Sunday, 9:38 a.m. – Mid-Season Reportby Chapman Sim
Time flies when you're enjoying yourself, isn't it? It seemed like only yesterday when (1) Jeremy Dezani lifted the Pro Tour Theros Champion trophy, and I am "certain" it was yesterday that (19) Shaun McLaren had claimed Pro Tour Born of the Gods.
With just two more Pro Tours (and 18 more Grand Prix) to go, it is difficult to believe that we are now halfway through the 2013 – 14 season in the blink of an eye. As we anticipate the release of Journey to Nyx and Magic Core Set 2015, seven of the game's best talents are pretty much locked by for Platinum status, including both above-mentioned Pro Tour winners, former Player of the Year (3) Owen Turtenwald, (2) Reid Duke, master deckbuilder (5) Sam Black, up-and-coming (or rather, already there) (15) Josh McClain and Hall of Famer (4) Ben Stark.
In addition, (10) Alexander Hayne, (6) Shahar Shenhar, (13) Jacob Wilson, (25) Kentaro Yamamoto and (25) William Jensen might as well be considered to be locked as well, seeing how they are at a comfortable range of 36 to 38 Pro Points.
But what about the players in Asia Pacific? Let just take a quick peek at some of the top Asia Pacific countries ranked in order of their respective Point Leaders.
1st Place: Hong Kong – (17) Lee Shi Tian
After a stellar finish at Pro Tour Journey to Nyx, "Modern Master" (17) Lee Shi Tian (30 Pro Points) finds himself locked up for Gold and would only need a slight push to hit Platinum the next season. Barring any major upsets, he seems to have secured a slot to become the National Champion of Hong Kong once again and has a decently comfortable lead to clinch one of the two spots for the Player Championships at the end of the season.
2nd Place: New Zealand - Zheng Jingwei
Zheng Jingwei (24 Pro Points) received the bulk of his points from a Top 16 finish at Pro Tour Theros and a Top 8 at Grand Prix Melbourne on consecutive weeks and is on track to repeat the feat of New Zealand National Champion once again.
3rd Place: Malaysia - Raymond Tan
Raymond Tan (20 Pro Points) surprised all of Asia when he came out of nowhere to take down Kitakyushu, making him one of the few foreign players to have won a Japanese Grand Prix. He may not have done awesome stuff like drinking a full tankard of beer from his trophy as Brian Kibler did when he won Grand Prix Sendai, but he has performed solidly at the regional Grand Prix Circuit and as well as his Pro Tour debut at Pro Tour Theros. Aside from shooting for Malaysian National Champion, he is also in the running for Rookie of the Year, a glory that you only have one shot at.
4th Place: Australia - Justin Cheung
This veteran superstar and four-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor from Down Under has been silently racking up decent finishes, including 50th place at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Justin Cheung (18 Pro Points) is a widely respected player around the continent and despite not being qualified for Pro Tour Journey to Nyx, we can expect to see him do great things in the next quarter, or die trying. Justin Robb (11 Pro Points), Patty Robertson (9 Pro Points) and Daniel Unwin (9 Pro Points) are also giving chase and it could be anyone's game.
5th Place: Singapore - Kelvin Chew
Ever since his Top 8 appearance at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, Kelvin Chew (16 Pro Points) has become a mainstay in the regional Grand Prix circuit and consistently cashes whenever he competes, even if he did have to endure a heartbreaking 76th place finish at Pro Tour Theros. Hoping for an upset are five-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Nicholas Wong (9 Pro Points), Grand Prix Beijing Semifinalist Wong Wei Quan (9 Pro Points), Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur Champion Fabien Li (8 Pro Points) and Grand Prix Singapore Finalist Chapman Sim (8 Pro Points).
6th Place: South Korea - Park Jun Young
Two-time Grand Prix competitor Park Jun Young (15 Pro Points) finds himself in a neck-in-neck race with fellow countryman Nam Sung-Wook (14 Pro Points). Even though Park did break into the Top 8 of Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur, Nam closed up the gap considerably by winning Grand Prix Melbourne, while also becoming the first South Korean player to win a Grand Prix. As we speak, Nam is still undefeated with 10 wins and it won't be surprising to see him revisit the Top 8 stage again.
7th Place: Taiwan - Kuo Tzu-Ching
After winning the Magic World Cup in 2012 and putting up a Top 8 performance at Grand Prix Kitakyushu last winter, Kuo Tzu-Ching (13 Pro Points) has had a rather silent quarter. His lukewarm performances have allowed fellow teammate, Huang Hao-Shan (12 Pro Points) to gain some ground at Grand Prix Melbourne where he made his fourth Top 8 Grand Prix appearance. Close friends of both, Yu Chung Hwang (8 Pro Points) and Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur finalist Ryan Young (8 Pro Points) also in contention.
A bunch of Pro Points will be handed out today and the situation within Asia is likely to change. But even if it doesn't, there is still half a season more to go!
Round 10 Feature Match – Tung-Yi Cheng (Burn) vs. Sung-Wook Nam (Mono-Black)by Pip Foweraker
Both players finished up Day 1 of Grand Prix Beijing with perfect records. Sung-Wook Nam is ably piloting Mono-Black Devotion, a deck he took to victory recently at Grand Prix Melbourne. Tung-Yi Cheng has piloted a R/W Burn deck over the weekend, the blistering pace leaving his opponents scorched and helpless.
As the match unfolded, Cheng was able to take Nam's life down to a perilously low levels, but was unable to steal any games before the control deck stabilised and rode its powerful creatures to victory. This matchup is a race, pure and simple, between a flurry of early burn and the Black deck's attempts to stabilise their life total and use their superior creatures to take the game.
The first game was all about a flurry of early burn from Cheng, as Nam's Thoughtseize displayed a panapoly of Warleader's Helix, Shock, Lightning Strike and an Ash Zealot. Once the Zealot hit the bin, Cheng wasted no time in reducing Nam's life total as rapidly as possible. Nam managed to resolve a Nightveil Spectre and followed up with a Duress. Cheng had enough burn to drop Nam to 5 in response, but had nothing for Nam's follow-up Desecration Demon. Cheng was forced to look to the top of his deck for answers. None arrived in time, the powerful 6/6 Demon taking the first game in short order.
Sung-Wook Nam 1 - Tung-Yi Cheng 0
Nam dominated the early turns of Game 2 with a volley of triple Duress, taking a pair of Cheng's Chained To The Rocks and some burn. Cheng summoned an Ash Zealot and threw what he had at Nam, who eventually offed the Zealot.
Nam summoned a Desecration Demon, and when Cheng threw a Mizzium Mortars and a Searing Blood at it, Nam used a Devour Flesh in response to gain a bunch of life and put Cheng even further behind. Nam dropped some more men and mopped up the game, having never been seriously threatened after the opening wave of discard.
Sung-Wook Nam 2 - Tung-Yi Cheng 0
Round 11 Feature Match – Frank Karsten vs. Wu Tongby Chapman Sim
A little jet-lagged and a little sleepy, Frank Karsten has made the trip of nearly five thousand miles to arrive in boisterous Beijing. Aside from a short vacation in this historically rich and culturally vibrant city, Karsten is here to grab some Pro Points in the process, hoping to give chase to fellow Hall of Famer Kamiel Cornelissen for the Netherlands captain spot in the upcoming World Magic Cup.
At an 8-2 record, Karsten has been paired against one of the best players in Mainland China. The very same year André Coimbra was crowned World Champion in 2009, Wu Tong was also made a World Team Champion, alongside fellow countrymen Li Bo and Zhang Zhiyang.
Despite geographical differences, this isn't the first time both players have played against each other. In fact, just a month ago at Valencia, their fates clashed after both players went 2-0 at the first Booster Draft. Karsten lost that match, sending Wu to a great 3-0 start for the Pro Tour, and was probably looking to exact revenge today.
Karsten kicked of the game with Temple of Deceit and Pack Rat, promptly creating a copy on his third turn. Wu was not to be outdone and unloaded a bunch of green men, creating an army of Elvish Mystic, Boon Satyr, Kalonian Tusker and Experiment One (now a 2/2).
Regardless, Wu decided to attack with Boon Satyr, Kalonian Tusker and Experiment One. A little behind on the board state, Karsten decided to shove both his Pack Rats in the way, offering a trade with Boon Satyr and a 2/2 Experiment One. Wu reloaded with Scavenging Ooze and Swordwise Centaur.
A pair of Hero's Downfalls reduced Wu's troops to just a single Swordwise Centaur but he was ready with a second Boon Satyr, bestowing it this time. The 7/4 centaur slashed Karsten's life total by more than half, reducing him from 13 to 6.
Before folding to the pressure, Karsten took a peek at the last card from Wu's hand via Thoughtseize and had to read the rather interesting card twice. Apparently Armed // Dangerous is as dangerous as it looks.
Frank Karsten 0 – Wu Tong 1
Not surprisingly, Wu led with the mana elf, but was unwilling to cast Reverent Hunter as a lowly 3/3. With so many creatures offering multiple green mana symbols in his deck, he decided to take a glimpse into the future using Temple of Abandon. His gamble paid off, receiving Burning-Tree Shaman off the top. This enabled him to make a 5/5 Reverent Hunter for a measly three mana, one of the most powerful plays in his nearly Mono Green Devotion deck.
When Wu attacked with Reverent Hunter, it prompted Karsten to confirm that Wu did not wish to sacrifice a creature. Shoving demon in the way in an attempt to force out Ranger's Guile, Wu surprised him with Aspect of the Hydra, granting an impressive +5/+5 for one mere mana.
Wu then made a second Reverent Hunter, a 6/6 monstrosity this time. Karsten tried to relieve himself of some pressure, pointing Hero's Downfall at it, successfully baiting out the Ranger's Guile he had already seen. When Karsten next pointed Doom Blade at it, Wu revealed the final card in his hand, which turned out to be a second copy of Ranger's Guile which Karsten was unaware of.
"I only have two Ranger's Guile in the sideboard. I was lucky to draw them both," Wu admitted. Facing a duo of huge Reverent Hunters, Karsten was forced to chump block with Mutavault before eventually extending the hand.
Frank Karsten 0 – Wu Tong 2
Wu Tong defeats Frank Karsten 2-0 and moves up a notch to 11-2.
Round 12 Feature Match – Naoki Shimizu (Mono-Blue) Vs Xin Jin (Mono-Black)by Pip Foweraker
The Mono-Black vs Mono-Blue matchup is one that is being hashed out at a thousand FNM's across the world every week. Both decks pack powerful punches but have a different strategy to take the game. Mono-Blue is, historically unusually, the aggressor in this matchup, hoping to punch through with efficient creatures and utilise the powerful God Thassa and her Bident to overwhelm the Black player with relentless card advantage.
Mono-Black has some flexibility in its game plan, but generally aims to keep the Blue deck's devotion count to a reasonable level before going 'over the top' with its hugely powerful creatures. An active discard and disruption suite for Black keeps things interesting, but if that fails to materialise, as happened in this match, Mono-Blue can threaten to outpace the Black deck's slower pace.
Shimizu opened the game with a Judge's Familiar and a Frostburn Weird. On his attack, Jin had a Devour Flesh to keep things from getting out of hand. Shimizu summoned a Thassa and followed with her Bident, crashing in with the powerful blue God and the Weird.
Jin tried a Desecration Demon, but Shimizu had a Detention Sphere to knock it out of the way and take the first game in a classic demonstration of Mono-Blue's capacity to just take games from the unprepared or the underperforming.
Naoki Shimizu 1 - Xin Jin 0
The second game started off in a slightly slower fashion. Shimizu had the first play with a lonesome Thassa, Jin upping the ante with a Desecration Demon. Shimizu had a Detention Sphere for it, upping his devotion and taking the Demon out of contention. Shimizu followed up with a Bident and a Frostburn Weird, the latter being promptly Doom Bladed.
Shimizu had a Tidebinder Mage to reactivate Thassa, and started crashing in with his God and some attendant Mutavaults. Jin played a tight defensive game, but Shimizu simply out-drew him over the following turns to take the match.
Naoki Shimizu 2 - Xin Jin 0
Sunday, 12:00 p.m. - Metagame Breakdownby Chapman Sim
|Mono Black Devotion||31||24.21875|
|Blue Devotion with White||8||6.25|
|Red Green Monsters||5||3.90625|
|Ephara & Friends||4||3.125|
|Mono Blue Devotion||3||2.34375|
With nearly a quarter of the field in Mono Black Devotion, it is clear that most players are happy to play with the most powerful cards in the format, mostly consisting of Thoughtseize, Pack Rat and Desecration Demon. However, it is important to note that the five-drop of choice, i.e. Gray Merchant of Asphodel, is what makes this deck different from Orzhov Midrange variants With Underworld Connections and to a lesser extent Whip of Erebos, It is not uncommon to drain your opponent's life by four or six, especially when Underworld Connections is on the battlefield churning out an endless supply of cards for the black mage.
Esper Control is the next most popular archetype, pretty close to what most players would expect. The allure of playing with Sphinx's Revelation and hand disruption spells is difficult to resist.
Hoping to prey on the sea of control decks are 17 players, who have chosen to run the blistering quick Boros Burn deck, hoping to end games quickly with a flurry of burn spells and preventing life any life gain with Skullcracks.
Red Green Monster decks are also present in the metagame, but players have evolved the existing archetype to include black for Thoughtseize, Rakdos's Return and assorted spot removal spells like Dreadbore and/or Doom Blade.
Rounding off the rest of the field are an assortment of rather unique decks. A quad of Ephara & Friends, a midrange Esper deck popularized by Makihito Mihara, has made it to Day two, as are an assortment of green-based aggro decks. The most interesting deck probably goes to Ken Yukuhiro, who is armed with a Blue Black Heroic aggro deck, featuring Pain Seer, Hidden Strings, Triton Tactics and Agent of the Fates!
Round 13 Feature Match – Feng Qianxin VS Ken Sawadaby Chapman Sim
Ken Sawada resides in Nagoya and is a well-respected Level 2 Judge, who will be assisting with Grand Prix Nagoya in a fortnight. While he is not on duty, he is happy to compete and seems to be doing quite well this weekend.
He is paired against Feng Qianxin from Chongqing, and I was taken aback when both players started to engage in well-spirited Japanese banter. Turns out that Feng has spent a couple of years working in Tokyo, and sometimes runs along with big boys like Yuuya Watanabe, Tomoharu Saito, Yuuta Takahashi and other players in Tokyo at local stores.
Both players are playing with white, blue and black cards but have vastly different approaches. Sawada will be the aggressor in this matchup, hoping to clinch victory with Ephara & Friends before Feng can defend with his Esper Control deck.
Sawada was quick to dish out some quick damage with Soldier of the Pantheon and Imposing Sovereign and the early pair of bears were able to reduce Feng to ten life quickly. Feng however managed to use Doom Blade and Dissolve to stay alive until he could plop Elspeth, Sun's Champion on to the table.
Lyev Skynight was able to halt Elspeth's soldier production for but a turn, and threatened to chip away at Feng's life total. Sphinx's Revelation was able to bolster Feng's life totals for a while and gave him enough time to stabilize with Jace, Architect of Thought to eventually win with a bunch of soldier tokens.
Feng Qianxin 1 – Ken Sawada 0
That was exactly what happened, when Feng stumbled on his draws. When he failed to produce Supreme Verdict, Feng fell into an even deeper rut when Sawada countered his Jace, Architect of Thought with Negate. Unable to cough up any other solutions, Feng quickly reached for his sideboard to prepare for the rubber game.
Feng Qianxin 1 – Ken Sawada 1
A pair of Thoughtseizes paralyzed Feng by removing Dissolve and Blood Baron of Vizkopa. This allowed Kawada to successfully resolve Brimaz once again, to go alongside Soldier of the Pantheon and Precinct Captain that was already wreaking havoc on the battlefield.
Feng desperately drew two cards with Sphinx's Revelation, but all Kawada had to do was activate Mutavault and attack once again to clinch the match. Possibly both the second and third games took less time than the first, thanks to the fast clock provided by Brimaz, King of Oreskos.
Feng Qianxin 1 – Ken Sawada 2
Ken Sawada emerges victorious and is now at 11-2, still in contention to make the Top 8.
Round 14 Feature Match - Shuuhei Nakamura vs. Shoupeng Wangby Pip Foweraker
Nakamura came into the round on 36 points, needing a win or a draw to lock up Top 8, while Wang, paired up, needed to win to have a chance of making the final cut. Both players were playing Mono-Black, Nakamura with a White splash, Wang with Blue.
Nakamura opened with a Thoughtseize and took Wang's Underworld Connections before casting one of his own. Wang's Lifebane Zombie got Devour in Flesh'd, as did his follow-up Desecration Demon. Nakamura had another Thoughtseize, which snaffled a Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Wang took advantage of Nakamura being tapped out to sneak some damage in with a Mutavault, knocking the Hall of Famer to 12.
A second attack was stopped with a Bile Blight, and the two traded a pair of removal spells and a pair of Mutavaults the following turns. Nakamura, who had had an active Underworld Connections for some time now, was comfortably ahead on lands and cards.
He exploited this by checking the coast was clear with a Lifebane Zombie and following up with a Pack Rats, the latter of which Wang promptly shot. Nakamura was unfazed, playing his second copy and passing. The Pack Rats started to multiply. Wang played what defence he could with a pair of Gray Merchants of Asphodel, but Nakamura's Rats punched through for lethal.
Shuuhei Nakamura 1 - Shoupeng Wang 0
Both players traded discard spells back and forth for the first few turns before settling into the mid-game. Nakamura made the first move with an Erebos off the top of his library, Wang keeping pace with an Underworld Connections.
A water-testing Lifebane Zombie from Wang got killed with a Devour Flesh. Sensing an opening, Wang summoned a Desecration Demon he had been sandbagging for several turns. Nakamura tried another Devour Flesh and Wang activated his Mutavault in response, but Nakamura had a Bile Blight to off both the land and the Demon.
With the board empty, Nakamura switched to an aggressive gear and started swinging with a pair of Mutavaults. Wang summoned his own Erebos but had nothing to stop the incoming lands. Nakamura held off attacking for a turn to summon a Pack Rats and a Gray Merchant of Asphodel. In response to the Merchant's triggered ability, Wang had a pair of Dark Betrayals on both his creatures to keep the devotion damage to a single digit from Nakamura's Erebos.
Wang attacked with his Erebos (powered off a pair of Underworld Connections), went deep into the tank, and eventually emerged to summon a Desecration Demon, who stared across the battlefield at Nakamura's trio of Mutavaults. Nakamura, his plan on the ground stymied, and unable to effectively sacrifice his Mutavaults to race damage through, drew nothing to stave off either the God or the Demon and shuffled up for Game 3.
Shoupeng Wang 1 - Shuuhei Nakamura 1
Nakamura opened with his third straight Thoughtseize, drawing a groan of laughter from Wang. He saw a potent hand of Erebos, Pack Rats, Hero's Downfall and a Thoughtseize. He elected to knock out the discard spell, keeping his own hand safe from meddling.
Both players summoned a Pack Rats on their second turn, Nakamura ahead slightly in the race with the first token copy hitting the board. Wang passed with 3 mana open, shooting one of the Rats with a Hero's Downfall as Nakamura attacked. Nakamura considered his options and then discarded a Gray Merchant of Asphodel to make another rat, pinging Wang for 2.
Wang once again passed with mana open. This time, on Nakamura's attack, Wang visibly hesitated before assigning no blockers. Nakamura went to create another token and, again, after a pause, Wang let the 6 damage through, falling to 10. At the end of Nakamura's turn Wang created his own Pack Rat token before untapping and passing.
Nakamura untapped and swung with his trio of Rats just as time was called. Wang created a third Rat of his own and, before blockers used an Ultimate Price to knock out one of the Rats. double-blocking the second and letting the last one through unhindered. Nakamura created another Rat and activated his Mutavault. When the dust settled, both players were left with 2 rats, Nakamura at 18, Wang at 6.
Wang summoned a Gray Merchant of Asphodel, tipping the life totals to 14-10. On his turn, Nakamura attacked with a trio of Rats and as Wang gang-blocked, his Mutavault pushed the math in his favour to leave Wang stranded without any Rats left on the board. A timely Gray Merchant off the top of his library took Nakamura to 10, but with only one attack step each left, the two players had fought each other to a draw.
Shuuhei Nakamura 1 - Shoupeng Wang 1
Sunday, 2:45 p.m. - A Quick Chat with Ken Yukuhiroby Chapman Sim
Ken Yukuhiro is a master deckbuilder. I've had the honor of working with him in Valencia. One of the great minds in the creation of Blue Moon, a deck good enough to put Lee Shi Tian into the Top 8 at Pro Tour Born of the Gods.
Today, he is armed with an eye-raising concoction of his own and he has aptly named it the "Blue Black Heroic Draft Deck", to the amusement of anyone hearing about it.
Playing with Mizzium Skins, Boon of Erebos and the full set of Triton Tactics, he hopes to use these cards to trigger the Heroic abilities of maligned cards like Agent of the Fates, Artisan of Forms and Tormented Hero.
"I was inspired by a Blue Red White Heroic deck which I saw on Magic Online, but I could not accept a shaky three-color manabase that also needs to support Mutavault. I experimented with Blue Red, Blue White but eventually settled on Blue Black."
Correctly predicting the metagame dominated by Mono Black Devotion and Esper Control decks, he felt that a creature base comprising Pain Seer and Artisan of Forms was probably good. In response to Supreme Verdicts or plain old spot removal, he could transform Artisan of Forms into a copy of Xantrid Necromancer to flood the board with a bunch of tokens. Additionally, in matchups against large creatures like Polukranos, World Eater and Desecration Demon, Artisan of Forms was able to help him achieve parity.
At the moment, Yukuhiro is in contention for the Top 8 but he says he might end up either 8th, 9th or 10th even if he wins out. . Currently at 18 Pro Points, he is aiming to achieve Gold level again this year, and professes that Platinum was "really really hard".
Hopefully his trusty Agent of the Fates will twist his fate in his favor!
Round 15 Feature Match – Wang Shoupeng VS Zhong Jianby Chapman Sim
Both players have been enjoying a decent weekend thus far but would need just one more win to break into their very first Grand Prix Top 8. Wang Shoupeng has a handful of lifegain cards against Zhong Jian's Boros Burn and Skullcrack will prove to be a crucial card in this matchup.
Wang had a rather lackluster draw, managing only Desecration Demon on turn 4. Zhong capitalized on the slow start by pointing triple Lightning Strikes to the dome, before chaining the demon to the rocks.
When Gray Merchant of Asphodel made an appearance, Zhong was able to negate the life gain with a timely Skullcrack. However, the second copy successfully gained Wang 4 life, especially precious in this matchup. Zhong's Temple of Triumph helped him find a second Skullcrack, good enough to stop Wang's third Gray Merchant of Asphodel from cushioning his life total.
However, Zhong was facing assault from triple Gray Merchants and without a good way to remove those vanilla 2/4 bodies, he quickly scooped up his cards.
Wang Shoupeng 1 – Zhong Jian 0
Satyr Firedrinker and Mutavault quickly knocked off some of Wang's precious life points, but Wang was happy to half the damage output with Devour Flesh. Lifebane Zombie traded with Mutavault later on, restoring peace to the battlefield.
Zhong used the temporary stalemale to resolve Blind Obedience. After that, it was a simple matter of simply unloading the string of burn spells one by one.
Lightning Strike, in addition to an extort trigger, reduced Wang from 16 to 12 life. Skullcrack lowered that to 8. Double Warleader's Helix eventually made that a big fat zero, equalizing the score for Zhong.
Wang Shoupeng 1 – Zhong Jian 1
Wang was first to play this game but was cursed with a mulligan. His next six were satisfactory, but not good enough to pressure Zhong and could only wait for his imminent death.
Wang Shoupeng 1 – Zhong Jian 2
Zhong Jian beats Wang Shoupeng, and advances to the Top 8!