GP Shizuoka 2017 Day One Summary

Posted in Event Coverage on March 18, 2017

By Frank Karsten

2,719 players started things off for Day One in the main event, and after nine rounds of Standard action, only 858 players remain. Let's dive into Day One in a nutshell.

The Big Stories

I spent the day looking for cool decks, talking to players, and experiencing the events. Based on that, I selected five things to remember.

Shizuoka nearly runs out of hotel rooms

Shizuoka is a city in the middle of Japan, located between Kyoto and Tokyo. Given its convenient location, the Grand Prix circuit will return this year in September, but I was surprised about one aspect.

About a month before the event, when I looked for a hotel room on the English booking websites that I typically use, I was unable to find even a single room for the Grand Prix weekend. I was stunned. Did a Magic event really cause an entire city (with 700,000 inhabitants) to run out of hotel rooms?

Well, no. Magic in Japan is big, but not that big. With national holidays coming up, and with Shizuoka as a nice base for dipping into hot springs or for viewing Mount Fuji, Magic players were surely outnumbered by other visitors.


Even better: combine the best of both worlds by viewing Mount Fuji from a traditional onsen bath. (This picture was taken at the Kawagichiko Hotel where I stayed on Thursday before traveling to Shizuoka.

Moreover, as members of the Japanese coverage staff explained to me, many of the smaller hotels are simply not listed on the major English booking websites. There were still available rooms, but they were more difficult to find.

Maybe one day, a Magic event will be big enough to deplete all hotel rooms in a major city by itself. For now, just make sure that if you're planning to visit Grand Prix Shizuoka in September you book a hotel room well in advance—you'll save yourself a lot of hassle.

Mardu Vehicles and Four-Color Saheeli are still the top two decks

Last weekend at Grand Prix Barcelona and Grand Prix New Jersey, Mardu Vehicles and Four-Color Saheeli dominated, and that story continues here in Shizuoka. Out of the 16 players with three byes, seven chose some version of Mardu, and three chose Four-Color Saheeli. The 9-0 decklists featured multiple Saheeli and Mardu decks as well, and the same was true for the Grand Prix Trial winning decklists.


Cats vs. Vehicles in Japan.

There were still various Temur Energy decks and plenty of other brews around—see some of the deck spotlights at the bottom of this article—but it seems fair to say that the current list of "decks to beat" consists of two decks.

Some people dislike this lack of diversity; other people love that with only two decks to attack, it becomes easier to build a "metagame deck" and to master the key matchups. But no matter on which side of the spectrum you fall, if you're a competitive player, you either need to play one of these two decks or find a way to beat them.

Decks and sideboard strategies continue to evolve

Focusing on the top two archetypes for now, I was intrigued that not every Four-Color Saheeli deck looks alike, and likewise for Mardu.

Many Four-Color Saheeli players were on lists akin to the ones that conquered both Grand Prix Barcelona and Grand Prix New Jersey last weekend, sometimes with small tweaks like Cloudblazer in the main deck for value and Dampening Pulse in the sideboard for the mirror match. But several other Cat lovers were on the delirium version that carried Ben Friedman to his second-place finish at Grand Prix New Jersey last weekend.


Justin Robb

One of those players was Grand Prix Brisbane 2013 champion Justin Robb, who traveled all the way from Australia and who been testing four-color Saheeli decks for weeks. "Traverse the Ulvenwald is the main appeal of this version," he said. "The main way you lose with this deck is getting flooded, and the singleton Ishkanah, Grafwidow is so good versus Mardu." Thanks to Walking Ballista and Evolving Wilds, delirium can be achieved with reasonable consistency. Robb ended the day at 6-3.

As for Mardu, there seemed to be some disagreement on whether to go fast or slow.


Christian Calcano

Gold level pro Christian Calcano opted for a Mardu Vehicles list with Walking Ballista and Archangel Avacyn, very close to the deck that Owen Turtenwald piloted to a Top 32 finish at Grand Prix New Jersey last weekend. "I think it's the best deck," he said. "I tried Four-Color Saheeli with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar last weekend, but that didn't work out too well."

Calcano, who was feeling a little sick today, ultimately missed Day 2 at 5-4, but he still loved his trip to Japan. "I love the culture. Everyone is so nice, the food is pretty good, getting around it easy. It's a unique experience, and in my opinion there is no place like it."


Lee Shi Tian

No. 10 Lee Shi Tian, who has been playing Mardu Vehicles ever since Toolcraft Exemplar was released, went for a different route. "I think aggression is the way you beat Four-Color Saheeli," he said. Lee had seen way to many Mardu players lose games because they don't have fast threats, so he chose a list with Inventor's Apprentice instead of Archangel Avacyn. He finished Day 1 at 7-2.

These decklists tweaks and differences are one interesting aspect, but the games and sideboard strategies hold a lot of strategic depth as well. Games are interactive, requiring players to fluidly switch their role from aggro to control all the time. Sideboarding is perhaps even more complicated.

As multiple players emphasized today, you need to make sure your sideboard fights their post-board configuration, not their pre-board one. Both Mardu and Saheeli have the capability to switch gears and become a grindy midrange deck, so boarding in cards to fight against Toolcraft Exemplar or Felidar Guardian can easily be a misstep.

Another aspect are the mind games. Will the opponent have artifacts? Will they transform into a planeswalker plan? As an example of something completely counterintuitive, I've seen players board in Release the Gremlins against Saheeli (to combat Skysovereign, Consul Flagship) but not against Mardu (because many Mardu players reduce their vulnerability to Release the Gremlins by boarding out artifacts nowadays).

Australia's Justin Robb put it best: "Even people who play the exact same 75 and agree on what's important in a matchup could board differently. One person might take out Tamiyo, Field Researcher—another might add it!" The differences might come as a result of different playstyles, because of different expectations on what opponents will do, or because the sideboard mini-game simply has no pure Nash equilibrium. Either way, sideboarding goes deep.

Team Musashi shows why they're the best

The standings of the Pro Tour Team Series, a new system that rewards players for doing well at Pro Tours, is currently led by Team Musashi (in a tie with Team MTG Mind Card). All members of this Japan-based team participated at the Grand Prix this weekend, and none of them finished Day 1 at a record worse than 7-2:

  • Yuuki Ichikawa – 24 points
  • (23) Yuuya Watanabe – 24 points
  • Ken Yukuhiro – 24 points
  • (11) Kentaro Yamamoto – 22 points
  • Teruya Kakumae – 21 points
  • (2) Shota Yasooka – 21 points

Although Grand Prix events don't count for the Pro Tour Team Series, the six of them showcased an impressive win percentage so far of over 75%, confirming their excellence at the game.

Back to school!

The Grand Prix is not only for the participants of the main event. There are side events in all kinds of formats, artists who are happy to sign your cards, and dealer booths to complete your deck. It's essentially one big 3-day Magic festival, and you don't have to be a hyper-competitive player to enjoy it.

In addition, the organizer of Grand Prix Shizuoka, Big Magic, offered various school-themed events on a big stage imitating a classroom.


The school schedule and a look at the classroom.

Their creativity at combining a school setting with Magic-related events was impressive. For instance, the Biology class featured a real-life Momir Basic game with a huge stack of cards to simulate the inherent randomness, and the Japanese class saw a professor go over the grammar on Magic cards in an entertaining way. But my favorite was watching the Physical Exercise class.

A lot of players participated in these events today or simply watched them unfold, and everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun.

Day One's 9-0 Players

Ten players reached the end of Day One with undefeated, pristine 9-0 records.

TAKEHIKO MATSUMURA

Hometown: Saitama prefecture

What Standard deck do you play? Temur Aetherworks Marvel

Why did you choose this deck? I practiced a lot. And after seeing Toshiya Kanegawa's streaming, Marvel seemed to be the best.


KAZUKI YAMADA

Hometown: Aichi prefecture

What Standard deck do you play? Bamboo spear aggro or Red-Green Energy

Why did you choose this deck? I can't use a Tier 1 deck because of my skill. Recent metagame changes pushed this deck to the best position.


MASAYASU TANAHASHI

Hometown: Niigata prefecture

What Standard deck do you play? Temur Tower

Why did you choose this deck? Because I could easily put it together.


YOSHIFUMI KARATSU

Hometown: Aichi prefecture

What Standard deck do you play? 4-color Copy Cat

Why did you choose this deck? Because it's strong.


TAKEHIRO FUJIMOTO

Hometown: Osaka prefecture

What Standard deck do you play? Black-Green Constrictor

Why did you choose this deck? A lot of players said Winding Constrictor and Rishkar, Peema Renegade should be banned.


KIRINO RYOHEI

Hometown: Okayama prefecture

What Standard deck do you play? Mardu Ballista

Why did you choose this deck? Because it's strong.


YUKI MATSUMOTO

Hometown: Kanagawa prefecture

What Standard deck do you play? 4-color Copy Cat

Why did you choose this deck? The other decks didn't fit me, and I didn't want to use Mardu Vehicles.


CHUAN SUN

Hometown: Beijing, China

What Standard deck do you play? Marvel Cat

Why did you choose this deck? Because it's interesting and Feng Da told me to play it.


TAKANORI WATANABE

Hometown: Miyagi prefecture

What Standard deck do you play? Kihara-Works(Mardu Ballista)

Why did you choose this deck? Atsuki Kihara, who is a Hareruya Hopes member, let me know about this deck.


MAKATO HIGUCHI

Hometown: Aichi prefecture

What Standard deck do you play? Black-Green Constrictor.

Why did you choose this deck? I like green decks, and I want to win against Saheeli.


Day One Deck Spotlights

Decklist of Day 2 players will be posted once Round 15 is in progress on Day Two.

Spotlight #1: Sram Dunk with Atsushi Ito


Atsushi Ito

One of the highlights in the early rounds was watching Atsushi Ito go off with his Aetherworks Marvel deck. Known as "matsugan", you may recognize his name as the creator of the Death's Shadow Zoo deck in Modern two years ago. If it weren't for him, perhaps no one would have arrived at the present iteration of that deck. Going back to Standard, he brought another sweet deck.

Atsushi Ito's Sram Dunk – Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017

"I chose the deck because it's really fun," he explained. "When I saw the card list of Aether Revolt, I saw that Sram, Senior Edificer could act as Puresteel Paladin number 5-8 in Modern, but I knew that I could play 8 zero-cost equipment in Standard, so I tried to build a similar deck."

When he sat down with me to explain the inner workings of the deck, he started by pointing out the synergy between Paradoxical Outcome, Inspiring Statuary, and his zero-cost equipments. "It's like Vintage!"

His win condition is Aetherflux Reservoir, but he found that it was difficult to play it on turn four because it doesn't affect the board immediately and is essentially a free turn for the opponent. He solved that issue with Baral's Expertise, which is a mana-efficient way to put down Aetherflux Reservoir while stifling the opponent's developments. What's more, he can cast Baral's Expertise via Inspiring Statuary!

Matsugan originally started with a two-color blue-white deck, but he found that Prairie Stream and Port Town were too often entering the battlefield tapped. To get more untapped lands, he added Aether Hub, but that needs energy, so he added Attune with Aether (which can also thin his library) and ended up with a Bant deck.

Unfortunately for him, he went 3-4 and dropped from the event as he was unable to make Day 2.

Spotlight #2: Black-Green Eldrazi with Kazuyuki Takimura


Kazuyuki Takimura

Last weekend at Grand Prix Barcelona, Shota Takao and Toru Inoue came all the way from Japan to showcase their innovative Black-Red Eldrazi deck. Their list is available in the Top 5 Moments of that event.

This weekend, they participated in Grand Prix Shizuoka, and although they failed to make Day 2, their performance from last weekend had inspired several players to pick up their deck as well. One of those players was Gold level pro Ken Yukuhiro, who never likes tier 1 decks; he posted a 8-1 record.

But black-red is not the only shell for Ruins of Oran-Rief and Reality Smasher. Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar champion Kazuyuki Takimura showed another way.

As he explained to me, he was inspired by the synergy between Winding Constrictor, Ruins of Oran-Rief, and Walking Ballista. By combining all three, you could have a 4/4 Walking Ballista by turn four.

Catacomb Sifter is another creature that benefits greatly from Ruins of Oran-Rief, and it also allows him to ramp into a turn-four Reality Smasher. He called that haste creature a "planeswalker killers," and he said the same about Heart of Kiran. "It's a great answer to Saheeli Rai."

According to Takimura, his deck has a good matchup against Four-Color Saheeli. The matchup against Mardu Vehicles is even, and dependent on the die roll. He ended Day 1 with an 8-1 record.

Kazuyuki Takimura's Black-Green Eldrazi – Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017

Spotlight #3: Blue-Red Emerge with Sjoerd Willems


Sjoerd Willems

Sjoerd Willems, originally from the Netherlands but currently residing in Hong Kong, showed up with a Blue-Red Emerge deck that he had a lot of experience with. "I like Zombies and graveyard decks, so whenever there is a Prized Amalgam deck, I try to play it."

Although not brand new, his deck attacks from a different angle, and he spend substantial effort perfecting the list and sideboard strategies. One thing he highlighted was the importance of sideboarding differently based on who is on the play: He was boarding out Fevered Visions—a card that may look super powerful in a deck where nearly all cards trade up in mana—on the draw. The fact that you have an extra card and the opponent doesn't can play a big role.

According to Willems, his matchup against Four-color Saheeli is favorable. The main reason for that is Kozilek's Return, which he can trigger with Elder Deep-Fiend. "They have nothing against it."

I talked to Willems when he was 6-0, but things didn't work out for him in the last three rounds: he finished the day at 6-3.

Sjoerd Willem's Blue-Red Emerge – Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017

Spotlight #4: Temur Marvel with Tomoharu Saito


Tomoharu Saito

There were a surprising number of energy-based Temur decks at the top tables near the end of the day. One of them was played by Pro Tour champion Tomoharu Saito. He finished at 7-2 and chose his deck because he felt it had a good matchup against Four-Color Saheeli and Mardu Vehicles: "The list is good against the Top 2 decks."

One reason why he felt his deck was well-positioned was his inclusion of 3 Shock—a solid way to answer a quick Toolcraft Exemplar or to disrupt the Copy Cat combo. Another reason was that the format got slower. "Mardu Vehicles players added more removal spells and slower cards like Archangel Avacyn. Marvel is good against slow decks," he said.

And finally, there's the surprise effect. For instance, in Game 1 of Round 4, Saito opted not to cast Woodweaver's Puzzleknot or Aetherworks Marvel, keeping them in hand to hide information from his opponent. Indeed, after losing to Whirler Virtuoso, Rogue Refiner, and Harnessed Lightning, his opponent (wrongly) assumed that Saito was on Four-Color Saheeli and boarded for the wrong matchup.

Sideboarding is still one of the toughest aspects of Standard, and small bits of information can have a big impact.

Tomoharu Saito's Temur Marvel – Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017

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