King of Standard
A total of 192 of Japan's best players descended on Tokyo's Sunshine City seeking to claim the prestigious title of National Champion--and a $20,000 check.
In previous years, the top players concentrated on the draft, then borrowed a metagame-tuned deck from a friend to coast through the Standard portion. However, this year, with the Standard portion coming before the draft, all bets were off. Many pros were seen wandering among the grinder tables, watching which decks were performing well, taking mental notes.
In the end, it was all about one card: Psychatog. Given the strength of blue in the current Standard environment, many were expecting a resurgence of anti-blue metagamed RG decks, just like last year. But Psychatog was unstoppable, with the three undefeated players from Day 1--Kenji Kimoto, Yuuki Murakami, and Masahiko Morita--all playing a variant on the Psychatog archtype.
A Legend Reborn?
While Psychatog was tearing up the field, most eyes were turned to the feature match table, where two legends of the Japanese Magic world were facing off in an Opposition mirror match.
The last round of the day saw "The Champ" Toshiki Tsukamoto paired up with two-time APAC Champion Masaya Mori. Both had been absent from the tournament scene for at least a year; Tsukamoto ground into Nationals on Thursday, and Mori came out of retirement just two weeks ago to play in Grand Prix Nagoya. Both were at 3-2, and looking for a win to put themselves into a position to reach for Top 8.
After a hard, drawn-out battle that went to time, Tsukamoto showed the skill that led him to two National Championships by outplaying Mori to take the match 2-1.
Will Tsukamoto follow the path blazed by Gorou Matsuo at last year's Nationals and come out of obscurity to take home the prize? It depends on whether his draft skills are up to par. Given that the addition of Judgment into the card pool has muddied the waters for everyone, arguably he's on the same footing as everyone else. But does he have what it takes to grab an unprecedented third National title?