Day 1 Coverage of Grand Prix Niigata

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Over 700 players entered Grand Prix-Niigata on Day 1, but only three of them will head into battle Sunday with unblemished records. Their names are Ren Ishikawa, Kentarou Yamamoto, and Takaya Saitou. Ishikawa, who finished the day in first place, is barely a month removed from his Top 8 at Japanese Nationals. Of course, not far behind him are Japanese all stars Akira Asahara, Makahito Mihara, and Shingou Kurihara.

It was a hard day for non-Japanese pros, with traveling players Olivier Ruel and American Mike Bernat falling by the wayside, locking up a late rising time for Sunday play. Gaudenis Vidugiris, another American, will enter the second day of competition in 17th place, with Taiwanese standout Tzu Ching Kuo in 29th. But, who will end the day on top? Will the Japanese continue dominance of their own individual Grand Prix titles in Japan, or will one of the visiting pros finally take a title down? Tune in all day tomorrow on magicthegathering.com to find out!




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  • Saturday, 11:45 a.m. - Deckbuilding with Shingou Kurihara
    by Bill Stark
  • Grand Prix-Bangkok champ Shingou Kurihara.
    Shingou Kurihara is a prominent Japanese pro hot off the top finish at last weekend’s Grand Prix-Bangkok. He entered the deck building portion of Grand Prix-Niigata with a full set of three byes, and the coverage team took the chance to peek over his shoulder to see how he was going to approach building a sealed deck with Magic 2010.

    Fanning through his cards Kurihara quickly sorted out the wheat from the chaff. In white he found a Blinding Mage and twin copies of Divine Verdict, not terrible but not the thing Sealed dreams are made of. His green was also a bit underwhelming, offering up only a Borderland Ranger and Giant Spider. Black was a little bit spicier with Deathmark, a very main-deckable removal spell in the world of Magic 2010 Limited, Tendrils of Corruption, and an exciting Royal Assassin. The 1/1, which has been a base-set favorite since Alpha, can completely dominate a board position, particularly in conjunction with the Blinding Mage sitting in Shingou’s white card pile.

    While Royal Assassin was exciting, things were only starting to get interesting. Shingou fanned through his blue cards to find powerful mental bombs in the form of Mind Control and Mind Spring. He also had a Divination as additional card draw, and a military-grade air force of double Snapping Drake, Wind Drake, and twin copies of Air Elemental. The first half dozen of Kurihara’s blue cards were already more powerful than most of the rest of his pool!

    It seemed the red portion of his pool would be hard pressed to overpower the blue, but quickly proved up to the task. Two Lightning Bolts, a Pyroclasm, and Seismic Strike all provided excellent removal options. Goblin Artillery pitched in as well as both a “removal” spell and an attacker, but the coup de grace truly came as Shingou scoped out his rares: not one, but TWO copies of Chandra Nalaar! Up to that point the pro had been a consummate professional, giving no sign of whether he was excited by his pool or nonplussed, but even a seasoned vet like Kurihara couldn’t help himself at the site of two planeswalkers in the same color. His eyes grew wide and he excitedly flipped back and forth between the two cards in his hands.

    After sorting the cards and verifying they were all registered correctly, Shingou set about building his deck. He quickly set aside the green and white cards, focusing instead on blue, red, and black. His first build featured all of the most powerful red and blue cards, a decision many players would have been quick to make. Of course, Shingou didn’t earn his professional reputation off of making snap decisions, and before long he was closely examining the possibility of alternative builds featuring red and black. That would allow him to fit Royal Assassin in (with a Gravedigger as protection, no less!), as well as double Sign in Blood, Deathmark, and Tendrils of Corruption.

    The only thing better than one Chandra? Two...
    After examining that pool for a few minutes, he swapped the black cards back out for the blue. From there he began paring the deck down to 24ish cards. When he was left with only a few slots to cut, he actually scooped up a half dozen cards, set them aside, and seemed to go back to considering splashing black again. A blue-red-black build making use of a Terramorphic Expanse was an interesting proposition, but the most powerful cards from the color were Tendrils of Corruption and Royal Assassin, neither of which lent itself well to splashing. Making things even more challenging was the Seismic Strike amongst his red cards which hungered for as many Mountains as Shingou could fit.

    Before long, the blue cards were back in, and Kurihara was making his finishing touches on what was a very powerful sealed pool. With three byes already, Shingou Kurihara was well on his way to a back-to-back Top 8 performance. He still had the matches to play, but his pool had done all it could to see him wind up returning for Day 2 competition.

     

  • Round 3 Feature Match: Hiroshi Kaida VS Naoki Shimizu
    by Bill Stark
  • Naoki Shimizu is a versatile Japanese pro involved in many aspects of the Magic tournament scene. He’s had success as a tournament player as well as a coverage reporter, and his strong English skills have even led to gigs as a writer for popular English-language Magic web sites. His lesser known opponent, Hiroshi Kaida, was in his first Feature Match, and seemed a bit nervous, though good naturedly so. He joked with his friends, who watched the match from behind the spectator barriers, before opening the game on a mulligan.

    Shimizu cast a Giant Spider early with his black-green manabase, but Hiroshi answered with a Spider of his own in the form of Deadly Recluse. Because Kaida was representing only blue and green lands, Naoki cast a Cudgel Troll despite not having mana up to regenerate it. When Hiroshi added a Swamp to his side of the battlefield, the crowd leaned in to see if he could muster a removal spell of some type to deal with the 4/3 regenerator, but no such spell was forthcoming and Naoki got to untap with the Troll protected.

    Double Cudgel Troll were a boon for Naoki Shimizu.
    From there the players continued cluttering the battlefield, Hiroshi casting Stampeding Rhino and Merfolk Looter while Naoki cast Centaur Curser, which died to a block from Deadly Recluse, and a Deathmark to kill his opponent’s Rhino. It was very much a back and forth affair, but Hiroshi’s Kalonian Behemoth promised to turn things around in his favor. He wasn’t able to back it up with anything, however, Looting again and again into lands, and the 9/9 was forced to stay back on blocker duty.

    Shimizu pressed on, casting Gravedigger to return his Centaur Courser to his hand and attacking with his entire team over and over. A Doom Blade and some Kalonian Behemoth blocks helped Kaida stabilize, but when Naoki cast a second Cudgel Troll while Hiroshi continued drawing lands, the Feature Match newcomer sighed in frustration. Shortly after, he conceded the game to find himself in a hole under the bright lights.

    Naoki Shimizu 1, Hiroshi Kaida 0

    Both players kicked the second game off with two-drops, Hiroshi on Merfolk Looter while Naoki cast Deadly Recluse. A second Looter soon entered the battlefield for Kaida, but his opponent tried for some card drawing of his own, casting Borderland Ranger to fetch a third copy of Forest. Transitioning to the role of beatdown, Kaida cast Awakener Druid to bash his opponent for 4 with a Treefolkified Forest.

    Naoki considered his options on his turn, before deciding to attack with Borderland Ranger and Deadly Recluse, then casting Drudge Skeletons with sufficient mana to regenerate. The series of plays forced Kaida to keep his 4/5 Forest back to block, while madly digging through his deck with his twin Merfolk Looters. A Duress from Shimizu was met with Cancel from Hiroshi, hiding the fact he was holding a Mind Control in his hand.

    Stampeding Rhino
    Hiroshi Kaida had four copies of the 4/4
    Air Elemental entered the battlefield for Hiroshi Kaida, but it was evenly matched by the Deadly Recluse still on his opponent’s side of the battlefield. The 1/2 was problematic enough that Kaida decided to use his Mind Control on it, attacking with his Elemental. Naoki cast Assassinate on his opponent’s 4/4 flier and seemed to have dodged a bullet; his Mind Control had gone to simply stealing a 1/2 threat, instead of one of his more imposing creatures.

    Kaida cast a Stampeding Rhino, which Naoki answered by casting Howl of the Night Pack for four Wolves. Nonplussed, Hiroshi simply cast a second copy of the Rhino, though he hadn’t quite built to the point where he could start attacking. Having had access to twin Merfolk Looters for the entirety of the match was really starting to serve him well, however. A third Rhino joined his side of the battlefield, but with a Cancel and Master of the Wild Hunt in his hand, Kaida decided to stop using his Looters. Instead, he patiently accrued seven lands and cast his Mythic Master with Cancel as backup.

    Naoki, whose board contained four Wolf tokens, a Borderland Ranger, a Wall of Bone, and a Drudge Skeletons, cast Consume Spirit for three in an attempt to kill the Master. Hiroshi quickly plopped his Cancel onto the table, and got to untap with his Master. He pushed his triple set of Stampeding Rhinos and his 4/5 Awakener Druid Forest into the red zone. When the smoke cleared Naoki was down two Wolves, Hiroshi was down a Rhino, and Shimizu’s life total had fallen to 8. Naoki untapped, drew, and surprisingly attacked with his remaining two Wolves and a Borderland Ranger. What could Shimizu be up to?

    That was the question Hiroshi Kaida had to figure out as he considered his blocks. He blocked all three attackers, killing two of them while losing a Wolf token and the stolen Deadly Recluse in the process. Shimizu cast a post-combat Gravedigger, returning Borderland Ranger and casting it to find a Swamp. He also cast a Weakness on his opponent’s Awakener Druid, solving the problem of the 4/5 Forest in the process. A quick peek into Hiroshi’s hand revealed a surprising fate in store for Shimizu: a fourth copy of Stampeding Rhino, and a second Mind Control! That was all it took to send the players to a third game.

    Naoki Shimizu 1, Hiroshi Kaida 1

    For the second time in the match, Hiroshi Kaida took a lonesome mulligan to start the game. Naoki Shimizu, happy to stay on seven cards in hand, gave himself a Saitoian slap to the face to re-focus on the match. Content with six, Kaida was the first player on the battlefield with a Mold Adder on his first-turn. Shimizu wasn’t far behind casting Deadly Recluse, but his Wall of Bone served only to pump his opponent’s first-turn creature.

    Emerald Oryx soon joined the battlefield for Hiroshi, who could only smile as his opponent answered with a Mold Adder of his own. Master of the Wild Hunt returned for the second game in a row for Kaida, who seemed reticent to cast it without being able to keep Cancel mana up for the blue instant in his hand. He nervously passed the turn, but Naoki was unable to kill the 3/3 and the creature threatened to take the game over.

    Could Hiroshi Kaida prove victorious in his first Feature Match?.
    Wolves slowly began eating Naoki’s team, first taking out Mold Adder, then a Deadly Recluse. Shimizu tried to fight back with Assassinate, but Kaida was ready with Negate, leaving a backup Cancel still in his hand. His Wolves ate a Shimizu Giant Spider, and he began connecting through his opponent’s 1/4 Wall of Bone. With each draw step, Naoki searched for a solution. None was forthcoming, and the upstart Hiroshi Kaida took down the seasoned pro.

    Hiroshi Kaida 2, Naoki Shimizu 1

     

  • Saturday, 3:23 p.m. - Kobe Rice
    by Bill Stark
  • One of the legends of Japanese Magic are the public events, famous for awarding prizes like the great culinary treats of Japanese cuisine. The most famous such prize is Kobe beef, a mythic meat that commands the highest price on the open market and is so popular on tour, some of the game’s biggest names have eschewed PTQs and side drafts at Pro Tours and Grand Prixs to sign up for the chance to win the fabled prize. Niigata adds a new sought-after spoil to that list.

    Koshi Hikari, the Kobe beef of rice, unique to Niigata!
    You see, the city of Niigata is famous for raising not beef, but rice. As a result, citizenry from all over the nation (and world!) purchase the grain from the region, and rice-derived products such as sake, for which Niigata is also famous for. The enterprising minds behind the Public Events at Grand Prix-Niigata managed to snag a whopping 45 kilograms (for American readers that would be nearly 100 pounds) for a prize to be awarded this weekend during a special tournament.

    So what are the details? The winner of the event, which costs 2000 yen to enter, will receive ten kilograms of the prized Koshi Hikari rice (which, very loosely translated means “light of this region”). That amount of rice feeds a family of four for about a month. The rest of the Top 8 will each receive five kilograms of Koshi Hikari, wrapped in the traditional fashion as you can see from the above photo. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Magic public event without awarding a few Magic cards for prizes too! The winner also receives a complete playset of Magic 2010 dual lands, four copies of each card, the runner-up will receive two of each land, and the Semifinalists will each receive a copy of each land.

    Whether you come for the Grand Prix’s main event, to visit with friends, or to enjoy yourself amongst the numerous public events held throughout the weekend, a Magic Grand Prix has something for you! And for participants in Niigata, that something includes some innovative prize support from the staff at the event.

     

  • Saturday, 12:28 p.m. - "What Card Do You Most Want to Open?"
    by Bill Stark
  • It wouldn't be a Grand Prix without hearing from the world's best players on how they approach the Magic 2010 Limited format. So, what card do the players most want to open as they sit down to build their pools? Their answers might surprise you!



    Olivier Ruel
    “Mind Control. Starting out at 3-0, everyone else will have bombs. It's good to be able to steal them.”

    Naoki Shimizu
    “Mind Control. I agree with Olivier!”

    Martin Juza
    “Fireball.”


    Matteo Orsini-Jones
    “Fireball.”

    Masashiro Kuroda
    “Fireball.”

    Chikara Nakajima
    “Baneslayer Angel. I love it!”


    Yuuya Watanabe
    “Mind Control or Magebane Armor.”

    Kazuya "the Chief" Mitamura
    “Mind Control or Liliana Vess.”
     

  • Round 4 Feature Match - Akira Asahara VS Ren Ishikawa
    by Bill Stark
  • The fourth round of play at Grand Prix-Niigata meant the top pros had to get off their duffs from the comforts of byes and actually sit down to battle. Two of those pros, Japan’s Akira Asahara and Ren Ishikawa, found themselves doing exactly that in the cushy arena of the Feature Match area. Asahara has one of the highest total of Pro Points throughout a career in Japan, despite not frequenting the Pro Tour Top 8. His opponent Ren Ishikawa was no slouch himself, having just competed in the Top 8 of Japanese Nationals a month prior. He’d also earned a reputation amongst the Japanese community as being a bit of a jokester, once wearing a horse mask to a Top 8 match.

    Ant Queen
    Coming to a Feature Match near you!
    The players got off to a slow start, with Akira Asahara casting the first creature in the form of a Veteran Swordsmith on his third turn. His opponent, who had the fortune of starting on the play, was fast behind him with a fourth-turn Dragon Whelp. The 2/3 flier soon found itself under the grip of a Pacifism, and Asahara added a Griffin Sentinel to his side of the battlefield as well. Ren’s reply to the 1/3 flier was a Runeclaw Bear.

    Asahara cast a Guardian Seraph, which Ren took a moment to read. He untapped and cast a whammy in the form of Windstorm for 4, taking out both of his opponent’s fliers in the process. It was a powerful play against Akira, who tried to bounce back by casting a Gorgon Flail, equipping it to his Swordmaster and attacking his opponent to 8 life. Ishikawa fired right back with an Acidic Slime, acing the troublesome equipment with a 2/2 deathtouching body for free.

    While Ren Ishikawa’s manabase had yielded him more than sufficient amounts of mana in the form of Forests, Mountains, and Swamps, Akira Asahara was struggling a bit sitting on just five lands, only one of which was a Mountain. That meant Ishikawa had little to fear in the form of removal as he cast an Ant Queen, conveniently with enough mana up to activate it for a free Ant. The 5/5 was sure to take over the board if Asahara couldn’t come up with a solution, and fast.

    He worked to buy himself some time, casting Veteran Armorsmith followed by Pyroclasm. That wiped out Ren’s side of the battlefield of everything but the Ant Queen, and he fell to 5 life as Akira attacked. If Ishikawa could stabilize, his Ant Queen could take over but he was having a tough time getting that to come to pass. He cast Elvish Visionary and Deadly Recluse looking to slow things down, again leaving himself enough mana to make Ants as chump blockers if the need arose. He was within range of Lava Axe, but the sorcery had only an outside shot of being in Asahara’s deck.

    A second Mountain finally found its way to the top of Akira Asahara’s deck, and he quickly cast a Magma Phoenix with the land. The 3/3 was a gigantic threat for Asahara, who was able to attack his opponent to 3 with the flier. Thanks to its leave-the-battlefield trigger, that put Ishikawa in a very tight spot. He couldn’t afford to kill the Phoenix, meaning he needed to attack for the win. When he peeled a non-Overrun card, he was forced to concede the game despite his bomby Ant Queen.

    Akira Asahara 1, Ren Ishikawa 0

    Both players led the second game with Forests, but that represented a markedly different game plan for Akira Asahara who had not only played only Mountains and Plains in the first game, but hadn’t ever shown anything other than red and white cards in his hand. Could he have determined he had mis-built his deck during testing in Rounds 1-3, sideboarding into an entirely different deck for the second and third games? It looked entirely possible as he cast Deadly Recluse, then a Prized Unicorn.

    Ren Ishikawa, the Jokester of Japan.
    Ren Ishikawa got to work casting fatties, with an Awakener Druid turning one of his Forests into a 4/5 Treefolk, followed by a Stampeding Rhino. Determined to prove two could play at that game, Asahara cast a Stampeding Rhino of his own, before trading his Deadly Recluse for Ishikawa’s copy of the 4/4. Ant Queen hit the battlefield for the second time in as many games, but the play left Ren Ishikawa tapped out, and helpless as his opponent attacked with Prized Unicorn, forcing the Queen to block, then finished off the 5/5 with a Lightning Bolt.

    It was an impressive feat, but Asahara had under-calculated his position in the game. Having taken a few points of trample damage early, he was only at a life total deemed moderately safe. Ren revealed he had crafted his plan around exactly that, casting a second Awakener Druid to give himself a surprise 4/5 hasted Forest, then casting Oakenform to make his team lethal. Doing a quick check of life totals, Asahara realized he was dead out of nowhere, and with a look of shock on his face began shuffling for the third game.

    Akira Asahara 1, Ren Ishikawa 1

    Akira Asahara opted to draw for the final bout, and the decision looked very strong as his opponent started the game off with a mulligan. A Pyroclasm from Asahara cleared Ishikawa’s board of a Prodigal Pyromancer and a Runeclaw Bear, further adding to Akira’s powerful start. Things were looking very good for Akira Asahara.

    Ishikawa didn’t seem to mind, however, battling right back with a Great Sable Stag, then a Siege-Gang Commander. A Lighting Bolt dealt with the Commander itself, but Ren ripped Oakenform off the top of his library, cast it targeting one of his 1/1 Goblins, and attacked into his opponent’s board of a lone Griffin Sentinel. The 1/3 stepped in front of the enchanted Goblin, killing it with some help from a Giant Growth. The play was a tad demoralizing for Ren, and when Akira cast a Gorgon Flail and equipped it to his Griffin the following turn, Ishikawa’s chances started to sour.

    Akira Asahara
    A second Oakenform on a second Goblin allowed Ren to go back on the attack, but Magebane Armor for Asahara soon equipped Griffin Sentinel making the 2/4 deathtouching flier into a 4/8 monster (though it did lose flying). Thanks to vigilance, the creature could keep getting in turn after turn, but there was a small bright spot for Ren Ishikawa in all of the equipping and attacking going on: Asahara wasn’t developing his side of the battlefield beyond the singleton flier and the equipment.

    Pacifism enchanted the Oakenformed Goblin so Akira wouldn’t have to worry about anymore attacks, but he continued to draw lands. Ren found Magma Phoenix, providing an eternal blocker for his opponent’s Griffin Sentinel, but at the cost of 3 life each turn and ten mana to continue re-summoning it from the graveyard. Ishikawa chump blocked his opponent’s Sentinel with Great Sable Stag, then promptly ripped Ant Queen from the top of his deck. The 5/5 was exactly what he needed to stay alive! It promised to provide an unending amount of chump blockers and eventually an army large enough to attack through Akira’s forces.

    A game that had seemed decidedly in his favor was all of a sudden slipping out of Akira Asahara’s grasp. He drew and cast a Stampeding Rhino, equipping his Magebane Armor to it. That allowed him to attack with his Griffin Sentinel for 2, putting his opponent at 6 life and sending Ren Ishikawa reeling yet again. The match had devolved into an impressive back and forth of haymakers, with bombs flying left and right.

    After an excruciatingly long time thinking, Ren Ishikawa decided to attack with his Magma Phoenix. Asahara decided to trade his Griffin Sentinel for the 3/3, with the life totals falling to 3-2 in the process. Drawing his card for the turn, Akira slid it across the table, looking at it closely in his lap so the spectators behind him couldn’t see it. With a match so tight, he didn’t want the final play to come down to the peanut gallery inadvertently giving away what he had drawn. Equipping Gorgon Flail to his 6/8 Stampeding Rhino, he sent the creature into the red zone. Ishikawa made the maximum number of Ants with his Queen, then sent the 5/5 to block. Asahara checked the life totals, then conceded the match, dead to his opponent’s counter-attack.

    Ren Ishikawa 2, Akira Asahara 1

     

  • Saturday, 2:35 p.m. - Yoshiya “Yoshi” Shindo
    by Bill Stark
  • When Magic was first released in the early 90s, it gradually made its way from the West Coast across the United States, then into Europe, and at long last into Asia and Japan. In some ways, that delayed progression created interesting challenges for the nation of Japan to solve; while its cohorts in the United States and Europe were able to build large quantities of judges and players, Japan’s late start meant building from the ground up while other countries had already established themselves in the Magic world. Chief amongst Japan’s architects was Yoshiya “Yoshi” Shindo.

    Judge (and player) Yoshiya “Yoshi” Shindo.
    Yoshiya started off as a translator for the game, but as one of the few people who had been able to read the rules from Revised, when the first tournament was held in Sapporo in 1994, he was tasked as serving as a judge for the event. He’s been on the job ever since, now one of five level three judges in the country. This weekend, however, he decided to step back from administrating an event in order to get his game on. We caught up with him to ask about the differences between playing and judging.

    During his time in the black and white stripes, Shindo has traveled the world. “I’ve judged about 20 Pro Tours, in places like New Orleans, San Francisco, on the Queen Mary in Los Angeles, Venice, Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney, and Prague. Prague was my favorite!” He said, breaking into a huge grin as he recalled his time in the Czech Republic.

    Yoshiya expanded upon the importance of playing for judges, explaining why it’s not enough for a judge to simply judge as many events as he or she can. “Of course [it’s important for judges to play]. You need some perspective as a player. That way you can tell what needs to happen while judging an event. You also get to experience interesting game interactions through playing. It’s a good experience [for judges].” With so many years in the judging game, Shindo’s voice is a good one to listen to on such matters.

    As such a high ranking official in Japan, how had Shindo come about competing at Grand Prix-Niigata specifically? “I love to play,” he explained. “Playing and judging provide different elements of happiness for me. When I play, I play for myself. I draw a card and try to figure out the best play for me. When I judge, I judge to help others. I love both.” When pressed on why he was playing in Niigata, he explained further.

    “I’ve been thinking of slowing down with judging. Presently we have enough good judges here in Japan. Now I feel we have enough to allow me to play; I love to play. It’s also Limited [this weekend], and I play almost exclusively Limited. Grand Prix-Kitakyushuu is Limited, but I can’t play.” When asked why he couldn’t play, Shindo replied with another huge grin “Because I’m head judging!” So much for slowing down...

    Yoshiya “Yoshi” Shindo, one of the many faces that makes playing in Japan such a great experience!

     

  • Feature Match Round 5: Tsuyoshi Fujita VS Masashiro Kuroda
    by Bill Stark
  • The Feature Match for the fifth round was quite a historic one. On one side was Hall of Famer Tsuyoshi Fujita, the first Japanese player ever to make the Top 8 of a Pro Tour. Sitting across the table from him was Masashiro Kuroda, a Hall of Fame eligible Japanese pro and the first Japanese player to actually win a Pro Tour. It was the type of matchup coverage writers dream of.

    Hall of Famer and the first Japanese player in a Pro Tour Top 8: Tsuyoshi Fujita.
    Fujita had the pleasure of starting the game off, casting a third-turn Griffin Sentinel as the first creature on the battlefield. His opponent was right behind him with a Palace Guard, followed by Kelinore Bats but the 1/4 Guard was sent back to the top of Masashiro’s library as Tsuyoshi cast Excommunicate. That allowed the Hall of Famer to go on the offensive with a Viashino Spearhunter and the Griffin Sentinel, but when he tried an attack with a Razorfoot Griffin, Kuroda aced it with a Divine Verdict.

    Siege Mastodon for Kuroda helped stall the ground battle, but Fujita threatened to make things difficult by way of a Gorgon Flail that would allow his Spearhunter to combo first strike with deathtouch and make the 2/1, now a 3/2, nigh unkillable. Kuroda stopped to consider his options on his turn, ultimately passing with access to seven mana. Fujita sent his team in, but lost the Spearhunter and got in for no damage as Kuroda blocked and cast Safe Passage.

    While Tsuyoshi failed to cast additional creatures, Kuroda got busy attacking using a Pacifism to make sure his opponent’s Griffin Sentinel couldn’t block and getting in with Siege Mastodon, Palace Guard, and Kelinore Bats. Fujita used Fireball to kill the Bats and drop Kuroda to 11, but Masashiro simply re-grew the 2/1 fliers with a Gravedigger. Inferno Elemental for Tsuyoshi allowed him to start attacking profitably, and when Masashiro attempted to attack Fujita to 4 life with his Bats, Tsuyoshi surprised him mid-combat with a Bogardan Hellkite. The 5/5 killed the Bats and dropped Kuroda to 7, but Masashiro had a bomb of his own post-combat: Planar Cleansing. That re-set the battlefield, and left Masashiro with just enough mana to cast Veteran Swordsmith.

    Fujita had exactly two turns to find a solution to the 3/2 on the battlefield, but failed to do so sending the players to the second game with the Hall of Famer down.

    Masashiro Kuroda 1, Tsuyoshi Fujita 0

    A first-turn Soul Warden for Tsuyoshi Fujita kicked off the second game, but Masashiro Kuroda exploded with a Stormfront Pegasus followed by Veteran Swordsmith and White Knight. The 1/1 Warden helped Fujita mitigate the aggressive attacks that followed from his opponent, while he built up his side of the battlefield with a Viashino Spearhunter and a Veteran Swordsmith of his own. Kuroda cast Siege Mastodon to stymie any attempts by Fujita to get through on the ground.

    The first Japanese Pro Tour winner, Masashiro Kuroda.
    Veteran Armorsmith pre-combat for Masashiro Kuroda made things a bit tougher on Tsuyoshi Fujita, who had to contend with his opponent’s Veteran Swordsmith now being a 3/3. After considering his options for a mere moment, Kuroda turned his entire team sideways (minus the summoning sick Armorsmith, of course). Viashino Spearhunter stepped in front of White Knight, but Fujita had no other blocks and fell to 10.

    With the turn back, Fujita tried to work the battlefield to his advantage. Excommunicate temporarily resolved the problem of his opponent’s Veteran Armorsmith, allowing Fujita to attack Kuroda to 13, then he went up to 11 after casting a post-combat Blinding Mage. Unfortunately for him, his Seismic Strike was countered by a Safe Passage from Kuroda, who then used Mind Rot to force Tsuyoshi to discard his hand. The last card remaining there? His Fireball, which he was forced to send to the graveyard unused. Kuroda continued pressing in the red zone, dropping Tsuyoshi to just 3.

    The Hall of Famer turned to his deck for salvation and found...a Duress. He was out of the match, with the first Japanese Pro Tour champion defeating the first Japanese Pro Tour Top 8er.

    Masashiro Kuroda 2, Tsuyoshi Fujita 0

     

  • Saturday, 3:07 p.m. – Connecticut Yankees in the Emperor’s Grand Prix
    by Bill Stark
  • English speakers were cordoned off from the main event.
    Like most Grand Prixs of late, Grand Prix-Niigata saw a number of foreign pros standing in line to register as competitors for the main event. Few of them spoke Japanese, and the plethora of Americans, with a smattering of British and mainland EU residents thrown in for good measure, posed a challenge for the judge staff. How could they register their sealed pools in a timely fashion if all of the cards were written in Japanese?

    Never fear, the DCI is here! Or, rather, the DCI had enough English product to provide for the score or so of players unable to read Japanese. Special tables were set aside from the main event so that the group could register their own pools of English cards, then trade the pools amongst their English-only table while the rest of the 700+ members of Grand Prix-Niigata were busy exchanging their Japanese-only pools.

    Grand Prixs in Japan mark a unique standard in the world of tournament level Magic; Japan is the only country on the planet that uses non-English product for its Grand Prix events. Even in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and all other nations where Magic is translated into the native language of the country (and even for Limited Pro Tours held in Japan), English product is used for large events. Fortunately for the traveling pros, the judge staff on-site in Niigata determined that forcing the English-speakers to register in a non-familiar language was an undue disadvantage; unable to clearly decipher their cards they might not be able to register fairly. In addition, providing them with additional language help via a player guide or printoff would be too time-consuming.

    Of course, some seasoned pros decided to try their luck at the Japanese pools. Olivier Ruel, no stranger to travel in Asia, wasn’t afraid to forego registering in English, and he had managed to start the tournament 4-0. Of course, the English reprieve is only good for one day; all cards used in drafting on the second day of competition will be in Japanese!

     

  • Round 6 Feature Match: Yuuya Watanabe VS Masaya Kitayama
    by Bill Stark
  • A former Rookie of the Year, Yuuya Watanabe also holds the hallowed honor of being a back-to-back Japanese Nationals finalist, first pulling off the feat last year before repeating this year. His opponent, Masaya Kitayama, is one of a long line of Japanese pros with a smattering of Grand Prix and Pro Tour Top 8s. He also jumped out to an early lead on the battlefield for the players’ match as he accelerated an Emerald Oryx by way of a Llanowar Elves.

    Former Rookie of the Year Yuuya Watanabe.
    Watanabe kept up with a Wall of Bone and a Howling Banshee, but it was when he cast Duress that Kitayama cried foul. His hand revealed a Mind Control, Flashfreeze, Lightning Bolt, Sphinx Ambassador, Craw Wurm, and Bramble Creeper; clearly he didn’t want his creature-stealing enchantment to hit the bin. That’s exactly what happened, however, as Watanabe forced the Mind Control to the graveyard before attacking with his Banshee. Masaya plucked a Mountain from the top of his deck, allowing him to deal with his opponent’s 3/3 Banshee thanks to Lightning Bolt, but Yuuya simply cast Gravedigger to get it back, re-casting it the following turn.

    Missing land drops, Masaya Kitayama managed to keep up by way of two copies of Llanowar Elves. The inconspicuous 1/1s accelerated him into a Fireball to kill his opponent’s Banshee a second time, and when Yuuya tried for a Prodigal Pyromancer, Masaya finally pulled the trigger on his Flashfreeze. With no counterspells left in his hand, he decided it was also time to drop his Craw Wurm onto the battlefield, but the 6/4 met its demise at the hands of a Deathmark from Watanabe.

    Sage Owl from Kitayama drew literal hoots from the Japanese pro and, with the knowledge of his upcoming draws he then cast his Bramble Creeper. Yuuya had a Rod of Ruin to start pinging his opponent’s 1/1s, but he couldn’t get it active in time to prevent Masaya from casting Sphinx Ambassador. Yuuya had a backup plan for that contingency, however, casting Tendrils of Corruption on the 5/5 for 4 damage, then plinking for the final point with his Rod.

    Masaya pressed on, adding a Snapping Drake to his side of the battlefield while his opponent was still stuck on three creatures, Gravedigger, Wall of Bone, and Bog Wraith. Sleep from Masaya threatened a boat load of damage for Yuuya, but he was ready, pinging Sage Owl with his Rod and using Lighting Bolt to blow up Bramble Creeper. That bought him more than enough room to wait out the sorcery, slowly gaining a board advantage with his artifact pinger. Masaya couldn’t muster a relevant creature over the ensuing turns, and when Yuuya’s creatures woke up from their Sleep-induced nap, he went on the offensive, taking the game over the course of three attacks.

    Yuuya Watanabe 1, Masaya Kitayama 0

    Both players started the second game off with black three-drops, Masaya Kitayama in the form of a Warpath Ghoul while Yuuya Watanabe had Looming Shade. A Duress from Watanabe forced Masaya to discard Tendrils of Corruption, and Lightning Bolt killed the Ghoul so Yuuya could start attacking with his Shade. Masaya simply continued working on his board presence by casting a Snapping Drake.

    Nightmare
    Two copies of Nightmare convinced Masaya Kitayama to switch his deck’s colors.
    The 3/2 flier was killed by a Doom Blade, and it soon became apparent both players were getting a tad screwed. Yuuya was struggling to find creatures, while his opponent was having some mana problems. Watanabe finally found a Bog Wraith, while Kitayama decided he had enough mana to cast his Nightmare. An attack with both the Wraith and the Shade from Yuuya forced Masaya to block Looming Shade with his 5/5 Nightmare. Watanabe pumped his creature to 4/4, then tried to finish off his opponent’s flier with a Sparkmage Apprentice. Masaya was ready with Unsummon, but Watanabe responded with Lightning Bolt, putting the final nail in the Nightmare’s coffin.

    Jace Beleren drawing both players a card was the only action Masaya Kitayama when he had the turn back, and Yuuya was so unimpressed by the planeswalker he didn’t even bother attacking it with his creatures, instead putting his opponent down to 2 with an attack. Masaya took the opportunity to draw a card with his Jace, then cast a Consume Spirit for 5 to kill his opponent’s swampwalking Bog Wraith. That bought him enough breathing room to get back into things.

    Yuuya attacked the Jace to three loyalty counters with his Sparkmage Apprentice, but had to pass the turn after that. Masaya, newly confident in stabilizing thanks to his Consume Spirit, cast Sign in Blood targeting himself. The sorcery allowed him to cast a second Nightmare, which was a gigantic 7/7. Watanabe had a Pithing Needle to answer his opponent’s planeswalker, but his chief concern was the gigantic flyer beating him down from across the table. He needed a solution for the Nightmare, and he needed it fast.

    Running the ole’ maindeck color switcharoo was working wonders for Masaya Kitayama. Trading out his green spells for black ones had given him an entirely different deck and blanked a Deathmark Yuuya Watanabe had left in his stack of cards. The sorcery was clearly powerful against green fatties, but with his opponent’s Forests replaced with Swamps, it was now a dead card stuck in his hand.

    Mind Control came down for Masaya to steal his opponent’s only creature, the 1/1 Sparkmage Apprentice. When Kitayama cast Sphinx Ambassador, it seemed like he was just piling on. The 5/5 flier died to his opponent’s Doom Blade, but Yuuya couldn’t find a solution for the Nightmare and the players were on to the third game.

    Yuuya Watanabe 1, Masaya Kitayama 1

    Child of Night allowed Masaya Kitayama to gain some early life as he attacked his opponent with the 2/1, but he quickly undid the gain by casting a Sign in Blood targeting himself. Yuuya was quick to answer the 2/1 with a Sparkmage Apprentice, but Masaya charged right back with a Snapping Drake and Dread Warlock. Bog Wraith allowed Yuuya to start attacking his opponent, but a single combat step with the 3/3 was soon answered by one from Masaya with Snapping Drake and the 2/2 Warlock.

    It was time to start dealing with his opponent’s threats on the battlefield. Yuuya used a Doom Blade to ace the Snapping Drake, but took 2 from the Dread Warlock. He gave no sign of being disappointed when his opponent cast a post-combat Nightmare, which entered the battlefield as a 4/4. Instead, Yuuya just attacked into the creature with his Wraith and Sparkmage. The 3/3 was unblockable thanks to swampwalk, but Kitayama could take a risk and block the Sparkmage. He decided not to, having lost a Nightmare in the second game to doing exactly that.

    Japanese pro Masaya Kitayama.
    Yuuya Watanabe was holding a Chandra Nalaar, which he hadn’t seen in either of the first two games. The planeswalker was a potential answer to the Nightmare, but only if he could find a second Mountain. He drew for his turn, found a Looming Shade instead of the land he wanted, and attacked with his team. He had only two turns with which to maneuver, but it was all for naught if his opponent had Flashfreeze. Finally Yuuya found the land, slamming the Chandra onto the table. Masaya nodded his head slowly, then shrugged resignedly. The mythic rare resolved! It quickly munched the Nightmare, and Yuuya attacked with Bog Wraith. Kitayama used Tendrils of Corruption to kill the 3/3, and the battlefield soon emptied with both players devoid of permanents and looking to the tops of their decks for help.

    Kitayama found the goods first in the form of a Divination, which yielded him a Vampire Aristocrat. Yuuya cleared his opponent’s hand of an Unsummon, paving the way for Watanabe to cast Wall of Bone. Masaya fired right back with Sphinx Ambasaddor, but Watanabe was ready for the mythic rare with a Tendrils of Corruption. A sacrifice to Vampire Aristocrat prevented Yuuya from gaining any life, but he was still in the match for the time being.

    The second Nightmare found its way to the battlefield for Masaya Kitayama, and things looked very dire for Yuuya Watanabe. He cast Lightning Bolt targeting Kitayama at the end of Masaya’s turn, then untapped looking for help. Lava Axe let him drop his opponent to just 1, but he couldn’t seal the deal. Masaya untapped and went lethal with the Nightmare.

    Masaya Kitayama 2, Yuuya Watanabe 1

     

  • Saturday, 5:48 p.m. – Interview with Artist Christopher Moeller
    by Bill Stark
  • Artist Chris Moeller, who uses his full name of Christopher on illustrations he does for Magic, is one of the visiting VIPs for the weekend in Niigata. A long-time member of the Magic-illustrating elite, this is not Chris’ first trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. That didn’t seem to dull the anticipation of players waiting to get something signed by him as they were lining up even before the event had even begun. The coverage team got a chance to sit down and chat with Chris about Magic, being an artist, and some of his favorite things about working with the game.

    “I started out as an artist in 1990,” Chris explained when asked where he had begun in the industry. “My first job was adapting a comic book called ‘King of the Rocket Man’ from a 1948 serial. I’ve been writing ever since.” A double threat, Moeller continues both illustrating and writing to this day. When did he get his start in Magic?

    Urza’s Saga was my first set,” he said. “I did Expunge, Hidden Guerrillas, and Shower of Sparks.” But what was his favorite card as an illustrator? “Copper-Leaf Angel. Everything seemed to come together on that card. The lighting worked, the brown artifact border at the time fit well with the card. For me, that one feels very successful, even if it’s not the most powerful.” There is a funny difference between cards artists appreciate the most, and the cards they’ve helped create which players most appreciate. Which were the most popular cards fans asked him to sign at large events?

    Umezawa’s Jitte is a popular one,” Chris replied. Humorously he even had a miniature Jitte replica at his table, purchased from a visit to a tourist shop in Tokyo during his visit to Japan and filled with his business cards. “Also Pernicious Deed, Sower of Temptation, and the Meddling Mage featuring Chris Pikula," he added.

    Like Matt Cavotta and a few other Magic artists, Chris is also a Magic player. “I started playing during Kamigawa Block,” he said, before adding quickly “but I don’t really play competitively!” What was his favorite card as a player? “I really like Imperious Perfect. It goes in my Elf deck!”

    Artists in residence are just one of many reasons Magic Grand Prix events are such great experiences for all players. Not only can you play, but you get to interact with the people who bring the game to life. As a special treat, Chris was also to award the original art for the Magic 2010Lightning Bolt as a prize for an exclusive Public Event to be held only at Grand Prix-Niigata. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Chris!

    Artist Christopher Moeller with some of his famous works.

     

  • Round 7 Feature Match: Mike Bernat VS Katsuhiro Mori
    by Bill Stark
  • Katushiro Mori and Mike Bernat(L-R).

    Former Japanese World Champion Katsuhiro Mori’s attendance at Grand Prix-Niigata was so tenuous that many of his compatriots at the event today thought he wasn’t going to be playing. He showed up just in time to prove them wrong, and had torn off to an undefeated start, entering the seventh round of play at a solid 6-0. His opponent for the round was American Mike Bernat, a Midwestern semi-pro who has been on a tour of the Magic world over the past three weeks, starting at Gen Con in the United States, then playing in Grand Prix-Bangkok last weekend before arriving in Niigata for the event this weekend.

    Mori won the die roll but opted to force his opponent to start the game. Still, the Japanese player was first on the battlefield with a Veteran Armorsmith, followed by back-to-back copies of Alluring Siren. His American opponent started a bit more slowly with Palace Guard and a Razorfoot Griffin. Bernat played an Island to go with his three Plains and a Mountain then used his access to blue mana to cast a Merfolk Looter. Mori had an Air Elemental to stall attacks from his opponent’s Razorfoot Griffin, but Mike fired right back with Fireball to kill the 4/4 flyer.

    Wall of Frost for the American half of the battlefield was Mike Bernat’s attempt to stall his opponent’s growing field of attackers, which now included a Snapping Drake and Veteran Swordsmith. He cast a Serra Angel soon after that, but Mori was able to use an Unsummon to bounce the 4/4 and aggressively attack with his team, dropping Mike to 10. Bernat had to carefully consider his options with the turn back, facing down double Alluring Sirens, Snapping Drake, Veteran Armorsmith and Swordsmith, and a Silvercoat Lion. He decided to attack with his Razorfoot Griffin, dropping Katushiro to 12, then re-cast his Serra Angel.

    With the turn back, Katsuhiro tried to figure out a way he could profitably attack but, unable to do so, had to ship the turn. Bernat cast Armored Ascension on his Merfolk Looter to head to the air alongside his Griffin and Serra. That forced Mori to chump the enchanted Looter, falling to 6 in the process. He had a single draw step to find a solution but a quick peek at the top of his deck revealed it wasn’t there, and the players headed to their sideboards.

    Mike Bernat 1, Katsuhiro Mori 0

    Honor of the Pure
    It’s not just for Constructed!
    For the second time in the match, Katushiro Mori opted to have his opponent start on the play, valuing the additional card from drawing over the tempo from playing first. Each player had a one-drop, with Mike Bernat casting Ponder while his opponent cast Soul Warden. The 1/1 was followed by Honor of the Pure, then Veteran Swordsmith, and finally Armored Ascension on the Soul Warden. It was a massive start for Katsuhiro Mori, who had dropped his American opponent to just 6 life by the fourth turn!

    To his credit, Bernat gave no impression of being concerned about the blistering start. He cast Wall of Frost to serve as a blocker for the Swordsmith, then had Pacifism to stop the flying Soul Warden. It would take more than that, however, to stop Katsuhiro. Mori used Ice Cave to prevent the Wall from blocking, attacking Bernat to 2. When Mike attempted to use Divine Verdict the following turn to kill the Swordsmith, Mori was ready with Negate and the players were on to the third game.

    Mike Bernat 1, Katsuhiro Mori 1

    Unable to repeat his mind-bogglingly quick start from the second game, Katsuhiro Mori spent his early turns of the rubber game casting Honor of the Pure and a Snapping Drake. He used an Ice Cage to nullify his opponent’s Stormfront Pegasus, taking some damage from Griffin Sentinel in the process. Bernat cast Rod of Ruin, a powerful card against Mori’s weenie creatures were it not for the Honor of the Pure on the battlefield.

    With six mana on the board, Mori opted to pass rather than cast anything. It was a curious play that indicated he either had a plan for his opponent’s turn, or was short on relevant things to do. When he simply played another Island, passing with seven mana again the following turn it looked more like the latter than the former. Mike started taking one-point chunks out of his opponent’s life total with his Rod of Ruin, resolving a Palace Guard in the meanwhile.

    An all-in attack from Bernat with his Palace Guard and Griffin Sentinel yielded a block from the 3/2 Snapping Drake on the 1/3 vigilant flyer. Mike attempted Divine Verdict on the Drake, but it was countered by Cancel. Post-combat he played a land, then used Rod of Ruin to finish off his opponent’s flyer. Mori was ready with Unsummon to bounce his own Drake, but rather than re-cast the creature on his turn had Captain of the Watch instead. The powerful token generator merited a whistle from Bernat; the +1/+1 effect of the Captain was compounded by the Honor of the Pure, and it looked like Mike Bernat was not long for the Feature Match area.

    Captain of the Watch
    The powerful Captain was the highlight of Mori’s deck.
    Mori sent his team, and Mike fell to 7. He used Divination to try to find a solution, popping Fireball targeting the Captain. His opponent’s attack took him to 3, but his Palace Guard promised to “Fog” for a turn and, without the Captain on the battlefield he’d even get to trade a block with the 1/4 for a Soldier thanks to Rod of Ruin. Bernat cast a Razorfoot Griffin, which resolved successfully. The odds were long for him, but he was slowly crawling back into things. A second Razorfoot Griffin added to the cause, and Mori was forced to sit back without attacking.

    Wall of Frost for Bernat brought him closer to survival, but Mori drew from the top of his deck and slammed a Mountain onto the table. He flipped over a Fireball from his hand, and Bernat nodded at his fate. Katushiro Mori had taken the match!

    Katushiro 2, Mike Bernat 1

     

  • Blog – 7:09 P.M. – Lightning Bolt
    by Bill Stark
  • Artist Christopher Moeller with his original version of the Magic 2010 Lightning Bolt

    Earlier in the day you may have read the blog about the Koshi Hikari rice being given away as one of the prizes for the many Public Events being held this weekend. That tournament had nearly 100 players turn up for it. But there’s an arguably bigger prize being given out tomorrow: the original art for the Magic 2010Lightning Bolt.

    The artist behind the card, Christopher Moeller, is the guest artist on the weekend. He’s no doubt been signing numerous copies of the card, but the original art is a very unique and special prize. The event giving the art away takes place Sunday, and costs a mere 1000 Yen to play. The format is Standard, and players finishing in the Top 8 will also be rewarded with boosters from Standard-legal Magic sets.

    Unique art tournaments are becoming a draw for Japanese events. During Japanese Nationals last month, Mark Tedin and Anthony S. Waters joined forces to create an original art card that was awarded as the prize. Previously Rob Alexander’s Mikokoro, Center of the Sea was a top prize. Lightning Bolt is perhaps the most exciting of the group, and there will no doubt be a happy tournament winner taking the prize home tomorrow!

     

  • Feature Match Round 8: Tomoharu Saito VS Tzu Ching Kuo
    by Bill Stark
  • “This is the fifth time we’ve played.” Tomoharu Saito informed the crowd as he sat down across from Taiwanese player Tzu Ching Kuo for the eighth round of Grand Prix-Niigata battling. The record stood at 1-2-1 for Saito, with the two taking an intentional draw into the Top 8 of a previous Grand Prix. They had also played against one another in the Top 8 of a second Grand Prix, a remarkable coincidence and a testament to the powerful card-playing skills of both Saito and Kuo.

    Taiwanese star Tzu Ching Kuo stars down a former Player of the Year.
    Tzu Ching wasted no time coming out of the gates with an aggressive start that saw him open on Elite Vanguard followed by Blinding Mage. Saito cast Soul Warden to keep up, but Kuo crashed his Elite Vanguard into it with no fear on his face. Tomoharu was happy to make the trade, then case Borderland Ranger to build up his manabase.

    Twin copies of Dread Warlock were how Kuo built his army up, using Blinding Mage to lock down his opponent’s Borderland Ranger. The 2/2 Ranger became a 5/5 as Saito cast Oakenform on it, then followed up with Siege Mastodon the following turn. Seeking to stay ahead in the card count, Tzu Ching cast Sign in Blood targeting himself before casting Silvercoat Lion after an attack from his fearesque Warlocks. Saito finally started striking back, casting a Palace Guard to help hold the fort and using Excommunicate to put his opponent’s Blinding Mage back on top of his library.

    It was but a minor setback for Tzu Ching Kuo, who fired right back by re-casting the Blinding Mage, then casting a Gravedigger to get back his Elite Vanguard and re-casting that too! All that, and he had managed to attack for 4 first, putting Tomoharu to just 8 life. Saito’s next combat step saw him kill the Elite Vanguard and Silvercoat Lion, but he was dead to the Warlocks if he couldn’t come up with an answer. He fell to 4 on his opponent’s next attack, found no help from his deck, and the two players headed off to Game 2.

    Tzu Ching Kuo 1, Tomoharu Saito 0

    Tomoharu Saito kicked off the second game of the match with a Gorgon Flail, followed by Borderland Ranger. His opponent revealed he had likely switched colors in his deck for the second game, casting a second-turn Deadly Recluse off of a black-green manabase despite not showing any green cards in the first game. The move had been a common occurrence throughout the weekend as players used their time during the bye rounds to re-evaluate how they might have mis-built their decks.

    Tomoharu Saito had a lifetime losing record against Kuo.
    Bog Wraith entered the battlefield for Saito, while Kuo used Naturalize to ace his opponent’s Gorgon Flail before casting a Rod of Ruin. Tzu Ching then traded his Recluse for his opponent’s Borderland Ranger, but lost a six-point chunk of his life total from a Bog Wraith attack followed by Howling Banshee. He then cast Gravedigger to get his Recluse back, but before he could cast it he had to take another six damage from his opponent’s attack. Saito added insult to injury by casting a post-combat Kelinore Bats and Centaur Courser. The power play almost seemed to lock up the game for the former Player of the Year.

    Kuo wasn’t going down without a fight. His Gravedigger could block the Courser for a turn while a re-cast Recluse would trade for Howling Banshee and Rod of Ruin could take out Kelinore Bats. It wouldn’t get him out of the woods, but it would help a little. Instead, he cast Deadly Recluse, Deathmark for the Courser, then a coup de grace in the form of Royal Assassin. Saito gave a disgruntled click of his tongue against his teeth, clearly not happy with the powerful series of plays from his opponent. He needed a pump spell or removal spell quickly to finish Kuo off.

    Kelinore Bats and Bog Wraith hit the red zone for Saito, who then played a Forest and passed the turn, his opponent at precious little life. Tzu Ching activated his Rod of Ruin and Royal Assassin to take out his opponent’s Bats and Wraith, then cast Dread Warlock before passing the turn. Tomoharu had no plays on his own turn, choosing to block the Dread Warlock with his Howling Banshee when Tzu Ching attacked the following turn. A Rod of Ruin ping helped the Warlock finish off the 3/3, and all of a sudden Tomoharu Saito was on the back-foot.

    With his opponent’s board empty, Tzu Ching Kuo pressed in for the kill. He sent his entire team for 4 damage, including the Deadly Recluse and Royal Assassin, but left himself potentially dead to a topdecked Awakener Druid from Saito. Tomoharu didn’t have it, but he made a whooping sound the following turn as he drew his card. “Very good!” He exclaimed, before doing some calculations in his head. “Show me, show me!” His opponent implored as Saito obliged by casting Great Sable Stag.

    “I think you lose...” Saito murmured, before casting a Child of Night to join his 3/3 protection from black creature.

    Tzu Ching opted to blow up the 2/1 Child with Rod of Ruin, then began doing calculations of his own. With a battlefield that consisted only of black creatures, he didn’t have a way to stop the Stag. Very low on life, he needed a green creature to survive and turned his team sideways into the 3/3 Stag. Saito blocked the Gravedigger, falling to 4 in the process. When Kuo cast a green creature in the form of Llanowar Elves to block, it looked to be all over for Saito. Tomoharu slowly peeled the top card from his deck, then slammed it on the table. “Target you!” He declared, revealing a Sign in Blood. The 2 life was just enough to send the players to a third game.

    Tzu Ching Kuo 1, Tomoharu Saito 1

    Elvish Visionary into Hypnotic Specter was how Tzu Ching Kuo started the final game of the match. The 2/2 flyer was soon wreaking havoc on his opponent’s hand, and five turns went by with Saito casting nary a spell. Two Dread Warlocks soon entered the battlefield for Tzu Ching, and Saito continued the game with no action. When Tzu Ching cast a fatty, Saito conceded, his sorry board state thoroughly defeated before he even had a chance to play.

    Tzu Ching Kuo 2, Tomoharu Saito 1

     

  • Saturday, 6:27 P.M. – Photo Essay
    by Bill Stark and Keita Mori
  • Head Judge David Vogin

    Over 700 players prepare for a Grand Prix-Niigata battle.

    Usually judging, Yoshiya Shindo had to edit his shirt to battle this weekend.

    Look out! It’s a Meddling Kid!

    A sneak peek of the upcoming Planechase.

    Some lucky players who got to try Planechase out early.

     

  • Feature Match Round 9: Olivier Ruel VS Tomoya Kinoshita
    by Bill Stark
  • “Where are you from?” Frenchman Olivier Ruel asked his opponent, Tomoya Kinoshita as they sat down to their sudden death match for the final round of Swiss play.

    “Tokyo.” Kinoshita responded, before chatting briefly with the audience about his Dallas Cowboys t-shirt.

    Hall of Famer Olivier Ruel.
    Olivier Ruel, a member of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, has a Pro Tour resume second to none. He entered the round at 6-2 needing to win in order to draft on Sunday. His opponent was in the exact same boat, though minus the impressive resume. Tomoya kicked things off with back-to-back three-drops, losing a Goblin Chieftain to Harm’s Way before getting a Prodigal Pyromancer and Goblin Artillery to stick. Olivier had cast nothing save for the Harm’s Way, and slammed a Mountain onto the battlefield, clearly upset about his mana draw. He had plentiful amounts of Plains and Mountains, but was looking for his third color, blue.

    Tomoya cast Deadly Recluse and Rod of Ruin, by far hosting the most pinging effects the Feature Match tables had seen all day long. Trying to stem the bleeding, Olivier cast Pacifism on his opponent’s Deadly Recluse and a second Canyon Minotaur. Kinoshita killed the 3/3 with his Goblin Artillery and an activation from his Rod of Ruin. Taking a Prodigal Pyromancer ping, Olivier fell to 14, then to 12, behind on the race by 2 points of life.

    He drew for his turn and found a Fireball, but opted not to cast it. A ninth land revealed all the hubbub about being mana flooded was a ruse. He cast Siege-Gang Commander, taking advantage of the fact his opponent’s Goblin Artillery was tapped from attacking. Olivier could practically run the table with his horde of Goblins, but when Tomoya used his opponent’s end of turn to ping Olivier, not the 1/1 Goblin tokens, Ruel started doing some calculations. What could his opponent have in hand that putting Olivier to 6 was more important than blowing up Goblins?

    Tomoya cast nothing on his turn, passing back to Olivier nonchalantly. Ruel sacrificed a Goblin to ping his opponent to 12, and Kinoshita responded by activating Goblin Artillery to put Ruel at just 4 life. He then cast a Lightning Bolt targeting the French player, and Olivier conceded rather than make Tomoya go through the motions of activating either his Prodigal Pyromancer or his Rod of Ruin.

    Tomoya Kinoshita 1, Olivier Ruel 0

    Ruel opted to have his opponent start on the play for the second game, then was a tad frustrated at having to start on a mulligan. Kinoshita cast an Elvish Visionary, then followed it up with Prodigal Pyromancer while his opponent had a Silvercoat Lion to go on the offensive. Kinoshita attacked with Elvish Visionary, and Olivier tried to blank the attack with Harm’s Way redirecting the damage to the Pyromancer. There was a techy play Tomoya could make if he knew about it, using his own Prodigal Pyromancer to ping his 1/1 Elf and blanking the Harm’s Way altogether, but instead he simply opted to shoot Olivier for 1 with his 1/1 before placing it in the graveyard.

    Rhox Pikemaster hit the battlefield for Olivier Ruel, while Tomoya cast Canyon Minotaur, then Magebane Armor, which he equipped to his Elvish Visionary. Ruel cast a Canyon Minotaur of his own, but his team didn’t look likely to be attacking any time soon; Tomoya made Goblin Artillery, equipping it with the Armor.

    Feature Match newcomer Tomoya Kinoshita.
    Pacifism from Olivier to Tomoya’s Canyon Minotaur followed by Ice Cage on Kinoshita’s Goblin Artillery allowed Ruel to attack for a healthy chunk, surprising the crowd and especially Tomoya who let out a whistle of dismay. On his turn he knew to re-equip his Artillery with Magebane Armor to kill the Ice Cage, but he didn’t realize he could simply pay the equip cost once, instead equipping a different creature before putting it back on the Artillery.

    From there Llanowar Elves joined the battlefield for Tomoya, then an Ant Queen. Stuck on four mana, Olivier Ruel clearly wasn’t happy with his deck’s performance, beating his hand of cards as he drew for the next turn. In danger of losing the match to the 5/5 Queen, he had no choice but to send his team to the red zone, using Lightning Bolt to kill the Ant maker when his opponent blocked, but losing one of his own creatures in the process.

    Tomoya Kinoshita had no additional cards to cast on his turn, instead attacking with an Ant token he had been able to make before his Ant Queen had died. Olivier finally hit a second source of red, casting Siege-Gang Commander which met a politefully derisive snort from Tomoya. He used his Goblin Artillery to kill the 2/2 Commander, falling to 5 in the process, then cast a Goblin Chieftain. “Fireball?” Olivier asked his deck as he moved to draw for the turn. It was not to be, as he instead plucked a second Ice Cage from the top.

    Olivier was a bit behind, with weaker creatures than his opponent, but he managed to find a Lightwielder Paladin to buy himself some time. Lightning Bolt and Goblin Artillery managed to kill the Paladin, but left Tomoya tapped out on his own turn. Ruel seized a victory from the jaws of defeat as he untapped, then cast his Ice Cage to put Kinoshita too low on blockers to hold on. Somehow he had thrown away a game by way of tiny mistakes, allowing Ruel to sneak in an improbable win.

    Tomoya Kinoshita 1, Olivier Ruel 1

    Trying to make up for his mistakes in the second game, Tomoya Kinoshita came blazing out of the gates casting Llanowar Elves to accelerate into Prodigal Pyromancer. He followed that up with Fiery Hellhound, while his opponent cast Silvercoat Lion then Gravedigger, though the 2/2 didn’t return anything from the graveyard. A Pithing Needle from Ruel served as a solution for his opponent’s Prodigal Pyromancer and he cast a Goblin Artillery, the first time in the match the 1/3 entered the field of play on Olivier’s side of the battlefield.

    From there Ruel cast Lightwielder Paladin to put some attacking pressure on his opponent, and had Goblin Artillery to blow up his opponent’s Fiery Hellhounds which numbered two after Kinoshita had cast a second in an effort to climb back into the game. Olivier attacked Tomoya with Silvercoat Lion, Gravedigger, and Lightwielder Paladin. Tomoya traded his Needled Prodigal Pyromancer and both Hellhounds to take no damage, but lost his team in the process and only killed the Gravedigger and Silvercoat Lion. Entangling Vines from Kinoshita answered the Paladin, and Olivier began attacking with his Goblin Artillery.

    Howl of the Night Pack for two Wolves was all Tomoya could do to stay in it, but he was now in a position to begin attacking and getting damage through. When he tried to do exactly that, Olivier cast Divine Verdict to kill one of the 2/2s, blocking the other with his Artillery. Tomoya cast a post-combat Rod of Ruin to finish the job on the 1/3 Artillery, but Ruel paused the game to consider his options. He could respond by pinging his opponent’s last creature, the remaining Wolf, but risked falling dangerously low in life by doing so.

    Olivier allowed the 1/3 to die, then used Assassinate to kill the Wolf. He had Razorfoot Griffin after that, but Tomoya ripped Ant Queen from the top and threatened to go lethal very quickly. Olivier had Solemn Offering to blow up Tomoya’s Rod of Ruin, but Tomoya cast Deadly Recluse to chump his opponent’s Griffin. Olivier used a Lightning Bolt on an Ant to stay alive for one more turn, but Tomoya had a second Deadly Recluse to serve as a chump blocker. Ruel counted his deck, resigned to the very likely probability he would be sleeping in on Sunday. “One out of 21,” he said, referring to the Fireball left in his deck. Tomoya nodded, made another Ant, and sent his team sideways. Ruel was forced to chump the Ant Queen to survive, and used a Harm’s Way to prevent the unblocked Ant, killing the 1/1 in the process.

    He went to the top of his deck for his last draw and found...a land. Olivier Ruel was out of the tournament.

    Tomoya Kinoshita 2, Olivier Ruel 1

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