Japan National Championship - Day 2 Coverage

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  • Sunday, 11:06 a.m. – Drafting with Kazuya Mitamura

    by Rich Hagon
  • The 2009 Pro Tour Honolulu Champion came into day two with a 6-1 record, having made a clean sweep of his draft pod yesterday. It was green that served him well on day one, but he seemed happy to see what the cards brought him.

    What the cards brought him first was a green rare, Skinshifter. This is just the kind of card a Pro player loves - something with options.

    A 4/4 trampler, a 2/2 Bird, or a 0/8 Plant, and all three can be useful in the right situation. Given the green opening, it was a surprise when he passed on the opportunity to take Overrun in pack two. Instead he took the much more manageable and always excellent Incinerate. Greater Basilisk was next, and then a Titanic Growth over Stampeding Rhino - perhaps he felt one 4/4 trampler was enough! Acidic Slime rounded out the first five picks, and all seemed well.

    Then the shape of the draft began to kick in, and things started to go not so well.

    To his right, Yuuta Takahashi, a multiple Grand Prix winner, was taking red aggressively, but had begun to take green as a support color. To Takahashi's right, Garruk, Primal Hunter had been opened, and that meant that he too was going to be green. As the first pack wound down, the good cards dwindled markedly, with a playable/sideboard Plummet the only thing of note.

    Into pack two then, and Mitamura found an easy pick waiting for him, quickly shuffling the six casting cost red rare Warstorm Surge to the front of the pack. Of course, it's quite an investment, being six mana and a card for something that does precisely nothing alone, but it's also the kind of card that can finish off an opponent just as they're starting to gain control of a game. Chandra's Outrage brought him some more removal and burn in a neat package, but the third pack saw him disappointed. There were plenty of quality cards left in the pack, with a blue-white player having Pacifism, Merfolk Looter, and Divination to choose from, but Mitamura was left with a Lightning Elemental, normally a 'filler' card in the mid to late picks.

    Then came a real choice in pack four:

    Garruk's Companion is an excellent card. It's really efficient, always does a job for you, whether that's beating, trading aggressively, or taking removal from an opponent's hand. Meanwhile, there's Furyborn Hellkite. That's a 6/6 flyer for seven mana that has Bloodthirst 6. That's potentially a 12/12 flyer. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is one of those 'Pro v Joe' picks. Personally, I'd take the flyer. It makes for great stories, it's really hard to kill, nobody wants to lose to a gigantic rare flying man, and it's mythic, so how often are you going to get to play with it? Then there's the Pro argument. Games don't always get to seven mana. What if they have Act of Treason or Mind Control? If you have it in your opening hand, it's as if you mulliganed. The Companion is ultra-consistent. Consistent wins games, games win matches, matches win tournaments, so take the Companion.

    Mitamura took the Companion.

    He had some decent cards the rest of the way through pack two, which is no surprise since the player to his left was solidly black-white.

    Llanowar Elves, Shock, Stampeding Rhino, and Trollhide all made their way into his pile. This is all good, but it needs to be, because green and red would be in short supply in pack three.

    What he really wanted was a nice opening pack, and that's certainly what he didn't get. In the second booster he took Lightning Elemental as a third pick. Here, it was his first pick. With a weak pack second that only featured Manic Vandal in red and nothing in green, he took Gideon's Lawkeeper, presumably to help clear the way for his hasty 4/1s. Incinerate and Titanic Growth are nice at three and four, but then another blank, with all the cards he wanted already gone. He took Pacifism. Does anybody splash for Pacifism and Gideon's Lawkeeper?!?

    Another Titanic Growth and Fiery Hellhound were all that the rest of the pack had to offer.

    So, a plan: Use some removal to clear a path, beatdown with hasty men, and pump them up for maximum damage. Then cast Warstorm Surge and deal the final points to the face.

    It sounds like a good plan. Not sure it's going to be that easy...


  • Sundary, 11:50 a.m. – Throne, Crown, & Scepter

    by Rich Hagon
  • Magic is full of cards that belong together. Take the Urzatron lands for example:

    Alone, unexciting. Together, powerhouse. In M12, there are a group of three artifacts that have a relationship with each other that bears close examination. They are, of course, the Empire artifacts.

    Let's assume for a moment that you're going to play all three of them together in Sealed if you happen to open them, if only because you won't have the opportunity very often. Let's also assume for a moment that they aren't powerful enough to become the cornerstone of a Standard deck. Therefore, let's look at the possibilities in Draft.

    The Crown is clearly good in its own right. Yes, three mana is a lot to sink into it every turn, but it's also a small price to pay if it means avoiding getting hit by a Serra Angel, or Sengir Vampire, or anything with a Greatsword equipped. The Throne is also a card that does something on its own, churning out a 1/1 every turn. That's not super-exciting, but it is something that can keep you in the game while you find your cards that are super-exciting.

    Then there's the Scepter, and this is where things start to get interesting. It's always an intriguing area of the game when cards don't directly impact the board. You have to spend an amount of mana and a whole, precious card to change nothing about the battlefield, so what it does away from the battlefield has to be proportionally better to justify inclusion in your deck. One damage to a player doesn't sound like a lot. Even if you draw this when your opponent is at something like five live, that's still a ton of time for them to draw an answer. In that situation, even a 1/1 dude might sometimes be better.

    What about the upside if you assemble the trinity?

    Scepter of Empires still isn't super-exciting, although three damage to the face will end games a lot quicker than one damage a turn.

    Throne of Empires becomes close-to unstoppable, generating five 1/1s each turn instead of just one, although you could still die to a random flyer. That's where the Crown steps in, not just tapping the creature, but stealing it instead. That's an unbelievable upgrade.

    Alright, so there's no doubt that assembling all three, if you can do it, is incredibly powerful. How often can you expect that to happen?

    Now we get into really complicated number-crunching, but we'll try to keep it simple. There are 24 rares in any given draft (all things being equal). That in itself guarantees that there will only be a Throne of Empires in your draft less than 50% of the time. Is it powerful enough on its own that anybody would first pick it? Probably not, so if there's one in the draft you might get it a few picks down the line.

    Both the Scepter and the Crown are uncommon, and there are 72 of those (give or take) in each draft. At least one of each should be there. As we've discovered, the Scepter isn't that exciting, although presumably a Bloodthirst black-red player would be more interested than most.

    Nonetheless, experience here at Japan Nationals suggests that the Scepter goes late, so if you want it, you can probably get it.

    The Crown, however, is another matter. Tapping things is good news, even at a cost. Tapping things with a class of permanent that many decks have difficulty destroying - it's much harder to kill a Crown than a Gideon's Lawkeeper - make the Crown very appealing, and of course being an artifact means that it fits in any deck. If you want the Crown, you're going to have to take it early.

    So let's take stock. If you open the Throne, and take it, your priority becomes finding the Crown. If you do that, you should get there, because the Scepter goes late. Of course, you might take a Crown early, get passed a Scepter late, and then open the Throne in pack two or three. Now that would be good times. In reality, though, opening the Throne and trying to put the trinity together?

    Good luck. You're going to need it.


  • Round 9: Feature Match – Katsuhiro Mori vs. Makihito Mihara

    by Rich Hagon
  • What a matchup. This is the kind of head to head that makes watching Magic fun. Two genuinely outstanding players with great records, looking to advance to 8-1, both having won their opening match of the day. Both players are former World Champions. Mori defeated Frank Karsten on home soil in Yokohama 2005, while Mihara travelled to Paris a year later to claim the 2006 title with his Dragonstorm deck.

    Game 1

    Mihara opened with Ponder, checking his hand before leaving the cards on top of his library. With Mind Control amongst the three, that was no surprise. Crimson Mage on turn two met with Wring Flesh from Mori, who spent turn two looking at Mihara's hand with Distress. Mihara revealed Incinerate, Fiery Hellhound, Mind Control, and Skywinder Drake. The 3/1 flyer hit the graveyard, with Mori casting a 3/1 of his own in Bloodrage Vampire. That didn't last long, Mihara using his Incinerate before attacking. He added Phantasmal Bear, and reloaded with Divination.

    Katsuhiro Mori

    With Mori having just three Swamps in play and no action, Mihara continued to press. A Plains allowed Mori to cast Pacifism, but Mihara took the game up a notch with Bonebreaker Giant. Mori got to five mana and cast Vengeful Pharaoh, which is a very good card. Mihara spent three mana, and cast Frost Breath, and that turned out to be even better.

    Mori 0 - 1 Mihara

    Game 2

    Mori elected to draw at the start of game two, and he had the first action of the game on turn three with Devouring Swarm. Mihara considered that enough of a threat to Incinerate it, spending his fourth turn drawing two cards with Divination. Diabolic Tutor from Mori fetched up Grave Titan, with Mihara laying Bonebreaker Giant.

    After Mori cast Vengeful Pharaoh, Mihara was ready with Mind Control.

    When Mori cast his Grave Titan the following turn, Mihara wasn't so ready...He traded his Bonebreaker Giant for the pair of 2/2 Zombies that had arrived with Grave Titan, and cast Crown of Empires, which would ensure that those Zombies wouldn't be replaced. Turns out he was kind of ready after all...

    Makihito Mihara

    Mori cast Distress, seeing two Fiery Hellhound, Turn to Frog, and Skywinder Drake. Mori got rid of one of the Fiery Hellhounds, before laying a Forest. What was his green splash? A second Diabolic Tutor saw him spend a little time choosing between two cards. He was torn between Pacifism and Smallpox. Which would he choose?

    Mihara attacked with Mori's Vengeful Pharaoh, dropping Fiery Hellhound and leaving back enough mana to activate his Crown of Empires. Mind Rot from Mori saw Mihara discard Turn to Frog and Skywinder Drake, both cards that Mori knew from the earlier Distress, leaving Mihara a lone card in hand, unknown to his opponent. In came the Vengeful Pharaoh and Fiery Hellhound once more, with Mori taking a huge eight damage and falling to just three life. Goblin Tunneler joined the Mihara team, and Mori was in a really tough spot.

    He drew for the turn. Mihara duly tapped the Grave Titan, and Mori scooped them up. Turn four Diabolic Tutor, turn five Vengeful Pharaoh, turn six Grave Titan. Nowhere near enough.

    Katsuhiro Mori 0 - 2 Makihito Mihara


  • Sunday, 2:00 p.m. – The Art of Nils Hamm

    by Rich Hagon
  • With the second draft of Japan Nationals winding down, I took the chance to sit and chat with German artist Nils Hamm. This is a weekend of firsts for Nils, both his first time in Japan, and his first time at a Magic event on this scale. What are his impressions of Japan?

    "Well of course I'm seeing it from a really privileged position. I'm staying in a fantastic hotel, eating fantastic's a very specialist viewpoint of a place."

    With a day to acclimatize on Friday before the event began in earnest, what did he do with his time off?

    "I visited the aquarium and did some sketches for a couple of hours.It's something I do a lot of wherever I am. When I'm at home on weekends I'll often visit my local zoo and do some sketches of the animals there. That's also something I like to do when I'm away."

    "There's something extremely peaceful about seeing the animals, and whether I'm in the strangest city, or the furthest place from home, that gives me that sense of peace. Also, it's quite interesting because zoos are all that little bit different around the world."

    Artist Nils Hamm

    It isn't just the confined wildlife that's different.

    "I get really excited by seeing nature up close, whether that's a type of bird I haven't seen before, or a cockroach on a sidewalk, or even a centipede eating a worm, which I got to see yesterday!"

    If you look at Nils' Magic art via Gatherer, you'll find plenty of creatures with a strong insectile theme. Take Pith Driller from New Phyrexia for example. Is that something he's aware of nurturing when he's looking at the ways of nature?

    "It's not something I'm conscious of," he says. "I certainly don't look at a bug and think 'that could be the start of a Magic piece somewhere down the line'. It's more a case of, if I have a commission for a piece, and then I suddenly see something and it might trigger a thought for an element of the final picture."

    Nils has been working on Magic since Future Sight, and now has more than fifty cards to his name. How did he start?

    "I played some role-playing games when I was a kid, so I knew about Magic when it came out. I was already drawing and painting, and I loved the way there were so many different styles of art on the cards. When I got older and knew that I wanted to be an illustrator I started sending portfolios in to Wizards of the Coast - I probably tried about five times! Then the opportunity came to start working on Hecatomb, and I moved from there to Magic."

    So what has his first Magic event been like?

    "It's been very nice. It's really great to meet so many people who appreciate what you do. The artist life can be very solitary, so it's great to have contact with so many people."

    There's no doubt that Nils' most famous piece of Magic art is busy tearing up the top tables this weekend - it's Grave Titan. What does he remember about creating the art for this mythic powerhouse?

    "I told the art director Jeremy Jarvis that I wanted to do some more cheerful pieces. I had done a lot of black cards, which I find pretty easy to do, but it's also draining, because you have to focus on the dark stuff, and I was churning out Zombie after Zombie after Zombie.

    "Jeremy gave me a few lighter pieces to do, and that was easier anyway in Lorwyn because of the theme of the set. Then I got Grave Titan - that wasn't just dark, it was super-dark. I really wanted to do it - Zombies coming out of his stomach sounded like so much fun.

    "The other thing that I remember is that I had just visited a very close friend out in California. He's an artist too, and works as a concept artist for many Hollywood studios. He's really good, and always teaches me a few new tricks. Grave Titan was the first piece I did after my California vacation, and I was able to try out some new things with Grave Titan. It looks like it came out pretty well!"

    It certainly did.


  • Sunday, 3:15 p.m. – Eldrazi Amulet Green

    by Rich Hagon
  • Among the more exciting decks on display this weekend has been the Eldrazi Green deck of Pro Tour Nagoya finalist Toshiyuki Kadooka.

    Since we're into the second stretch of Standard, we can now reveal his full list, which looks like this:

    Toshiyuki Kadooka - Green Eldrazi Amulet
    Japan Nationals 2011 (Standard Constructed)

    The deck begins with a ton of mana acceleration. Overgrown Battlement is a tough-to-kill guarantee of four mana on turn three. Rampant Growth also gets you there. So does Explore, presuming you have enough land to make that happen. That's phase one of the plan, so now we're at turn three with four mana to play with.

    There are broadly two options at this point. The most common is to lay a land, commit all four mana to an Everflowing Chalice with two counters on it, and then tap that Chalice for two more mana to create a second Everflowing Chalice with one counter on it. That takes you to a potential eight mana on turn four!

    Alternatively - and this is the new innovation in the deck, courtesy of M12 - spend the four mana on Quicksilver Amulet. Historically it has been a little awkward if you end up with huge casting cost spells you can't cast, and there has always been a trade off between having enough Emrakuls and Ulamogs and Terastodons and Wurmcoil Engines to find them with your Summoning Traps, and not having your hand swamped with them.

    With the Quicksilver Amulet, that's no longer a problem. Assuming that you get to untap on turn five, you can activate the Amulet and drop one of your big guys into play. You won't get the extra turn from Emrakul, because you didn't cast it, but let's not pretend that a turn five Emrakul isn't going to give opponents plenty of problems anyway...

    Assuming that you've gone the more conventional turn three route of further mana acceleration, you now have a slew of options on turn four. Six mana allows you to hard cast your Wurmcoil Engine. Although that's one of your smaller threats, it's still a very big deal, especially that early in the game. With a couple of Overgrown Battlements, it's easily possible to reach Terastodon territory on turn four. Or, with a more 'reasonable' six mana on turn four you can use Summoning Trap to go hunt one of your fatties out of the top seven. Of course, this is still something of a fishing expedition, but you do have ten creatures in your deck, not including the 'please don't let this be what I have to take' Overgrown Battlement.

    Another neat card comes in the form of Spellskite out of the sideboard. Once your opponents have fallen victim to a Quicksilver Amulet in games one or two, it's a good bet that they'll try to do something about it. That might mean Manic Vandal, or it might mean Nature's Claim. In either case, getting Spellskite out as part of your turn four package makes it very tough to deal with Quicksilver Amulet before it comes on line the following turn.

    It looks as if Standard is wide open right now, and Eldrazi Green just got another shot in the arm. If you're playing Standard at Friday Night Magic this week, it's something you should take a look at. It's a lot of fun, and in the hands of Toshiyuki Kadooka at least, it's very good.


  • Sunday, 4:00 p.m. – Translators Needed

    by Rich Hagon
  • The Japanese coverage team here this weekend have undertaken the gargantuan task of typing all three hundred and fifty eight decklists.

    That's a lot of Mountains. However, sometimes enquiring minds want answers on the spot, and that means turning to one of the many 'excellent' free translation software packages available courtesy of the internet.

    Let's give you a neat example. Here's a Standard decklist:

    12 《山》
    4 《乾燥台地》
    4 《沸騰する小湖》
    4 《ぐらつく峰》

    4 《ゴブリンの先達》
    4 《トゲ撃ちの古老》
    4 《渋面の溶岩使い》
    4 《ゴブリンの奇襲隊》
    4 《燃えさし運び》
    2 《ゴブリンの戦煽り》
    -クリーチャー(22)- 4 《稲妻》
    4 《ゴブリンの手投げ弾》
    1 《壊滅的な召喚》
    4 《燃え上がる憤怒の祭殿》
    1 《槌のコス》
    -呪文(14)- 3 《躁の蛮人》
    2 《ヴァルショクの難民》
    2 《焼却》
    4 《四肢切断》
    2 《反逆の行動》
    2 《魔力のとげ》

    How's that working for you? I must admit, I'm struggling. So now here's the same decklist run through the 'global translator':

    12 The Mountain
    4 The Dry Plateau
    4 The Small Lake Which Boils
    4 The Peak Which Is Shaken
    4 The Precursor Of Goburin
    4 The Patriarch Of The Toge Shooting
    4 The Lava Of The Tannin Surface To Use
    4 Sudden Attack Party Of Goburin
    4 The Cinders To Carry
    2 Game Of Goburin It Fans
    4 Lightning
    4 The Grenade Of Goburin
    1 Devastating Summons
    4 The Shrine Of The Anger Which Burns Up
    1 Kosu Of The Hammer

    3 Person Of Crazy
    2 Refugee Of Yuarushiyoku
    2 Incineration
    4 Quarters Cutting
    2 Conduct Of Rebellion
    2 Accomplishing The Bewitchment

    The Small Lake Which Boils

    OK, so let's start with the easy ones, the lands.

    The Mountain is, er, Mountain.
    The Dry Plateau is Arid Mesa.
    The Small Lake Which Boils is Scalding Tarn.
    The Peak Which Is Shaken is, of course, Teetering Peaks.

    The Patriarch of the Toge Shooting

    Now the creatures. Some of these are great names.

    The Precursor of Goburin is Goblin Guide.
    The Patriarch of the Toge Shooting is Spikeshot Elder.
    The Lava of the Tannin Surface To Use is Grim Lavamancer.
    Sudden Attack Party of Goburin is Goblin Bushwhacker.
    The Cinders to Carry is Ember Hauler.
    Game of Goburin It Fans is Goblin Wardriver.

    Kosu of the Hammer
    The spells:

    Lightning is Lightning Bolt (surprise!)
    The Grenade of Goburin is Goblin Grenade (surprise again!) Devastating Summons is...wait...
    The Shrine of Anger Which Burns Up is a long way of saying Shrine of Burning Rage
    Kosu of the Hammer is, naturally, Koth of the Hammer

    Quarters Cutting

    And finally the Sideboard. Some of these had me puzzling for a while:

    Person of Crazy is Manic Vandal.
    Refugee of yuarushiyoku is Vulshok Refugee.
    Incineration is Combust, confusingly.
    Quarters Cutting is Dismember.
    Conduct of Rebellion is Act of Treason.
    Accomplishing the Bewitchment is Manabarbs.



  • Round 12: Feature Match – Shouta Yasooka vs. Shouhei Yamamoto

    by Rich Hagon
  • With three rounds to go here in Standard both players have only two losses on the weekend. Win here, and they'll be on the cusp of the top 8. Lose, and there's still plenty of work to do. Although he's facing the 2006 Player of the Year Shouta Yasooka, Shouhei Yamamoto has plenty of Nationals pedigree, having made the top 8 on three occasions.

    Game 1

    Yasooka began with a double mulligan, and against Celestial Colonnade and Darkslick Shores from Yamamoto, that wasn't a good sign. At least Yasooka had some land to play, casting a mixture of blue and black lands that also included Inkmoth Nexus, the first clue as to what he was playing. On turn five he offered Tumble Magnet, which Yamamoto allowed to resolve. He also allowed Ratchet Bomb from Yasooka. Seven land in play, and Yamamoto hadn't cast a spell. Yasooka aimed for Torpor Orb, and that resolved as well.

    Finally, a spell from Yamamoto, in the form of Batterskull. Yasooka cast Everflowing Chalice for one, and used his Tumble Magnet to tap down the Batterskull. Yamamoto used his second main phase to cast Gideon Jura, while a planeswalker also appeared for Yasooka, casting Jace Beleren, and drawing himself a card.

    Yamamoto activated his Celestial Colonnade and piled his team into Jace, offing the planeswalker. Yasooka had another which promptly drew him a card. Ratchet Bomb was up to four counters by this point. In fact, there seemed to be counters everywhere - one on Everflowing Chalice, one on Tumble Magnet, four on Ratchet Bomb, two on Jace Beleren, eight on Gideon might be time to buy shares in a dice company...

    Yasooka casts Consecrated Sphinx

    Yamamoto attacked and killed Jace, before Yasooka cast Inquisition of Kozilek, seeing two Go for the Throat and two Mana Leak in Yamamoto's hand. He took a Mana leak, and despite his double mulligan had been given the time to get back into the game. When Yamamoto went to attack, Yasooka blew the Ratchet Bomb, causing Yamamoto to return Batterskull to hand, with Gideon going to the graveyard. Down came the mighty Equipment once more to end the turn.

    For six mana Yasooka tried for Wurmcoil Engine, leaving exactly three mana open to render the Mana Leak worthless. Yamamoto didn't try, and the Engine resolved. Now Yamamoto cast Grave Titan, which didn't get the 2/2 Zombies due to Yasooka's Torpor Orb. Inquisition of Kozilek from Yasooka revealed the two Go for the Throat and Mana Leak, with him taking a Go for the Throat. He activated Creeping Tar Pit, and sent in his team, causing Yamamoto to use his second Go for the Throat on the Creeping Tar Pit.

    Back we went, and a big crowd had gathered to watch an epic game.

    Celestial Colonnade activated for Yamamoto, who forced Yasooka to remove his last Tumble Magnet counter. Fortunately he had another waiting. Wurmcoil Engine attacked the other way, with Yamamoto now at fifteen. Once again his Mana Leak couldn't stop Yasooka from casting Consecrated Sphinx.

    When Yamamoto cast Squadron Hawk he found Torpor Orb scuppering his plans again. Wurmcoil Engine continued the assault, Yamamoto letting his Batterskull token die, before seeing Yasooka attempt a Batterskull of his own. For this Yamamoto made him pay three extra, leaving Yasooka short on mana.

    Both players drew at the start of Yamamoto's turn, and his Inquisition of Kozilek revealed Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Consume the Meek, and Sorin's Vengeance from M12.Yamamoto was finally able to attack and generate a pair of 2/2s, but Yasooka was ready to pull the trigger on Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. The loyalty went to four, netting Yasooka an Everflowing Chalice. Yamamoto came back with Gideon Jura, which killed the Consecrated Sphinx. In came Yamamoto with Grave Titan, Squadron Hawk, and Inkmoth Nexus. Consume the Meek from Yasooka made this attack less profitable, and Yamamoto passed the turn.

    Down came a flurry of artifacts, taking Yasooka to eight in total. Two times eight is sixteen, and that's how much life Yamamoto lost to the planeswalker's game-ending ultimate ability. What a game!

    Yasooka 1 - 0 Yamamoto

    Game 2

    The players sideboarded quickly and were into action once more, this time with seven cards each. Yasooka attempted to accelerate with Everflowing Chalice for one, which Yamamoto decided was unacceptable, using Mana Leak to counter it. Sword of Feast and Famine was turn three for Yamamoto, with Memoricide on turn four, naming Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. That caused Yasooka to take a long hard look at his sideboard. Was it possible that he had almost no routes to victory left? Well, no, but it was going to be a lot more difficult! It didn't help that apart from Tezzeret in hand - lost to the Memoricide - he had nothing but land.

    Inquisition of Kozilek revealed Preordain, Oblivion Ring, and a land in Yamamoto's hand, and Yasooka took Preordain. Inkmoth Nexus traded with Inkmoth Nexus, before Yamamoto cast another. He was able to equip it with the Sword of Feast and Famine, then follow up with a Squadron Hawk. This time that resolved, and he went to his deck in search of the rest of the formation flying team.

    Shouhei Yamamoto

    Yasooka replied with Batterskull, while Sea Gate Oracle and a Squadron Hawk continued to build Yamamoto's board. Oh, and the Sword of Feast and Famine on the first Hawk wasn't exactly bad news either...

    Yasooka was down to one card, and Inquisition of Kozilek revealed that to be a land. Yamamoto cast Jace Beleren, drew himself a card, smashed into the red zone, and added Batterskull. Jace Beleren from Yasooka merely dealt with the opposite planeswalker but did nothing to change the likely outcome, which was game three moments away...

    Yasooka 1 - 1 Yamamoto

    Game 3

    After the mauling of Memoricide, Yasooka elected to take out two Doom Blade, and put back in the Consecrated Sphinxes that had done him so well in game one. A 'diverse threat base' they call it. Possibly.

    On the play Yasooka knew he could get Torpor Orb into play unmolested on turn two, and that's how he began. Yamamoto cast Squadron Hawk knowing the same thing. Again being one turn ahead was critical, as Yasooka landed Jace Beleren and drew a card. Yamamoto pushed two cards to the bottom with Preordain, laid Inkmoth Nexus, and attacked Jace with his Squadron Hawk. Yasooka kept Jace alive by allowing both players to draw a card. After a Preordain and a Creeping Tar Pit, he passed.

    Yasooka takes command

    Squadron Hawk again attacked Jace, this time down to two counters, but Yasooka was ready with the Mana Leak when Yamamoto went for Sword of Feast and Famine. Inquisition of Kozilek revealed two Batterskull, Liliana Vess and Go for the Throat, so Yasooka sent Go for the Throat to the graveyard. He cast Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, and swiftly turned his Torpor Orb into a 5/5 before attacking with it. Now the Squadron Hawk had two planeswalkers to aim at, with Yamamoto choosing Tezzeret.

    He closed the turn by dropping Batterskull.

    Yasooka drew from Jace, activated his Inkmoth Nexus, and sacrificed Tezzeret as he made the 1/1 poisonous flyer a 5/5. Down came Tumble Magnet. Desperate times then for Yamamoto, who saw his Batterskull tapped before it could attack. When he cast Solemn Simulacrum he yet again failed to get any value due to that terribly annoying Torpor Orb. Yasooka attacked, leaving Yamamoto to block with his Solemn Simulacrum. A second Tumble Magnet surely left Yamamoto in terrible trouble. He attempted Batterskull to no avail. Stoic Rebuttal was there when Yasooka needed it, and the 2006 Player of the Year took another giant stride towards a bunch of Pro Points, and another crack at the biggest title in the game.

    Shouta Yasooka 2 - 1 Shouhei Yamamoto


  • Sunday, 6:30 p.m.: Announcement – Disqualifications

    by Event Coverage Staff
  • It is always unfortunate when we are obliged to pass on bad news, but two players have been disqualified without prize here at Japan Nationals 2011. During the final round of draft, the two players - Kazuya Mitamura and Yuuta Takahashi - were observed discussing the possibility of a concession. Following that discussion, an apparent concession occurred, which later one of the players attempted to rescind. Both players then agreed to restart the game. After a lengthy investigation, it was deemed necessary to disqualify both players for Cheating, with Takahashi additionally cited for Unsportsmanlike Conduct.

    This statement was prepared by Level 3 Head Judge Naoaki Umesaki:

    "Magic exists for everyone to have fun in a competitive but fair environment. It is never a pleasant duty when the DCI has to step in to ensure those standards are upheld, but there are times when that duty becomes necessary to protect the integrity of both the tournament and the game as a whole. The investigation into this matter was extensive, with all judges in full agreement that this was the only course of action available to us. The DCI will investigate further, and take any appropriate action in due course."


  • Round 14: Feature Match – Takashi Akiyama vs. Makihito Mihara

    by Rich Hagon
  • The final round of Swiss, and two, one, or maybe even neither of these players will return tomorrow for the top 8. Ten minutes ago, Mihara was in the box seat, already at 33 points from his eleven wins and just two losses. Now, though, he has been paired down against Akiyama, who still has top 8 chances. A win for Mihara guarantees him a place in the top 8. Even a loss, and his tiebreaks may hold up. Akiyama needs to win, and hope his tiebreaks are good enough.

    Ah, the last round of Swiss...

    Game 1

    Raging Ravine began the match for Mihara, while Akiyama had Preordain.

    Mihara cast Explore and laid Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle as his extra land for the turn. He attempted a further Explore on turn three, leading into Rampant Growth, which Akiyama again allowed to resolve.

    Mihara cast Oracle of Mul Daya, and swiftly found it in his graveyard via Doom Blade. Akiyama's fourth land was Tectonic Edge, which he used to kill Mihara's Valakut. Mihara went for Cultivate, and again it resolved, taking him to seven mana, four of them Mountains. Another Tectonic Edge followed from Akiyama, who seemed content to bide his time.

    That changed when Mihara tapped out for Avenger of Zendikar. It resolved, netting him seven 0/1 plants. All Akiyama could do was cast Into the Roil with kicker to return the Avenger and draw a card, hopefully a more permanent answer. What is certain is that Mana Leak was ready when Mihara tried again, though Akiyama showed no signs of relief. Inquisition of Kozilek revealed two Green Sun's Zenith in Mihara's hand, with one at least no longer a threat.

    What about the second? Stoic Rebuttal answered that problem, and now Akiyama felt sufficiently in control to activate Creeping Tar Pit and begin the journey to victory. Mihara, however, had other ideas, ripping a third Green Sun's Zenith, and successfully resolving it, gaining both a Primeval Titan and double Valakut. He laid a third copy of the amazing land, and passed. Tectonic Edge reduced the Valakut threat to two at the end of the turn.

    Back to Akiyama, who cast Ratchet Bomb and passed. Mihara knew his many plants were destined for death, so he didn't activate his Raging Ravine. He attacked, triggering the Primeval Titan, and the two Mountains, coupled with one in Mihara's hand, were more than enough to get the job done, and take the 2006 World Champion to within one game of the top 8.

    Mihara 1 - 0 Akiyama

    Game 2

    Takashi Akiyama

    Inquisition of Kozilek from Akiyama found Thran the last troll, two Mountains, a Forest, Terramorphic Expanse, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Rampant Growth. There was only one target then, and Rampant Growth going away meant a less than great opening for Mihara.

    He tried for Explore on turn three, with Akiyama taking long enough to at least represent a Mana Leak before allowing it. Akiyama cast Spreading Seas on Mihara's Forest, ensuring that Mihara would use Terramorphic Expanse to find another. When Mihara went for Cultivate, Akiyama pulled the trigger on his Mana Leak, and had a sideboarded Flashfreeze at the ready for another Cultivate soon after.

    Mihara continued to lay lands, casting Oracle of Mul Daya, revealing Avenger of Zendikar on the top of his library. When he drew the Avenger, Cultivate was on top, so still no free lands. Still, Mihara was up to seven lands, and he added to the future threat with a third copy of Valakut coming down. Only the Spreading Seas on the second Forest was preventing him from trying for the Avenger.

    Akiyama activated Creeping Tar Pit and attacked, but had nothing else.

    Still Mihara found spells on top of his deck, drawing the Cultivate to reveal a backup Oracle of Mul Daya. He cast the Cultivate. Akiyama responded with Doom Blade for the Oracle before allowing the Cultivate to resolve, Mihara choosing to find one Forest and one Mountain, opening up the possibility of Avenger of Zendikar the following turn.

    Spreading Seas averted that threat for the second time in the game, Akiyama again activating his Creeping Tar Pit and hitting Mihara down to fourteen. Mihara laid Evolving Wilds, and passed. Now Akiyama had a precious bit of breathing room. He spent five mana on Liliana Vess, and sent her loyalty to three, going in search of future answers to present problems. As expected, Mihara searched up a Forest at end of turn, and the stage was set.

    Makihito Mihara

    Finally Mihara had the mana he wanted. He began with Oracle of Mul Daya which resolved, getting him both Terramorphic Expanse and Verdant Catacombs, which he swiftly cracked for another Forest. This time Primeval Titan was revealed on top of the deck. Finally, it was time.

    Mihara swept his land sideways, and went for the Avenger, which would be worth twelve tokens. Moments later, the tokens were on the battlefield. Now what for Akiyama?

    Whatever he had found with Liliana needed to be good. Mihara had Terramorphic Expanse ready to find a Mountain, he had a Mountain in hand, an Oracle of Mul Daya in play...Akiyama didn't have the look of someone who was ready to find a way out. He cast Jace Beleren and used Liliana's ability to tutor up a card, which he then drew with Jace.

    The trouble is, when you look through your deck and know that there's no answer, there really is no hope.

    It had taken an extra round, but now Makihito Mihara was firmly into the top 8 of Japan Nationals 2011.

    Makihito Mihara 2 - 0 Takashi Akiyama


  • Sunday, 7:49 p.m. – Shuuhei Super Sealed

    by Rich Hagon
  • The Player of the Year playoff back in February did more than produce one of the most compelling Magic storylines of all time. It also created a brand new format, and it's a format that lots of people have been trying out away from the cut and thrust of tournament play. Super Sealed features twelve boosters rather than the usual six, but the way Magic works, twelve boosters can give you decks that are comfortably more than double the power of normal Sealed play.

    As we head for the second phase of the Battle of Champions, we thought we'd show you just what a player has to deal with when it comes to building Super Sealed. Here's the pool that ended up with Shuuhei Nakamura, the 2008 Player of the Year.

    Roc Egg
    Celestial Purge
    Serra Angel
    Alabaster Mage
    Gideon Jura
    Day of Judgment
    Oblivion Ring
    Archon of Justice
    Mesa Enchantress
    Heavy Arbalest
    Siege Mastodon x2
    Pacifism x2
    Gideon's Lawkeeper x2
    Mighty Leap x2
    Stave Off x2
    Assault Griffin x2
    Peregrine Griffin
    Griffin Sentinel
    Guardians' Pledge
    Stonehorn Dignitary
    Divine Favor
    Angel's Mercy
    Stormfront Pegasus
    Armored Warhorse
    Griffin Rider

    Azure Mage
    Belltower Sphinx x2
    Mind Control
    Mind Unbound
    Master Thief
    Cancel x2
    Flight x2
    Divination x2
    Jace's Erasure x2
    Merfolk Looter x2
    Ice Cage
    Chasm Drake
    Coral Merfolk
    Æther Adept
    Aven Fleetwing
    Amphin Cutthroat
    Harbor Serpent
    Mana Leak
    Skywinder Drake
    Diabolic Tutor
    Reassembling Skeleton
    Onyx Mage
    Wring Flesh x2
    Disentomb x2
    Child of Night x2
    Dark Favor x2
    Drifting Shade x2
    Taste of Blood x2
    Warpath Ghoul
    Zombie Goliath
    Tormented Soul
    Hideous Visage
    Brink of Disaster
    Duskhunter Bat
    Doom Blade
    Devouring Swarm
    Blood Seeker
    Sorin's Thirst
    Bloodrage Vampire
    Mind Rot

    Circle of Flame
    Goblin Chieftain
    Goblin Bangchuckers
    Grim Lavamancer
    Goblin Grenade
    Tectonic Rift
    Incinerate x2
    Goblin Piker x2
    Goblin Tunneler x2
    Chandra's Outrage x2
    Fiery Hellhound
    Act of Treason
    Manic Vandal
    Goblin Arsonist
    Goblin Fireslinger
    Goblin War Paint
    Bonebreaker Giant x2
    Lightning Elemental
    Gorehorn Minotaurs
    Lava Axe x2
    Wall of Torches
    Slaughter Cry
    Autumn's Veil
    Acidic Slime
    Carnage Wurm
    Elvish Archdruid
    Hunter's Insight
    Naturalize x2
    Fog x2
    Garruk's Companion x2
    Llanowar Elves x2
    Trollhide x2
    Runeclaw Bear x2
    Lurking Crocodile x2
    Giant Spider
    Vastwood Gorger
    Sacred Wolf
    Bountiful Harvest
    Greater Basilisk
    Rampant Growth
    Brindle Boar
    Titanic Growth

    Kraken's Eye x2
    Swiftfoot Boots
    Kite Shield
    Elixir of Immortality
    Adaptive Automaton
    Wurm's Tooth
    Rusted Sentinel
    Dragon's Claw

    Drowned Catacomb
    Rootbound Crag
    Buried Ruin

    So there it is, and it's quite a collection. Part of the beauty of Super Sealed is that you aren't trying to decide between the last two or three cards for the one deck that seems really 'obvious'. Instead, you're often building two or three completely different archetypes, where perhaps barely a handful of cards overlap.

    For example, you could build a deck that was determined to kill absolutely everything your opponent ever did, based in Black-Red. You might try to build Bloodthirst, because that's an aggro strategy which, when complemented with some removal, can be unstoppable.

    Perhaps you're wanting to build a big green fatties deck. Or maybe blue-white flyers is your thing, taking to the air en route to victory.

    Have a go yourself at building from this pool, and then take a look at what Shuuhei ended up playing:

    Shuuhei Nakamura
    Japan Nationals 2011 (Sealed Deck)

    At the time of writing Shuuhei is 2-0 with the deck, needing at least one more win tonight to reach the final. If he does, he'll get a brand new Super Sealed pool to play with tomorrow in the final match in the Battle of Champions, and you'll read all about it on

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