t finally happened. We have the first Japanese Pro Tour champion. In those final minutes of Pro Tour Kobe the Japanese at last got their Champion, and even at a Japanese Pro Tour no less.
Those who have been waiting for such an event have had to wait for years, and through several near misses. First there was Tsuyoshi Fujita – the first Japanese player to make a Pro Tour top 8, he lost to Zvi Mowshowitz in the finals of Pro Tour: Tokyo during the 2000-2001 season. Since then four more Japanese players made Pro Tour top 8's. Two of them – Masashi Ooiso in Yokohama and Jin Okamoto at World Championships in Berlin last year – made it to the finals. Enter Masashiro Kuroda.
Although the name may be virtually unknown to Magic fans outside of Japan, Kuroda has an impressive list of accomplishments. He has a total of five Grand Prix top 8 finishes, including a Team Grand Prix win in Nagoya as part of team P.S.2 with rookie of the year Katsuhiro Mori and Masahiko Morita. Kuroda is also well-known for his tendency of going undefeated through the first day of competition in a tournament, and then failing to make top 8. True to that statement, Kuroda went undefeated through eight rounds of swiss in Kobe to end the first day of competition at the top of the standings. Day 2 did not go so well for the Japanese Pro as he played it to a 3-4 record. With so many rounds and so few competitors, a win in the last round would still be enough to secure him a top 8 finish. He swept Eugene Sanchez Mata in the last round and earned himself a top 8 finish and eventually a Pro Tour victory.
Like the Japanese players, Gabriel Nassif was in a struggle to overcome the title of Finalist. The French Pro arrived on the scene in 2001, when he made his first Pro Tour finals as part of team Les Plus Class with Amiel Tenenbaum and Nicolas Olivieri. Nassif made another top 8 in Pro Tour: Venice and another second place finish at Pro Tour: New Orleans this year. Nassif also has a pair of Grand Prix top 8 finishes – including a second place in London! Although Nassif did not earn the title, he walked away with $20,000 for his trouble, becoming the first French player to break the $100,000 mark on the Lifetime Pro Tour winnings list. He becomes the 22nd player overall to earn this much prize money.
It is rare for more than one rookie to break into a Pro Tour top 8 these days. In Kobe, three players with no previous career finishes managed to do so. France's Alexandre Peset and Italy's Luigi Sbrozzi and Stefano Fiori earned their first chance at a Magic spotlight. It was Italy's finest moment in Pro Tour history as a total of three competitors from that country made it into the top 8. The two rookies were joined by Raffaele Lo Moro. Japan has been good to Lo Moro as his only previous Pro Tour top 8 finish was also there – at the World Championship in Yokohama.
Perhaps the best-known player in this top 8 besides Nassif is Jelger Wiegersma. The Dutch player previously top 8'ed at Pro Tour: New Orleans in 2001 and has enjoyed six Grand Prix top 8 finishes. Finally, the only American to excel at this Pro Tour was Ben Stark. This is the first Pro Tour top 8 for the up and coming American player. He has earned a pair of top 8 Grand Prix finishes over the course of last year.
Going into this Pro Tour, I would have told you that there were three viable decks. First and foremost there is Affinity. Represented in this top 8 by Stark and Wiegersma, the Affinity deck plays mostly artifact lands and is all about getting those Frogmites and Myr Enforcers into play quickly. It is capable of generating card economy very quickly with Skullclamps – so quickly in fact, that it can easily keep up with the heavy artifact kill of other tier 1 decks. Arcbound Ravager is the most likely kill card. There are many ways to build this deck but the general ideas described above apply to all of them. This is the listing that took Jelger Wiegersma to the semi-finals:
The archetype that proved strongest based on this top 8 is mono-red control. Played by 5 of the top 8 players (including the winner), this archetype's staple cards include Arc Slogger, Solemn Simulacrum, Fireball and Detonate. The idea here is to sweep every non-land permanent from the board long enough to finish an opponent off with an Arc Slogger or a large Fireball. An important weapon in this deck's arsenal is Furnace Dragon – if that creature enters play it becomes almost impossible for an Affinity player to win.
Then there is one that “got away” – mono-green control has been a major force at Pro Tour: Kobe even if no copies of the deck made top 8. Kuroda faced such a deck in Round 16, playing for a shot at the Top 8 against Spain's E.S. Mata. This archetype combines green's best creatures (such as Troll Ascetic or Pulse of the Tangle) with what green does best in this set – artifact removal. Viridian Zealot, Oxidize, Glissa, Molder Slug – there are plenty of options available.
As I wrote above, going into the Pro Tour I would have told you there were three major archetypes. It turns out that there are in fact four. As usual, French players went after the deck that can put the largest creatures into play, and fast. Nassif's deck (nicknamed “TwelvePost”) relies on Sylvan Scrying and Reap and Sow for Cloudposts to generate mana quickly, then uses Tooth and Nail to drop giant monsters such as Darksteel Collossus or a trump like Platinum Angel into play. Having not playtested the deck I cannot say whether it is better than the abovementioned archetype, but this tournament's results certainly suggest that it can stand on equal footing with them, and the French players certainly deserve credit for coming up with something everyone else seems to have missed.
In next week's column I will talk more about the PT Kobe results and their implications for the Player of the Year race.
Last week's question:
Who was the first pro player to be hired by Wizards of the Coast?
If you read most articles on this site, this should have been an easy one. The answer is Matt Hyra, best known for coming up with and pushing through the idea of the Paris Mulligan. For more details on this, please read Mark Rosewater's article from last week.
Who is the only Wizards of the Coast employee to qualify for and play on the Pro Tour after leaving the company?
(Please do not e-mail me the answers. The correct answer will be posted in next week's column.)
Bad Play of the Week
Courtesy of Scott Harris
“I was recently playing in a tournament where Darksteel had just become legal and I was trying out a G/W lifegain deck I threw together. My opponent was playing Astral Slide. The game had been going on for quite some time; he couldn't finish me off due to all my lifegain but I had basically no way of killing him. Thanks to my Well of Lost Dreams I had drawn through my entire deck and was down to just five cards in my library. My opponent had out 2 Astral Slides and Exalted Angel and an Eternal Dragon. In addition he had 2 Dragons in his hand that I knew of, so he could slide out anything he wanted at any time, and was at 20 life. I had a ton of lands in play, one Sunbeam Spellbomb, 2 Ravenous Baloths and 2 Ageless Entities. Knowing the slide would remove all my tokens I didn't bother doing anything and ended my turn.
At this point my opponent, for no reason I can fathom, cycled a Decree of Justice and tapped all his mana to create 5 soldier tokens. He also targeted both of my Baloths with the slide. In response I sacced both Baloths, activated the Spellbomb and cast Nourish. With both Entities now at 23/23 I cast Grab the Reins and flung one into my opponent for lethal damage.
In addition, due to the extreme length of the game we were called for time before completing the second game and I won the match by the score of 1-0.
Needless to say my opponent and everyone watching was very confused as to why he decided to make this play.”
Please e-mail me any Magic news, stories, tournament results, or anything else you think should appear in this column. You can contact me by sending an e-mail to ashv at kingsgames dot com.