Sunday, Aug. 20: 11:41 a.m. - Draft 1 with Itaru Ishida
Itaru Ishida is one of Japan's most respected and venerable pros. The Tokyo resident has one Pro Tour and seventeen Grand Prix top 8s to his name. He's also up for the Hall of Fame this year. A strong showing could garner Itaru a few more votes for that honor. He entered today at 11th place, a good place to start the quest for another top 8.
Itaru's opening pack had a number of choices. Magmatic Core and Gelid Shackles looked decent, but the real decision to Itaru was between Garza's Assassin and Ronom Hulk. Itaru spend all of his allotted time going back and forth between the two cards, finally deciding on the 5/6 beast. His next pack rewarded that Green decision with an Ohran Viper over Chill to the Bone, and then anotherOhran Viper over a Lightning Storm.
His fourth pack put Itaru at a quandary. Was Itaru Ishida ready to pick a second color? Non-Green options included Greater Stone Spirit, Boreal Griffin, Chilling Shade, and Ronom Serpent. The only relevant on-color card in the pack was Into the North. Itaru decided to play it safe at this point and took the snow-land fetching sorcery.
His fifth pack forced Itaru to pick a second color, as literally there was only one Green card, a Frostweb Spider. Luckily for Itaru, his decision was an easy one, with a Chill to the Bone as clearly the best card in the pack. His 6th pick gave Itaru another Chill to the Bone, making it look like Ishida-san was definitely in the right place. The remainder of the packs gave Itaru a snow land, some Gutless Ghoul, and a couple potential sideboard cards. Itaru had a very reasonable start to a strong G/B deck. My quick peek to the drafter on the left showed that the next pack might not go as well; that gentlemen was straddling W/G and W/B. One of Itaru's colors was definitely going to be cut in the next revolution.
Itaru Ishida's opening booster for pack two was remarkably weak, with only Phyrexian Etchings, Phobian Phantasm, Frostweb Spider, Surging Might, or Snow-Covered Island as possibilities. Itaru seemed annoyed but took the Surging Might, his first. The next pack was a lot better as Itaru grabbed Coldsteel Heart almost instantly, with only a cursory look at the rest of the booster. Itaru's next two picks were the 3/3 Simian Brawlers, the second one at the expense of another Chill to the Bone.
Itaru's fifth pick was a real gift, a Zombie Musher in an otherwise dry pack. The 6th pick Chill to the Bone seemed to indicate that the drafter on his left had not gone with Black; good news for Itaru. The remainder of the boosters again contained mostly filler, with another Gutless Ghoul, Snow-Covered Forest and a 14th pick Phobian Phantasm. Itaru's deck could only be described as decent at this point. With two Ohran Vipers and three Chill to the Bone, Itaru was certainly doing alright, but overall, it wasn't spectacular. A peek to Itaru's right side showed me the drafter on his right was also going G/W. While his Black was wide open, the Green cards were getting cut rapidly.
Itaru's first pick in the third pack was one of Itaru's most difficult decisions in the draft: Boreal Centaur or Aurochs Herd. The Herd is one of Coldsnap's best commons, but it looks a little worse as the first aurochs card, in pack 3. Itaru was having similar thoughts and went with Boreal Centaur, a card that fit his curve very well. The next pack was an easy Disciple of Tevesh Szat over a Snow-Covered Forest. The third pack wasn't quite so simple. Itaru had to choose between Chill to the Bone, Surging Might, Aurochs Herd, Snow-Covered Forest, and Deathmark. Itaru narrowed his choices down to the Herd and the Deathmark, ultimately deciding to go with the 4/4 trampler. That decision looked like genius when his next pack gave him another Aurochs Herd. 6th pick gave Itaru his fourth Chill to the Bone, but more interesting, it was about to give his neighbor a 7th pick Juniper Order Ranger. I have no idea what the guy on Itaru's right took over it. The Green/White drafter to Itaru's left looked surprised, but happily added it to his pile. Itaru rounded out the rest of his packs with little guys and a Hibernation's End
Itaru Ishida's deck remained consistently average throughout the draft. While a pair of Vipers and a pair of Aurochs Herd provide card advantage, a lack of Recover cards made his necessary Gutless Ghouls quite a bit worse. If Itaru can find some early offense and clear the way with his triple Chill(plus one in the board), he has a good chance of winning the match. If he falters, he could be in trouble as other competitors get Recover or Ripple engines online.
Grand Prix Hiroshima 2006 Day 2 Draft 1
Sunday, Aug. 20: 12:28 p.m. - Draft 1: Shouta Yasooka
The buzz is in. Tokyo's Shouta Yasooka has been a long established leading constructed deckbuilder, with a reputation arguably surpassed only by Go Anan and Tsuyoshi Fujita. He led an unorthodox squad with rogue savant Ryuichi Arita to a fourth place finish at GP Hamamatsu, and followed up with a Pro Tour win with Kajiharu80 at Charleston. A 7-1 finish placed him at Table One, with undefeated Kentarou Nonaka to his right and former World Champion Julien Nuitjen to his left.
Yasooka's first pack couldn't be harder. It confronted him with Blizzard Specter, Krovikan Mist, Disciple of Tevesh Szat, Surging Aether, Squall Drifter, and Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper. He shrugged and took the legendary Orcish Shaman. He followed up with a Zombie Musher, passing Nuitjen a Mouth of Ronom, another Squall Drifter, and Karplusan Strider.
With the next pack, Yasooka laid down the cement on the road he would travel. He took Skred over Aurochs Herd, Greater Stone Spirit, and Gelid Shackles. By choosing the one mana instant, he was obliged to take snow creatures and lands later on. Unfortunately for him, Nonaka had settled in Black/Green, ready to poach all the good black removal. Later picks in pack one gave Yasooka expensive but potent troops and removal, with two Phobian Phantasms, a Krovikan Rot, Thermopod, Greater Stone Spirit, and Orcish Bloodpainter.
The second pack saw Yasooka drafting a Disciple of Tevesh Szat, followed by Tresserhorn Sinks. Yasooka was hunting for removal, and found it lacking. After a Magmatic Core and Chill to the Bone, the goods stopped coming. He took another Tresserhorn Sinks and snow-covered Swamp, and got a few late creatures of dubious quality.
The third pack showed some promise, as Yasooka snagged his first Surging Flame, a second Skred and Chill to the Bone, and another Zombie Musher. He made a questionable pick by taking his fourth snow land, a Mountain, over a Ohran Yeti. His deck was in dire need of Hill Giants. Late picks were a Lightning Serpent and a third Tresserhorn Sinks.
Yasooka groused as he registered his deck. "It's weak, weak, weak!" With Japanese Nationals on the following weekend, he had devoted little time to Coldsnap draft and as such decided to take a passive strategy instead of coming into the format with a specific plan. We'll have to see whether Yasooka's limited skills can help him overcome his less than formidable deck.
Sunday, Aug. 20: 1:03 p.m. - Round 9: Julien Nuijten vs. Shouta Yasooka
Dutch teen phenomenon Julien Nuijten couldn't complain too much about his green/white concoction, with a plethora of cheap, efficient attackers and fliers backed up by three Kjeldoran War Cries. His deck's tighter mana curve and efficient creatures had a decisive advantage against PT Charleston winner Shouta Yasooka's Black/Red deck with a sparse array of removal and an army of pricy, if efficient, creatures.
Yasooka cursed his bitter luck as he mulliganed to five cards on the draw. Nuijten 's hand was land heavy, but he was able to use Into the North to make a Simian Brawler on turn three. The ape made a quick exit with Yasooka's Chill to the Bone. Nuijten made a Boreal Griffin, and the snow creature came over a few times. Yasooka had to wait until turn 6 to summon his first creature, a Greater Stone Spirit. Nuijten played a Jotun Owl Keeper. Two turns later, the Owl Keeper left the roost and left Nuijten a flying force that came overhead and put Yasooka away, aided by two Kjeldoran War Cries.
The slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune continued to pepper Yasooka in Game 2. He kept a hand with Skred, Surging Flames, two land, and three four-drops. Quite reasonable, if he drew any land. Unfortunately, he never drew the third land. After a mulligan, Julien repeated his early plays of the previous game, searching out a Mouth of Ronom with Into the North and following it up with Simian Brawler. This game's fourth turn Boreal Centaur met Surging Flame, but Nuijten just kept churning out creatures. A Boreal Centaur helped the Ape pound down Yasooka before he had any chance to recover.
Nuijten graciously shook Yasooka's hand. "It wasn't really much of a fair match, but these things happen." It's been a long while since a non-Japanese player penetrated the Top Eight of a singles Grand Prix in Japan. Will Nuijten be up to the task? Stay tuned.
Sunday, Aug. 20: 1:36 p.m. - Artist Profile Brian Snoddy
Artist Brian Snoddy
One of the cool things Wizards of the Coast does is fly a guest artist out to foreign Grand Prix. This lets the locals meet someone famous they wouldn't otherwise meet, while also giving an artist a chance to see a cool new locale. I caught up with Brian in between some card signings.
What is your name and where do you currently live?
Brian Snoddy and I live in Seattle, Washington
How long have you been an artist, and what got you started?
I can't do anything except sweep floors. I'm probably the world's best floor sweeper, but I didn't want to do it for the rest of my life. I became a professional artist on September 1, 1986.
What was the first card you drew for Wizards of the Coast?
Psychic Venom in Alpha
What Magic card illustration are you most proud of and why?
Brian and wife Makiko
Zombie Trailblazer. It was one of the rare cards that turned out just as I envisioned it. A few years ago I sold the original art to a restaurant owner in Tokyo who put it over his mantle.
Any other projects you're working on right now?
Besides Magic cards, I'm illustrating a book about giants for a man named Steve Quayle. I'm also continuing to develop my collection of armor (kabuto).
What have you seen in Japan so far? Are you enjoying your trip?
I've seen Hiroshima Peace Museum, Hiroshima Castle, a sword expo, Mikajima Island, and lots of really good looking girls. I love Japan. I'm enjoying every minute of it.
Thanks for your time Brian! Enjoy the rest of your trip.
Sunday, Aug. 20: 2:50 p.m. - Round 11: Ichirou Shimura vs. Tsuyoshi Fujita
A Magic player would be hard pressed to find a better resume than Tsuyoshi Fujita. The man's done almost everything but win a Pro Tour. When Mike Flores surged ahead in front of him in the Resident Genius voting this year, a small part of my soul died. From a spectator's point, Fujita's quite possibly the most enjoyable Magic player in Japan to watch. (Flores is no snooze, however.) The 2004 Japanese National Champion faced off against Ichirou Shimura. Many credit the more famous Masashi Oiso as the best player of Japan's winning 2005 Worlds team, but in reality it was Shimura that called the team's shots. Shimura has numerous Grand Prix Top 8s to his name.
The match promised to be a furious facedown. Tsuyoshi Fujita's White/Green deck featured mana acceleration, Aurochs, and enough White trickery to make sure he'd dictate the flow of combat. In the long run, his massive creatures would simply overwhelm any opposition. But he had to entrench himself before Shimura could bring his Red/Green troupe of Yetis, Simian Brawlers, and Boreal Centaurs. Shimura's circuits would fire one or two turns before Fujita's.
Tsuyoshi couldn't overcome his mana problems
Unfortunately, Magic games aren't won or lost solely on statistics. After cashing in a one land hand on the play, Shimura kept a hand with Boreal Centaur, Goblin Rimerunner, Simian Brawler, and Lovisa Coldeyes. He ripped a forest off the top. Then a mountain. Then another mountain. In the meantime, Tsuyoshi had a hand of Boreal Druid, Simian Brawler and an Aurochs Herd, but was stuck on two measly Plains, Squall Drifter, and a Kjeldoran Outrider. He desperately stalled for time, using Swift Maneuver. But he couldn't find a Forest to save his life. Shimura's army marched over him in no time at all.
Fujita's mana problems continued to consume him in the second game. He kept a hand with Boreal Centaur, Boreal Druid, Surging Might, two Aurochs Herds, and two Plains on the play. As long as he drew a forest, he'd be in great shape. The forest never came. Shimura made a Boreal Druid on turn one, a Boreal Centaur on turn two, another Centaur and a (rarely seen) Goblin Furrier on turn three. Tsuyoshi had only five Plains on the table in the face of the final attack.
Ichirou Shimura defeats Tsuyoshi Fujita 2-0.
Sunday, Aug. 20: 3:47 p.m. - Brian Snoddy in Action
Japan, if it hasn't been made clear yet, is an incredible place. Through great fortune, I was able to fly to Japan a few days before the Grand Prix began, to visit some of the sites this historic and beautiful country had to offer. Brian Snoddy and his wife Makiko also arrived in Japan a few days early, so we got the chance to do some sightseeing together. Our guide for the excursion was Wizards' Japan representative Ron Foster, who's been told more than once by the locals that he knew more about Japan than the Japanese. A good guide to have around for some wandering gaijin. One of the stops on our tour was Mikajima Island, well known for its huge Torii gate and Itsukushimashrine. The gate in particular is famous for actually being constructed on the water. It was built in such a way as to allow visitors the opportunity to walk to the gate during low tide. Brian was so taken with this ancient structure that he immediate began to draw it, to the delight of families passing by.
Torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine
Brian Snoddy begins his work
Locals watching a master at work
Sunday, Aug. 20: 4:32 p.m. - Draft 2: Katsuhiro Mori
World Champion Katsuhiro Mori's had a harrowing year. Since his ascendance last November in Yokohama, he's had reporters knocking at the door and television camera crews dogging his footsteps. Like gold-medalist ice skater Shizuka Arakawa at Torino, Mori knows that Japan relishes its world champions. This media attention can stifle the most stalwart of souls. With a season plagued by drought, he's had trouble following up on his performance. He sat down to one of the most hellacious draft tables in Japanese GP history, bracketed by Ryo Ogura and Tsuyoshi Fujita. He needed to acquire two wins in Murderer's Row over the next three rounds to have a shot at the Top 8.
As expected, Mori flicked through his first pack as fast as the eye could see. (Trivia fact: The Chinese character in Mori's family name is forest.) He spent a few seconds eyeing Gutless Ghoul and Phyrexian Snowcrusher before picking Blizzard Specter. Few four drops hit with as much power as the 2/3 apparition, who can divest an opponent of their powerful five and six casting cost spells, or wreak havoc on the board. Mori then blazed through the next pack and selected a Krovikan Mist over Disciple of Tevesh Szat, Auroch Herds, Surging Sentinels, and Frost Raptor. He opted to take a snow-covered swamp and a Snow Salt Marsh in the next two packs, seeing little that would fit into Dimir's colors.
After receiving a utility belt of chilly troops like Rimebound Dead, Ronom Serpent, and Frost Raptor in his later picks, he was rewarded in the second pack with a second Blizzard Specter. He took more goodies with more snow creatures and lands. In his sixth pick, he took a Kjeldoran Gargoyle out of an otherwise poor pack. Asked about it later, he said "Well, I want to play all the good spells, in all the good colors. That's how it is."
Pack three was much kinder, handing him Skred, Phyrexian Ironfoot, and Garza Zol, Plague Queen. His red splash was confirmed when he took Deepfire Elemental, offering a pricy but effective way of cleaning away the little guys. He finished out the pack strong with three Rune Snags, giving him solid tools to handle early game rushes.
Mori turned on the cutting wit after the draft. "This deck? Three wins. I am certain." He showed no signs of regret when asked what cards he wished he had more copies of. With a table filled with the likes of Masashi Oiso, Tsuyoshi Fujita, and Tomoharu Saito, though, he'd still need to get lucky to reach the Top Eight.
Table Two Breakdown
Seat 1: Andre Coimbra - Black/Green beats
Seat 2: Ryo Ogura - Red/Green beats
Seat 3: Katsuhiro Mori - Black/Blue/Red Control
Seat 4: Tsuyoshi Fujita - White/Green/Red Good Stuff
Seat 5: Tomoharu Saito - B/G Aurochs
Seat 6: Ryosuke Masano - Mono-Green aggro
Seat 7: Masashi Oiso - White/Green Aggro
Seat 8: Shuuhei Nakamura - White/Red Weenie
At table one, Julien Nuitjen is in a virtual lock for Top Eight contention. How do you define degeneracy? I don't have the exact answer, but if I had to wager a guess, eight copies of Sound the Call, four Chill to the Bones, four Aurochs Herds, four Surging Mights, and a Thrumming Stone comes pretty close.
Sunday, Aug. 20: 5:24 p.m. - Round 12: Masashiro Kuroda vs. Ichirou Shimura
Fresh off the final draft of the swiss, these two competitors were primed and ready for action. Coming into this round at 3rd and 4th place in the standings, a win here would all but lock up a top 8 berth. The loser of this round would be forced to scramble mightily to earn a coveted slot in the top 8. Far better to win this round and relax for the next couple of hours, these two would agree. Ichirou came packing a highly aggressive Blue/Black deck, sporting triple Rimewind Taskmage, Heidar, Void Maw and an astonishing six Zombies Musher. Masashiro's deck was less defined than Shimura's, but still quite powerful. Four Rimewind Taskmage and three Squall Drifters were there to keep a lid on the action until a Herald of Leshrac or Rimefeather Owl played the role of the finisher.
Game 1: Ichirou sent Rimebound Dead into Masashiro's Squall Drifter, sneakily without snow mana, but Masashiro didn't bite. A Snow-Covered Island and Rimewind Taskmage followed up for Ichirou, and Tap Wars was on. Both players continued to play threats and utility for the next few turns. There were Boreal Griffin and Ronom Serpent for Masashiro, multiple Zombie Mushers for Ichirou. Players were tapping and untapping each others' permanents like crazy; each end step was literally an exercise. The advantage started slowly moving towards Ichirou; his creatures cost less than Masashiro's so he was able to continue to play things while having mana left over for activations.
Masashiro, by contrast, took big hits every time he cast a creature that cost more than four mana. His first Ronom Serpent cost him multiple life points. The second Serpent and Rimefeather Owl were completely stranded. Ichirou continued to play smaller creatures that didn't inhibit his overall game plan, and soon enough his damage dealing became lethal.
These get better in multiples
Kuroda decided the Ronom Serpents were far too slow against a deck that consisted mostly of tappers and regenerators. Out went the two Serpents and in went two Disciple of Tevesh Szat. Ichirou reflected on switching in a pair of Krovikan Mist, but decided to keep together the deck that worked so well for him in game 1.
Kuroda: "Good luck (Gambatte)"
Shimura: "Thank you, but you really should be concerned with your own chances in this match (Hai)"
Game 2: Down a game, Masashiro Kuroda played first and kept his initial seven. An early Rimewind Taskmage and Squall Drifter looked strong, until Masashiro had to pass with the same two lands. Ichirou's deck was designed to take advantage of a stumbling start, with a fourth, fifth, and sixth turn Zombie Musher. Masashiro worked his way up to four mana, but was still short a second Blue for either of the two Frozen Solid stuck in his hand. Masashiro did eventually find a second Blue source, shortly after Heidar, Rimewind Master became active. Next turn Ichirou emptied his hand with Stromgald Crusader, Rimewind Taskmage, and a Rimebound Dead. Masashiro could only stare at the army in front of him and offer the hand.
Sunday, Aug. 20: 6:06 p.m. - Round 13: Masashi Oiso vs. Shuuhei Nakamura
Friends and well-wishers looked on as two of the world's finest faced off. The two swapped war stories from the day after sitting down. If you weren't aware of the circumstances, the match would seem like any casual throwdown at Friday Night Magic. But at stake was a Grand Prix Top Eight berth, provided a draw in the final round. At Pro Tour Charleston, Oiso finished in 18th place, Nakamura 20th. A win today would catapult either player into a strong showing in the Player of the Year race.
Nakamura won the die roll and went first. Both players kept their hands. Shuuhei's Kjeldoran Outrider and Phyrexian Ironfoot failed to get the early licks in, thanks to a pair of Squall Drifters. Shuuhei made a Boreal Centaur, but it got smacked down by Stalking Yeti. Oiso was ahead with two active attackers to Nakamura's zero.
The tension spiked as Oiso played the first of his many Surging Sentinels. Nakamura cheered at Oiso's good fortune as he failed to find any friends. But another Sentinel on the following turn brought out five more. Nakamura's good cheer vanished. A Kjeldoran War Cry on the following turn sealed the match.
Oiso 1-0 Nakamura
Nakamura went first and took a mulligan. He made a Boreal Centaur on turn two, but lacked the snow mana to enhance it. Oiso's third turn Surging Sentinels found three convivial spirits. Oiso sent the four braves towards Nakamura, and the Centaur took down a soldier thanks to a Swift Maneuver.
Both players took a few turns to fortify their positions and summon reinforcements. Oiso made a Boreal Griffin and knocked Nakamura down to 7 life. However, Shuuhei found a Griffin of his own and passed his turn, ready to make a last stand.
Nakamura's side had an Ursine Fylgja, a 3/4 Juniper Order Druid, and a 4/3 Boreal Griffin with one plains open and two cards in hand. Oiso had three Surging Sentinels, a Thermopod, a 3/2 Boreal Griffin, seven mana (two snow), and four cards in hand. He pumped his fist and crashed his army into Shuuhei's. A Kjeldoran War Cry brought Oiso the win.
Masashi Oiso defeats Shuuhei Nakamura 2-0