apan has dominated Seattle. S.A.I. went 2-1-2 during the Saturday’s draft portion, and that included holding a strong lead over Pocket Rockets in round 11 before accepting a draw. S.A.I. features Ichirou Shimura, Masami Ibamoto and Ryuuichi Arita, and all three are newcomers to the Top 4. That’s in stark comparison to Japanese veterans www.shop-fireball.com2, who have more than 70 combined Pro Tour appearances. Jin Okamoto was a finalist at Worlds 2003 and has been APAC Champion. Tsuyoshi Ikeda made the Japanese National team in 2000. Itaru Ishida has made 12 Grand Prix Top Eights. The trio went 3-0-2 on Saturday to nail down the second seed in Sunday’s action.
The last time S.A.I. was featured, they played blue/black in seat A, green/red in B, and white/red in C. This time, they started off with Ibamoto taking Skeleton Shard -- showing that he most likely would not be green/red again.
Using the knowledge that Ibamoto would be playing artifacts in the middle, www.shop-fireball.com2 answered perfectly. Ikeda took Domineer to counter the powerful Shard. In the second pack, S.A.I. got their second Shard, a Crystal Shard. Now, most teams would sit back and enjoy opening the Shard, but as soon as S.A.I. saw it they began to plan out their entire team’s color selection.
The first pack for www.shop-fireball.com2 gave them quite a dilemma. Ishida picked up a Terror while Ikeda took a second-pick Wail of the Nim. Again, the Japanese seemed to be emphasizing matchups rather than individual card selection. That, or they really love Wail of the Nim. The middle pack for www.shop-fireball.com2 gave them Myr Enforcer and Tel-Jilad Archers. The Culling Scales from the pack came back to Itaru picking sixth. Letting Culling Scales go so late could spell trouble for S.A.I.
Color signaling was a large part of the Japanese strategy. Pack after pack, they would be trying to make sure each player knew exactly what colors every player was in -- for both their team and the opposition. When Okamoto opened Platinum Angel, S.A.I.’s Arite knew he would need artifact removal. When S.A.I. opened Loxodon Warhammer, they all conferred to figure out where the powerful equipment belonged.
Both Japanese teams appeared to be in control of the pack instead of letting the draft control them. Instead of making picks based entirely on rankings, they wanted to make sure that they got the right card.
A perfect example of this was when S.A.I. opened Loxodon Mystic and Razor Golem. While conventional wisdom would say that the Golem is better, the Japanese took the Mystic. This was not an easy choice to make; however, S.A.I. seemed confident in their decision.
Throughout the draft, the teamwork continued to be impressive. In an artifact-heavy environment, being able to properly divide up the draft picks becomes an important task. Whenever S.A.I. opened a pack, they quickly tried to figure out everything possible about the cards. Ibamoto knew that Juggernaut must attack, which is why he took it second. Shimura protected the Leonin Bola that was opened. He wanted to make sure that his teammate didn’t take the piece of equipment away from him. Then they had to decide what Arita would take. To accomplish this, they started pointing at almost every card on the table to figure out the implications of each of the different possible picks.
When Ibamoto opened a pack, S.A.I. didn’t need to plan nearly as much. Pristine Angel sat in the rare slot so Shimura got an uber-bomb for his deck. Sometimes the best strategy is to open awesome rares. S.A.I. exchanged a high five when they saw Vedalken Shackles come out of Fifth Dawn but were quickly down to business to figure out what Ibamoto would take.
The experienced – and more relaxed – www.shop-fireball.com2 continually made sure that they received the best possible cards for their own decks while giving as little help as possible to S.A.I. While they were a high-energy squad early in the draft, the longer the draft wore on S.A.I. appeared to be picking up momentum. The name players of the matchup may have been www.shop-fireball.com2, but by the way S.A.I. was settling in, they seemed as if they were the veterans.
While Dawn’s Reflection has been a high pick at the American tables, it went very late during this draft. Perhaps the Japanese don’t value sunburst as highly as the rest of the world. Of course, when Arita picked up the Reflection and the next pack had Bringer of the Blue Dawn, sunburst became a more reasonable option. Arita clapped his hands together and thanked his teammates for the Bringer.
As Okamoto opened his last pack, he appeared short on cards. Maybe Okamoto will use some Japanese magic to pull together a deck out of the cards he has, but it seemed like he was in the one seat where the draft didn’t go his way.
After all the cards were drafted, S.A.I. ended up with white/red in A (Shimura), green with black for removal in B (Ibamoto), and an affinity blue deck in C (Akira). Shimura will play Ishida and his black deck (with a splash of blue for affinity cards). Ikeda’s blue artifact deck faces Ibamoto, while Okamoto and his white/red deck (featuring Platinum Angel) goes against Akira.
S.A.I. - Seat A
S.A.I. - Seat B
S.A.I. - Seat C
www.shop-fireBall.com2 - Seat A
www.shop-fireBall.com2 - Seat B
www.shop-fireBall.com2 - Seat C