Saturday, November 5: 11:07 am - Welcome to Kitakyushu
Welcome to Grand Prix Kitakyushu
Hello from the floor of Grand Prix Kitakyushu! Alex here--I'm usually on the MTG flavor text team (hint: look for the stop-short-of-killing-you puns. "It grows to hate you," mine. "Man's best fungus," wish it was mine.)--filling in for the usual coverage staff as everyone's busy this weekend with no fewer than THREE concurrent GPs: ours here, one in Melbourne, Australia, and one in Copenhagen, Denmark. The dust hasn't even settled from PTLA, and some of the key Japanese players from there (including Top 8ers Kenji Tsumura, Tsuyoshi Fujita, and Ryuichi Arita) are here this morning, so all eyes are on their decks to see what this last week has meant in terms of the Extended metagame.
But first, to answer the question that's surely on everyone's mind right now:
Where in the world is Kitakyushu?
Kitakyushu (lit. "North Kyushu") is the appropriately named northernmost city on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands. While it may lack the immediate recognition of our other two GP host cities this weekend, and even seems a bit exotic (read: rural) to the sophisticated Tokyoites and Osakans, historically speaking, Kyushu is where it's at.
Going way, way back, and a little further south from here in Miyazaki Prefecture we find the "Highland of the Gods," where it's said that Japan's first couple, the gods Izanagi and Izanami, drove a staff into the primordial muck (ahem) and let the mud drip off the end into the ocean, where it congealed to form the islands of Japan.
Jump forward a few thousand years (records are understandably a little sketchy around this time, but we're probably talking 400 B.C. or so) and you'll find the court of the shaman-queen Himiko open for business in Kyushu. In her day, Himiko ran the first centralized government, greeted emissaries from China, and set a precedent for leaders claiming divine origin which was later picked up by the first emperors of Japan and continued right up to the end of World War II.
Paying homage to the gods seems to have paid off big-time for the local residents and Japan, for in medieval times it was near here that two separate Mongol invasions were stymied by unexpected typhoons that came shooting up the Sea of Japan teaching the Mongols that flat-bottom boats + horses + men in armor + lots of wind = a bad thing. These "divine winds" saved Japan twice then, and were again the last hope for an embattled Japan near the end of the Pacific War . . . except then the term referred to a fighter pilot who (once he ran out of ammo and fuel) was trained to ram his plane into enemy ships. You may know the Japanese word for "divine wind": kamikaze.
And . . . they've just given the call for the start of round one so it's time to walk the floor and see what's out there. When we return: Kyushu and the fight for modern Japan, some Kitakyushu local flavor, and an interview with visiting artist Wayne Reynolds.
Saturday, November 5: 12:29 p.m. - Friday Last Chance Trial Winner Decks
Last Chance Trial #1 Winner - Yuuya Kakuno
Boros Deck Wins
Last Chance Trial #2 Winner - Yoshihiko Igawa
You Can Do It !
Last Chance Trial #3 Winner - Kentaro Nonaka
Saturday, November 5: 3:00 p.m. - Battle of the Strongmen
Chikara Nakajima does a little magic
I know I promised more on Kitakyushu, but before we get to that, I had a chance to check out one the feature matches in round three -- a quick, bloody battle between two players that were both at PTLA last weekend, both running decks that stayed out of the spotlight at the Pro Tour yet still command a following here in Japan: Tsuyoshi Iwai running a UBW Reanimator deck with Akroma, Angel of Wrath for the kill and Chikara Nakajima with his GR beatdown.
Iwai (whose first name, Tsuyoshi, means "strong") got off to a blistering start in Game 1 with a Chrome Mox and Underground River fueling two careful studies that put two fat Akroma, Angel of Wraths in his graveyard, following it up the next round with a cabal therapy for Nakajima's (whose first name Chikara, also means "strong") Troll Ascetic, leaving him with a lone Llanowar Elves in play and a Flametongue Kavu and three lands in hand. Iwai appeared the stronger of two strongmen with a Life/Death'd angel staring down the lone elf on the other side of the board, but Nakajima staged a comeback, laying down a Grim Lavamancer, a Pyrostatic Pillar, and a Wild Mongrel. Two pings, and a swing from the Mongrel on top of the life loss from the Life/Death were enough to put Iwai under.
Iwai Tsuyoshi, the Reanimator
Nakajima had plenty to worry about in the second game as he stared, once again, at two Akroma, Angel of Wraths in Iwai's graveyard right off the bat--and Nakajima lacking the black mana to pull off his sideboard tech: Cabal Therapy. Iwai built up his mana base quickly with Chrome Mox while Nakajima set down a Pyrostatic Pillar, but it was too late. On turn three necromancer Nakajima went to work, stitching together an angel. A turn later, Nakajima got his black mana and treated his opponent to a Cabal Therapy session before deciding he couldn't win, leaving the score at 1/1.
Either way, Boros Deck Wins
The deciding match showed off the unstoppable power of the reanimator, as Akroma, Angel of Wrath came barreling at Nakajima on the heels of a Life/Death. Nakajima countered, swinging with his Wild Mongrel and ditching his hand of five cards to the beast when the angel deigned to block it. Yet a turn later, the angel was reborn on another Life/Death and the spent master of the Mongrel was forced to concede.
Final results: Iwai 2 - Nakajima 1
Incidentally, on the other side of the feature match table, Asami Kataoka (Resident Genius Fujita's main squeeze) and Shougo Yuda were facing off with fairly similar builds of Boros Deck Wins, but Asami had the upper hand, dusting her opponent off 2-0.
Saturday, November 5: 6:37 p.m. - Wayne Reynolds does Japan
Artist Wayne Reynolds
A 14-year old Japanese fan of Wayne Reynold's work walks away from the signing booth, arms raised to the sky in a victory pose.
"I did it!"
Moments later, another fan--a man in his thirties--joins the cheer. In his hands he clutches a signed print of Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni -- one of the only rodent ninja I know whom I wouldn't kick out of the bed for eating cookies.
I sat down with Wayne for a few moments this afternoon, had a talk with the talented artist and gentlemen from Leeds, Yorkshire in the U.K., and helped him field some questions from the fans who came to get cards signed.
Wayne on signing for the fans...
"I absolutely love it. It's great having a chance to show off the originals, sell a few, meet the fans. Of course here we have a language barrier, but often I find it really doesn't matter. In the end it's about the art, and that's universal. I get a lot of repeaters. Some people come back two or three times in the day, buy another print, get a few more cards signed. I did a sketch in one fellow's book, and he came back a few minutes later with colored pencils, and since there isn't a line, I said 'sure' and colored in the sketch! (He gave me a present, too: a beautiful Japanese doll!) One odd thing though, here in the land of the bow, everyone wants to shake my hand. I don't think they're used to it because the handshakes tend to be pretty weak, not the firm shake you expect. Something to work on!"
On being in Japan...
"This is my first time here, and it's odd, because I've done a lot of work (three books' worth) on historical drawings of medieval things Japanese: armor, castles, etc. so I know these things in incredibly fine detail, so when I came here I'm thinking 'I know this' but then I see the real thing--like a castle wall or the slanting roofs, for instance--and it blows me away. It's fabulous."
An attractive girl comes up with a notebook to ask if Wayne could draw a picture of her . . .
"Sure, no problem!"
Wayne Reynolds, making peoples' days.
A guy comes up and asks Wayne to sketch a picture of a beautiful Japanese woman for him . . .
"You want to buy something? Don't do sketches for free you know." (He winks at me, and the fan gladly buys a copy of Ink-Eyes and receives a startlingly gorgeous sketch for his trouble)
A guy comes up with a stack of cards and asks how many Wayne can sign . . .
Before I left, another fan had come to the table with the card Doubling Season. Wayne signed it and went to hand it back when he had a thought. He took the card again and signed it once more.
"There you go, double."
Saturday, November 5: 7:01 p.m. - If this is your first night in Kyushu Club, you have to fight
The local castle, right here in Kitakyushu
If you're in the mood for a battle, Kyushu is the place to come. Well, it was the place to come. Two of the most pivotal battles in Japanese history took place a short distance away from the tournament venue. The first, in 1185 was the battle of Dan-no-ura, just north of here, in which the decades-long battle between two powerful clans, the Taira and Minamoto, was settled with a sea battle between ships. The story has it that when the Taira were defeated, the Taira emperor's wetnurse (he was a child of five at the time) grabbed hold of him and plunged into the deep, swift-flowing water of the straits, so that the enemy would not have the satisfaction of killing him themselves.
Much, much later, in 1877 the battle for modern Japan was fought here in Kyushu between reformers seeking to Westernize Japan's government and the old guard, who wanted the samurai ruling class to retain their traditional role as feudal lords. The old guard in Kyushu was led by one Saigo Takamori (1827-1877) who is revered as a hero these days, even though the lack of samurai these days should clue you in as to who lost that particular skirmish. Roundly defeated, Saigo retreated to his castle in southern Kyushu and committed ritual suicide.
Check here tomorrow for a look at some of the local delicacies! And now we return to our regularly scheduled programming . . .
Saturday, November 5: 9:20 p.m. - Chucking the Loam
Mihara: I'm going to throw land at your head
I saw a great feature match in the sixth round between Osamu Fujita, playing a fairly straightforward rendition of Raphael Levy's PTLA Dark Confidant deck and Makihito Mihara playing a Life from the Loam meets Seismic Assault deck.
The first game was pure Necropotence good. . . oh wait, I mean Dark Confidant goodness. Fujita comes out of the gate with a Chrome Mox and Llanowar Wastes blazing for a first turn Confidant. By turn three, all Mihara has out is two lands in play, and two cycled Barren Moors in the graveyard facing Fujita's Confidant and a Call of the Herd token which swing across the open table, accompanied by a barrage of discard: two Cabal Therapys and a flashback off of some hapless Birds of Paradise later, and Mihara loses Seismic Assault and his Burning Wish to the graveyard. Fujita takes the first game.
Fujita 1, Mihara 0
Though he got Dark Confidant on turn one as before, Game 2 didn't go as well for Fujita. Mihara started off with steady mana, using birds and fetchlands to get the red mana he needed for Seismic Assault. Despite Fujita Duressing his Burning Wish and a Withered Wretch gobbling up his graveyard, Mihara managed to feed the Seismic Assault with Life from the Loam, taking out the Wretch and then lobbing a hunk of lands at Fujita's head for the win.
Fujita 1, Mihara 1
Fujita: I can't believe he threw that land at my head
The final game in the match started out ominously for Fujita with a mulligan, though he almost cracked a smile when he saw his six cards: 2 Dark Confidant, a Cabal Therapy, a Nightmare Void, Swamp, and Wooded Foothills. Fueled by a second Confidant on turn three, he proceeded to rip holes in Mihara's hand with a lucky Cabal Therapy scoring 2 Seismic Assaults, flashing it back with the newly arrived Confidant to nab Mihara's Burning Wish. Meanwhile, Mihara quietly cycles land after land, gaining a new lease on Life from the Loam on turn two and again on turn three, keeping ahead of the hand destruction. Fujita keeps the pressure on, swinging with his remaining Confidant and casting a Hypnotic Specter. Things look bad for Mihara--until he Burning Wishes for a Pyroclasm, wiping the black nasties off the board and gives Fujita a taste of his own medicine with a Duress for Nightmare Void. Fujita replaces his Hypnotic Specter, but it's too late. Mihara shrugs off the hyppie, as he cycles twice, fetches, and Life from the Loams twice more. The next turn he summons an Eternal Witness, rescuing a discarded Assault with a whole hand of lands to feed it. The game and match goes to Mihara and his Loam engine seismic beats.
Fujita 1, Mihara 2