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Japan Continues to Impress

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The letter E!ver since Tsuyoshi Fujita made history at Pro Tour - Tokyo by becoming the first Japanese player to break into a Pro Tour Top 8, the quality of Japanese Pro Magic has been increasing. Katsuhiro Mori made the next step by becoming Rookie of the Year, and that season he and Jin Okamoto came close to adding a second Top 8 to the Japanese roster. Then came Venice. Newcomer Akihiro Kashima surprised everyone when he appeared at the top of the standings. The ball kept rolling from there. Masashi Oiso put the cap on a great season with a finals appearance at Yokohama, beating out countryman Tsuyoshi Ikeda in the semis, en route to taking the Rookie of the Year Title. At Worlds, Jin Okamoto finally earned a Top 8 and ran with it. Again, Japan were denied a title when he fell in the finals. Three consecutive singles Pro Tour Top 8's.

Now, with just one round of play, there are five Japanese players in the Top 16, all sitting 11-4 or better. What makes it even more shocking is that they're playing four different decks.

Perhaps speaking to the strength of the archetype, the only deck they double up on is Tinker. Reigning Rookie of the Year Masashi Ooiso chose artifacts, and look where it got him. His design is somewhat retro, taking home only the biggest of Mirrodin's threats, Mindslaver. This is a symptom of his relatively small playtest group. His preparation for this Pro Tour consisted of games with his local Hiroshima crew, one not lettered with Pro Tour success. He's shown the same skill he displayed last season. It's clear his rookie title was no fluke.

Also playing the blue menace is 2003 Japanese National Top 8'er Kazumasa Shiki, who's drawn some looks from his bathrobe-only attire. This was his first Pro Tour, and he took to it like a fish to water. His version also sports Platinum Angel and Myr Incubator, a result of his work with Fireball in Kyushu, a team headed by veteran Tsuyoshi Ikeda.

Tomohiro Kaji represents the new generation of Japanese players. With nothing but a PTQ victory under his belt he rose to the challenge of the big leagues. He did it with Angry Hermit, but not your garden variety. His sports Krosan Cloudscrapers, allowing for a quick Buried Alive kill. He even has Ancient Tombs and Cities of Traitors to speed up the whole process. In behind it is traditional Angry Hermit brutality.

The same can be said of Tomohiro Yokosuka, another new face. He showed up with an Isochron ScepterPsychatog deck very similar to the best designs out there. As it stands, he's a draw away from keeping the string of Japanese Top 8's alive.

Lastly is old hand Akira Asahara, the man responsible for many of Japan's best decks. Working with Jin Okamoto, Itaru Ishida and Kazuya Hirabayashi he helped refine their already stellar Gobvantage deck for the new Extended. Naturally they wanted Chrome Mox for speed and Goblin Charbelcher, which would make for a quick kill with Goblin Recruiter, but the real genius was speeding the deck up even more with Ancient Tombs and Seething Song. Explosive doesn't begin to describe it.

So not only have the Japanese increased their Pro Tour presence, they've done it with many different decks in a format believed to be ruled by Tinker. Maybe this year they'll finally get a title of their own.

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