/opponent in the Swiss rounds?
    My Round 10 match agains Ren Ishikawa. He blew up one of my Mountains with Acidic Slime!

    When did you start playing Magic?
    Around the time Odyssey was out.

    What are your other significant Magic achievements?
    This is my first achievement!

    What are your non-Magic hobbies?
    Rock!

     

  • Top 8 Draft with Gaudenis Vidugiris
    by Bill Stark
  • A half dozen Americans registered to compete at Grand Prix-Niigata on Saturday morning, and by the start of the Top 8 draft, only one was left: Gaudenis Vidugiris. The Madison, Wisconsin resident also counts Lithuania as an ancestral home, and the coverage team leaned in to get a look at how he was going to tackle the Draft in the Top 8. Around him, seven hungry Japanese opponents looked to defend their home title; no non-Japanese player had won an individual Grand Prix title in Japan in years.

    The first pack offered up a Lightning Bolt, a Windstorm, and a Bog Wraith. Gaudenis flipped the cards around in his grip. The Bolt was clearly the best of the three, but it seemed apparent he was hesitant to go into red so early. Ultimately card quality won out with the Bolt being the choice, and he moved to his second pick. That offered up a Howling Banshee, a Merfolk Looter, and a Snapping Drake. He selected the Merfolk, heading into red-blue, then picked up pick three. A relatively weak pack, he took Canyon Minotaur over Essence Scatter.

    From there, the blue dried out pretty much completely. He took a Giant Growth over a Rampant Growth, then Craw Wurm over Goblin Chieftain. Stone Giant jumped into the heap at the expense of a Viashino Spearhunter and Entangling Vines, and Vidugiris all but moved in to red-green as he took Centaur Courser over Berserkers of Blood Ridge. The pack rounded out with an Ignite Disorder and Bramble Creeper, but the American was clearly frustrated that some very powerful black cards were coming around late. He had a look at multiple Weaknesses, Wall of Bone, and a Sign in Blood well past when one would normally expect those cards to go by.

    After abandoning his Merfolk Looter, Gaudenis had scraped together a promising start to a red-green deck. His first pick out of pack two, however, did not contribute to that plan at all. Captain of the Watch beamed back from the rare slot, but the closest playable for his deck taht Gaudenis could come up with was a Fiery Hellhound. Rather than take the 2/2 so early, he opted instead to grab the Captain, keeping open the outside possibility he would wind up splashing a double white card. As if on cue, a Borderland Ranger showed up for his second pick, making that splash even more possible. A late Lightning Bolt showed up in third, indicating Gaudenis had set himself up well for the second pack successfully cutting red to his left.

    Seismic Strike fourth indicated that impression was correct, with a second one in fifth followed by a Pyroclasm certifying it as fact. He then grabbed a Stone Giant, bringing his total to two so far, as well as a second Giant Growth, a Fiery Hellhound, and late picks in Goblin Piker and Berserkers of Blood Ridge. What had started off as a weak set of picks with nothing in his opened booster quickly loosened up into some very solid cards for Gaudenis. He had plentiful removal spells, he just needed to follow up with some creatures to seal the deal.

    The third pack opened up on Centaur Courser, though he gave a slightly more than longing glance at a Serra Angel left in the booster. Not to worry as he got a flier of his own as his second pick, nabbing Dragon Whelp over Seismic Strike and Royal Assassin. The 1/1 rare was flashy, but there was no reason to skew into an off-color when there were powerful cards left as actual options in Gaudenis’ main colors. He had a chance at Howl of the Night Pack, but already having picked up double Seismic Strike opted to take the less green intense Giant Spider instead. Just like that, a third Seismic Strike showed up for him as his fourth pick, then Rampant Growth over Fiery Hellhound and Bramble Creeper. Goblin Piker, Entangling Vines, two Naturalizes, a Mist Leopard, and Mold Adder joined the stack and Gaudenis was off to build his deck. Overall he had put together a solid stack of cards, though not in a color combination he preferred. He’d have to keep all of his wits about him to have a shot against the seven Japanese players thirsty to nab a home turf title.

     

  • Top 8 Deck Lists
    by Event Coverage Staff






  •  

  • Quarterfinals: Tsuyoshi Ikeda VS Gaudenis Vidugiris
    by Bill Stark
  • The Top 8 got underway with the sole non-Japanese player, Gaudenis Vidugiris, squaring off against one of Japan’s big names, a resurgent Tsuyoshi Ikeda. Vidugiris was looking to pull off a feat that had not been accomplished in many years: winning an individual Grand Prix title in Japan without being from the country. Ikeda, and the six other Japanese players in the Top 8, had no interest in allowing that to happen.

    Tsuyoshi Ikeda looked to take down the American.
    A Soul Warden for Ikeda was followed by Stormfront Pegasus and Wind Drake, giving him a lead on life that his opponent compounded by casting his own threats. They included Fiery Hellhound and Prodigal Pyromancer and when Ikeda added a Snapping Drake to the battlefield, Gaudenis Vidugiris looked to be in a lot of trouble. He had a mainphase activation of his Pyromancer to take out his opponent’s 2/1 Pegasus, then used Lightning Bolt to kill the Snapping Drake.

    Ikeda simply attacked with his Soul Warden and Wind Drake, setting the totals at 20-9 in his favor. Vidugiris began missing land drops, short the green mana he needed to cast many of the cards in his deck. Rhox Pikemaster made Ikeda’s side of the battlefield even more threatening, and when he used an Excommunicate to force his opponent to re-draw and re-cast his Fiery Hellhound, the game looked unmanageable for the American. Ikeda’s ensuing attacks left Gaudenis at just 2 life.

    Vidugiris wasn’t out of things just yet, however. He activated his Prodigal Pyromancer targeting his opponent’s 3/3 Pikemaster, then cast Pyroclasm. The sorcery wiped the battlefield clear of creatures. Ikeda followed up with a second copy of Wind Drake, whose 2/2 body was plenty lethal. Gaudenis re-trumped with Dragon Whelp to block, but Ikeda had Pacifism to spoil those plans and send the match to a second game, with the Japanese star up by one.

    Tsuyoshi Ikeda 1, Gaudenis Vidugiris 0

    Goblin Piker was the first creature on the battlefield for the second game, joining Gaudenis’ side of the board. He curved his two-drop into a Centaur Courser while Tsuyoshi Ikeda cast his first creature in the form of Griffin Sentinel. He needed to aggressively threaten his opponent’s life total quickly or risk being overpowered by Vidugiris’ beefier creatures.

    Stone Giant hit the table for the American, but Ikeda cast a techy Holy Strength on his 1/3 Griffin, making it a 2/5 vigilant flier. He also had a Wind Drake setting him up to evade his way to victory. Gaudenis had to consider his possible plays carefully with the turn back. He could attack with all three of his creatures, but risked losing the Piker in doing so. If he attacked with only his 3-powered attackers, he’d get less damage through but have more attackers down the road. Ultimately he attacked with only his Stone Giant and Centaur Courser. Ikeda double blocked, but lost his Wind Drake to a surprise Ignite Disorder before damage. He got to keep his Griffin Sentinel, falling to 12 from the attack.

    Gaudenis Vidugiris had an uphill battle ahead of him.
    Losing one Wind Drake only paved the way for Ikeda’s second copy to join the 2/5 Griffin when he had the turn back. He even managed to attack his opponent to 16 thanks to the vigilant portion of his enchanted flier. The board was threatening enough to force Gaudenis to keep his creatures home rather than attack, and he could only twitch his lips in feigned nonchalance as Tsuyoshi restocked his hand with a Mind Spring for four. If the American didn’t come up with a plan of action, and fast, he was going to be out of the Top 8 in just one round.

    Pyroclasm and Lightning Bolt allowed Vidugiris to take out his opponent’s Sentinel and Wind Drake, attacking Tsuyoshi to 6 but losing his own Goblin Piker to the sorcery. Ikeda untapped, hand swelled from his card draw spell the previous turn, and cast Divination to find himself two more pieces of action. He then had Excommunicate to put his opponent’s Centaur Courser back on top of the American’s library. When Gaudenis attacked, Ikeda revealed he had a second trick in the form of Unsummon, putting the Stone Giant back as well. Vidugiris simply recast the 3/4, still in the game but hanging on by a thread.

    Snapping Drake and Illusionary Servant were Tsuyoshi Ikeda’s next action spells, but his opponent fired right back with Berserkers of Blood Ridge. Ikeda considered his options on his own turn, before deciding to attack with both of his creatures. He then had Pacifism to shut down his opponent’s Berserkers. When Gaudenis attacked with his Stone Giant, Tsuyoshi had Safe Passage to protect his life total. He untapped and attacked for 6, just two short of his opponent’s total. Vidugiris moved to mark the damage and Ikeda slammed a Glorious Charge onto the table. The instant was enough to seal the deal, and Ikeda was on to the Semifinals. Gaudenis Vidugiris would not steal the Grand Prix title from Japan.

    Tsuyoshi Ikeda 2, Gaudenis Vidugiris 0

     

  • Quarterfinals Roundup
    by Keita Mori
  • Ren Ishikawa(RG) vs. Yuuya Watanabe(UGr)
    According to Japanese Reporter, Akira Asahara

    The match was a revenge match for Ren Ishikawa. The last cruel match happened just one month ago in the Quarterfinals of the Japanese National Championship, a Faeries versus Faeries mirror match. At that time Yuuya Watanabe defeated Ren 3-0 to become a National team member with Shuhei Nakamura and Yuuma Shiota.

    This time, Ren Ishikawa drafted a really solid deck with a mana curve starting with triple Llanowar Elves and ending with double planeswalkers in Chandra Nalaar and Garruk Wildspeaker. In Game 1, a 5/5 Protean Hydra was a great attacker for Yuuya, but Ren dealt with it via Capricious Efreet’s block. Ishikawa’s Howl of the Night Pack then gave him four Wolf tokens to slow down the board, and a Fireball targeting Yuuya was the last play of the game.

    Yuuya sideboarded white cards instead of red for Game 2. It was a white sideboarded Angel named Serra that became an efficient clock against Ren. Then, the burning planeswalker Chandra Nalaar shot Yuuya’s Serra Angel immediately.... and Ren held on to claim vengeance!!

    Ren Ishikawa 2, Yuuya Watanabe 0

    Shingou Kurihara (Bu) vs. Takaya Saitou (WG)

    According to Japanese Reporter, Takamasa Kohji

    In Game 3, a double mulliganed Takaya Saitou had only one game plan to defeat the Grand Prix-Bangkok champion’s almost monoblack deck: White Knight. All Saitou’s other 2/2 creatures were stopped by Shingou Kurihara’s two copies of Wall of Bone. If Takaya could find Oakenform or Armored Ascension for his protection from black Knight, it was game.

    Kurihara’s counter strike came by way of the air, with a 2/1 Kelinore Bat and 3/3 Howling Banshee serving in the red zone. The damage race between the Knight and the flyers was really close because White Knight started its charge very early.

    Kurihara managed to topdeck arguably the best blue common creature of the format in Merfolk Looter. All in all, the very last point of the match came down to this a single question: could Takaya also topdeck to find something against the Looter or no? He couldn’t, and Shingou Kurihara’s air force won the very tight damage race!

    Shingou Kurihara 2-1 Takaya Saitou

    Hajime Nakamura(UB) vs. Sho Ishikawa(WUb)

    According to Japanese Reporter, Daisuke Kawasaki

    Both players performed really well in the first two games and the score became 1-1 quickly.

    In Game 3, Sho Ishikawa played a Swamp, a splashed color for him. Hajime Nakamura took full advantage with a swampwalking Bog Wraith. Sho needed to deal with the 3/3 and came up with a pair of Blinding Mages. One was immediately Assassinated, and Nakamura added other threats including Warpath Ghoul and Gravedigger. It’s true that Sho stopped Bog Wraith with the suriving tapper, but it’s also true that he didn’t have any more creatures to stop Hajime’s necromantic hordes and he fell to Nakamura.

    Hajime Nakamura 2-1 Sho Ishikawa

     

  • Semifinals: Tsuyoshi Ikeda VS Ren Ishikawa
    by Bill Stark
  • After dispatching the only non-Japanese player in the Top 8, Tsuyoshi Ikeda headed on to his Semifinals matchup. His opponent for the round? Ren Ishikawa, who had powered through the first day of Swiss undefeated and finished strong into the Top 8. He had been on a tear of late, Top 8ing in Niigata barely a month after accomplishing the same feat at Japanese Nationals.

    Tsuyoshi Ikeda
    Dissatisfied with his opening hand, Tsuyoshi Ikeda was forced to ship it back for a set of six. It didn’t seem to affect him much, however, as he came blistering out of the gates with a Stormfront Pegasus followed by Illusionary Servant. Ren Ishikawa had a much slower start with a third-turn Whispersilk Cloak.

    When Ren tried to stabilize the board with an Awakener Druid and a Stampeding Rhino, clawing back against his opponents fliers, Ikeda pulled the trigger on two copies of Pacifism to stop his opponent’s fatties. That let his air force continue getting in without facing any pressure. The first green creatures from Ishikawa led to a Giant Spider. Unfortunately for him, he was so far behind on the board Tsuyoshi was able to press in for the final few points with his fliers even through the fearsome 2/4 with reach.

    Tsuyoshi Ikeda 1, Ren Ishikawa 0

    Stormfront Pegasus was again the first creature on the table for the second game, and Tsuyoshi Ikeda quickly put his opponent under the gun. Ren Ishikawa played three Mountains in a row, short the non-red sources of mana he needed to get going. A Terramorphic Expanse fetched him a Forest, and he used a Seismic Strike to deal with Illusionary Servant the moment Tsuyoshi cast it.

    Ren Ishikawa
    Trying to keep his head above water, Ren Ishikawa cast Llanowar Elves followed by Whispersilk Cloak. When he tapped out the next turn for Capricious Efreet, Ikeda had Cancel. Tsuyoshi’s follow-up was a Wind Drake, continuing his attacks in the sky with the 2/1 Pegasus.

    An Enormous Baloth from Ishikawa was answered with Pacifism, but when Ikeda over-extended, Ren tried to punish him with Pyroclasm. Tsuyoshi had Unsummon to save a Phantom Warrior, then cast that and a White Knight the following turn. Despite Ren’s best efforts, Tsuyoshi’s never-ending stream of creatures just wasn’t giving up.

    Ishikawa’s life total was dangerously low, and he had only a Llanowar Elves and a Whispersilk Cloak going for him. He needed a solution to his opponent’s weenie creatures, and turned to his library to find one. None was there, and when he shipped the turn back unable to block, Ikeda attacked his way to the Finals.

    Tsuyoshi Ikeda 2, Ren Ishikawa 1

     

  • Semifinals: Shingou Kurihara VS Hajime Nakamura
    by Bill Stark
  • Shingou Kurihara was barely a week removed from a Grand Prix championship in Bangkok, only to find himself back in the Top 8 in Niigata. He had dispatched Martin Juza in the Finals there, an opponent who himself was in back-to-back Grand Prix Finals after pulling off the feat in Brighton a week before Bangkok. Now it was Kurihara looking to return to the Grand Prix Finals stage, but standing in his way was Hajime Nakamura. Niigata marked Hajime’s first notable premier level finish, and he was looking to make the most of it after dispatching Sho Ishikawa in three games during the Quarterfinals.

    Shingou Kurihara
    Sign in Blood was the first action of the match with Shingou exchanging the card and 2 life for a peek at two additional cards. He moved further ahead in the card count the following turn as he cast Mind Rot to set his opponent back two cards.

    A Snapping Drake from Shingou had its impact minimized by Weakness from Hajime, who had gotten a Merfolk Looter active. Unfortunately for the Top 8 newcomer, Kurihara comboed a Rise from the Grave a Mind Rot he had cast earlier in the game to steal Nakamura’s discarded Bog Wraith. Considering the fact both players were black mages, the 3/3 swampwalker would prove to be a problem for Hajime. He was forced to use Assassinate to deal with it.

    The board cluttered with Kurihara casting dueling Walls of Bone and increasing his air force by way of a Howling Banshee. Hajime tried to make up some distance by grinding into his deck with a Merfolk Looter, then using Gravedigger to get his Bog Wraith back. Finally he put up a blocker by casting Kelinore Bats and equipping it with a Gorgon Flail he had cast on the second turn of the game. Shingou drew for his turn, then cast a Bats of his own but was unable to attack profitably and simply passed the turn back to his opponent.

    Hajime Nakamura (who we should mention is no relation to Shuhei), managed to Loot into a Sleep, which he cast aggressively tapping Shingou’s army. He sent the team in for an alpha strike, giving Kurihara just one draw step to avoid losing the first game. Shingou made his peel, found no help and the two players headed off to the second duel.

    Hajime Nakamura 1, Shingou Kurihara 0

    As in the first game, Merfolk Looter was an early member of the battlefield, but this time the 1/1 card drawing engine was on the side of Shingou Kurihara. Hajime had a card filtering agent of his own as he plopped a second-turn Sage Owl onto his side of the table. Not to be outdone, Shingou drew two cards on top of his Looter with a Sign in Blood.

    Before long Howling Banshee and Snapping Drake for Shingou were staring down an Air Elemental and Bog Wraith from Hajime Nakamura. An Assassinate dealt with the Wraith, but Hajime had Gargoyle Castle to continue threatening gigantic fliers. He pondered whether he should attack with his Air Elemental, but ultimately opted not to rather than trade it for either a Snapping Drake or a Howling Banshee. Kurihara found a Looming Shade, and used it to start pressuring his opponent.

    The Gargoyle Castle turned in to a 3/4 flier, but a Zombie Goliath extended Shingou’s reach further and further into his opponent’s life total. He chumped an attack from the Gargoyle token with his Howling Banshee, then was forced to discard his hand as Hajime cast Mind Rot. Nakamura followed the spell up with a Horned Turtle, while Shingou tried to re-build a hand with his Merfolk Looter keeping a new card and discarding a Child of Night. Goliath and Looming Shade attacked, with the Shade taking out the 1/4 Turtle. Kurihara cast a second Child of Night post-combat.

    Hajime Nakamura
    Nakamura untapped and tried to figure out the best course of action. He had a Rise from the Grave he could use to steal the best creature from a graveyard to the battlefield, but he needed to keep a steady stream of blockers in front of Looming Shade. Instead of the sorcery he cast Kelinore Bats with three creatures to Shingou’s five. Of course, one of those was a Merfolk Looter, which Kurihara used immediately after drawing to cash in his topdecked Swamp for anything else.

    The other four creatures turned sideways and Hajime went into the tank to figure out his best course of action. He put Sage Owl in front of Child of Night, Air Elemental in front of Snapping Drake, and Kelinore Bats in front of Looming Shade. At the end of combat the Child and Drake were dead for Shingou, but so were Hajime’s Sage Owl and Bats. He untapped and cast Rise from the Grave targeting a Gravedigger in his opponent’s graveyard and growing back Sage Owl. That gave him two additional blockers, and set up his next four draw steps. He attacked with Air Elemental to put Shingou to 9, but Kurihara came right back in with his team.

    Hajime worked out his blocks, but was going to take 1 from Merfolk Looter. When Shingou revealed a Howling Banshee as the card he had drawn for the turn, Nakamura conceded, dead to the life he would lose as the creature entered the battlefield.

    Hajime Nakamura 1, Shingou Kurihara 1

    Vampire Aristocrat led the way for Hajime Nakamura in the final game of the match, and he answered a Shingou Kurihara Kelinore Bats with a copy of his own. Unfortunately he missed a fourth land drop, while Shingou cast Howling Banshee. What Shingou didn’t have were any Islands, meaning he was forced to maneuver with only the black cards in his hand.

    Still, they seemed sufficient as he plunked a Zombie Goliath onto the battlefield. Hajime used Assassinate to kill his opponent’s Banshee, then attacked with his Kelinore Bats. Determining two could play at that game, Kurihara cast a copy of the sorcery on his own turn, taking out Hajime’s Bats. Child of Night hit the battlefield for Shingou, who finally found an Island, then he cast Sign in Blood to draw two cards. Nakamura could only muster a Warpath Ghoul. For the second time in as many turns, Shingou mirrored his opponent’s spells, casting a Warpath Ghoul of his own.

    Gravedigger from Nakamura netted him his Kelinore Bats back, but Kurihara copied his opponent’s play for yet another turn, getting Howling Banshee back with his Gravedigger. Nakamura went into the tank to figure out how he could survive. Because of the amount of damage he had been soaking up from Zombie Goliath, he was dead to the Banshee despite just having otherwise stabilized with an overload of creatures. When no solution was forthcoming, he conceded sending Shingou Kurihara on to the Finals.

    Shingou Kurihara 2, Hajime Nakamura 1

     

  • Finals: Shingou Kurihara VS Tsuyoshi Ikeda
    by Bill Stark
  • For the second set of back-to-back Grand Prixs in a row a member of the Finals was repeating from the Grand Prix the week before. In the case of Niigata, that member was Shingou Kurihara, who managed to win Grand Prix-Bangkok a week before battling in his native land. His opponent for the final round of competition was a Japanese heavy hitter: Tsuyoshi Ikeda. The players got underway with Tsuyoshi on six cards from a mulligan.

    Shingou Kurihara was one match away from going back-to-back.
    Shingou had a second-turn Child of Night to open things off, and the 2/1 was a very critical play. His opponent’s blue-white aggro deck could be disrupted significantly by the lifelink of the innocuous creature, and it was so problematic Ikeda used Pacificsm to nullify it immediately. He then followed up his aura with Illusionary Servant and White Knight, a powerful creature against Kurihara’s mostly-black deck.

    Still, Shingou wasn’t a Grand Prix champion for nothing. He battled right along casting Warpath Ghoul, then Royal Assassin and Looming Shade. If he could force the game long, his more powerful cards were likely to take it home for him. The fact that Ikeda hadn’t been able to resolve a successful attack as the battlefield accrued over a dozen cards seemed to indicate that was exactly the path the game was headed down.

    Almost as if he could read the words being typed on the screen, Ikeda turned his White Knight sideways to get some type of offense going. Kurihara attacked back with Looming Shade, pumping it twice and tipping the score in his favor, 18-17. A post-combat Kelinore Bats allowed him to threaten increasingly dangerous attacks, but Ikeda could block with a Stormfront Pegasus he had cast if he so desired.

    Tsuyoshi attacked with his White Knight again, following combat with a second Illusionary Servant. The twin 3/4s were problems for Shingou, who hadn’t come up with a way to target them yet. They could block Looming Shade quite amicably, and did exactly that when Shingou attacked with the 1/1 the following turn. Kurihara triple pumped his Shade to trade for one of the Servants.

    Shingou began using a Merfolk Looter to dig into his deck, finding an Ice Cage to nullify his opponent’s White Knight. That put the initiative on his opponent to now find a way to target a creature, and Ikeda cast a Sage Owl to help him dig for exactly that. Kurihara answered with a very conspicuous Diabolic Tutor. With Royal Assassin already on his side of the board, what was the next most powerful card in his deck? Whatever it was, Shingou had it in hand after resolving the sorcery.

    Ikeda continued building his battlefield presence by casting Phantom Warrior and Griffin Sentinel. He got a little bit of help from his opponent who cast Howling Banshee. Thanks to the fact Ikeda had a Soul Warden on the battlefield, he was at a comfortable lead in life meaning the 3 points Shingou lost from his own creature were better for Ikeda than Kurihara. The game was slowing to a stalemate which meant a probable explosive combat step down the road if neither player could come up with a way to break through.

    The big turn finally came. Ikeda considered his options for minutes that stretched on and on. Finally happy he had come up with a solution, he cast Excommunicate targeting his opponent’s Howling Banshee. That allowed him to attack Shingou to 9 while acing the Kelinore Bats from a block, but cost Ikeda his Illusionary Servant and Stormfront Pegasus. Shingou returned fire with Looming Shade, Gravedigger, and Warpath Ghoul headed into the red zone.

    Despite being at a lower life total, Shingou Kurihara quickly took control of the game. His opponent’s big attack had allowed Kurihara’s Royal Assassin to deal with most of Tsuyoshi’s relevant threats. A Tendrils of Corruption took care of Griffin Sentinel, and Shingou went firmly on the offensive. His entire team went into the red zone, meaning Royal Assassin and Merfolk Looter were at risk. Tsuyoshi traded his Soul Warden for the Royal Assassin, then lost his Sage Owl chumping Looming Shade. Post-combat Shingou re-cast his Howling Banshee able to attack for lethal the following turn. Ikeda took a peek at the top card of his library, but found nothing helpful and conceded.

    Shingou Kurihara 1, Tsuyoshi Ikeda 0

    Ikeda’s start in the second game was considerably more aggressive than the first. He had Stormfront Pegasus and Soul Warden, allowing him to immediately begin attacking. Shingou had Child of Night, but it was quickly trumped by Undead Slayer. The 2/2 Gray Ogre had a very valuable special ability against Kurihara. Shingou distressed over the existence of the 2/2 on his opponent’s board, then cast a Wall of Bone.

    Tsuyoshi Ikeda wanted another trophy for his mantle.
    Wind Drake made it two fliers on Ikeda’s portion of the battlefield, and he used his Slayer to take out his opponent’s Child of Night. Shingou tried to get ahead on cards with a Sign in Blood, but the sorcery’s cost of 2 life was a definite liability against his opponent’s very aggressive opening. Tsuyoshi attacked his opponent to 13, but was disappointed to see Shingou cast Royal Assassin. It looked like the pressure was on: he needed to take Kurihara out before his bomb rare could begin dominating the game.

    Ikeda sent his team sideways, dropping Shingou to 6, then cast a Rhox Pikemaster. Kurihara untapped. A Tendrils of Corruption would help him stay in the game and buy the time he needed to allow his Royal Assassin to take over. Instead, he cast Diabolic Tutor after dropping a Mountain. The red land was the first such mana producer the match had seen from Shingou, and it indicated he may have made a sideboard switch to help deal with his opponent’s aggressive deck. That was it for Kurihara’s turn, however, as he passed back to Ikeda with the target of his Diabolic Tutor unrevealed.

    Pacifism from Ikeda prevented the Royal Assassin from blocking, but when he sent his team to the red zone, Shingou cast a surprise Ignite Disorder to take out both Stormfront Pegasus and Wind Drake. It was a powerful addition to add red to his deck for, and the attack decimated Ikeda’s board position. He tried to rebuild with a Snapping Drake, but Shingou had already cast Warpath Ghoul and Viashino Spearhunter to start his own offensive. Rise from the Grave from the Grand Prix-Bangkok champ netted Shingou his opponent’s dead Wind Drake, and with an active Royal Assassin the game looked decidedly out of the range of Tsuyoshi Ikeda.

    Still, the pro battled on casting Illusionary Servant and Sage Owl. The 1/1 offered up a ray of hope to its caster in the form of Excommunicate. With more fliers than his opponent, Ikeda could use the sorcery to temporarily end the reign of the Royal Assassin, allowing a lethal attack. Shingou attacked with a Zombie Goliath, but thanks to that first-turn Soul Warden Tsuyoshi was well out of lethal range. When he revealed his Excommunicate, Shingou acknowledged his fate.

    “Lucky.” Ikeda said with a smile as he picked up his deck to shuffle.

    Shingou Kurihara 1, Tsuyoshi Ikeda 1

    Both players had two-drops for the third game, Ikeda in the form of Stormfront Pegasus while Shingou cast Sign in Blood. It was the three-drops that made all the difference, however. Kurihara had Royal Assassin which earned a derisive snort from his opponent. After casting a Wind Drake to answer, Tsuyoshi began missing land drops.

    That didn’t seem to bother Shingou in the least. He cast Warpath Ghoul and traded it with his opponent’s Pegasus, only to regrow it with Gravedigger a turn later. Before long the Warpath Ghoul was back on the...er...warpath with Gravedigger, Drudge Skeletons, and Royal Assassin holding the fort. Ikeda had to use Divination to come up with the land drops his deck had been too stingy to give him.

    Things started looking up slightly for Tsuyoshi who was able to cast White Knight to staunch his opponent’s attackers, then Griffin Sentinel to start getting through without tapping. While White Knight was straight up protected from Royal Assassin, the Sentinel essentially had protection from Royal Assassin thanks to vigilance.

    The rubber game settled in to a matchup of extremes: Shingou drew a slew of lands while his opponent drew none, eventually necessitating discards for having too many cards in the grip. An Illusionary Servant for Tsuyoshi allowed him to begin attacking with his White Knight alongside his Griffin Sentinel and all of a sudden, Shingou Kurihara was at 8 life. The former champion was unable to attack into his opponent’s 3/4 flier, but also couldn’t do anything about the threats attacking him. He had four cards in his hand, but it had been turns since he had actually cast a spell.

    Ikeda made a Phantom Warrior and Shingou went to the top of his deck. Still he found no action and Ikeda kept the pressure on. Miraculously no help was available, and just a few turns later Tsuyoshi Ikeda was the victor of Grand Prix-Niigata!

    Tsuyoshi Ikeda 2, Shingou Kurihara 1

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