4:25 p.m.: Go Big or Don’t Go At All by Brian David-Marshall
3:35 p.m.: Twelve Down Two To Go by Brian David-Marshall
2:36 p.m.: Photo Essay: Cool Stuff Cool Prizes by Brian David-Marshall
2:21 p.m.: PTQ Players Avert Your Eyes by Brian David-Marshall
1:25 p.m.: Living The Dream by Brian David-Marshall
1:05 p.m.: Get a Life...or Fifty by Brian David-Marshall
10:24 a.m.: Round Nine Feature Match: Yuuta Takahashi vs. Masahiko Morita by Brian David-Marshall
9:02 a.m.: Drafting With Masahiko Morita by Brian David-Marshall
8:32 a.m.: My Pick to Win by Brian David-Marshall
Sunday, 08:32 a.m.: My Pick to Win
I am going on the record before Draft One even starts and picking Masahiko Morita to win this Grand Prix. I know, I know... we have been talking about the Player of the Year combatants like Olivier Ruel and Shuhei Nakamura – affectionately known as Nakashu – this weekend and it is easy to focus on past Pro Tour winners like Guillaume Wafo-Tapa or even World Champions like Katsuhiro Mori or Makihito Mihara – jokingly called Muh-hara by the Japanese after my and Randy’s mispronunciation of his name at Worlds. It is easy to overlook Morita within such company but that would be a mistake.
I am certain that Morita is the best player in the World without a Pro Tour Top 8 on his resume. There is no player with more lifetime Pro Points in the history of the game without a Pro Tour Top 8 and you have to go quite a ways beneath him in the standings to find another player who has not graced the Sunday stage – Belgium’s Bernardo Da Costa Cabral. You can easily make a compelling argument for Paul Cheon but his career is still relatively young and he has not even crossed the 100 point threshold yet.
Morita had an early Masters win in Venice 2003 on his resume and 16 Grand Prix Top 8s in his career with 4 wins to show for them. When he first started racking up GP Top 8s he was not traveling outside of his corner of the world for events so he rarely went to Pro Tours – something that changed around the 2004 and 2005 seasons when he not only began traveling to Pro Tours but even Grand Prix tournaments outside of his time zone as evidenced by his Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Boston.
Is Morita Japanese for Jelger or something? Over the past couple of seasons he has put up a series of very solid Pro Tour finishes that include 20th in Kobe 04, 24th in London 05, 37th in Nagoya 05, 30th in Honolulu 06, 11th in Yokohama 07 – after a crushing unintentional draw in the final round – and a recent 28th in Berlin. It is only a matter of time before he busts through onto the Sunday webcast but in the meanwhile he is my pick to win this weekend and I will be following him in the opening draft at Table 1.
Sunday, 09:02 a.m.: Drafting With Masahiko Morita
As I prepared to cover Morita’s draft the Japanese coverage staff was photographing his opening pack for a feature where they ask their readers what they would pick. There was some debate over whether the correct pick was Nacatl or Sculler but I was pretty confident that without any certifiable bombs in the pack Morita was going to select the tri-land, if for nothing else just to keep his options open to signals from the right.
That’s exactly what he did. In his second pack he sorted Grixis Charm, Viscera Dragger, Blister Beetle, and Cavern Thoctar to the top before selecting the unearthy Hill Giant. He took a second Viscera Dragger with pick number three over a Steward of Valeran and Cloudheath Drake. Next up was Algae Gharial indicating a preference to be Jund from Morita. Seeing an Agony Warp in the next pack was a strong signal that Grixis or Esper were open from his right but Morita stuck to his Jund guns with Carrion Thrash. Another Agony Warp in following pack was shipped leftward for the lowly Cylian Elf. Between multiple Tidehollow Strix, multiple Grixis Charms, and two Agony Warps Morita had to be confidant that he had firmly entrenched the players to his left in blue Shards.
The second set of packs kicked off with a choice between Bloodpyre Elemental and Magma Spray with Morita choosing the creature over the instant. He could have taken a second Elemental with his next pick but took Bone Splinters instead – surprisingly there was another Agony Warp in that pack along with Grixis Charm. The rest of the pack went very well for Morita with two Jund Charms finding their way into his stack with his third and fifth picks. Morita deliberated over taking Necrogenesis over the second one but ultimately decided that he needed the removal.
His third set of packs kicked off with an underwhelming Dragon Fodder that had only a Wild Nacatl vying for his attention. Morita shifted uncomfortably in his chair as the next pack yielded only a Druid of the Anima with no other candidates in sight. It was just a weak pack though as he was passed a Hellkite Overlord with the third pick from the final round of packs – and he had picked up a late Dragon’s Herald in an earlier pack. Once again he was faced with the draft dilemma of Jund Charm vs. Necrogenesis and once again he did not pass on the removal spell.
His plan coming into the draft was to be either Naya or Jund because he prefers a beatdown style of draft in this format to the highwire act that Grixis and Esper can become. He made his first pick of the tri-land to see which of those two strategies might be open rather than pick the Wild Nacatl – what he thought was the best non-land in the pack.
“I don’t want to be forced to commit to three colors - -I didn’t even want to choose a color from the very beginning. Taking the land is a reasonable strategy.”
“I hate Grixis,” said Morita after the draft when I asked him about all the blue-black and Grixis removal spells he had passed in the draft – four Agony Warps and nearly as many Grixis Charms. “I really like blue-white – I like Bant – but I hate blue-black.”
Still he must have been tempted by the Agony Warps. Was he tempted to switch at all?
“My decision was made by the pick of Algae Gharial in the previous pack. I really wanted to play that card – I really, really like it. Plus I wanted to be cooperative.”
I asked him about choosing between Necrogenesis and Jund Charm and he explained: “Of course Necrogenesis can be stronger than removal because you can create a winning condition just with that card but I had very little removal and took the Jund Charm both times.”
As for predictions about the deck:
“I hope to make 3-0, of course,” he said. “My biggest nemesis will be the fatty-fatty Naya deck because I only have one Bone Splinters to deal with them. I will have to use my Jund Charms as Giant Growths against them. If I can handle Naya then I can 3-0.”
Sunday, 10:24 a.m.: Round Nine Feature Match: Yuuta Takahashi vs. Masahiko Morita
Masahiko Morita is my pick to win the tournament but if you ask any of the locals they are picking Yuuta Takahashi – the winner of the last two Japanese Grand Prix and Pro Tour San Diego Sunday competitor. According to Japanese ace reporter Keita Mori Yuuta is among the very best players in Japan at the moment. He ranks Yuuta third behind only Shuhei Nakamura and Tomoharu Saito.
Both players came out of the gate with elves – an actual Cylian for Morita and pseudo-elf in Druid of the Anima for Takahashi but neither had a turn three play save attacking. Takahashi made a Bloodpyre Elemental on turn four and passed the turn without sacrificing it. Morita chose not to attack into it – not because he was unwilling to trade but because he did not have another play and did not want to take four on the crack back.
Turn five saw Takahashi make a Flameblast Dragon – a question for which Morita had few if any answers. He said he was worried about “fatty-fatty Naya” decks in our draft feature and this was a flying fatty Naya of the highest order. Morita passed the turn back to the two-time Grand Prix winner and hid behind his tiny Elf. Takahashi attacked with his Dragon and Elemental and cleared the Elf with some dragonfire. Morita took that opportunity to Jund Charm away the Bloodpyre and Druid but still took five from the Dragon.
Morita made an Obelisk and passed the turn. Rather than activate his dragon, Yuuta chose to play Welkin Guide and get in for seven. This gave Morita a chance to use a Bloodpyre Elemental and Jund Charm to clear the board but Takahashi had another Bloodpyre Elemental to start rebuilding.
Morita played Carrion Thrash – with Elemental in the bin and mana to get it back – and Dragon Herald but he was running out of time and options when Yuuta paid seven mana to play a Sigil of Distinction and attacked for 10 with the Bloodpyre. Morita had to chump with Carrion Thrash and got back Cylian Elf which left him mana open to Blightning and play Elf but Takahashi showed him the Excommunicate he had held back and they did not even bother to go to Takahashi’s turn.
You might think the lack of conversation in Japanese feature match coverage is about the language barrier between me and the players and most times you would be 100% correct but these guys were all business and said nothing more than was needed to move the game through its basic steps.
Takahashi mulliganed after Morita kept his initial set of seven. There were no plays until an Oblisk for Morita and Court Archers for Takahashi. Morita played Skeletal Kathari but it stepped aside after Guardians of Akrasa meant the Archers swung in for three.
Morita played Druid of the Anima and Vsicera Dragger but he was suddenly staring down a doubly exalted Mosstodon. Morita sent in his flier and passed the turn. Yuuta had a flier of his own and Welkin Guide meant the Mosstodon went to the air for 9.
Morita’s Blightning drew a Gharial and Dragon from Takahashi – he held onto Naya Battlemage. Takahashi attacked for four in the air with his Guide. Morita was holding two cards in his hand and considered his options. He simply put the Kathari in the path and regenerated by eating the Druid. It was time for Naya Battlemage from Takahashi.
Takahashi tried to decide if he was attacking with his Mosstodon or his Welkin and ultimately settled on the flier. Morita put the Kathari in its path and Takahashi used the red side of the Battlemage to give it +2 attack and trample with the Mosstodon. Morita had a Jund Charm, played it as a Giant Growth, and regenerated his flier with the Dragger but it was for naught. He had expended all his resources just to deal with the Welkin Guide and still had to contend with a tapper and a doubly exalted Mosstodon.
Final result: The future of Japanese Magic defeated the best player without a Pro Tour Top 8 two games to none.
Sunday, 01:05 p.m.: Get a Life...or Fifty
Olivier Ruel was running out of space on his score sheet in Game 2 of his 11th round match against Hayato Ishii. He was down one game already but was at 50 life thanks to a pair of Kiss of the Amesha, Rhox War Monk, and Battlegrace Angel. Ishii had just fortified behind a Spearbreaker Behemoth but that did not stop Olivier from sending in a double exalted Rockcaster Platoon that gained him seven life when it bounced off of the Behemoth.
Ishii was low on life but still had as many weapons at his disposal as Oli had tens of lives. He had been drawing cards for a couple of turns with a Drumhunter and emptied his hand to Branching Bolt the Angel and the Platoon, Resounding Thunder the Platoon, and then play Caldera Hellion sacrificing the Drumhunter. Suddenly the 50 life that Olivier had accumulated did not seem so secure a number – especially when Ishii added an Incurable Ogre and a Yoked Plowbeast.
Olivier was able to keep one of them busy with Jungle Weaver but more than 80% of his life total was quickly eaten up by the Spearbreaker and his minions. Olivier considered whether he should cycle his own Yoked Plowbeast or put it on the board to bide some time with a chump block. He made a quick tally of the remaining cards in his library that would conceivably help him and came up with two Resounding Silences. It was possible that the game would come down to decking and he decided he did not want to cycle.
He was surprised to find Stoic Angel on top for his next draw – a card he had forgotten to include in his list – which not only slowed down the fatty assault but gave him a tow turn clock to finish off Ishii. There were less than 12 minutes remaining on the clock as both players quickly moved to their sideboards for the remaining game.
Oliver played Kiss into Kiss on turns five and six of the third game and was never in danger throughout the game to finish his pod at 3-0 and earn a seat at table one for the last draft of the Swiss.
Sunday, 01:25 p.m.: Living The Dream
Pro Tour Charleston Top 4 competitor Chikara Nakajima went 3-0 at table two of the first draft with wins over a demoralized Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and Shuhei Nakamura.
“Two Sarkhan Vol is pretty good,” sighed Guillaume after falling to Nakajima’s double mythic rare deck. Nakajima also had a copy of the Daarken illustrated Planeswalker in his Sealed Deck yesterday – something he said was instrumental in getting him to a draft table where he could pluck two more.
On top of beating two of the very best players in the world, Chikara got to live the dream in his match against Jun’ya Takahashi when he played Sarkhan Vol and actually got to make the dragons with it...
...and then promptly play another copy of Mr. Vol, give them +1/+1 and haste, and come across for 25 points of dragonstormy goodness. Nakajima was also headed for the top table in the final draft of the Swiss. We’ll see if he can get there without the help of his pet Planeswalker – unless he gets three this time.
Sunday, 02:21 p.m.: PTQ Players Avert Your Eyes
You seriously don’t want to look at this picture if you are a PTQ diehard. If you have have ever been to a Grand Prix and played in the Sunday PTQ you probably know how large they can be – often teetering on 300+ players with 9 rounds before the cut to Top 8. On top of that they are chock full of Pro players looking to mise a free ticket for next season or just hop back on the caboose of the gravy train.
There were 280 PTQ players hoping for an invite to nearby Kyoto including the likes of former APAC Champion Satoshi Nakamura and two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Osamu Fujita. Players will just have to hope they can win one of the five invites up for grabs by dodging the PTQ those players are in...
...that’s right. I said five PTQs. Due to some pretty hard and fast time constraints on the convention hall the tournament organizers had to be sure that the PTQ would be over at the same time as the main event – so they split it up into five 64-person events each offering an invite and transportation to Pro Tour Kyoto. (Of course, for most of these local competitors that will amount to train fare.)
Yeah...I threw up a little myself.
Sunday, 02:36 p.m.: Photo Essay: Cool Stuff Cool Prizes
Some cool stuff from the tournament floor:
It was announced before the start of Round One yesterday that the first player in the event to play either a dragon or Sarkhan Vol should notify the tournament organizers. The Planewalker hit play on turn four of the event and the event was halted for guest artist Daarken to present a signed copy of From the Vault: Dragons to the lucky player.
This was a nifty method of tracking life although I am not sure it would have flipped high enough for Olivier to accommodate his Round 11 match life totals.
Among the side events going on this Sunday – in addition to the *gasp* five PTQs – are tournaments for some dead sexy uncut sheets. The first features this weekend’s ubiquitous Planeswalker Sarkhan Vol as the centerpiece of a rare and mythic rare uncut foil sheet from Shards of Alara.
How good are your knife skills? Perhaps you can offer your services to the winner of the uncut Antiquities sheet so they can have a shiny new Mishra’s Workshop. Maybe they will give you four season’s of Factories for your work.
Level 3 Judge Takeshi Miyasaka from Chiba and the judging staff of Grand Prix Okayama 2008.
Sunday, 3:35 p.m.: Twelve Down Two To Go
With fourteen rounds in the ledger here were only two rounds of Swiss left unaccounted for and both of our Player of Year contenders were still trying to gain advantage on the other. Neither of them had easy match-ups if they wanted to be in a position to draw in next round.
Guillaume Wafo-Tapa vs. Shuhei Nakamura
Shuhei Nakamura, the lead horse in the race, was facing off against Pro Tour Yokohama champion Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. Shuhei was playing host to Guillaume this weekend by letting the French player stay at his home. That wasn’t buying him any advantage in this match-up though as the notoriously card hungry Wafo-Tapa whipped out old school classics like Gifts and Necropotence – suffixed by ‘of the Gargantuan’ and ‘genesis’ respectively -- in Game 1 along with a Wrath of God-like Jund Charm to put the potency into the new Necropotence.
In Game 2 there was nothing but card advantage engines in hand for the French player. He cycled a pair of Ridge Rannets over the first two or three turns and then played a pair of Carrion Thrash that threatened to get them back if Shuhei could even kill them. Plus his hand was chock full of two-for-ones; Branching Bolt, Resounding Thunder, and Blightning.
Shuhei deathtouched one Thrash with Kederekt Creeper and GWT grew back a cycler and played Mosstodon. With GWT tapped out, Shuhei Grixis Charmed the other Thrash. He then used Blister Beetle and Bone Splinters to take out the red cycler but GWT had the mana to cycle his Thunder and Shuhei slumped to the table.
“Good luck in the next draft,” said Shuhei who could only hope for a Top 16 finish at this point.
“I like card advantage,” Guillaume grinned when I commented on the various cards he had played in the match. He made Jund look like a card drawing machine but it is not an archetype he really likes. “I like Esper and I like Grixis too. I also like Naya. I feel like Jund is clunky. I just don’t like the Devour mechanic.”
Olivier Ruel vs. Makihito Mihara
With Shuhei falling short of the final table that meant there was room for Olivier Ruel to close some ground on him, the absent LSV, and the Day One-departed Saito. Olivier had his hands full with another champion – a former World Champion.
In his last draft Olivier had drafted a life gain deck with two Kiss of the Amesha, Rhox War Monk, and Battlegrace Angel but he had nothing on his opponent this round, former World Champion Makihito Mihara, who is my pick to win the whole tournament –
-- Yes, yes...I know I said I picked Morita but that was before he went 1-2 in the first draft passing four Agony Warps. If I learned anything from watching Mihara play during the World Championship in Paris was that when you make a mistake, just calm down and figure out the correct play from that point forward --
As I was saying...Mihara is my pick to win the whole thing. He took Game 1 from Olivier with a pair of Sunseed Nurturers gaining four life a turn and negating Olivier’s assault. His deck for this draft looked a lot like his last draft but without any of the good cards and a Wild Nacatl that could not get bigger than a 2/2. Olivier lost Game 1 – thanks in large part to the Sunseeds but came back to take Game 2 while Shuhei was losing to Wafo-Tapa.
In Game 3 Olivier found an unlikely flier pinch hitting for the Battlegrace Angel that had taken the same roster spot in his previous draft. He looked over at Mihara’s life total – which was five -- read the card in his hand, and pumped his Knight of the Skyward Eye.
“All creatures or all creatures you control?” asked Olivier as he showed Mihara the Gustrider Exuberant he was holding.
“You control,” nodded Mihara who was without available mana or fliers and congratulated Olivier on making the Top 8. Mihara would most likely be joining him as that was only his second loss on the weekend. He could possibly draw in and was a lock if he won his remaining round.
Don’t think for a moment that Olivier is getting jaded after all these years. The 2008 Hall of Fame inductee slammed the tile marked “2” that is used to keep track of the game score for Feature Match spectators and pumped the fist as he prepared to enter the 24th Grand Prix Top 8 of his storied career, drew closer to the lead in yet another hotly contested PoY race, and inched closer to the lifetime lead in Pro Points.
Sunday, 4:25 p.m.: Go Big or Don’t Go At All
Six spots for the Top 8 of Grand Prix Okayama were settled over handshakes in the last round with Chikara Nakajima, Daisuke Muramatsu, Olivier Ruel, Akimasa Yamamoto, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, and Tsuyosi Ikeda drawing into the final draft table. Former World Champion Makihito Mihara – my (re)pick to win it all – was not able to draw and to face off against the lesser-pointed Kubo Ryoutarou.
Kubo was playing Jund but it was not the card advantage fueled version of that Shard Guillaume was showing off a round ago. This was a much more straightforward smash and burn version. All the card advantage in this match belonged to the champ who – already up a game – had two Drumhunters going with a Wooly Thoctar and – after it choked on a Bone Splinters – Mosstodon. Mihara had fallen as low as five after a cycled Resounding Thunder but had been drawing two extra cards a turn for some time. Kubo had one turn to force Game 3 before Mihara attacked for 46 points of tramply, lifelinked action coutesy of Titanic Ultimatum.
If you are going to go to the Top 8 you might as well go there big. There was only one spot left undetermined and that could come from any of a handful of 31 point matches.