Event_Coverage

Coverage of Japan National Championship

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The first day of competition has come to a close, and what a doozy it’s been! Some 158 competitors from all over Japan came to try their hand at earning the title of 2009 Japanese National Champion. The players had to brave seven stiff rounds of competition Saturday, starting things off with four rounds of Standard before ending the day on a Shards of Alara-Conflux-Alara Reborn draft note. So, who wound up on top?

Only a single player escaped the masses unharmed: Naoki Sakaguchi! The 22 year old Nagoya resident is a relative unknown, exactly the resume the likes of Justin Gary, Eugene Harvey, and Gabe Walls used to leapfrog from the heights of a National team membership to international fame and fortune on the Pro Tour. To what did Naoki give credit for his solid performance on the day? Baneslayer Angel in Standard and Behemoth Sledge in Draft. The latter proved powerful enough to surge him past Masashi Oiso, the defending champion, in the very final round of Day 1 competition!

Of course, that means Masashi himself is sitting at a pretty X-1 record. He’s joined in the upper levels of the rankings by a resurgent Kenji Tsumura, and many of other big names from Japan’s horde of pro players. But who will seal the deal? Can Naoki Sakaguchi hold on to his first day of success, riding it to the Top 8? Or will an old hand return from further back in the standings to steal the limelight? Tune in all weekend long to find out!






EVENT COVERAGE

 

  • Saturday, 9:18 a.m. – In Honor of the Ocean
    by Bill Stark
  • National Championships are a ritual almost as old as Magic itself. Every summer nations around the world battle to determine who their champions will be at the World Championships in the Fall. Japan, the United States, Brazil, Germany, France...every Magic-playing country in the world picks a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and sends their best to do battle.

    Errrr...that is until this weekend. You see, Japan is the type of country ahead of the curve and, recognizing that July was the only month on their calendar without a scheduled holiday (and thus a guaranteed 3-day weekend every month during the calendar year), the government here decided to do something about it. They set aside a Monday in July each year to honor the oceans, a significant source of...well, pretty much everything for a tiny island nation like Japan.

    What does that mean for Nationals this year? Well, for those who have been paying attention to magicthegathering.com‘s scheduling, you’ll notice Japan Nationals is taking advantage of the free day to play. That means this weekend, Japanese players will battle Saturday and Sunday with a Top 8 playing out on Monday. It looks like Japan’s best will be celebrating this year’s Ocean Day with a tide of new National Team members!

     

  • Round 1 Feature Match: Kenji Tsumura vs. Shingo Kurihara
    by Bill Stark
  • Kenji Tsumura is one of a handful of Japanese players who have made legitimate stabs at the title “Best Player in the World” at various stages of their professional careers. Now in the twilight of his playing days, with school and other elements of life bleeding in to his testing time, the Japanese wunderkind still managed to post a Top 8 finish at Worlds during the tail end of the 2008 Pro Tour season. His opponent, Shingo Kurihara, was no slouch either. The diminutive player was accustomed to the bright lights of the Feature Match arena, having seen action in multiple Pro Tour and Grand Prix Top 8s.

    One of the game’s very best: Kenji Tsumura
    Both players led the game with Elves, Shingo dropping Nettle Sentinel while Kenji opened on Noble Hierarch followed by Elvish Visionary. It looked like the crowd had an Elf mirror match on its hands, with both players likely using the combo version of the deck similar in spirit to the builds used to dominate Pro Tour-Berlin.

    Seemingly out of nowhere, Tsumura exploded onto the board casting double Heritage Druid, then using the rest of his mana, now a whopping five despite only having three lands on the battlefield, to Primal Command returning a Mosswort Bridge to the top of his opponent’s library. Regal Force was the next thing to hit the battlefield for Tsumura, netting him a half dozen extra cards. Kurihara seemed a tad displeased by the play, holding just one card himself. When he played it, a second Mosswort Bridge, the game looked like it was spinning out of Shingo’s Control.

    Kenji untapped, and plopped a Ranger of Eos onto the table. With an empty hand, the promise of two more team members for Kenji’s ranks proved too much for Kurihara, who conceded to save time for the rest of the match.

    Kenji Tsumura 1, Shingo Kurihara 0

    The pace of the second game was a tad slower than the first. Kurihara had a second-turn Devoted Druid, while Kenji cast a second-turn Noble Hierarch. He had opened on a Sunpetal Grove, but had had to play the new Magic 2010 dual tapped for lack of any basic lands. Shingo wasted no time taking advantage of the delay in his opponent’s tempo.

    Playing a third land, Kurihara emptied his hand of a Heritage Druid, Nettle Sentinel, and Elvish Archdruid. His team had considerably improved in size and stature, and Tsumura sucked in his breath with a hiss before teasing his countryman about the powerful turn. With priority back, Kenji could only cast a Llanowar Elves and a Heritage Druid of his own before passing.

    Shingo considered his options carefully before deciding to turn his team sideways and send them to the red zone. His opponent double-blocked Devoted Druid, then used Path to Exile to dispatch Elvish Archdruid. Before damage, Kurihara used a Path of his own to ace Tsumura’s Heritage Druid, and when the combat step had ended the totals were 20-17 in Shingo’s Favor.

    Multiple Top 8er Shingo Kurihara
    Working to keep his head above water, Kenji exploded on his turn dropping Elvish Archdruid, Llanowar Elves, and two more Heritage Druids onto the table. Kurihara fired right back, tapping low to cast Regal Force, then squeaking out extra mana afterwards thanks to Heritage Druid to drop Nettle Sentinels onto the battlefield. That allowed him to “go off” casting creature after creature after creature. By the time he passed back to Tsumura, Kurihara’s battlefield consisted of Heritage Druid, double Devoted Druid, double Nettle Sentinel, Regal Force, Elvish Visionary, Llanowar Elves, and an Elvish Archdruid.

    Unimpressed, Kenji Tsumura sent two Llanowar Elves and a Noble Hierarch into the red zone after casting a second Elvish Archdruid. Shingo Kurihara had plenty of power to block and kill the opposing threats, but had to be concerned about the fact Kenji had a Windbrisk Heights untapped and ready to fire. Ultimately the threat of the hideaway land wasn’t enough to deter Shingo, who blocked all three creatures successfully. Post-combat Kenji revealed a Primal Command hidden under his Heights, which allowed him to attack his opponent’s draw step and manabase with one mode, then to tutor up a Regal Force of his own with the other.

    After a turn with no attacks from Kurihara, Tsumura’s 5/5 Force hit the battlefield, drawing a whopping seven cards. On top of that, the plucky Japanese pro had double Nettle Sentinel to combo with his Heritage Druid, and an untapped Elvish Archdruid to generate enormous amounts of mana on top of that. Reading the writing on the wall, Shingo inquired as to whether his opponent could go off and when Tsumura responded in the affirmative, Kurihara conceded the match.

    Kenji Tsumura 2, Shingo Kurihara 0

     

  • Saturday, 11:04 a.m. – Grinders
    by Bill Stark
  • The talk headed into this weekend's Nationals tournaments has been the impact on Standard of the recently released Magic 2010, arguable the most genre-redefining base set in the game's history. So, what was big during the Grinders, Last Chance Qualifier type tournaments here at Japanese Nationals? For Jun'ya Nakamura and Masakazu Matsushita, two of the three Standard grinder winners, the answer was obvious: white decks got a ton of help from Magic 2010!
    Jun'ya Nakamura
    2009 Japan Nationals Last Chance Qualifier winner
    View a sample hand of this deck
    Download a .dek file for use in Magic Online

    Masakazu Matsushita
    2009 Japan Nationals Last Chance Qualifier winner
    View a sample hand of this deck
    Download a .dek file for use in Magic Online

    Masahiro Yamane
    2009 Japan Nationals Last Chance Qualifier winner
    View a sample hand of this deck
    Download a .dek file for use in Magic Online

     

  • Feature Match Round 2: Kazuya Mitamura VS Shuhei Nakamura
    by Bill Stark
  • The reigning Pro Player of the Year is one Shuhei Nakamura, a true road warrior who Japan has counted on to be at nearly every Grand Prix and Pro Tour to take place during each Pro Tour season. His opponent for the second round of play at the 2009 Japan National Championships? None other than the most recent Japanese Pro Tour champion, Kazuya Mitamura! The Chief, as he is affectionately called by a number of European and American players he works with for events, was the victor at the recent Pro Tour-Honolulu. The event marked his third Top 8 at the Pro Tour level, and the crowd was abuzz with the opportunity to watch two titans battle.

    “Our decks are 91% mirror match,” Nakamura said as the two sat down to the feature match table. “We talked last night about sideboarding...” The Player of the Year added, with a mock frown. Mitamura gave a good natured smile and nodded in agreement.

    2008 Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura
    After winning the die roll, Shuhei Nakamura was forced to take a mulligan. Because of the new mulligan rules thanks to Magic 2010, his opponent had to declare whether he was going to be sending his hand back or not immediately. Kazuya kept and the two got under way with Shuhei down a card. It was a Five-Color Control mirror match, and the early turns were spent on land drop after land drop. Mitamura flinched first with a Plumeveil hitting the battlefield, but when he tried to evoke a Mulldrifter, Shuhei’s hand was forced. He used a Broken Ambitions to counter, winning the clash and milling twin copies of Cryptic Command from his opponent’s deck.

    Shuhei tried to capitalize on tempo by using a Cryptic Command to bounce one of his opponent’s lands, drawing a card in the meanwhile. This allowed Nakamura to force through an evoked Mulldrifter the following turn, while Kazuya tried to build up his mana base. At four lands to Shuhei’s seven, Mitamura ran out of land drops, though Shuhei did the same a turn later.

    Hallowed Burial from Mitamura cleared the table of Plumeveils, but gave Shuhei a chance to cast a Broodmate Dragon. His opponent fired right back, summoning his own double Dragons to do his bidding on the battlefield. Nakamura soon made quick work of them, however, using an Agony Warp on his attack to wipe them out, though it cost him one of his own 4/4s. The Player of the Year followed up with a second copy of the Shards of Alara rare, but Mitamura had a second Hallowed Burial to answer all of the opposing Dragons simultaneously.

    Like any control mirror, the game was slow going. Both players were at 20 life, and both had approximately the same number of lands on the battlefield, Mitamura having caught up after being behind early. They took turns playing Esper Charms and discarding Volcanic Fallouts at 8 cards in hand. The first to break the monotony was Mitamura, who tried to cast his second copy of Broodmate Dragon in the match. The Dragon entered the battlefield successfully, while Shuhei plopped a Plumeveil onto the board in an effort to stem the 4-powered tides.

    2009 Pro Tour-Honolulu champion Kazuya Mitamura
    The 4/4 defender was simply a ruse, an attempt to get Kazuya to flinch. With the turn back, Shuhei dropped Cruel Ultimatum onto the board. After considering his options, Mitamura decided to Broken Ambitions the spell. Nakamura had a counter of his own to win the mini-battle, but the effects of the Ultimatum were undone as Mitamura untapped and simply resolved his own copy. His attack with Broodmate Dragon and its twin knocked Shuhei to 12, but Nakamura had an answer for the Dragons in the form of a Hallowed Burial he had drawn from his Ultimatum.

    The back and forth pace of the match continued as it dragged on past twenty minutes into the round. Nakamura landed a Mulldrifter, then the two pros battled over dueling Cruel Ultimatums again. Mitamura went first, getting his countered by a Shuhei Cryptic Command. Nakamura was then able to land his, paying for a Broken Ambitions from Kazuya. The Honolulu champion went to the top of his library, knowing he had one draw step to try to steal some advantage back before Nakamura’s overwhelming resource advantage would prove too much. Finding nothing of value on the top of his library and with no cards in hand, Mitamura conceded to save time for a second game.

    Shuhei Nakamura 1, Kazuya Mitamura 0

    Both players had the exact same third-turn play for the second game, as Great Sable Stag hit the board first for Kazuya Mitamura, then for Shuhei Nakamura. The 3/3s traded in combat the very next turn, and the game turned sour for Mitamura, who began missing land drops. When he tried to catch up with an Esper Charm to draw two, Shuhei was ready using Broken Ambitions to stop the play and mill a Cryptic Command and Cruel Ultimatum from his opponent’s library.

    When Liliana Vess hit the table for Nakamura, Kazuya could only watch in horror, unable to counter. He did hit a fourth land on his turn, but Shuhei quickly spun his planeswalker’s dice up ever closer to going ultimate. When Kazuya tried to reset Vess with Cryptic Command, Nakamura countered with a Command of his own, bouncing one of his opponent’s lands.

    Desperate for some action, Kazuya managed to accumulate six lands to the battlefield. As he ripped his sixth, he quickly flopped a Broodmate Dragon onto the table, hoping twin 4/4s would be enough to deal with Shuhei’s Liliana Vess, but leaving Mitamura with only one card in hand. When Shuhei revealed an Essence Scatter, that was all she wrote as Mitamura extended his hand in defeat.

    Two champions battle it out...

    Shuhei Nakamura 2, Kazuya Mitamura 0

     

  • Saturday, July 18: 1:45 p.m. - Hall of Fame 2009
    by Bill Stark
  • The Hall of Fame voting season is winding up again, so the coverage team took a chance to speak with a number of Japan’s biggest stars to ask them who they liked and/or were voting for for the 2009 Pro Tour Hall of Fame.

    Kazuya “The Chief” Mitamura
    Antoine Ruel!
    Makihito Mihara
    Masashiro Kuroda, Frank Karsten, and Antoine Ruel!
    Kenji Tsumura
    Neil Reeves, Antonino De Rosa, Frank Karsten, Antoine Ruel, and Brian Kibler.
    Masashi Oiso
    Brian Kibler, Frank Karsten, Antoine Ruel.
    Japan’s First Hall of Famer Tsuyoshi Fujita
    Antoine Ruel, and I hope Masashiro [Kuroda].
    Shuhei Nakamura
    Frank Karsten, Antoine Ruel, Kamiel Cornelissen.
    Masashiro Kuroda
    Antoine Ruel, Brian Kibler, Antonino De Rosa, and Kamiel Cornelissen. [Note: Kuroda is prohibited from voting for himself.]
    Tomoharu Saito
    Antoine Ruel, Masashiro Kuroda, Antonino De Rosa, Frank Karsten.
     

  • Saturday, 2:05 p.m. – The Impact of Magic 2010
    by Bill Stark
  • The big theme running universally throughout this three-event Nationals weekend has been “What is the impact of Magic 2010 on Standard?” The Japanese, world renowned for building some of the game’s best decks of the past five years, were definitely up to the challenge of figuring out for themselves which new archetypes are good, which old ones got tweaked, and which have disappeared altogether.

    Beginning with the very first feature match of the day, Kenji Tsumura and Shingo Kurihara squared off playing the Green-White Elves mirror match. Magic 2010 hits that saw action on the battlefield for each of the big name pros? Sunpetal Grove, the new white-green dual land, Elvish Archdruid, a powerful element of the new Elf mana engine, and even Elvish Visionary (technically a reprint from Shards of Alara).

    There were the staples from Tenth Edition still seeing play, including Pyroclasm, Negate, Deathmark, Llanowar Elves, and Overrun amongst others. Essence Scatter also made the ranks of “playables” in the slot many players had previously reserved for Remove Soul. Of course, the more interesting cards are the ones that surprise. Baneslayer Angel has lived up to some of the hype as a brand new win condition for any number of multi-colored control configurations. Lifelink, first strike, and its host of other abilities proved too tempting to pass on, and more than a few copies of the 5/5 mythic rare were swinging the tide of games throughout the day.


    Japan Nationals competitors swarmed dealers to pick up Magic 2010 singles.

    Master of the Wild Hunt could be seen summoning forth hordes of Wolves and providing green decks with an unexpected form of creature removal. Another popular green 3/3? Great Sable Stag. The anti-Faeries tech has proved so popular in fact, that dealers sold out of the card early on during the Grinders. Pros hoping to snatch up copies lackadaisically as they arrived Saturday morning for the big dance were horrified to find their amateur cohorts had already scooped them up!

    Some of the other very popular cards living up to expectations include the dual lands with combinations of red-black, red-green, blue-black, and the aforementioned green-white Sunpetal Grove all headed into battle. Honor of the Pure and Harm’s Way were seeing plenty of action in Kithkin, but one surprising hit for Kithkin and White Weenie decks has been Captain of the Watch. The 3/3 has been summoning forth hordes of Soldiers throughout play on Saturday.

    Not even halfway through the first day of competition at Japanese Nationals and Magic 2010 is already shaping up to be one of the most pivotal sets in recent memory! Luckily for readers at home, it’s on sale right now. How convenient you can buy boosters just as the best Japanese players converge to show the world which Standard decks are the real deal...

     

  • Feature Match Round 4: Hironobu Sugaya VS Masashi Oiso
    by Bill Stark
  • As players sat down to their fourth round of play on Saturday, the feature match area saw Grand Prix-Manila champion Hironobu Sugaya squaring off against defending Japanese national champion Masashi Oiso. Thanks to winning the title last year, Masashi had secured the rights for his home prefecture (similar to a state for Americans, or territory or province for many other nations) to host the 2009 championships. He was the reason Fukuyama was the site of this year’s championships.

    Of course, neither player seemed to indicate they cared about that as they sat down to battle. Instead, they were focused entirely on their match. Both entered the round with solid undefeated records. They’d need a lot more than the 9 Swiss points they had earned so far in the day to play in the Top 8, but they were off to the best start possible. Sugaya won the die roll, then opened on a Burrenton Forge-Tender. Oiso had a one-drop of his own in the form of Llanowar Elves, and opted not to block as Hironobu charged his BFT into the red zone on the second turn.

    Grand Prix-Manila champion Hironobu Sugaya.
    Sugaya then missed a land drop, sort of. He passed the turn with zero lands in play, but only after casting twin Borderposts of the Fieldmist and Wildfield variety. Masashi gave no hint as to his thoughts on the sequence of plays, instead building his board further with a Devoted Druid and Noble Hierarch. Sugaya tried to keep up with Spectral Procession, then a Knight of the White Orchid that searched up a free Plains thanks to his Borderpost shenanigans.

    It just didn’t seem to matter, however, as Oiso accrued more and more Elves. Elvish Visionary, two Nettle Sentinels, a second Llanowar Elves; they were all topped off with a Mosswort Bridge that was almost active. The Kithkin deck kept offering up threats for Hironobu Sugaya, who added to the battlefield with Stillmoon Cavalier, giving the 2/1 flying each turn and going on the offensive with evasive creatures thanks to Cavalier and his flying Spectral Procession tokens.

    It soon became apparent Masashi Oiso was suffering from a string of dead draws as he held just one card in hand and was eating attack after attack. He fell to 16, then 13, then 8, and finally at 3 life went to the top of his library for a solution. He drew a card, muttering something unintelligible, and began doing calculations. For four mana he cast Ranger of Eos, searching up Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid. The tandem could possibly be enough to let him combo his way out of an impending lethal attack.

    The Heritage Druid hit the battlefield first, leaving Oiso with just the Mosswort Bridge untapped. He tapped three Elves to make three mana, played a Nettle Sentinel (giving him two on the battlefield), and began the efforts of going off. Mosswort Bridge revealed Primal Command which sought out Regal Force and gained the defending champ 7 life. With his floating mana, he was able to tap enough to cast the Force, drawing nine cards in the process. Sugaya took a nervous look at the round lock to determine how much time he had left to survive.

    A second Ranger of Eos hit the board for the turn, netting Oiso a Heritage Druid and third Nettle Sentinel. Soon Oiso started cycling Elves, generating extra mana for each one he cast thanks to his triple Nettle Sentinel board position. A second Regal Force netted him a dozen new cards, and it looked all but over for Hironobu Sugaya. Still, the steely Grand Prix champ didn’t give any signs of giving up, watching calmly as his opponent continued going through the motions.

    Finally, Oiso started cycling Primal Commands to gain life and go big, meaning he’d be out of the clutches of Sugaya’s attackers and breathing down his neck with a lethal horde of green creatures, including four Elvish Archdruids. At that point, Hironobu decided to pack it in.

    Masashi Oiso 1, Hironobu Sugaya 0

    The second game kicked off with a mulligan for both players, but while Oiso was happy to stay on six, Sugaya was forced to go one lower to five; an inauspicious start to be sure. Neither came out of the gates quickly, however, with Hironobu playing back-to-back Borderposts while his opponent dropped a Qasali Pridemage, then activated the 2/2 to blow up one of Hironobu’s “lands.” Sugaya answered by playing a third Borderpost.

    He caught back up on mana with a Knight of the White Orchid fetching a free Plains, but only after Masashi had cast Ranger of Eos. The 3/2 card starring Invitational winner Antoine Ruel promised to power Oiso’s presence up with plenty of gas. In fact, the Japanese super-pro liked the play so much he decided to copy it the following turn casting a second Ranger.

    Can Masashi Oiso defend his national title?
    Whatever tempo and battlefield advantage Masashi had established, his opponent undid with a timely Hallowed Burial. The sorcery went a partial distance to helping Sugaya climb back into things, but it left him with fewer cards in hand than his opponent. Oiso worked on rebuilding dropping twin copies of Nettle Sentinel onto the battlefield during his turn while Hironobu followed up with Cloudgoat Ranger. The army-in-a-Giant went a long way towards shoring up Sugaya’s board presence, but when Oiso dropped a Heritage Druid with two Nettle Sentinels on the battlefield, Hironobu took a deep breath.

    Oiso made three green mana, then cast a second Heritage Druid untapping his Sentinels. That gave him room to cast Regal Force, which netted him five cards. He dropped a Mosswort Bridge for the turn, then passed. Sugaya plopped an Honor of the Pure onto the battlefield, but Oiso responded with not one but two copies of Path to Exile. The Conflux instant was enough to keep Sugaya from attacking with three creatures, which would have meant his Windbrisk Heights going active, and after a Spectral Procession Sugaya was forced to pass the turn back.

    The crowd leaned in as Oiso untapped, prepping for a long one that would see Masashi attempt to go off fully after sputtering the previous turn. A few cheap Elves netted Oiso both mana and cards as he cast a second Regal Force. He then cast Ranger of Eos to find enough Nettle Sentinels to play cards for “free,” and when he revealed a Cloudthresher and a Primal Command in his hand, Masashi Oiso earned the concession from Hironobu Sugaya.

    Masashi Oiso 2, Hironobu Sugaya 0.

     

  • Saturday, 4:29 p.m. - Photo Essay
    by Bill Stark and Keita Mori

  • Head Judge Kazuhiro Wakatsuki


    The big prize awaiting 1st-4th.

    Ken Ishimaru of Kyushu…


    …and his all foil Five-Color Control deck!


    A lucky buyer gets one of the last copies of Honor of the Pure in the room.


    Featured artists Mark Tedin and Anthony S. Waters (L-R) work on a piece together while 3-D card artist Ookubo looks on.


    Prints of some of Mark Tedin's prolific body of Magic art (200+ cards and counting!).


    Card art immortalized by Anthony S. Waters.


    Photos never do them justice; the 3-D card art of Japanese artist Ookubo.

     

  • Saturday, 4:38 p.m. - Drafting with Kenji Tsumura
    by Bill Stark
  • Kenji Tsumura is one of the worlds’ most famous Magic players, a fan favorite on multiple continents. As his professional and academic careers have progressed, his time playing the game has decreased. Still, the competitive instinct is a hard one to dull and Kenji had ripped of four straight match wins on the first day of competitive play here in Fukuyama. As he traded in his sixty card Elf deck for a forty card Shards of Alara-Conflux-Alara Reborn draft deck, the coverage team stepped in to see what strategy he would use.

    “We want the same deck!” The plucky pro smiled as he took his seat, directly to the left of defending national champ Masashi Oiso. It’s not a good sign when the testing partner with whom you devised your draft strategy sits down next to you at the draft, but both Kenji and Masashi are top pros and would likely use years of practice to cooperate making both of their decks stronger. As Kenji cracked his Shards pack, he was quick to flip a set of red cards to the front: Magma Spray, Jund Battlemage, and Mayael the Anima. The mythic rare would put Tsumura firmly into Naya from the get-go, but if that was the plan he and Oiso had crafted, he could potentially get cut in two packs. After taking the full time to consider his options, Kenji opted to take the less color intense Magma Spray.

    The world famous Kenji Tsumura trades in his 60 for 40.
    Jund Battlemage was an option again for Kenji’s second pick, but after deciding between the 2/2, a Resounding Roar, and Soul’s Fire Tsumura opted to take the Fire. He then happily plucked Hissing Iguanar third, then Knight of the Skyward Eye over Angelic Benediction and Resounding Silence. From there he filled out his deck with mostly green and white cards, choosing Cavern Thoctar over a second chance at Resounding Roar, Sigiled Paladin over Welkin Guide and Rakeclaw Garagantuan, and an Angelic Benediction. At the end of Shards of Alara, Kenji looked white-green with a touch of red for removal, or even mono-white touching green and red for removal and a few fatties.

    The Conflux pack Kenji cracked was filled with goodness for his deck, and he shuffled a half dozen cards to the front of it. Celestial Purge, Scepter of Dominance, Aerie Mystics, Ember Weaver, and Rhox Meditant were all under consideration. Ultimately the bomby rare was too hard to pass up, and at 1WW it would likely push Kenji further into white. His second pick was a tossup between Ember Weaver, Gleam of Resistance, and Ancient Ziggurat with Tsumura taking the creature. From there he added an Aven Trailblazers, Gleam of Resistance, a Cylian Sunsinger over both Aerie Mystics and Wild Leotau, and a late Might of Alara. He gave no indication whether he was excited about a very late Aerie Mystics making it all the way back to his stack. With two packs down, Kenji was solidly white-green with the possibility of splashing red or, should the strong blue cards come, even going Bant in the final pack.

    It all came down to the last 14 cards. Kenji slid the wrapper off his Alara Reborn pack, and stared at a Colossal Might, Vithian Renegades, Messenger Falcons, and Qasali Pridemage. Ultimately he decided to take the 2/2 in his primary colors. The second Alara Reborn pick yielded a wealth of powerful cards for the former Worlds Top 8er to pick between, and he flipped through Naya Hushblade, Terminate, Crystallization, Firewild and Wildfield Borderpost, and Blitz Hellion. Low on on-color removal, Crystallization dropped onto his stack. When Tsumura was passed not one, but two more copies of the enchantment in back-to-back packs, his deck seemed to come together superbly! Not needing to splash red would leave him with a much more stable manabase.

    After the removal came Bant Sureblade, but things thinned quickly after that. He picked up a Trace of Abundance, then a Gloryscale Viashino but was forced to pass a very late Filigree Angel. By the end of the draft, Kenji’s deck looked solid if unspectacular. With a gaming mind as sharp as his, however, and a resume most would die for, the deck could certainly be enough to force his opponents at the table to fight their hardest to get by him.

     

  • Feature Match Round 5: Taichi Fujimoto VS Kenji Tsumura
    by Bill Stark
  • Back in the feature match arena for the second time on the first day of Nationals competition was Kenji Tsumura, whose draft had gone relatively smoothly. His opponent, Taichi Fujimoto, was not a stranger to the bright lights of the featured stage. In fact, he had last seen play under their glare in the Top 8 of Grand Prix-Shizuoka against...none other than Kenji Tsumura!

    The two got underway with Taichi on the play, opening on a second-turn Goblin Outlander. That was met by Qasali Pridemage from Tsumura, but Kenji’s 2/2 couldn’t block his opponent’s thanks to protection from white. Parasitic Strix from Fujimoto created a 4-point swing in life totals, and the Grand Prix Top 8er made it 2 more with an attack from his Goblin. That plan of action stopped after Kenji played an Ember Weaver, then followed up with Aven Trailblazer. If Fujimoto was the aggressor, the battlefield had taken a turn for the worse for him.

    Taichi Fujimoto had already lost one Feature Match to Kenji Tsumura...
    Sedraxis Alchemist bounced the 2/3 Ember Weaver for a turn, allowing Fujimoto to attack with his Goblin Outlander, and when Tsumura simply re-played the 2/3, Taichi was ready with a Fiery Fall to kill it. He attacked Kenji to 12, but Tsumura came right back with a Cavern Thoctar. The 5/5 looked pretty good after his opponent had just used a removal spell that could have contained it. Scavenger Drake was the only answer Taichi could muster, and it was going to need to percolate on the battlefield for a time before doing much of anything.

    The game slipped further out of Fujimoto’s grasp as Kenji cast a Cylian Sunsinger and a Scepter of Dominance, complete with the white mana left over to tap one of his opponent’s permanents. Both players went on a run of drawing blanks, with Tsumura keeping Fujimoto’s Scavenger Drake, now something of a monster in size thanks to a bevy of +1/+1 counters, tapped down with his Scepter while getting in with Aven Trailblazer each turn. The Bird put Taichi to 12, then 10, 8, then 6, and with the help of a ripped Angelic Benediction to just 3 life. Out of seemingly nowhere Taichi had but one turn left to draw a solution! He looked to the top of his deck again, then with a sharp inhalation of breath and a sputtered laugh of frustration scooped up his board and turned to his sideboard.

    Kenji Tsumura 1, Taichi Fujimoto 0

    Fujimoto kicked off the second game with a Fieldmist Borderpost, then a Mistvein Borderpost on his second turn. He also had the first creature on the board in the form of Parasitic Strix which, thanks to the Mistvein Borderpost, drained Tsumura for 2. Kenji just worked on his manabase landcycling a Gleam of Resistance for a Forest to go with his Plains and Mountain already on the battlefield. He used a Crystallization to lock out the 2/2 Strix.

    Architects of Will hit the board for Taichi, who opted to stack the top three cards of his own library. Kenji fired back with Gloryscale Viashino, but Taichi gained some tempo with a Sedraxis Alchemist, then both Goblin Outlander and Brackwater Elemental. Tsumura was stuck with just his 3/3, the tides slowly turning in his opponent’s favor. He plucked a Scepter of Dominance off the top of his library, however, and quickly put the Icy Manipulator retread onto the battlefield. That would help him slow the pace down, but he wasn’t out of the woods yet.

    ...but could Kenji Tsumura keep that track record alive?
    Seizing on his overwhelming battlefield position, Taichi Fujimoto declared an attack. His Architects of Will were tapped, but he sent Brackwater Elemental and Goblin Outlander into the red zone. Kenji fell to 6 from the attack, and didn’t look happy to see another Brackwater Elemental enter the battlefield for his opponent. He would have to account for a lethal attack the following turn thanks to the 4/4’s unearth ability. Trying to avoid his fate, Tsumura cast Knight of the Skyward Eye to aid his forces.

    Into the tank went Taichi, trying to figure out how to kill his opponent. Unable to come up with a way, he opted to drop Kenji to 4 with Goblin Outlander, then cast Kederekt Creeper. Tsumura needed a miracle to stay alive, but what could he do? He drew a card, glanced at his hand, then set it down on the table. Tapping six mana he plopped Cavern Thoctar onto the battlefield, leaving up a white for Scepter. He quickly passed the turn, handing the responsibility of figuring out a lethal attack to his opponent. When Fujimoto unearthed his Brackwater Elemental, however, Tsumura scooped his cards up and they headed for the final game of the match.

    Kenji Tsumura 1, Taichi Fujimoto 1

    It was all down to a final game for Kenji Tsumura and Taichi Fujimoto, but an opening hand of seven wasn’t good enough for Taichi. He started the game on a mulligan to six, then missed his third land drop. That meant Tsumura could take advantage of the situation, bashing with a Bant Sureblade and fetching up a Mountain with Gleam of Resistance. His second creature was a Hissing Iguanar.

    Fujimoto had a Sedraxis Alchemist as a Gray Ogre, but Kenji pressed on. Crystallization nullified the 2/2 Alchemist and pumped Tsumura’s Bant Sureblade, then Ember Weaver hit the battlefield for the tiny pro. Fujimoto was clearly flustered with his draw, went to his deck for a fourth land drop, didn’t find it and conceded to the lightning fast offensive from his opponent.

    Kenji Tsumura 2, Taichi Fujimoto 1.

     

  • Saturday, 6:21 p.m. – Meet the Artists
    by Bill Stark
  • The best part about big events like Nationals, Grand Prix, Pro Tours, and Worlds are all the exciting things to do in addition to the main event itself! Japanese Nationals is no different, and there are no les than three artists in the house! They’re spending their weekend signing cards (free of charge no less!) for fans, who can also peruse artist prints, proofs, and original artwork. One of the artists is even Ookubo, the famed Japanese 3-D card artist. His work is truly one of a kind, fashioning three dimensional cards by carefully crafting six to seven copies of the card on top of one another. We took a moment to speak with the three, and here’s what they had to say...


    Artist Anthony S. Waters.

    Name: Anthony S. Waters
    Home: Orange County, California.
    How long have you been an artist?
    “I’ve been doing art full time since 1992.”

    What was your first Magic card?
    “It was Pale Bears. That was actually my first commercial painting. My first actual art to appear in a set was in Legends.”

    What’s one of your favorite cards?
    “That’s a tough one. I’d have to say Threads of Disloyalty is up there.”

    How many Magic cards have you illustrated?
    “Something like 110.”


    Artist Mark Tedin.

    Name: Mark Tedin
    Home: Seattle, Washington.
    How long have you been an artist?
    “Seventeen years!”

    What was your first Magic card?
    “Maybe Helm of Chatzuk? It might have been Lord of the Pit.”

    What’s one of your favorite cards?
    “Originally Mindstab Thrull. It came out exactly as I had pictured it in my head. A more recent example would be Supreme Examplar.”

    How many Magic cards have you illustrated?
    “Over 200...”


    3-D card artist Ookubo.

    Name: Ookubo
    Home: Nagoya, Aichi [prefecture].
    How long have you been creating 3-D cards?
    “Since Japanese Fourth Edition.”

    What was your first Magic card?
    “Pradesh Gypsies!”

    What’s one of your favorite cards?
    [pointing at card excitedly]
    Fourth EditionCraw Wurm!”

    How many Magic cards have you illustrated?
    “Over four digits. Thousands.”

     

  • Feature Match Round 6: Masashi Kuroda VS Masahiko Morita
    by Bill Stark
  • For many years the nation of Japan struggled on the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour collectively. Early players like Satoshi Nakamura and Tsuyoshi Fujita tried and tried to net themselves a Pro Tour title, but it was Masashiro Kuroda who succeeded where the rest of his country had failed. By winning the first Pro Tour title for Japan, he opened the floodgates for a stretch of utter dominance by Japanese players, paving the way for names like Kenji, Saito, and Shuhei. His opponent for Round 6 of 2009’s Nationals tournament, Masahiko Morita, is affectionately known as “The Silver Collector” for the fact he has Top 8ed what feels like dozens of Grand Prixs, but has yet to play on the Sunday of a Pro Tour. In fact, he is respectfully thought by many to be one of the best players in the game not to have achieved that honor.

    Is Masahiko Morita the best player never to Top 8 a Pro Tour?
    Morita hit the battlefield early with an Akrasan Squire. The aggressive 1/1 met a grunt of despair from Kuroda, and when Masahiko followed it up with more exalted one-drops in the form of Noble Hierarch and a second Akrasan Squire, things looked poor for Masashiro. He dropped Vedalken Outlander onto the field in an effort to keep up, then cast Aven Mimeomancer. When Morita continued attacking with a single Akrasan Squire, Kuroda fell to 8.

    Bant Sureblade was next on the battlefield for the man they call “The Silver Collector,” and after passing the turn back to Masashiro, Kuroda needed to consider his options. He was falling behind in a bad way and needed to do some serious catching up. When he moved to combat, Morita tapped his Vedalken Outlander, now a 3/1 thanks to Mimeomancer, with a Naya Battlemage. To keep alive in the game, Kuroda was going to need a mass removal spell or effect of some kind. When he didn’t find it, and Morita didn’t fail to keep the pressure on, the two foes were on to the second game with Morita up a game.

    Masahiko Morita 1, Masashiro Kuroda 0

    Kuroda had been under the gun quickly in the first game of the match, and looked to undo that in the second. He played a second-turn Mask of Riddles, then a third-turn Esper Battlemage. The 2/2 Battlemage would have been huge in the first game, giving him a renewable resource for use blowing up Morita’s team of exalted 1/1s. For the second game, however, Morita had led with 2/2s in the form of Naya Battlemage and Valeron Outlander.

    Japan’s first Pro Tour champion, Masashiro Kuroda.
    Not concerned about life totals, Masashiro Kuroda went on the offensive anyway, equipping his Esper Battlemage and charging it into the red zone to draw an extra card after Masahiko had tapped out to attack Kuroda. When Morita cast Bant Sureblade, Kuroda had to consider things more carefully. His opponent had a multi-colored permanent, meaning the 2/1 was actually a 3/2 with first strike. Finally he opted to send his team in, but Morita had a Naturalize to destroy the Mask, then a block with Sureblade since the Battlemage no longer had fear, which had been granted by the Mask.

    A second Bant Sureblade joined the battlefield for Masahiko, while Kuroda dug in with Wall of Denial and Aven Mimeomancer. No doubt he was a bit disappointed his combo of Mimeomancer + Esper Battlemage had been taken offline by his opponent; the two cards combined would have done a number on Morita’s creatures!

    After that, the flow of cards from Kuroda slowed. Morita continued casting threats, then sent his team on an all-in attack. Kuroda made blocks, but Morita just trumped with a Colossal Might. The attack left Kuroda at 10, with his side of the battlefield featuring just lands and a Wall of Denial. When he didn’t find any help on top of his deck, he conceded the match with a grunt of despair.

    Masahiko Morita 2, Masashi Kuroda 0

     

  • Saturday, July 18: 7:17 p.m. - The Best M10 Standard
    by Bill Stark
  • What is the Best Standard Card in Magic 2010?

    Ryuichi Arita
    "Great Sable Stag."
    Itaru Ishida
    "Lightning Bolt."
    Shingo Kurihara
    "Elvish Archdruid."
    Masaya Kitayama
    "Great Sable Stag."
    Naoki Shimizu
    "Great Sable Stag."
    Masahiko Morita
    "Elvish Archdruid. (I love Elves!)"
    Yuuya Watanabe
    "Darksteel Colossus! Or Ponder."
    Akira Asahara
    "Time Warp!"
     

  • Feature Match Round 7: Akira Asahara VS Koutarou Ootsuka
    by Bill Stark
  • As the first day of competition wound down to its final round, the feature match arena saw Akira Asahara facing off against Koutarou Ootsuka. Both were very familiar with the Top 8 stage, Ootsuka having battled in the Top 8 of Pro Tour-Prague while between the two they had nearly 20 Grand Prix Top 8s.

    In a change of pace from most of the Limited feature matches on the day, neither Asahara nor Ootsuka came out of the gates with much in the way of attacking forces. Both were content to develop their manabases, Asahara with Rupture Spire and Ootsuka with a cycled Pale Recluse. The first actual spells of the game were a Lorescale Coatl for Akira Asahara, and Scepter of Dominance followed by Fleshbag Marauder for Koutarou.

    When Drumhunter entered the battlefield for Akira, his opponent used Drag Down to, well, drag it down. Ootsuka then tried to push ahead in the card advantage category with a Courier’s Capsule. Refusing to back down, Asahara played a second Lorescale Coatl, cycling a Jungle Weaver to give it +1/+1. Jhessian Infiltrator and Rhox Brute were next up for Asahara, and just like that the game had gone from drawn-out control match to Akira being firmly on the beatdown path. Ootsuka untapped and carefully considered his options.

    Koutarou Ootsuka tries to escape the first draft with a final victory...
    Blister Beetle, then Parasitic Strix were Koutarou’s short term plans, and it looked like he would have to rely on his Scepter of Dominance to do most of the heavy lifting. The artifact kept his opponent’s Coatl tapped down, but Rhox Brute and Infiltrator knocked Ootsuka to 16. Post-combat Asahara had a Skyward Eye Prophets, and the game was spinning further and further out of Ootsuka’s control. He cast a Manaforce Mace, equipping it to Parasitic Strix, and when Asahara made an all-in attack Ootsuka double-blocked the Skyward Eye Prophets with the equipped Strix and his Beetle. Asahara was ready, using a Bant Charm to blow up his opponent’s equipment, then cycling a Naya Sojourners to save his Prophets. The attack left Ootsuka at just 10 life and with no creatures on the board.

    Koutarou drew his card for the turn, but it looked like the two-for-three from Asahara the previous turn was going to be enough to do Koutarou in. He glanced at the battlefield, looked back to his hand, and picked up his cards in defeat.

    Akira Asahara 1, Koutarou Ootsuka 0

    What the match between Akira Asahara and Koutarou Ootsuka lacked in aggressive play in the first game, it more than made up for in the second. Asahara had a second-turn Jhessian Infiltrator followed by Lorescale Coatl, while Ootsuka cast Talon Trooper then Ethersworn Knight with an Obelisk of Esper. A second Coatl from Asahara drew a knowing smile from Ootsuka, and Akira wasted no time pumping his Bant-themed Snakes by cycling Architects of Will.

    Deny Reality was Ootsuka’s solution to his opponent’s largest Lorescale, netting a free Meddling Mage in the process. It was going to take more than that to win the game, however, as Asahara simply unloaded with a Magma Spray targeting Meddling Mage, an attack to take his opponent to 6, and a re-played Lorescale Coatl number two. Ootsuka had a lonely Grixis Slavedriver to stem the tides, still choosing to attack with his Talon Trooper.

    Again Asahara sent his team in to the red zone, using Naya Sojourners cycled to pump Jhessian Infiltrator in addition to his Lorescale Coatls. When combat ended his opponent was precariously low on life, but Asahara was down a Coatl. Koutarou answered the unblockable Infiltrator with Crystallization, as well as playing Vedalken Outlander to jump with Puppet Conjurer. The 1/2 Conjurer could indefinitely block the ever-growing Lorescale Coatl left on Asahara’s side of the battlefield, but after chumping with the 2/2 Outlander while Conjurer was summoning sick, Ootsuka was dismayed to see his opponent cast a Rakeclaw Gargantuan. Koutarou still needed some help to survive the round.

    Still, by being aggressive with his Talon Trooper and a Zombie token from the Grixis Slavedriver, Ootsuka had managed to drop Asahara to 3 life. If Akira could draw any type of removal spell, Koutarou was putting his opponent in a position where he would win. Unfortunately for Akira, anything less than that meant Koutarou would pull out the improbable victory. Asahara gave no inclination as to what he had drawn for the turn, but when Koutarou unearthed Grixis Slavedriver and turned his whole team sideways, Asahara conceded the game.

    Akira Asahara 1, Koutarou Ootsuka 1

    Exploding on mana for the rubber game was Koutarou Ootsuka, who accelerated on the back of Obelisk of Esper and Wildfield Borderpost. That allowed him just enough mana to cast Soul Manipulation to counter Lorescale Coatl from Akira Asahara, who was stuck on just three lands. Unfortunately for Ootsuka, Asahara had already managed to land his first copy of Coatl while taking his third-turn.

    ...but Akira Asahara was going to try to stop him at any cost.
    Despite finally finding a fourth mana source in a Swamp, Asahara didn’t take advantage of his improving mana situation, instead tapping just two lands to cast Jhessian Infiltrator. Ootsuka fired back with Puppet Conjurer, but Asahara was ready with Agony Warp. That left Akira tapped out, and Koutarou checked the size of the opposing Lorescale Coatl. Happy with the number he got, he used Drag Down to take the troublesome Snake out, then dropped Esper Cormorants onto the battlefield. Asahara simply followed up with Drumhunter, attacking with Jhessian Infiltrator to put his opponent at 13.

    Koutarou did some calculations on his turn, but liked his odds in a race. He sent in both a Parasitic Strix and his Cormorants to even the scores at 13-all, then had Scepter of Dominance and Talon Trooper for his post-combat main phase. That spelled bad news for Asahara who could only attack back for 2 with his Infiltrator, then pass the turn with five mana up. A Magma Spray from Akira aced Koutarou’s Parasitic Strix, but Ootsuka just cast yet another creature post-combat in the form of Vedalken Outlander. The 2/2 traded for Drumhunter when Asahara all-ined on his turn, but Akira needed a lot of help to get out of the sorry state he was in. He needed a solution to both his opponent’s Esper Cormorants as well as Talon Trooper.

    Intimidation Bolt was half a solution, but Asahara played it in what seemed the worst way possible: on his own main phase, targeting the 3/3 Cormorants. When he tried to attack with Jhessian Infiltrator, Ootsuka quickly pointed out the second half of the spell, meaning Akira had blanked his own combat step. Koutarou got to attack right back, putting Akira at just 1 life, and when he didn’t find a second removal spell, he was done for the match.

    Koutarou Ootsuka 2, Akira Asahara 1

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