TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Blog - 6:20 p.m. - The Metagame of the Top Tables
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 5:17 p.m. - Round 6: Masahiko Morita vs. David Zhao
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 4:01 p.m. - Where Are They From?
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 2:32 p.m. - Round 4: Masashi Oiso vs. Tomohiro Kaji
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 12:43 p.m. - The Race
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 12:20 p.m. - Sitelines
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 10:45 a.m. - Wow, China
by Ted Knutson
Saturday, November 25: 10:45 a.m. - Wow, China
What are the three words I most wanted to see when I got off the plane here in China? If you guessed "Welcome Ted Knutson" give yourself a cookie. This meant that I didn't need to worry anymore about finding my way to a hotel whose name I did not know in a country whose language I did not speak. Seeing the kind bell boy with a sign in his hand eased an enormous weight on my shoulders and meant that I could settle in and watch the scenery during the 45-minute ride from the airport.
As we were landing, the lady who sat next to me on the plane observed, "Hey, this doesn't really look any different than Kansas." And she was right - at first blush it didn't look any different from Kansas, though perhaps the smog was a tipoff that we were far from those barren plains of nowhere. Contrary to popular opinion of pretty much everyone I talked to ahead of time, customs and immigration was an absolute breeze and no intrusive searches were involved, allowing me to smuggle Eugene Levin into the country in my suitcase.* In fact, everything up to my check-in at the hotel was shockingly smooth. Of course, that's where things went awry. For whatever reason, in spite of the fact that they had a driver at the airport to pick me up who knew my name, the hotel could not find my reservation so I eventually ended up booking a hotel room on my own just so I could grab a shower and have a place to sleep that night. Long story short, the hotel is very nice, but the front desk staff is completely incompetent.
Every once in a while I have to sit back and wonder how I actually got to this time and place. For example, yesterday I toured Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City before checking out the "hot ware" market, an electronics haggler's delight where you can obtain almost any computerized item known to man for considerably under retail cost, and all day long I walked around with a big, goofy smile on my face because I couldn't stop thinking, "Wow… China." Tienanmen is enormous - tanks would actually seem small in such a vast space, not that there's any remnant of their presence remaining or anything. The Forbidden City is also fantastic and alternates from sparkling to tattered every few steps as you can see just how much work is left to fully restore it. I studied a lot of information about China in graduate school, but I hardly ever thought I'd have a chance to come here and particularly not under these circumstances.
The day before that I spent a considerable amount of time and money in the Silk Market, which turned out to be a real life video game I have dubbed Shopping Tycoon. The object of the game is to buy as many different types of products as possible (whether you need them or not) while paying practically nothing. The learning curve on such a game is a bit steep, but my Christmas shopping has been completed for half of what I would spend in the United States, and I think I got a pair of stolen Nikes out of the deal for about 40% is U.S. retail, which was still far more than I should have paid. I'd like another shot at this game to see how dramatically I could improve my results, but I can feel my wife's stern frown across eleven time zones, so I guess I'll be skipping that in favor of actually working today.
*I might be lying.
Saturday, November 25: 12:20 p.m. - SitelinesIf you scrub out in Magic there's always tennis.
The site for this Grand Prix is one of the more interesting ones in my tenure as a reporter for these events. The outer building is a giant shopping mall, and we're actually inside a Sports Club inside the mall. See, in order to get the game okayed by the government here, it had to be classified as a mind sport and since the government chose the site for this event, they figured it deserved to be in a sports setting. Therefore the players are all sitting on a badminton court separated by a large screen from a series of tennis courts. This makes the second Grand Prix in a row held at a sporting venue for me, since Melbourne actually took place inside a giant football stadium. Richard Garfield has long thought of Magic players as athletes of the mind, but I'm not sure if even he would have predicted this sort of outcome for site locations. Then again, there were some Pro Tours that took place at Madison Square Garden, so maybe this is exactly how it should be.
Saturday, November 25: 12:43 p.m. - The Race
I've been excited about this trip for weeks, and not just because of the whole China factor. The race for player of the year this season has been amazing and with Worlds coming up, the Hall of Fame ceremonies on the docket, and some unmentionably cool things planned for next week, this is the most excited I've been about a Pro Tour and Grand Prix swing in quite a while.Check out these sweet backdrops.
Coming in to this weekend, Ruel was leading Tsumura by two points and Oiso by ten, meaning all three of them have a good shot at the title (and perhaps mystical Level 7 benefits) and the outcome of this weekend could make it even closer. What's amazing to me is that Oiso still has a chance (made even better by his presence on the Japanese National Team) and he took an entire PT off for school. Each of them has had exceptional seasons, and it will be almost a shame to see it all come to an end (or a restart) on December 4th.
Speaking of Olivier, rumor has it that he almost didn't make it here this weekend. It seems that when filling out his visa application, he honestly answered that his occupation was acting as a journalist for a Magic magazine. Well, "journalist" is one of those keywords that throws red flags, and they almost refused to allow him entry into the country. He somehow managed to sneak in to the site along with his brother, Pro Tour winner Antoine (currently on crutches as the result of some gym accident) and is just about ready to get his game on, needing only to go 1-2-1 in order to make Day 2. I'll just have to make sure not to let him do any match coverage or we could end up blowing his cover.
Saturday, November 25: 2:32 p.m. - Round 4: Masashi Oiso vs. Tomohiro KajiTomohiro Kaji
Because of the small number of competitors in the GP, the opening rounds for three-bye players mean little aside from jockeying for position for tomorrow. The minimum record needed to make the final 64 will probably be just above 4-3, meaning these players need to go 1-2-1 to get invited back tomorrow. However, there's a lot more at stake this weekend, since Oiso has a potential date with the Player of the Year title and Kaji would certainly like to go into Worlds with back-to-back Extended Grand Prix titles on his resume.
The match started with a deck check by the judges, so Kaji and Oiso rolled twenty six-sided dice each to see who would get to play first. Masashi tossed some piddling number and Kaji stuck his row of sixes together and said, "Gee Gee," smashing Masashi by about twenty pips. The Japanese are freakin' awesome.
The deck checks came back clean and they were off. Well, as "off" as two control decks get, which in this case wasn't very. Lay lands, cast card drawing spells, lather, rinse repeat. I have to admit, I was hoping for a bit more excitement to start the day, but this blue/white/red mirror match certainly wasn't going to end in a hurry. Oiso attempted to resolve the first permanent in the form of Isochron Scepter. Kaji responded with Fact or Fiction, resolving it and taking three cards from the proffered piles, sending a Scepter of his own and Force Spike into the bin. The Scepter resolved after a Counterspell from each player, and Oiso added another underneath the stick.Yet another reason to love the Japanese.
Oiso resolved another Scepter a few turns later, this time on Fire/Ice, and Kaji decided he needed to make a move, cycling a Decree of Justice to make six soldier tokens. The six immediately became four as Oiso burned two of their number away, doing it again a turn later as he dropped to twelve. A flurry of action swelled at the end of Kaji's turn as Oiso trued to reload with another Fact or Fiction, while Kaji resolved a Fact and Thirst of his own with Oiso's on the stack before ultimately letting Masashi's resolve as well. Seeing Oiso's Fact turn up nothing, Kaji figured it was time to get on the board as well, resolving a pair of Scepters himself this time, one on Fire/Ice the other on Counterspell.
Oiso wasn't actually out of gas though, and this gave him the opening to resolve Exalted Angel, further complicating Kaji's life. The board stalemated for a bit until Oiso was able to force through Disenchant on Kaji's Ice Scepter and then Absorb a Wrath of God a turn later before dropping eight tokens into play via Decree and earning a scoop from Kaji with fifteen minutes left to play. Kaji is a masterful technician, but he just didn't have the right tools for that game while Oiso was always a step ahead.Masashi Oiso
Oiso 1 - Kaji 0
Realizing he needed the aggro plan, Kaji tossed a turn 3 morph on the table only to see Oiso Mana Leak it. Three turns later, Kaji ran an Isochron Scepter into the void and watched Oiso Absorb it, meaning he either had no action in hand to fight for the stick, or he was simply hoping to run Masashi out of permission. Eternal Dragon from Kaji hit a counterspell a turn later, and Oiso followed the with a Scepter on Disenchant, using the Disenchant as an instant speed Stone Rain on Kaji's artifact lands, forcing Kaji to cycle his Eternal Dragon turn after turn to maintain land parity. Kaji was losing the race against the clock though, especially when Oiso threw four soldiers into play off of a Decree. The clock struck time and Kaji scooped after one turn knowing that he wasn't going to get enough damage on the board to steal the game and a draw.
Oiso 2 - Kaji 0
Saturday, November 25: 4:01 p.m. - Where Are They From?No one ever expects Tiago Chan
As I mentioned earlier, this week is part of a back-to-back trip for me, with a relatively short hop over to Japan on Monday, and the Worlds kick-off party Tuesday night. A handful of pros thought the same way that I did and showed up here this weekend, including unexpected names like Tiago Chan and Eugene Levin. There are only 105 Chinese players in the event, meaning there are 55 others from somewhere else. Here's the breakdown of those battling it out this weekend.
Saturday, November 25: 5:17 p.m. - Round 6: Masahiko Morita vs. David ZhaoMasahiko Morita is looking distinguished these days.
Historically, Masahiko Morita is one of the players you least want to play during the swiss rounds of a Grand Prix. He's tied for second most Grand Prix Top 8s ever, trailing only Alex Shvartsman in that particular department. In Kitakyushu, Morita went undefeated on Day 1 with his Scepter-Chant deck, an archetype that has remained extremely popular with Japanese players throughout the season. Today, however, The Sandman is sporting Dredgeatog, a modified version of the deck that took Kenji Tsumura to the Pro Tour semifinals just a month ago.
Morita's opponent is young David Zhao, alternate on the Australian National Team, and deemed an up and comer in the Magic scene down under. Zhao's deck choice today is an interesting one, as he decided supposedly antiquated Goblins would be the deck to carry him to Grand Prix greatness.
Morita had to mulligan his opening hand but had the Force Spike available for Zhao's turn 2 Goblin Piledriver. Smother shot down Goblin Warchief and maindeck Nightmare Void stole away a pair of Goblin Ringleaders while Zhao was stuck at three mana. Zhao was able to beatdown with a pair of Sparksmiths and a Goblin Sledder, but Pernicious Deed wiped the board clean and Meloku did his thing, putting Morita up a quick game.
Morita 1 - Zhao 0
Zhao had an incredibly strange start for game 2, casting a Pithing Needle naming Psychatog on turn 1 and then no other spells on turns 2 and 3, simply laying a land before passing the turn, perhaps playing around possible Force Spikes. Goblin Warchief came out to play on turn 4 and was immediately Smothered, but Morita was completely manascrewed with no more lands to be found on his next three turns. This gave Zhao a chance to roll with Goblin Ringleader, popping two more red men into his hand before it met a Ghastly Demise. Another Ringleader a turn later gave Zhao two goblin Warchiefs and a Goblin Legionnaire and just that quickly the match was even.David Zhao
Morita 1 - Zhao 1
Game 3 was Zhao's turn to start off with a mulligan and then grimace when Morita cast a turn 3 Psychatog. Smother and then Mana Leak sent a pair of Goblin Warchiefs to the bin and things looked very bad for Zhao, especially with Pernicious Deed residing briefly in Morita's hand before hitting the board. Siege-Gang Commander forced Morita's decision, blowing the Deed to get rid of any token nonsense before they got out of hand. When the Commander resolved, Zhao saw an opening and resolved two Goblin Matrons in a row, one fetching another grandmamma and the other grabbing card advantage machine Goblin Ringleader. The Ringleader practically whiffed, giving Zhao only a Sparksmith for his trouble. Morita had been landflooded for multiple turns, but finally drew a Gifts Ungiven, letting him get his Loam engine online while putting Darkblast and Genesis in his hand and suddenly the siege had completely reversed, turning into a slaughter of little red men. Zhao flooded on mana, Darkblast cleared away the chumps, Dr. Teeth took his swing, and the Sandman had bagged another swiss victim.
Morita 2 - Zhao 1
Saturday, November 25: 6:22 p.m. - The Metagame of the Top TablesOlivier's in there somewhere. Honest.
While the competitors are battling it out to see who will get to come back and play tomorrow, I decided to take a snapshot of the matchups at the top 10 tables after six rounds of battle.
Table 1: Boros vs. Dredgatog
Table 2: Goblins vs. Dredgatog
Table 3: CAL vs. Tog
Table 4: Aggro Rock vs. Dredgatog
Table 5: No Stick vs. No Stick
Table 6: Aggro Rock vs. Dredgatog
Table 7: Rock vs. No Stick
Table 8: Affinity vs. Aggro Rock
Table 9: Dredgatog vs. Aggro Rock
Table 10 Dredgatog vs. Aggro Rock
That's a lot of Rock and a lot of Dredgatog battling for the top spots and it will be interesting how that spread changes as we get deeper into Day 2.
Checking back on other storylines mentioned earlier, there are Chinese players all over the top tables, so they are certainly holding their own thus far, a good sign in a country where Magic is still essentially in its infancy. In other news, Olivier Ruel has drawn quiet a sizeable crowd at the feature match table, while brother Antoine is scrapping down at table 33, trying to make sure he gets a chance to play tomorrow. Two seats away is Tsuyoshi Fujita, who decided to try something different this weekend with a very Solution-esque concoction but has seen his new deck struggle a bit today, needing another win to continue playing in the morning.
Aside from the breakdown of decks listed above, another surprise is the lack of CAL decks running around. Usually there's an immediate upswing in the number of players for a decklist that just won a Grand Prix, but there are only two people I've seen running the deck this weekend, and one of those is the guy that won with it in Bilbao. Maybe this deck is just too goofy to make a wide impact on the tournament scene? We'll find out more next week in Yokohama.
One final note for the day before we wrap things up: In the seventh round, there were still 138 players dueling, meaning that only 21 players dropped over the course of the day. Players here are getting there 150 Yuan worth.
Now it is time to retire to the hotel and obtain some dinner. Anybody know where I can get some good Chinese food around here?