Day 1 Blog Archive

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EVENT COVERAGE

  • by Bill Stark
    Blog: Friday, 7:46 p.m.
    Metagame Breakdown

  • by Bill Stark
    Feature Match: Round 7
    Yuuya Watanabe Versus Takayuki Nagaoka

  • by Bill Stark
    Feature Match: Round 6
    Makihito Mihara Versus Masami Kaneko

  • by Bill Stark
    Blog: Friday, 4:45 p.m.
    Speaking with Darrell Riche

  • by Bill Stark
    Feature Match: Round 4
    Tomoharu Saito Versus Kunisato Ebie

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Blog: Friday, 3:31 p.m.
    Last Chance Qualifier Winning Decklists

  • by Bill Stark
    Blog: Friday, 3:00 p.m.
    Drafting with Tomoharu Saito

  • by Bill Stark
    Photo Essay: Day 1 Sights

  • by Bill Stark
    Feature Match: Round 2
    Masaya Kitayama versus Orihito Tsuji

  • by Bill Stark
    Feature Match: Round 1
    Kenji Tsumura versus Shuhei Nakamura

  • by Bill Stark
    Quick Hits: Best Deck in Standard?

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Info: Fact Sheet


 

  • Quick Hits – Best Deck in Standard?
    by Bill Stark

  • Itaru Ishida (pictured above): I’m not sure. I haven’t played since Grand Prix-Shizuoka.



    Masashiro Kuroda: White Weenie



    Tsuyoshi Fujita: White Weenie



    Tomoharu Saito: Mono-red



    Masashi Oiso: *laughing* No idea...



    Kenji Tsumura: Reveillark



    Shuhei Nakamura: Mono-red


     

  • Feature Match: Round 1 - Kenji Tsumura versus Shuhei Nakamura
    by Bill Stark
  • For many years the U.S. National Championship was often referred to as “the toughest Pro Tour in the world.” Because of the American’s early dominance of the Pro Tour, the prospect of playing only American’s round after round instead of less experienced professionals from around the world, like one would at an actual Pro Tour, was an intimidating one. The world has since caught up (and how!) and it has been many years since the tournament held that title. In fact, after their utter dominance of the Pro Tour over the past few seasons, one might argue Japan’s championship might merit such a title today. When you look at the first round feature match for play on Friday it doesn’t seem hard to imagine. None other than two of the game’s biggest names squared off against one another: Kenji Tsumura and Shuhei Nakamura.

    The world famous Kenji Tsumura.
    Both players have resumes that speak for themselves. Shuhei recently managed to attain Level 8 in the Pro Club after a solid performance at Grand Prix-Rimini. He also revealed he had selected Black-Green Elves as his deck du jour on the weekend, opening on a Llanowar Elves. Tsumura, on the other hand, was credited as being the best player in the world for a time but a return to life as a student has cooled his game over the past season. Still, the beloved Japanese player had shown up to the event with a build of Reveillark that demonstrated he wasn’t willing to back down from a complex deck even if his play had slowed down over recent months.

    Shuhei quickly built up a dominating board presence with a Tarmogoyf, Civic Wayfinder, and Mutavault to go alongside his Llanowar Elves. Tsumura was quick to stabilize, however, with a Kitchen Finks to hold the ground and recoup some lost life, and an Ancestral Visions to help recoup lost cards from an early-game Thoughtseize. In an attempt to run away with the game, Kenji followed that play up with the exact same play a turn later, making duplicate copies of both his Kitchen Finks and Ancestral Vision. He did miss a land drop on the way to doing it, however. Still, Shuhei was quickly headed towards being down and out of the game.

    Of course, the wily pro didn’t make it to Level 8 by accident. Fueled by a copy of Profane Command, he managed to attack for a sizable chunk of damage against his friend giving his biggest attackers fear and going straight to Kenji’s dome with the second mode of the X spell. When Kenji had to tap low for a Mulldrifter on his own turn, Shuhei took the opportunity to repeat a play of his own making a second copy of Profane Command and attacking Tsumura for lethal.

    Shuhei Nakamura: 1, Kenji Tsumura: 0

    Both players were quickly on the board for the second game of their match as Shuhei accelerated into Kitchen Finks with a Llanowar Elves while Kenji opened on double Ancestral Vision turn two followed by a Kitchen Finks of his own. The two players spent their turns muscling for an advantage, carefully plotting their moves, and shuffling cards back and forth in their hands.

    Newly Level 8 Shuhei Nakamura.
    Shuhei tried for a Thoughtseize, but Kenji opted to use a Cryptic Command to counter the handkill spell as well as fog for a turn by tapping all of his opponent’s creatures. Once his suspended Visions had wound down, Kenji appeared to fully wrest control from Nakamura making a Wrath of God to clear the board and suspending a third copy of Ancestral Visions. When Kenji followed that turn up by adding a Mulldrifter to the board, Nakamura’s number seemed up.

    Shuhei, stoic as ever, pressed on. His board expanded to include a Shriekmaw and a pair of Murderous Redcaps, though one of the creatures was a 1/1 thanks to a counter from persist. Slowly Shuhei’s Grizzly Bears started to do their job as Redcaps, Civic Wayfinders, and Mutavaults got in while Kenji simply played more card draw spells and failed to find creatures to put on the board. When Tsumura finally came up with a Reveillark, Shuhei responded with Cloudthresher, hoping to sneak in an extra Shock’s-worth of damage while adding a monster threat to his side of the table. Kenji went into the tank to determine the correct course of action.

    Venser was the solution Kenji came up with, sending the ‘Thresher back to his opponent’s hand. With Kenji’s advantage growing dramatically and another Ancestral Visions counting down in the background Shuhei took his turn and drew a card. With only a single turn left before Kenji wrested the game away for good, Shuhei turned his creatures sideways and ended things early by re-playing his Cloudthresher for the final few points of Kenji’s life total.

    Shuhei Nakamura defeats Kenji Tsumura 2-0.

     

  • Feature Match: Round 2 - Masaya Kitayama versus Orihito Tsuji
    by Bill Stark
  • Last year at this time Masaya Kitayama was on his way to his first national title. One year later he entered the second round of play with a loss, trying to defend his title for a chance at back-to-back championships. His opponent for the round, Orihito Tsuji, is less well known but got an early advantage against his opponent when Masaya needed to mulligan but Tsuji did not.

    Defending Champion Masaya Kitayama.
    Tsuji had kept a risky hand, however, opening on a one-lander with Llanowar Elves. That enabled him to still make a turn two Wolf-Skull Shaman, however, and his next two draws yielded lands. He continued coming out of the gates with an Imperious Perfect. Kitayama meanwhile simply built up his own manabase with lands and a Prismatic Lens, quickly succumbing to the onslaught. Rounding into the fourth turn he made a play that shocked his opponent and the crowd: Masaya conceded, behind on the board but not seemingly defeated to those watching.

    A shocked Tsuji took a moment to let the reality of the situation sink in before picking up his cards for the second game. Across the table a noticeable quiver crept into the hands of Masaya Kitayama, belying the fact nerves were starting to take a toll on him early in the feature match area.

    Orihito Tsuji: 1, Masaya Kitayama: 0

    For the second game of the series it was Tsuji’s turn to take a mulligan. This time his one land hand simply wasn’t good enough to risk keeping. He was still the first on the board with a creature, though he agonized over the play: his first turn Llanowar Elves could also have been a first turn Thoughtseize. Instead Tsuji made that play on the second turn before adding Wolf-Skull Shaman to the field of play.

    Kitayama missed a land drop, stuck at two, and the tremor from his hands seemed to move to his jaw. Tsuji wasn’t backing down, but Kitayama started to regain some traction by hitting his third land drop late and making a Kitchen Finks. That would serve to regain some tempo, but the Wolf-Skull Shaman had already cranked out two Wolves and Tsuji wasn’t afraid to trade them for the Finks.

    Masaya continued missing land drops, but did manage to find a second Kitchen Finks. The Ouphe tandem managed to eat a Civic Wayfinder as well as a Wolf, regaining some life, and the defending champ started to crawl back into things. He found a Prismatic Lens to serve as a faux land drop, then found an actual Island the following turn, but his opponent’s attacking team was significant featuring Mutavault, Wolf-Skull Shaman, and two mana-Elves. A Riftwing Cloudskate dealt with the Wolf-Skull by sending it back to Tsuji’s hand, but when he made Thoughtseize Kitayama gave an audible groan of dissatisfaction.

    Orihito Tsuji attempts a run on the champion.
    The handkill spell revealed a Crovax, Reveillark, and Wrath of God in Masaya’s hand. Tsuji opted to bin the Wrath before dropping his opponent to 12 and replaying the Wolf-Skull. Masaya revealed a solid topdeck, however, in the form of Wrath of God. That set Tsuji back, but he managed to keep on the offensive with his Mutavault, then by finding an Imperious Perfect. Still, Masaya Kitayama was forcing his way back into the game on the back of a Crovax, Ascendant Hero and a Riftwing Cloudskate.

    Feeling the game starting to slip away, now from him, Orihito Tsuji developed a slight tremble of nerves in his own hands. Masaya kept the pressure on using Crovax to prevent Tsuji from attacking and getting in to the red zone turn after turn with the Riftwing Cloudskate. Though Orihito kept up some amount of defense using a Nameless Inversion on a Reveillark, he wasn’t able to find an answer to the 2/2 ‘Skate and was soon shuffling for the final game of the match.

    Orihito Tsuji: 1, Masaya Kitayama: 1

    A first turn Thoughtseize from Tsuji revealed Condemn, double Mulldrifter, double Cryptic Command and two lands in Kitayama’s hand. It was a spicy series of cards to be sure, but a possible non-starter if he didn’t hit a third land. Still, on the draw he was likely to get there in time to stop a rush from Orihito. The newcomer forced his opponent to lose a Cryptic Command.

    The pivotal turn came for Kitayama, but as he slowly peeled the top card from his deck for the third turn, he groaned audibly for the second time in the match. There was no land waiting for him. Tsuji tried to take advantage by activating his Imperious Perfect, but Masaya hit on his fourth turn and made a Kitchen Finks. If Orihito Tsuji wasn’t able to establish a large tempo advantage and quickly, he was going to lose to a cavalcade of card advantage and comes-into-play creatures.

    The game began to go long. Masaya was well on his way to firmly establishing control with his plethora of card drawing spells keeping a healthy flow of lands hitting play as well as powerful spells interfering with his opponent’s ability to connect on his own game plan. A second Mulldrifter hit the board pushing Kitayama further ahead, chaining him into a third as well as a Kitchen Finks.

    A crowd forms to watch the defending champ.
    Tsuji revealed a bit of his inexperience by attempting to activate an Imperious Perfect before remembering he had just returned it to play with a Profane Command. His back firmly against the wall the newcomer continued trying to make a game of it, but Kitayama didn’t play along forcing a Reveillark onto the board alongside a 2/1 Kitchen Finks.

    The game trudged onward with Tsuji building up an army of 2/2 Elf tokens thanks to his Imperious Perfect. When he turned them into 3/3 tokens by playing a second Perfect, things actually started looking like they had turned bad for Kitayama. The champion decided he couldn’t afford to let his opponent continue gaining such ground against him, attacking with the Reveillark. With damage on the stack he used a Condemn to buy him a slight cushion of life, and to return two copies of Mulldrifter to play. Clearly apprehensive about the possibility of a Faerie Macabre from his opponent Kitayama was relieved to find Tsuji didn’t have it. A Sower of Temptation tried to steal one of the Imperious Perfects, but Tsuji had Nameless Inversion to stop the play.

    A huge attack from Orihito Tsuji managed to push 12 damage through but Masaya had a second Reveillark evoked to provide him with four more chances to hit Wrath of God ala double Mulldrifter returning to play. When he looked shocked to see the cards in his hand, it became apparent the champion had whiffed, needing to start using his Cryptic Commands in order to buy himself the time to find a copy of the sorcery.

    That’s exactly what he managed to do by the next turn, following up with Mulldrifter and still having enough mana to counter his opponent’s Wolf-Skull Shaman. Down in the card advantage department by a million to one, Orihito Tsuji could only watch as his opponent took the match away from him. The tremors had disappeared for Masaya Kitayama.

    Masaya Kitayama defeats Orihito Tsuji, 2-1.

     

  • Photo Essay: Day 1 Sights
    by Bill Stark
  • Rookie of the Year Yuuya Watanabe.

    Head Judge Naoaki Umesaki, Level 3 from Tokyo.

    3D-Magic artist Ookubo.

    And some of his work.

    Artist Darrell Riche interacts with his fans.

    Holy carp! Fish!

    Players line up early to register.

    It’s not just the Champions of Kamigawa expansion symbol.

    How many players can you count who shouldn’t have played that last grinder?

    Japan Organized Play Territory Manager Ron Foster.

     

  • Blog - Friday, 3:00 p.m.: Drafting with Tomoharu Saito
    by Bill Stark
  • The reigning player of the year, Tomoharu Saito started on fire at this year’s Japanese National Championships jumping out to a 3-0 start through the first few rounds of Standard. His first draft table, however, promised to be grueling. Sitting down with him to construct their own Lorwyn/Morningtide decks were a World Champion, a Pro Tour Champion, and at least four Grand Prix champions. All would play four rounds with their decks.

    Tomoharu Saito prepares to build his deck.
    Things started out challenging for Saito right out of the first booster. He had to choose between Nameless Inversion and Dread, but ultimately opted for the flexible instant removal. Thanks to cards like Wanderer’s Twig and Shimmering Grotto, even if Saito didn’t wind up in black he could still easily splash the card. He followed that up by selecting a Nova Chaser in the second pack, then staunchly moving into red by following it up with an Inner-Flame Acolyte, a Mudbutton Torchrunner, and a Giant Harbinger. On the second pass around the table Saito even got some late pick goodies like Flamekin Brawler, Soulbright Flamekin, and a Blind-Spot Giant in case he felt inclined to move into the fatty tribe. At the end of the first Lorywn pack Saito seemed to be solidly red, with the possibility of splashing a Wings of Velis Vel and a Nameless Inversion. With an Elementals mini-theme, Smokebraiders were high value picks for Saito in the second pack.

    Disappointment was the best way to describe how Tomoharu must have felt as he mulled over the cards staring back at him in the second pack. The lone red card was a Faultgrinder and it looked like Saito would have to find a second color. He opted to take an Imperious Perfect, still technically splashable. When he was given his second pick and found a Cloudthresher staring back at him, however, he quickly nabbed the 7/7 and committed to green as his backup color. A Cloudcrown Oak joined the pile, then a fourth pick Final Revels, shoring up his potential black splash. Agonizing over Fertile Ground and Epic Proportions (after already passing one of the flash auras in the first pack) Saito ultimately passed the powerful card for the one that best fit his splash in Fertile Ground. The pack was rounded out with a Leaf Gilder, Nath’s Elite, and two late-pick treats that came from very far around the table in the form of Wanderer’s Twig and Consuming Bonfire. Set in red-green with the possibility of a hint of black Tomoharu Saito looked to be in good position headed into Morningtide.

    That was about where the wheels started to fall off. Reiji Andou, siting directly to Saito’s right, appeared to be cutting the red-green cards Saito was looking for to shore up the last few slots in his deck. After a first pick Sunflare Shaman, Saito was forced to second-pick Thornbite Staff. He did manage to snag a Leaf-Crowned Elder, but the picks after that were decidedly mediocre. Winnower Patrol, Earthbrawn, and a second Sunflare Shaman all made it to Saito’s stack, but they were interspersed with defensive cuts like Fencer Clique and Coordinated Barrage. By the end of the draft Tomoharu’s deck looked like it would shape up to be a few cards short of powerful, but wasn’t something to be disappointed in. When asked about his thoughts Saito responded “It’s [the deck] okay.”

    The next four rounds will tell whether Tomoharu’s luck has run out, but the seasoned pro isn’t one to let a few weak draft picks prevent him from scrambling to the Top 8!

     

  • Blog - Friday, 3:31 p.m.: Last Chance Qualifier Winning Decklists
    by Event Coverage Staff
  • The last few slots into the 2008 Japan National Championship tournament were decided Thursday night via the age-old tradition of the Meatgrinders. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Takeshi Miyasaka who translated and typed the decklists, we can present to you some of the last decks of the Time Spiral block’s time in Standard (and the first jumping off points for Shards Standard...).

    Senba Koutaro
    2008 Japan Nationals LCQ A Winner - Standard

    Ito Motoaki
    2008 Japan Nationals LCQ C Winner - Standard

    Takenaka Yuhi
    2008 Japan Nationals LCQ D Winner - Standard

    Chijimi Keiichi
    2008 Japan Nationals LCQ E Winner - Standard

    Sato Masayoshi
    2008 Japan Nationals LCQ F Winner - Standard

    Ohara Takashi
    2008 Japan Nationals LCQ G Winner - Standard

    Kitagawa Tomoaki
    2008 Japan Nationals LCQ H Winner - Standard

    Stay tuned to the coverage for more decks, a metagame analysis, feature matches, photos, and more live from the 2008 Japanese National Championships.

     

  • Feature Match: Round 4 - Tomoharu Saito Versus Kunisato Ebie
    by Bill Stark
  • Tomharu Saito is the current Pro Player of the Year and managed to earn the right to go first in his Round 4 feature match after rolling a monster 12 on two six-sided dice. He considered his hand for a long time as his only non-land cards were a Nameless Inversion and Wanderer’s Twig with a combination of Forests and Mountains occupying the other slots. He opted to keep while Ebie decided to mulligan.

    The players traded spells early with Kunisato Ebie representing blue-white Merfolk and Saito representing some combination of red, green, and black. When Ebie attempted a Nevermaker with the only other non-land permanent on the board being his own Paperfin Rascal, Saito was all too happy to use Nameless Inversion on the 2/3 to force his opponent to bounce his own creature to the top of his library. The POY then followed up with an Everbark Shaman.

    Kunisato Ebie of Tokyo tries to make good.
    Soon the board began getting cluttered. Ebie replayed his Paperfin Rascal as well as a Stonybrook Banneret while Saito managed a Nath’s Elite. Kunisato also played a Mind Spring for two additional cards, but Saito was ahead thanks to some two-for-ones and his Everbark Shaman tutoring up Forests. The board became even more cluttered as Kunisato made some Merfolk tokens via Summon the School.

    As the game went onwards, both players maintained silent demeanors, carefully thinking through each of their turns and only speaking about relevant issues within their game. Tomoharu decided to take manners into his own hand against the growing horde of Merfolk sitting across the table from him. He hopped a Cloudthresher into play during Ebie’s end-of-turn while the Tokyo resident was low on mana. The resulting attack dropped his opponent to 3 life as Ebie was forced to gang-block the Nath’s Elite. Kunisato made a small mistake in forgetting to tap his blockers to return his Summon the School before they died from Nath’s Elite damage, but he scooped his cards after drawing for his turn anyway.

    Tomoharu Saito: 1, Kunisato Ebie: 0

    The fish came out for Kunisato very quickly in the second game as he quickly made a Judge of Currents, Paperfin Rascal winning the clash, and Mothdust Changeling. Saito didn’t seem worried, however, as he stopped any aggressive ideas from Ebie with a Mudbutton Changeling. Kunisato was happy to start gaining life with his Mothdust Changeling/Judge of Currents combo, netting him +3 life each turn.

    A Leaf-Crowned Elder for Saito maneuvered to put him in further control of the game, netting him a free Soulbright Flamekin on its first upkeep in play. What Saito was really looking for, however, was a land. While he wasn’t mana-screwed, the Player of the Year was definitely looking to hit at least six lands to make sure all of his powerful high-end creatures could hit the board. He also needed to watch his opponent’s life total; Ebie was starting to get out of hand with his Judge/Mothdust Changeling, managing to get all the way up to 28.

    Using Soulbright Flamekin to filter his mana, Tomoharu managed to play a Hostility, which he then gave trample with the final red mana floating from his Soulbright’s activation. He opted not to attack, however, shipping the turn to his opponent. Kunisato finally decided to get aggressive, evoking a Meadowlark to pump a few of his creatures large enough to survive a possible Final Revels from Saito. It also allowed him to get into the red zone with his fliers as a Harpoon Sniper had come off being summoning sick and could shoot down Tomoharu’s lone blocker in Cloudcrown Oak. At the end of the turn the totals stood 34-12 in Kunisato’s favor thanks to a 2/2 Mothdust Changeling and 3/4 Nevermaker.

    Tomoharu Saito looks to extend his undefeated record.
    Despite the Meadowlark, Saito was able to use his Final Revels to wipe his opponent’s board anyway with the help of a Mudbutton Torchrunner. The play left only a 4/4 Paperfin Rascal and 3/4 Nevermaker on Kunisato’s side of the board, and Ebie spent his next few turns drawing lands. Things were not looking good for him before Tomoharu started counting up imaginary sources of damage, determining whether he could kill his opponent or not. The answer, at least in the short term, was no and Saito was left with attacking Kunisato using his 7/7 Cloudthresher. That worked fine for regaining some of the lost ground created by the Mothdust Changeling and Judge of Currents.

    Ultimately the big turn finally arrived for Saito. He did some math, moved his creatures into the red zone doing more math, then slapped himself in the face with his patented concentration-inducing mannerism. Re-focused he finished his math and turned nearly everything sideways. The combat step left the totals 11-10 in Kunisato’s favor, but his board had been out-paced by his opponent’s. When Saito moved to attack all-in on his following turn, Ebie conceded the match.

    Tomoharu Saito defeats Kunisato Ebie 2-0.

     

  • Blog - Friday, 4:45 p.m.: Speaking with Darrell Riche
    by Bill Stark
  • Darrell Riche is not what many might see in their mind when they imagine an “artist.” A solid build packed onto a six foot frame might render an image of a construction worker before that of someone who creates drawings for a living, but there are few more cut out for guest-starring at an event like Japanese Nationals. Riche practically gushes at the idea of being able to interact with fans of his artwork and is well known for staying long past his advertised signing hours at events.

    Originally hailing from Benson, Nebraska, Riche currently lives in Graham, Washington. Besides placing him just up the road from Wizards of the Coast’s offices in Renton, the Evergreen State provides plenty of inspiration for pieces. His first card for Magic: The Gathering? “Kor Haven. It took me two weeks to make. Now an illustration only takes three or four days, but then I wanted to make sure to impress the boss. The art director’s last words to me on the assignment were ‘Don’t let me down.’” Riche explained.

    After getting his BFA in Fine Arts from the University of Kansas, Darrell started bringing Magic cards to life with the Nemesis set. What are some the artist’s favorite cards? “Kami of the Crescent Moon. I really like the spirit of that card.” Without revealing whether the artist intended to make a Kamigawa pun or not, he continued. “I also like Castigate. There is so much going on in the art, particularly in the original. Battlefield Forge is a good one too. Oh, and Rorix Bladewing.”

    rorix_bladewing
    Rorix Bladewing
    It’s not every day an artist gets to illustrate something as cool as Rorix Bladewing. “The art description was something like ‘Create a badass Dragon with four wings.’ Those are always the best descriptions to work with.” Riche continued to explain how excited he had been to help create such a colorful being. “Wizards gives us [artists] a lot of freedom to create and enhance ideas. We get a lot of freedom to be creative.”

    What were the cards most popular with players at events? “Chameleon Colossus lately. Also Rorix Bladewing and Battlefield Forge.” Riche effusively added “I love doing shows. It’s great to meet new cultures.” But did the Washingtonian have a favorite trip? “I’m sure this will definitely go down as a good one,” Darrell explained, referencing a day of sightseeing before the event with Organized Play Territory Manager (and former Japan resident) Ron Foster. “Visiting the Philippines was also cool. The people there were very gracious.”

    Riche added that one of the additional perks to illustrating cards for Wizards of the Coast was getting to meet many fellow artists. “I love Todd Lockwood, rk Post, Brian Snoddy, Adam Rex. My favorite is Mark Zug. He’s a magician, I don’t know how he does it. When I saw ‘Lay of the Land’ I was blown away.” The Apocalypse common saw plenty of play in Domain decks during its day, but some of Darrell’s favorite Magic artists have impressed him most with their other gaming-related works.

    “I love Todd Lockwood’s Dungeons & Dragons stuff a lot. His novel covers feel unmatched.” As Darrell prepared for a long day of meeting fans, signing cards, sketching on playmats, and selling his original artwork there was only one question left: Does your wrist ever get tired?

    “No, though my brain does by the end of the day!” He replied with a hearty laugh.

    Special guest artist Darrell Riche with some of his work.

     

  • Feature Match: Round 6 - Makihito Mihara Versus Masami Kaneko
    by Bill Stark
  • In 2006 Makihito Mihara took the world by storm, literally. His version of the Dragonstorm deck took him all the way to the title of World Champion. Masami Kaneko is no slouch himself with a Pro Tour Top 4 in San Diego and a Grand Prix title. Heading in to the next-to-last round of play on Friday, both players were undefeated. They were already in solid standing and looking to wake up on Saturday with much of the distance to the Top 8 covered.

    Of course, there were still a few more matches to play before that.

    Kaneko was playing an aggressive red-white deck and quickly hit a bear in the form of Kinsbaile Skirmisher. Unfortunately for him, he missed his third land drop for two turns in a row, and remained color screwed off of red. Mihara, meanwhile, built up his board with a Jagged-Scar Archers and an Ambassador Oak, settling in for a long game.

    Kaneko eventually managed to work out his mana stumbles finally making it to five including a Mountain. That enabled him to play Cloudgoat Ranger but Mihara didn’t seem fazed as he munched the 3/3 Giant with his Nath’s Elite. It was when Kaneko untapped and played a second copy of the faux Siege-Gang Commander that Mihara whined, exhaling a gasp of (only partially) mock surprise. The World Champ wasn’t out of the game just yet, however, as he used a Cruel Revival to get back his Nath’s Elite. That revealed a Mulldrifter allowing him to win the clash and get back a second creature. The 2/2 flier was no slouch either, allowing Mihara to keep his green-black deck juiced into the late game on the splash.

    Former World Champion Makihito Mihara.
    Makihito set up an attack to devastate his opponent’s board should Masami not have a trick. A Wren’s Run Vanquisher, Nath’s Elite, and horde of 1/1 Elves marched into the red zone. The Elite would force Kaneko to take a boat load of damage and lose his most valuable creatures, but he revealed he did have a trick in the form of Lash Out to KO the 4/2. By the end of combat Mihara was left with zero creatures in play while Kaneko managed to keep a Fire-Belly Changeling and Soldier token. Mihara simply reloaded by using Cruel Revival to get his Vanquisher back and played both it and a Ghostly Changeling.

    Back in a game he seemed to be severely out of as early as the third turn, Masami Kaneko moved into the red zone with his Fire-Belly Changeling. Mihara seemed all too happy to trade his Ghostly Changeling for it, and the two players were back into a stalled game state. The turns went back and forth with little development until Masami managed to draw a Giant Harbinger. That searched up a War-Spike Changeling and provided enough of a threat to put Mihara on the back foot. With the score 15-6 in his opponent’s favor, however, Kaneko wasn’t out of the woods just yet.

    A topdecked Violet Pall turned things right back around for Mihara dealing with the War-Spike Changeling. When Kaneko drew three lands in a row while his opponent hit three creatures it was on to Game 2 with Mihara up by one.

    Makihito Mihara: 1, Masami Kaneko: 0

    What Masami Kaneko’s first game hand lacked in land, his second more than made up for yielding five with Plainsand Mountains. He decided to keep anyway as he had a two-drop and a Meadowlark for his creatures but Mihara managed to muck the ground up faster than his opponent’s aggro deck. A 3/3 Wren’s Run Vanquisher hit play on the second turn followed by a Wolf-Skull Shaman which promptly created a Wolf when Mihara revealed Ghostly Changeling to it. The coup de grace was his 3/3 Jagged-Scar Archers which hit play, promising to spell problems and only getting bigger.

    Grand Prix Champion Masami Kaneko.
    Kaneko soldiered on by playing a Cloudgoat Ranger, then a Giant Harbinger to tutor up his second copy of the 3/3. His massive amount of tokens gave him a significant advantage in number of bodies on the board, but all said bodies were much smaller than his opponent’s. What Mihara didn’t realize was that Kaneko was holding a Neck Snap and Tarfire, a combo that was potentially lethal if Mihara wasn’t cautious. All Kaneko needed to do was attack with all of his creatures, get just the right amount through Mihara’s unassuming wall of blockers, then Neck Snap his own Meadowlark followed by Tarfiring his opponent for a surprise 10+ damage out of nowhere. As an added bonus, he would likely destroy all blockers.

    Mihara moved potential blockers back and forth, trying to figure out the best course of action. After a few minutes of waffling it became clear he was expecting the Neck Snap play from his opponent, blocking accordingly. The battle still left him at 6 with a decimated board and Kaneko took it home on the following turn tying things up.

    Makihito Mihara: 1, Masami Kaneko: 1

    Mihara opened on his back-breaking play for the second game in a row playing turn-two Wren’s Run Vanquisher revealing Wolf-Skull Shaman. Despite the powerful opener, it hadn’t been enough during the second game. Would it be able to seal the deal? Kaneko got on the board himself with an Adder-Staff Boggart and Mudbutton Torchrunner.

    A Kithkin Daggerdare from Makihito was soon causing all sorts of combat math problems for Masami Kaneko. He finally managed to deal with it via a Mudbutton Torchrunner, though it forced him to wipe his board by way of chump blockers. Mihara followed up with more trumps using a Monstrous Growth to make his Elves gigantic. Kaneko tried to make a game of it with a War-Spike Changeling, then a Changeling Sentinel but he couldn’t get out from underneath a 5/5 Wolf-Skull Shaman and 5/5 Wren’s Run Vanquisher and Makihito Mihara walked away the winner, keeping his streak alive at 6-0.

    Makihito Mihara defeats Masami Kaneko 2-1.

     

  • Feature Match: Round 7 - Yuuya Watanabe Versus Takayuki Nagaoka
    by Bill Stark
  • The current Rookie of the Year, Yuuya Watanabe represents in part the new face of Japanese Magic, yet another generation of players looking to make their mark in the gaming world and getting their start by way of working with the last generation’s best. In Watanabe’s case, that means testing with Tomoharu Saito, the reigning Player of the Year. Takayuko Nagaoka, meanwhile, managed a Top 4 at Grand Prix-Kobe in 2001.

    Watanabe got a jump start using the same strategy Jon Finkel did to win Pro Tour-Kuala Lumpur: White Weenie with a hint of blue. Nagaoka wasn’t far behind opening on an Oona’s Blackguard and a Frogtosser Banneret. Watanabe had played a Banneret of his own in the Ballyrush flavor with a Kithkin Zephyrnaut wearing a Veteran’s Armaments. As a reminder for himself, Yuuya placed a die on top of his library so he wouldn’t forget to reveal cards to his Zephyrnaut. Throughout the weekend in the feature match area numerous pros could be seen doing the same for all manners of triggers.

    Rookie of the Year Yuuya Watanabe.
    The players traded spells and creatures while Yuuya cemented himself a small lead on the board. His Armamented Zephyrnaut was causing fits for Takayuki who was down to only the Blackguard. Yuuya had managed to call a Cenn’s Tactician to come out and battle on his behalf. It wasn’t long, however, before Takayuki got himself a Latchkey Faerie complete with a +1/+1 counter and drawing him an extra card in the process. With a Mulldrifter in his hand, he could threaten to pull away with the game if he didn’t lose to Yuuya’s on-board onslaught.

    With the totals at 17-2 in Yuuya’s favor Takayuki reached six mana and played an Aethersnipe setting his opponent back to zero creatures in play. Watanabe simply reloaded with a Kithkin Zephyrnaut and re-playing his Tactician. A fortunate upkeep-reveal of Avian Changeling netted Watanabe a 4/4 vigilant flier in the case of his Zephyrnaut as well as a follow-up flier in the form of the Changeling. Nagaoka was forced to chump with his Mulldrifter before using a Violet Pall to deal with the Avian Changeling.

    It was classic Magic. Nagaoka was just on the cusp of putting the game out of Yuuya’s reach, but Watanabe had just enough oomph left to keep Takayuki on the backfoot. The first player to flinch would be down a game and inches meant everything.

    Before long it looked like the player flinching first would be Watanabe. He made an all-out attack to further restrict his opponent’s gaining momentum trading for some of Nagaoka’s threats while losing only one of his own, the Zephyrnaut. Unfortunately for Yuuya that was only because Nagaoka had a trump in the form of Footbottom Feast. The instant stacked the top of his deck with pure gas returning Aethersnipe, Mulldrifter, and Latchkey Faerie. Yuuya needed just a single draw step to see the writing on the wall and promptly packed it in for the second game.

    Takayuki Nagaoka: 1, Yuuya Watanabe: 0

    Kithkin Zephyrnaut and Avian Changeling were the first plays for Yuuya Watanabe while Takayuki led Game 2 off with Oona’s Blackguard, Thieving Sprite nabbing an Island, and Prickly Boggart. Nagaoka’s tiny Rogues were quickly getting out of hand thanks to the Blackguard so Yuuya sent both his creatures into the red zone, expressing willingness to trade a non-flying Zephyrnaut with a 2/2 Prickly Boggart and/or holding Surge of Thoughtweft. When his opponent didn’t block Yuuya indeed played the instant sending the totals to 17-10 in his favor before playing a Cenn’s Heir.

    Takayuki Nagaoka holds his own.
    Nagaoka was on the backfoot but made an unexpected play, attacking all out with his forces and dropping Yuuya to 12. Post-combat he revealed why, playing Notorious Throng for a reduced cost and netting himself an additional turn on top of a lethal amount of token creatures. Unable to block his opponent’s attackers and recognizing they would be lethal, Yuuya conceded the match sending Takayuki Nagaoka on to a 5-2 Day 1 record.

    Takayuki Nagaoka defeats Yuuya Watanabe 2-0.

     

  • Blog - Friday, 7:46 p.m.: Metagame Breakdown
    by Bill Stark
  • 35 Reveillark
    22 Faeries
    21 Mono-red Beatdown
    14 Merfolk
    12 Elves
    10 Mono-white Beatdown
    8 Swan Assault
    5 Quik ‘n Toast
    5 Black-Red Tokens
    4 Mono-green Beatdown
    4 Momentary Blink
    4 Storm
    3 Black-Green Mana Ramp
    3 Black-Green Hand Destruction
    2 Blue-White Control
    1 Black-Blue Control
    1 Black-Green Beatdown
    1 Mono-black Beatdown
    1 Red-White Land Destruction

    The clear favorite was Reveillark and some big names in the field had opted to champion it including Kenji Tsumura. Pros love to play their complex control decks. Rounding out the Top 5 were stock favorites Faeries, Elves, Merfolk, and Mono-red. The Mountains were cited by several prominent players before the start of the tournament as being the cards to beat with Eventide being credited for revitalizing the color.

    A duo of combo decks put up surprisingly high numbers as eight players opted to play the Aussie Swan Assault combo deck and four more brave souls gave Storm decks a try. Originally a finalist concoction at the 2007 World Championships, Storm has seen a recent resurgence with a Top 8 and a second finals appearance at Grand Prix-Buenos Aires in Argentina.

    With all of the major archetypes represented in large numbers there was somehow still room for a few rogue decks to carve out their own space in the format. One of the players to make it to 3-0 in the Standard portion of Day 1 was playing a straight Mono-black Beatdown deck. After the first day of play the Standard format has certainly demonstrated it still has plenty of life left in it. To find out more, including decklists, feature matches, photo essays, and who will be crowned the 2008 Japanese National Champion, keep your browser tuned to Magicthegathering.com all weekend long!

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