gpkob12

Hiraga Makes the Competition Disappear in Kobe

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Carried to victory on the back of some often overlooked cards, Masahiro Hiraga is the Grand Prix Kobe 2012 champion! Overlooked has been the theme of the weekend as we followed the paths of some of Japan’s less recognized names on their paths to the Top 8. Standing in their way were some of the pillars of Japanese Magic. Hiraga had to sneak past former Player and Rookie of the Year Yuuya Watanabe on one side of the bracket using his nearly monowhite Humans deck. On the other side, with an impossibly fast black/white deck armed with a host of token generators and an aggressive supporting cast, Ken Yukuhiro cut through the Top 8 with a razor’s edge. Even Katsuhiro Mori, who had managed a perfect 15-0 on the way to Top 8 failed to slow his meteoric rise. When the two met in the finals, the future of Japanese Magic, sparks flew. It took to game three, and some timely draws, but Hiraga was able to slow down the blazing Yukuhiro long enough to waltz past his army, which suffered a Sudden Disappearance.

In a format previously defined by white cards, it was refreshing to see the emergence of red/green Werewolves as a major contender in Dark Ascension Draft, borne by the likes of Yuuya Watanabe and Finalist Ken Yukuhiro on their way to the Top 8. Just as the Werewolves emerged here in Kobe, many often overlooked Japanese talents emerged as well. Considering that most of the American and European players decided to go to Grand Prix Lincoln instead of coming to Kobe, this served as a perfect opportunity to really showcase some of the finer talents Japan has to offer. In addition to Hiraga and Yukuhiro, Hiroaki Kitahara and Takayuki Nagaoka, two other excellent talents, managed to draw some attention to themselves on the Sunday stage.

Two suns have risen and two suns have fallen as Grand Prix Kobe 2012 played on against the backdrop. As the sun set on the last day, one star could be seen shining in the clear night sky, and it won’t be the last time either. Get ready, world. Grand Prix Kobe 2012 Champion Masahiro Hiraga has arrived!



Quarterfinals Semifinals Finals Champion
2 Takeishi, Kouji Takeishi, Kouji 2-1
4 Ishida, Hiroshi Yukuhiro, Ken 2-0
5 Yukuhiro, Ken Yukuhiro, Ken 2-0 Hiraga, Masahiro 2-0
1 Mori, Katsuhiro
3 Kitahara, Hiroaki Kitahara, Hiroaki 2-1
8 Nagaoka, Takayuki Hiraga, Masahiro 2-0
7 Watanabe, Yuuya Hiraga, Masahiro 2-0
6 Hiraga, Masahiro








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EVENT COVERAGE TWITTER

INFORMATION
 1.  Hiraga, Masahiro $3,500
 2.  Yukuhiro, Ken $2,300
 3.  Takeishi, Kouji $1,500
 4.  Kitahara, Hiroaki $1,500
 5.  Mori, Katsuhiro $1,000
 6.  Ishida, Hiroshi $1,000
 7.  Watanabe, Yuuya $1,000
 8.  Nagaoka, Takayuki $1,000
Pairings Results Standings
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  • Top 8 Profiles

    by Event Coverage Staff
  • Hiroaki Kitahara

    Age: 21
    Hometown: Wakayama
    Occupation: profession host

    Please tell us where you usually play. Do you play Magic Online?
    Mana Source.

    Tell us about your Day 1 deck.
    Byes:

    1

    Results:
    7-2

    MVP cards:
    Instigator Gang, Mondronen Shaman.

    Tell us about your draft decks.
    I played Blue-Black in the first draft with a 3-0 record, and Blue-White splashing Green in the second draft, also going 3-0.

    What were your key cards in the draft?

    First draft:
    Falkenrath Noble

    Second draft:
    Drogskol Captain and Cackling Counterpart.



    Hiroshi Ishida

    Age: 33
    Hometown: Nagoya
    Occupation: Author

    Please tell us where you usually play. Do you play Magic Online?
    I usually play at Big Magic Yaba-cho. I don't play Magic Online.

    Tell us about your Day 1 deck.
    Byes:

    2

    Results:
    8-0-1

    MVP cards:
    Olivia Voldaren, Stromkirk Captain.

    Tell us about your draft decks.
    First draft:

    Blue-Green with a splash of Red, 2-1.
    Second draft:
    Blue-Green, 201.

    What were your key cards in the draft?

    First draft:
    Village Survivors.
    Second draft:

    Silent Departure, Griptide, Dungeon Geists.

    Which Innistrad card's value do you think has changed the most with the addition of Dark Ascension to the format?
    Grizzed Outcasts is not as good because there are better cards in that cost range. Also, Moon Heron is not as good because there are now better fliers in Blue.

    Which Dark Ascension card do you think is currently undervalued?
    Griptide and Somberwald Dryad.



    Katsuhiro Mori

    Age: 28
    Hometown: Tokyo
    Occupation:

    Please tell us where you usually play. Do you play Magic Online?
    I play at Kateru-ya and also regularly visit all the Phase stores in Nagoya.

    Tell us about your Day 1 deck.
    Byes:

    2

    Results:
    9-0

    MVP cards:
    Tragic Slip

    Tell us about your draft decks.
    I went 3-0 both times, using a Blue-Black-White deck in the first draft and a Blue-Black one in the second draft.

    What were your key cards in the draft?
    Tragic Slip.

    Which Innistrad card's value do you think has changed the most with the addition of Dark Ascension to the format?
    Stitcher's Apprentice.

    Which Dark Ascension card do you think is currently undervalued?
    Tragic Slip.



    Ken Yukuhiro

    Age: 22
    Hometown:
    Occupation: Card Shop employee (Mana Source)

    Please tell us where you usually play. Do you play Magic Online?

    Mana Source. I usually log into Magic Online everyday.

    Tell us about yout Day 1 deck.
    Byes:

    3

    Results:
    9-0

    MVP cards:
    Curse of Death's Hold, Bloodline Keeper, Skirsdag High Priest.

    Tell us about your draft decks.
    I played Red-Green in both drafts. I went 1-2 in the first draft and 2-0-1 with a double Immerwolf wolf deck in the Second draft.

    What were your key cards in the draft?
    Immerwolf and Wild Hunger.

    Which Innistrad card's value do you think has changed the most with the addition of Dark Ascension to the format?
    Moonmist.

    Which Dark Ascension card do you think is currently undervalued?
    Wild Hunger.



    Koji Takeishi

    Age:
    Hometown:
    Occupation:

    Please tell us where you usually play. Do you play Magic Online?
    I play mostly Limited at shops in Saitama.

    Tell us about your Day 1 deck.
    Byes:

    0

    Results:
    8-1

    MVP cards:
    Gerald's Mindcrusher, Increasing Confusion.

    Tell us about your draft decks. In the first draft, I used a Red-Green werewolf deck, going 2-1. For the Second draft:
    , I drafted a Blue-White spirit deck and went 3-0.

    What were your key cards in the draft?
    Immerwolf and Mikaeus, the Lunarch.

    Which Innistrad card's value do you think has changed the most with the addition of Dark Ascension to the format?
    Moon Heron.



    Masahiro Hiraga

    Age: 24
    Hometown:
    Occupation: Student

    Please tell us where you usually play. Do you play Magic Online?
    I hang out at Tim Higashi-Hakuraku and the people who play there.

    Tell us about your Day 1 deck.
    Byes:

    1

    Results:
    8-1

    MVP cards:
    Increasing Devotion and Alpha Brawl.

    Tell us about your draft decks.
    I played White-Red both times, going 2-1 and 2-0-1.

    What were your key cards in the draft?
    I didn't really have any.

    Which Innistrad card's value do you think has changed the most with the addition of Dark Ascension to the format?
    All the cards that involve a sacrifice.

    Which Dark Ascension card do you think is currently undervalued?
    Gather the Townsfolk.



    Takayuki Nagaoka

    Age: 35
    Hometown: Tokyo
    Occupation: Company Employee

    Please tell us where you usually play. Do you play Magic Online?
    I play at both CARDSHOP Hareru-ya and Amenity Dream Nanba. I'm on Magic Online maybe 20 hours a week.

    Tell us about your Day 1 deck.
    Byes:

    1

    Results:
    8-1

    MVP cards:
    Lingering Souls.

    Tell us about your draft decks.
    I played Blue-Black in the first draft going 3-0, and Red-Green with a splash of White in the Second draft, going 1-1-1.

    What were your key cards in the draft?
    None really stand out. Maybe Skirsdag High Priest?

    Which Innistrad card's value do you think has changed the most with the addition of Dark Ascension to the format?
    One-Eyed Scarecrow.

    Which Dark Ascension card do you think is currently undervalued?
    Scorned Villager and Moonscarred Werewolf.



    Yuuya Watanabe

    Age: 23
    Hometown: Kanagawa
    Occupation: Pro Player

    Please tell us where you usually play. Do you play Magic Online?
    I occasionally play FNM at the Machida Hobby Station. I play Magic Online regularly.

    Tell us about your Day 1 deck.
    Byes:

    3

    Results:
    7-2

    MVP cards:
    Gavony Township is great!

    Tell us about your draft decks.
    In the first draft, I picked a Red-Green werewolf deck that went 3-0. For the Second draft, I went Black-White with Bloodline Keeper and Curse of Death's Hold for a 2-0-1 record.

    What were your key cards in the draft?
    My 2 Immerwolfs.

    Which Innistrad card's value do you think has changed the most with the addition of Dark Ascension to the format?
    It's harder to dredge with Spider Spawning. I think Moon Heron has gotten better because of the stronger werewolves.

    Which Dark Ascension card do you think is currently undervalued?
    Ravenous Demon. He's awesome!


     
  • Top 8 Decklists

    by Event Coverage Staff









  •  
  • Quarterfinals – Ken Yukuhiro vs. Katsuhiro Mori

    by Nate PRice

  • Katsuhiro Mori has managed to accomplish things that few other players in the world can even come close to matching. Over his lengthy career, he has twice been the Japanese National Champion. He has been a World Champion and a Worlds Team Finalist. He has won multiple Grand Prix. He has nearly two dozen Top 8s at premier level events. And he has been doing this since he posted his first major Top 8 at The Finals in Japan…in 1999. Here on this chilly weekend in February, he has managed again to do something incredible. During the fifteen rounds leading up to today’s Top 8, he managed a perfect 15-0 record, a feat that has been nearly unheard of in the entire history of the Grand Prix. Here in the Land of the Rising Sun, his seems a star that isn’t planning on setting anytime soon.

    Ken Yukuhiro and Katsuhiro Mori get ready to rumble

    Yet there is another star on the horizon, just beginning its ascent. A near consensus choice for the best Japanese Magic player that remains unknown to most of the world, Ken Yukuhiro is part of the bright future of Japanese Magic. He is a member of this newest digital age of Magic, utilizing Magic Online and the online streaming capabilities of Nico Nico Douga to hone his skills in a very public forum. This has made him a very popular young player within the Japanese Magic community, even if he does remain relatively unknown outside of it. Signs are, though, that he won’t remain unknown for long. This match is a battle of a long and storied career against the rising tide of the future, a chance for a new star to eclipse that of the previous generation.

    Game 1

    Yukuhiro began with a blistering start. His Cloistered Youth quickly became an Unholy Fiend and was joined soon thereafter by four Spirit tokens from Lingering Souls. Mori managed to slow down the Unholy Fiend with an Armored Skaab, but he was still quite vulnerable to the massive flying force that Yukuhiro had assembled. When Yukuhiro added a Silverclaw Griffin on the following turn, Mori’s options seemed slim. Sitting at 11 life and facing seven power of creatures from five different sources provided a real problem. In addition, Yukuhiro had a Skirsdag Flayer to remove anything that might impede his fliers. On the next turn, he used it to remove the Armored Skaab and sent his team into the lone Screeching Skaab Mori had back on defense. Mori blocked to stay alive, but didn’t have a way to defend himself on the following turn, dropping quickly to Yukuhiro’s armada of Spirits.

    Yukihiro jumps out ahead with his white weenie forces.

    Ken Yukuhiro 1 – Katsuhiro Mori 0

    Game 2

    Both players started the second game of their quarterfinal match with a mulligan to six. They both seemed to come out of it alright, making quick additions to the board. Mori, on the play, added a Diregraf Captain, while Yukuhiro played a Loyal Cathar. At that point, Mori’s draw stalled while Yukuhiro’s pounded ahead. Adding lands but no creatures, Mori could simply watch as Yukuhiro added Silverclaw Griffin and Mausoleum Guard to his team. When he attacked on the next turn, Mori traded his Captain with the Cathar, enabling a Tragic Slip to finish the Griffin. The Cathar’s death and subsequent return also enabled Yukuhiro a morbid-enhanced spell: Gruesome Discovery. With only three cards in hand, Mori was clearly out of this game at this point. Yukuhiro left him with a land in his hand and passed the turn. Mori gave his top card only the most cursory glance before silently packing up his cards. Despite starting the tournament 15-0, the first loss Mori took at Grand Prix Kobe 2012 would be his last and only. Feeling what I can only assume is utter barrenness and desolation, Mori silently exited the Feature Match area as Yukuhiro’s friends surrounded him to congratulate him. While one sun burns bright, the other fades silently away.

    Mori's perfect run comes to an end

    Ken Yukuhiro 2 – Katsuhiro Mori 0



     
  • Quarterfinals - Yuuya Watanabe vs. Masahiro Hiraga

    by Steve Sadin

  • A few months ago, Masahiro Hiraga began Grand Prix Hiroshima with a 10-1 record, but stumbled towards the end of the event and had to settle with a Top 32 finish. While Hiraga was no doubt disappointed by the way that his last couple of matches in Hiroshima played out, he was able to bounce back from the tournament quite nicely, and now finds himself seated down to play in his first Grand Prix Top 8.

    While Hiraga is something of a newcomer to the competitive Magic scene, Yuuya Watanabe, who now finds himself in his 14th Grand Prix Top 8, is anything but.

    With his Top 8 berth this weekend, Watanabe has given himself a bit of breathing room in the race to see who will become Japan’s World Magic Cup captain – and a win in this match would serve to grow that lead even further.

    Game One

    After both players took mulligans down to six, Watanabe opened on Gravecrawler, and Disciple of Griselbrand – while Hiraga stormed out of the gates with Champion of the Parish, Doomed Traveler, and Voiceless Spirit.

    Hiraga capitalizes on Watanabe's weak opening hand.

    And when Watanabe started stumbling, Hiraga made sure that the former Player of the Year would have no time to recover, swarming him with a Midnight Haunting, an Avacynian Priest, and a Selfless Cathar.

    Masahiro Hiraga 1 – Yuuya Watanabe 0

    Game Two

    Watanabe opened game two with Vampire Interloper, and Markov Patrician – while Hiraga got things started with a Doomed Traveler, and a Midnight Haunting.

    Hiraga put a spirit in front of an incoming Vampire Interloper, but an Undying Evil ensured that Vampire Interloper wouldn’t stay dead for long.

    At this point, Hiraga didn’t have much in his hand, and simply attached a Call to the Kindred to his Doomed Traveler before passing the turn to Watanabe, who made his side of the board look absolutely frightening when he summoned a Stromkirk Captain.

    Watanabe attempts to even out the scores.

    A second Stromkirk Captain made matters even worse for Hiraga who had to use a Feeling of Dread simply so he could stay alive.

    Call to the Kindred found another Doomed Traveler, but even with the aid of an extra blocker, Hiraga had to flashback his Feeling of Dread just so he wouldn’t die to Watanabe’s attack.

    Elgaud Inquisitor gave Hiraga his first relevant creature of the game, and a Spare from Evil kept Hiraga’s board from getting decimated on Watanabe’s next attack – but that attack still left Hiraga at a mere two life, and in need of something really good to turn the game around with.

    An Avacynian Priest that he found off of Call to the Kindred, and an active Gavony Ironwright seemed to do the trick – and suddenly Hiraga found himself in the lead, despite having struggled to survive for most of the game.

    Over the next few turns, Hiraga began pecking away at Watanabe’s life total, while Watanabe looked for any opening he could find to deal those final few points of damage to Hiraga.

    But before Watanabe got that chance, Hiraga used a Sudden Disappearance to pull off a stunning upset.

    Watanabe congratulates Hiraga after his underdog upset of the Magic great.

    Masahiro Hiraga 2 – Yuuya Watanabe 0



     
  • Quarterfinals - Hiroaki Kitahara vs. Takayuki Nagaoka

    by Ben Swartz

  • Playing in his fourth Grand Prix Top 8, Takayuki Nagaoka is no stranger to the big stage. Despite his experience playing in high-pressure situations, it didn’t seem like he got the deck he wanted today as his blue/black control deck left much to be desired.

    Nagaoka and Kitahara get ready to show each other their skills.

    His opponent for this round, Hiroaki Kitahara, is a key part of the new breed of Osaka players who are threatening to break out on the international stage. The newcomer happily sported an aggressive red/green Werewolf deck.

    Game 1

    Nagaoka won the roll and started the game off with a Typhoid Rats. Kithara responded with an Avacyn’s Pilgrim allowing him to accelerate into a Somberwald Dryad and an Ulvenwald Mystics.

    Nagaoka matched Kitahara’s army with a Moan of the Unhallowed. Kitahara skipped casting spells on his turn in order to transform his Ulvenwald Mystics, creating an army more powerful than Nagaoka’s 2/2’s and allowing him to attack the following turn for five points of damage.

    On the back foot, Nagaoka attacked with his two Zombie tokens and cast Grasp of Phantoms on Kitahara’s Ulvenwald Primordials. This tempo advantage allowed Nagaoka further his advantage by adding a Soul Seizer to his board. With no flyer in the way, Nagaoka was able to transform his Soul Seizer and take Kitahara’s Ulvenwald Mystics, transforming it at end of turn.

    Nagaoka's army is too much to handle.

    Kitahara tried to claw his way back in the game, with a supersized Gravetiller Wurm, but Nagaoka had a Victim of Night at the end of turn to take care of the 8/8. With no answer from Kitahara, Nagaoka’s army of creatures was too much for the young Osakan player.

    Takayuki Nagaoka 1 – 0 Hiroaki Kitahara

    Game 2

    Kitahara started the second game with a turn-one Avacyn’s Pilgrim, as in the first, this time accelerating into a turn-two Villagers of Estwald. A Delver of Secrets bought Nagaoka a little more time, keeping it daytime for Ulvenwald Mystics and trading with Avacyn’s Pilgrim on the following turn. Kitahara followed up the attack with a second Villagers of Estwald.

    Stuck on two lands, Nagaoka had no play allowing Kitahara to transform both his Villagers, which made quick work of the Grand Prix Veteran.

    Takayuki Nagaoka 1 – 1 Hiroaki Kitahara

    Game 3

    For the third game, Kitahara again led with a turn-one Avacyn’s Pilgrim, this time accelerating into a Pyreheart Wolf. Nagaoka used Forbidden Alchemy at the end of Kitahara’s turn in order to put a creature in his graveyard, allowing him to cast a fourth-turn Stitched Drake. A single creature, however, was not enough to get around the Wolf’s ability, allowing Kitahara to continue attacking before adding a Hollowhenge Scavenge to the board.

    Nagaoka used his turn to play a Fortress Crab, giving him a second creature with which to block Kitahara’s creatures. After thinking for a while, Kitahara played a Lumberknot before attacking with all his creatures. Nagaoka double-blocked the Pyreheart Wolf, which promptly came back into play thanks to its undying trigger.

    The following turn, Nagaoka attempted to double block to kill the Pyreheart Wolf, but Kitahara was ready; he cast Spidery Grasp in order to save the Wolf and kill Nagaoka’s Stitched Drake.

    Kitahara's mana acceleration proves to be a key factor in Kitahara's victory.

    Nagaoka tried stave off defeat with a few more creatures, but Kitahara simply attacked with all his creatures, forcing Nagaoka to trade away his newly minted army. When Kitahara refilled his board with an Ulvenwald Mystics and a Bloodcrazed Neonate, Nagaoka saw the writing on the wall and conceded.

    Takayuki Nagaoka 1 – 2 Hiroaki Kitahara



     
  • Semifinals - Ken Yukuhiro vs. Kouji Takeishi

    by Nate Price

  • This has been a great tournament for Japanese breakout Ken Yukuhiro. After being singled out as one of the best new players in Japanese Magic by some of the most well-known Japanese pro players, Yukuhiro passed his first test in the Top 8 with flying colors, delivering Katsuhiro Mori his first loss of the tournament. His blazing combination of cheap creatures and token generators sent him through to the semifinals in a near record time, dispatching Mori with very little impediment. His opponent in the semifinals, Kouji Takeishi, possessed a blazing fast deck himself, complete with actual fire! His red/green deck was packed with cheap removal and burly Werewolves, the other side of the aggression capable in Dark Ascension Drafts.

    Yukihiro and Takeisha mull over their opening hands.

    Game 1

    Things opened fairly inauspiciously for Takeishi. After a mulligan to five, he was faced with a similar start to the ones that had knocked Mori out of the tournament a round before. Yukuhiro rapidly added a Selfless Cathar and his Loyal brethren which quickly began to smash into Takeishi. Yukuhiro kept the pedal down, adding a Village Cannibals, Silverclaw Griffin, and an Elgaud Inquisitor to his side of the board.

    Yukihiro launches a quick and relentless assault.

    Takeishi was not without some fight of his own. He used a Brimstone Volley to remove the Cannibals and finished off the Selfless Cathar with a Forge Devil. He then clogged the ground up with the incredibly tough Hanweir Watchkeep. By this point, Yukuhiro had committed virtually all of his resources to the board, leaving him with no way to prevent the Watchkeep from attacking, though at this point, a 5/5 Werewolf that had to attack actually seemed like it might be in Yukuhiro’s favor. In any case, the impact of the Werewolf was moot as Yukuhiro’s Griffin swung through the air to complete what his little men had begun. Within two turns, Takeishi was dead.

    Ken Yukuhiro 1 – Takeishi 0

    Game 2

    In the second game, both players managed to fill the board up with creatures early. Yukuhiro made the perennially present Selfless Cathar and surrounded it with a Mausoleum Guard and a couple of tokens from Gather the Townsfolk. On the other side of the table, Takeishi built his force from a Feral Ridgewolf, Village Ironsmith, Ambush Viper, and a Torch Fiend.

    Takeishi tries to change the momentum of the game.

    With the ground clogging more with each passing second, Yukuhiro made the play that would define the game. Using Increasing Ambition, Yukhiro left the mortal plane behind, grabbing a Lingering Souls. In addition to using it to gain four flying Spirit tokens, he tossed his Mausoleum Guard in front of a marauding Ironfang, getting him yet two more fliers. This swell in evasive creatures gave him the advantage he needed to start hewing large swaths of Takeishi’s Life total away. With six fliers and plenty of reserve troops to hold off a counter assault, Yukuhiro sailed over Takeishi’s troops to deliver him a first-class ticket to the finals of Grand Prix Kobe 2012!

    Ken Yukuhiro 2 – Kouji Takeishi 0



     
  • Semifinals - Masahiro Hiraga vs. Hiroaki Kitahara

    by AJ Sacher

  • One step left to the finals for both of these players. Can Kitahara stop Hiraga's momentum?

    With two of Japan's finest in Katsuhiro Mori and Yuuya Watanabe eliminated, Grnad Prix Kobe 2012 could see a relatively unknown player begin his rise to stardom. Coming into the match, Masahiro Hiraga was fresh off of a convincing 2-0 defeat of a previous Rookie— and then Player—of the Year, Yuuya Watanabe. Hiraga's nearly mono-white Humans deck was able to stave off the vicious aggression of Yuuya's black/red Vampire deck in his Quarterfinal match, using his low curve to surmount an impressive defense early and using the obscure rare Call to the Kindred to amass a giant army of Humans. Meanwhile, Hiroaki Kitahara was busy taking down Takayuki Nagaoka in the Top 8 using his red/green deck with highly aggressive tendencies that are backed by a Kessig Wolf-Run.

    Game 1

    Hiraga appeared as cool as the other side of the pillow, starting the match on the play. Both players kept their initial seven cards and prepared themselves for a challenging match. As if his body language predicted it, Hiraga took an early advantage as Kitahara's first Bloodcrazed Neonate traded with a Selfless Cathar, and his second one was met with the first-striking Voiceless Spirit. After those highly unprofitable exchanges, Kitahara was on the back foot early in the match.

    As if having his creature eaten for free wasn't bad enough, Kitahara was stuck with a hand full of green cards and a board of only two Mountains and a lonely Kessig Wolf-Run. Facing down an army of fliers and a loaded grip, Kitahara simply packed it up, unable to cast a spell.

    Masahiro Hiraga 1 – Hiroaki Kitahara 0

    Kitahara let out a distraught sigh as the players began the sideboarding process, but Hiraga's expression didn't budge as he took one step closer to his goal of winning the Grand Prix.

    Game 2

    Game 2 started with Kitahara on the play, and both players were content with their opening draws again. Though Kitahara was able to lead with the Forest that was so elusive last game, neither player had an especially aggressive opening. Both players advancing their boards with hodgepodgery, creatures were trading here and there. Eventually, the advantage swung in favor of Kitahara. His Kessig Wolf-Run allowed him to push through damage and have his creatures trade with superior ones. The first significant play from Hiraga was a turn-five Silverclaw Griffin.

    Kitahara’s Pitchburn Devils attacked, threatening to trade with the Griffin, and Hiraga decided that he would rather not block. This prompted Kitahara to sink all of his mana into a giant Wolf-Run activation, eating a significant chunk of his opponent's life total. While he may be a bit heavy on lands and short on spells, his rare land reduced the impact of his misfortune. Hiraga, under the substantial pressure that every single creature represents, had still not broken his incredible poker face. Stoically, he went to his turn, attacking for three in the air before passing the turn back to Kitahara.

    Kitahara's going down swinging with his Kessig Wolf-Run turns.

    Without a play, all hope seemed lost for the Human deck. Kitahara sent his two creatures into a myriad of small Humans, but a pre-blockers Village Bell-Ringer allowed the Griffin that had just attacked to eat a creature with his first strike. Hiraga lets the Pitchburn Devils through, and Kitahara sank all of his mana into another massive Wolf-Run activation for yet another large chunk of his opponent's life total. Not able to kill the Pitchburn Devils for fear of losing his Silverclaw Griffin, his lone clock, Hiraga was resigned to sending for three in the air and throwing limp Human bodies under the bus, as it were, soaking up as much damage as possible in an attempt to race. The question was if Hiraga could withstand the pressure of the Kessig Wolf-Run long enough with his seemingly mediocre army in order to allow his fliers to close out the game and match.

    Even though every single turn represented an extremely scary Wolf-Run activation, Hiraga kept his cool like a seasoned pro, attacking fearlessly with his flier while containing the trampling threats as best as he could. Both players knew what was going on. Without some form of help, Kitahara was eventually going to grind down the Human meatshield and deliver a killing blow. The three damage a turn from the Griffin was not going to be fast enough, and it seemed only a matter of time until Hiraga ran out of toughness to use as trample-buffers.

    The math seemed to get even worse for the Griffin as a One-Eyed Scarecrow came down and cut the clock by a third. The killing blow was looming as Hiraga was quickly running out of blockers. At a meager 8 life, it would be at least five turns until his Griffin could finish Kitahara off.

    With his opponent drawing what seemed like an endless number of lands, Kitahara’s Abbey Griffin took a full turn's worth of sand from Kitahara's hourglass. While nice, it was still not going to be enough to race the Wolf-Run. Then, still without a modicum of emotion, Hiraga coldly cast a Feeling of Dread off of the top of his deck, representing a two turn reprieve.

    Congratulations as Hiraga advances to the finals.

    The race that seemed firmly in Kitahara's favor had become an extremely tense situation. Drawing more lands meant that he didn't have a third creature to still attack despite the potential flashback of Feeling of Dread. A crowd which had dispersed turns earlier when Kitahara seemingly had the game in hand had regathered as the race was coming down to the wire. Neither player had anything left in the tank; they had both exhausted all resources available to them in order to get to that point. There were only a couple of turns left in the game; that much was obvious. What wasn't obvious was who was going to come out on top.

    It appeared that Hiraga was going to edge his opponent out by the skin of his teeth, having drawn a few more blockers allowing him to soak up another attack. Kitahara knew he was going to have to draw something to help him, but was never even given the chance as a Selfless Cathar from Hiraga let all of those potential blockers turn into the red-zone, and an empty-handed Kitahara was felled by the Cathar's activation a turn earlier than he expected.

    Through beautiful life-total management and some timely race-changers, Masahiro Hiraga took down Kitahara and advanced to the finals!

    Masahiro Hiraga 2 – Hiroaki Kitahara 0



     
  • Finals - Ken Yukuhiro vs. Masahiro Hiraga

    by Steve Sadin

  • Going into the Top 8, all eyes were on Katsuhiro Mori, and Yuuya Watanabe. Playing in their 14th Grand Prix Top 8s, these all time greats seemed like they were destined to meet in the finals.

    But Ken Yukuhiro, and Masahiro Hiraga had other plans.

    Yukuhiro dispatched Mori while the rest of the Top 8 was still shuffling – and Hiraga knocked Watanabe out a few minutes later.

    Could either of these newcomers be the next shining hero of Japanese Magic.

    With the two frontrunners eliminated, it was clear that Grand Prix Kobe was going to be an opportunity for the new generation of Japanese Magic players to shine.

    Game One

    Hiraga chose to play first, and got off to a fairly strong start with a Silverchase Fox, and an Avacynian Priest – while Yukuhiro looked to swing the pendulum in his direction with a Selfless Cathar, a Cloistered Youth, and a Chapel Geist.

    Without a fourth land, Hiraga could only cast a Mask of Avacyn before passing the turn to Yukuhiro who further built up his board with Village Cannibals. After missing his land drop again, Hiraga agonized for a bit before deciding to equip his Silverchase Fox with Mask of Avacyn.

    Knowing that it was time to strike, Yukuhiro transformed his Cloistered Youth and attacked with Chapel Geist, Village Cannibals, and Unholy Fiend to knock Hiraga down to 12 before using a Death’s Caress to take out the Avacynian Priest.

    Hiraga finally drew his fourth land and immediately tapped out to play a Thraben Sentry – but that wasn’t enough to deter Yukuhiro who again attacked with his larger creatures. Hiraga put his 3/4 Silverchase Fox in front of the Village Cannibals, and Yukuhiro pumped it, and the rest of his team, with Selfless Cathar.

    The attack left Hiraga on a mere five life, and while a Feeling of Dread bought Hiraga a bit of time, it also gave Yukuhiro a great opening to cast an Increasing Ambition that he used to find Lingering Souls.

    Dead Reckoning dealt with Yukuhiro’s first wave of creatures, but there was ultimately nothing that he could do to stop Yukuhiro from flying to victory with his spirits.

    Yukihiro takes game one with his barrage of flying spirits.

    Ken Yukuhiro 1 – Masahiro Hiraga 0

    Game Two

    Hiraga’s Niblis of the Mist got trumped by a Lingering Souls, and without a good offensive option – Hiraga hoped that the game would drag on long enough so that he could grind out an advantage with his Call to the Kindred enchanted Village Bell-Ringer.

    Yukuhiro further built up his air force with a Silverclaw Griffin, while Hiraga found an Avacynian Priest with his Call to the Kindred, and began to fortify his board with his own Silverclaw Griffin.

    Yukuhiro continued pressing his advantage with a Screeching Bat, and a Bonds of Faith that he used to lock down Silverclaw Griffin.

    Call to the Kindred found Elgaud Inquistor, and a Sudden Disappearance cleared away all of Yukuhiro’s spirits – and Hiraga found himself mounting a pretty remarkable comeback.

    With his spirits gone, and an Avacynian Priest ready to lock down his Silverclaw Griffin – Yukuhiro needed to find a new way to win.

    A Mentor of the Meek was a good start for Yukuhiro, and an Avacynian Priest didn’t hurt either. However, Midnight Haunting gave Hiraga an opportunity to go on the offensive for the first time in the match.

    Before Yukuhiro could bury his opponent with card advantage, a Feeling of Dread gave Hiraga exactly the opening that he needed to force a deciding third game.

    Ken Yukuhiro 1 – Masahiro Hiraga 1

    Game Three

    Hiraga fights back to even the score.

    Yukuhiro looked to close the match quickly with Cloistered Youth, Chapel Geist, and Abbey Griffin – but, Hiraga was able to stem the bleeding with a Gavony Ironwright, and a Voiceless Spirit.

    Even with his good defensive start, Hiraga still found himself taking some hits from Yukuhiro’s Chapel Geist, but that too would dry up when Hiraga used a surprise Midnight Haunting to mug the 2/3 flier.

    A Silverclaw Griffin gave Yukuhiro another good offensive threat – but with a Gavony Ironwright threatening to take over the game if Hiraga’s life total ever hit five, Yukuhiro knew that he needed to wait until he drew something that would allow him to kill Hiraga in fell swoop.

    But before Yukuhiro could find anything relevant, Hiraga drew the Sudden Disappearance that he needed to become the Grand Prix Kobe Champion!

    Masahiro Hiraga 2 – Ken Yukuhiro 1



     
  • Top 5 Cards

    by Steve Sadin and Nate Price

  • 5


    As the final rounds of Day 1 came to a close, our breakdown of the most-played colors in Dark Ascension Sealed Deck took an interesting turn. Out of nowhere, red stormed to the head of the pack, greatly outstripping the competition. Considering the strength of the white cards in the format, it was interesting that red had outpaced it by so much. When the undefeated decklists came in, things came together. One of the biggest advantages the white deck has is a plethora or one-toughness creatures that act together to swarm opponents. Forge Devil is one of the best cards red has to stem that tide. For a mere one mana, you get to kill one creature and leave a body around capable of trading with another. While one creature is not going to make too much of a difference on its own, the fact that it can be done in the first few turns of the game and not really impact a player’s curve was strong enough to obviously make an impact on the Grand Prix.

    4


    This card is one of the major reasons that Forge Devil became so respected in the format. For a fairly small investment at a fairly early part of the game, Lingering Souls provides an absurd advantage. Yuuya Watanabe named Lingering Souls as the one card he wanted to see more than any other in Dark Ascension Limited. Four 1/1s before turn four spelled death for a large number of players at Grand Prix Kobe 2012, including the 15-0 Katsuhiro Mori. Ken Yukumori used Lingering Souls to great effectiveness in his run to the finals, often attacking with four to six Spirit tokens by turn five. The only thing that derailed him was a card that we’ll get a peek at a little later…

    3 and 2


    Red-Green Werewolves was the breakout deck of the weekend. Both Yuuya Watanabe and Ken Yukuhiro celebrated its emergence by riding a pack of Werewolves to their eventual Top 8 berths. The first card of note from the deck is Moonmist, which Watanabe said is the best card in the deck. In a Werewolf-heavy deck, Moonmist can be better than even premium removal spells like Brimstone Volley, because it is capable of completely wiping out the opposing side of the board, or simply threatening opponents enough that they don’t begin to block until it’s too late.

    On the other hand, who says you have to be a Werewolf to get down with the bar mitzvah? Immerwolf lacks the Were-withal of his bipedal brethren, but his role is just as important. With Immerwolf on your side, even the most mediocre Werewolves become an absolute beating. Giving all Werewolves +1/+1 even when they’re wearing their people cloths can turn a game around fast. In addition, the sense of urgency that most players feel when an opponent’s Werewolf flips rapidly turns to despair as they find themselves staring down at a larger-than-life monster.

    1


    Yes, you’re reading this right. This is the card that pretty much single-handedly won Masahiro Hiraga the Grand Prix. It does everything you want a white card to do in this format. White decks in Innistrad Limited have made their mark swarming opponents to death. If this isn’t done quickly, opponents often have time to recover and outpace the white deck with superior creatures. This card puts an end to that. Just as Hiraga demonstrated against Yuuya Watanabe in the Quarterfinals and then again against Yukuhiro in the Finals, when the game ends up getting into that often inevitable stall, Sudden Disappearance simply removes all of your opponents creatures, allowing you a single attack to finish them off.

    Three times this card was cast to completely decimate a suddenly defenseless opponent. The other time, it was cast to a much different effect. Considering the strength of cards like Lingering Souls and Midnight Haunting, token creatures were everywhere this weekend. Unlike more substantial creatures, when tokens disappear, they don’t come back. Against Yukumori in the Finals, Hiraga used Sudden Disappearance not to remove blockers as he had done previously, but to remove attackers, crippling Yukuhiro by evaporating the army of tokens that he had spent precious resources building. From that point, winning the match was elementary. This card, with a little help from a great supporting cast including Call to the Kindred, was the primary reason that Hiraga took home the title this weekend, and it came out of nowhere, much like him! Let this be a lesson for the future: the next card or player you overlook could be your last!



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