Saturday, August 6: 11:36 am - Trial by Typhoon
Magic players are not going to let something as trivial as a typhoon get in the way when there are tournaments to be played. While Friday's side event schedule was impaired by the typhoon - the booster draft product did not arrive due to the storm - the four Trials proceeded without incident.
While most of the competitors were bye-hungry competitors there were more than a couple of Pros swimming toward the smell of chum on the water. Katsuhiro Mori reached the finals of one Trial and the semi-finals of another. Former Grand Prix Singapore Champion Sam Lau announced his return to the competitive scene with a victory in the first event on the weekend defeating the Niigata-winning Mori in the process.
Interestingly, Mori seemed to be using the Trials as his own personal dressing room trying different decks on for size. He played the fashion-conscious blue-green Godo in one event and then Black Hand in the next. Check back in around round four and we'll see which one he ended up purchasing and whether or not he had any buyer's remorse.
Winner - Grand Prix Trial 1
Finalist - Grand Prix Trial 1
The second trial actually prompted a rare, "What is that card?" out of me as I watched the final match between Jong-Yi Ho and Ji-Hoon Lee. Jong-Yi was not satisfied with only Hokori against the Gifts players and sided in the Kismet-like Orb of Dreams. He got both rares out in the final game and the Ji-Hoon could not extricate himself before being beaten down by Hounds and flying Kamis. It wasn't until after the match that I realized the second place deck was actually a rogue three color Honden deck that had considerable overlap with the popular Gifts archetype.
Winner - Grand Prix Trial 2
Finalist - Grand Prix Trial 2
The third Trial saw Godo rear his head again this time taking down the three byes for Chih-Hsiang Chang. His opponent, Sukhum Kiwadnt was playing Gifts Ungiven. Sakura-Tribe Scout was chugging away yesterday and seems likely to pop up again today as many different players from different playgroups were sporting variations on the Godo deck which has apparently been very popular on MTGO and seems to owe a debt to Yun Suhan's Top 8 deck from Niigata.
Winner - Grand Prix Trial 3
Finalist - Grand Prix Trial 3
Blue-green Godo made its third finals appearance in the last Trial on Friday and took down three byes for the second time. It faced off against another increasingly popular deck that could make a splash this weekend - mono-blue. Mono-blue with the exception of a lone Shizo, Death's Storehouse. With no way to use its ability the legendary land has become a staple as a "strip mine" against decks looking to fear up an Ink-Eyes.
Winner - Grand Prix Trial 4
Finalist - Grand Prix Trial 4
Saturday, August 6: 1:51 pm - This coverage brought to you by the letter "T"
Green Tea, represent!
…as in green tea. I usually feed my caffeine monkey with a never-ending supply of Diet Mountain Dew for coverage gigs. It is hard enough to find Diet Coke - or Coke Light, as it known in this part of the world - much less the greenish-yellow liquid pick-me-up. Fortunately I am able to keep my head from hitting the keyboard with bottle after bottle of green tea.
My snack regimen for this event also features dried mango and hot wasabi peas. I am a happy and well caffeinated camper! I also had the good fortune to dine at Di Tai Feng yesterday afternoon, which has been hailed as one of the ten best restaurants in the world by the New York Times. Di Tai Feng is a dim sum place, a restaurant that specializes in dumplings and small plates of food - call it Chinese tapas.
The food was great and certainly lived up to its billing. And despite the hype - busload after busload of Japanese tourists kept streaming through the doors -- it was shockingly affordable. Four of us dined heartily on bamboo steamer try upon steamer tray of all manner of dumplings and buns not to mention sesame noodles, pork ribs, and Taiwan Beer. The meal came out to less than $10USD per person and none of us could even imagine eating more than a couple of bites when dinner rolled around several hours later.
Saturday, August 6: 2:22 pm - Kuroda levels the playing field
Masashiro Kuroda is known for two things; winning almost every event he deigns to play in and not playing in events outside of Japan. It was pretty startling when the PT Kobe Champion came to the US for the Invitational earlier this year. It was even more startling when I saw him practicing this morning. It seems like the Player's Club has gotten the attention of Mr. Kuroda.
Kuroda picked up one Pro Point in Niigata two weeks back which leaves him within three points of reaching Level 3 status for next year. If he does not pick up those three points this weekend - which would require a Top 8 or better - drastic measures may be taken.
"I might go to Los Angeles. I need those three points," Kuroda laughed. Kuroda is easily one of the nicest guys you can ever hope to meet on the Pro Tour and is a great ambassador for the game. I would love to see him try his hand at an American Pro Tour - something he has never done. As hard as it is to imagine, I might actually be rooting against Kuroda this weekend just so he makes an appearance in LA come this October.
Saturday, August 6: 4:07 pm - Round Four Feature Match: Masashi Oiso vs. Tomohiro Kaji
I figured I would get the obligatory Godo Gifts mirror match out of the way as quickly as possible. To make it painless I chose to watch Tomohiro Kaji and Masashi Oiso - two of the crispest, cleanest players I have watched in years. I knew I could count on these two pros to make all of their decisions as quickly and correctly as possible.
The two friends laughed as the rolled for choice. Oiso rolled snake eyes and Kaji only needed one die to beat him. Both players went back to the well - Oiso didn't even wait to see if Kaji was going to mulligan more than once. Of course, Kaji sent the next six right back - there was not even a single land to tempt him to keep it.
Kaji's five-carder featured three forests and a couple of off-color legends. Oiso, who had kept his six card hand, led off with Sensei's Diving Top on the draw. Kaji drew into Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama's Reach over his next two turns and was soon had mana for both the Meloku and Kagemaro. Oiso's top was spinning the whole time and he began to craft his plan for the game.
Kaji played Meloku and made a token but seemed less than confidant when Oiso tapped out for the eponymous Gifts Ungiven at the end of his turn. Oiso painstakingly lined his selections up face down. Finally he flipped over Myojin of Night's Reach, Kodama's Reach, Death Denied, and Kagemaro, First to Suffer. Kaji handed the two legends to his friend and put the two arcane spells in the bin.
Oiso hand was shredded on the next turn by Kaji's channeled Ghost-Lit Stalker. Oiso flipped his Top and buried it to keep two cards in hand. He lost two Kagemaro, Soulless Revival and the Myojin but he crushed Kaji's hope when he untapped to play Hana Kami. The spirit could be parlayed into every creature fitfully resting in the graveyard.
Kaji's meager air force swung in for three more points of damage. He played Kagemaro to keep the opposition copy from hitting play. He also played out his second to last card to minimize the damage from the Myojin that was sure to hit play next turn. Oiso traded in his Hana Kami for a fistful of creatures and untapped to play the Myojin.
Kaji lost his hand - and his Kagemaro - during his draw step. After a moment of reflection he acknowledged the inevitability that he had lost the game as well and they both went to their sideboards. Kaji quickly reached for his Godos and the various and sundry weapons that accompany the bandit legend - presumably Oiso did the same.
Both players developed their mana with the requisite acceleration tools over the first few turns of the game. Oiso played a Ghost-Lit Stalker on turn three with enough mana to put it to work the following turn. Kaji quickly killed it with Sickening Shoal on his next mainphase. Oiso followed up with Godo and fetched Dragon's Fang.
Kaji looked for answers with Gifts Ungiven and asked Oiso to choose the form of the destroyer. He offered Godo, Goryo's Vengeance, Soulless Revival, and Hero's Demise. Oiso gave him Godo and Soulless Revival.
Oiso attacked twice with his unequipped Godo and passed the turn back to Kaji with seven mana open. The two Godos and two Dragon's Fangs traded on Kaji's turn. Kaji followed up with his own Ghost-Lit Stalker and shook his head as Oiso tapped four mana for Gifts. Hana Kami and Soulless Revival went into Oiso's hand while Death Denied and Goryo's Vengeance went binward.
Oiso also smoked the Stalker with a Sickening Shoal and untapped to play a commanding Hana Kami alongside Kokushu. All Kaji could come back with was Honden of Seeing Winds. Oiso sent in his dragon and spirit into the red zone. Oiso unmasked his spirit to reveal Ink-Eyes and tried to steal Godo from Kaji's yard. He would have gotten away with it too if not for that meddling Soulless Revival.
The announcement came at this point that there were only ten minutes left in the round.
Kaji sighed and looked at his hand, the board, and the Hana Kami and could find no good solutions. He extended his hand and Oiso was off to a quick 4-0 start.
Saturday, August 6: 4:53 pm - What is green and blue and red for Godo?
One of the more successful decks during yesterday's Trials was a green-blue concoction that touched red for Godo. Sakura-Tribe Scouts turbo-charge the mana acceleration available in this format to allow for turn three Kodama of the North Tree or Meloku, the Clouded Mirror. The deck also features an array of countermagic that can give the Gifts player fits - in a perfect world anyway. Hisoka's Defiance on a turn three Kodama's Reach or Minamo's Meddling on anything spliced can often be devastating and Hinder puts pesky creatures on the bottom of the library where they cannot be returned from the dead.
What is very interesting about the deck is how many different groups of players seem to have arrived at the same conclusion to play the deck after a strictly blue-green version of the deck dominated several large MTGO events. For many of the Japanese players it has been around for awhile. Tomoharu Saito and Tomohiro Kaji built the deck in the days leading up to Grand Prix Niigata and Saito piloted it to a respectable Top 32 finish.
Saito was playing the deck again this weekend. His fourth round went off without a hitch but in round five he ran afoul of a local Gifts player, Tzu-Ching Kuo. Had he a second turn Island instead of yet another Forest things might have played out differently in Game 3 as he would have been able to counter Kuo's Kodama's Reach.
I asked Saito about all the copies of the deck that were floating around the room today and he was quick to point out that they were not exactly the same. "They look like the same deck but there are key differences." Those differences won't be apparent today as we won't publish any decklists from the main event until tomorrow.
The match-up against Gifts Ungiven is by no means a slam dunk - as evidenced by his loss in round five. "I think I have the upper hand in that match-up but it is not a big advantage," explained Saito through interpreter Ron Foster. "I like the deck because it does not have a lot of draws. It either wins or loses and it doesn't stall out. I know the deck and the match-ups and I feel comfortable with it."
The deck's - which Saito said is called 'Tatsumasa' - advantage over Gifts come when Godo is equipped with the legendary equipment. The deck's worst match-up may be against the Ogre Marauder decks running Sink Into Takenuma. "If they sink…I scoop," frowned Saito.
The deck is certainly going to be one of the stories we will continue to focus on as the day progresses. I will try and do a quick deck breakdown during the sixth round and see just how prevalent this fairly new archetype actually is.
Saturday, August 6: 5:36 pm - Round Six Feature Match: Oliver Oks vs. Tai Chi Huang
Oliver Oks is an Australian player who lives in Japan teaching English. He has been taken under the wing of the Japanese Magic community and they have turned him into a solid player with a pipeline into the high-octane Japanese tech. One would think this pipeline was how Oliver came to play a Blue-Green Godo build this weekend but it was not the case.
Oliver had been playing a blue-green deck for the past few weeks and two days ago independently stumbled onto the addition of red to support the bandit lord and some legendary equipment. Despite the separate development processes Oliver was surprised to discover "that out decks are like two cards apart."
Oks found himself sitting down in the feature match area with a 5-0 record and a local opponent - Tai Chi Huang - who was playing White Weenie. In the first game Tai Chi showed off the power of Manriki-Gusari when he was able to trade his weenies for monstrous Kodama of the North Tree thanks to two copies of the equipment that he was able to move back and forth between his Lantern Kami and his ground troops.
Oliver found himself at a precariously low life total but if at any point he found a Meloku, he would likely win the game. It was not to be though as a third copy of Manriki-Gusari robbed Oliver of one more card from the top of his deck when he was at four.
In Game 2 Oliver got caught with his pants down by Hokori, Dust Drinker. He allowed his Sakura-Tribe Elders stick around one turn too long and as a result spent the rest of the game with his mana tapped down and both Meloku and Kodama stranded in his hand. When he finally played Meloku a few turns later a Shining Shoal killed the legend and dropped Oliver to 5-1. It also dropped the new deck archetype to 0-2 in the feature match area against two of the formats established builds - Gifts and White Weenie.
Tai Chi apologized for his wins with the deck that has been so dominant on the PTQ scene, "White Weenie is such a stupid deck."
Saturday, August 6: 7:09 pm - Day One Deck Breakdown
I was curious to see how many players were running the Blue-green Godo deck and was surprised to see that it did make up a significant portion of the field. A quick tally turned up twenty-one players who called the deck everything from 'Counter-Godo' to 'Turn 3 Godo' to 'I Hate Gifts'. Still, that was nothing compared to Gifts, White Weenie, and Black Aggro decks which made more than half the field between the three archetypes.
The only other deck to reach double digits was Mono-Blue, which has steadily gained popularity since a Top 8 appearance in Niigata. More than a few people seemed to be gunning for the Gifts decks with Mono-red decks packed with cards like Gaze of Adamaro, Ishi-Ishi, Akki Crackshot, and the like.
Enduring Ideal was another popular rogue choice although I have not spotted any near the top tables as of yet. Table one was of, of course, a Godo Gifts mirror match between Akira Asahara and Chang Chih-Hsiang.
Here is a quick look at how the field broke down…
Black Aggro: 59
Blue-Green Godo: 21
Enduring Ideal: 8
Saturday, August 6: 8:20 pm - Who knew?
I had no idea that the Gifts on Gifts mirror match could be such compelling viewing. Three or four dozen people crowded in around table one to watch Akira Asahara square off with the former Taiwanese National Champion Chang Chih-Hsiang. Asahara has written extensively on the Gifts deck for the Japanese audience. It is his contention that there is no more important deck to master for players hoping to win in this format.
Asahara won his match to go to 7-0 against Chih-Hsiang in three hard fought games that went to the very last turn of extra turns. I asked him about the mirror match after the game; specifically how to win the mirror match.
"There are lots of things you can do but they all start with Godo," explained the highly regarded constructed deck technician. "But if you are expecting Godo then there are other things you can do like bring in Kiku's Shadow. It is the game within the game. For every move there is a countermove. For example, Kokushu was a big pain for me so…Keiga." Asahara was alluding to the legend that won him Game 2.
Asahara has his deck finely tuned in anticipation of the mirror and features some unusual card choices that are preemptive countermoves. One of the most interesting cards to pop up in his maindeck? He Who Hungers.
Don't forget to check back tomorrow; Ashara's deck is sure to be one of the first lists we feature.