orning has broken here at Grand Prix Nagoya, and 215 players have stumbled, bleary-eyed, back to Fukiage Hall for six more rounds of Day 2 action. After running the gauntlet of nine rounds of Born of the Gods/Theros Sealed Deck play, seven players finished without picking up a loss: Takatoshi Satou, Masaki Sugai, Koichi Arita, Yuuki Ichikawa, Ryousuke Kasuga, and Chang-Hoi Kim at a perfect 9-0 and King of the Hill Kalim Oldziey at 8-0-1. Many of the biggest names in the room fell by the wayside, as players like (9) Shuhei Nakamura and (22) Martin Juza are playing in the Super Sunday Series rather than the Grand Prix this morning. Still, there are a few big names just off the pace. Ken Yukuhiro and Tzu-Ching Kuo are just shy of the lead at 8-1, while a flock of big names, headlined by (8) Yuuya Watanabe and (15) Shi Tian Lee sit on the bubble at 7-2.
Today is one of the last Grand Prix to feature Born of the Gods/Theros Booster Draft on Day 2, so this will be our last chance to see how things have shaped up before the addition of Journey into Nyx next month. The format appears to have been more or less figured out, but there are still innovations coming out, even this far into this mature format. One of the most recent innovations that the masses appear to have latched onto are the hyperagressive red/white decks featuring Loyal Pegasus, Impetuous Sunchaser, and few (if any) cards over three mana. Will there be another late innovation, or have things pretty much settled in their ways? Are there prevailing strategies in Japan that differ from those we're commonly used to seeing in other regions? There are still six rounds to figure that out before the elite eight duke it out for the title after one final draft.
Day 1 Undefeated Decklists
by Josh Bennett
Sugai, Masaki BLUE
Kalim Oldziey BLUE
Satou, Takatoshi BLUE
Kim, Chang-Hoi BLACK
Kasuga, Ryousuke BLACK
Ichikawa, Yuki BLACK
Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – Drafting With Tzu-Ching Kuo
by Josh Bennett
Chinese Taipei's Tzu-Ching Kuo has been a fixture of the Asian pro scene for over a decade, and for the last few years has been enjoying the greatest success of his career. He's probably best-known as the man who captained Team Chinese Taipei to their victory at the inaugural World Magic Cup. He represented the APAC region at the 2012 Players' Championship, the event now called the World Championship. Despite a whopping nine Grand Prix Top 8's, he has never claimed the trophy. Twice he's come within a match win, recently at Grand Prix Quebec City last year. At 8-1 he's two good drafts away from getting another shot.
Kuo was happy when he fanned his first pack and saw Eidolon of Countless Battles waiting for him in the rare slot. He moved Oracle's Insight to the front as well, considering the two of them, but couldn't deny the power of the Eidolon. "I think I would take Retraction Helix over it, but that's about it." A second-pick Akroan Skyguard was exactly what he'd hoped he would see, and third pick he quickly settled on Bolt of Keranos over Nyxborn Eidolon and Forlorn Pseudamma.
I asked him if he was concerned to be taking a red card, knowing that he had passed good red to the left. He dismissed that as nonsense. "Bolt is such a strong signal. You can't care too much about what the person you're passing to does. Worry about the person passing to YOU." The next pack confirmed his analysis: He had his choice of another Bolt, Kragma Butcher and the mighty Akroan Conscriptor, which he took. His next picks were curve-filling beaters, and he ended the pack with a tenth-pick Fearsome Temper, a very good sign.
Interestingly, the Oracle's Insight he'd briefly considered in his opening pack managed to come all the way back to him ninth. He could only shake his head in disbelief. I asked him if he was surprised to see it come back. "Very! I don't think anyone at the table was playing blue. There was that late Sudden Storm too. Maybe nobody opened Retraction Helix?"
It was as good a start as he could hope for. "For Theros I'm looking out for strong heroic cards and good tricks to trigger heroic. That's all."
When his Theros pack started off with a Wingsteed Rider and then a Coordinated Assault, Kuo was almost ready to etch his 3-0 performance in stone. The good times didn't last. The overflowing bounty he'd gotten in the first pack had stuck his left-hand neighbor Tatsuro Shoji into Red-White as well. That left Kuo with the scraps in pack two, and it was all he could do to make sure his two-drop slot was solid with such lackluster cards as Bronze Sable and Setessan Battle Priest.
"You have to have twos. If you don't get enough of them, your deck won't work."
Still, it was a rude awakening, and after pack three started with a pair of Lightning Strikes it seemed like the red and white cards evaporated completely. Fourth pick Kuo's only option was a Dragon Mantle while he shipped Sea God's Revenge with a shake of his head. Fifth pick there were no cards for him at all. Luckily they picked up again after that, and when his opening pack came back to him he patted it, hoping for good news. It was there: Purphoros's Emissary.
"It was such a strong pack, I knew I would be getting a card back from it, and I thought there was a good chance it would be the Emissary."
Somehow, Gray Merchant of Asphodel had also made a complete circuit of the table. At this Kuo could only shrug. "Maybe no-one's playing blue OR black?"
Kuo's build was quick, and he was very pleased with his deck, saying that he wouldn't be surprised to 3-0 with it, and would be disappointed with less than 2-1. Here it is.
Sunday, 10:45 a.m. – Impressions from around the Room – Draft 1
by Nate Price
Day 1 was absolutely brutal to most of the better known players in the room. Multiple members of the Top 25 (Shuhei Nakamura, Martin Juza, and Makihito Mihara) failed to put up the requisite 4-2 record after their three byes to make it to Day 2. Many of the players who failed to make the cut voiced their frustrations after coming up dead.
"This Sealed Deck format is so hard to figure out," Juza said. "Most other formats, when you get ahead, it's a lot easier to tell how the game is going to go. When you're up two creatures and you have a Doom Blade in hand, you're pretty sure you're winning that game. In this format, you can feel like that one second, then someone plays a card like Elspeth or Eidolon of Countless Battles and you just can't win anymore. The bombs are so powerful that Sealed Deck just has a lot of variance. The Sealed Deck pool I opened here was exactly what I was looking for, a very good pool, but I still lost three matches with it. I thought I would go 5-1 on the day at the very least. It's just frustrating because the Booster Draft format is so good, and being skilled makes such a bigger deal. I just wanted to be able to draft."
There were a handful of top players who managed to snake their way through the minefield to end up at the Draft today, but most of them just barely made it, limping in on life support at 7-2. There was going to be a lot riding on the first draft of the day, in particular, to set the tone for their push to stay alive. Here's a brief glance around the room to see how the bigger names still live in the tournament ended up after their first Draft of the weekend.
Our King of the Hill to end Day 1, Oldziey was less than optimistic about his chances in Booster Draft coming into today. He admitted that he was a little behind the many of the other players in Day 2, experience-wise, and knew that he was going to have to put it together to keep his streak alive. Fortunately, even if he fails to retain his King of the Hill title, his 8-0-1 record on Day 1 would make it incredibly easy for him to at least finish in a paying position, as well as providing a bit of wiggle room in his search for a Top 8 spot.
His deck ended up very heavy red, almost to the point of being able to play monored, but a few key cards kept him in white, such as a Fabled Hero that he was fortunate enough to open in the final pack of the Draft. Still, his white is very limited, and concessions had to be made to afford the Hero's double-white commitment.
"Drafting under the camera was a lot of pressure," Oldziey said after the draft. "It steals seconds from you, which aren't a lot on their own, but they add up. I have some cards I wish I could play, but I am too heavy red to be able to afford them. It's possible that I should have stayed with black after opening and taking Herald of Torment, but I didn't think the cards were there. I think I can get at least one win with this deck, maybe two, but going for a 3-0 would be pushing it."
Kuo is one of a trio of players to keep an eye on at 8-1 coming into the day. He is an incredibly experienced player who knows his way around a Draft table and this format in particular, so he stands in good position to keep himself alive for Top 8.
While he ended up inadvertently hooking the player to his right into the same colors as him, he endured an abysmal second pack to end up with a deck that could have been phenomenal and, instead, ended up simply acceptable. He's got some very powerful cards, like Eidolon of Countless Battles and a pair of Lightning Strikes, but he's also playing a few cards he wishes he didn't have to. You can read more about his draft and his view on his chances here.
Sato is another player fortunate enough to slip into Day 2 with an 8-1 record. He made Top 8 in Grand Prix Shanghai over a year ago, another Limited Grand Prix, and has been playing exceptionally well thus far this weekend.
His deck from the first draft is a unique blue/red deck, one of the least drafted color combinations in the format. His deck has some very impressive cards, though, and it looks like he may be able to put together the 3-0 he needs to keep his push for Top 8 alive. He has oodles of removal, including two copies of both Fall of the Hammer and Magma Jet, and a Curse of the Swine for anything too tough for his burn to kill. He backs those up with a good number of large fliers, and a pair of Thassa's Emissaries for good measure. A very strong deck.
The final 8-1 player coming into today is Ken Yukuhiro. While Yukuhiro isn't exactly a new name in Japanese Magic, he has been on quite a tear in the past couple of years and has been traveling extensively for Magic because of that. He teamed up with the Asian powerhouse Team MTG Mint Card at Pro Tour Born of the Gods, where Shi Tian Lee made Top 8 using a version of the deck Yukuhiro had played over a year before at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica!
His deck from Pod 1 was a good, but not amazing deck, until he hit the third pack. He already had a couple copies of Retraction Helix, Favored Hoplite, and Phalanx Leader when he was surprised with fourth and fifth pick Wingsteed Riders. I was watching him draft, and I don't think I've seen anyone windmill slam a card onto their pile as fast as Yukuhiro slammed those Riders.
"This deck can definitely 3-0," Yukuhiro said with a smile. "The first Wingsteed Rider was very lucky. The second was a dream."
(15) Shi Tian Lee
"This deck is...I don't want to talk about it."
Those were the first words Lee said to me as I approached his building table, and they should give you a pretty good idea of what his chances of picking up a 3-0 to keep his Top 8 hopes alive are. Pretty abysmal.
"The first pack gave me Retraction Helix and two copies of Nullify plus some other blue cards," he explained. "Then it all dried up. I'm not sure what happened. I don't think this deck is very good at all."
Worse still, Lee has a few very high-quality cards hiding in his sideboard that his mana just can't support. His deck is base blue/green, with some decent creatures and a few good spells, but the problems become quite apparent when you take note of the two Spellheart Chimeras sitting in his three-drop pile. Worse still, his only method of splashing them is an Unknown Shores. No Traveler's Amulet, Karametra's Favor, Nylea's Presence, Oplaine Unicorn, not even a Springleaf Drum. This lack of ability to splash left a Reaper of the Wilds, Searing Blood, and a couple of other high-quality cards in his board that his deck simply can't support.
"I'll be lucky if I can scrape together two wins with this deck."
Yasooka is traditionally known more as a deckbuilder than a Limited player, but he really turned the corner within the last couple of years and has become an incredibly good Limited player, with skills to match his Constructed game. Considering him anything other than one of the Top players in Japan at this point is a serious flaw in judgment.
His draft deck this Pod exemplifies this fact. Sure, it is built around a couple of incredibly powerful bombs: Fabled Hero and Triad of Fates. But almost everyone in the room has at least one powerful rare in their deck. The rest of it is a heroic dream, with Phalanx Leader, Wingsteed Rider, and plenty of cards to trigger heroic. He has a great endgame with Archetype of Finality (it's not just a clever name) and the Triad, and the Hero and his heroic comrades provide a potent early-game punch. His deck looks like an easy 2-1, with 3-0 not at all out of reach, especially for a player of his caliber.
The former World Champion had a pile of cards in front of him that looked like a very good set of cards, yet not necessarily a deck. Phalanx Leader and Medomai the Ageless were part of a reasonable blue/white curve, though one that didn't look too powerful or synergistic outside of those cards. In addition, he had a few black removal spells and an Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, tossed into his deck. The powerful cards in his deck were very powerful, but the weak cards weren't particularly well-supported. His deck should be able to easily 2-1 on power alone, but if he is going to make the 3-0 he needs to stay alive, he'll have to take advantage of every edge he can get his hands on.
(8) Yuuya Watanabe
At first glance, Watanabe's deck seemed pretty reasonable. Two copies of Ordeal of Purphoros plus an Ordeal of Heliod, two Loyal Pegasi, an Akroan Hoplite... his deck seemed quite aggressive and very strong. Still, watching him draw a few practice hands, it seemed really underwhelming. His curve was a little on the high side for a deck that wants to be aggressive, and his ordeals are only really good a few of his creatures. Still, he has a Fabled Hero, and sometimes that just wins games. If he can get an Ordeal on that, he'll be able to beat anyone in the room.
When I asked him how he felt about his deck, he replied, "Eh, not so good. Maybe 2-1. Maybe I can get lucky."
This caused Lee Shi Tian, sitting across from him to burst out laughing.
"I need the luck," he said. "Yuuya always does this at Grand Prix. 7-2 Day 1, 6-0 Day 2 and win the tournament."
Jun Young Park
Fresh off of a Top 8 performance in Kuala Lumpur, a Grand Prix that took place just a couple of months ago in this very same format, Park clearly knows his way around Theros and Born of the Gods Limited. His Sealed deck yesterday was only mediocre, yet he still managed to pick up enough wins to squeak into Day 2 at 7-2.
His first Draft deck is an interesting base-black deck splashing blue and white. There are some very powerful cards in it, including a pair of Keepsake Gorgons, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and a Nighthowler. He speculated into black/blue early with a Siren of the Silent Song, yet it appears that the bulk of his deck decisions were made in the Theros packs, where it became clear that he was one of maybe two black drafters at the table. In the end, his deck is a powerful late game deck which should be good for a 3-0 if he can avoid getting run over by one of the highly-aggressive red/white decks in his pod.
Speaking of aggressive red/white, Grand Prix Yokohama Champion Masaya Kitayama's deck is the red/white dream. He has three copies of Loyal Pegasus, a plethora of two-drops, lots of removal, and ways to win combat. His deck will punish all but the stoutest of decks, and is one of the scariest draft decks I've seen in this format. True to the deck's nature, he has cut virtually all of the cards that cost more than three from his deck, enabling him to cut lands for even more pure, high-octane gasoline. If he doesn't 3-0 his pod, I would be incredibly surprised.
On the other side of the spectrum is Chapman Sim's blue/white deck. The first thing I saw when I walked past his table was Elspeth, Sun's Champion. That's a good place to start. Accompanying the Planeswalker on her journey to a very likely 3-0 are multiple copies of the uncommon Emissaries, Wingsteed Rider, a bunch of bounce spells, and some other large fliers. It's much slower than Kitayama's deck, but it packs its power in an unbeatable late game. It also stands the chance of just straight killing someone before they know what hits them.
"My deck is very good," Sim said before heading off to his first match. "If I don't 3-0 with it, I will be very disappointed in myself."
(25) Kentarou Yamamoto
The last deck to keep an eye on this round is that of Kentarou Yamamoto. The first thing I noticed upon looking at his deck was the lands he had marked off for his deck: lots of Plains, lots of Islands, and a couple of Forests. I immediately became curious about the Forests. The rest of it was fairly self-explanatory. Fated Retribution, Daxos of Meletis, and a pair of Battlewise Hoplites are an incredibly good start to a blue/white deck. And then I got to the two copies of Prophet of Kruphix in his deck. Oh, three Forests. I get it now.
Yamamoto's deck is very strong, with a great early game and a good way to hold out should things go long. It's not the best deck I've looked at today, so I think it's more likely a 2-1 deck than a 3-0 deck, but there's a good chance I'm proven wrong. After all, because of how things shook down on Day 1, most of the players listed above are in separate pods from one another. While their opponents will be no laughing matter, they at least have the relief of not having to fight one another to get their first 3-0 of Day 2.
Round 12 Feature Match - Yuuki Hirabayashi vs. Tzu Ching Kuo
by Josh Bennett
Yuuki Hirabayshi and his teammates at "Chagam Fireball" have become a regular sight at Japanese Grand Prix. What began as a highly informal gaming group from Nagano has become a legitimate team, almost despite its members' best efforts.
Of course, when you put up a 10-1 record, you start running into Bosses. Facing down Tzu Ching Kuo of Team MTG Mint Card (whose roster includes Shi-Tian Lee and Shouta Yasooka) is a far cry from busting your buddies' heads in a pick-up draft.
Yuuki Hirabayashi vs. Tzu Ching Kuo
Both are 2-0 and looking to complete the sweep of Draft 1.
Unsurprisingly both decks are powerhouses. Kuo is with a 16-land Red-White heroic deck, and Hirabayashi has a Black-White Control deck. He took his cues from Hall of Famer Frank Karsten, studying his power rankings for Born of the Gods / Theros draft. Opening Herald of Torment put him in black, and the table cooperated, giving him the lion's share. His deck seems like a perfect foil for Kuo's, packed with removal and strong defensive creatures.
Game one started out in Kuo's favor as he rolled out Akroan Skyguard into Elite Skirmisher. Scholar of Athreos hit play for Hirabashi to snarl the ground. Kuo gave his Skyguard a Dragon Mantle and started to pour his red mana into it when Hirabayashi showed that he was stuck on just three plains.
It was only a momentary lapse. His deck served up a swamp and he passed the turn with all his mana up, a sure sign of Divine Verdict. Kuo refused to bite, holding his Skyguard back. However, he was drawing a lot of land and couldn't really build an alternate offense. When the following turn yielded nothing he decided to cash in Spark Jolt for a counter on his Skyguard, and Hirabayashi responded with Pharika's Cure to completely shut him down. From there Hirabayshi added Keepsake Gorgon and as more mana came off his deck his Scholar was able to lock up the game.
Hirabayashi 1 - Kuo 0
When you draw up a gameplan for your aggro deck, rarely does it read "Do nothing until you cast a fourth-turn Bronze Sable". Kuo stared across the table at two Returned Phalanxes that left him no room to maneuver. Hirabayshi had no mana troubles this game, and rattled off Pharika's Cure for a tardy Akroan Skyguard, and Asphyxiate for Akroan Conscriptor.
Hirabayashi played it slow and cautious, and Kuo was never able to develop a fighting board. Scholar of Athreos soon showed up and brought inevitability with him. Hirabayashi's teammates quietly pumped their fists as he drained away the last of Kuo's life.
Yuuki Hirabayashi defeats Tzu Ching Kuo 2-0
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. – Quick Question #1
by Nate Price
Which of the Journey to Nyx cards that have been previewed thus far are you the most excited about?
Shouta Yasooka: I don’t know about Standard, but I’m excited to look at Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, for the Pro Tour.
Tzu-Ching Kuo: Silence the Believers and Mana Confluence.
Shi Tian Lee: Setassan Tactics. In Limited, especially, it is not even close to a fair Magic card. I'm also looking forward to Ajani, but mostly because I want a chance to Skullcrack when someone tries to ultimate it. Skullcrack, effectively dealing 103 damage!
Ken Yukuhiro: Dictate of Kruphix. Howling Mine and cards like that have always let opponents draw first, but now you can play that effect and not have to give up the first card. I'll probably try to work with Dictate first when I'm testing for the Pro Tour. Other than that, Ajani is a good card. Both abilities add loyalty, and Planeswalkers like that aren't easy to kill. They build up too much loyalty, which lets you stabilize with them. Besides, Ajani can always find himself with his second ability, and you might get to gain 100 life!
Yuuya Watanabe: Eidolon of the Great Revel. I'm interested in looking at an aggressive red deck for the next Pro Tour. Journey into Nyx has a bunch of good cheap creatures, like Mogis's Warhound and Gnarled Scarhide. Block Constructed is going to have a bunch of inexpensive cards in it, so Eidolon should be good. Ajani is also nice.
Chapman Sim: Keranos, God of Storms. No matter what you draw on your turn, Keranos is going to do something. The only risk you really run is dying when you tap out to play it.
Sunday, 2:40 p.m. – Quick Question #2
by Josh Bennett
What's the toughest first-pick decision you've had in Born of the Gods / Theros draft?
Shouta Yasooka: For me, there are no difficult picks.
Katsuhiro Mori: (6-0 in draft at the Pro Tour, 3-0 his first draft here) It's all easy!
Sunday, 2:45 p.m. – Pushing for Top 8 at Grand Prix Nagoya – Draft 2
by Nate Price
The first Draft of Day 2 came with high expectations, necessarily so, for the relatively few well-known players still in the hunt. Other than Lee Shi Tian, Kalim Oldziey, and Yuuya Watanabe, all of the players I was keeping an eye on either said that they felt that their deck was a 3-0 deck, or had a deck that clearly looked like it. In the end, however, things did not go as planned for most of them.
First off, going into this second draft, there were no undefeated players remaining in the tournament. Every single one had picked up at least one loss in this incredibly tumultuous tournament. Second, Lee Shi Tian, who felt that he had the worst deck of all of the decks I looked at (I agree with him), somehow took a deck he expected to go 1-2 with and rattled of a perfect 3-0 to climb into 15th place on the standings. In addition to that, Rei Sato, who appeared to have a fairly powerful blue/red deck, and King of the Hill Kalim Oldziey, who was less than pleased with his red/white deck, ended up only notching themselves 1-2 records, almost assuredly dropping them out of Top 8 contention.
With the second draft drawing to a close, only six of the players we took a look before the last draft are clearly still in Top 8 contention with two losses, and they likely need to 3-0 this final Draft to make it. Here's how things are shaping up as we head down the final stretch:
After defeating Kalim Oldziey in the first round of the day, Yo Tezuka took over the reins as the King of the Hill. His deck looked incredibly strong, a UW Heroic deck featuring two Battlewise Hoplites, Wingsteed Rider, and a slew of other heroic creatures, and plenty of enablers to ensure that they became gigantic. The deck looked good on paper, and it appeared to play even better in the Feature Match area, as Tezuka only faced one real scare during his first three rounds today.
In the second draft, Tezuka ended up with a deck that was significantly weaker than his previous effort. His blue/green deck featured a few good tricks in Voyage's End, Aspect of Hydra, and double Feral Invocation, but it lacked bodies to really do anything with those tricks. Other than Setessan Oathsworn, Nessian Asp, and a meager number of evasive creatures, Tezuka's deck lacked punch on the magnitude of his previous deck. While Tezuka can still manage a 2-1 record and likely secure a Top 8 spot, his deck looks like it might only just barely manage that.
Lee Shi Tian
After putting up a 3-0 with this monstrosity:
Lee Shi Tian put himself into 15th place, and unexpectedly kept his hope for Top 8 alive.
"It's all because of the Nullifies and Retraction Helix," Lee admitted after defeating his third opponent.
This time around, Lee stuck with the Nullify strategy, ending up with an incredibly potent blue/red deck featuring a trio of Arena Athletes and a number of ways to trigger them. If they don't get the job done, Titan of Eternal Fire can always turn them to play with matches, or Archetype of Imagination can take his team to the skies. He even had a pair of Purphoros's Emissaries to make sure that no combat goes past without some sort of weird blocking exclusion.
Of all of the players I spoke to, Lee was the most upbeat about his chances.
"I think my deck is good," he told me. "I have a bunch of good cards and it plays together very well. I suppose we'll see."
If last draft is any indication, Lee's deck evaluation skills might require a little fine tuning, but his play skill certainly does not.
His Team MTG Mint Card teammate Tzu-Ching Kuo, however, was far less optimistic about his chances. His deck didn't look too bad, and even featured some very familiar faces. He was nearly monowhite, only touching black for a few cards to shore up his deck. He had big bombs in Celestial Archon and Eidolon of Countless Battles, appropriately named considering its appearance in Kuo's last draft deck.
Unfortunately, the fun kind of stopped there. Where his last deck had Lightning Strikes and a reasonable curve, this deck had Cutthroat Maneuvers and Setessan Griffin. He was a bit displeased with his last deck, which he took for a 2-1 record, and this one seems just a touch weaker. He's going to need a lot of help, and favorable matchups, to get the 3-0 he will likely need to make Top 8.
I have no idea what happened to Ken Yukuhiro's draft, but I love what I saw as he was building. Last draft, he felt his UW deck was an easy 3-0, but the one monoblack drafter at the table derailed him in the first round. In some form of cosmic revenge, Yukuhiro has managed to get himself one of the more interesting "monoblack" decks I've seen in a while. While the majority of his cards are black, he picked up two Temples, an Unknown Shores, and a Traveler's Amulet, which he's using to splash not one, not two, but three colors into his monoblack shell.
In addition to his multitude of monoblack permanents, including two Marshmist Titans and two Mogis's Marauders, Yukuhiro has chosen to splash green for Reaper of the Wilds and Pharika's Mender, blue for Voyage's End and the activation on his two Returned Phalanxes, and white for Observant Alseid and the activation on his Odunos River Trawler. It's quite the brew, but I am always excited to see decks like this that might have a realistic chance of pulling things off. His deck clearly has the power, but will mana issues potentially stand in the way of the 3-0 that he needs to make Top 8?
I was greeted by nothing but a shaking head, every time I walked past Chapman Sim building. He had managed a perfect 3-0 with his previous deck, a powerful blue/white deck featuring Elspeth, Sun's Champion. This time around, his deck did not look nearly as good, and he knew it. Head resting on his palms, he stared down at a pile of red and green cards with way too many five drops, way too few four drops, and a general lack of power. While he certainly had explosive potential with Oracle of Bones and a pair of Portent of Betrayals, his deck simply looked average, especially compared to his previous one.
Still, he had a Courser of Kruphix which would potentially enable him to ramp into his many big creatures, as well as a reasonable low end to his curve, so there's always the chance that his deck can smash through for enough to get the job done. He also had a Bow of Nylea, which is an incredibly hard card to beat in Draft. Still, decks like this don't usually seem to make it to 3-0 very often, in my experience, so I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up going 2-1 and slipping just out of the Top 8.
Jun Young Park
I stood behind Park for most of his draft this time around and came to the conclusion that I really like his style. Every time a difficult decision came up, and I was rooting for a particular decision, it was like he read my mind. Even more so, I've already expressed my love for decks that are capable of doing fun things and getting there, like Yukuhiro's deck above, and Park's is in that same vein.
Just like the nearly monoblack deck that he splashed blue and white into from the first draft, Park opted to aggressively two colors into his blue/green deck. Peregrination, Nylea's Presence, Sylvan Caryatid, and Unknown Shores all worked overtime to help him fix his mana. He even had Oracle's Insight to help him sift through his deck. Usually, packing your deck full of things like this diminishes your available power, but he still had plenty to spare. Nessian Wilds Ravager simple ends games, and he had a number of large fliers to go right alongside it. His white splash gave him Hopeful Eidolon, which can be unbeatable in many situations. His black splash was a little strange, opting for Boon of Erebos and Necrobite.
All in all, his deck seems pretty sweet, though it has many of the same questions as Yukuhiro's. If it all comes together, watch out, because he could easily 3-0. If the mana crumbles, his chances at Top 8 do alongside them.
Last but not least, we have Katsuhiro Mori. Mori's Mytic Rare-packed previous deck rode Medomai the Ageless, the hidden rare Phalanx Leader, and Ashiok to victory. This time around, he's turned the aggression all the way to the max.
It's rare that you are drafting monored and actually get to pick up a Fanatic of Mogis to go alongside it. When you do, it feels like Christmas. Personally, I don't care how much I hit them for, I just want to see the look of realization on their face when he pops them one in the mouth. Well Mori has three of them. Three Fanatic of Mogis in his mostly red/black Minotaurs deck. If it weren't for Ragemonger, Bile Blight, and Eater of Hope, he might not bother with the black at all. While three Fanatics is, well, absurd, the rest of Mori's deck is well designed to maximize their chance of winning the game on the spot. Two-Headed Cerberus, Dragon Mantle, Fearsome Temper, and Minotaur Skullcleaver are all capable of taking huge chunks out of life totals, while leaving some nice devotion in their wake for the Fanatic to slap together and throw at an opponent.
His deck is about four or five cards shy of being phenomenal, but it is still very good. In the average player's hands, it's likely a 2-1 deck. In Mori's, he could likely steal that third game and put himself in contention for Top 8.
Round 14 Feature Match - Chapman Sim vs. Takanori Ootaki
by Josh Bennett
Takanori Ootaki started playing Magic with 6th Edition, though he took a short braek between Apocalypse and Time Spiral. A self-affirmed amateur, he focuses mainly on limited play, and played in his first Grand Prix at Yokohama last year. He Day 2'd then, too.
Chapman Sim vs. Takanori Ootaki
Singapore's Chapman Sim might be one of the less-decorated members of Team MTG Mint Card, but he's already shown he's no slouch. He came second at Grand Prix Singapore last year and has been looking for revenge on Ken Yukuhiro ever since.
Both are sitting at 11-2, within striking distance of the Top 8. Winning out would all but guarantee a berth.
Ootaki is playing Blue-White Heroic, looking to dominate the board with a single massive threat. Sim is playing a deck of powerful cards that's mainly Red-Green, but he couldn't resist getting a little artistic thanks to Opaline Unicorn and Temple of Mystery, splashing Voyage's End and Triton Tactics. "It gives the deck a little finesse." Between rounds he was actually consulting with teammate Shi-Tian Lee over his build, and was convinced to board into a more conservative, streamlined build.
In game one they traded their first creatures and Ootaki summoned Daxos of Meletis. Sim's gameplan was to ignore it for the time being. Oracle of Bones put Ootaki to a decision and he chose to pay the tribute rather than risk a free spell. Hopeful Eidolon was supposed to tip the race in his favor, but Sim's next play was Nessian Demolok, which came in as a 6/6. Daxos was outclassed.
Things only got worse from there. Ootaki was drawing small creatures. Sim was blowing up Daxos with Ordeal of Purphoros and then getting free cards with Courser of Kruphix. On the short ride from there to the game's conclusion, Ootaki had to untap with Bow of Nylea staring him in the face from the top of Sim's library. It felt like it should merit an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for Sim.
Sim 1 - Ootaki 0
Ootaki's Top 8 hopes dwindled as he mulliganed to six cards, and all but disappeared when he had to keep going to five. His first play of the game was on turn five, when he summoned Hopeful Eidolon and bestowed Nyxborn Shieldmate onto it. Sim already had Kragma Butcher and Courser of Kruphix in play. It went about as you'd expect.
Chapman Sim defeats Takanori Ootaki 2-0
Sunday, 4:00 p.m. – King of the Hill at Grand Prix Nagoya – Day 2
by Nate Price
Yesterday was a day fraught with instability for the would-be King of the Hill. Awarding the title first to Hall of Famer and 9th-ranked Shuhei Nakamura in Round 4, we saw Nakamura immediately lose the title to Tomo Takebayashi, who then immediately lost in Round 5. The usurping King Kantarou Yuasa finally managed to hold onto the seat for a second round, though he fell in Round 7 to Kalim Oldziey. From that point on, Oldziey would be the King, winning his next two matches and ending the day with an 8-0-1 record, an interview with the video team at Nico Nico, and the title of King of the Hill.
Day 2 broke early this morning, and Oldziey was in the seat of honor to begin the day. He was the featured drafter on Nico Nico's stream, and took front row center for the first Feature Match of the Day. Unfortunately for him, it was not to be. His first draft did not go the way he wanted at all, and he ended up dropping his first match to the 8-1 Yo Tezuka, whose UW Heroic deck appeared at first glance to be a thing of beauty. Multiple copies of Battlewise Hoplite, Wingsteed Rider, Gods Willing... it was one of those decks that just makes you feel good when you see it laid out.
It was as good as advertised, too, as he managed to defeat contender Masaki Sugai, one of the three 10-0 players in the tournament, in Round 11. Sugai's deck was sugoi, too, so it was no easy feat. Multiple copies of Wingsteed Rider, Hopeful Eidolon, and Favored Hoplite made for an incredibly strong set of threats. Tezuka managed, at one point, to beat a 5/5 flying, lifelinking Wingsteed Rider by virtue of having a humongous Battlewise Hoplite to take the match in historic fashion.
In Round 12, Tezuka found himself up against another very powerful deck, this time in the hands of Yuuki Ichikawa, another of the Day 1 undefeated players. His blue/red deck featured Lightning Strike, Bolt of Keranos, Whelming Wave, two copies of Nimbus Naiad, and a small black splash for Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. Ichikawa put up a very good fight, managing to once again press Tezuka to a third game through a combination of burn spells and fliers. In that final game, however, his Hoplites picked up their shields and charged across the field at record speed, putting Ichikawa down before he could put up a fight.
After Round 12, the King retired to his throne, awaiting the second draft of the day. Unfortunately for him, it would not go nearly as well as the first. While his first deck had been a power-laden monstrosity, his second deck was anything but. Unable to really find a color other than green for a good portion of the draft, Tezuka ended up with a mostly gree/blue deck, featuring a few good tricks, but little in the way of good bodies to use them with. If someone had shown up packing 3/3s for four mana against his previous deck, even with the tricks his second deck had, he would have laughed at them on the way to a 2-0 stomping.
As such, it was no surprise that he was dethroned when he came up against Ryuuji Itagaki and his very potent blue/black deck in Round 13. Itagaki's deck had Master of Waves, a pair of Nimbus Naiads, some good bounce, and an Insatiable Harpy that just did work. Tezuka was actually up at multiple points in the match until the Harpy, often bestowed with one or both of the Naiads, went to town, sustaining Itagaki while feeding on Tezuka. In the end, Itagaki, aided by Tezuka's lack of Islands, ascended to the King of the Hill throne.
Round 14 was the last big battle for King of the Hill, and it was Yuki Hirabayashi who would have the last say as to who the King of the Hill for Grand Prix Nagoya would be. Hirabayashi's deck was another black/blue deck, just like Itagaki's, but featuring a touch of white for Divine Verdict and Scholar of Athreos. He also had a couple pairs of powerful cards, boasting two copies each of Sea God's Revenge and Fate Unraveler. In the end, however, the Insatiable Harpy and his Naiad friends kept Itagaki afloat, netting him an incredible amount, all in one match. His win gave him enough match wins to draw into Top 8, and, more importantly, by virtue of not having to play the final round, his title of King of the Hill carries over, making him the ultimate King of the Hill for Grand Prix Nagoya! The real test for the King will come in the next three rounds. Will he exit the tournament early, or will he be able to add a second title to his crown, and emerge the King and Champion of Nagoya?