Day 1 Coverage of Grand Prix Kitakyushu

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The letter O!utside may be gray and rainy, but that hasn't stopped 1183 players from descending on Kitakyushu's West Japan General Exhibition Center for a weekend of close-quarter spell combat. The show is being put on by Shop-Fireball, owned by debonair archmage, part-time cowboy, and Hall of Fame hopeful Tsuyoshi Ikeda. All his preparation and hard work have paid off, with attendance far exceeding expectations, but he'll be on the sidelines this weekend. So much the better for those legends who are competing, including Hall of Famers Shuuhei Nakamura and Yuuya Watanabe, as well as former World Champion Makihito Mihara and former Player of the Year Shouta Yasooka.

As we wind down Standard heading into the big rotation, it's hard to be sure of anything. After the release of M14 it seemed like the pros had agreed that Standard was solved. Jund was top dog, followed by Blue-White-Red control and Bant Hexproof. Success would come from tweaks within that framework and an accurate metagame prediction. Then Brian Kibler showed up with his take on Gruul and conventional wisdom was blown to smithereens. Nor was it a flash in the pan; Wenzel Krautmann steered it to a Grand Prix championship at Warsaw. Will its influence extend to the Japanese metagame? Will we see another unexpected breakout, like Big Green-Black, or Sacrificial Humans? Who will hoist the trophy Sunday night? Stay tuned this weekend to find out!


  • Saturday, 12:45 p.m. — GP Kitakyushu Grinder Decklists

    by Ben Swartz

  • Takuya Kabashima
    GP Kitakyushu Grinder Winner A

    Jason Lee
    GP Kitakyushu Grinder Winner B

    Hideyosi Misono
    GP Kitakyushu Grinder Winner F

    Toshiaki Biwaki
    GP Kitakyushu Grinder Winner G

    Norikazu Ichikawa
    GP Kitakyushu Grinder Winner K

    Haruki Kanehira
    GP Kitakyushu Grinder Winner L

    Munemitsu Fujiki
    GP Kitakyushu Grinder Winner O


  • Saturday, 3:15 p.m. — Ooze Next: Deckbuilder Roundtable

    by Ben Swartz

  • The letter W!ith Theros on the horizon, Grand Prix Kitakyushu is the final Standard Grand Prix before Innistrad block and M13 rotate out. With just over a month before Theros hits shelves, players are scrambling to find the best strategies in Standard. I got the chance to sit down with some of Japan's premier deckbuilders to get their thoughts on the current Standard format.

    There was a clear consensus between the players as to what would be the most popular deck this weekend: Gruul. Popularized by Brian Kibler at the World Championships this year, the deck won Grand Prix Warsaw two weeks ago in the hands of Wenzel Krautmann. Armed with powerful creatures such as Thundermaw Hellkite, Hellrider, and Ghor-Clan Rampager, and backed up by Domri Rade to find reinforcements, the Red-Green deck is a force to be reckoned with. With a target on its back, nearly each one of the players cited Scavenging Ooze as the most important card in the deck.

    Pro Tour Kobe Champion, Masahiro Kuroda mentioned that while Scavenging Ooze's ability to remove cards from graveyards is certainly powerful, it is not enough to do away with the reanimator. Instead, Kuroda is piloting a reanimator deck that is powerful in the absence of a resolved Unburial Rites. Armed with powerful anti-aggressive creatures such as Boros Reckoner and haymakers like Elderscale Wurm, Kuroda welcomes the opportunity to face off against Gruul.

    Former World Champion, Makihito Mihara, on the other hand, felt that the best course of action against Scavenging Ooze is to just ignore it. The advantage from Ooze comes from the ability to hamper graveyard-based strategies and grow to a size where Mizzium Mortars is unable to destroy it, Mihara explained. By playing a deck that is only marginally affected by Scavenging Ooze's activated ability and one with access to blanket removal cards such as Supreme Verdict and Doom Blade, the Ooze's power can be contained.

    Grand Prix Shizuoka and Grand Prix Kobe Champion, Yuuta Takahashi, is no stranger to pesky green creatures. Being a master of the Lorwyn-block-based Faeries deck, he understands that being able to side step and jump around powerful utility creatures is the most powerful vector of attack. His advice: use cards like Azorius Charm and Essence Scatter proactively to dispose of Scavenging Ooze and Gruul's other powerful creatures.

    Tomoharu Saito was the only player that did not see Scavenging Ooze as a big problem. He felt that, well good, it is far from format defining. Thundermaw Hellkite and Burning Earth, he mentioned, have a much bigger impact on the format. Along with using powerful removal spells such as Blasphemous Act and Mizzium Mortars, he suggested that players be more consistent and more aggressive than Gruul.

    Players that have decided not to sleeve up red and green cards this weekend have come prepared to face off against raw power of Gruul and the versatility that Scavenging Ooze provides.


  • Saturday, 3:25 p.m. — Quick Question #1: What card currently in Standard will finally get a chance to shine when the format rotates?

    by Josh Bennett

  • Shuuhei Nakamura: Kalonian Hydra and Archangel of Thune. Right now they are competing with too many 5cc creatures.
    Tzu-Ching Kuo: Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and possibly Trostani, Selesnya's Voice.
    Naoki Shimizu: It might just be me, but I think Plasm Capture. The Blue-White-Green block decks used it with Sphinx's Revelation.
    Yuuya Watanabe: Shadowborn Demon. It can't compete with Thundermaw Hellkite, so it will have to wait.
    Ken Yukuhiro: Angel of Serenity. I think Scavenging Ooze will be much worse after rotation, so this will be good again.
    Makihito Mihara: I'm not really sure. You could probably look at Block Constructed decklists, but without knowing what's in Theros it's useless to speculate.


  • Saturday, 5:35 p.m. — Round 5: The Top Tables

    by Josh Bennett

  • The letter A! look at the top twenty-four tables after four rounds of play showed a diverse field. The backbone of the metagame was represented, but it seemed like a little bit of everything was on display. The big bad Gruul decks were out in force, making up the majority of the beatdown decks. Jund and Bant Hexproof were out in numbers, but not nearly so many as there were in the days before Kibler Gruul. It was interesting to note that Blue-White-Red was totally absent, and there were few pure control decks.

    The popular alternatives to those decks seemed to be Naya Midrange, Bant Tokens, and Black-Red Zombies. The standout oddballs included Big Monogreen (a la Huey Jensen), Grixis Control topped by Nicol Bolas, and one fearless Junk Rites player.

    As far as individual cards, Scavenging Ooze was everywhere. With so many green decks, those with the foresight to play the full complement of Lifebane Zombies were sitting pretty. Red players had restocked on Pillar of Flame, feasting on unprotected Oozes, Strangleroot Geists, Voices of Resurgence, Gravecrawlers and Geralf's Messengers. They'd also reaffirmed their growing love for Chandra, Pyromaster. Selesnya Charm has been doing work as a spot removal spell that isn't damage-based, and on the flipside of that, Unflinching Courage has been stealing games from decks relying on damage to get rid of threats.

    We'll see how things shake out as the day progresses.


  • Round 5 Feature Match — Yuuta Takahashi vs. Hiroki Toyota

    by Ben Swartz

  • The letter I!n Japan, Yuuta Takahashi is known far and wide as the Faeries Master. In 2008 he won back-to-back Japanese Grand Prix with the Blue-Black menace. It is a title that has followed him to this day. While Faeries is not legal in the current Standard format, Yuuta did his best to emulate his old aggro-control standby; Yuuta brought a Blue-White Delver of Secrets deck that was reminiscent of those seen in Standard last summer. While many of the cards from that deck have rotated, Yuuta did his best to emulate them; in place of Vapor Snag, he used Unsummon; in place of Mana Leak, he used Essence Scatter.

    His opponent, Hiroki Toyota, had his work cut out for him. The relative unknown from Okayama came prepared with an interesting Red-Black concoction. Featuring premium creatures such as Ash Zealot, Lifebane Zombie, and Thundemaw Hellkite and backed up by premium spells such as Liliana of the Veil and Bonfire of the Damned, he hoped to burn the Faeries Master to a crisp.

    Both players had earned their way to an undefeated record in Round Five: Yuuta Takahashi with three byes and Hiroki Toyota with two.

    The Games

    Yuuta started things off with three Thought Scours, each cast at the end of his turn. They padded his graveyard with powerful spells and allowed him to find and cast a Geist of Saint Traft.

    The legendary hexproof creature was not long for this world, however, as Hiroki slammed down a Liliana of the Veil and used her -2 ability to clear Yuuta's Board.

    At what Yuuta would mention to be a crucial turning point in the game, Hiroki attempted to cast a Lifebane Zombie; Yuuta thought for a while and cast an Essence Scatter on it. After the match he mentioned that had he instead just cast his Restoration Angel he would have been able to take out the Liliana before it became too much of a problem.

    Yuuta Takahashi

    And that's exactly what Lilliana did. While it ticked up, Hiroki continued casting creatures. A Thundermaw Hellkite ate another Essence Scatter, but Lilliana's discard ability proved to be too much as Hiroki's Falkenrath Aristocrat resolved and attacked in.

    It was at this point that Yuuta finally had an opening to play his Restoration Angel, he untapped with it and took out Lilliana, but the threat of the Aristocrat still loomed.

    With Yuuta looking to race the Falkerath Aristocrat with newly minted Snapcaster Mage and Geist of Saint Traft, it seemed like he was back on track.

    But, in a flash, Hiroki turned over the top card of his library to reveal Bonfire of the Damned. With one more land than Yuuta's life total, Hiroki burned the two-time Grand Prix Champion out of the game.

    The two players remained quiet between the two games; Yuuta was clearly dejected that the game had ended the way it did.

    Yuuta let out a sigh of relief when he looked at his opening hand. Finally he had not one, but two of his deck's namesake card: Delver of Secrets.

    Neither of them was able to transform, even with Yuuta using Thought Scour to effectively get a fresh card for the second Delver. With Yuuta stuttering, Hiroki found time to hard cast a Bonfire of the Damned for one to take out both flimsy Delvers.

    Hiroki Toyota

    Hiroki followed the Bonfire up with a pair of Ash Zealots and a Falkenrath Aristocrat. Yuuta had multiple Unsummons and a couple Snapcaster Mages to flash them back and keep Hiroki's board clean for a couple of turns, but nothing to permanently remove the creatures when they made their way back into play. After a few more attack steps Hiroki Toyota navigated his way to 5-0.

    Hiroki Toyota 2 – Yuuta Takahashi 0


  • Saturday, 7:10 p.m. — Photo Essay: Welcome to Kitakyushu!

    by Asako Seo, translated by Ben Swartz

  • The letter T!his morning there has been an official flood warning here in the Kitakyushu area. The weather forecast predicts strong rain to continue throughout the weekend — the perfect storm for a weekend filled with Magic.

    As the hot summer comes to a close let's begin Grand Prix Kitakyushu!

    First, let's begin with the journey between Kokura train station and the tournament site (These photographs are from yesterday).

    Kokura Station is very large; it includes cafés, hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. It's very convenient.

    Convenience stores and the like are directly outside the station station. The sign says "West Japan Industry and Trade Convention Center ?" Let's go to the right.

    Here are statues from the anime Galaxy Express 999. The author, Leiji Matsumoto, is originally from Kitakyushu.

    Also, at Kitakyushu Airport, there is a statue of Maetel (a character of Galaxy Express 999). When you speak to her, she begins moving and replies back. It's a little scary, but quite fascinating.

    Thanks to the moving walkways, it's a short trip to the site. It's completely covered the entire way so the rain cannot get in.

    At the end on the right side lies the entrance to the convention center.

    As you enter the building, Ajani greets you by the escalator.

    On the other side of the building there is a shopping mall with a bevy of restaurants.

    Let's enter the tournament space. Here are the players preparing to play today. At the last Grand Prix Kitakyushu, there were people wall to wall; this year is no different.

    The tournament site is surrounded by card stores. Here is what the tournament sponsor, Card Shop Fireball, brought.

    At the Big Magic booth, Japanese World Magic Cup member Kyohei Kusakabe welcomes you. He holds two cards. On the left he has a foil Gaia's Cradle with no text; on the right he has Fraternal Exaltation, a special card made to honor the birth of Richard Garfield's second child. Only a handful were made — it's quite rare.

    Three artists have joined us this weekend. Someone has made a 3D card to give to Winona Nelson as a gift.

    Here is the webcast booth. On the left is the play-by-play commentator, Keita Mori; in the middle is Tsuyoshi Ikeda (the tournament organizer); on the right is Akira Asahara, the color commentator. Be sure not to miss the broadcast.


  • Saturday, 9:00 p.m. — Quick Questions #2: What deck do you wish you could have played today?

    by Ben Swartz

  • Saturday, 3:25 p.m. — Quick Question #1: What card currently in Standard will finally get a chance to shine when the format rotates?

    by Josh Bennett

  • Chikara Nakajima: Gruul. I can't play it because everyone is gunning for it.
    Tomoharu Saito: Mono-Green Elves with Craterhoof Behemoth. Unfortunately, there's too much removal at the moment to make it good.
    Tzu-Ching Kuo: Blue White Red Flash. Unfortunately Burning Earth is too good against it.
    Ken Yukuhiro: Red White lifegain. Seraph Sanctuary, Angelic Blessing, Bubbling Cauldron, Archangel of Thune makes for a powerful deck, but it's just not good enough.
    Shuhei Nakamura: NONE! Every good deck has a chance and the weak decks are truly weak.
    Yuuta Takahashi: The deck that I’m playing today: Blue White Delver.


  • Round 7 Feature Match — Tzu-Ching Kuo (Bant Hexproof) vs. Kentarou Yamamoto (Big Black-Green)

    by Josh Bennett

  • The Players

    The letter T!zu-Ching Kuo is best known at the man who risked it all to become the Captain of Team Chinese Taipei, and then led them to victory in the 2012 World Magic Cup. He's been playing professionally for over a decade, and has a string of Grand Prix Top 8's extending back that far.

    Kentarou Yamamoto has only a single GP Top 8 to his name, but he has one accolade that has thus far eluded Kuo: A Pro Tour Finals appearance. Yamamoto and teammate Yuuta Takahashi fought their way to Sunday at Pro Tour San Diego 2007, but ultimately fell to The Sliver Kids, Chris Lachmann and Jacob Van Lunen.

    Both Kuo and Yamamoto have started the event 6-0 and are looking to close Day 1 strong to set up a Top 8 run.

    The Matchup

    On paper it looks dismal for Bant Hexproof. Big Black-Green has a lot of tools that don't care about the namesake ability, such as Liliana of the Veil and Mutilate. After sideboarding they can ditch all their targetted removal and bring in even more weapons.

    The Games

    Game one started with both players mulliganing. Kuo got early pressure of Gladecover Scout with Rancor and added Fiendslayer Paladin to the table. Yamamoto brought down a giant stop sign named Desecration Demon. Kuo made no play and Yamamoto summoned a second Demon. It looked like it would be over in a flash.

    Kuo had been holding Etherial Armor and found a second on top of his deck. Suddenly his Fiendslayer was 8/8. He got in one hit, going back up to 20 life, and then the two stalemated. Yamamoto had a 3/3 Scavenging Ooze go to with his two Demons, keeping the Fiendslayer home. Kuo didn't have to wait long to find an Unflinching Courage, and soon after he took the game.

    Kuo 1 - Yamamoto 0

    Kentarou Yamamoto

    Again Yamamoto couldn't keep his opening seven. He stood on six. Kuo had the gangbusters open of Avacyn's Pilgrim into Geist of St. Traft, but didn't have an enchantment to push it past a Lifebane Zombie from Yamamoto. Again Yamamoto had the double-Demon follow-up, and without a giant lifelinker on the other side of the field it was enough.

    Kuo 1 - Yamamoto 1

    Yamamoto mulliganed to six and watched as Kuo played out Avacyn's Pilgrim into Fiendslayer Paladin. He Duressed on the second turn and stole Increasing Savagery, leaving Kuo with just Spell Rupture, a second Fiendslayer, and land. Disaster averted.

    Tzu-Ching Kuo

    Or so he thought. Kuo slowly slid off his top card, then flipped over a second Increasing Savagery, bashing in for seven points of lifelink damage. He even had the Pilgrim for Liliana insurance. From there it was a quick and brutal affair, as most Hexproof wins are.

    Tzu-Ching Kuo defeats Kentarou Yamamoto 2-1

    The Postgame

    I asked Kuo about the matchup and he smiled, admitting he'd dodged a bullet. In fact, he chose this deck specifically because he felt it was good against just about everything EXCEPT Big Black-Green. Since the match had turned on the Savagery topdeck, I asked him what his chances in the game would have been if he'd drawn a land instead that turn. He said that it would be very difficult, but not impossible.

    Of course Yamamoto wasn't that sunny, having just picked up his first loss, but was keen to talk about his deck. He likes it for the current metagame, citing strong matchups against both Jund and Hexproof, and a "so-so" matchup against Kibler Gruul. I asked him if he thought the deck would survive rotation, and he said he couldn't say for sure.


  • Saturday, 10:00 p.m. — Round 8: The Top Tables

    by Josh Bennett

  • The letter D!iversity is still the watchword here at Grand Prix Kitakyushu. With seven rounds in the books the top tables still boasted a wealth of archetypes. Kibler Gruul looked to have the best numbers, though Jund had gained some ground the way it always seems to. Bant Hexproof and Bant Tokens both lost out, though were still present.

    There was more Big Black-Green, as well as some Monoblack Control. Still very few Sphinx's Revelations being cast out there. The biggest gains were made by Monored and various flavors of Aristocrat decks. I saw a lot of Falkenrath Aristocrats flying over for lethal damage.

    There's a interesting split going on, with greedy manabases on one side and decks that can afford lots of basics on the other. I wonder just how many people in Day 2 will be playing Burning Earth. Of course, I thought that, and then looked over to see a Jund player locked under three copies of the enchantment. I'm pretty sure I saw a single tear drip down his cheek as he tapped Stomping Grounds to cast Pillar of Flame on Strangleroot Geist. Still, sometimes you have to play it out to the bitter, bitter end.


  • Round 9 Feature Match — Taiji Urasawa vs. Takahito Kobayashi

    by Ben Swartz

  • The letter I!t's a funny thing matching a name to a face. When the Japanese Coverage team saw the pairings for this round Tomohiro Kaji immediately circled the first table and underlined Takahito Kobayashi.

    "Who is that?" another reporter asked.

    "KBR," Kaji said softly.

    The look on the reporter's face immediately changed to one of shock and awe.

    Takahito Kobayashi, or kbr3 as he is known on Magic Online is famous in Japan for being one of the most dominant Magic Online PTQ players. After having won two Magic Online PTQs last year, he recently, he won a Pro Tour Qualifier for upcoming Pro Tour Theros in Dublin.

    He hasn't had very much success in paper Magic, but sitting at 8-0 with his Red Green Black Zombie deck, he was hoping to change that.

    His opponent, Taiji Urasawa, a local player from Osaka was playing the deck with a target on its back: Gruul. It's treated him well thus far, but will it be good enough to defeat the Magic Online Star?

    The Games

    Game one started with creatures on both sides: a Rakdos Cackler and Loleth Troll for Kobayashi and a Strangleroot Geist for Urasawa.

    On Urasawa's third turn he cast a Domri Rade and used it to fight his Strangleroot Geist against Kobayashi's Loleth Troll, destroying it before Kobayashi got a chance to untap with regeneration mana.

    Kobayashi took this opening to take out Urasawa's Domri Rade with his Cackler and proceeded to add a Gravecrawler to his board.

    Kobayashi played a Dreg Mangler and attacked for 10 dropping Urasawa to 9, but Urasawa had a Ghor-Clan Rampager up his sleeve. That, paired with another Flinthoof Boar took out the Magic Online player.

    Taiji Urasawa

    The second game began with a turn two Loleth Troll for Kobayashi, which prompted a Mizzium Mortars from Urasawa. Kobayashi shrugged and discarded four creatures to his troll to prevent it from dying.

    On his following turn, he untapped and drew, shrugged again, and dumped two more creatures into the graveyard, making the Loleth Troll an 8/8. Urasawa fell to 10, and Kobayashi picked up one of the discarded creatures, Gleancrawler, from his graveyard and put it back into play.

    Urasawa attempted to stem the bleeding by playing Scavenging Ooze and a Flinthoof Boar, but Trample from the gigantic troll was too much for him to deal with sending the match to a third and final game.

    Takahito Kobayashi

    For the final game, Urasawa started things of with a Strangleroot Geist, and then played a Domri Rade to take out Kobayashi's turn two Knight of Infamy. Kobayashi did not have a haste creature, so Domri was allowed to live to see another day and netted Urasawa another Strangleroot Geist

    With Kobayashi already down to 10 life his back was against the wall to deal with both geists and an active planeswalker.

    A Knight of Infamy, a Dreadbore to take out the planeswalker, and a pair of Doom Blades to remove one of the Strangleroot Geists gave Kobayashi a foothold in the game. Kobayashi then cast a pair of Diregraf Ghouls and slowly started to chip away at Urasawa's life total.

    A Hellrider off the top dropped Kobayashi to four. Kobayashi played defense for a turn and braced for impact.

    Urasawa looked at his newly drawn card, counted his lands, and overloaded Mizzium Mortars. With Kobayashi's board clear, Hellrider attacked in for the final four points of damage and advanced Urasawa to day two with an undefeated record.

    Taiji Urasawa 2 – Takahito Kobayashi 1

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