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Grand Prix-Sendai Day 1

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  • Photo Essay – Faces in the Crowd
    by Nate Price
  • Artist Karl Kopinski hard at work signing cards for his fans. Let’s check out some of his work…
    Blood Tyrant, Archdruid, the Beastbreaker… I like what I’m seeing.
    Sweet, Jace is here! Wait a minute…
    And here I thought I was seeing things. This Jace is 3D! How cool is that?!
    Ookubo-san, the man behind this impressive table of three-dimensional cards, is a staple at Japanese tournaments. All you have to do is bring him the cards and watch the Magic happen. How sick would it be if you got one of these for your EDH general!
    Shuhei Nakamura and Masashiro Kuroda hard at work getting some last minute testing in.
    Kibler, Sam Black, Martin Juza, Ben Stark… This is quite the power-packed table of travelers!
    Even Viking Pikachu made the trip to Grand Prix-Sendai! I have to admit, though, that is one Pokemon I never caught.
    I managed to catch a brief glimpse of Germany’s Jan Ruess before he faded back into the crowd.
    Garruk and his original planeswalker Rat Pack are all lending their support as well.
    Speaking of Garruk, check out this obscenely cool stylized planeswalker symbol.
    Saito! Never one to shy away from travelling the world for a Grand Prix, this Grand Prix was considerably closer to his hometown of Tokyo.
    He’s so small that I almost didn’t see him! Kenji Tsumura, one of the all-time greatest players in Magic history, let alone just Japanese Magic, has been making a gradual return to playing at the Pro Tour now that he has been accepted to the Kansai Foreign Language University.
    American brothers Ben and Noah Swartz are in attendance as well. You may recognize Ben’s mop from the ggslive.com webcasts he cohosts. Noah, meanwhile, has made quite the big splash recently, finishing in the Top 8 of Pro Tour-San Juan

     

  • Trial and Error – Last Chance Grand Prix Trial Winners
    by Nate Price
  • As the Magic season drags on, players are on a constant quest for whatever small scraps of information they can use to give them an edge. With Grand Prix-Washington DC just barely in the books, the players preparing for Grand Prix-Sendai haven't had much time to adjust things based on the information they gleaned from the results in the States. However, within the meager two weeks, the ripples from DC have grown and affected the format in some interesting ways.

    Amidst the decks that have become staples of the most recent incarnation of the format (Vengevine Naya, Mythic Conscription, Jund, UW Tapout, and UWR Planeswalkers), a few less well-known decks have surfaced here in Sendai. The first that caught my eye as I scanned the winning lists was an Allies deck piloted by Takuya Maekawa. It's a hyper-aggressive red/white/green deck relying on the cheap allies of those colors to beat opponents into submission. In addition to the efficient beaters, Kabira Evangel provides a path through blockers, while Harabaz Druid provides some mana acceleration and fixing. Outside the Ally shell, Ranger of Eos can be used to refill his hand or provide him access to the copies of Goblin Bushwhacker to enhance his team further. Lastly, since virtually every creature in his deck has an effect upon entering the battlefield, Bloodbraid Elf is always a hit, especially if it snags a Naya Charm to clear the way for attackers.

    Another deck that caught my eye was an updated version of the graveyard decks that were mostly experimented with at the beginning of the season. Youichi Nagami relied on the power of Hedron Crab, Merfolk Looter, and the new Enclave Cryptologist to sift through his deck, while relying on creatures that return from the graveyard to provide the muscle. Just in case things get dicey, an Eldrazi Monument can lift the team to the air or provide an impenetrable wall of creatures for defense. Cards like Bloodghast and Vengevine pull double duty here, acting as sources of damage, excellent discard to the various looters in the deck, and recursive sacrifices to the Monument. If things need to be cleared out of the way, Sedraxis Alchemist can push it out of the way, which is a great way to deal with an Eldrazi Conscription or maybe even the one doing the conscripting-Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

    Here are all of the Grand Prix Trial Winning decklists for your perusal.

    Koutarou Semba
    GPT F / Winner


     

  • Feature Match Round 3: Submission - Kenji Tsumura (UW Tapout) vs. Kazuaki Arahori (Esper Control)
    by Nate Price
  • I usually expect to have a few rounds to work on some other projects since most of the action tends to begin when the players with three byes come to battle in round four. This time around, I was given a treat! In 2001, the first Grand Prix-Sendai was held no more than ten miles from this very spot. Kazuaki Arahori clawed his way to a victory in only the second Extended tournament in Japanese history. Here, nearly a decade later, he has come to regain his title in this third Grand Prix-Sendai.



    The man he would have to defeat this round on the way to his goal was a Japanese legend in the Magic community. Kenji Tsumura, once one of the most feared players in the world, was forced to take a long hiatus from Magic in preparation for his University entrance exams. With them successfully completed, he is now able to once again travel and play the game he loves. Tsumura is famous not only for his lightning quick play, but the lightning quick smile that always seems to appear on his face while playing. But don't let the smile fool you, he is as dangerous an opponent as they come, even after his time off.

    Arahori won the roll and went first. His Esper-control deck fed him a hand of white control cards and a couple of Plains to start the game out. Tsumura, piloting a UW Tapout deck, helped to fix Arahori's mana with a Spreading Seas on a Plains. Unfortunately, Arahori was a bit light on the mana side. He managed to find an Island for his third land on the fourth turn, but soon returned to failing to draw lands. Even a Wall of Omens turned up no help.


    Wanna kill her then you better put O Ring on it.

    Tsumura, on the other side of the table, had been consistently making land drops, as well as Mistfield Borderpost drops, enabling him to cast an Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Arahori managed to lock her in an Oblivion Ring, but Tsumura put a Ring around the Ring, returning her to play. Arahori added yet another Oblivion Ring to lock her away, as well as one for the Jace, the Mind Sculptor that followed her. Tsumura had a huge advantage by this point, though, and a Mind Spring for five refilled his hand. With plenty of gas in the tank, Tsumura was able to seal the deal with a second copy of Jace. At the end of the game, Arahori had still only managed to get three lands into play.

    Kazuaki Arahori 0 – Kenji Tsumura 1

    Kazuaki Arahori is no stranger to Magical success in Sendai

    Arahori's start for the second game was considerably better. He had a Plains, Arcane Sanctum, and Glacial Fortress, all left above the Spreading Seas. This diverse mana allowed him to draw two cards with his Esper Charm at the end of Tsumura's turn before untapping and Duressing him. Tsumura wasn't having any of that and Negated it. After Tsumura tapped out for an Everflowing Chalice for two, Arahori took advantage of the opportunity to draw a couple more cards off of another Charm and sneak a Malakir Bloodwitch into play. True to the name of his deck, Tsumura tapped out on his turn to trump the Bloodwitch with the incredibly resilient Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

    An Elspeth, Knight-Errant for Arahori started got to add one Soldier token to play before it was eaten by Tsumura's Sphinx. When Tsumura attempted to Mind Spring for a new hand on the following turn, Arahori stopped it with Negate. With a handful of cards to Tsumura's three, Arahori began the arduous process of climbing back on top of the game. He used a Spreading Seas to shut off Tsumura's Celestial Colonnade, attacked for five, and added a Creeping Tar Pit to his team.

    Tsumura drew for his turn and added a Jace Beleren to his squad. Jace is an incredibly potent card in blue-based control matches like this, not only for his ability to draw cards, but for his ability to destroy what is probably the most important card in the match up- opposing Jace, the Mind Sculptors. Tsumura used the planeswalker to allow both players to draw a card and left his Sphinx home to run interference.

    Arahori cycled a Spreading Seas on a Sejiri Refuge before adding a Baneslayer Angel to his team and passing the turn tapped out. Tsumura took advantage of the window to cast a Martial Coup for six, netting him a massive army and the only creatures on the table. He removed a counter from Jace to draw a card and passed the turn. With Jace dropped to four loyalty, Arahori took the opportunity to off him with an attack from his Celestial Colonnade. A Wall of Omens followed, drawing him a card.

    For those of you newer Pros out there, this is Kenji Tsumura. Memorize his face and be afraid if it's across from you.

    Unfortunately, the Wall had little effect on the swarming Soldiers of Tsumura's army. With a little enhancement from Elspeth, Tsumura's team rumbled over. A Doom Blade on the enhanced token saved Arahori some damage, but he was dropping fast. His Tar Pit and Colonnade teamed up to deal with the Elspeth, but another soon replaced it. With Tsumura's team taking four-point chunks out of his life total, he couldn't continue to play this planeswalker-destruction game for long. This time, rather than expend all of his mana to attack the Elspeth, he kept his team home. Tsumura lifted a Soldier with Elspeth and attacked in with his whole team. Arahori traded his Celestial Colonnade for the bigger Soldier, but not before tapping it to try to draw into an answer with Esper Charm.

    With Arahori now tapped out, Tsumura used a Mind Spring to completely refill his hand. A Duress was met with Negate, leaving Arahori with only an Esper Charm, a land, and a Jace, the Mind Sculptor in hand. The Jace hit play, immediately Brainstorming a way out of this tight spot. The little Brainstorming session paid off in spades, as Arahori was gifted with an Oblivion Ring for the Elspeth, as well as a Mind Spring for him to fill his hand up on a later turn. Unfortunately for him, Tsumura had already gotten to fill his hand up, and from the depths of his giant hand, he managed to find an Oblivion Ring of his own to bring his Elspeth back for lethal damage.

    Kazuaki Arahori 0 – Kenji Tsumura 2


     

  • Feature Match Round 5: Never Ever Ever - Martin Juza (Mythic Conscription) vs. Shuu Komuro (Jund)
    by Nate Price
  • As he sat wandered over to the feature match area with the look of a loss still fresh on his face, Martin Juza said to me, "You really should have picked someone else. I never win any more."

    For someone who "doesn't win anymore," Juza's first two turns were pretty absurd. After winning the die roll, Noble Hierarch, Lotus Cobra, and a Verdant Catacombs allowed a Dauntless Escort to hit the table on the second turn. Juza thought for a second about which of his three drops to play, eventually settling on the Escort over the Knight of the Reliquary in his hand. With his opponent showing Jund, he seemed interested in keeping his Lotus Cobra and Knight safe. Komuro had a Putrid Leech to tie up the ground and slow down Juza's early rush, but Juza found a Sejiri Steppe to blow past it. With the mana from the Cobra, Juza also managed to get the Knight into play, safely under the protection of the Escort.

    Unfortunately, one of the big reasons Juza wanted to keep the engine alive was stripped from him, as a Blightning from Komuro knocked his last two cards away. Juza gave a bit of a sideways frown before putting them in the bin. He then untapped and added a Noble Hierarch to his team. The second exalted trigger allowed his Dauntless Escort to rumble in without fear of the Leech on the opposing side.

    So…much…mana…

    Once again, after Juza had gotten himself into a favorable position, Komuro's Jund deck did what it does best. A Bloodbraid Elf cascaded into the perfect Sprouting Thrinax. With the ground now clogged up, Juza took to the air. A Misty Rainforest combined with his Lotus Cobra to provide enough mana to activate his Celestial Colonnade, which swung over for an exalted six. With the air now a viable attack route, Komuro had to find an answer to the man-land and fast. With an active and untapped Knight of the Reliquary, an impending Sejiri Steppe made that next to impossible. With no answer in sight, Komuro just packed it up and prepared for game two.

    Martin Juza 1 – Shu Komuro 0

    This time, with the turns on his side, Komuro was ready for Juza's quick start. A Lightning Bolt cooked a Hierarch before it could turn sideways. A Terminate dispatched a Lotus Cobra before it could add a mana to Juza's pool. By the time Dauntless Escort hit the table on turn three, he had no one to escort. Fortunately for Juza, Komuro didn't have a fourth land for his turn and had to pass the turn back with a hand full of cards and three mana available. Dauntless Escort attacked and then gained a bird to block for.

    Komuro put the screws to him on the end step. He aimed a Terminate at the Birds, forcing Juza into a difficult decision. He could let it die and play the Baneslayer Angel in his hand, or he could keep it alive and play the Sovereigns of Lost Alara on the following turn. He chose the latter and passed the turn to Komuro.

    Komuro dares you to try it.

    Komuro finally found the fourth land he was missing and immediately went to work. Bloodbraid Elf cascaded into Doom Blade which, if Twitter has taught me anything, kills everything, including the Birds of Paradise that the Dauntless Escort went to such great lengths to keep alive. Soon after, Blightning ate the Sovereigns and the Baneslayer. When Juza finally managed to stick a Rhox War Monk, it got hit with a Bloodbraided Maelstrom Pulse. Within two more turns, Juza was toast.

    Martin Juza 1 – Shuu Komuro 1

    Komuro's sideboard package of "all the removal in the world" did a good job of dispatching the mana ramp that make's Juza's deck go. Knowing this, Juza went into the tank a bit when he drew his cards for the final game. It was a two land hand with a couple of Baneslayer Angels and a Lotus Cobra. He know that his Cobra was going to be an easy target, and without a solid follow up, it was a sketchy hand to keep. After failing to draw a third land and having his Cobra fricasseed with a Lightning Bolt, Juza had to rely on a lone Birds of Paradise to get it done.

    With Komuro simply playing a Sprouting Thrinax on his turn, the Birds managed to live through an untap, enabling Juza to play a Dauntless Escort to protect them. A second Thrinax hit the table for Komuro, but were matched by a Rhox War Monk.

    And that was where it began to crumble. Komuro cast a Consuming Vapors, causing Juza to just stare blankly.

    "Eww…"

    Eww…

    After much deliberation, Juza chose to let his Escort go. After untapping, he drew a Celestial Colonnade and dropped an Elspeth, Knight-Errant into play. Elspeth immediately made a sacrificial token, and Juza passed the turn. At this point, Komuro began to think about his attacks. After rearranging his lands and cards in hands a few different ways, he ultimately decided to simply Maelstrom Pulse the Monk and Blightning Juza down to just a Baneslayer Angel. This left both players on a single card. Komuro also attacked in with his Thrinaxes, killing Elspeth.

    Juza untapped, played a Stirring Wildwood, and dropped his Baneslayer into play, hoping it would be good enough. Komuro was ready for it, dropping a Malakir Bloodwitch into play to hold the Angel off until he could deal with it. Until he could deal with it turned out to be only a single turn, as a Bloodbraid Elf cascaded into a Maelstrom Pulse to clear a path for his team. Without an out, Juza searched the board for a moment before shaking Komuro's hand.

    Martin Juza 1 – Shuu Komuro 2


     

  • Saturday, 5:50p.m. - The Fall of an Archenemy
    by Nate Price
  • Good versus evil. The weak against the strong. The oppressed facing their oppressors.

    The most memorable and inspiring stories of human history have always been about the struggle between a hero up against insurmountable odds. From ancient Greece to modern Japanese anime, the hero myth has always served as an example of how continuing to struggle against the odds can lead to unimagined success. Part of the reason they're so successful is that we all secretly wish we were the hero. We want to feel the crushing despair of an unwinnable situation. We want to feel the claustrophobic pressure of insurmountable odds. We want to feel these things because when you hit rock bottom, it feels that much better when we come out on top. We want to do the impossible.

    Well, what if I told you that you could?

    Enter Archenemy. We previewed it for you in our San Juan coverage, so hopefully you're at least a little acquainted with it. For those who aren't, here's a crash course. You are one of two forces—either a maniacal force bent on the destruction of the world, overwhelming in power, or a team of intrepid heroes, struggling against the might of your diabolical foe. As the oppressively powerful Archenemy, you obviously have a much greater vitality and higher life than the pitiful gnats standing up to you. The sources of your power, such as your laser-sharks, moon base, and mind control powers, are represented by oversized (though clearly not large enough to convey the true depth of your awesome power) cards called schemes. These generally have some ridiculous abilities, such as untapping all permanents during each untap, putting creatures directly into play from your hand, drawing all the cards in the world, or blowing an opponent up. Completely. With this overwhelming power, the Archenemy is far too strong to be taken on by a solitary challenger. Instead, the upstart mortals must gang up in an attempt to equal your power.

    Fools.

    As the challengers, it's up to you and two of your friends to pool your resources to overcome the evil Archenemy. You contribute everything you can individually to the teams efforts—creatures, enchantments, spells…whatever you can scrape together. This is a desperate fight, and you must treat it accordingly. Once you've assembled your army, you and your friends must stand up and attack your Archenemy until he topples over dead. You get to be the hero, the savior.

    Just as in San Juan, players in attendance would be blessed with the opportunity to become the hero and stand up to the true evil whose true name cannot be comprehended by the measly worms surrounding him. To those who fear and despise him, he is merely known as Ron Foster.

    After watching Ron get demolished by a quartet of valiant heroes, I decided to try my hand at villainy. The world brought some of its best to attempt to stop me, as long-time Magic pro Alex West and San Juan Top 8 finisher and tcgplayer.com columnist Noah Swartz were among my opponents. I let them choose the method of their demise, and the masochists thought they could stop me from assembling the doomsday machine. After scheming and plotting for about ten turns, their confidence was proven well-founded. Under an annihilating tsunami of Eldrazi and their conscripts, all of the pieces of my glorious doomsday machine were washed away. Triumphant, the challengers departed with their spoils, waiting until another Archenemey would rise to endanger the world. Another chance for them to be the hero.

    Here are some photos from the epic battles:

    My enemies. I will see them crushed and driven before me. And something about women lamenting.

    Back to back arching, the only way to go.

    No fear. No rest. Or no hope.

    A hero's eye view of the greatest evil to walk the earth.

    Seriously, how much eviler can a grin get?

    Great, they killed Ron. Now how am I supposed to get back to my hotel?


     

  • Feature Match Round 7: Prepared Professionals - Matteo Orsini-Jones (UW Tapout) vs. Ben Stark (Jund)
    by Nate Price
  • As American Ben Stark stepped over the chains barring off the feature match area, he almost immediately began digging into his bag.

    "Man, I just finished off all of my paper last round."

    Almost immediately, Matteo Orsini-Jones, from England, arrived on the scene needing supplies as well.

    "Do you have a pen as well? Mine is on the verge of dying."

    "Prepared professionals," Stark laughed as he was handed a sheet of scratch paper. "We can fly across an ocean; we just don't have any paper."

    Trust Ben Stark: He's a professional.

    Isn't that just the luck. You go all the way to a Grand Prix only to play against one of the guys from your car. Only this time, it's all the way in Japan, and your car is now a transoceanic jet. Both of these players are part of the large contingent of western pros that have made the pilgrimage from San Juan to Manila, with a brief layover in Sendai for the Grand Prix.

    The first game started with Orsini-Jones mulliganning. He second hand was much better, providing him an Everflowing Chalice, enabling a Spreading Seas to effectively destroy a Savage Lands, Stark's only source of red. With Stark's access to red mana shut off, and no fourth land in sight, things went downhill fast. He was able to Maelstrom Pulse a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but the Baneslayer on the following turn was just too much. When his deck yet again neglected to provide him a land, he just packed it in rather than toil away in a losing game.

    Matteo Orsini-Jones 1 – Ben Stark 0

    Both players accepted their starting hands. Stark led first with a Savage Lands, enabling a second-turn Duress. As a testament to the power of the card in this matchup, he was forced to take the Spreading Seas from a hand also containing Day of Judgment, Celestial Purge, and Elspeth, Knight-Errant. He followed that up on the next turn with a Putrid Leech.

    Orsini-Jones started spending mana and drawing cards, as his deck is wont to do. Lands, Everflowing Chalice, a couple of Walls of Omens, and a Mind Spring all started flying from his side of the table. Stark kept attacking, adding a Goblin Ruinblaster to his side, destroying a Celestial Colonnade in the process. The Leech took advantage of Orsini-Jones being tapped out to kill a Wall, but Stark had to soon resort to just letting the Wall soak up two. He couldn't risk spending the life to get his Leech hit by a Celestial Purge in response.

    Knowing that Orsini-Jones had a Day of Judgment in his hand, Stark was very careful about adding too much to the board. When he found a Bloodbraid Elf, he used it to Doom Blade the Wall of Omens out of the way and attacked with his team. Orsini-Jones decided at this point to spend his single target removal spells, aiming a Celestial Purge at the Bloodbraid Elf and a Path to Exile at the Leech after Stark pumped it. The attack dropped Orsini-Jones to six.

    Matteo Orsini-Jones: Man of many answers.

    After the attack, Orsini-Jones untapped and dropped a Baneslayer Angel onto the board, a very strong play. Unfortunately for him, Stark had an even stronger hand. He flashed two Blightnings to Orsini-Jones, and the cards started to head back to their respective decks.

    Matteo Orsini-Jones 1 – Ben Stark 1

    "Alright, next game, we'll try to play a good one. No Spreading Seas and no…Ruinblasters, I guess," Stark said with a smile.

    After drawing his opening seven, Orsini-Jones flashed a grin of his own before mulliganning.

    "I wanted to keep that one. I mean, it had a Spreading Seas."

    Stark mulliganned a difficult hand away as well. As he was shuffling his deck up, they players started discussing the effect of playing or drawing and matchups on mulligan decisions.

    "I tend to make more aggressive decisions like that when I'm really behind, and play really tight when I'm way up," Stark revealed. "I guess that's why I always end up like 3-3. The idea is that when you're playing well, it helps you win the really close games. Unfortunately, I don't ever play 'really well.'"

    "So you've got the strategy down, but not the playing," Orsini-Jones joked with him.

    "Pretty much."

    Starting from six cards apiece, the final game started out quite slow. Orsini-Jones had a Wall of Omes that wasn't slowing anything down, since Stark didn't have any creatures. A Spreading Seas shut off a Raging Ravine, forcing Stark into the tank. He came out with a Bloodbraid Elf into a Putrid Leech, not exactly the best flip. A second Wall hit for Orsini-Jones, and the ground was officially stalled.

    A Duress from Stark revealed a monster. A pair of Baneslayer Angels and a bevy of removal spells, including a Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring, Celestial Purge, and Martial Coup awaited Stark in the future. He took advantage of the fact that Orsini-Jones was almost completely tapped out to hit the Path and attack with his Leech. Orsini-Jones decided it was worth it to stick his wall in front of the Leech, which Stark was more than happy to pump. Stark was also able to cast Sarkhan the Mad to turn his Elf into a Dragon. Before it could attack, Orsini-Jones removed it with Oblivion Ring and used Celestial Purge to remove Sarkhan. Stark's team had almost completely disappeared.

    With the board now cleared save the Leech, Orsini-Jones was free to recruit his first Baneslayer Angel. Stark was ready with a Terminate, clearing the path for his Leech to drop Orsini-Jones to eleven. He then used a Duress to strip Orsini-Jones of a Mind Spring, leaving the second Baneslayer, a Wall of Omens, and the Martial Coup. As expected, the Baneslayer Angel hit play on the following turn, much to Stark's chagrin. He was out of removal. All he could do on his turn was to turn on the Raging Ravine a couple of times and attack with it, making it a 6/6. Orsini-Jones took the hit, but was going to be in desperate need of a removal spell for the Ravine.

    When his deck coughed up the Spreading Seas for it, the game was all but over. He began the process of attacking with his Baneslayer and righting his life total. After a Martial Coup for three to provide a few "just in case" creatures, Stark conceded.

    Though his Ravine was Raging, Stark maintained his cool.

    "I really thought I had it when I got that land pumped up."

    "Yeah, we hoped to have a good game, but I just drew way better than you at the end," Orsini-Jones commiserated.

    Matteo Orsini-Jones 2 – Ben Stark 1


     

  • Feature Match Round 8: Good Omens - Yuutarou Hirashima (Jund) vs. Yuuya Watanabe (Bant Control)
    by Nate Price
  • Hirashima got things started with a Rampant Growth fetching a Mountain, not a card you see in very many Jund lists, but very strong in a deck that requires far more mana diversity than most of the field. When Watanabe tried to get a Birds of Paradise to stick and accelerate his own mana, Hirashima shut him down with a timely Lightning Bolt.

    After playing a Wall of Omens, but failing to make a land drop, Watanabe revealed that he was a bit light on lands. With Hirashima resolving a Sarkahn the Mad and drawing an extra land off of it, Watanabe was dropping behind quickly. Still stuck on two lands, he tried to get a Noble Hierarch to stick, but a Lightning Bolt destroyed it before it could get active. Hirashima used his huge mana advantage to create a Siege-Gang Commander, quickly upgrading one of his tokens to a Dragon with Sarkahn. Realizing his futile situation, Watanabe packed it up.

    Hirashima gave Watanabe one heavy duty hoopin'.

    Yuutarou Hirashima 1 – Yuuya Watanabe 0

    At this point, I hadn't seen enough of Watanabe's deck to even know what he was playing. Birds of Paradise, Wall of Omens, and Noble Hierarch pointed to some Mythic variant, but he was so behind in his first game that he was never able to have more than three permanents in play at the same time. After giving his deck a deservedly thorough shuffle, he drew his opening seven.

    Hirashima sent his opening draw back, and appeared considerably more pleased with his six-card hand. Watanabe shot out of the gates with a first-turn Noble Hierarch which, unlike in the last game, got to stick around and tap for mana. He used the white it produced on the following turn to add a Wall of Omens to his board before playing a Stirring Wildwood.

    Hirashima started building his mana base with a Raging Ravine and a Swamp from a Verdant Catacombs. As soon as he had the mana, a Doom blade shot out and took down the Hierarch. Watanabe quickly replaced it, using it to power out an Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Elspeth recruited one of her many Soldiers, and Watanabe passed the turn.

    Hirashima's mana kept growing, though his Savage Lands and Raging Ravine were a bit slow. Watanabe pressed the advantage, lifting the Soldier token with Elspeth and attacking for five. He also cast a second Wall of Omens, taking care to leave Deprive mana available. When Hirashima activated and attacked with one of his Raging Ravines, Watanabe simply exiled it with Celestial Purge.

    Firmly in the driver's seat, Watanabe stepped on the gas, activating Stirring Wildwood, lifting his Soldier, and attacking for seven. With Hirashima now at seven, the light at the end of tunnel was starting to get a little brighter. All he did was play a third Ravine tapped and pass the turn. With four of Hirashima's lands untapped, Watanabe thought about his next attack carefully. Ultimately, he chose to activate his Wildwood, lift it, and attack with his team. Hirashima tried to Terminate it, but Watanabe used the Deprive he telegraphed earlier to stop it. Fortunately for Hirashima, he also had a Doom Blade to stop the Wildwood cold. Now tapped out, Watanabe passed the turn, having dropped Hirashima to six.

    Hirashima untapped and dropped a Putrid Leech into play, once again passing with mana up. Watanabe just lifted his token into the air and attacked for five. With very little thought, Hirashima dropped to one. Watanabe followed the attack up with a Sea's Gate Oracle. Hirashima was clearly out of gas at this point, and Watanabe took the game on the next turn after using Elspeth's ultimate and attacking with a Celestial Colonnade.

    Yuutarou Hirashima 1 – Yuuya Watanabe 1

    Both players did a little sideboard dance in preparation for the final game. Cards went in, and cards went out. Then, some of the cards that went in came back out and other cards went in. You get the picture. After taking full advantage of the time allotted to players to sideboard, both players presented their decks.

    Hirashima mulled for a while about his hand before deciding to mull it for a better six. Watanabe quickly kept his hand after hearing the news.

    Yuuya Watanabe: Part-time lumberjack, full-time Magic player.

    Hirashima got on the board first with a second-turn Putrid Leech. Watanabe thought for a minute before sending it on a Journey to Nowhere. A Maelstrom Pulse from Hirashima brought it right back. Hirashima had managed to get a Swamp, Mountain, and Forest as his three first lands, which would greatly help his ability to play spells in his color-heavy Jund deck. Watanabe had a Noble Hierarch for his turn, and he passed it to Hirashima with two mana available. When Hirashima went to pump his attacking Leech on the following turn, Watanabe used a Celestial Purge to exile it.

    Unfortunately for Hirashima, while his variety of mana had been fantastic, the quantity appeared to be problematic. Unable to find a fourth land, he was forced to simply aim a Doom Blade at the Noble Hierarch and pass the turn. Watanabe now had a wide open passage at Hirashima. On back to back turns, he aimed Vengevines at Hirashima's life total. The first met a shocking death to a Lightning Bolt, but the second hit home. Hirashima managed to find himself a fourth land finally, though he didn't have a play to fight the Vengevine.

    After a short deliberation, Watanabe turned his Vengevine sideways towards Hirashima's untapped lands. One Terminate later and the board was once again cleared. Into the void, Watanabe added an Elspeth, Knight-Errant and a Soldier Token. For another consecutive turn, Hirashima just untapped, played a land, and passed the turn. Undeterred, Watanabe lifted his Soldier, played a third Vengevine, and sent his team in. After confirming life totals (19-13 in favor of Watanabe), Hirashima chose to Doom Blade the Vengevine. At the end of turn, he aimed a Lightning Bolt at Elspeth, knocking her to three loyalty. One swing from a Raging Ravine later and she left the table.

    With Hirashima at nine and only one card in hand, Watanabe was potentially one turn away from a victory. Watanabe chose to add an unkicked Sphinx of Lost Truths to his side and attack with the Soldier, dropping Hirashima to eight. With Watanabe sitting comfortably at eighteen life, the game seemed under control. On his next turn, he dropped a Wall of Omens and a devastating Sea's Gate Oracle, returning a trio of Vengevines for the win.

    Yuutarou Hirashima 1 – Yuuya Watanabe 2


     

  • Feature Match Round 9: "Phew!" - Masashiro Kuroda (Vengevine Bant) vs. Masahiko Meguro (Monored)
    by Nate Price
  • As is custom in the final rounds of play, I went hunting for a good match to cover involving players potentially playing for a berth in tomorrow's field, the proverbial "bubble match." I was pleasantly surprised to find Masashiro Kuroda's name on the list. Kuroda is one of the grand gentlemen of Japanese Magic, and the first Japanese player to break the plane and win a Pro Tour. In addition to this milestone achievement, he has been an institution on the Pro Tour for the better part of a decade, and stands a very good chance at induction into the Magic Hall of Fame sometime in the near future.

    He started the match off with a first-turn Birds of Paradise, fueling a Wall of Omens the second turn. Meguro got aggressive early, as expected, dropping a Plated Geopede into play at the first opportunity. Undeterred and hiding behind his Wall, Kuroda dropped a third-turn Jace, the Mind Sculptor into play and fatesealed a card to the top of Meguro's library.

    Jace did not seem long for this world, as an Arid Mesa fueled a huge Plated Geopede. Joining in the attack was a rather angry Ball Lightning. Rather than send both creatures at Jace, ensuring his death, Meguro chose to send the Ball Lightning at Kuroda himself. Only having to defend against a single 5/5, the Wall of Omens gladly jumped in the way. Kuroda dropped to fourteen. On the following turn, Kuroda set himself up for a big turn by casting a Sphinx of Lost Truths, discarding a Vengevine that was sure to make a reappearance. He also returned Plated Geopede to Meguro's hand, leaving himself with the only army on the board. All Meguro could do was replay his Geopede and add a Kargan Dragonlord (which coincidentally was the artwork on Kuroda's sleeves) to his side.

    After untapping, Kuroda started the big turn he had set up on the previous one. Sea's Gate Oracle and Qasali Pridemage came down, triggering a return from the previously discarded Vengevine. The freshly returned Elemental and the Sphinx got in, knocking Meguro to twelve. Now outmanned and behind on life, Meguro had to make something happen. He played a Teetering Peaks to pump his Geopede and sent it in. Now sitting behind a glut of creatures, Kuroda was fine with just chumping with his Oracle. Meguro then replayed the Dragonlord, leveled it twice, and passed the turn.

    Kuroda replaced the Oracle he lost on the previous turn, and drew into a Journey to Nowhere, which immediately sent the Dragonlord away. Jace bounced the Geopede, and Meguro conceded.

    Masashiro Kuroda 1 – Masahiko Meguro 0

    For the second game, both players started strong. Meguro had a trio of Goblin Guides, much to the amusement of Kuroda. He also had a Lightning Bolt for Kuroda's first-turn Noble Hierarch. All Kuroda had for his second turn was a Birds of Paradise. All of a sudden, despite drawing three cards for free, Kuroda found himself at eight, and facing down three Goblin Guides. He had revealed a Journey to Nowhere from a Goblin Guide, but he chose not to play it, instead passing the turn with three mana up.

    Kuroda desperately tries to find a way out.

    For his turn, Meguro went for the kill by playing a land and attempting to Searing Blaze Kuroda's Birds of Paradise. The potentially lethal spell was Negated, though the Bird was still forced to block to keep Kuroda alive. Just before dying the Birds managed to squeeze out a white mana to Path to Exile one of the unblocked Guides. One Goblin managed to squeak through, dropping Kuroda to six. On his turn, Kuroda played another Celestial Colonnade, unfortunately putting his Baneslayer Angel off for another turn. In the meantime, he slowed things down just a little more with the Journey to Nowhere he'd shown earlier.

    Meguro attacked, dropping Kuroda to four. Kuroda, who almost seemed surprised to be given a chance to untap, quickly tapped his lands and dropped a Baneslayer into play. About five seconds later, he just as quickly picked it up, along with the rest of his cards, when Meguro tried to steal it with an Act of Treason.

    Masashiro Kuroda 1 – Masahiko Meguro 1

    In retrospect, the chuckle that Meguro's third Goblin Guide earned may have been a "how lucky" laugh rather than "how cute." Kuroda wasn't having any of the same shenanigans in the third game. His second and third turns yielded one Wall of Omens after another. Meguro was determined to get through them, using a Flame Slash to kill one, and a [] to allow his Kiln Fiend safe passage. Kuroda upgraded the now dead Wall to an Elspeth, Knight-Errant and her accompanying Soldier token.

    Then, in a flash, he was down to six. Meguro used a Forked Bolt to ping the remaining Wall and the token. He finished the Wall with a Searing Blaze after playing a land. After the aftermath, his Kiln Fiend was a 7/2 aimed square at his throat. Kuroda just made another token and a Sea's Gate Oracle to get in the way. Meguro used a Searing Blaze to destroy the Oracle and knock Kuroda to three. An attack with the Kiln Fiend ate his remaining blocker. Meguro added a Plated Geopede to his turn and passed.

    Kuroda was in serious trouble. At this point, virtually every spell in Meguro's deck was a threat. He needed to get an attack in with a Baneslayer Angel, and soon. Unfortunately, he was relegated to simply filling his board with tokens, Birds of Paradise, and a Qasali Pridemage. When Meguro tried to end it with Lightning Bolt on the following turn, Kuroda had the lifesaving Deprive. Unfazed, Meguro tapped a Mountain and played his last card: a Goblin Guide. The Guide immediately hit the red zone, taking a Qasali Pridemage with it. For the moment, Kuroda was safe.

    Meguro knows a good Guide when he sees one (or three).

    Another turn without an Angel passed for Kuroda, who simply played a land, made a token, and passed the turn with an entire bestiary of manlands available. For his turn, Meguro drew and played a Flame Slash, tearing the Birds of Paradise apart. Using his freshly mighty Kiln Fiend, he attacked into Kuroda's two Soldier tokens. Kuroda was more than happy to trade them away. Once more Kuroda passed his turn adding nothing other than land and a token to his side. Fortunately for him, Meguro drew and passed it right back.

    Kuroda made a Sphinx of Lost Truths on his turn, allowing him to drop some of the now-useless Journey to Nowheres in his hand. With his life total so low, despite the fact that he was slowly crawling back into command of the game, Kuroda had to seriously think about each of his plays. After a decent amount of deliberation, he chose to lift the Sphinx with Elspeth and send it in for six. Afterwards, he made a Sea's Gate Oracle to dig a little deeper. Once again, Meguro just drew and passed.

    Kuroda was now firmly on the offensive. He had to kill Meguro before he drew something offensive. Sphinx sent in for another six, dropping Meguro to seven. When Meguro drew yet another blank for his turn, he dropped his hand onto the table and congratulated Kuroda.

    Masashiro Kuroda 2 – Masahiko Meguro 1

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