Day 1 Blog Archive

Posted in Event Coverage on September 1, 2007

By Wizards of the Coast




We will not be bringing you any of the Nationals decklists until the Saturday portion of the event but that does not mean you will have to wait until then for a look at the Japanese metagame for Standard. There were six Constructed grinders on Thursday each feeding two players into the big event.

Each tournament had 64 players and the fact that the first grinder put two AngelFire decks into Nats is probably a good indication of what to expect over the weekend. Well perhaps AngelFire is not completely accurate to describe both of these decks. Hassuku Jinpei played a fairly traditional version that lives up the name but Kimura Takuto's - a friend and schoolmate of Naoki Shimizu - version should probably be called AngelGang. Takuto has the recently reprinted Siege-Gang Commander where other versions have had Demonfire - or more recently Molten Disaster.

Hassaku Jinpei // AngelFire

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Kimura Takuto // AngelGang

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The second grinder churned out two more aggressive decks with Matsuo Yoshiyuki burning and bashing with a fiery take on Gruul. Once again Siege-Gang Commander rears its ugly head(s) along with Antonino DeRosa's pet card, Fatal Frenzy. In the other slot Endo Ryota got there with a deck that looked very similar to Michael Jacob's mono-green from U.S. Nats with the addition of the Skarrgan Pit-Skulk.

Matsuo Yoshiyuki // Gruul

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Endo Ryota // MonoGreen

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The winners of the third qualifying event split the difference from the first two events. One bracket put AngelFire (only technically clinging to the name through the Seal of Fires in the deck) played by Konno Kosei into Round One of Nats. The other featured Gruul-packing Mitsui Hideo. I don't know how much earth-shattering tech that represents but his list actually sent me back to Gatherer to confirm that Weight of Spires was an actual card name.

Konno Kosei // AngelFire

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Mitsui Hideo // Gruul

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The fourth grinder put forth yet another Gruul deck, this one piloted by Hasegawa Gaku, with Siege-Gang Commander continuing to make a case for breakout Xth Edition star. I mean we all knew he was good in the goblin decks but the guy is a self contained goblin fighting force even without the usual suspects, prospectors, and piledrivers to accompany him. The other bracket spit out Ishibashi Kazuma and his Blink deck when it was done grinding.

Hasegawa Gaku // Gruul

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If there is any player you might expect to reap the rewards of Xth Edition reprints like Incinerate and Mogg Fanatic it would be Tsuyoshi Fujita. I can't promise that the first deck from the fifth grinder is what Tsuyoshi is playing this weekend but it seems likely since the pilot is Fujita's significant other Asami. From the other side of the grinder another deck archetype was heard from in Mori Yuya's GoyfRack deck.

Kataoka Asami // Gruul

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Mori Yuya // GoyfRack

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There were only 32 players in the final Constructed grinder and as such only one player was extruded into Nationals. Inoguchi Hironobu masterminded Project X for the last slot up for grabs and even displayed a little tech with Magus of the Disk getting some extra value out of the Saffi.

Inoguchi Hironobu // Project X

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Enough with the grinding already…let's see what we are going to cook with this meat.

Friday, Aug 31: 10:33 a.m. - Day 1: Less Heralded Heroes

by Eli Kaplan

Make no mistake. Japan's had a quiet year, at least in comparison to the blockbuster achievements the nation's players have achieved in the last two years. The achievements of Europe's Magic powerhouses can't be understated. But there's a depth and breadth of experienced and technical play prevalent throughout the deep player base of Japan. If you've read any web coverage of recent events, you're certain to be familiar with the very top of the Japanese field. But the roster of less recognized yet solid talent's so deep. I've been watching top level play in the Land of the Rising Sun for years, and watched greats like Katsuhiro Mori and Masashiro Kuroda break their way out of the pack and into the limelight. Japanese Nationals is the premiere springboard for hungry players to establish their rep. Here's my four picks you ought to keep your eyes on this weekend.

Ryou Ogura

Nagoya's finest made the spotlight at Worlds last year, falling to Mihara in the finals. Ogura's made the Top Eight at two Worlds events. He's got great mental endurance, a tool necessary for excellence in long, grueling tournaments. The ability to switch gears in tournaments with multiple formats is absolutely essential to reach the top tables, and Ogura's got that talent in spades.

Ogura brings a nonchalant, lighthearted tone to the table, but he obsesses over the details of Constructed metagames. Japanese deckbuilders have always trended towards control, so he's almost always tuned whatever deck he brought to savage control decks. He's been one rung from the top of the ladder before. This could be the weekend he finally gets the big trophy.

I'm sick and tired of him beating the crap out of me regularly at Friday Night Magic.

Shingo Kurihara

I shouldn't have to introduce Shingo Kurihara. Kurihara's breakout performance with two Pro Tour Sunday appearances cemented his name as one of the strongest Rookies of the Year in memory. Unlike many Japanese breakout stars I've watched over the years, Kurihara's primary forte lies in Limited.

Kurihara's approach to the game really stands out in comparison to many American and European stars. He doesn't like to take compliments. He bemoans his imperfections and errors in his Constructed play, saying he's been practicing but doesn't feel like his work has paid off dividends yet. Does that deter him? No way. Kurihara has been putting his nose to the grindstone for the last few months, and he has every shot to reap the fruits of victory.

Naoki Shimizu

It's a little counterintuitive to call a member of last year's National team a diamond in the rough. Shimizu's been toiling away for months with a pack of talented teammates in search of the ideal control build. I'd have a hard time picturing him hammering away at opponents with giant monsters.

Watching Shimizu reminds me of watching old videos of Harry Houdini doing what only Houdini could do. Houdini would look at every potentially deadly hazard as a puzzle to work out. Shimizu approaches each game with the same mental focus, trying to react to his opponent's moves and nullify them so that he can take the game home in the long run. We'll see if the metagame's right for Shimizu's honed skill set.

I'm rooting for Shimizu to win again because I love to watch a player who genuinely loves Magic. Shimizu's face betrays little emotion in the game's midst, but before and after the game, he's always smiling. What beats a good game of Magic? Masashiro Kuroda used to be the leading public face of Japanese players until he made a serious commitment to the salaryman lifestyle, and I'd say Shimizu would be an ideal guy to step up to that role.

Yuuya Watanabe

Did someone mention Standard? Japan's prowess in that format is without peer. Hailing from the crowded card shops of Tokyo, Yuuya Watanabe broke out of anonymity at Grand Prix Kyoto this year with a vicious Izzetron remix that laid the field low. He's been playing the long Tokyo afternoon and evening Standard battles for years. Kenji Tsumura's credited him as a solid practice partner throughout lean years and prosperous years. Watanabe's a true fan of Blue, but is fond of cramming a few more threats into his sixty cards.

Japanese Nationals will be the testing grounds to see if he can demonstrate talent with Limited decks. Unlike Kurihara, he wasn't too talkative about his efforts to step up. He and Kenji squeaked into Day Two in Time Spiral Two-Headed Limited, and rallied back all the way to fifth place, one spot shy of a Pro Tour Sunday. Was Watanabe standing on Tsumura's shoulders? Or will he defy expectations? Stay tuned.

Friday, Aug 31: 10:33 a.m. - Yet More Standard: Rounds 1-3

by Brian David-Marshall

There are sure to be some pretty big stars occupying the Feature Match action this weekend. With so many huge names playing in this tournament I am going to be trying something different for the first three rounds. Rather than isolate one feature match every two rounds or so I am going to recap the results and - more importantly for all you tech-hungry readers - the Standard decks being played in every Feature Match for the first three rounds of Standard.

Ryota Endo vs. Shuhei Nakamura


If Ryota's name sounds familiar to you it is likely because I just featured his deck in the Grinder round-up to open the coverage. He was playing what looked to be the same MonoGreen concoction complete with Pit-Skulks. Ryota seemed a tad star-struck by his illustrious opponent and two-time Level 6 mage, Shuhei Nakamura.

Shuhei, who was playing an AngelGang deck, did not disappoint the young player and made short work of the aggro deck with a steady diet of Lightning Helix and post-board Pyroclasms. Ryota showed no signs of dismay at the loss and asked his opponent to autograph the sheet of paper that displayed both their names after the match.

Shuhei - 2 Ryota - 0

Itaru Ishida vs. Takuya Oosawa

Itaru and Osawa

There were no grinder winner's in this match-up. Itaru Ishida has been playing Magic for longer than it has been available in Japan. In fact he became eligible for the Hall of Fame - one of five players in the room currently on the ballot - as part of the year two class. Although Itaru has only one Pro Tour Top 8 he has a staggering seventeen Grand Prix Top 8 s and is one of the best deckbuilders in the world. I certainly had to push my coverage reporter's version of the poker face to the limits when I glanced at his hand and saw Dragonstorm tucked away to one side.

From what I could gather from watching the match - and rest assured I will look at this deck in detail tomorrow - the deck had two components. The first was a burn package that started with Incinerate and Lightning Helix and ended with Riddle of Lightning and Bogardan Hellkite. The Hellkite dovetailed nicely with the Dragonstorm package - and the Dragonstorm's high casting cost worked well with Riddle of Lightning - which also included the hasty Tarox Bladewing.

Ishida winced as I made notes on his deck. Apparently he did not consider it an example of his finest work. "It is a fun deck," he said as he played against the decidedly anti-fun Takuya Oosawa. Oosawa who has largely made his name on the back of two Limited Pro Tour Top 8's - including one win and one finalist finish - was playing a Dredge deck that seemed to go off considerably faster than Ishida's 'fun deck'.

Takuya - 2 Itaru - 0

Yet More Standard: Round Two

Akira Asahara vs. Tsuyoshi Fujita

Asahara vs. Fujita

When I walked over to this pairing of two of Japan's greatest deckbuilders Hall of Fame candidate Tsuyoshi Fujita was groaning that the match-up was nigh unwinnable for him. Akira was hoping to revive AggroLoam for its brief period of legality in Standard thanks to the reprinting of Seismic Assault. Tsuyoshi was playing a Gruul deck that bore more than a passing resemblance to the Gruul deck his girlfriend Asami qualified with on Thursday.

When Tsuyoshi spent an Incinerate and a Mogg Fanatic in an attempt to kill a Tarmogoyf, Akira cycled Edge of Autumn to save it and that was enough to prompt Tsuyoshi to throw in the towel despite being at over 20 life. In the second game a looming Greater Gargadon was more disruptive from suspension than it could possibly have been in play foiling Tsuyoshi's sideboarded Threatens. Fujita laughed and mockingly Threatened and Fatal Frenzied the Gargadon that kept him from being able to do the same to either of a pair of Mystic Enforcers that would go on to win the game for Asahara.

Akira - 2 Tsuyoshi - 0

Shu Komuro vs. Kenji Tsumura

Komuro vs. Tsumura

Despite Kenji's much longer resume Shu Komuro's contains one thing that Kenji can still not put on his. Despite the five times Kenji has played on Sunday at a Pro Tour he still does not have a winner's trophy to show for his efforts. Shu is batting 1.000 in that regard with one Top 8 and one trophy in his career, winning Pro Tour Nagoya a couple of years ago. Neither player was going to be able to pad that section of their resume this weekend but making a National team - especially in this room - would be no small feat for either of them.

This match-up brought the total number of deck archetypes in the Feature Match area to a whopping total of eight out of eight players so far featured. Shu was sporting a Blink deck that appeared to share some genes with the GerryT Blink deck from the Kentucky Open and Kenji was playing an AussieStorm list that apparently had some special meaning for him which he promised to share if he was able to play the deck to a successful finish.

In the first game Kenji clung to life by sacrificing lands to Claws of Gix while waiting for a play set of Lotus Blooms to hit play over two turns. It looked like he was going to be able to clear the board of threats with a combination of Hellkite and Grapeshot but a speculative Repeal on his Claws of Gix gave him the hope - and the Perilous Research - to win the game instead of merely staying alive. His Research yielded Hatching Plans which, when sacrificed to the Claws, dug him to not only the Pyromancer's Swath he needed but the Remand to protect it for the win.

Game 2 flew by as a pair of Tarmogoyfs and a smattering of disruption from Shu were faster than Kenji's suspended artifacts. Game 3 saw Kenji keep a zero land/double Lotus Bloom hand on the play. He drew two straight lands and on turn three was perhaps a spell off from winning with Pyromancer's Swath and Grapeshot when his first Bloom was countered with Mystic Snake. Shu was able to keep Kenji off balance with a steady diet of Venser and Clouskates to lock up the win.

Shu - 2 Kenji - 1

Yet More Standard: Round Three

The dream of twelve deck from twelve players came crashing to Earth this round with two more AngelFire decks crossing the ropes into the Feature Match area. We did end up with ten different decks though as each AngelFire player squared off against a new archetype for the roped off area.

Yuuya Watanabe vs. Yuuta Takahashi

Takahasi vs. Watanabe

Watanabe is a rising star on the Japanese scene who made the Top 8 of the Finals last year and recently won Grand Prix Kyoto as an amateur. He was piloting the AngelFire deck that seems to be the darling of many of the Tokyo players. His opponent this round was Yuuta Takahashi, last seen making the Top 4 of Pro Tour San Diego. These players have surely faced off in the past as they are both regulars at the Ikebukuro Ogre card shop in Tokyo. Yuuta must have missed the AngelFire memo and was playing a blue-black Teachings deck which emerged victorious in three games that I will confess to missing. I was paying more attention to the other match and one of my favorite players of all time.

Yuuta - 2 Yuuya - 1

Masashiro Kuroda vs. Ryouma Shiuzu

Shiozu vs. Kuroda

Masashiro Kuroda is the first Japanese player to win a Pro Tour opening a floodgate that the rest of the world has barely been able to slow down much less close. Kuroda has played the game intermittently since his win as a wife, baby, and real-life career have conspired to keep him from the travel demands of the Players Club. I was happy to learn that the Pro Tour champion managed to get vacation time to coincide with Pro Tour Valencia where he will attempt to add a third Pro Tour Top 8 to his prodigious list of accomplishments. Kuroda recently crossed the 100 Pro Point threshold and will find himself on the 2008 Hall of Fame ballot.

Kuroda was playing AngelFire and could only grin at his deck choice because it featured all his favorite colors doing the things they do best; killing, flying, drawing cards, and winning games. His opponent Ryouma Shiuzu was an old hand on the Grand Prix scene with five Top 8s to his credit. He was hoping that his black-green Rack deck could represent the remaining two colors admirably. I hear that Tarmogoyf has been doing some good work lately.

In Game 1 Kuroda's eyes nearly popped out of his head at the prospect of Booming a karoo and his own Flagstones but without any action to follow it up he tucked his eyes back into place and eventually fell to an army of not-so-little green men. Kuroda had a more successful Boom in Game 2 when Ryouma stumbled on his land drops and Pyroclasm cleared Dark Confidant and Augur of Skulls.

Despite getting his Lightning Angels Extirpated Kuroda managed to cobble together an offense with a Court Hussar and Vesuvan Shapeshifter. Kuroda, who does not play nearly as much as he did in his heyday, had originally played the Shapeshifter face-up to copy the Hussar in order to dig for cards. He had expected the card to go to the graveyard but his opponent pointed out that since he paid white mana as part of the casting cost it would stick around. Kuroda 'appealed' to the judge who confirmed that the Shapeshifter would live to copy another day. Kuroda repaid his opponent's kindness by copying a Call of the Herd token and then using Lightning Helix to clear the way.

Masashiro - 2 Ryouma - 1

The bonus Shapeshifter gave Kuroda the oomph he needed to emerge from the Standard rounds with a 2 -1 record. Watching from the rails was an all-star team of his contemporaries languishing at 1-2 that included Akira Asahara, Tsuyoshi Fujita, and Itaru Ishida. Perhaps they should have gone with AngelFire…

Friday, Aug 31: 11:58 p.m. - Round 4 Draft - Ryou Ogura

by Eli Kaplan

There's no money riding on my initial picks, but Yuuya Watanabe and Ryou Ogura clocked into the first draft pod undefeated. I picked covering Ryou Ogura, since I'm horribly partial towards Nagoya's players. Tokyo and Osaka rightly get tons of attention, but the rest of Japan deserves some credit as well.

Pod 3 was jammed with talent. Level 6 mage Shuuhei Nakamura, persistent money winner Chikara Nakajima, Pro Tour Nagoya winner Shuu Komura, and member of the 2006 National team Hideaki Katayama were waiting in the wings. Also at the table was Masami Ibamoto, a deckbuilding prodigy from years past. Ibamoto is leaving professional play to join Wizards' Japanese office later this year, and he wanted to punctuate his professional Magic run with an exclamation point. Two of Tokyo's hottest up and coming talents, Masaki Yokoi and Kunihiro Yano, rounded out the table.


Before the draft, Ogura said he preferred drafting Blue and Red, but seeing many familiar faces at the table, he shifted gears. His first pack offered up Coral Trickster, Outrider en-Kor, Gemhide Sliver, and Durkwood Baloth. He went for the stout Baloth. Red presented an option with Rift Bolt in the second pack, but Ogura signed up a Penumbra Spider instead. He reached for tempo pick with Benalish Cavalry, then a gassy Yavimaya Dryad. Late picks included Saffi Eriksdotter, Deathspore Thallid, and two copies of Pull from Eternity. He sent a loud and clear signal to his left that he was declaring Green to be his turf.

Ogura was hoping for Planar Chaos packs laden with Giant Duskwasps and Pallid Mycoderms. That didn't happen. Right off the bat, two Saltfield Recluses shored up his defensive game, but he needed beaters to drive the game home. He snatched a Pallid Mycoderm in the third pack, and then kept getting handed tricks like Dawn Charm and Utopia Vow instead of the meaty beaters he needed. A ninth pick Uktabi Drake was a step in the right direction, but it wasn't enough to stem the tide. Future Sight's fantastic green needed to step up to the plate.

Heading into the third pack, he was less than pleased with a first pick Lucent Lumenid. Where were the Sprout Swarms? Where were the Sporoloth Ancients? He mused wistfully over a Take Possession before adding the 3/3 flier to his pile. He followed with two copies of Judge Unworthy, one over a Sporoloth Ancient. At that point it was clear that he wasn't going to be getting any Sprout Swarms. Two Thornweald Archers helped fill out the bottom end of his curve, but he didn't get any late pick bodies to help him out.

Ogura's usually sunny disposition turned sour during deckbuilding. He could stall offensives and save his men from removal spells, but he just didn't have anything that could close the deal. Four rounds of piloting this concoction would be a tough road to hoe.

Ryou Ogura

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Friday, Aug 31: 12:02 p.m. - Round 4: Masaki Yokoi vs. Ryou Ogura

by Eli Kaplan

Masaki Yokoi's shoulders shivered slightly as I sat down next to him. Everyone's a little anxious when it's their first feature match. Yokoi faced off against the player drafting to his left, Worlds 2006 finalist Ryou Ogura, piloting a Green/White concoction. Yokoi's White/Blue deck lacked the high power flyers and beaters to break through most conventional offenses, and Ogura had Utopia Vow and two copies of Judge Unworthy to stymie his offense. But at least Yokoi's troops boasted evasion. Ogura's sketchy offense lacked any trickiness. He'd have to bash his way to glory.

Game 1

Yokoi started off his first feature match on the wrong foot, mulliganing on the play once. Then twice. Then once more for good measure. Ogura started off with a Saltfield Recluse and Pallid Mycoderm while Yokoi was stuck on a single land. It took four more turns for the younger player to find a second land and make an Errant Doomsayers. Penumbra Spider and Benalish Cavalry made sure that the Doomsayers' words were prophetic.

Ryou Ogura - Masaki Yokoi 1-0

On the bright side for Yokoi, he hadn't been forced to reveal his second color.

Game 2

The second game went much more swimmingly for Yokoi, who stalled an early Ogura Thornweald Archer offensive with a D'Avenant Healer. Yokoi bogged down the board with Saltfield Recluse and Spiketail Drakeling. Ogura called for a Penumbra Spider, and the blood stopped flowing.

Both players dug trenches, trying to get an edge. Neither player could profitably attack. After looking deeper with Foresee, Yokoi got an edge with Stormfront Riders, spawning a slowly growing army of 1/1 Soldiers. When Yokoi found a Whitemane Lion two turns later, the recruitment machine swung into full gear. Ogura's Thallid Shell-Dweller and Pallid Mycoderm kept adding counters, but the mass of Soldiers were leaving them in the dust. When Soldiers are outbreeding Saprolings, the gods must be crazy. Ogura had not one but two Dawn Charms in hand when Yokoi sent 28 troops in to Ogura's 10, leaving a dozen home. Seeing that Yokoi wasn't willing to overcommit attackers, the veteran scooped. What would the Dawn Charms accomplish? Better to keep them secret. Yokoi's cagey play paid off.

Ryou Ogura - Masaki Yokoi 1-1

Game 3

Ogura was cursing his luck. His draft had gone awry and wasn't coming up with the offensive goods. But when you're boasting a front of Thallid Shell-Dweller and D'Avenant Healer against an enemy D'Avenant Healer and Saltfield Recluse, you're not going to see a lot of action. Ogura rammed an Uktabi Drake into a Spiketail Drakeling and saw both fliers go down. He committed more defensive creatures to the board.

But the tide turned when Yokoi chipped away at Ogura's board with Reality Strobe. The neverending sorcery revisited him time and time again, keeping his Thallid production from kicking into high gear. Yokoi bewitched an attacker with Spirit en-Dal time and time again to slip through Ogura's leaky defenses. Stormfront Riders showed up and blew through a ton of mana to add more and more tokens to the board while allowing a Shaper Parasite to gnaw away at the intestines of Ogura's army. He went for the kill on the second extra turn. Ogura was hoping for a draw, leaving two mana for a Dawn Charm open. But the Charm met Dismal Failure. Masaki Yokoi took home the match.

Masaki Yokoi defeats Ryou Ogura 2-1

Masaki Yokoi

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