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Grand Prix Nagoya
Day 1 Coverage

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  • Saturday, 10:45 a.m. – Standards of Standard
    by Nate Price

  • For those of you who want to get a quick and easy foothold on the layout of Standard, here's a basic primer to get you off and running. For those of you who might be new to Magic, we've also included a glossary of terms to help you decode some of the jargon we may slip into.

    Deck Archetypes

    Hoof, There It Is: According to Jacob Van Lunen, Hoof is the "newest evolution" in the Standard metagame. At its core, Hoof is a Reanimator deck that uses Unburial Rites to bring a Craterhoof Behemoth back into play. Combined with an army of mana critters, the Behemoth is virtually always lethal the turn he comes into play. In addition to reanimating the Behemoth, the presence of Somberwald Sage allows the Behemoth to be cast in the traditional manner, deftly avoiding cards like Rest in Peace and Rakdos Charm.

    Here's Martin Juza's Grand Prix Bochum winning decklist:


    Peddler: One of the most innovative decks to come out of Grand Prix Bochum was the Peddler brew run by Pro Tour Kobe 2006 winner Jan-Moritz Merkel and Max Pritsch. The creature-heavy deck revolves around the Avacyn Restored common Nightshade Peddler. When paired with Olivia Voldaren or Izzet Staticaster, the latter can be used to completely decimate opposing creatures. Considering the prevalence of one-toughness creatures, including the powerful Lingering Souls, these cards are very impressive on their own, let alone being able to kill Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, and Sublime Archangel in one shot. The deck also runs numerous other creature-based interactions, such as Zealous Conscripts/Falkenrath Aristocrats and Evil Twin as a method of dealing with problematic creatures. Tracker's Instinct makes the deck incredibly more consistent, allowing it to find the numerous two-card combos, as well as filling the graveyard with lands for their Deathrite Shamans.

    Here is Max Pritsch's 9-0 Day 1 decklist from Grand Prix Bochum:


    4-Color Value Rites: Once upon a time, Conley Woods was one of the most renowned deckbuilders in the world. Constantly showing up at tournaments with a deck of his own design, Woods's strong performances gained him a fair amount of notoriety. Nowadays, he has seemingly hung up his brewer's boots for more of a fine-tuning role, content to simply take an already established, solid deck, and enhancing it to work well within the confines of the current environment.

    As such, we were a bit surprised when he showed up to Grand Prix San Antonio with this gem:


    Woods's basic idea from this deck came from his desire to simply play the best cards in the format. All of the creatures in the deck are incredibly powerful, and the spells are among the best in Standard as well. Unlike other Rites decks, such as the Hoof deck listed above, Unburial Rites isn't a central card to the deck's strategy. Instead, Woods realized that the sheer power of all of his creatures makes Unburial Rites an absolute monster. Since all of his creatures tend to get some sort of advantage for him, reanimating any of them with Rites was nothing but pure, added value.

    This deck plays a great deal like Modern Jund. It's a heavy attrition deck that generates card advantage through virtually all of its cards. One of the other major attractions of the deck is its ability to seamlessly transition between offense and defense. Creatures like Huntmaster of the Fells, Thragtusk, and Loxodon Smiter are wonderfull both as attackers and in stemming an opponents aggression. The deck has Farseek and mana critters to give it the speed needed to compete with BR Zombies, as well as the ability to compete with the mana accrual ability of the slower control decks. This surprising resilience and versatility were integral to Woods's success, as he made it all the way to the Semifinals of Grand Prix San Antonio.

    For the remainder of the major players in Standard, Jacob Van Lunen wrote an incredibly detailed Standard Compendium which you can check out here.

    Game Concepts

    Burn: Since most of the spells that are capable of directly dealing damage to a player or creature use fire or lightning imagery, they are collectively known as burn spells, even if they don't actually use fire. Examples of burn common to Standard include Searing Spear, Pillar of Flame, and Brimstone Volley.

    Card Advantage: The concept of card advantage has received more discussion over the history of Magic than any other topic. In short, the concept of card advantage relates to the equivalences of exchanges in Magic. Basically, if one card allows you to draw two cards or destroy two of your opponent's permanents, you are gaining card advantage.

    ETB: A shorthand acronym for "enters the battlefield". Creatures with ETB effects, such as Snapcaster Mage, have abilities that trigger upon entering the battlefield, giving a spell in the graveyard flashback in the case of Snapcaster Mage. Other textbook examples with cards in Standard with ETB effects are Craterhoof Behemoth and Restoration Angel.

    Fetch: Fetch is simply a catchall term used to describe the action of retrieving a card from the library. Farseek is an example of a card that allows players to "fetch" a land from their deck.

    Metagame: The term metagame refers to the state of the current Constructed environment, most frequently speaking of the types of decks that are prominent and popular, as well as individual card choices within those decks. For example, if I told you that the three most popular decks in Standard right now were UW Flash, BR Zombies, and GW, you would have a pretty good idea of the Standard metagame. Since each tournament gives players a chance to react to what they experienced in the previous one, the metagame is constantly changing. Staying on top of and correctly predicting the metagame is one of the most challenging aspects of the professional level of Magic.

    Mill: A verb derived from the card Millstone, the act of milling a player is to put cards from a player's library into their graveyard. Since players lose the game when they can't draw a card, milling an opponent's entire library is one of the most frequently used alternate win conditions. In Standard, cards such as Nephalia Drownyard and Jace, Memory Adept, are the most common instances of mill cards.

    "#"-Drop: This terminology is used to describe a permanent of a given converted mana cost. For example, Knight of Infamy, which costs 1B, is a two-drop. Craterhoof Behemoth is an eight-drop. This terminology applies most often to permanents, such as creatures and artifacts, but it can be used to also describe the cost of spells.

    Red Zone: The red zone is an allusion to the older play mats used for Feature Matches, which had a large red area between the players. Players would use this area to indicate the spells they were casting and the creatures that were attacking. Nowadays, the phrase "sends them into the red zone" is synonymous for attacking.

    Swing/Smash/Battle/Bash: All of these words have at some point in Magic history been the preferred method of saying "to attack". Now, they are all interchangeable and frequently used as slang.

    The Stack: The stack is the order of spells that have been played during a given priority step. For example, when you play a spell in your main phase, it is said to go on the stack. After that, any spells that are played in response to the first one are said to go on the stack above them. Spells on the stack resolve from the top to the bottom.

    Silver Bullet: A reference to the very specific weakness of werewolves, the phrase "silver bullet" in Magic refers to a card that exists in a deck, usually only one or two copies, that serves the purpose of providing an advantage against a very specific deck or effect. A good example of a silver bullet is the card Rest in Peace, which is good against graveyard decks, and Thundermaw Hellkite, which is especially effective against Lingering Souls.

    Mirror Match: A match between two decks of the same archetype. For example, two GW decks playing against each other is called the GW mirror match.




     

  • Saturday, 11:05 a.m. – Nagoya Grinder Decklists
    by Steve Sadine

  • D Block - Shou Tagomori
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    E Block - Takahiro Yamauchi
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    H Block - Naoya Okada
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    I Block - Kazuki Kurusu
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    L Block - Katsuhiro Mori
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    M Block - Hisao Satou
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    N Block - Kunihiko Mizuno
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    O Block - Cortese Alessandro
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    Q Block - Genki Yoshimura
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    R Block - Shun'ya Hasegawa
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    S Block - Kentarou Ichihara
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    T Block - Genta Fujiwara
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard

    V Block - Motoki Abe
    GP Nagoya 2012 Grinder Winner - Standard




     

  • Saturday, 12:30 p.m. – Keeping Zombies on Top
    by Nate Price

  • It's tough to stay on top, especially for a Magic deck. Once you hit the big time and get your name up in lights, you think you've made it. You think that people are going to love you and want to be just like you. What you don't realize is that you've made yourself a target.

    Every time a deck wins a major tournament, the number of people who are playing the deck simply explodes overnight. After all, if its been good enough to last through eighteen rounds of a Grand Prix, it has to be an incredibly strong deck. Players want to ride that wave of success, so many people turn to the tournament-tested winner for their success. The unfortunate thing about this trend is that it's a recognized trend. People know that it's going to happen because it happens every time. Winning a tournament creates the next big deck. As such, players know that they need to be prepared for it in order to deal with the fact that it's going to be virtually everywhere. You've got to be prepared, and you've got to bring the hate. This is the reason that it's not often that you see a deck repeat as a tournament winner unless it undergoes some transformation itself. It has to adapt to counter those people who are adapting to it.

    BR Zombies is the most recent big deck in Standard Magic. After chewing its way to the top of the tournament at Grand Prix Charleston, the deck managed to win the next North American Grand Prix as well. The surprising thing is how little it changed. Of the 75 cards used by Jon Bolding to win Charleston, Tyler Lytle only changed five of them. But those changes were very important. Knowing that BR Zombies was going to be the deck of the tournament, Lytle decided to move the Pillar of Flame from the sideboard to the maindeck, going up to four, and he added four Vampire Nighthawks to his sideboard. Pillar is wonderful at removing opposing Geralf's Messengers and Gravecrawlers, and Nighthawk takes over the races that the BR mirrors inevitably become. It's a tactical decision based on the fact that he knew the big deck.

    Well, guess what? Nothing has changed. In fact, after winning two tournaments in a row, it's actually even more likely that people will be gunning for Zombies here in Nagoya. A quick glance around the room reveals a sea of black and red cards, leading me to believe that many players have adopted the old adage: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Still, since it's impossible to escape the omnipresent Zombie horde, every deck in the field is gearing to pack as much hate as possible for the deck. In order to survive, BR Zombies has to find a way to adapt itself to the apex of hate it's sure to face here this weekend. It appears that many here have risen to that challenge.

    It had been accepted going into San Antonio that playing midrange was an impossibility in a world of Sphinx's Revelations and Thragtusks. In an ironic twist of fate, the slower control decks sped themselves up to have more midrange presence, while the faster decks added more expensive spells to go over the top of the control decks, resulting in a format that felt a lot more midrange than players wanted to admit. As such, it's no surprise to see the first of the changes that appears to be taking place among some Zombies players this weekend.

    If the control decks are speeding up to try and match the aggro decks, and many of the other aggro decks are slowing down, some players have put the pedal to the floor, getting as aggressive as possible. Cards like Stromkirk Noble and Rakdos Cackler have joined the regular crew of Diregraf Ghoul and Gravecrawler to give this ultra-fast Zombies build an incredible density of one-drops. This allows the deck to swarm in enough early damage that their Geralf's Messengers, Falkenrath Aristocrats, and Thundermaw Hellkites are finishers in the truest sense of the word, often needing no more than two swings to finish things off. It also gives the deck a tremendous amount of fodder to use to keep the Aristocrat alive while it does its work.

    In addition, a trick that was once brought into being to deal with Thragtusk is seeing much more play because of those Aristocrats, which many Pros believe is the new "Best Card in Standard." Using Mark of Mutiny or Zealous Conscripts to steal a Thragtusk before sacrificing it to a Falkenrath Aristocrat or Bloodthrone Vampire went out of style as a maindeck option some weeks ago, but it has resurfaced, mostly due to its incredible power against Thundermaw Hellkite and Falkenrath Aristocrat as well.

    One of the biggest advantages to the Aristocrat is its incredible durability, able to survive virtually every one of the most powerful removal spells in the format, as well as able to fight favorably with Restoration Angel. Threaten-like effects such as the Conscripts and Mark of Mutiny usually result in the opposing player simply sacrificing their own Aristocrat rather than foolishly handing it over. As such, the effectively become some of the best single-target removal spells in the format. Considering the prevalence of Zombies and the fact that Bant Control will always be a deck, many Zombies players have moved this package to the maindeck.

    We are also beginning to see many more maindeck updates that provide BR Zombies a bit more game against the biggest deck in the field: itself. In San Antonio, one of the biggest innovations to the Zombies deck was the addition of Vampire Nighthawk to the sideboard. An absolute all-star in the mirror match, Nighthawk also provides some much needed lifegain in the matchup against GW Humans as well. Combined with Knight of Infamy, the Nighthawk can absolutely steal games in aggressive matchups. In San Antonio, Champion Tyler Lytle was quoted as saying that the main reason that he won many of his mirror matches was the fact that he had more Nighthawks than his opponents. Here in Nagoya, we're beginning to see these sideboarded Nighthawks make their way into players's maindecks. With the abundance of BR Zombies expected in the field, having a maindeck advantage is incredibly important.

    Another card that is just incredibly powerful in aggressive matches like the mirror is Olivia Voldaren. Four a mere four mana, you get a 3/3 flier that is capable of pinging off virtually half of the creatures in GW Humans and BR Zombies, including Aristocrat, and stealing those it can't outright kill. She gets big enough to attack through Restoration Angel, Thundermaw Hellkite, and virtually anything else opponents throw in the way. She's immune to Victim of Night, Ultimate Price, and Pillar of Flame, and often gets large enough to survive a Searing Spear. She's really, really good right now, and many players are clearing out a little space for her in their maindecks.

    Finally, an innocuous little piece of removal is poised to make a big splash in a field full of Zombies: Tragic Slip. 4/1 flying, haste creature that can gain indestructibility, meet instant-speed -1/-1 for B. Thundermaw Hellkite? Sacrifice one of my creatures and trigger morbid to kill it. Not to mention the fact that Slip kills almost all of the early creature in both the BR and GW decks... It's a very well positioned card right now, and it appears that many players are beginning to come around to it.

    As the weekend progresses, it will be interesting to see which variations and alterations are the most successful. As it becomes clear who is having the most success, we will get together with those players who read the field correctly and made the proper changes to see why they did what they did in their quest to bring home yet another title for the crushing inevitability of BR Zombies.




     

  • Saturday, 2:30 p.m. – Tracking the Top Tables Part One: Rounds 1-3
    by Nate Price

  • Every player tries their hardest to read the writing on the walls and determine what the best deck for a given event is. It's an incredibly daunting task that is as much luck as it is skill. You have to take into account the decks that were successful leading up to the event, what changes you expect them to make, and what changes you expect other decks to make to counter them. You have to decide whether you want to play the most popular deck, beat the most popular deck, or beat the deck that beats that. You have so many things to track that you're really simply trying to cover as much ground as you can.

    Coming into each Grand Prix, we on the coverage staff try to put our own analysis hats on and determine what we think the makeup of the field is going to be. Just like the players who prepared for this event, sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong. In any case, one of the most useful tools we have to improve these skills is to look at the complexion of the top tables and watch how it changes as the tournament progresses. The best decks will rise to the top and we will see the tables morph from what people did play to what they should have played. We get information about what the field actually looks like, but also what innovations made decks successful. As the percentage of archetypes rise and fall, we also get some insight into which decks perform well against others, outpacing them on their way to the top. Once completed, we have a wealth of information that makes our outlook at future events even more reliable.

    Every Round, we will be taking a quick glance at the archetypes being played at the top twnety tables, giving us a sample size of forty decks. Every three rounds, we will post the results of our scouting, provide a graph of the data, and offer a quick observation and analysis. By the end of the day, we should have a much better idea of what it takes to survive in Standard.

    Here's the first three rounds:

    Round 1


    Round 2


    Round 3


    As you can see, BR Zombies and GW Aggro are incredibly popular decks. The strength of Cavern of Souls, a level of resilience against removal, and a strong aggressive base are perfect for keeping the slower control decks at bay. Players have taken note of the relative weakness of control in Standard over the past couple of weeks, so it isn't very surprising to see that the number of control decks being played is so low.

    One of the biggest early positive movers is Naya. Both the standard WRG version and the Naya Black version, which dips into black for Falkenrath Aristocrat and some sideboard cards, have begun replacing the standard GW Aggro decks in the field. Early speculation places the blame for this squarely at the feet of Bonfire of the Damned and Huntmaster of the Fells. Both of these cards are incredibly powerful in a format filled with aggressive creatures, making them perfect to combat the large number of Zombies and GW Aggro decks present.

    Coincident with the rise of Naya is the fall of GW Aggro. Many of the same cards that are used to combat BR Zombies, such as Pillar of Flame and the aforementioned Huntmaster of the Fells, are equally as good against GW Aggro decks. Since more decks, including the BR Zombies decks, are gearing up to take on Zombies, GW Aggro could potentially get caught in the crossfire. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the course of the day.

    Of course, it's really too early to say anything concrete, as there have only been two rounds of culling to shape the field. Next round marks another massive influx of players, as the players coming into this event with three byes finally enter the fray. The tale of the next three rounds should be very interesting, as we finally get to see what some of the best names in the game have brought to counter the Zombie horde. As decks continue to rise and fall, we'll continue painting our ever-changing picture of the field. Where do you think we'll go from here? Make your guess and then check yourself against the results three rounds from now!




     

  • Saturday, 3:30 p.m. – Going Over the Top
    by Steve Sadin

  • If you play Magic regularly, you will inevitably hear players explaining that they are looking for ways to "go over the top" of their opponents. And with good reason.

    If you have the ability to regularly go over the top of your foes, then you will win (the majority of) the games that go on for any extended period of time. However, if your deck doesn't have the ability to go over the top in a matchup, then you will need to win quickly or cling to every marginal advantage that you can in order to secure your victories.

    But what does it take for you to actually "go over the top"?

    • You need to survive long enough for your (potentially) gamebreaking spells to matter

    The mere fact that a deck has a lot of abstractly powerful cards, or cards that are good in stalemates, doesn't mean that the deck is actually capable of going over the top of anyone.

    If you play a "powerful card" that has a minimal impact on the game, then by definition, you haven't accomplished anything significant.

    However, if your gamebreaking cards are significantly better (and/or faster) than whatever your opponent is able to throw at you, and you're able to consistently advance the game to the point where you can play them (and have them matter) – then you're going to be in very good shape.

    • You need your cards to actually trump your opponent's strategy

    If you and your opponent are going one-for-one the whole game, then anything from Angel of Serenity to Zealous Conscripts can provide you with the boost that you need to break out of what might otherwise be a very bad situation.

    Provided that they actually matter in the matchup.

    To get a better understanding of how to go over the top of your opponents in Standard, let's take a look at some of the more commonly seen options.

    Thragtusk, and Restoration Angel

    Early on in Return to Ravnica Standard – there were few combinations as potent as Thragtusk plus Restoration Angel. When uncontested, this combination will yield you an additional 10 life, a 3/3 token, a ¾ flier, and a 5/3 that will give you another 3/3 token if/when it leaves play. That's pretty tough for any unprepared foe to overcome...

    Sphinx's Revelation, Runechanter's Pike, and/or Angel of Serenity

    While building up an army of creatures is certainly an appealing option, Blue-White control decks are often able to keep key threats such as Thragtusk, off of the board with counterspells, Supreme Verdicts, and other answers before ultimately taking over the game with a big Sphinx's Revelation, a Runechanter's Pike with a graveyard full of spells, or an Angel of Serenity.

    Lingering Souls plus Gavony Township and/or Silverblade Paladin plus Rancor

    You don't have to play expensive spells to go over the top of your foes. Sometimes the most potent options at your disposal require very little investment.

    If you build up an army of fliers with Lingering Souls, then it won't take you long for you to pump them to gigantic sizes with a single Gavony Township.

    And it doesn't matter how many Thragtusks your opponent plays if you have a Silverblade Paladin, a Rancor, and even just a couple of other creatures that you can use to double strike and trample over whatever (contextually) meager defenses your opponent puts in your way.

    Falkenrath Aristocrat, and Thundermaw Hellkite

    While Thragtusk once spelled doom for Zombie players –the gigantic flying duo of Falkenrath Aristocrat, and Thundermaw Hellkite can turn the 5/3 beast into little more than an inconvenience.

    So as long as you know what types of answers your opponents have at their disposal (Thundermaw Hellkite, for example, could turn out to be a relatively weak option if players begin loading up on cards like Ultimate Price and Selesnya Charm that can kill the dragon at instant speed for a mere two mana) – and what types of threats your opponents are trying to close out their games with, you should be able to find some very good cards that you can use to go over the top of your foes...

    You just have to look for them.




     

  • Saturday, 6:15 p.m. – Tracking the Top Tables Part Two: Rounds 4-6
    by Nate Price

  • With the beginning of Round 4, 133 players who have yet to play a Round this tournament entered the fray. That's a massive influx of new players that could be seated on the top tables, so it's not entirely unexpected if the numbers get shaken up a little bit. Here's where we left off:

    Round 3


    So far, we'd seen the number of GW Aggro decks sharply decline, replaced with Naya variants. Other than that, we saw a continued shuffling of some of the less represented decks, with some falling out of the top tables while new decks continually joined. The one truly consistent thing was the presence of BR Zombies at the top of the standings. Seemingly the most popular deck at Grand Prix Nagoya by a large margin, it is hard to tell if its dominating representation on the top tables is due to its consistency, or just sheer numbers.

    With that said, here's how the next three rounds played out:

    Round 4


    Round 5


    Round 6


    With the influx of players with three byes, there was a jump in the number of players playing Control and Reanimator strategies. The biggest gain for a control deck was the UWR Control deck running Bonfire of the Damned, Pillar of Flame, and Thundermaw Hellkite. As things continued, its representation stayed fairly strong, understandable since it seems fairly well-equipped to deal with the aggressive creature decks.

    Other than that move, and a bit of a wild fluctuation from GW Aggro, things stayed fairly consistent across the board. Jund, Naya, and Zombies all stayed right about where they were after Round 3. The rest of the slots were willed in with varieties of blue-based control decks, a smattering of aggressive creature strategies, and the occasional green midrange deck. One pattern of note certainly has held up, however. GW Aggro appears to have been absolutely decimated, falling sharply from where we saw it start the day, on par with Zombies, to where it sits now, right in the middle of the pack.

    Three more rounds to go here at Grand Prix Nagoya! Have we reached stability? Does this provide a representative look at the decks we'll see playing tomorrow? Keep tweeting your predictions, and we'll see how you did in three more rounds!




     

  • Round 6 Feature Match – Shuu Komuro (Blue White Red Control) vs. Osamu Fujita (Black Red Zombies)
    by Steve Sadin

  • While they haven't ventured outside of Japan for many tournaments recently, Shuu Komuro, and Osamu Fujita remain two of the most well respected players in Japan. And with good reason.

    Osamu Fujita very nearly became the first Japanese Pro Tour Champion, but he ultimately fell a single match short of accomplishing that goal when he lost in the finals of Pro Tour Amsterdam in 2004.

    However, Fujita's finish there served to herald in a new era.

    Osamu Fujita

    Masashiro Kuroda won Pro Tour Kobe just a few short months later -- and Shuu Komuro became the second Japanese Pro Tour Champion by winning Pro Tour Nagoya in 2005.

    Fujita, and Komuro faded away from the international play not long after their best finishes, but the Japanese Magic community has absolutely thrived in the time since.

    This weekend, Fujita and Komuro both have the chance to show the newest generation of Japanese players a thing or two – but first, they're going to have to get past one another.

    Game One

    After winning the die roll, Fujita got off to a fast start with a pair of Diregraf Ghouls, and a Geralf's Messenger - while Komuro spent his early turns cycling through his deck with a Thought Scour, and an Izzet Charm.

    That time spent setting up his hand paid dividends for Komuro, as he was able to fight back – using a Pillar of Flame, and an Azorious Charm to reduce his opponent's board down to just a single Diregraf Ghoul. However, the fact that Komuro spent his early turns without making any plays that had an immediate impact on the board continued to haunt him when a second Geralf's Messenger knocked him down to a mere 6 life.

    Komuru was able to kill of the Geralf Messenger by using a Snapcaster Mage to flash back Pillar of Flame – but a Searing Spear took out the Snapcaster Mage, and set up an attack that knocked Komuro down to 4.

    After the attack, Fujita re-cast his Diregraf Ghoul, allowing himself to represent lethal damage.

    However, a pair of Pillar of Flames, and Moorland Haunt allowed Komuro to completely stabilize the board, but he would still need to tread carefully given his precariously low life total.

    A Gravecrawler didn't seem like much in the face of Komuro's Moorland Haunt, particularly when Komuro drew and cast a Runechatner's Pike.

    But before Komuro could go on the offensive himself, a Cavern of Souls allowed Fujita to resolve a Thundermaw Hellkite that cleared away his opponent's token army, and gave him the first game.

    Osamu Fujita 1 – Shuu Komuro 0

    Game Two

    Fujita mulliganed twice, and sighed before keeping his five card hand.

    Komuro opened with a Thought Scour, and an Augur of Bolas (which failed to find anything), while Fujita had a turn two Knight of Infamy.

    Komuro passed his third turn without a play, but when his opponent attacked with a Knight of Infamy, he was able to block it with a Snapcaster Mage (that also allowed him to flashback his Thought Scour).

    Fujita had a replacement Knight of Infamy – but that would ultimately turn out to be the last spell that he would play all game as Komuro made short work of him with a pair of Restoration Angels, and a Pillar of Flame.

    Osamu Fujita 1 – Shuu Komuro 1

    Game Three

    Both players mulliganed to start the third game, but they were still able to get off to reasonable starts. Fujita had a Diregraf Ghoul, and a Knight of Infamy to give himself some early pressure – while Komuro's first play was an Augur of Bolas that revealed a Pillar of Flame.

    Fujita missed his third land drop and had to content himself by casting a Gravecrawler, while Komuro (somewhat predictably) Pillar of Flamed away the Knight of Infamy. A replacement Knight of Infamy allowed Fujita to continue attacking past his opponent's Augur of Bolas knocking Komuro down to 11, but Fujita was still stuck on just two lands – a Dragonskull Summit, and a Cavern of Souls naming Vampire.

    After passing his turn with no play, Komuro used a Searing Spear to kill off his opponent's Knight of Infamy at the beginning of his combat step– but Fujita nonetheless attacked with his Diregraf Ghoul and his Gravecrawler. Komuro blocked the Gravecrawler, fell to 9, and allowed Fujita to recast the 2/1 from his graveyard before ultimately casting an end of turn Izzet Charm to draw cards.

    Pillar of Flame exiled the Gravecrawler, and a Runechanter's Pike threatened to eventually make Komuro's Augur of Bolas into a force to be reckoned with.

    Fujita finally drew a third land, a Mountain, but all that he could do was cast a new Knight of Infamy – and consequently had to sit and watch as Komuro built up his board with another Augur of Bolas, and a Restoration Angel that soon picked up a Runechanter's Pike.

    But while Komuro focused most of his attention towards taking his offenses to the air, Fujita was able to set up a couple of attacks on the ground that led to the demise of both of his opponent's Augurs. And when he finally found a second black land, Fujita was able to cast a Victim of Night that killed off his opponent's would-be-lethal Restoration Angel in combat.

    However, that ultimately proved to be too little too late for Fujita.

    Fujita's follow up play of Olivia Voldaren was quickly exiled by Oblivion Ring, and a Snapcaster Mage picked up a Runechanter's Pike, forcing Fujita to chump block with his Diregraf Ghoul.

    Shuu Komuro

    A replacement Olivia Voldaren followed – but with only five lands (and thus unable to activate his Vampire), Fujita again had to chump block.

    Falkenrath Aristocrat met a similarly ignominious fate a turn later. And while Fujita was eventually able to Ultimate Price away the gigantic wizard – a Sphinx's Revelation for 4, then another for 5 gave Komuro all the creatures and removal spells that he needed to take the match.

    Shuu Komuro 2 - Osamu Fujita 1




     

  • Round 8 Feature Match – Tzu-Ching Kuo vs. Kouhei Niwa
    by Nate Price

  • Tzu-Ching Kuo was the first player of eight to arrive in the spacious, centrally-located Feature Match area. As such, he had his pick of the seats.

    "This seat was Yuuya last round," he asked me as he pointed to a chair?

    "Yes," I told him.

    "Did he win," Kuo asked with a grin?

    When I smiled and nodded, Kuo pulled it away from the table and set his gear down.

    "I'll sit here," he said.

    Kuo's opponent this round is Kouhei Niwa. Niwa had managed a 6-1 record to this point with the deck of the tournament thus far: BR Zombies. He was playing a couple great additions aimed at helping evolve the Zombies deck to win the mirror, including Vampire Nighthawk and Tragic Slip. Kuo, on the other hand, was playing a UWR Flash deck similar to the one piloted by Yuuya Watanabe.

    Niwa was first on the board, using a Cavern of Souls on Zombie to play a first-turn Diregraf Ghoul. At the end of his turn, Kuo cycled through his deck with a Thought Scour. The Scour put a Searing Spear into his graveyard and a card in his hand, and he untapped to add a land to his board. Niwa continued to add Zombies to his board, making a second Ghoul and a Gravecrawler on consecutive turns. When he went to attack with his pair of Diregraf Ghouls, Kuo burned one away with a Searing Spear.

    Kouhei Niwa

    Before attacking on his next turn, Niwa tried to play a Falkenrath Aristocrat. Unfortunately for him, Kuo had a Rewind to counter it. This was the first time I could remember in a long time that a creature was countered in a deck with Cavern of Souls. Deprived of his Aristocrat, Niwa simply attacked with his two Zombies. Kuo flashed in a Restoration Angel, sticking it right in front of the Diregraf Ghoul. Kuo was down to 12, but that was a fairly reasonable life total considering he was facing down one of the most aggressive decks in the format.

    On Niwa's next turn, things took a decidedly worse turn for Kuo. A Thundermaw Hellkite crashed onto the table, tapping down the Restoration Angel and clearing the way for a seven-point attack. Kuo fell to 5. When Niwa made the same attack on the next turn, Kuo went all in, using his Angel to block the Hellkite and casting Sphinx's Revelation for two to negate the damage from the Gravecrawler. He appeared to be setting up for a Supreme Verdict, and Niwa smelled it. Rather than add another creature to his side, Niwa simply passed the turn.

    On his turn, Kuo went ahead and cast the Verdict that he had telegraphed with his last turn. This cleared the board, leaving him at 5 with a reasonable number of cards in hand. Niwa appeared to be out of gas, simply playing a Knight of Infamy and passing the turn. When Kuo killed it with Pillar of Flame, Niwa had nothing to follow it up.

    Kuo had turned the corner, stabilizing at 5 life, but he wasn't out of the woods yet. Niwa's deck contained many creatures with haste, as well as burn spells capable of putting Kuo down if his life remained where it was. While Niwa didn't find one of those hasty attackers, the Gravecrawler he did find allowed him to cast the other two in his graveyard, filling up his board. Kuo cast a Restoration Angel at the end of Niwa's turn, for a bit of defense, before untapping and clearing Niwa's side of the table with a Mizzium Mortars.

    Afraid of the possibility of a Falkenrath Aristocrat or Hellrider, Kuo kept his Angel at home. It was the only thing standing between Niwa and his last 5 life. Eventually, he found an Augur of Bolas, which found him a Pillar of Flame. When Niwa began to tap mana, it wasn't for an Aristocrat or Hellrider, it was to cast both. Kuo thought for quite .some time before cycling through an Azorius Charm, finding the Dissipate he needed to stop the Aristocrat. Niwa's lone Cavern of Souls was set to Zombie, not Vampire, and it had come back to bite him twice now.

    And then, it appeared that it wouldn't get a chance to bit him anymore. After drawing for his turn, Kuo tapped two mana for a Snapcaster Mage. Combined with the other eleven lands he had in play, Kuo turned the Snapcaster into a Sphinx's Revelation for eight, and turned the game around. Now at 13 and holding a massive number of cards, Kuo appeared to be in complete control. Niwa tried to get back into things by using Searing Spear on Kuo's Augur, allowing Niwa to kill the Restoration Angel with a Tragic Slip. This cleared the way for an attack for four.

    It was the last attack he would get. Over the next turns, Kuo added Restoration Angel, Augur of Bolas, and a Snapcaster Mage that Searing Speared away the Hellrider. With Jace, Memory Adept, following their arrival, Niwa quickly conceded.

    Tzu-Ching Kuo 1 - Kouhei Niwa 0

    Kuo had won the first game on the back of counterspells, but the story could have easily been drastically different. Counterspells have become maligned as of late, owing to the fact that so many decks are packing Cavern of Souls. With Niwa unable to force through his two Falkenrath Aristocrats, Kuo was able to avoid an almost certain death. If either one of those Aristocrats had hit the table, it is unlikely that Kuo would have been able to stabilize on five life and turn things around with that massive Sphinx's Revelation. All this because Niwa's lone Cavern was set to Zombie rather than Vampire.

    Niwa unsurprisingly chose to play for the second game of the match. Gravecrawler was the first recruit on Niwa's side, but it was left without a partner on the next turn. Kuo dropped an Augur of Bolas into play on his turn, effectively stopping the Gravecrawler cold. Switching gears, Niwa added a Geralf's Messenger to his side. The Messenger immediately hit Kuo down to 16, and it would give Niwa a creature capable of getting through Kuo's defenses. When he made a Cavern of Souls naming Demon on the following turn, Kuo knew that a Hellrider was going to follow right after. Sure enough, the hasty Demon hit play, and Niwa did some quick math to determine whether or not he should attack with Gravecrawler. He decided against, and passed the attack to Kuo. Before damage, Kuo used Azorius Charm to send the Hellrider to the top of Niwa's deck, content to slow him down a step. Still, Kuo dropped to 11 from the attack, and he had an uncounterable Hellrider in his future.

    Kuo untapped, added a fourth land to his side, and passed the turn. Not wanting to smash his Hellrider into a Restoration Angel, Niwa wisely left it at home, content to lend his triggers from relative safety. Kuo did flash in an Angel, using it to kill the Geralf's Messenger while his Augur blocked the Gravecrawler. Kuo dropped to 7. After combat, Niwa returned his Gravecrawler from the graveyard.

    Kuo once again simply played a land and passed the turn. When Niwa attacked, Kuo masterfully dealt with the attackers. First, he flashed in a Snapcaster Mage, giving his Azorius Charm flashback. Then, he blocked his Angel on the Hellrider, Snapcaster on the Messenger, and Augur on the Gravecrawler. With blockers declared, Kuo used his Charm to give his team lifelink, gaining 6 life to 10. Niwa cleaned house after combat, using a Searing Spear to finish off the Angel before replaying the Gravecrawler and a Diregraf Ghoul. Kuo once again simply passed the turn, sitting at higher life, but a more precarious situation.

    Tzu-Ching Kuo

    Niwa attacked again. Kuo flashed in a Restoration Angel and lined it up in front of the Ghoul. He also blocked the Augur to the Gravecrawler and used Azorius Charm to return the Messenger to the top of Niwa's deck. The attack was a wash. Niwa added a replacement Diregraf Ghoul to his team and recast his Gravecrawler yet again. On his turn, Kuo continued his trend of doing nothing but playing lands. Niwa didn't have an incredibly powerful attack coming, and Kuo was content to block with his Augur and fill up with a Sphinx's Revelation. He did take a hit from the Messenger that he had sent to the top of Niwa's deck, but he still came out ahead.

    He pushed his lead even further by using a freshly drawn Pillar of Flame to outright remove the Geralf's Messenger from play. When Niwa attacked in on the next turn, a flashed-in Restoration Angel reset the Augur of Bolas and allowed Kuo to kill off Niwa's team. When he untapped and added a Drogskol Reaver to his team, Kuo appeared to have it in the bag. Between more removal and a large Sphinx's Revelation, Kuo managed to once again stabilize at 5 before coming back to win.

    Tzu-Ching Kuo 2 - Kouhei Niwa 0




     

  • Quick Hits – Which Creature in Standard Are You Most Afraid Of?
    by Steve Sadin

  • Shuuhei Nakamura
    "Falkenrath Aristocrat"
    Martin Jůza
    "Disciple of Bolas"
    Kenji Tsumura
    "Geist of Saint Traft"
    Yuuya “The Man Without Fear” Watanabe
    "Thundermaw Hellkite"



     

  • Saturday, 9:15 p.m. – Creature Feature: Angel of Serenity
    by Nate Price

  • Standard Magic is filled with more swings than a playground. Between the soul-crushing weight of a Sphinx's Revelation, the haste-infused beatings of Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite, the bone-jarring combination of Rancor and Silverblade Paladin, and the Hoof himself, things can go from good to bad in absolutely no time. At times like this, he who hits hardest hits last.

    Serenity. Calmness. Tranquility. Peace. How can something that comes from all of that pack one of the biggest wallops in all of Standard? The answer lies in how it hits. It's what gives it its power and separates it from all of the other heavy hitters in Standard.

    Angel of Serenity is like a supersonic jet; It flies, costs a boatload, and requires an experienced pilot for maximum results. It also leaves a vacuum in its wake. Unlike the cacophonous sonic boom that occurs when air rushes into the void left by a supersonic jet, all the Angel leaves behind is silence. Stillness. Peace of mind.

    Angel of Serenity does everything you want a game-ending threat to do. It comes equipped with a big body, perfect for killing swiftly. It removes threats, allowing you to stabilize in even the most unstable situations. It comes with a built-in safety mechanic, making sure that even if your opponent manages to deal with it, they don't simply spring back into the lead. It's the perfect top end, the perfect way to go over the top of opponents who have already gone over the top. Angel of Serenity is the top.

    Now, seven mana is a large amount to pay, especially in a world of aggressive Zombies and Humans. If you don't start doing something early, you don't live to see seven mana. Fortunately, Standard has a few great strategies for making sure that you live to see the Angel fly.

    First, you have Unburial Rites. Standard Reanimator uses cards like Mulch, Tracker's Instinct, and Grisly Salvage to both fill the graveyard with Unburial Rites and great reanimation targets, but they also ensure that the deck has exactly the mana it needs to operate. In this capacity, they effectively function as mana fixing and card drawing. Once you've got them in the graveyard, all it takes is four mana to return the Angel to the battlefield. Since most opponents won't have more than three creatures on the table on turn four, you are effectively wiping their board while leaving a 5/6 body on the field. Powerful stuff.

    Another method involves playing the control game until you can actually afford the seven mana for the big flier. The most shining example of this strategy is in the UWR Control decks that populate Standard right now. Between Pillar of Flame, Bonfire of the Damned, Supreme Verdict, and Detention Sphere, UWR Control decks can keep opponents at bay just long enough to get to seven mana. Invariably, some creatures will slip through the cracks, and the Angel is the perfect way to sweep them up.

    One final way that seems to be seeing a lot of play this weekend involves a top-end Naya deck. The basic skeleton of the deck runs fairly similarly to the UWR Control deck, except rather than using blue-based removal spells, the Naya deck uses creatures like Centaur Healer and Huntmaster of the Fells to fill the void. By carefully managing the creatures in play, the Naya deck is able to land an Angel that has a significantly greater impact than you usually see from the UWR deck. In addition, the deck often manages to cast the Angel earlier thanks to the efforts of Avacyn's Pilgrim and Farseek.

    Kenji Tsumura

    Other than the obvious appeal of an incredibly powerful ability, the Angel is also incredibly difficult to kill. As Pro Tour Hall of Famer Kenji "Skipmaster" Tsumura has shown on his way to a 6-0-1 start to Grand Prix Nagoya, once the Angel hits play, it tends to stay there.

    "Nothing kills it," Tsumura told me. "It's very good against Zombies, because they don't play many Ultimate Prices."

    Right now, most Zombie decks are only running a couple copies of Ultimate Price. Other than that, they've moved to Pillar of Flame and Searing Spear. Neither of those kills it, giving Zombies a whopping two ways to kill it in their entire deck. Another of the big decks early on in this event, GW Aggro, only has Selesnya Charm. The control decks have a few more answers, but even they have skewed towards single-target removal spells good for dealing with cheap creatures, none of which can really kill the Angel.

    "Bant is probably the worst deck for Angel of Serenity to see because they have more ways to kill the Angel. But they are also very bad against Zombies, so they should not be a problem today. This is a good field for Angel of Serenity."




     

  • Saturday, 9:35 p.m. – Creature Feature: Thragtusk
    by Steve Sadin

  • In the early days of Return to Ravnica Standard Thragtusk was king, and consequently aggressive decks were thought to be unplayable. Midrange decks featuring Thragtusks, Restoration Angels, and even Centaur Healers were tremendously successful. Zombie decks were a fringe strategy at best, and Mono-Red decks were constantly getting trounced by opposing life gain.

    These midrange decks were soon supplanted at the top by Blue White control decks full of counterspells, and glacially slow Bant Control decks that ramped up to cards like Sphinx's Revelation, and Angel of Serenity.

    It seemed like a very hostile environment for aggressive decks. And it was.

    But a lot has changed since then.

    As players shied away from Centaur Healers and stocked up on conditional counterspells, and slow (but powerful) threats that would allow their control decks to go over the top of other control decks – they became more vulnerable to aggressive strategies.

    And while the control decks were weakening their aggro matchups, players simultaneously found ways to adapt their aggressive decks in ways that would minimize the impact of opposing Thragtusks.

    By adding Cavern of Souls to get past opposing counterspells and Falkenrath Aristocrats plus Thundermaw Hellkites to go over the top of the previously unassailable 5/3 life gainer, Black-Red aggro decks went from being little more than an afterthought to one of the premier decks to beat in Return to Ravnica Standard.

    "Thragtusk is still the best creature in Standard. It is very hard for a lot of decks to beat it," said Hall of Famer Shuuhei Nakamura.

    Shuuhei Nakamura

    But while Thragtusk was once the undisputed king of Return to Ravnica Standard, the rise of Black-Red Zombie decks has forced players to be prepared for two very different kinds of decks at Standard events.

    "Only decks that can beat Thragtusk and Black-Red are able to make Top 8s now," said Nakamura.

    And unless things change drastically and suddenly, that should remain true for the foreseeable future.

    So the next time that you're getting ready for a Standard tournament, make sure that your deck has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with both aggressive Black-Red decks, and controlling Thragtusk decks. If you find yourself struggling against either of those types of decks, then you should seriously consider playing something else.




     

  • Saturday, 10:05 p.m. – Tracking the Top Tables Part Three: Rounds 7-9
    by Nate Price

  • Here we go, the home stretch! We've been watching the evolution of the top tables here at Grand Prix Nagoya since the very first round of play, and we've seen some very interesting trends coming out of it. Before summing everything up, lets take a look at where we ended after the last installment:

    Round 6


    And here's how the final three rounds went from there:

    Round 7


    Round 8


    Round 9


    So there you have it, the final glimpse at the top twenty tables from Day 1 of Grand Prix Nagoya!

    If this looks like what you had expected coming into this event, especially after seeing how things started off at this tournament, I commend you. Or call you a liar. I'm kind of waffling on that one. Here's what Round 1 looked like for comparison:

    Round 1


    There are a few things that jump out at me when walking through the progression. First is the incredibly steep drop-off of BR Zombies in the closing rounds of Day 1. All throughout the rest of the day, Zombies had been utterly dominant, comprising roughly one quarter of the decks at the tables. Come Round 7, that number drops and even more precipitously for Round 8. It comes back up for the final round, but it's still a far cry from the near 50% seen to begin the tournament. Perhaps all of the hard work people put into finding a way to deal with the Zombie menace finally began to bear fruit. It certainly appears that way at first glance.

    Second is the utter disappearance of GW Aggro. Possibly the second most played deck in San Antonio, GW Aggro has suffered for the successes of BR Zombies. Many of the same cards that are good at stemming the tide of Zombies are good against GW Aggro, and the GW creatures simply aren't as resilient. Interestingly, we had noted earlier that as GW Aggro dropped, Naya rose, leading me to believe that more people hopped on the midrange, red-removal train which has become so popular as a method of dealing with the prevalence of aggressive decks. While the deck isn't as aggressive as the Silverblade Paladin-wielding GW deck, it has an incredible arsenal for dealing with Zombies and other GW decks. From Bonfire of the Damned to Huntmaster of the Fells, Naya's cards seem much more suited to the current environment, making it a logical successor to GW Aggro.

    UWR Control is another of the titanic stories from the weekend thus far. With many people incorrectly touting the demise of UW Control, this version proves that Cavern of Souls doesn't quite have the stranglehold on the format many people believed it did. Jacob van Lunen put it quite succinctly when I spoke with him in San Antonio, saying that the fact Cavern prevents people from playing counterspells actually makes Cavern a bad card at this point in the metagame. Gone are the majority of the counterspells once packed by the control decks. In are the sweeping removal spells and perfectly aimed spot removal spells. Red gives decks access to the multipurpose Pillar of Flame, as well as the potential for Bonfire of the Damned, Searing Spear, and Thundermaw Hellkite. This gives control enough removal to survive the early game and enough punch to finish things in the late game, making it an incredibly potent contender here in Nagoya.

    The last major mover has been the reanimator decks. These come in many shapes and colors, from the WBG Angel/Hoof decks to the Four-Color "Good Stuff" decks. At their core, what separates them from the decks that are simply playing Unburial Rites for Value are the presence of cards like Mulch and Tracker's Instinct, indicating a clear desire to load the graveyard up and abuse it. Everyone is packing a few cards in their sideboards to deal with recursion strategies, such as Rest in Peace and Grafdigger's Cage, but Reanimator decks have adapted. Starting with Brad Nelson's Hoof deck in Charleston, Reanimator decks began to pack enough mana sources that many are able to simply cast their reanimation targets. This gives them the ability to skirt the best way to deal with the reanimation strategy. Since it's difficult to devote enough slots to thwarting both strategies, Reanimator decks have thrived in this current format, with Angel of Serenity being the target of choice. She's huge, impossible to kill, and sends an entire team packing as soon as she hits play, making her an easy choice to hit with an Unburial Rites.

    Tomorrow, we'll get actual information about the decks that made Day 2 and attempt a full metagame analysis. Hopefully, it will reveal a picture very similar to the one we've spent our day building.




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