Sunday, January 9: 9:33 am - The Dial Goes to 15?
The Styling Valkyries
Friday night's dinner was Korean Barbecue, which apparently stay open until whenever, but Saturday we switched it up and went with Pub food. Peppered pork, tuna and beef tartar, salad with corn flake croutons, random pickled stuff - one of the nice parts about Japanese pub food is the variety of textures and tastes you get to sample in just one sitting. Anyway, the point of this story (if there is one) is not the food, but the beverages! Last time I was in Japan, Ron Foster introduced me to wonderful sake. Sake is the only wine I've seen that comes with a rating scale that defines how dry the taste is, and the higher the number, the more Saharan the sake. At Yoko, I discovered that like a deodorant commercial, drier equals better. When we were perusing the menu, Ron exclaimed "Oh my God. 15! I didn't know they made a fifteen. We have to try this!" So we did - many times - and it was glorious. The taste was like the memory of a sweet kiss you had a couple of hours ago. Oh, and the best part about enjoying an evening of dinner and sake? No hangover in the morning.
Guess which one is Eli
The picture that you see here is Tokyo female team The Valkyries, who didn't make Day 2, but who did make the best fashion statement of the tournament. I didn't talk about it much in Chicago because Kate Stavola threatened to do me grievous bodily harm if I played it up, but there were two teams featuring women that finished in the money there. Kate's team DoomBot finished in 9th place, and He's Not Our Dad, a team made up of edt, Star Wars Kid (Chris McDaniel), and Alana Burman ended Sunday in 7th. Going into today's action, Ai Shimoji's team Triple Mulligan was leading the standings, meaning there's a good chance that she and her team will at least make money, and possibly finish in the Top 4. This lends itself to the observation that not only are girls playing Magic, but they are also winning, and taking home a lot of money in the process. I hope this trend continues, because if it does, Friday Night Magic will be the destination of dates everywhere, women will be winning Pro Tours, and the world as we know it will be a much better place. Seriously guys - teach your wife or your girlfriend the game - it's quite possible that she's better than you.
Olivier Ruel's team MisoSoup crashed out of the competition yesterday on the back of some severe mana screw, but Eli Kaplan, an American teaching English here in Japan, has now made back-to-back Day 2s here at Japanese Grand Prix. All of this is swell for Eli, but it means I'm flying solo again this weekend because when Eli isn't playing, he usually helps out with the English coverage of Japanese events. Olivier Ruel gets to play side events today, Eli Kaplan is competing for the Top 4... the world really is a strange place.
Sunday, January 9: 12:45 pm - Draft and Feature Match Round 9: www.shopfireball-pros.com vs. Triple Mulligan
Seat A: Itaru Ishida vs. Ai Shimoji
Seat B: Tsuyoshi Ikeda vs. Ryuichi Arita
Seat C: Jin Okamoto vs. Takashi Akiyama
Easy on the Ai's
Itaru Ishida is widely regarded as a Team Limited genius, and he has two Team Masters finals and a second place finish at Pro Tour: Seattle to back up that perception. Under his direction his team, the latest version of shopfireball.com, has been known to run circles around opponents at the Rochester draft tables, and they'll need to if he's going to guide them to another Premiere event Top 4 finish. Across the table from him sits the lovely Ai Shimoji, girlfriend of Pro Tour Seattle and Columbus Top 8 member Ryuichi Arita. When Arita found out that one of his teammates from Seattle needed to work this weekend, he and Ichiro Shimura chose to split for this event, allowing Arita to play with Ai and Yokohama Top 8 member Takashi Akiyama.
During the first draft this morning, one of the heads of Takara, the new distributor of Magic in Japan, watched a Team Rochester draft and noted that the players doing that must be geniuses because to the layman it looks like actual chaos. As a point of fact, his statement is often correct (top-level Magic players tend to be hyper-smart), but this draft proved even more confusing than normal, as Ishida set his team up in such a way as to exploit every matchup advantage possible. This meant putting Ikeda in black/red to counter Arita's blue/white deck, Okamota right next to him in black/white to deal with Akiyama's green/red deck, and himself into a three-color special of blue/green/red to try and shut down Shimoji's quick army of two-drop beaters. For those of you playing the home game, that's three black drafters in a row, with Shimoji at the tail end of that set picking up the dregs. It also helped shopfireball that they seriously outopened Triple Mulligan, picking up Nezumi Cutthroats and removal like it was going out of style and matching those with legendary bombs like Keiga, the Tide Star.
Talking to the players while they were building their decks, Ishida wasn't particularly confident that his team would win, though he did feel that he had created some strong matchups for them. Arita felt that a lot of the match was riding on the results of the B seat - if he could find Ghostly Prison and Honden of Cleansing Fire early, he could probably prevail over Ikeda's swift black/red creation, but if not... things would probably go poorly for Mulligan.
Turn 1 Hankyu was exactly what Ishida needed to shut down Shimoji's deck full of Lilliputians, especially when Floating-Dream Zubera appeared on time to give him a way to generate counters on the bow. Ai started off exactly as expected with a turn 2 Nezumi Cutthroat and Humble Budoka, as Ishida sat there with nothing but Islands on the table, waiting to draw a Forest in order to prevent him from earning an early loss to color-screw. Mystic Restraints on a new Cursed Ronin bought him some time, and the next turn finally gave him the Forest he was looking for, letting him cast Kodama's Reach to fetch two Mountains. Earthshaker from Ishida seemed like a very strong play against Shimoji's team of two-butted men. The next turn, Ishida cast Kodama's Reach, setting off Earthshaker once, and then laid his ninth land and cast his freshly drawn Keiga, the Tide Star, forcing Shimoji to use Kodama's Might on Scuttling Death (sporting the oh-so-stylish Tenza) to keep a creature on the board.
About this time, Ryuichi reported that he had won his first game in seat B, while Akiyama dropped game 1 against Okamoto down in seat C
A very confident Ishida
Earthshaker traded with Scuttles, Wicked Akuba took down a blocking Keiga with help from Strength of Cedars, but Ishida made like Steinbrenner and offered him a raise in pay to come work for his side. Ai forgot that she still controlled Tenza (it was currently equipping Ishida's Akuba), forcing her to take a couple of extra points of damage in the next two of turns before Ishida officially ended things by casting Soratami Savant with twelve land on the table, ensuring that Ai would never be able to cast anything ever again.
Or at least not until game 2.
Ishida 1 - Shimoji 0
Game 2 started off well for Shimoji with turn 2 Kiku and turn 3 Nezumi Cutthroat, but quickly went downhill when both of her teammates lost their matches. This left game 2 here irrelevant, though Ishida was once again able to accelerate into fat and shut down the weenie machine (via Earthshaker and Keiga), giving shopfireballplus.com a clean sweep and pushing them one step closer to the elimination rounds.
www.shopfireballplus 3 - Triple Mulligan 0
Sunday, January 9: 5:50 pm - www.shopfireball-pros.com vs. Asayan
Seat A: Itaru Ishida vs. Takuya Osawa
The winner of this match gets to draft again for thousands of dollars in prizes, the loser is probably going to be sent home with 5th place money, so there's a lot riding on the outcome here. Of course, if there were ever a match that looked absolutely unwinnable after the draft, it's this one. Asayan got outopened and outdrafted by Ishida. When all the cards were drafted, Fireball ended up with Kumano, Yosei, Meloku, Horobi, and Sosuke in their decks. As Ryo Ogura put it, "Hey, I've got Kumano's Pupils!" Then again, I've seen situations like this before, and there's always a chance that things could go horribly wrong for the Fireball players. Since it's now Sunday in the U.S., it seems appropriate to quote Chris Berman here and say, "That's the reason why the play the games..."
The green on green match planted itself directly in the mud from the start with small hordes of stationary creatures on both sides making no moves toward the red zone, save the glacial clock of Ishida's Jukai Messenger. If that continued as the only source of damage, this game would probably finish some time on Tuesday. Not that the players were playing slow - there were simply no openings to exploit and push through damage without exposing yourself for a nasty counterattack. Meanwhile Ogura went up a game in the B seat, and Okamoto used Yosei to bash Takakuwa into submission in the C seat, making it one game a piece for each team.
Tatsumasa, the Dragon' Fang's appearance on Osawa's side of the board earned a raise of the eyebrow from Ishida, as he now had to worry about unremovable flying beats the next turn, a race he would surely lose. Lucky for him, his deck provided a spicy and immediate answer in the form of Devouring Rage, which combined with four sacrificial spirits and the faithful Messenger to deliver a fatal end to Osawa's hopes in game 1.
Total damage delivered via Messenger service in game 1: 23.
Ishida 1 - Osawa 0
Game 2 was more of the same, except the rest of Ishida's deck came out to play this time, with Thief of Hope and a couple of removal spells making life even worse for Osawa. Tatsumasa made a return engagement, but Wear Away made sure it didn't go active. Osawa actually delivered some beats this game with Kashi-Tribe Reaver, but Ishida's deck provided every answer he needed and Osawa succumbed to the spiritcraft army with Ishida still at a robust fourteen life.
Total damage delivered via Messenger service in match: 30.
Ishida's win put his team up a match, but Ogura immediately evened things by roughing up Ikeda in Seat B. That left everything riding on Okamoto and Takakuwa down in Seat C. The two blue/white decks were involved in a thorough stalemate with Ragin' Kaijins, Moths, and samurai seemingly everywhere. Game 2 ended when Okamoto went all-in with an attack that failed to kill Takakuwa, and Takakuwa was able to swing back, capping Okamoto with Devouring Rage on a Mothrider Samurai.
Okamoto 1 - Takakuwa 1
Okamoto's deck looked ready to take down game 3 quickly, as he curved out with Kami of Ancient Law and Kitsune Blademaster on turns 2 and 3 before slowing a bit by playing River Kaijin and a Devoted Retainer on turn 4. Takakuwa was having problems finding creatures he could cast, messing around with Sensei's Divining Top for the first three turns before finally tossing down Mothrider Samurai on turn 4 and a Kami of the Painted Road for turn 5. Using bounce and superior numbers, Okamoto kept pushing through damage, Takakuwa was at a lowly three when time ran out, but finally looked like he had stabilized the board. That's exactly what happened, as Okamoto couldn't push through quite enough damage to finish him off during the extra turns, especially when Takakuwa had enough creatures to possibly kill him with another Devouring Rage on the counter attack. The draw left Asayan feeling like they kissed their sisters, since the rest of the results from the round put them in fifth place in the final standings, two points short of making it to the semifinals.
Match Result: Draw