TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Blog - 6:38 p.m. - Round 8 : Antoine Ruel vs. Kotaro Otsuka
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 5:14 p.m. - That Which Does Not Kill Us Gives Us More Points?
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 4:24 p.m. - Round 6 : Kenji Tsumura vs. Tsuyoshi Fujita
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 3:11 p.m. - Unexpected Faces
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 2:05 p.m. - Round 4 : Olivier Ruel vs. Shuuhei Nakamura
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 11:47 a.m. - A View Around Singapore
by Ted Knutson
- Blog - 10:28 a.m. - Explore Singapore
by Ted Knutson
Saturday, March 3: 10:28 a.m. - Explore SingaporeTandori chicken pizza = the bomb.
Greetings, friends. I've been running around Singapore for the last three days, and all I can tell you is this: Singapore is absolutely amazing. What's tough is figuring out how to distill all the reasons why this is the case without jabbering on for pages and pages. First, for those of you who are ignorant (like I was), let's start with the details.
Singapore is an island nation nestled between Malaysia and Indonesia. The total territory on the island is about 625 square km, or about four times the area of metropolitan Washington D.C. 4.3 million people live on this sovereign island, but despite the small size and population, they still have their own armed forces with mandatory service from all citizens. Since Singapore sits around 120km north of the equator, the climate is tropical. For those of us coming here from the North American winter, that means it's really freaking hot. The sun came out while I was walking around on Friday, and I melted like an ice cream cone. I was then fined for littering and spent the night in jail. Bad beat.
Culturally, Singapore is a mélange of practically every major Asian nation, with large populations of Chinese, Malaysians, Indians, and Indonesians living here, as well as smaller communities of Thai, Vietnamese, and probably more than a few I am forgetting. It's also a former English colony, and the government has gone a long way toward making sure that English is spoken by the vast majority of the population. Shopping here is ridiculous, though a bit expensive for discount shoppers from America. Major retailers from the U.S., Japan, and Europe can be found on the main shopping drag, and each community center (like Little India and Chinatown) feature homegrown imports and bazaars.
The food in Singapore is even more ridiculous - I could be perfectly content eating my way across the island, and because of the aforementioned cultural mingling, dishes are varied and almost invariably exciting. When I got here, I was initially following some guidebook suggestions and ran across decent, cheap fare, but things got much better once my native guides showed me the way.Is it a burrito or is it chapathi?
On Thursday night, David Ong and Sinclair Yuen took me out to the Seafood Center, where we were served plenty of good Chinese food (mostly from the sea) prior to a main course of chili crab (highly recommended). Then last night, Michael Potter and Gabriel Kang took me on a trip around the island's night life, which was fantastic. We started at one of the hawker markets, where I was plied with stingray, roti pratha, fried rice, and chili chicken. Then we went to a local pub to sample the native flavor, and finally we ended up at a bar watching an amazing Filipino cover band blow the doors off the place for the rest of the night. It was at least as much fun as the night in Kobe where a bunch of us did karaoke and then followed Shuuhei Nakamura and Tomohiro Kaji through the backstreets and alleyways of the city until we found an underground club filled with cool Japanese kids and the best DJ I've ever heard.
Now I know that Singapore is about a million miles from anywhere (my fight was like a flight to Japan with a flight to Europe tacked on to the end), but if the opportunity arises to for you to come here for school, work, or vacation, I absolutely recommend you take it. The people are nice, the weather is warm, the food is great, everyone speaks English, and the island is lush and gorgeous to look at. Oh, and lest I forget, aside from an absence of Japanese girls, I think they have secretly been recruiting the cutest girls from the rest of Asia to come here and stay. This place is a cultural melting pot on par with the best New York City has to offer, and that is saying an awful lot.
Saturday, March 3: 11:47 a.m. - A View Around SingaporeAs I noted before, Singapore is filled with people of many colors.
Some pictures are pre-captioned.
On Thursday, I walked all the way across town through the rain to see this place.
A rainy plumeria bloom.
A hummingbird's eye view of the Botanic Symphony Hall.
Saturday, March 3: 2:05 p.m. - Round 4 : Olivier Ruel vs. Shuuhei NakamuraDespite a bad pairing, these two start the match having fun.
"The one player in the room I did not want to play, and I have to face him for the second time on Day 1 in consecutive GPs." That was Olivier Ruel's lament when he saw the round 4 pairings. Back in Dallas, these two were in the feature match area for round 5, but I skipped covering them because I knew how painful Balancing Tings mirror matches could be. This time, with a rematch from their initial draw on hand (which featured some ugly mistakes on both sides), I decided to buckle down and give them the spotlight.
Now in most matches, it's easy to see how things are going based on the cards in play, but in the 'Tings mirror, that is a bit more difficult than normal. Orim's Chants are used to stifle the other player going off, while Quicken is a new addition to the deck to hopefully allow it to go off at unexpected times. Remand is the real trump here though, since it wrecks the Insidious Dreams search and makes Balancing Act a real gamble if you are sacrificing your lands to cast it.
Game 1 began as all games seem to, with boring old lands hitting play. A couple of Terrarions/Chromatic Stars joined them, but no other action was to be found. Nakamura used an Orim's Chant with Lotus Bloom's comes-into-play trigger on the stack, making sure Oli did not get the free mana and essentially cancelling his turn. Oli thought for a bit about what to do and then remembered the Chant during upkeep. "Oh, this turn will go a bit faster then." He simply laid a land and passed the turn. The two stared at each other for a bit, waiting for the other to blink or an opportunity to slam home their combo. Shuuhei cast Balancing Act first to keep Oli down, since he had the combo in hand but had to work around Nakamura's maindeck Remands. Both players rebuilt and the game continued according to form - cagey, cautious - until Shuuhei had Remand for an Oli spell and then Act plus Terravore hit play the next turn, forcing Oli to scoop.
Nakamura 1 - Ruel 0The Tings mirror match eats libraries and attention spans alive.
Lands. Lands. Lands. Chant, respond with Chant. That's the Cliff's Notes version of game 2, where it got interesting. On the next Nakamura turn, Ruel cast another Chant during upkeep that Nakamura responded to with Insidious Dreams. Dreams put a Chant on top for Shuuheu, which he then cracked a Terrarion to draw, again Chanting in response. Ruel then cast Insidious Dreams in response and did math and elimination to figure out what his move was, eventually choosing to do it for 4, but seeing it get Remanded, losing the cards anyway because they are discarded as a cost. Nakamura's turn finally passed and Ruel cast Balancing Act on his turn, burning for 5 via sacrificial lands.
Nakamura recovered faster with two lands and a pair of Blooms, while Ruel kept using cantrips to dig for action. Neither player found anything of use, and Ruel was again able to wipe the world, this time via Obliterate. The board was rebuilt once again, with Ruel again casting Insidious Dreams just before time expired, and Nakamura again having the Remand to make it a nasty discard spell instead. Finally one resolved during the first turn of extra time, with Ruel throwing a Terravore into play the next turn, but Shuuhei had a 'Vore of his own, giving him the win as time expired. Nakamura clearly could have played to stall Oli out in game 2, but he actually went quite quickly even through the end game, giving Olivier every chance possible to even the match and earn another draw.
Nakamura wins 1-0
Saturday, March 3: 3:11 p.m. - Unexpected FacesCoimbra watches Helmut mise savage tings.
Talking to Andre Coimbra last week, he said he was uncertain as of yet whether he was going to come to the Grand Prix here in Singapore or not. I expressed some confusion at this assertion, since Singapore is a) a long way from anywhere, b) pretty expensive if you are buying your tickets at the last minute. Coimbra shrugged in his usual amiable way and then said, "I guess I should make up my mind soon." You can imagine my surprise then when I saw him in the convention center here in Singapore this morning. Apparently Coimbra's initial indecision cost him a heavy toll - he'll have to Top 8 here even to come close to recouping his flight expenses, and that's with the value of extra Pro Tour points already added in. With Andre's recent history though, I should not have been surprised - he's certainly a contender for the Road Warrior vote at the next Magic Invitational.
Perhaps a more unexpected face this weekend was Helmut Summersburger. Helmut did not show up in Dallas, which seemed an easier trip to make, so I didn't figure to see him here. When asked about it, he said this flight was only 100 Euros more than Dallas and it gives him a chance to come to Singapore, where he had never been before. He stated that he was currently between jobs, and decided to use this as an opportunity to travel more - hence the trip to the Equator. He also explained that he loves Constructed formats, which was one more incentive for showing up this weekend. With that in mind, I asked him what deck he was playing this weekend, and then laughed when he replied "Boros."
Saturday, March 3: 4:24 p.m. - Round 6 : Kenji Tsumura vs. Tsuyoshi FujitaTsuyoshi always looks at the world from a different angle.
For the feature match this round, we get the two men who are likely the two biggest names in Japanese Magic - ever. Fujita is a lock for a Hall of Fame induction in the next two years, and is likely considered the best player Japan produced in the original generation. Kenji is probably the most in form player in the world right now, and while a case can be made that Masashi Oiso at his peak equaled Tsumura's skill and achievements, Oiso did not have the fanatical fan base that Tsumura has right now. Make no mistake, this kid is loved by pros and casual fans alike… much like Fujita has been in his career.
The deck matchup here is a familiar one, at least on the surface. Fujita has eschewed the Trinket Angels deck he's been working on for the last couple of seasons for what looks like a Boros creation, though Fujita swears it's a new deck. Tsumura is running the same thing that got him to the semifinals last week in Dallas - his take on the venerable and powerful Loam archetype.
Fujita cracked a Windswept Heath for Sacred Foundry and Savannah Lions to open then game, while Kenji cast Birds of Paradise. Lava Dart did in the Birds, and Grim Lavamancer joined Tsuyoshi's side. Wall of Roots from Tsumura replenished his mana acceleration, and gave him a sturdy blocker for Fuijta's attacking animals. Dark Confidant from Kenji a turn later died immediately to a Lavamancer ping, and then Fujita unveiled the unexpected - a hasty Blistering Firecat - as his team swung for 9, dropping Kenji to 5. Lightning Helix and another Lavamancer activation finished the job.
"Not-to Boros…" muttered Kenji.
Tsuyoshi chuckled. "Not Boros… Deadguy Boros, maybe," mused the master deckbuilder. It pays to keep your opponents on their toes, especially when they think they know what archetype you are playing.
Fujita 1 - Tsumura 1
Tsumura played game 2, but it was again Fujita who brought the business, casting Isamaru, Hound of Konda on turn 1, followed by Savannah Lions and a suspended Rift Bolt on turn 2 that would soon be targeting Kenji's fresh Dark Confidant. Engineered Explosives from Kenji wiped Fujita's army out as well, buying him vital turns. Tsuyoshi reloaded with another Hound and Rift Bolt (suspended), but Kenji trumped back with Seismic Assault. A pair of Molten Rains over the following turns and a Char put the life totals at 13-3 in favor of Tsuyoshi, but he was now staring down an angry Terravore. Was there enough gas left in the tank to finish the job? One attack from Kenji made it 7-3, as he wished for Life from the Loam to make sure Fujita would get no more turns. Fujita looked at the top card of his deck and shook his head - no burn spell was found.Japan's two generations of lucky mastas.
Fujita 1 - Tsumura 1
Tsuyoshi had a slow start in game 2, with no one-drop and a suspended Rift Bolt on turn 2. Jotun Grunt on turn 3 gave him a beater, but it only lived for a turn before dying. Sulfuric Vortex a turn later gave Tsuyoshi a recurring source of damage while Kenji mostly cycled cards to dig deeper in his deck. Unfortunately for Tsuyoshi, all that digging gave Kenji everything he needed, and Tsuyoshi died an ugly death to Devastating Dreams for his board and Terravore beatings. The so-called "lucky masta" (everyone has been calling Kenji that lately) overcame the future Hall of Famer in the end.
Tsumura 2 - Fujita 1
Saturday, March 3: 5:14 p.m. - That Which Does Not Kill Us Gives Us More Points?
The race for Player of the Year at the end of 2005 was one of the most exciting in memory. For those who don't recall, it featured Kenji Tsumura, Olivier Ruel, and Masashi Oiso flying all around the world in the final month before Worlds to try and get the upper hand in the race. Unfortunately, all of that travel took its toll, and all three stumbled in the final stretch at Yokohama, with Tsumura winning the title in the end by the narrowest of margins. I mention this because I was recently talking to Kenji and discovered his schedule for the next six weeks:
As someone who has also traveled extensively over the last four years, I can tell you flat out that this schedule is insane. Working four traveling weekends in a row is crazy, but doing it in time zones that are 8 hours different every time is certi-freaking-fiable. The nastiness tapers off a bit after Massachusetts, but one has to wonder just how bedraggled and focused Kenji can possibly be when Kyoto rolls around. I'm a greedy bastard, and I'm not sure you could pay me enough to try this schedule, and yet Kenji (and it looks like a few others like Coimbra, Levy, Yasooka and the Ruels, as well) are tackling it willingly, trying to stockpile as many GP points in the early season as possible. Time will tell if all the globetrotting will force our favorite players into exhausted rehab alongside Britney and Lindsay, or if they will burn out before the season ends. I'll start to get worried about the time that Raph Levy shows up with a Lex Luthor chrome dome. In the meantime, enjoy the dedication that these fine players are displaying while it lasts.
Saturday, March 3: 6:38 p.m. - Round 8 : Antoine Ruel vs. Kotaro OtsukaRuel keeps it real as the street, even inside the posh confines of the conference center.
When I saw that Antoine Ruel was playing Zoo this weekend, I was immediately curious - sure, he's a Pro Tour winner, but does Antoine know how to beat down? As far back as my memory goes - and as far as Antoine's goes as well - I've never seen him playing an aggro deck in Constructed. Obviously he knows how to beat them, but can this Constructed expert excel at something so simple as attacking for 2? With his record sitting at 7-0 on the weekend, the answer appears to be yes, at least thus far. Standing in the way of Antoine's perfect Day 1 record is Kotaro Otsuka. Otsuka is another one of the Japanese second tier who are waiting to make the leap to the big time (see also: Suzuki, Kurihara). He's been to 7 prior Pro Tours and has thus far been dominant in Singapore, though Ruel and Domain Zoo should pose a tough test for Otsuka's Loam deck.
Otsuka accidentally drew an eighth card in his opening hand for game 1, meriting a forced mulligan penalty from the judge, but Antoine was busy shipping his hand back as well to keep things even. Unfortunately for the Japanese player, his set of six was suboptimal as well. Antoine cast Isamaru, Hound of Konda and Watchwolf and his first two turns, followed by Kird Ape on turn 3, but losing a Lightning Helix to Otsuka's Duress. Otsuka played Engineered Explosives for one, but failed to put a second land into play along with it. One turn later, Otsuka was shaking his head and shuffling his cards together for game 2.
Ruel 1 - Otsuka 0Will Otsuka be the next Japanese player to make the leap?
Both players kept 7 cards in game 2, and Otsuka lead off with a first turn Birds of Paradise, while Antoine matched that with a Stomping Ground and Kird Ape. Wall of Roots from Otsuka clogged the ground and gave him three mana, despite the fact that he failed to play a second land, but Ruel killed the Bird with Tribal Flames. At this point, Otsuka started hitting his land drops, while Ruel continued to build an army with Wild Mongrel. The Mongrel killed Otsuka's blocking Wall on the next attack, and Sudden Shock made sure a replacement Birds went to the graveyard. Ruel continued to push his animals into the red zone, keeping the pressure on, and then showing just how flexible the Domain Zoo manabase can be by casting Meddling Mage on Devastating Dreams. With Otsuka on the ropes, he cast Seismic Assault, killing the Mage and the Mongrel, but failing to have quite enough land to kill the Kird Ape. Ruel simply swung with his last remaining attacker and then dropped Gaea's Might-y elbow on Otsuka's head for the match.
Ruel 2 - Otsuka 0