Grand Prix Hiroshima Day 1 Blog

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  • Saturday, 1:55 p.m. - Undefeated Sealed Challenge Decks

    by Event Coverage Staff

  • Masaki Yuki - Undefeated Sealed Challenge Deck (4-0)
    Grand Prix Hiroshima 2011

  • Saturday, 2:00 p.m.: 20/20 Vision - The Plan

    by Rich Hagon
  • How much Japanese do you speak, or read? If the answer is 'more than nothing' it's also 'more than Rich', and that's kind of awkward when you want to look at 796 decklists to establish a metagame. Never fear, our Japanese Coverage counterparts are beavering away to deliver the hard count later in the weekend, but meantime we have our own little experiment to try out.

    In 20/20 Vision, a feature we're running throughout the weekend, we'll drop in periodically at the top ten tables to see what twenty decks are being played there. Here's where we'll take our samples:

    Round 1 - It can't be anyone with Byes, so all the best players are certain to be excluded from this sample. For the rest, it's a completely random sample of everyone who starts out at 0-0.

    Round 4 - Three types of players make up this sample. First, there are the big names with their three byes. Then there are all the people who have worked hard for their three byes via things like Grand Prix Trials. Finally, there are the players who have less than three byes, and have already won at least one actual match of Magic. For some, they may already have played three matches.

    Round 7 - Since there are close to 800 players here, somewhere around a dozen players will have perfect records heading into round 7. The other eight players in our sample should be 5-1. This is the first round where players can be sure of coming back on day two, and the first place that our metagame sample should be looking pretty solid.

    Round 10 - It's the morning of day two, and apart from the pace-setters on 9-0 (and there should only be one or two of those) everyone in our sample will have suffered at least one defeat. Now the top tables really are the top tables.

    Round 13 - Down the stretch they come, and only players in contention for the top 8 will be in our sample. If a deck appears in this list in significant numbers, it's the real deal, regardless of what actually goes on to take the title.

    Round 16 - Well, we can't do 20/20 Vision in round 16, because that's the Top 8! Rest assured, you'll get all the decklists from our Japanese Coverage colleagues. Round one is about to start, so let's get sampling.

  • Saturday, 2:10 p.m. - Hiroshima – City of Peace

    by Nate Price
  • One thing that never seems to escape me as an American is the sheer sense of history that exists outside of my own country. As a country, the United States has only been around for a little over 225 years, a veritable infant in the scope of the world. By that analogy, if the United States is an infant, Japan could easily be its grandfather. By the time we formulated our Constitution, Japan had already been a strong state for near 1000 years. By the time we went through our bloody Civil War 150 years ago, over a dozen different groups had risen up to wrest power from those in charge. Japan is a country of such incredibly rich history that it is impossible to wander the streets here and not be simply awed by the feeling of age around you, even when surrounded by the high-rise buildings and shining neon lights. As advanced as Japan is now, it is built on centuries of advancement and tradition, with elements of ages long since past blended with shades of the new.

    The five-story pagoda in Miyajima near Hiroshima.

    This weekend's Grand Prix is being held in Hiroshima City, which is one of the largest cities in the western part of Japan. Hiroshima was founded in 1589 by the warlord Mori Terumoto, making it nearly twice as old as the United States. Control of Hiroshima exchanged hands a few times over the intervening centuries, following the constant ebb and flow of the struggles for control of Japan. Eventually, after the fief structure of feudal Japan was abandoned for the current prefecture model in 1871, Hiroshima became the capital of the Hiroshima prefecture, beginning to grow into the city it is today. As the Industrial Revolution took hold, Hiroshima slowly began the transition from a more agrarian-based society to an industry-based city. This greatly increased its importance to the country of Japan, and was often used as the site of diplomatic hearings, including hosing the first round of talks to end the Sino-Japanese war against China near the end of the nineteenth century.

    This importance never waned, unfortunately placing it as one of the major targets in Japan for the atomic display meant to shake Japan into conceding World War II. On Monday, August 6, at 8:15 AM, Hiroshima became the first city to be obliterated by the power of the atom. 80,000 people were killed immediately with an estimated 60,000 more dead by the end of the year thanks to the fallout from the bomb. Over 60% of the city's buildings were leveled. Japan's City of Peace had become the site of one of the biggest atrocities in the history of war. In every darkness, there is a point of light, however. In the aftermath of the atomic bomb, Hiroshima named the Oleander its official flower. It was the first flower to bloom after the devastation.

    The oleander: a sign of a new beginning for Hiroshima.

    Much like the oleander, Hiroshima began to bloom in the years following the devastation. It was set back a bit by the arrival of the Makurazaki Typhoon, but not derailed. After the painstaking efforts of the citizens and government, the city of Hiroshima bloomed again. A few hundred meters from the epicenter of the blast that changed the world, the Atomic Bomb Dome was enshrined, a symbol to remind everyone what had happened and that anything could be overcome. It is surrounded by a public park, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was opened soon thereafter, and Hiroshima was declared a City of Peace by Parliament, resulting in attention as a destination for peace talks, discussions on environmental issues, and a stage for issues affecting the entire globe. From the ashes of war, the City of Peace had returned.

    Hiroshima has had a long history in the annals of Magic as well, though a blink of an eye in the country's history. The first international tournament held in Hiroshima was Grand Prix Hiroshima in January 2001. Making the Top 8 of that event was a Japanese player who would eventually rise to worldwide renown: Tsuyoshi Fujita. When the Grand Prix came back to Hiroshima in January of 2003, Fujita was once again among the Top 8 players. Eventually, he would go on to be the first Japanese player inducted to the illustrious Hall of Fame. The next Japanese player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame was Shuhei Nakamura, who happened to win the next Grand Prix Hiroshima in August of 2006.

    Tsuyoshi Fujita

    Shuhei Nakamura

    By this point, Nakamura was already fairly well known on the professional circuit. Japanese Magic had gone through a renaissance, gaining an increasing amount of respect in the global community. One of my favorite stories came from a Pro player who I can't remember at this time who once told me that "once upon a time, if you sat down across from a Japanese player, you were pretty much guaranteed a win. Now, if you sit down from a Japanese player, you feel happy making out of the round with a win. They've gotten so much better." Nakamura and Fujita were two of the players who began to spearhead this charge to the upper echelons of Magic.

    Kenji Tsumura

    Masashi Oiso

    Two others who contributed greatly to the rise of Japanese Magic are both Hiroshima natives, the universally-beloved Kenji Tsumura and the timeless Masashi Oiso, two of the most-feared players to ever come out of Japan, known for their technically perfect play. Combined, they have 22 Grand Prix Top 8s, including 3 wins, and 12 Pro Tour Top 8s. As a result of their phenomenal success, both Tsumura and Oiso, who will be on the Magic: the Gathering Hall of Fame ballot for 2012, make strong cases for their own inclusion. That would make all four Japanese Hall of Fame members with a connection to Hiroshima, making it one of the most historically-significant cities in the history of Magic, not to mention the world.

    This weekend, there are four players within striking distance of the Player of the Year pinnacle: Shouta Yasooka, Martin Juza, Yuuya Watanabe, and Hall-of-Famer Shuhei Nakamura, who is looking to repeat as champion. With the 2011 season rapidly winding to a close, the outcome of this tournament can have a very significant impact on the final standings. Were one of these four to win the tournament, or at least make the finals, they would either be catapulted into the lead, or just behind it, with only Grand Prix San Diego and Worlds itself to provide points. Hiroshima could very well end up being the kingmaker for this year's race.

    With so many significant contributions to the fabric of the past, as well as the structure of the future, perhaps the City of Peace would be better renamed the City of History.

  • Saturday, 2:15 p.m. - LCT Winning Decks

    by Miyasaka Takeshi

  • Kazuhiko Tanaka - LCT Winning Deck
    Grand Prix Hiroshima 2011

    Yuki Matsumoto - LCT Winning Deck
    Grand Prix Hiroshima 2011

    Takatomo Hayashi - LCT Winning Deck
    Grand Prix Hiroshima 2011

    Taiji Urasawa - LCT Winning Deck
    Grand Prix Hiroshima 2011

    Takehiro Fujimoto - LCT Winning Deck
    Grand Prix Hiroshima 2011

    Jun'ichi Yabuta - LCT Winning Deck
    Grand Prix Hiroshima 2011

    Ken'Ichiro Omori - LCT Winning Deck
    Grand Prix Hiroshima 2011

    Tsutomu Sasaki - LCT Winning Deck
    Grand Prix Hiroshima 2011

  • Saturday, 2:23 p.m.: 20/20 Vision - Round 1

    by Rich Hagon
  • And so it begins. Kessig Wolf Run is an absolute beating of a card.
    The +X part of the card is all well and good, but it's that mighty word 'trample' that catapults it into the frontline of Constructed play. Township Tokens is another deck that takes advantage of an Innistrad land, Gavony Township, but it looks as if the Japanese model is largely focused on playing U/W rather than G/W. About the only deck that might seem to be missing in our first glimpse of the metagame would be mono-red, although we weren't expecting to see it in large numbers. More in round four, as the 20/20 Vision metagame comes into focus.  
  • Saturday, 2:30 p.m. - Player of the Year 2011: Why Japan Will Win

    by Rich Hagon
  • Yuuya Watanabe

    Shuhei Nakamura

    Shouta Yasooka

    Sitting beside me, the estimable Nate Price is currently hard at work on one of the toughest assignments of his writing career, a piece entitled 'Why America will win Player of the Year 2011'. Why so tough?

    Well, I'm happy to believe in the Easter Bunny, in the Tooth Fairy, and in Father Christmas. I'm confident that they exist, but they won't be winning POY. I'm also quite happy to acknowledge the existence of Owen Turtenwald, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Ben Stark. Hell, I'll even throw in David Sharfman, Josh Utter-Leyton, and anyone else Nate wants to claim as 'American'. Who knows? He may be going gung-ho for Martin Juza or Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. I think his integrity draws the line at Vincent Lemoine. I think.

    In any case, while I acknowledge their existence, just like Mr. rabbit ears, little Ms. fairy wings, and yo-ho-ho Beard Guy, they won't be winning POY this year either, and I'm here to tell you why.

    Part of this is cultural. One of the great strengths of the American players, and indeed the U.S. culturally, is their ability to prize individuality. In the POY race, they are Owen, Luis, and Ben first, and they are U.S. citizens second. Here in Japan, it really isn't like that. When Masashi Oiso won Japanese Nationals in 2008, he didn't promise the crowd a Worlds victory for Masashi Oiso, he promised them a victory for Japan.

    To the outside world, since 2004 the Player of the Year title looks like this:

    2005 Kenji Tsumura (Japan)
    2006 Shouta Yasooka (Japan)
    2007 Tomoharu Saitou (Japan)
    2008 Shuuhei Nakamura (Japan)
    2009 Yuuya Watanabe (Japan)

    In Japan, the same title looks like this:

    2005 Japan (Kenji Tsumura)
    2006 Japan (Shouta Yasooka)
    2007 Japan (Tomoharu Saitou)
    2008 Japan (Shuuhei Nakamura)
    2009 Japan (Yuuya Watanabe)
    2010 Ja....wait. What?

    The Player of the Year title matters here more than anywhere else on planet Earth. Do you know how incredibly rare it is for the United States to win Player of the Year? When Brad Nelson finally won in the Paris Playoff, it was such a triumph that someone wrote an entire book about it - Grinder: The Brad Nelson Story. Who would do such a thing?

    Oh, wait, that was me.

    Secure as I am in the certainty of my arguments, I'm happy to take a moment to humbly bow down (in truly formal Japanese fashion) before the three excellent Americans who spearhead their doomed challenge for the title. Owen Turtenwald has had a breathtaking season with no fewer than six Grand Prix top 8s (something I imagine Nate will bore you with in some slavish fashion). This is an awesome accomplishment. You know what else is an awesome accomplishment? Winning. In total, Owen Turtenwald has made nine Grand Prix top 8s, and won precisely one less than one of them. Pro Tour top 8s? If he gets there, Worlds in San Francisco would be his first.

    Then there's Luis Scott-Vargas. One of the best players in the world?

    By all means. A proven Champion? Sure, he's even won premier events in San Francisco before. Two things count against Luis. First, like his team-mate and theoretical contender Josh Utter-Leyton, he has many hours a week taken away from thinking and testing, because he has a demanding job. Sure, that job involves Magic, but so does mine, and I'm not winning Worlds any time soon.

    Second, Worlds is the only handicap event of the year, where Luis contrives to give all his rivals a head start before finishing incredibly strongly - when it's all too late. 2010 saw him go 3-3 in Standard, 3-3 in Draft, and then sweep Extended to finish 34th. 2009 -

    2-4 on day one, 3-3 on day two, then 5-1 on day three. 2008 - 5-1 on day one, then only 2-4 in draft. The 6-0 on day three? Once again, all too late.

    How about Ben Stark? What a talent. Simply tremendous in the early part of the season, and thoroughly deserving of a Pro Tour title in Paris. Great stuff. Player of the Year? People who are trying to be Player of the Year go to Nationals. They go to Grand Prix. Ben S.

    leads a busy life, and Magic isn't the be all and end all for him. Nor should it be, and for him the balance works well. It doesn't make him more likely to win POY, though.

    But enough of these American wannabes, let's shine the spotlight on the Holy Trinity who are, between them, virtually a lock to bring the trophy back to the place it truly belongs.

    First, there's Yuuya Watanabe. He's the 2009 Player of the Year.

    That's right, he's already spent one calendar year being better at Magic than everybody else. In total he has 13 Grand Prix top 8s. This year, he has three. His worst finish among those top 8s? Second place.

    Three top 8s, and two titles, in Shanghai and Pittsburgh.

    Next up is Shouta Yasooka. He's the 2006 Player of the Year. Yes my friends, once again we're in the presence of someone who did better at Magic than everybody else from January to December. Like Watanabe, Yasooka has three GP top 8s this year. While he has two quarter final exits, he also has a title, from GP Kobe. That takes his GP top 8 total to fourteen, and let's not forget that he's also a Pro Tour Champion, from Charleston 2006.

    Then there's Shuuhei Nakamura. He's the - you're probably getting bored of this, but dominance is frequently dull, so deal with it -

    2008 Player of the Year. From the first event in Stuttgart (which happened at the back end of 2007) through to Worlds in Memphis, Shuuhei played Magic better than everybody else. And that includes everybody from the land of the free and the home of the brave. This year, Nakamura has only a single GP top 8 to his name, finishing 3rd at GP Prague. If you think that means he's slowing down, that's probably good news for the rest of planet Magic, since he now has seventeen GP top 8s to go with his five PT top 8s.

    These three titans of the game - all three of them former Player of the Year title holders - are what stand between the likes of Turtenwald, Scott-Vargas, and Stark, and the end-of-year trophy shot.

    Statistics don't lie. Sooner or later the overwhelming dominance of Japan had to suffer a blip, and that blip was named Brad Nelson. Feel free to enjoy the delusional ramblings of my colleague Nathaniel, who is still desperately scouring for factoids (apparently Americans can't cope with actual 'facts') to support his 'argument', but know this:

    Player of the Year belongs in Japan. It was on temporary loan, but the year is almost up, and it's time for the natural order of things to be resumed. I can't tell you for sure which of my stand-out trio will ultimately lift the trophy, because they're all so good, but when it comes to Sunday in San Francisco, this is what you're going to see:

    2011 Player of the Year - Japan (.......)


  • Saturday, 2:58 p.m. - Player of the Year 2011: Why the United States Will Win

    by Nate Price
  • Rich Hagon, my incredibly talented, genius of a partner for this weekend is slaving away at his laptop, earphones obscuring everything, including reason, from reaching his ears. As the saying goes, there is a fine line between genius an insanity, and if he thinks that anyone other than an American is going to win the Player of the Year title, that line is well behind him.

    The three remaining events on the calendar for 2011 that have any bearing on the Player of the Year race are Grand Prix Hiroshima, Grand Prix San Diego, and Worlds, which is in San Francisco. That is a mere three events for the Japanese players sitting in 4th, 5th, and 7th respectively, to catch the American players sitting in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. This is also assuming that David Sharfman, also an American, doesn't make a run in the last two events on American soil to charge out of 9th place.

    Despite the fact that I inherently know that I'm correct, a useful side effect of being an American, I decided to do a bit of research to back up the facts ingrained in my soul at birth. I am not blessed with the encyclopedic knowledge of my colleague, which I assume is a condition caused by countless hours locked in a room in an attempt to avoid the constant stream of precipitation falling outside his home. Rain Man indeed! With the formality of researching my facts aside, let's look at our contenders.

    First, you have Owen Turtenwald, leading his nearest competitor by 6 points, which requires at least a 4th place finish in a Grand Prix to overcome. 4th place, eh? Turtenwald has seen that mark four times this year already. In addition to those four Top 4 appearances, Turtenwald has two other Top 8 appearances, bringing his 2011 total to six. That is only one less than the number of Top 8 appearances of all of the Japanese players combined. And it's not like these Top 8s came during just one particularly good stretch of play, as happens to be the case for one of my compatriot's horses, Yuuya Watanabe. While Watanabe's 2nd-place finish and two 1st-place finishes in three consecutive events is quite impressive, he gained virtually all of the points that have put him in contention during that one stretch, much like most of the work that the Hagon plans to do over the weekend was done in the take-out line at McDonald's earlier this morning. Compare that to Turtenwald, who has never had a stretch quite as impressive as Watanabe's, but who has been putting up Top 8 performances from the first Grand Prix of the season, Atlanta in January, to Santiago just this last weekend, at which he finished 3rd. His excellence has been the sustained excellence that has marked the resumes of past winners of the year. This sustained excellence has also resulted in his wide lead right now, consistently adding point after point to his total.

    The few. The proud. The Turtenwald.

    Right behind him in the race is another American, and another roadblock for any Japanese player looking to snatch the Player of the Year title: Ben Stark. The tenured Floridian has been among the highest-level players in the game as long as any of his competition. He quickly burst onto the top of POY race with a 2nd-place finish in Grand Prix Atlanta, the same Grand Prix at which Turtenwald made his first Top 8 of the year. Coincidence that these two would be atop the leaderboard at this point after a start like that? I think not. After that, he set himself apart in the race by winning the inaugural Pro Tour of the season in Paris, just as fellow American David Sharfman was winning the concurrent Grand Prix. It should be noted that Sharfman, who is currently in 9th on the leaderboard, went on to win Pro Tour Nagoya. Combined with Brian Kibler winning Grand Prix Sendai last year, making him the first American to win an individual Grand Prix in Japan in close to a decade, American's have really been making their mark on the landscape of Japanese Magic, which previously had been an impregnable fortress to foreigners.

    Ben Stark

    As important as home-court advantage is, I would never count out the American player currently tied with Stark for 2nd place: Luis Scott-Vargas. I am pretty sure I saw a video on last week that showed LSV throwing a rock from his bedroom window and actually hitting the venue for Worlds. The only way it could be more of a home field for him is if he were to move his bed into the coverage room, which wouldn't take that much of a walk. I'm not really sure what to say about LSV that hasn't already been said, so I'll just repeat some of the finer points. First, there is his median finish. Yes, Watanabe had a median finish of 1.3 over three consecutive events. I cannot deny how impressive this is. Now imagine if a player was able to make a median finish of Top 32 over the course of their entire career. That's what Luis Scott-Vargas has done. While he hasn't had the same high-profile year as he did in 2008, that doesn't mean he hasn't done well. It's a sad point that since so much emphasis is placed on the Top 8 of tournaments, the players that finish just outside are relegated to abyss. No one remembers 9th place. It follows then that no one takes notice when a player finishes in the Top 32, even when they do it over 75% of the time they enter a tournament. The level of consistency is so high for LSV that he has been banned in fantasy Pro Tour drafts! He is the only player so good that to choose him as the player you select to win the tournament is considered cheating. None of the players that my incredibly astute partner is fawning about can boast that.

    Luis Scott-Vargas

    The last American player of note atop the leaderboard is Czech superstar Martin Juza. Juza has slowly padded his numbers with an inexorable march from week to week, Grand Prix to Grand Prix. Often seen in the company of fellow travelers Brian Kibler, Shuhei Nakmura, and Yuuya Watanabe, it is quite easy to confuse Juza for a Japanese player. Combined with his proclivity for travel, Juza also happens to be one of the strongest players on the planet right now, though his best performances have seemed to come from his Limited game rather than his Constructed game. He has 23 points from 22 Constructed Grand Prix while he has gained 76 points from 27 Limited Grand Prix. By his finishes, Juza has a one in five chance to win every Limited Grand Prix he enters, a percentage which no other player with a comparable number of events can boast. Despite this fact, he has still shown the same sense of inevitable grinding that has placed fellow American Owen Turtenwald atop the POY board. He has played in 50 Grand Prix over the past three years. Since surging to an 8th place finish in the 2008 Player of the Year race, he has finished 3rd and 4th in the past two years, a threat to win the title each year all the way up through Worlds. The man is a grinding machine, and a mere 12 points out of the lead, this could be the young Czech player finally breaks through for a win, giving the US their second Player of the Year in a row.

    Martin Juza

    No matter how you slice it, the Americans seem to be a stone-cold lock to win the Player of the Year for 2011. While history may not be on our side, as my cherubim-faced better half will be pleased to inform you, the present certainly is. As in virtually every sport I can think of that isn't college football (why do you have to ruin my blanket statements, BCS?!), the most important thing isn't getting hot at the beginning of the year, or at the middle of the year, it's how you play at the end of the year that counts. Actually, screw that. Why just play good at the end of the year? Why not just play with excellence all year long, like the Americans have done? If they can keep putting up the consistent finishes, just as they have been doing all year long, it seems likely that the punchy American squad can prove that consistency today is better than consistency yesterday.

    After all, 2006, 2007,2008, and 2009 are not 2011, no matter what Rich may try to tell you.

  • Round 4 Feature Match – Shuhei Nakamura vs. Martin Juza

    by Nate Price

  • "This sucks," Juza said upon taking his seat. He and Nakamura are best friends who have been traveling the world together for the past few months taking on the Grand Prix circuit. But there was nothing that could be done. It's a law, after all. You drive to a PTQ with some friends, and the very first chance you have to play each other, you do. There are unbreakable laws of the universe, like the Laws of Thermodynamics, or the fact that the second movie in a trilogy will always be the best. This law is more powerful than either of those.

    I suppose we could have held this Feature Match at the table they
    testing at until five minutes ago...

    Both players come into this event in the top ten players of the Player of the Year standings. With so few events to go, the outcome of this Grand Prix could factor significantly into the end result of the race. Considering that one of the two of these friends would be lessening the chances of the other of winning the title, it was obvious that playing each other was weighing heavy on their minds. They had been testing against each other since the player meeting earlier in the morning, and surely didn't expect to see this match coming so early into the tournament.

    "This matchup is just terrible," Juza confided. "We just tested like fifty matches. We're playing the
    same deck, and whoever gets more one-drops wins. At least Yuuya [Watanabe] is amused."

    The Watanabe is amused.

    Nakamura began with a first-turn Avacyn's Pilgrim, to which Juza played a land and passed, sighing "and...dead." Nakamura followed that up with a sheepish shrug and attack before bolstering his mana even more with a Birds of Paradise. A Garruk Relentless followed, though Juza had the Oblivion Ring to deal with it. Nakamura kept the gas on with a Blade Splicer, using an Oblivion Ring of his own to take care of Juza's Hero of Bladehold. Juza made another, insistent on getting himself into the token race. Nakamura put himself well ahead, though, playing a Geist-Honored Monk. Juza's Hero made attacking difficult, though, and, despite superior numbers, Nakamura kept his team home.

    Shuhei Nakamura contemplates attacking.

    With a slight lull from Nakamura, Juza made a Garruk Relentless of his own, making a Wolf before passing the turn. Within seconds of Juza motioning towards Nakamura, the Japanese player dropped an Overrun on the table, which only stayed there for a couple of seconds before getting scooped up along with the rest of his cards. Juza had conceded.

    Shuhei Nakamura 1 – Martin Juza 0

    "We discussed sideboarding for the mirror match just five minutes ago," Nakamura said with a sly smile. I guess that meant it was fresh in their memories.

    It was clear that neither of these guys were too happy to have been matched up in the first round of actual pay for them here at this Grand Prix. No one ever wants to play a friend, but to know that one of the two of them was going to pick up their first loss so early, and at the hands of the other, really made things sting.

    After drawing two hands with no mana producers, drawing two in a five-card
    hand was pretty funny to Juza.

    Juza had to mulligan to five before coming into a hand containing two all-important mana producers. Nakamura had a pair of his own to match them. Juza began to deal with them with a Mortarpod, but Nakamura had one of his own to start firing back. With a slight advantage, Juza made a Hero of Bladehold, which Nakamura promptly dealt hid under an Oblivion ring. Both players upped the ante, with a Mikaeus, the Lunarch for Nakamura and a Garruk Relentless for Juza. Garruk's Wolf protected him from an attack, but Nakamura didn't have anything to play after combat.

    Juza untapped, thinking quietly about his turn. With Garruk and a Mortarpod-wielding Birds of Paradise, he had a few options. First, Garruk made a Wolf. Then after a brief stop back in the tank, he passed the turn. Nakamura forced him to chump with the Wolf by attacking before hiding Garruk under a second Oblivion Ring. With the first of his Garruks out of the way, Juza could now play a Garruk, Primal Hunter, immediately making a token. Nakamura chose not to attack with his equipped Mikaeus, instead playing a Geist-Honored Monk.

    Things appeared to be at a tenuous sort of parity. That parity ended when Juza tapped seven mana, as it usually does. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite came down to a sharp gasp from Nakamura. A smile flashed to his face as he popped himself on the forehead with the palm of his hand.

    "Ahh," Nakamura sighed, amused at the turn of events despite their crushing implications for him. After Juza sent his team to attack, Nakamura thought for a minute before bowing his head and laughing, "Ok, I'm dead."

    Shuhei Nakamura 1 – Martin Juza 1

    Considering the pair of mulligans he had to take in the second game, I'm sure Juza felt a wave of relief. That wave of relief quickly turned to incredulity as he glanced at his hand for the third game. A slight laugh led to a long thought, eventually dropping his hand onto the table face up, asking his friend "no keep?" Five lands, an Elspeth Tirel, and a Garruk Primal Hunter? "Heh, no keep," Nakamura agreed with a chuckle.

    His next hand required a bit more thought. Nakamura had kept his hand, signaling a one-drop mana critter. That made the Mortarpod in his opening hand quite strong. Ultimately, Juza kept. The game started out just as he hoped it would. Nakamura played a Birds of Paradise, which Juza immediately shot with the Mortarpod. Juza was the first to break into the new game with a Mirran Crusader, which Nakamura took out with a Fiend Hunter. When Garruk Relentless fought the Hunter and flipped, that left him with a source of deathtouch creatures for his Mortarpod. He put them to good use over the next couple of turns, using his Wolves to kill the more important of Nakamura's creatures, while bolstering his own team with Hero of Bladehold. After two more turns of this, Juza's army had become more than Nakamura could deal with, giving Juza his first played win of this Grand Prix, though it had to come at the cost of his friend's loss. A bitter pill to swallow, but someone had to win.

    At least if you have to lose, it means your buddy gets the win, right?

    Shuhei Nakamura 1 – Martin Juza 2

  • Ganz Gut

    by Rich Hagon

  • Andreas Ganz

    Andreas Ganz is a name that regular coverage-watchers will be familiar with. It isn't that he regularly does well on the European Grand Prix circuit, or even that he's a former Swiss National Champion. Ganz is best-known as the driving force behind the strategy portal website While we waited for his three byes to wind down, we chatted about his life in Magic.

    "I started when I was just 12 years old, when some school friends started playing. This was just before Ice Age, and I remember that my first ever pack had Serra Angel in it, as the rare! Of course we had no idea about tournament rules. We were just playing for fun. For us, playing huge creatures was the thing to do, we were all playing 'Timmy' decks all the time. I think my favorite card in the early years was Elvish Piper, which should tell you the kind of decks we liked to play."

    Like many, Ganz drifted away from the game for a few years, before a chance meeting drew him back in.

    "I went to a holiday camp, and some of my old school friends were there, and they were still playing the game. I got interested again on that holiday - this was during Urza's Block - and I haven't stopped since. It was still very casual, but then one of my friends took me to a PTQ. It was Extended, and I got completely destroyed. I was playing a homebrew mono-red deck, and I was getting beaten every game on turn three by all these crazy combo decks. I had no idea what was happening."

    For some, that's a moment to throw in the towel. Not for Ganz.

    "I guess I'm a pretty competitive person, and once I can see a clear goal in front of me, I'm going to try really hard to reach it. In 2005 I was runner-up at the Swiss Nationals, so I got to go to Worlds in Yokohama that year. We finished third in the team competition, which was brilliant."

    Two years later, the Swiss team that featured Pro stalwarts Nico Bohny and Manuel Bucher went on to take the team title in New York, a truly fabulous achievement. Was it a big deal back in Switzerland?

    "For sure, it meant a lot. We were one of the few countries to have both an individual and team World Championship trophy (Alexander Blumke, all the way back in 1995). It showed us as a community that we could compete with the biggest Magic nations. Even when you're from a small country, you can still win."

    It's a dream of many Magic players to somehow make the game a part of their working life as well as their recreation time, and Ganz hit the jackpot when he replied to an advert from the founders of

    "It was 2009, and Luis Scott-Vargas had been doing video content for the site for a while. He had to leave, though, as he was about to run, so there was a gap for the job of Content Manager. One of the best things about my job is that I can do it from anywhere in the world. All I need is my laptop and internet connection, and that's it. I schedule the content, look after the community side of the site, and help oversee the Pro team. We currently have articles from Jeremy Neeman, Peter Brozek, and Richard Bland amongst others, so it's a great job to have."

    Why did he make the trip to Hiroshima?

    "It was a combination of lots of things. I like travelling, and I really love Japan. The flights were cheap, and I wanted a few more Pro Points before the end of the year. It all came together perfectly.

    Honestly, I've met so many friends from all over the world by doing this. I'm really thankful for everything the game has given back to me."

    He grins.

    "I know they talk about 'play the game, see the world', but that's exactly what it's like!"

  • 20/20 Vision - Round 4

    by Rich Hagon

  • Into Pro-land we go, as the big names have used up their byes, and it's time to win actual games of Magic at last. Here's the 20/20 version of round four:

    Running Totals

    Wolf Run Green is still out in the lead, but U/W Tokens is catching up. The two main control decks (U/B and U/W) continue to be 20% of our sample combined. New entries are Mono-White tokens and Mono-Red, while Solar Flare, GU, and Tempered Steel have (at least temporarily) vanished.

    Next time, round 7, and a bevy of undefeated decks in action.

  • What Are You So Afraid Of?

    by Nate Price

  • The walls of the dank alleyway burst into thousands of points of light as the large, pale moon above emerges from the clouds, sending its light to rebound off the rain-slicked stone walls. The light isn't particularly bright, certainly not enough to illuminate the path ahead, but the constantly changing patterns create a hypnotic effect, dazzling and fascinating.

    A man glides through this fantastic and awful passage, feet moving like the flicker of flames, the only proof of his passage the occasional sounds of splashing water, but even these are faint. It's as though the night itself is dampening the sound in preparation for what is about to happen, a calm before the storm. As the man rounds the corner, something unusual happens: he stumbles, barely catching himself before falling to one knee.

    A dead end.

    His breathing speeds up, each breath taking in the chilled night air, thick with fear and the metallic tang of blood from his clothes. His eyes dart to every possible location, frantically searching for something he may have missed. He unconsciously backs up a step, slamming his foot clumsily into a puddle with a loud splash. A long howl fills the air, seemingly conjured forth from under the surface of the puddle he just broke. Echoing off the walls, the howl fills the man's ears from all directions. It doesn't matter where it's coming from, though. The only thing that matters is that it's coming.

    With a start, the man turns to run, his once fluid steps replaced with the frenzied and clumsy gait of a man running from his own death, trying desperately to stay one step ahead. Behind him, he hears the scrabble of nail on stone, first distant, but inching ever closer. It doesn't matter how fast the man runs, the inexorable advance of his pursuers brings them closer with each step. He begins to hear the low, guttural growls behind him. The stench of meat and blood fills his nostrils, though his mind has become so focused on escape that he doesn't even notice.

    At once, he feels the weight upon his back accompanied by a sharp stab of pain that he barely feels. He is so filled with adrenaline that his brain hasn't quite caught onto what has happened to him. The only thing he knows is that he has to get up, he has to flee. He tries to push himself up off of the ground, but finds himself an immovable object. Only at this point does everything settle into his mind. His breathing immediately drops from the sharp, frantic breaths to long and drawn. He hears the howl and snarl, louder and more liquid than any sound he's heard before in his life. He feels the weight shifting on his back, giving him a moment to turn his head. As his eyes fall upon his attacker, he knows what he is going to see before his mind can even process it. Death with fangs, an inhuman amalgam of flesh, fur, and claws.

    A werewolf.

    His end.

    Victim of Night

    Stories like this have been around for as long as the written word has existed. There's something about the human condition that likes to be scared, likes to feel dread. It makes us feel more energized to know how close we could come to death. It gets our own adrenaline flowing, filling us with this mad power. To be scared is to be alive.

    Innistrad is Magic's attempt to visit the land of the gothic horror masterpiece. Considering how visceral and integral horror is to being human, it's no wonder that they waited as long as they did. If you are going to do something this connected to people, you have to do it right. Innistrad has taken many of the most famous horror tropes in Western culture and turned them into a world about which players could freely roam. Making this the first set to have a completely flavor-driven design process was an ideal decision. After all, horror doesn't exist without the ability to affect someone on an emotional level. It isn't horror if it isn't scary on some level. Starting with traditional design and fleshing out the flavor later is like showing someone something foreign and telling them they should be afraid of it. Addressing the horror genre the way that Innistrad did is the opposite. It makes you feel scared and then shows you what you're afraid of.

    As scary as werewolves and vampires and zombies can be, you have to understand what they are in order in order to know why they're scary. A zombie on its own isn't that scary. It's generally slow, dim-witted, and easy to escape. What makes them scary is the inexorable tide of them. The impending and crushing inevitability of zombies is what makes the so terrifying. If you don't know that that is what zombies represent, they just become stupid, mindless beasts. Not too scary.

    Diregraf Ghoul

    For the Japanese, many of the horror tropes addressed in Innistrad don't inspire the same fear as they do for Westerners. After all, Innistrad is based on Western horror tropes, the things gleaned through Mary Shelly, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, and George Romero, all Western writers. Japan is an Eastern country, and comes with superstitions, folklore, and tropes of its own. It doesn't have the same ingrained fear to play on as the Western cultures. But that isn't to say that it doesn't exist. If anyone has seen The Ring or Audition knows that Japanese culture definitely understands fear. But what has built that fear is unique to their folklore.

    In traditional Japanese culture, the concept of a vampire doesn't exist. In modern culture, the appearance of vampires or vampire hunters in folklore and stories is purely due to Western influence. They never had vampires of their own, so they have built them based on the West's. The same goes for werewolves. The closest thing Japan has had to the werewolf is the tanuki or the kitsune. While both of these creatures possess the ability to change shape, their similarities to Western werewolves ends there. Kitsune and tanuki are spiritual creatures, which gives them their power, as opposed to werewolves, which are normal humans that are afflicted with a mystical curse. This highlights one of the other major differences between the two. Werewolves are trapped in their situation, representing an inescapable duality of good and evil. In this light, the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde can be seen as a sort of werewolf tale, or at least a good analog. The Japanese shapeshifters, on the other hand, simply exist as they are. They don't have any dual nature to struggle against; they just are how they are. They also aren't evil, as werewolves tend to be depicted. They tend to be tricksters, using their shapeshifting abilities to harass, test, and prank mortals. Ultimately, they tend to be anything but evil, ranging from benevolent to simply pranksters, out for a good time.

    Kitsune Diviner

    The concept of zombies in Japan is closely related to that of spirits, which are the most common and powerful horror trope in Japan. Zombies don't really exist in Japanese folklore in the same way that they exist in the West. The zombies that appear aren't the shambling, animated corpses of Dawn of the Dead. They aren't even the accelerated "zoombies" of 28 Days Later, though that is a little closer to the mark. The zombies that do appear in Japanese lore exist more as possessed beings, mindless and slaves to the will of another, usually a powerful spirit or demon. In this way, they are similar to the zoombies, which are slaves to their primal impulses thanks to the Rage Virus. Apart from that, though, they are in no way related to the Western concept of zombies, which are a horror trope in their own right. The Japanese "zombie" is incapable of existing without the presence of the largest and most powerful Japanese horror trope: the spirit.

    Japanese folklore is filled with spirits. According to Japanese lore, each human possesses a spirit, called a reikon. Upon dying, the spirit passes from the body, entering a sort of purgatory until the proper burial rites can be performed. After this happens, the spirit is free to join its ancestors in watching over the family in the generations to come.

    Dearly Departed

    Things don't always go right, however. If the person dies in an extremely violent manner, or with strong emotions and unresolved issues, the desires for vengeance can be so strong as to affect the passing on, becoming a yurei and crossing back over into the physical world. In addition, should the burial rites not occur or be done improperly, the spirit is incapable of passing over. In these situations, the spirits return to the physical world and begin to affect the lives of the living.

    Spirits feature so prominently in Japanese culture that they have many different divisions. In Western society, we may be able to differentiate between a couple of different types of ghosts, but our definitions are mostly based on how the spirit affects the material world. For the Japanese, yurei are classified by either their manner of death or their reasons for returning. Some, such as onryo, are spirits of vengeance, come back to deal with a wrong that was dealt to them in life. Others, such as ubume, which are the spirits of mothers who died in childbirth, are benevolent and return to serve as protectors, unable to pass mostly due to devotion and fear for their loved ones.

    In addition to the standard types of spirits, the Japanese have one very intriguing type of spirit called an ikiryo, or living spirit. Sometimes, living beings can feel such strong negative emotions that their spirit leaves their body to exact a sort of vengeance on the source of their emotions. One of the most famous examples of this is Rokujo no Miyasundokoro from The Tale of Genji, a piece of classic Japanese literature nearly a millennium old. In the tale, Rokujo no Miyasundokoro is married to the titular Genji. Genji has an affair with another woman, which fills Rokujo with such rage and jealousy that her emotions send her living spirit to terrorize the poor woman with whom Genji was having the affair. Ultimately, the shock of the whole matter was more than the woman could handle and she died, a victim of Rokujo's ikiryo.

    One final piece of Japanese folklore is the yokai, which are supernatural monsters related to yurei in that they are spiritual beings. These yokai come in as many different shapes and sizes as the yurei. Some are benign, like the azuki arai, which are always found washing red azuki beans. Some are malevolent, such as the dreadful oni. Some are just downright strange, such as the ashiarai yashiki, which is a giant disembodied foot that appears in homes, demanding to be washed.

    One interesting class of yokai is the humanoid yokai. These yokai, like yurei, come from humans. Unlike yurei, though, which represent the spirits of humans, these humanoid yokai are what happens when a human filled with particularly dark and strong emotions is transformed into a grotesque caricature of itself. These can be terrifying, if for no other reason than the fact that their link to humans in undeniable, but their twisted nature makes them seem natural and unnatural at the same time. One of the more famous varieties is the kuchisake-onna, or slit-mouthed woman. This legend was actually able to cause a large amount of panic in the 1980's. The modern kuchisake-onna appears as a woman wearing a surgical mask, a not uncommon site in Japan. She approaches children, leaning in to ask them, "Am I pretty?" Based on how the child answers, she will remove the mask to reveal a slit mouth (think Heath Ledger's Joker), which she opens wide. In addition to having a terrifying appearance, let's just say that things don't end so well for the child. You should really check the story out here.

    Skeletal Grimace
    Am I pretty?

    Another yokai, the nopperabo, appear as completely normal humans...until you get close enough to realize that they have completely smooth, featureless faces. Many yokai have different names in each region. Nopperabo is the name of this particular spirit in the Tokyo region. Around Sendai, in the northern part of Japan, they take on another...familiar name: Zubera.

    Ashen-Skin Zubera

    While the Japanese have been only recently introduced to the concept of Halloween and the Western sense of horror, they have been able to jump in with incredible fervor. The past thousand years have provided a wealth of stories about strange occurrences, fantastic creatures, and visits from the beyond. As spiritual as Japanese tradition is, it is no surprise that most of the major Japanese tropes are spiritually related, be they ghosts, demons, or spiritual creatures. The most innocent and terrifying thing about Japanese horror is the driving force behind the creatures. Most Japanese spirits came about due to an interruption in their everyday routine, locking them into a point in their life, both mentally and geographically. All they really want to do is return to the routine they had before the most terrifying manner possible. Who knows, maybe along the way, they can exact a little spiritual vengeance.

    While the differences between the gothic horror world of Innistrad and Japanese folklore are very apparent, one thing remains the same. Fear is a universal feeling. While the reasons you feel fear may change, be they malicious shapeshifters or slit-mouthed women, blood-sucking undead or vengeful spirits, everyone is scared by something.

    Now don't look behind you.

  • Round 6 Feature Match - Kenji Tsumura vs Yoshiyuki Matsuo

    by Rich Hagon

  • Earlier today I talked at considerable length as to why Japan would claim the 2011 Player of the Year title. I referred to the 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 champions (Shouta Yasooka, Tomaharu Saitou, Shuuhei Nakamura, and Yuuya Watanabe). Now here's the fifth member of the club, Kenji Tsumura, starting the event with a single bye, but now riding high at 5-0. His opponent is Yoshiyuki Matsuo from Kanagawa, near Tokyo.

    Matsuo began with Birds of Paradise, Blade Splicer not far behind.

    After a single mulligan, Tsumura could only lay land through his first three turns. The Blade Splicer and Golem token attacked, with Mortarpod arriving, and dealing one to the face, leaving Matsuo to equip his token. Tsumura finally got into the action with Solemn Simulacrum, which he put in the way of the large token when it attacked the following turn.

    Elspeth Tirel was next for Matsuo, with three soldiers coming along for the ride. That was potentially trumped by Tsumura, who landed Primeval Titan. Oblivion Ring soon dealt with that, however, and Tsumura was down to eight. For five mana, the former Player of the Year cast Garruk, Primal Hunter, removing one loyalty to create a token of his own, using the famous Pro card of his close friend Rich Hoaen, himself a recent Grand Prix winner on his return to tournament play. Tsumura completed the turn with another Solemn Simulacrum.

    Planeswalkers on both sides then, as the pace slowed. Elspeth at four counters, a Birds of Paradise, three soldiers, Blade Splicer, and blade Splicer 3/3 token faced Solemn Simulacrum, a Rich Hoaen token, and Garruk, Primal Hunter at four loyalty. Oblivion Ring sent Tsumura's token packing, leaving just his Solemn Simulacrum to block the ravening hordes. Down Tsumura went to four life, and Elspeth created yet more Soldiers for Matsuo.

    Kenji Tsumura

    Primeval Titan from Tsumura. Garruk drew him a mighty six cards. That was enough to find him Slagstorm, almost wiping the board clear, save for Matsuo's Blade Splicer token, and Tsumura's Primeval Titan.

    Viridian Emissary completed a turn that could easily have seen Tsumura sweep up his permanents. Unfortunately for him, with the help of Elspeth Tirel Matsuo was able to create another three Soldiers. That made four, and with Mortarpod at the ready, the Slagstorm just wasn't enough for Tsumura to survive.

    Tsumura 0 - 1 Matsuo

    Both players had mana acceleration early in game two via Birds of Paradise. Green Sun's Zenith for two found Tsumura Viridian Emissary, as he looked to accelerate towards his Titans. We had seen Primeval Titan in game one, but Matsuo had not seen Inferno Titan, which Tsumura was also packing.

    Yoshiyuki Matsu

    For four mana, Matsuo cast the 3/4 Hero of Bladehold, which quickly met Beast Within from Tsumura. When Tsumura added a second Viridian Emissary, Matsuo looked to slow his development with Oblivion Ring for his Birds of Paradise. Sword of Feast and Famine was quickly disposed of by Tsumura, who continued to have the right cards at the right time, Beast Within once more buying him some time. Now Matsuo had Garruk, Primal Hunter, and his board position continued to grow in strength. Tsumura matched him Planeswalker for Planeswalker, sending both Garruks to the graveyard. Matsuo was ready to reload though, with Gideon Jura arriving right on cue to leave the former POY in trouble once more.

    Neither Rampant Growth nor Viridian Emissary seemed likely to dig Tsumura out of the hole, and moments later it was over.

    Kenji Tsumura 0 - 2 Yoshiyuki Matsuo

  • 20/20 Vision - Round 7

    by Rich Hagon

  • Now we've reached the point where our sample is a mix of undefeated players and those with one defeat against their name. There are no new decks at the top tables this time around, but some clear patterns are starting to emerge. Here are the numbers:

    Now let's see what that does to our overall figures:

    Mono-White Tokens has disappeared once more, presumably never to return. You can probably forget about the lone GU deck, and the two Tempered Steel decks from round one. Although there are still only three of them out of our sixty decks so far, Mono-Red is gradually becoming a presence. Solar Flare has more than one representative in a top 20 for the first time, while Infect has none this time around.

    Both U/B and U/W Control decks slid slightly, with only one representative each in round 7. G/W tokens continues to progress steadily up the leader board, while two decks are currently in a clear lead over the rest.

    Wolf Run Green still has 13 of our 60 decks, giving it more than 21% of the top table samples, but for the first time it has fallen behind the deck of the weekend, U/W Tokens. From 3 decks in round one, to 5 decks in round four, to 6 decks here in round seven, the march of the Tokens has yet to be halted. Taken together, U/W and G/W Tokens account for 37% of our sample, and that conpares with 17% for the U/W and U/B control decks.

    With the action hotting up as we close in on the end of day one, our next update will come tomorrow morning, when the overnight leaders will comprise our first snapshot of the day two metagame in another episode of 20/20 Vision.

  • Why Are You Here?

    by Rich Hagon

  • Everyone has their own story for how they got to any massive Magic gathering. When you're Japanese, live in Japan, and work in Japan, maybe turning up at a Japanese Grand Prix wouldn't be that much of a surprise. For some others in the room, there was an obvious question to ask, and never let it be said that I don't ask the obvious


    Why are you here?

    Simon Noreika

    First up was Simon Noreika. With a surname from that, I thought he might have a Japanese parent, but apparently Noreika is a Lithuanian name. Presumably Gaudenis Vidugiris could have told me that if he'd been here.

    "I lived in Taiwan for two years, and that's where I learned to play.

    Everything was really casual, not least because for the most part a Pre-Release was the highest level of play you could go to. I'm actually from Australia, but I've moved again recently to Tokyo. When I saw that there was a Grand Prix within reach on the bullet train, I had to come. I've never been to a Grand Prix before, and I don't even own a Standard deck. I just wanted to come down, enjoy the atmosphere, play some Drafts, and maybe some Commander."

    What's his level of Japanese?

    "I got the chance to come here on a student exchange program when I was in high school. At the time, I didn't speak a single word of Japanese. In the end, though, I couldn't turn down the opportunity, and when you live with a Japanese family and go to a Japanese school, you learn pretty quickly."

    Joe Christensen

    No sooner had I bid farewell to Simon than another unlikely presence came into view. Joe Christensen hails from Montana in the United States, although he's currently living in Idaho. He speaks a little Japanese, but it was in English that I asked,

    Why are you here?

    "I'm here on a work assignment. I arrived in Japan in September, and I finish up at the end of the year. I'm a nuclear engineer, working on some research for Kyoto university."

    As we talked, Joe started rummaging through his rucksack. It's not often I get asked if I want to take a picture of a DCI membership card, but Joe has a good one, as you'll see:

    Four figures - go figure

    Yep, that's a four-figure DCI number, which means Christensen has been around for a while. With a mischievous grin, he said,

    "I'd like to take this opportunity to launch my own personal petition to Wizards of the Coast. I'm a Legend Member of the DCI, and when I paid my $15 in 1996 I was promised lifetime membership of the organization. And what do I currently get for my (currently) $1 per year for the last fifteen years? Nothing."

    He grinned again.

    I think we both know he got his money's worth.

  • Round 7 Feature Match – Yuuya Watanabe vs. Gene Brumby

    by Nate Price

  • Seeing as how this is Japan, and seeing as how he's one of the top players in the Player of the Year standings, it seemed like a done deal that I would be sitting at a table next to Yuuya Watanabe. What I didn't expect was to see Gene Brumby seated across from him. The more I thought about it, though, the more sense it made. While he calls New Zealand home, Brumby has been on a similar "play the game, see the world" routine to the one that has been discussed so highly since the creation of the Planeswalker Points program. He was in Milan. He finished undefeated after Day 1 in Brisbane. Why should his making the trip to Hiroshima surprise me?

    Expect the unexpected.

    Brumby won the die roll and chose to go first. The first few turns progressed as expected in this matchup. Brumby's Solar Flare deck simply played land after land, occasionally sifting through cards with Ponder and Forbidden Alchemy. Meanwhile, Watanabe built his own mana base, drawing the occasional card with Think Twice. Watanabe eventually found himself with eight cards in hand during his discard. Brumby gave him a chance to lighten the load with a Snapcaster Mage, which he needed to recast Forbidden Alchemy, drawing a Dissipate from the Japanese player. With Watanabe more or less tapped out, Brumby resolved a Liliana of the Veil. Watanabe's attempt to remove it with Oblivion Ring was foiled, forcing Watanabe to play his own Liliana to deal with it. An attempt at a second Snapcaster Mage was Dissipated, leaving the board once again clear.

    Brumby made a Spellskite to protect his permanents, though he didn't have a source of pressure to protect. When Watanabe tried for a Forbidden Alchemy during his end step, Brumby played his first Dissipate. This left Watanabe free to cast his Wurmcoil Engine. Brumby countered with Day of Judgment. Next up was a Consecrated Sphinx. Again, Day of Judgment cleared the board. When a second came down, prompting Brumby to comment, "Nice card," Sun Titan returned Liliana of the Veil to force the sacrifice. When Unburial Rites brought the third Sphinx, Brumby relied on a different planeswalker, removing it with Karn Liberated.

    A series of heavy hits had lit up this Feature Match over the past couple of turns, but both players still had gas. Watanabe dealt with Brumby's Karn with an Oblivion Ring, leaving a Liliana with a single loyalty as the lone non-land permanent. That Liliana went to work, slowly pecking away at Watanabe's hand. As Snapcaster Mage and Forbidden Alchemy kept refilling it, Watanabe eventually found an opening to strike. Unburial Rites flashed back to return the Sphinx to play. When Brumby tried to make a copy of his own, Watanabe used a Snapcaster Mage to return Mana Leak, sealing the game. The final straw came when Watanabe used a Dissipate to counter a desperation Snapcaster from the New Zealander.

    "I concede," Brumby said with a stoic air, reaching for his cards in play.

    Yuuya Watanabe 1 – Gene Brumby 0

    In this Solar Flare mirror, which comes down to resources and forcing players to play on their own turns, Brumby's draw petered out pretty quickly.

    "What a bad draw for this matchup," he smiled after the game. "By the way, thanks for the picture, mate. My girl back home is going to love that. It's gotta be hard to take a good picture of someone so ugly," he said with a big laugh.

    This picture's why they pay me the big bucks.

    Once again, in traditional control-on-control fashion, game two started out blisteringly. A mere two minutes into the game, and the players had already progressed to turn five. During the end of Watanabe's turn, Brumby tried for a Snapcaster Mage. When Watanabe used a Dissipate to stop it, Brumby neutered the countermagic of Watanabe's deck with a Surgical Extraction. While peering through the deck, Brumby smiled and said, "Nice sideboard, man." He never revealed what prompted him to say that, though I hoped that for curiosity's sake the card would make an appearance.

    Knowing the path was clear, Brumby played a Liliana of the Veil, attacking both players' hands. To match Brumby's planeswalker, Watanabe made a Jace, Memory Adept, and started going to work on his own deck. Brumby, who was low on cards, tried to sift through his deck some more with a flashed back Forbidden Alchemy, but Watanabe stopped him with Mana Leak. After untapping, Brumby made a Sun Titan. With the ability targeting a Phantasmal Image in the graveyard, Watanabe used Doom Blade to kill the Titan, relegating the 0/0 Image back to the graveyard. With Brumby nearly out of gas, Watanabe used an Oblivion Ring to remove the Liliana of the Veil. An attempt at a second Sun Titan met a Mana Leak, leaving Brumby with only lands in play and a single card in hand.

    Yuuya Watanabe, Magic Adept.

    Feeling secure in his position, Watanabe began to attack Brumby's library with Jace. After two activations, Brumby was on 19 cards left. He frantically tried digging with Forbidden Alchemy and Ponder, finding an Oblivion Ring, but Watanabe had a Snapcaster Mage. The Mage returned Negate, countering the Ring. At this point, Nephalia Drownyard and Jace, Memory Adept made short work of the remainder of Brumby's library, giving Watanabe one more win on the weekend.

    Yuuya Watanabe 2 – Gene Brumby 0

  • Round 8 Feature Match – Martin Juza v Toshikazu Matsumara

    by Rich Hagon

  • Hang on a minute. Haven't we already covered the Czech superstar Martin Juza today? Well yes we have, and we're doing so again. Why?

    Because he's undefeated. Because he's really good at Magic. Because he could be Player of the Year in less than a month from now. Oh, and because he's, you know, Martin Juza.

    Toshikazu Matsumara

    His opponent, Toshikazu Matsumara, hails from Tokyo, and also sits proudly on top of the standings at 7-0.

    Avacyn Pilgrim from Matsumara, and Avacyn Pilgrim from Juza on turn one told us a lot about the matchup within moments. Matsumara used his white mana from the Pilgrim to run out Mikaeus, the Lunarch with two counters, leaving Juza to cast his own copy of the Legendary Human Cleric. Matsumara's Avacyn Pilgrim came in handy once more, helping him cast Blade Splicer, plus the attendant 3/3 Golem. Hero of Bladehold was the play for the Czech man, who also used the Pilgrim to good effect.

    Yet another Pilgrim arrived on the scene, this time for Matsumara, but it was Juza who took the leading role, sending his Hero of Bladehold into the red zone, alongside two tokens. Five damage dropped Matsumara to 14, before Juza landed the Planeswalker Elspeth Tirel, adding to his powerful board position with three more 1/1 Soldiers. Since he had Gavony Township in play, this was a big deal.

    Matsumara cast a Hero of Bladehold of his own, and his attack killed Juza's Planeswalker. Juza didn't care. He had the win on the table thanks to the Gavony Township, and Elspeth Tirel had already contributed all she needed to the Czech cause.

    Martin Juza 1 - 0 Toshikazu Matsumara

    Juza looks for plan B

    It was same again as game two opened on a pair of Avacyn Pilgrims.

    Matsumara took the first edge with Mortarpod, which he quickly used to stunt Juza's mana on turn two. The Czech man still had a second Pilgrim, which Matsumara killed with Garruk Relentless, which quickly became Garruk, the Veil-Cursed. Juza landed Mirran Crusader, a card that was seeing a lot of play on the weekend, while Matsumara contented himself with getting himself a Wolf from Garruk before matching Juza, Mirran Crusader for Mirran Crusader.

    That parity didn't last long, with Juza's Oblivion Ring taking out the Crusader, which allowed his own double strike man to end Garruk's presence on the board. Back came Matsumara with Hero of Bladehold and Avacyn Pilgrim. Juza was fighting hard, but this was much more of an uphill battle than in game one. On the plus side, he still had four cards in hand, to just one for his Japanese opponent.

    After a long pause for thought, Juza opted for Mortarpod, which was dwarfed by Mikaeus, the Lunarch for three. Juza's own Legend once again denied his opponent an edge in what was turning into a real game of power punches expertly avoided. Garruk Relentless was next for Matsumara. You just know what Juza did - yes, another Garruk Relentless! Then he added his own Planeswalker to the board in Elspeth Tirel. There aren't many more powerful effects in the game than an in-the-house Planeswalker, but an in-the-house Primeval Titan might just be one of them.

    LSV Token

    Juza added three Soldiers to his team. Mirran Crusader, Mortarpod with a token, three Soldiers, Elspeth at two Loyalty. On the other side, Primeval Titan, a 2/2 Wolf, Avacyn Pilgrim, Hero of Bladehold, and Mortarpod, also equipping a token. Juza decided - with some justification - that he needed more men on board, and Elspeth hit the graveyard in exchange for three more 1/1s for the Czech player. Every bit as important as his creatures, though, were his lands, and while Matsumara had Kessig Wolf Run in play, Juza had Gavony Township, and mana to use it.

    Matsumara didn't like that state of affairs, and when Primeval Titan attacked he was able to rectify the situation, searching out two copies of Gavony Township for himself. Although Mirran Crusader blocked and killed the Titan, it was still at the expense of five live as the Kessig Wolf Run allowed the Titan to trample over Juza's double strike blocker. Juza activated his Gavony Township, and it was back to the Czech man to call the shots.

    In came everything, and I mean everything. It was like World War III on the battlefield, with tokens and creatures and dice flying everywhere. Gavony Township fortified Juza's men once more, and the net result was 16 damage coming through to Matsumara, whose board now comprised no more than an Avacyn Pilgrim and a lonely Mortarpod. The dust cleared, and Juza advanced to 8-0.

    Martin Juza 2 - 0 Toshikazu Matsumara

    The End Game

  • Snap Keep

    by Nate Price

  • There was no card in Innistrad that received the same amount of hype, or even anywhere near the same amount even, as Snapcaster Mage. The long-prophesized appearance of Tiago Chan's Invitational card came bearing the impressive burden of having to live up to not only the staggering hype, but the power level of the abilities it bore. As a two-drop, it has flash and allows players to replay an instant or sorcery from their graveyard. If there is anything that Magic history has taught me, it's that giving blue players access to instants with that kind of versatility leads down a dangerous road (Cryptic Command?).

    Snapcaster Mage

    Whatever. This isn't about whether or not Snapcaster lives up to its hype or not. I could care less about that. I mean, the card has been printed. It is going to do what it is going to do. And that's what I'm going to focus on: what it does.

    There are 236 instants and sorceries in the Snapcaster Mage's Standard toolbox. Most of those are never going to see play, but it is at least a significant number to have as a starting point. Over the past few weeks, as Standard has become more defined, so have the spells of choice.

    Finding a deck featuring Snapcaster Mage without finding Forbidden Alchemy is more likely attributed to someone forgetting to write a card down on their decklist than an innovative build. With the ability to sift through the deck, as well as feed the Snapcaster with some juicy targets, the cards seem like they were designed to work together. To complement the sift and card drawing, many blue-based decks are also running some combination of Ponder, Think Twice, and even Divination in some rare cases. The average winning Solar Flare deck from the last few Standard events has about three Forbidden Alchemy, three Think Twice, and eschews the other two cards entirely.

    Forbidden Alchemy

    Ok, so the card drawing isn't that varied. The countermagic is a little better, but more because of the sideboard options than anything. With Dissipate, Mana Leak, Negate, and Flashfreeze available, there are a few more situational cards that start to work their way into decks. The average deck runs four Mana Leaks and two to three Dissipates. Negate shows up, but not in enough numbers to warrant a spot in the maindeck. It does however warrant a spot as a one-of in the sideboard, right alongside Dissipate and Flashfreeze.

    Mana Leak

    Looking at the removal starts to get interesting. The types of Snapcaster bait played depends on the version of the deck you're playing. The main differentiation comes between UB Control decks, the UW Control decks, and Solar Flare, which dips into both white and black. The decks featuring black have access to Doom Blade (which kills everything, I've been told), Go for the Throat, Wring Flesh, Tribute to Hunger, Geth's Verdict, and Black Sun's Zenith, and Victim of Night. For the white inclined, you get Celestial Purge, Revoke Existence, and Day of Judgment. All of them can play Dismember. Since I've been looking at Solar Flare so far, I'll continue. The average Solar Flare deck seems to be running three Doom Blades, one or two Day of Judgments, and one more single-target removal spell, most frequently Tribute to Hunger. In the sideboard, there is usually one or two more single-target spells, usually Celestial Purge and Revoke Existence. While the compiled list has shorn down the long list of possibilities to these select few, there is a wide variety amongst the decks of the last slot or two. The variation increases as you start to look at UB Control decks, which run a higher amount of removal than their Solar Flare counterparts.

    Doom Blade

    After that, the last cards in the toolbox are utility spells. These include Timely Reinforcements, Unburial Rites, Surgical Extraction, and Memoricide. In Solar Flare, there tend to be two Unburial Rites and three Timely Reinforcements. The other cards don't seem to have a home in the maindeck, but there are two sideboard slots devoted to some combination of Extraction and Memoricide, more often than not Extraction.

    Timely Reinforcements

    While these examples deal primarily with the UB-based versions of Snapcaster, there have been instances of other colors getting in on the fun. There have been reports of RUG decks coming in with a Snapcaster or two, returning such hits as Slagstorm, Arc Trail, and Beast Within, which I've heard are pretty good against the green-based decks in the format. These decks are much rarer than their UBW counterparts, but they do provide an interesting avenue to take things.

  • Round 9 Roundup

    by Rich Hagon

  • At the start of the final round of the day, six players still had 100% records at 8-0. Only three could end the day with that perfect record still intact.

    Daniel Pham 0 - 2 Martic Juza

    The Czech Level 8 really came good today, with a triumphant return to form, having missed day two on his last four GP appearances. 'It's so good to run good again' he said with a relieved grin.

    Takuma Morofuji 1 - 2 Riu Satou

    Former National Champion Morofuji had a great day, but couldn't complete the marathon, losing out to Satou.

    Sui Xin 2 - 0 Masahiro Sunaga

    Finally, it was the man from Beijing, Sui Xin, who claimed the third 100% record overnight.

    Congratulations to our three leaders - six more rounds separate them from the final top 8 of the Japanese Grand Prix season.

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