In fact, only three of the six Top 25 Ranked Players managed to make it to the draft tables, and all with the minimum 7-2 record: Pro Tour Theros Top 8'er Kentarou Yamamoto (25), Grand Prix Beijin Champion Yuuya Watanabe (8), and Pro Tour Born of the Gods Top 4'er Shi-Tian Lee (15). They'll need to sweep their drafts if they want a shot at the trophy. Will they, or will a pro like Ken Yukuhiro or Tzu-Ching Kuo shake up the rankings? Will an amateur catch lightning in a bottle and take home the glory? Tune in tomorrow to find out!
by Nate PriceKing of the Hill at Grand Prix Nagoya – Day 1
by Josh BennettRound 9 Feature MatchYuuta Iwazaki vs. Ryousuke Kasuga
by Nate PriceSaturday, 6:30 p.m.Who’s Winning at Grand Prix Nagoya – Two Rounds to Go
by Josh BennettSaturday, 5:15 p.m.Vintage at Nagoya
by Nate PriceRound 7 Feature MatchTomoya Motomura vs. Ryota Takeuchi
by Josh BennettRound 6 Feature MatchKen Yukuhiro vs. Jun'ichi Endo
by Nate Price with photos by Seo AsakoSaturday, 4:15 p.m.A Look Around Grand Prix Nagoya
by Nate PriceSaturday, 4:00 p.m.What’s Winning at Grand Prix Nagoya – Round 3 Edition
by Josh BennettSealed Deck Exercise #1(8) Yuuya Watanabe's Build
by Nate PriceSaturday, 1:00 p.m.Nagoya Top Players
by Josh BennettSaturday, 9:00 a.m.Sealed Deck Exercise #1
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – Sealed Deck Exercise #1
Care to try your hand at Day 1's format? Below you'll find a sealed pool with many powerful options. Will you favor aggression or control? Raw power or synergy? As you build, consider what your deck's plan is. How will the games play out? What threats can you expect to face, and how will you deal with them? Choose wisely, and compare your work with others in the forums.
Later in the day we'll show you what a pro makes of all this.
Saturday, 1:00 p.m. – Nagoya Top Players
The Japanese Magic community is one of the oldest and most storied in the history of the game. The early days of Magic were dominated by players from the US and Europe. It's hard to imagine nowadays, but at one point, early on in the days of the Pro Tour, players considered themselves lucky when they got paired up against a Japanese player. A few years in, Japanese Magic turned a corner, and that all changed. It began with Pro Tour Tokyo in 2000 and Tsuyoshi Fujita, Japan's first Hall of Famer, and his finals appearance, which marked the first Pro Tour Top 8 for a Japanese player. From there, things got quiet for a few years, as the next round of Japanese stars quietly built their game. In 2003, in Yokohama, another future Japanese Hall of Famer, Masashi Oiso, made it to the finals of the Pro Tour.
From that point, there was no turning back or slowing down. Nagoya's own Jin Okamoto made the Top 8 of Worlds that same year, and another Nagoya native, Ryo Ogura, made his own Worlds Top 8 the following year. Then, in 2004, at Pro Tour Kobe, Masashiro Kuroda struck gold, becoming the first Japanese player to win a Pro Tour. From there, nine straight Pro Tours passed with a Japanese player making Top 8, including Shu Komuro's win in 2005's Pro Tour Nagoya and Katsuhiro Mori's impressive Worlds win that same year.
Today, Japanese Magic is as strong as it's ever been. Nowadays, sitting across from a Japanese player at a Pro Tour isn't a stroke of luck, it's an omen of a difficult road ahead. From the earliest days of the last decade, Japan's community has fostered the next generation of greats, passing the torch from players like Fujita and Kuroda, through Oiso and Mori, to generate a total of four Hall of Famers, nine Pro Tour champions, 46 Grand Prix winners, five straight Players of the Year, and four World Champions. With the game going even more global than ever before, there are far more Japanese players following in the footsteps of Shuhei Nakamura and traveling the globe to play. Players like Yuuya Watanabe, Shouta Yasooka, and Ken Yukuhiro are becoming household names. Still, for every top Japanese player becoming well-known outside of Japan, there are dozens more who remain anonymous outside of their home country.
To help give them a bit of a shove into the limelight, and also to help those of you at home understand the significance of their contributions to the fabric of Japanese Magic, here are some of the bigger names in Japanese Magic, both today and yesterday, that will likely feature in our coverage here at Grand Prix Nagoya.
Well, we might as well start with the Top 25, and Yuuya Watanabe currently sits in 8th place, making him the highest-ranked Japanese player. Watanabe is one of the most recognizable names in the game, let alone in Japanese Magic. Bursting onto the scene in 2007 with a Rookie of the Year award, Watanabe's first brush with the limelight came earlier that year, when he rose to the top of Grand Prix Kyoto as an unknown amateur. Still, he was heralded by greatness, as Kenji Tsumura, at the time one of the top players in the world, boldly predicted that Watanabe would win the event.
Watanabe would prove to be an utter machine, going on to notch 19 more Grand Prix Top 8s, two Pro Tour Top 8s, two Player of the Year titles, and a World Championship title two years ago. He is still at the very top of his game, having taken down the title at Grand Prix Beijing, a Standard Constructed event, just two weeks ago, making waves with an innovative sideboard plan involving the innocuous Staff of the Death Magus. Watanabe is a threat to win any tournament he enters, and Grand Prix Nagoya is no exception.
Directly behind Watanabe in the standings is 9th place Shuhei Nakamura, one of the oldest, most-tenured players in Japanese Magic. Making his first Grand Prix Top 8 all the way back in 2001, Nakamura was one of the first Japanese players to really embrace the ability to travel the globe to play the game. He is also one of the first true professional Magic players, playing in a premier-level event virtually every week. He has amassed a ridiculous 22 Grand Prix Top 8s (including five wins), five Pro Tour Top 8s, a Player of the Year title, and earning himself an induction into the Magic Hall of Fame in 2011.
Nakamura made the Top 8 in Beijing alongside Watanabe, proving that he is still, even after all of these years, at the top of his game. Still, while he has experienced wholesale Grand Prix success, Pro Tour success has eluded him these past years. It has been more than five years since he last played on the Pro Tour Sunday stage, though he has consistently finished each year with enough Pro Points to stay playing at the top level of the game, even winning himself two spots at the exclusive World Championship. With 556 lifetime Pro Points, Nakamura is not only the highest Japanese Pro by a large margin, he's second all-time only Raphael Levy.
In 17th place, Makihito Mihara is one of the hidden treasures of Japanese Magic. There is absolutely no question that Mihara is one of the best Japanese players in the history of the game. He has five Pro Tour Top 8s to his name, including a win at the 2006 World Championship. He has eight Grand Prix Top 8s, including two wins. Last year marked his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, and he narrowly missed out on making it in on his first ballot. The one thing that hurts Mihara's recognition is his inability to travel outside of Japan for anything other than Pro Tours. He lacks the ever-present nature seen in Nakamura and Watanabe, who routinely travel the world for Grand Prix.
Still, rather than pad his resume with Grand Prix performances, he does so with Pro Tour appearances. He has managed to accrue 312 Pro Points over his career, good for fifth-best in Japan and Top 25 all time. While he made his Pro Tour debut in Venice all the way back in 2003, he has been playing some of the best Magic of his career lately, making Top 8 of Pro Tour Theros this last year, as well as Pro Tour Dragon's Maze before that. He even made it to the finals of the Super Sunday Series just over a month ago, losing to Owen Turtenwald.
The final Japanese member of the Top 25 is another older player who has been on a tear as of late, Kentarou Yamamoto. Yamamoto's first Pro Tour was San Diego in 2004, where he managed an impressive 74th place finish despite it being his first event. Since then, he has made two Pro Tour Top 8s, including an impressive Top 8 performance in Pro Tour Theros, ushering in the era of Black Devotion in Standard.
Yamamoto's most impressive feat came from his Grand Prix record over the past season. It is rare for a player to boast a win percentage over 65%, but Yamamoto managed to absolutely demolish that, winning an astonishing 78.9% win rate at Grand Prix over the season, including a second-place finish in Kyoto and a fifth place finish in Kitakyushu. While the majority of Yamamoto's success has come in Constructed events, he is clearly a player to watch both for this tournament and in those to come. He is in the Top 25 for a reason, and if he wants to avoid falling out of it (he's currently ranked 25th), he needs to play his best Magic here in this difficult field.
Another of the old guard of Japanese Magic, Yasooka first appeared on the Pro Tour at Barcelona all the way back in 2001. Since then, he has played in a massive 37 Pro Tours, making only one Top 8 in Charlotte in 2006, a tournament he eventually won. He has also made it to a whopping 18 Grand Prix Top 8s. While he only has one title (Kobe 2011), his number of Top 8s is incredibly impressive in light of the fact that he doesn't travel outside of Asia for Grand Prix.
One of the things that makes Yasooka unique is his incredible deckbuilding ability. Renowned throughout the world as a deckbuilder in a class of his own, Yasooka routinely shows up to tournaments brandishing decks of his own design, often involving strange combinations of cards or obtuse mana bases. Yasooka has been quoted as saying that he builds decks that have cards he likes in them, not bowing to the pressure of what is hot at the moment. Still, despite playing decks that others would struggle to perform with, Yasooka routinely does well with them, a reason that no one questions his decisions any more. He has seen a fair amount of recent success, as well, making Top 8 of Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur and Shizuoka, proving that, while his notoriety may come from Constructed, he is more than capable of playing Limited with the best of them, as well.
Ken Yukuhiro is another of the newest generation of Japanese Magic stars, though he has been slower to come into his own than the explosive Watanabe. Joining the ranks of the Pros in 2009, Yukuhiro has made a name for himself recently by being one of the few Japanese Magic players to really branch out into the global scene, joining with the conglomerate of Asian all-stars that make up Team MTG Mint Card. At the recent Pro Tour Born of the Gods, it was Yukuhiro's deck that was the star of the tournament, the Blue Moon list he and the rest of Team MTG Mint Card used proving to be the most recent innovation in a relatively settled Modern format.
His hard work and strong play have paid off with incredibly consistent win percentages in every possible category, something that not even the Top pro players in the world have an easy time doing. While he has been on a bit of a slump recently, Yukuhiro has the game to play, and he is a player that you will be seeing more of in the future. Much like Nakamura, Yukuhiro has begun traveling to play the game, and he has been seen as far off as Mexico and Europe playing in Grand Prix. If he continues this, and improves his performances, Yukuhiro will easily be one of the most recognizable faces in Japanes Magic, so you might as well get in on the ground level right now.
There are few players in Magic with nicknames as cool as Jin Okamoto. As the winner of the very last APAC in 2001, Okamoto was nicknamed "The Last Emperor," which is way cooler than "The Innovator" (sorry Chapin!). As a member of the original guard, Okamoto's influence would directly shape the direction of Japanese Magic, helping it get to the place it is today. Without him, many of the biggest names of Japan's coming out party in the middle of last decade, such as Kenji Tsumura, Masashi Oiso, and Katsuhiro Mori might not have achieved all that they did.
A Nagoya native, Okamoto is continuing his work for the Japanese community by opening a brand new card store. This has become a bit of a trend in Japan, with other high-profile pros, like Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Tomoharu Saito, and Katsuhiro Mori, opening shops and fostering local play. Traditionally, Tokyo in the east and Osaka in the west have represented the two big bastions of Japanese Magic. Now that Okamoto is opening his shop here in Nagoya, there is an opportunity to bridge those two and create a burgeoning community between the two. While Okamoto doesn't play quite as much as he once did, he still takes time off to visit most Japanese Grand Prix when he has the opportunity, and there is no chance that he would miss a Grand Prix coming to his hometown.
Another Nagoya native, Ryo Ogura is another member of the older Japanese Magic community who has rejoined the fray to attempt to win a Grand Prix in his hometown. While his name is considerably less well-known outside of Japan, Ogura is a very important figure in the history of Japanese Magic. While he only has two Pro Tour Top 8s to his name, both of them came at World Championships, likely the hardest Magic tournaments in the world at the time. He also has six Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, though he lacks the wins of many of the players listed above.
Just last year, Yokohama was host to the largest Grand Prix in Japanese history, and the fourth-largest all-time. At the end of this massive event, Masaya Kitayama stood alone atop the tournament. Yokohama was the last Limited Grand Prix in Japan, and Kitayama was its champion. He has three Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, dating back to 2006. He was also the Japanese National Champion in 2007, carrying Japan to a fourth place finish in the Team portion of the tournament. As the reigning Japanese Limited winner, it is up to Kitayama to defend that title, and he will have to do it the hard way, coming into this event with zero byes. Still, it isn't like Kitayama doesn't have familiarity with the game. He is an employee at Tomoharu Saito's Haruruya Card Shop in Tokyo, where many of the best players in Japan collect to battle.
Sealed Deck Exercise #1: (8) Yuuya Watanabe's Build
Tireless warrior Yuuya Watanabe, currently #8 on the Top 25 Player Rankings, is looking to reaffirm himself as a two-sport athlete this weekend. After bringing home the gold playing Standard at Grand Prix Beijing, he's shifted gears for this weekend's Limited Grand Prix. He even gets home field advantage. When I found Watanabe to get his take on our Sealed Deck pool, he was already hard at work, rebuilding players' sealeds and walking them through his rationale. I joined the queue and waited my turn, mental notebook at the ready.
First for Watanabe was a pass through the whole pool, fanning the colors out in front of him, drinking in the whole picture. White was an early frontrunner for consideration, but after he got to green he packed all the other colors away and laid out a green base, adding Xenagos, God of Revels.
He tried pairing with red but didn't get far before abandoning the idea. Not only was it too shallow, but all it could offer in the way of spells was a lone Fall of the Hammer. Watanabe put it alongside Xenagos as a possible splash. Next came the white, which lent a nice curve to the deck, but the whole time Watanabe was just shaking his head. He double-checked with a black-white aggro build featuring the pair of Ordeals but he was still unsatisfied. I asked him about this after. He said that white basically came down to two cards: Phalanx Leader and Heliod. It was simply too short on the essentials. Not enough bestow, not enough Heroic, and not enough tricks to back everything up.
Watanabe worked quickly, doggedly trying out every color pairing, no matter how thin it seemed on the surface. His method was interesting to watch. He would lay out all the playable cards, sometiems as many as thirty, getting an overall sense for the deck. Then, he would begin making cuts. So it was with his build of choice, green-black. Swordwise Centaur left for mana considerations. Time to Feed had to hit the bench because of his shortness of fatties.
That left him with a little room, and for that he briefly considered Necrobite, but eventually chose to dip into blue for the mighty Sea God's Revenge. The Springleaf Drum that had been lurking at the periphery also got to join the team. Watanabe even triple-checked for extra inspired creatures beyond the one Servant of Tymaret, but none were hiding.
My first question was about the blue splash. Watanabe was very comfortable having just one island and the Springleaf Drum for blue mana. He also pointed to his Returned Phalanx and Agent of Horizons. "Without the splash, these two aren't really worth it." Next I asked him about Eye Gouge, which was a fixture of all his attempted builds. He said that this format has a lot of one-toughness creatures, so that it's very rarely bad in your match. He went on to say that the more tricks your deck has in this format, the better it is, so cheap instants go up in value.
All in all, Watanabe said he would be very happy to have this pool, and would expect to at worst finish the day at 7-2, though probably set himself up for a Top 8 run with an 8-1 record. "It's got everything I want. Powerful cards, evasion and tricks."
Saturday, 4:00 p.m. – What’s Winning at Grand Prix Nagoya Round 3 Edition
I know that there are only a couple of rounds in the books here in Nagoya, but I figured it was as good a time as any to see what people are playing and what's winning in this Theros/Born of the Gods Sealed Deck event. The tournament is large enough to have been split into two flights, so I had to do a bit of running to keep my eye on both sides of the tournament.
Blue Top 3
First off, it's very apparent that white is the color to be here at the Grand Prix. At first glance, about three quarters of the top tables featured white, and it is completely understandable. White is easily one of the strongest colors in Theros, and it got bolstered by the addition of some fantastic new cards in Born of the Gods. Living up to its rarity, the new Akroan Skyguard appeared to be one of the most common cards in players' decks, with some managing to open multiple copies of the powerful heroic creature.
Surprising me was the relative lack of Wingsteed Riders near the top tables. Considering how important Wingsteed Rider was to a good white Sealed Deck before the addition of Born of the Gods, it's interesting to see so many players playing white without a copy of the card in their deck. This is especially true in the wake of the last Limited Grand Prix I covered in Mexico City, where red was far and away the most-played color on Day 1's top tables.
As for the pairing, it's a roughly even split between Green and Red as to which color most players have chosen to complement their white cards. In the red versions of the deck, players tended towards the cheaper red creatures to keep their curve low, while relying on red's removal to keep the path clear. Green was strangely similar, with Leafcrown Dryad easily the most-played green card in players' decks. This is a departure from the monsters of days past, when additional packs of Theros led to decks featuring multiple Nessian Asps and other large, end-game threats. Now, it's all Leafcrown Dryads, Akroan Skyguards, and Arena Athletes.
Well, those and bombs. It wouldn't be a Sealed Deck discussion, especially one in Theros block, without a discussion of bombs. Only a couple of the decks around the top tables seemed to be getting things done at this stage on the strength of a powerful core of creatures and tricks. Even those are unlikely to last long as the day drags on and they get paired up against the decks that both have that and bombs. The biggest bombs near the top are, understandably, the white ones. Multiple copies of Fabled Hero, Eidolon of Countless Battles (of Grand Prix Barcelona fame), and Hundred-Handed One could be seen right next to each other on the top tables, in some cases, facing each other down. Even in the many white-based decks, the white bombs seemed to outnumber those of the accompanying color.
The interesting implication of this initial observation is that these early frontrunners don't appear to be afraid to run decks running very little in the way of removal, as long as they get to play their white bombs. Most of the GW decks had a copy of Time to Feed, but very little else for removal. Even the red decks were a little lighter on the removal than I am used to seeing from top Sealed Decks. Also important is the complete decline of black to this point. In Mexico City, one of the most striking things about the field over the course of the day was the relative weakness of the black in the field. Here again, black appears to be one of the least-played colors amongst the winning players. Many pools that I looked through had some acceptable black cards in them, but the only players that chose to commit themselves to the color were driven into it by an abundance of black rares, such as Herald of Torment, Agent of Fates, and Reaper of the Wilds.
It will be interesting to check back in with the top tables here as the day progresses to see if these trends continue, or if they are overturned by a surge of different decks.
Saturday, 4:15 p.m. – A Look Around Grand Prix Nagoya
It is virtually impossible to be bored attending a Grand Prix. Even before the main event begins on Saturday, the schedule is packed to the brim with things to do. From simple 8-man Booster Drafts to massive melees, each Grand Prix has plenty to offer, and each Grand Prix is unique. Nagoya is no different.
Wondering how to navigate this event-filled weekend? Try this handy guidebook, complete with timetables for events, local food options, maps of the venue, and even a public transportation schedule!
Perhaps you want to prepare for this weekend's Grand Prix... Well what better way is there than to attend a Sealed Deck seminar hosted by Hall of Famer Shuhei Nakamura and the guys at TokyoMTG? Some of the lucky participants built their own Sealed Decks and learned as Nakamura walked them through what they had done well or needed to improve on. Even Yuuya Watanabe was so impressed by the turnout and the response from the many players involved that he offered his services for the next one!
Maybe you're more of an old-school player. Well don't worry, there was plenty of action for you on Friday night, as TokyoMTG hosted a Vintage tournament that saw 32 players duking it out with Black Lotuses, Time Walks, and Moxen galore. Even better, they recorded both the Vintage tournament and their Sealed Deck Seminar with Shuhei Nakamura, put them online, and are working at getting them subbed into English! You can find links to the videos on their website!
With all of this hard work and Magic playing, you are bound to get hungry at some point. Fortunately for you, the tournament organizers here in Nagoya thought ahead, calling in the services of a number of food trucks from the area to deliver food to the event site all weekend long!
Between rounds, feel free to check out the many artists in the room to meet your favorite artists, such as Igor Kieryluk...
Or get a print signed by artists like Eric Deschamps!
You can even get a card turned into a 3d work of art by the renowned Mr. Okubo!
Maybe you just want to stop by the feature match to watch two top players playing under the lights and cameras...
Whatever you feel like doing, there is something for you here at Grand Prix Nagoya!
Round 6 Feature Match - Ken Yukuhiro vs. Jun'ichi Endo
Ken Yukuhiro spent 2013 becoming the Next Big Thing in Japanese Magic, demonstrating that his Top 4 finish at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored was no fluke. He's put up a number of Grand Prix Top 8's, but has yet to claim the trophy. He's hoping this weekend will change that.
Jun'ichi Endo is an amateur hunting for a breakout performance. He's been making the rounds of the Japanese GPs, but hasn't been able to convert a Day 2 appearance into something more.
Yukuhiro has brought a slow, defensive-minded Green-White-Red deck with cards all over the power spectrum. Astral Cornucopia and Traveler's Amulet help with the mana as he works towards a big monster.
It was all haymakers all the time in this match. Game one saw Yukuhiro build a 5/5 Observant Alseid with Ordeal of Nylea and then use the extra lands to threaten monstrous with Nessian Asp. Endo's ragtag collection of beaters held out as long as they could, but were overpowered.
Yukuhiro 1 - Endo 0
Both players went to their sideboards. Endo, considering the way the first game had gone, swapped out a Pillar of War for a splashed Sudden Storm. Yukuhiro decided to go even more defensive and sought help from the Guardians of Meletis. It all came into play as Endo's slow start turned into a Cyclops of One-Eyed Pass with Observant Alseid on it, too big for Yukuhiro to stop with the Guardians. He decided to risk falling to six, and was surprised by the Sudden Storm cast off Temple of Enlightenment.
Yukuhiro 1 - Endo 1
Endo matched answers to Yukuhiro's early threats. They hit the midgame on a nearly empty board, and Endo started working towards ruling the skies with Wingsteed Rider and Ornitharch. Yukuhiro had a Vulpine Goliath, and tapped five for a backbreaking Hunter's Prowess. Endo, ever the gentleman, let Yukuhiro draw the full nine, and conceded on the following turn.
Ken Yukuhiro defeats Jun'ichi Endo 2-1
Round 7 Feature Match - Tomoya Motomura vs. Ryota Takeuchi
Just a little more than one year ago, at Grand Prix Yokohama, a player by the name of Tomoya Motomura made an impressive 9-0 run through the Sealed Deck portion of the largest Japanese Grand Prix ever held. He went on to make the Top 8 of that Grand Prix before falling in the Quarterfinals. Here in Nagoya, he is well on his way to a second 9-0 Sealed Deck, coming into this round with a perfect 6-0 record. His opponent, Ryota Takeuchi, has dreams of his own perfect Day 1, and presents a formidable roadblock to Motomura's attempt at repetition.
Motomura came packing an impressive WR deck featuring a number of aggressive creatures, some reasonable removal, and topping out at Elspeth, Sun's Champion. On the other side of the table, Takeuchi's deck was a very aggressive RG build that came equipped with plenty of ways to finish a game, including Ember Swallower and Polukranos, World Eater.
Tomoya Motomura vs. Ryota Takeuchi
The first game of the match proceeded at a rapid pace. On the play, Motomura fell behind to Takeuchi's incredibly fast draw, finding himself on the wrong end of a 12-17 deficit. Both players had Arena Athletes, but with Takeuchi in the early lead, his Arena Athlete would be the one that set the pace. Eventually, though, with Motomura down to 7, he ran out of ways to trigger heroic, and Motomura's large defenders forced him to keep his team home while he looked for an out. Still, his own army was impressive enough to inspire the same fear from Motomura, and the game ground to halt, both players simply adding to their board.
A simple swing away from victory, Takeuchi found the avenue to victory he sought, recruiting an Akroan Conscriptor to his side of the board before giving it a Fearsome Temper. This allowed him to steal Motomura's largest blocker and turn it into another massive attacker, giving him the advantage he needed to take a victory in the first game.
The second game began much slower than the last, with Motomura not even making it onto the board until turn four, when he added an Ill-Tempered Cyclops to his side of the board. Takeuchi hadn't been that productive himself, and had just added an Archetype of Aggression to his side. Still, Takeuchi continued on curve, adding a Pheres-Band Tromper and Akroan Conscriptors to his side of the table. Not wanting a repeat of the previous game, Motomura thought hard before using Bolt of Keranos to remove the Conscriptors that had cost him a win in Game 1.
Motomura was a bit behind, but he turned the corner with a Hopeful Eidolon on his Cyclops. After becoming monstrous, the Cyclops was able to completely negate any damage that Takeuchi was able to deal on his turn. This kept him out of danger while simultaneously dropping Takeuchi to a precarious 5 life. He even had a Rise to the Challenge to push past a Pheres-Band Centaur bestowed with a Leafcrown Dryad. Takeuchi's attacks were growing ever stronger thanks to his Tromper, but Motomura still sat on 20 life.
The attacks grew fiercer and fiercer, as Takeuchi's attackers inched closer to being able to end the game in one swing. In one of the last turns of the game, he added a Fearsome Temper to his Archetype of Aggression and swung with it and the Tromper to deal fifteen damage in one turn. Motomura had the end in reach, but he was unable to get through with his attacker to finish the job. More frustrating, the Archetype Takeuchi controlled removed the trample from his Cyclops, preventing it from simply trampling over for the final points of damage. Motomura didn't realize this, however, and attempted to finish the game with a Fanatic of Mogis to drop Takeuchi to 2 before attacking for what he assumed to be lethal damage.
When it was pointed out to him that the Cyclops didn't have trample, Motomura gasped and slammed his head on the table. When he pulled it up, he had a big smile on his face, but clearly couldn't believe that he had just made that mistake. To make matters worse, he revealed the Elsepth, Sun's Herald, in his hand that he could have instead played to remove the most threatening of Takeuchi's creatures. He would have lost his own lifelinking attacker in the process, but it would have been much better than simply being dead.
Saturday, 5:15 p.m. – Vintage at Nagoya
It's the Cadillac of constructed formats, where Magic's oldest and most powerful cards come out to play. Unfortunately, those cards are also some of the game's most scarce, and therefore command a staggering price tag. That goes double for Japan, so you might suspect that Vintage would be all but ignored here. I certainly thought so, but the interest is here, and growing!
As evidence, TokyoMTG hosted a tournament on Friday. They didn't expect to meet their cap of thirty-two players, but the event sold out well in advance. The field ran the gamut from seasoned Vintage ringers to absolute novices. There were prizes for the Top 3 (Unlimited Mox Pearl to the winner!) as well as a Plateau given out to the highest-placing unpowered player, one whose deck featured none of the iconic Power 9.
In the end, Kazuya Shinmura emerged victorious. Take a look at this beauty.
Saturday, 6:30 p.m. – Who’s Winning at Grand Prix Nagoya Two Rounds to Go
Coming down the stretch, with two rounds to go, there are a mere twenty-five players with perfect records. There has been utter decimation amongst the strongest players in the room, with only Ken Yukuhiro and Grand Prix Shanghai Top 8 competitor Rei Satou managing to run the gauntlet unscathed. Beyond them, there are a number of notable players sitting with a single loss to their name.
First up are the players from the Blue side of the standings. Sitting down in 52nd place is Chinese Taipei's Tzu-Ching Kuo, captain of the team that won the first World Magic Cup. Following close on his heels is Masaya Kitayama, winner of Grand Prix Yokohama just over one year ago. A little further down the standings is one of the coolest guys in the old school of Japanese Magic, Masashiro Kuroda, the first Japanese player to win a Pro Tour. All three of these players are sitting pretty with 6-1 records, still highly in contention for the top spots in tomorrow's action.
Dropping down to players on the bubble, we see Jun'Ichirou Bandou, another player who has been a fixture of Japanese Magic for the better part of a decade. Katsuhiro Mori, the 2005 Magic World Champion, also sits down around 153rd, needing a win to stay alive in the tournament, as does Makihito Mihara.
Kentarou Yamamoto and Shota Yasooka are another two notable players with no losses left to give, as is Hao-Shan Huang, from Chinese Taipei. All of these players, despite being some of the more notable names in the room, sit precariously at 5-2, needing to win out in order to secure their berth in Day 2.
On the Black side, things have been even more difficult for the big names in the field. Singapore's Chapman Sim has managed to scrape together a 6-1 record through seven rounds, but he is the only big player to manage to make that mark. The rest of them still live in the tournament are languishing at the 5-2 mark, desperately fighting to keep their tournament hopes alive. I'm talking big names, too, like Yuuya Watanabe, Samuele Estratti, and Martin Juza. All three of these top flight players have struggled all tournament, though none of them really seem to know why. Juza stopped by with a bewildered look on his face after picking up his second loss of the day.
"I don't get it," he said. "Sure, my last round opponent's deck was very, very good, but I didn't think this deck was a 7-2 deck. It's exactly what I wanted when I opened my pool. I just don't know why I'm not winning."
Just before Round 8 started, you could see him sitting at a table near the corner with Watanabe going through each other's decks with a shrug, neither one able to see why they had fallen so low in this tournament. Still, their results are much better than those put up by some of the other big names in the tournament. For example, you may notice my failure to mention Shuhei Nakamura, Hall of Famer and one of the Top 25 players in the world. He posted a picture to twitter in Round 5 of his entry slip into a Sealed Deck side event. GG, indeed. There are other notable players who failed to make the cut, as well, including Tomoharu Saito and Naoki Shimizu.
All in all, it has been a bad day to be a top-level Pro here in Nagoya. By the end of the day, there will be about a half-dozen undefeated players left in the tournament, and almost none of them will be a known quantity. Will they continue to dominate tomorrow, or will the generally more skill-intensive Born of the Gods/Theros Booster Draft format tomorrow herald a return from the brink for the languishing Pros? In either case, they still have two rounds to go, and many of the Pros can't afford one more loss. It's going to be a tense affair as the rounds tick down to completion here at Day 1 of Grand Prix Nagoya.
Round 9 Feature Match - Yuuta Iwazaki vs. Ryousuke Kasuga
These two are a couple of Grand Prix regulars lining themselves up for their best performance to date. One of them will finish the day with the coveted 9-0 record.
Yuuta Iwazaki vs. Ryousuke Kasuga
This far into a Sealed Deck tournament you'd be right to expect powerhouses. Iwazaki's deck was a streamlined Blue-Green Machine with many bestow creatures and plenty of tempo tricks. Archetype of Imagination and Hunter's Prowess provide ways to break out of snarled boards. Kasuga's deck leans the other direction, multicolored with good fixing, a host of powerful creatures, and a removal suite to beat the band.
Iwazaki was at an early disadvantage thanks to a mulligan to six. He had early pressure, but Kasuga matched him with blockers, so he could only keep the Hero of Leina Tower on the table. As a 1/1 it wasn't doing him much good, so he cashed in a Retraction Helix for four +1/+1 counters on his next attack, dropping Kasuga down to twelve.
However Iwazaki was left with just lands in hand, and Kasuga was hitting his stride. Keepsake Gorgon forced the Hero to stay at home for a turn, and that only opened the door to Asphyxiate. From there it was clear sailing and Kasuga took the first game.
Kasuga 1 - Iwazaki 0
Iwazaki got to play with a full hand this game but was slow off the starting blocks. He played a third-turn Setessan Oathsworn and then had to play a Temple of Mystery as his fourth land and pass an otherwise empty turn. Meanwhile Kasuga was not idle. He suited up his Nessian Courser with Leafcrown Dryad and began administering the beats.
Iwazaki flipped the script on him on turn five. Two mana gave the Oathsworn Ordeal of Thassa, which he got to cash in during the attack step. After Kasuga declined to block, Iwazaki decided to go for pure damage and added a Savage Surge to the mix. The Oathsworn hit for eight. Iwazaki was banking on the Archetype of Imagination in his hand to sew up the game. The only problem was that he was stuck on five land. Still, after Kasuga dropped the dreaded Keepsake Gorgon, Iwazaki had Sudden Storm to force through still more damage.
Kasuga got a look at what was coming thanks to Disciple of Phenax and was able to stay ready with Lightning Strike mana open. Iwazaki's deck thought it would be fun to serve up ineffective creatures, and Kasuga's removal meant that his would be the only giant monster that got to stay in play. Soon Iwazaki was extending the hand.
Ryousuke Kasuga defeats Yuuta Iwazaki 2-0
King of the Hill at Grand Prix Nagoya – Day 1
Round 4 marked the first appearance of the King of the Hill at Grand Prix Nagoya, and they certainly rolled out all of the stops. Once they found out about our plans to create a King of the Hill table for the tournament, the tournament organizer set out to make sure that the table was clearly identified for the dozens of spectators huddling around the Feature Match area all day long, creating an awesome sign to designate the table. From there, it was just up to us to choose who the first King of the Hill would be.
Despite his recent win in Beijing, and his higher standing in the Top 25, we opted not to go with Yuuya Watanabe, instead deciding that Hall of Fame trumps all. Shuhei Nakamura, fresh off of a Sealed Deck seminar the night before would be the first to put his lesson into action as the King of the Hill. Unfortunately for him, the fates were not kind, and he also quickly became our first casualty of the fight to be the King. His Round 4 opponent, Tomo Takebayashi summarily dismantled Nakamura in a three-game match that saw a large number of Retraction Helixes and Sealock Monsters cast and tricked out.
In Round 5, Takebayashi himself fell prey to a stronger deck, as his Prognostic Sphinx proved no match for the Prognostic Sphinx and Arbiter of the Ideal, not to mention the Shipbreaker Kraken, of his opponent, Kentarou Yuasa. Yuasa managed to hold onto the seat for at least one more round, defeating Jun Kobayashi in the sixth round.
In Round 7, against Kalim Oldziey, Yuasa's luck ran out. Oldziey's very aggressive RW deck had picked up a draw early into the tournament, and he had gotten paired up against Yuasa to make it into the King of the Hill match. I have no idea how his deck actually drew after seeing the contents, as it was the stuff that Boros dreams are made of. Phalanx Captain, Anax and Cymede, Flame-Wreathed Phoenix, Favored Hoplite, Wingsteed Rider... his deck was absolutely loaded with the best cards red and white have to offer. As such, it was no surprise to see him run roughshod over his next opponent, Grand Prix Yokohama Top 8 competitor Tomoya Motomura. Motomura's deck was another aggressive RW deck, just like Oldziey's, but his featured Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Still, Oldziey was able to continue to make short work of his opponents dispatching Motomura to keep his victory streak alive.
The final round was a true showcase of the power of royalty. Finding himself paired down against Yasuaki Nakayama, Oldziey had to feel good about how things had been going up to that point. However that feeling of security came crashing down quickly when Brimaz, King of Oreskos, came down on Yasuaki's third turn. The big kitty is one of the most difficult cards in the format to beat, and Oldziey wasn't able to find an answer in the first game. In Game 2, Oldziey's own royalty appeared, Anax and Cymede, and they were more than up to the task of proving who the real King (and Queen) of the Hill were. Coming back from an unthinkable deficit, Oldziey's army was able to stop Nakayama's assault and turn the tides on him, sending the match to a decisive Game 3. Unfortunately, as good as the previous two games were, the final game was a bit on the lackluster side, as Nakayama found himself shy on lands, and Oldziey simply punished his poor draw, overrunning him with creatures.
It was fitting that Oldziey and his Anax and Cymede should end Day 1 as the King of the Hill, royalty begetting royalty. Still, with an 8-0-1 record, he still has a long road ahead of him to get to the Top 8.
"I was a bit confused when I got called up for my second feature match in a row," Oldziey laughed. "When I realized how the King of Hill worked, it all started to make more sense."
Oldziey was featured twice in his matches under the camera of the NicoNico video coverage, which took some serious getting used to.
"I was a bit nervous for my first feature match," he admitted, "But I quickly realized that it's just another game. Things were a bit different when I got on camera, though. When they're right there and you know that thousands of people can watch every move you make, it can be a little nerve wracking."
More nerve wracking than that, though, is the thought of beginning tomorrow as the King of the Hill.
"I didn't want to say this in my video interview, but I've only done like one draft with Born of the Gods," Oldziey laughed with a touch of a grimace. "I've got some serious studying to do tonight. I'm a little worried that once the draft starts, I'll be found out!"
Regardless, he was the longest tenured of all of our Kings today, and he earned his reserved seat for the first round of play tomorrow. Here's the weapon he used to do it: