TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Blog - 5:44 p.m. - Round 14: Makoto Nagashima vs. Masaya Kitayama
by Eli Kaplan
- Blog - 4:47 p.m. - Round 14: Tomoharu Saito vs.Yoshitaka Nakano
by Brian David-Marshall
- Blog - 3:52 p.m. - Round 13: Tomoharu Saito vs. Yuuya Watanabe
by Brian David-Marshall
- Blog - 2:35 p.m. - Magic Café/Lorwyn Preview Photo Essay
by Brian David-Marshall
- Blog - 1:44 p.m. - Round 11: Shouta Yasooka vs. Tomoharu Saito
by Brian David-Marshall
- Blog - 1:32 p.m. - Round 11: Reiji Ando vs. Masahiko Morita
by Brian David-Marshall
- Blog - 12:56 p.m. - Round 9: Kouji Nose vs. Takashi Akiyama
by Eli Kaplan
- Blog - 12:01 p.m. - Japanese Class
by Brian David-Marshall
- Blog - 11:27 a.m. - Checking in with Eli's Squad
by Eli Kaplan
- Blog - 10:44 a.m. - Round 8: Yuuta Takahashi vs. Shu Komuro
by Eli Kaplan
- Blog - 10:01 a.m. - Drafting with a Champion
by Brian David-Marshall
Table one for Day Two of Japanese Nationals was a spiffy little assortment of Magic players that included an up and coming star in Yuuta Takahashi, a true Grand Prix master in Masahiko Morita, and a Pro Tour Champion in Shu Komuro. Shu became the second Japanese player to win a Pro Tour - and the first Japanese Limited Champion - when he beat Anton Jonson in the finals of PT Nagoya.
I asked Japanese reporter Keitia Mori why he thought that Shu has not followed up on his success from Nagoya and Mori pointed out that Shu was not as skinny as he once was, as if to say he is no longer hungry for it. Shu mostly plays the game for the camaraderie he shares and what excited him most about coming to Nats was the chance to see friends from around the country all in one place. Despite his full belly Shu had gotten off to a lean 7-0 start on Day One and was in an excellent position to lock up a berth in the Top 8 if he could sweep this draft table.
Shu was bound to play either Masaya Kitamaya or Pro Tour San Diego finalist Yuuta Takahashi in the seventh round. Kitamaya was far enough down the table that Shu did not need to concern himself with how their drafts interacted but immediately to Shu's left sat Takahashi.
Shu opened his first pack and flicked Assassinate and Penumbra Spider to the front of the pack before snagging Sporesower Thallid - a card that would define the remainder of his picks. He was passed an assortment of fourteen that included Mindless Automaton, Clockwork Hydra, a smattering of black removal spells, and Magus of the Scroll. Oh yeah…the pack also had Thallid Germinator which is what Shu put on top of his pile. He took another Germinator third pick, eschewing black cards once again. Despite the fact that he had to feel pretty certain Takahashi had moved into black, Shu moved in himself on a sixth pick Assassinate followed by seventh pick Dark Withering.
When the pack was finally dispersed Shu had the foundation for a green-black deck that was expecting to reap the green rewards in Planar Chaos. Little did he know that immediately to his left Takahashi had also gone into green-black. Takahashi's first pick had been Strangling Soot but he had passed up a second pick Assassinate for Penumbra Spider.
As Shu rated his picks for the first look at Planar Chaos he shuffled forward…nothing very exciting. There was a Cradle to Grave in black, a Hedge Troll in green - kind of in green anyway - and not much else. He considered those cards for a moment before thinking that if he was going to have to play white for the Hedge Troll anyway he might as well just take the Crovax. Behind him Takahashi was swatting a Duskwasp that Shu would have loved to see land in his pile of cards. He did get Wild Pair with his second pick though and seemed happy enough with that.
Takahashi was taking black cards at this point and Shu secured a pair of Mire Boas, which could be pretty relevant should they play each other. After that the picks dried up for both of them while blue cards like Erratic Mutations seemed to wander aimlessly about the table.
Shu closed his eyes and tried to visualize a Sprout Swarm in his Future Sight pack but was handed only Thornweald Archer, Llanowar Empath, and Riftsweeper to work with. He slumped a little and took the Empath. He sat up straight in his chair when he was passed a Sprout Swarm and didn't even give Korlash or Death Rattle as second glance. He was passed another in the following pack with another grandeur guy - this time Baru - and Shu happily took the green common. His notable picks in the remainder of the packs were a pair of Festering March and a rare drafted Graven Cairns.
I asked Shu to grade his draft on a scale of 1 - 10 as he began sorting it out for deck registration: "I got Sprout Swarm out of Future Sight so maybe it is a 6. It is probably safe to call it a 5 but two Sprout Swarms means I can say, 'This is finally a deck.'"
Shu came to table with an eye toward drafting either green-black or green-white Thallids and felt locked in with his first pick Sporesower Thallid. He was ready to abandon black going into the second pack if had seen some key cards. "The reason I picked Crovax was because I believed Takahashi was black and I was prepared to go white if I say some Pallid Mycoderms."
"I didn't stop any good black cards in pack one and there were no black cards in Planar Chaos. I had a hard time choosing between black and white. My plan was to draft Thallids and the two Germinators were a good sign. I would have been white if there had been a single Mycoderm - there is usually one going around the table."
If Shu was going to be green-black thallids he would have liked to have had at least one Deathspore Thallid. Despite his misgivings Shu was sure that the power of Sprout Swarm coupled with his double Festering March would be enough to each steal games on their own. "Hopefully it is a 2-1 deck. In my humble opinion this draft was not great. I can safely say this is a solid deck but it is not what I was hoping for after my first pick."
Saturday, Sept 1: 10:44 a.m. - Round 8: Yuuta Takahashi vs. Shu Komuro
Two undefeated players faced off on a humid Tokyo morning. PT Nagoya winner Shu Komuro sat to the left of PT San Diego finalist Yuuta Takahashi in the draft, passing an early Penumbra Spider for a Sporesower Thallid. Takahashi took that for a signal indicating that green was open. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't. Takahashi also thought black was open but Shu switched into that color with a sixth pick Assassinate. It all worked out in the end though as Komuro passed Korlash, Heir to Blackblade and Baru, Fist of Krosa to Takahashi, taking two Sprout Swarms and other goodies. Takahashi did not pass much to Shu the one pack he had chance to control the flow between them but the key cards he did pass were a pair of Mire Boas - which could prove to be the key to a green-black mirror.
The action started off fast and furious and never let up. Takahashi went first and suspended a Mindstab followed by Thornweald Archers. Shu planted the seeds for a Saproling-filled tomorrow with a second turn Thallid Shell-Dweller and a third turn Germinator. The Archers kept attacking and were soon joined by Dauthi Slayer and Clockwork Hydra.
Shu found the perfect gardening tool with Sporesower Thallid and made Takahashi's math a nightmare. No matter how many thallids one makes it's extremely tough to deal with trampling fury. It was all coming together for Takahashi who played Baru, Fist of Krosa, followed by a 7/7 Kavu Primarch but what Takahashi desperately needed was a Forest or two to whip his brutes into trampling shape.
Shu got rid of the shadowy Slayer by synching up two copies of Festering March and suddenly his life total seemed a little more secure. The Primarch wandered over towards Komuro's side and the Pro Tour winner decided to see if he could take it down. He released four tokens and they alongside the Sporesower. Komuro used the Germinator's ability to keep the swarm-happy Sporesower alive.
Takahashi was running out of options with a Mire Boa pecking away at his life. He sent the Clockwork Hydra into the Red Zone, which prompted more token generation. When Komuro sacrificed the chumping Saproling to pump his Germinator, Takahashi had a brief window to use Strangling Soot to terminate the Germinator. With a Bogardan Rager in hand, he needed red mana to stay in the game. Before the mountain ever came Shu used Haunting Hymn to strip away the Rager. When Komuro played Dread Return to bring the Germinator back online, Takahashi yielded the game, which could easily have gone the other way had he drawn a forest in the two turns his fatty army was still in one piece.
Shu Komuro 1-0 Yuuta Takahashi
Takahashi opted to play and kept a hand with five lands, Thornweald Archers, and Kavu Primarch. Komuro sent a one-lander back and drew not one, but two Mire Boas with the replacement hand. Takahashi suspended Giant Duskwasp on his second turn, but he knew it wouldn't be easy to race two Mire Boas. He kept the pressure on with a Mass of Ghouls.Komuro
Komuro took a chance by tapping out for a Llanowar Empath, leaving no mana available to regenerate his Mire Boas. The Boas came in, knocking Takahashi down to 14. But Takahashi didn't have the removal to capitalize on the window. Instead he kept the fat coming, adding a 7/7 Kavu Primarch to the mix. When Shu drew a Sprout Swarm, he thought he was in the driver's seat. But Takahashi forced his hand with Mindstab, prompting two tokens before putting the crazy token generator in the bin.
Takahashi cut down the snaky Boa attack to only one a turn with Melancholy and kept swinging with the Duskwasps. Shu came up with a Savage Thallid. Takahashi's Rathi Trapper kept the last Boa at bay. Shu was down to two from the Duskwasp, but a topdecked Dark Withering kept him alive. Shu generated just enough Saprolings and cleared away blockers with a Festering March to send the Saprolings in for the kill.
Shu Komuro defeats Yuuta Takahashi 2-0 and maintained his perfect record - narrowly.
Saturday, Sept 1: 11:27 a.m. - Checking in with Eli's Squad
I pinned my fortunes on four players yesterday. One man is down; Shingo Kurihara left Standard at 2-1 and couldn't buy a win at the draft table with an ignominious 0-4. Yuuya Watanabe was in the middle of the crowded 4-3 herd aka the walking wounded. He picked up three Saltfield Recluses and a few black removal spells to shore up his defenses, but had only a Castle Raptors and Angel of Salvation to put the opponent away. He and Kenji Tsumura wore the polo shirt stylings with custom modifications from judge and amateur clothing designer Tomoya Nakajima who never leaves home without his reflective tape.
Naoki Shimizu was commiserating with Watanabe as they registered their decks. Shimizu's draft handed him less than stellar green and blue monsters. Mass removal like Rough/Tumble and Squall Line gave him a few shots to break games in half, but he wasn't able to piece together a solid army. Battering, Gemhide, Psionic, and Synchronous Slivers gave him some onboard trickery, but he didn't think it would get him the record he wanted.
Ryou Ogura managed to slog out a 2-1-1 draft record yesterday despite a sluggish green/white deck. This time out he swapped White for brutal Red fury, starting off Time Spiral strong with a Bogardan Hellkite. A sweet suite of tricks (Stingscourger, Fatal Attraction, 2 Brute Force) supported a mean curve of Mire Boas, Giant Duskwasps, and Thallid beaters. Pod 2 is a wonderful place to start a second day of a National Championship. I'm definitely rooting for the top pro from my adopted home town, along with his frequent collaborator, the taciturn Koji Nose.
With BDM covering the draft of Shu Komuro while keeping an eye Tashahaki as well I though I should pop in on yesterday's third undefeated player Masaya Kitayama. He looked thrilled with his assortment of Red and Black cards. Seven powerful removal spells, including a bloody Pyrohemia, came along with late picked goods like multiple Henchfiends of Ukor, Emberwilde Augurs, and other efficient beaters. Kitayama couldn't hide his confidence. "As long as I can avoid opponents with Green, I'll win every game."
Saturday, Sept 1: 12:01 p.m. - Japanese Class
On Friday September 7th I will be announcing the results from the balloting for the third class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame in my weekly column. Kai is pretty much a mortal lock to make it but I would not be surprised to see Tsuyoshi Fujita's name among the next four. After all it would make sense for the Japanese player to make the Top 8 of a Pro Tour become the first Japanese player to be enshrined in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
With so many young Japanese players bursting onto the scene and having tremendous success since the year 2000, when Tsuyoshi achieved that feat, it is easy to forget that there is a generation of players upon whose shoulders those players stand. Satoshi Nakamura has been eligible for the Hall of Fame since the very first ballot and Itaru Ishida became eligible last season. No surprise since both players started playing the game before it was even available in their native language.
To give you an idea of how long Japanese players have been participating on the Pro Tour, and playing the game at the highest levels, there were actually five players present this weekend who are Hall of Fame eligible out of a potential seven. There will be plenty of additional Japanese Pros joining these guys on future ballots but they may never have gotten there without the trailblazing efforts of Satoshi Nakamura (not pictured), Itaru Ishida (middle top row), Masami Ibamoto (continuing clockwise), Tsuyoshi Fujita, Osamu Fujita, Tsuyoshi Ikeda, and Jin Okomoto (not pictured).
Saturday, Sept 1: 12:56 p.m. - Round 9: Kouji Nose vs. Takashi Akiyama
Hometown talent Takashi Akiyama's been racking up wins in the weekly Tokyo cardfights, with a Top 8 performance in last December's Finals. He was facing off in the last round of Limited against grizzled veteran Kouji Nose, a Team specialist who's never quite made it on the Pro Tour gravy train despite coming close on a few occasions. The match would pit Akiyama's pricy but potent removal and hard-hitting Red and Black men against Nose's White/Blue army filled with evasive three and four drops backed by blue removal. Nose had the edge, but had to put together enough creatures on the board to exploit his three Marshaling Cries to the fullest.
Nose started the game right with a suspended Infiltrator il-Kor. Akiyama invested two turns getting a Basalt Gargoyle into play only to have Nose aim an Erratic Mutation at the flier before it could do its master's bidding. Nose then added a D'Avenant Healer to keep his forces sharp.
The evasive beats kept coming for Nose; Amrou Seekers, Spirit en-Dal, and a sleek, flying version of Primal Plasma came off the top. Akiyama made token efforts to stay in the game with an Urborg Syphon-Mage, but Nose jumped ahead in the damage race with a Marshaling Cry. A bargain-basement Dark Withering couldn't stop the bleeding.
Kouji Nose 1-0 Takashi Akiyama
Once again Nose started off on the right foot, suspending the Infiltrator il-Kor on his second turn. Akiyama retorted with the unfairly maligned Deadly Grub. The younger player followed up with Basalt Gargoyle. This time Nose didn't have a trick to ruin Akiyama's costly investment.
Nose's Infiltrator kept coming and knocked Akiyama to five but the Deadly Grub metamorphosed into a full-grown 6/1 insect and Nose grimaced as Akiyama played a Stronghold Rats to impede the Infiltrators. Nose found an Erratic Mutation two turns late to murder the Basalt Gargoyle and suspended Shade of Trokair. A few turns of mutual fortification followed. Nose built a line of Infiltrator il-Vec, Shade of Trokair, Amrou Seeker, and Cloudchaser Kestrel against Akiyama's Reckless Wurm, Stronghold Rats, 6/1 Insect token, and Grave Scrabbler. Akiyama was slightly ahead on life at 8 to 5. He buckled up and sent his troops in, expecting a trick but not willing to wait around for a Nose Marshaling Cry.
Kouji sent the attacking Reckless Wurm back with a Venser's Diffusion. The Insect token, Rats, and a Needlepeak Spider bashed heads against Amrou Seeker, Infiltrator il-Kor, and a Cloudchaser Eagle. Nose was left with a Viscerid Deepwalker and Shade of Trokair against Nose's Reckless Wurm. The combat math looked pretty good when he cycled then played a Marshaling Cry and sent his men in but Akiyama took advantage of that moment to aim Riddle of Lightning at Nose's head and revealed Death Rattle.
Kouji Nose 1-1 Takashi Akiyama
The first two turns saw no play. Akiyama failed to find a third land, but made the best of the situation by using Madness to play Grave Scrabbler on the second turn. Nose played a morphed Whip-Spine Drake and turned it over next turn after assigning damage to the Grave Scrabbler. Akiyama could have used Brute Force to save the blocker, but preferred to reserve it for a rainy day. A Fledgling Mawcor prompted Akiyama's Premature Burial. Akiyama found a Needlepeak Spider and sent it at Nose repeatedly. Akiyama kept playing mountain after mountain, biding his time with Pyrohemia and Grave Peril in hand.
Nose played out D'Avenant Healer just in time to avoid the consequences of Treacherous Urge, much to Akiyama's dismay. Akiyama followed up with the Grave Peril and Pyrohemia to the board. At seven life to Akiyama's twenty, Nose had to clear the board of creatures in a hurry. Nose sent the Shade of Trokair into combat with the Grave Scrabbler and killed it. Nose burned an Erratic Mutation to dispose of his own creature. Pyrohemia struck for five before heading to the bin.
The judges crowded around as Nose played a Flickering Spirit into Grave Peril and activated its blinking ability, expecting to be able to blink the Spirit out of harm's way by avoiding the Peril's trigger. However, Grave Peril only sacrifices itself upon resolution of the triggered ability, and the Spirit died on reentry. The gruff Nose groused quietly. When Akiyama's next turn provided another Needlepeak Spider and Grinning Ignus, Nose packed it in.
Takashi Akiyama defeats Kouji Nose 2-1.
Saturday, Sept 1: 1:32 p.m. - Round 11: Reiji Ando vs. Masahiko Morita
Reiji Ando was a member of one of the classic Japanese teams from back in the long ago of Team Rochester Draft (somewhere Ken Krouner is sighing fondly) when he played alongside Itaru Ishida and Kazuyuki Momose. That team reached the quarterfinals of the Venice Masters Series before running afoul of another Japanese team, the eventual winners PS2. His specific opponent from that team? Masahiko Morita…the same player he had to face in the first round of Standard on Day Two. Happily, Itaru Ishida was in the back room doing an interview with the Japanese coverage team and could confirm this little tidbit.
Just like that match played among the Italian canals this match was, in effect, an elimination match. Both players had accumulated three losses over the course of the two days and another would likely leave a player on the outside looking in come the cut to Top 8.
As the players shuffled I craned my neck to get a look at the match-up. I could see that Morita was playing the AussieStorm Update that Kenji was featured playing on Day One. Ando grinned and showed off one card from his deck before the match to make sure I knew he wasn't playing some cookie-cutter deck. As I looked at the Bad Moon I had to agree.
Ando led off with Plagued Rusalka while Morita began Hatching Plans. Ando had his own card drawing in the form of Dark Confidant. Morita had no third turn play and passed the turn with two mana showing. Ando bashed over for three and offered up another Dark Confidant, which was met with Remand. He shrugged and played another Plagued Rusalka. Morita had no follow up and passed the turn without any play again.
Ando tried a Bad Moon…it resolved. He then added a hasty Nether Traitor and that also stuck the landing. Morita adjusted his life total down to the single digits and hoped for the best. Perilous Research at the end of the turn sacrificing Hatching Plans gave him plenty of options. Morita had to win this turn and had eleven cards in hand to work with. It looked like he was going to be able to make a game of it when he played two copies of Rite of Flame and another set of Plans/Research but he just did not have enough mana to make it work without any Lotus Blooms and conceded.
I will definitely need to look up Ando's specific card list. As he made room for an Extirpate and a handful of Pithing Needles by taking out Garza's Assassin and Graveborn Muses, I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of Thoughtpicker Witch.
Things went a little better for Morita this time around as he was able to parlay a Lotus Bloom into twelve Goblins on the fourth turn but Ando quickly erased his hard work with Damnation - taking his own Nether Traitor and Nantuko Husk on the descent. Morita had drawn ample cards while generating his goblins and recovered quickly, deploying a pair Lotus Blooms and restocking his hand with Hatching Plans filtered through Claws of Gix.
Ando was not cooperating though and he Distressed Morita - and distressed himself - to see a hand of Repeal, Empty, Swath, Martyr of Ash, and two Grapeshot. He took the Swath and began 'beating down' with a Spawning Pool. Morita laughed as he found his third Hatching Plans on top of his deck and he made ten goblins this time. Ando laughed as well as he also had a rerun on the schedule with another showing of Damnation.
Court Hussar - an interesting sideboard card -- helped Morita dig for the third Empty the Warrens of the game. Did Ando have the third Damnation? It appeared not as he played a Pithing Needle naming Claws of Gix. Morita was just happy to untap with his goblins recovered from their journey into being and drew some blood.
Ando drew Extirpate and reached over to examine Morita's graveyard hoping he would find Grapeshot sitting there. He did not so kept that little piece of information secret as Morita was able to close him out with the storm spell
Plagued Rusalka led the game off for Ando - he was actually playing Thoughtpicker Witch but opted to lead with the spirit. Morita suspended a Lotus - a ticking time bomb for Ando who added Dark Confidant. Morita played Hatching Plans and waited for everything to come together.
After flipping up Bad Moon, Ando debated whether or not he wanted to keep his mana free for Thoughtpicker Witch or to play the enchantment and attack for five. He opted for the latter and played the Witch after combat. Morita had the 'wrath' this time in Martyr of Ash revealing Pyromancer's Swath - I can't tell you how hard it is not to type Swatch - and Empty the Warrens. Morita made eight tokens on the following turn. Once again they remained woozy and were sent to an afterlife of hellfire and such.
Ando played Bad Moon and attacked with Spawing Pool only to have his enchantment Repealed. He did not have enough mana to replay it that turn and instead played Pithing Needle naming Claws of Gix. Morita had hit a little but of an engine stall and meekly played Matryr of Ash.
Ando mounted an army with Nantuko Husk, Nether Traitor and Spawning Pool and found out that the two cards in Morita's hand were the not-a-Swatch and Grapeshot. He did not find anything to kick start the combo though and he offered his hand in concession.
Final result: Reiji Ando avenged himself against Masahiko Morita 2 - 1
Saturday, Sept 1: 1:44 p.m. - Round 11: Shouta Yasooka vs. Tomoharu Saito
This battle of teammates could only propel one of these two players into the Top 8 as they each needed to run the table in the remaining four Standard rounds of the tournament. Despite their long odds - or perhaps because of them - the reigning PoY and the player who would be PoY this year drew a huge crowd to the Feature Match area.
Shouta's deck seemed like it should be advantaged against Saito's Gruul build with all sorts of life gain in his green/black/whi - ahhh… the heck with it…let's just call it Not Red Control. The deck featured both Loxodon Hierarch and Mystical Teachings for Beacon of Immortality but Shouta never got a chance to show off what the deck was capable of with multiple mulligans in Game 1.
If you were playing Shouta and he mulliganed repeatedly and you never saw any lands from him would you still side in Cryoclasm against the notorious control player? Probably but Saito had more than enough info about his teammate to know it would be good despite seeing no blue in Game 1 and he made short work of the Player of the Year with one hit from a Gargadon, one Cryoclasm, a pair of Incinerates, and a mop-up team of little red men.
Final result: Tomoharu Saito defeated his Charleston teammate 2 - 0
Saturday, Sept 1: 2:35 p.m. - Magic Café/Lorwyn Preview Photo Essay
One of the things I have most been looking forward to about this trip for some time now was the prospect of visiting the so-called "Magic Café". Many weeks back Ron Foster, the man with his finger on the pulse of the Japanese Magic scene, sent me an email about an Australian bar/restaurant in Tokyo called OZ cafewhich was going to be converting itself into a Magic-themed bar for the summer. The walls were lined with original artwork, the menu transformed to include items like a squid-ink pasta called The Hypnotic Specter and a potent cocktail called The Icy Manipulator, and best of all they have lands and sell draft product.
I had a chance to enjoy a pretty solid thin crust pizza there on Thursday evening along with a couple of icy cold Coronas. I had long ago vowed never to eat pizza again in Japan as I was subjected to that as a meal for my first trip here while my body was screaming out for tuna. This was a pretty strange place though and all bets were off.
The bar was lit rather dimly making it somewhat hard to see the pictures on the wall - much less capture them with a camera phone but we did the best we could. Bear with us the lighting - and the subject matter - was much better on the other side of the bar.
The original artwork from Uyo, Silent Prophet was one of the pieces hanging on the wall.
The bar attracted a great deal of media attention when it first morphed into the Magic Café. Much of that attention came from an appearance by Yukie Kawamura - an extremely popular Japanese actress/model - dressed as Reya Dawnbringer. Her appearance is commemorated with a desert named for the popular Xth Edition reprint and with this signed card and photograph.
A pool table in the bar had been converted, with a plexiglass shield, to a display surface to show off some art prints from the upcoming realease of Lorwyn including these pieces by Zoltan & Gabor and Wayne Reynolds.
Of special interest to the locals were two large versions of actual Lorwyn cards. I know they are not Planeswalkers or anything but I figured you might be interested in a little sneak in advance of actual previews. This spicy little red number is as follows:
Lash Out - 1R
Deal three damage to target creature. Clash with an opponent. If you win it deals three damage to that creature's controller. (Each clashing player reveals the top card of his or her library then puts that card on the top or bottom. A player wins if his or her card had a higher converted mana cost)
And the gold card…
Wydwen, the Biting Gale - 2UB
Legendary Creature - Faerie Wizard
UB, Pay 1 Life: Return (this) to its owner's hand.
Saturday, Sept 1: 3:52 p.m. - Round 13: Tomoharu Saito vs. Yuuya Watanabe
The sound echoed through the hall…Slap, slap, slap…It could only mean one thing; Tomoharu Saito was in need of a win. The Player of the Year hopeful was looking to improve on his Top 8 finish from last year's National Championships which meant that he needed to win each of his last two matches in order to put himself in that position.
Standing in his way was Grand Prix Kyoto winner Yuuya Watanabe, a player that Naoki Shimizu described to me as "the best Standard player on Earth."
"Thank you," announced Saito as he suspended Greater Gargadon on each of his first two turns. Watanabe did nothing on his first three turns and Saito gave him an appraising eyeball before launching the first of his Incinerates domeward. Perhaps he had been given a bad scouting report on the nature of Watanabe's deck because two turns later a Siege-Gang Commander had rustled up a little army. Saito was happy to Char the Goblin before anything stupid could happen and wait for his Gargadons to arrive. Their itinerary was updated with Saito's plays of Mogg War Marshal and his own Siege-Gang over the next two turns. It did not look like Watanabe's three goblin tokens were going to be able to hold the fort - or to be more accurate The Fortress of the Sunhome.
Neither player made a move. Saito stared at the row of pigs he was using as tokens and tried to guess exactly what Watanabe had up his sleeves - surely his eight mana could do something productive. Molten Disaster left Watanabe with only two mana but since it was kicked it also left Saito with no window to sacrifice anything to the Gargadons.
Saito tried to figure out if Watanabe was holding a Snapback but Watanabe looked over at the clock and realized he could not indulge in such mind games and scooped up his cards.
Saito gave himself one final slap before looking at his cards. Both players made two-drops; signet for Yuuya and Tarmogoyf for the PT Charleston winner. Watanabe took the Goyf out of the picture with Lightning Helix. Saito regrouped with Call of the Herd.
Watanabe played a fourth turn Siege-Gang Commander and tried to figure out his plays. While he was thinking he gave himself a slap to see if it would work for him as well as it has worked for Saito in the past. Saito did not seem to like this and decided to slap himself even harder. If all else failed Watanabe could always try and up the ante to the point where Saito knocked himself silly.
Saito was hoping that his self abuse would bring a fourth land to the top of his deck to no avail. Still, he was able to Cyroclasm one of Watanabe's lands. Watanabe also wanted lands but rather than hit himself he dig three cards deep with Compulsive Research. No land was to be found and he pitched Pyroclasm and Warhammer. Things got worse for Watanabe as Saito Cyroclasmed another land but there was still no fourth land for Saito.
Watanabe managed to squeak a Loxodon Warhammer out of his rapidly dwindling supply of mana and passed the turn. Saito was able to send his Call token into battle and followed it up with Mogg War Marshal.
A Court Hussar from Watanabe helped him find additional mana sources in the form of a Signet. He even had enough mana left over to equip Warhammer to the Hussar only to have Saito Char in response. Saito untapped and also Charred the Siege-Gang.
Another Hussar hit the table for Watanabe who equipped a token and gained a little wiggle room but only a little as Saito used Ancient Grudge on the Warhammer. Watanabe's deck was starting to cooperate with him and delivered Lightning Angel and a Chronicler suspended for one.
Through all of this there was still no fourth land for Saito whose face slaps rang through the hall like rifle shots. He sent his Call of the Herd token into the red zone only to have Watanabe nudge his Lightning Angel in the path of it. Now it was Saito's turn to glance at the clock; a draw would do neither player any good. He packed up and hoped for more land in the rubber game.
Saito had no respect for Watanabe's Sacred Foundry and took it out with a turn three Cryoclasm. With Watanabe's mana set back a turn Saito unleashed the Giant Solifuge and set it back further with Ancient Grudge on a Signet. Watanabe had played a Warhammer which was not a concern for Saito at the time especially with Grudge waiting in the bin for later on.
One Call of the Herd token was neutralized with Faith's Fetters but another soon joined it on the board. Watanabe caught up from his mana deprivation and tried to hide behind a Siege-Gang. Saito Incinerated his opponent at the end of turn and tapped the top of his deck. He was rewarded with Skarrg the Rage Pits and he sent his Giant Solifuge and elephant into battle.
"Why is that card so good?" cried Watanabe as he tried to figure out how to not take five damage. All of his math ended up being for naught as Saito had a burn spell in hand.
Saturday, Sept 1: 4:47 p.m. - Round 14: Tomoharu Saito vs.Yoshitaka Nakano
Tomoharu Saito was crushed last year when he fell short of making the National team in the Top 8 of the tournament. This year, he declared he before the tournament, he would do better. He has not made things easy for himself though as he picked up three losses and a draw before heading into the four round final Standard stretch. He had no losses to give.
I thought Saito had added something new to his pregame ritual as he slapped himself several times and then bunched his t-shirt in his hands over his abdomen. Saito laughed when I asked if he was trying out a new, less painful pregame ritual.
"No…hands are wet."
His opponent was Yoshitaka Nakano, who with ten wins and three losses would much rather be in a position to roll his dice on a draw. Instead of standing in the path of Tomoharu Saito and some Pro Points (while Nats does not offer any Pro Points directly, playing in the team portion of Worlds carries some bonus points, with the prospect of a GPs worth for the winning team). After all this is a guy who is almost certainly skipping the Invitational for a chance to win some extra points at GP Brisbane which could have some interesting ripples on the various ballots for the Invitational.
On top of being locked in a cage with a hungry animal Nakano also had to deal with a pretty bad match-up. He was playing Dredge while Saito was playing Mogg Fanatic - mortal enemy of dredge based decks. Takano seemed to make things even tougher on himself with an awkward draw that saw him playing Narcomoebas from his hand over the first few turns.
Saito played Seal of Fire and a minimally sized Tarmogoyf into battle. Nakano had no blocks and Saito killed a flier with the Seal. He then played another Tarmogoyf. Nakano stopped Saito's army dead in their tracks with Stinkweed Imp. He played another Seal of Fire and Mogg War Marshal joined his team.
Nakano played a third Narcomoeba - not the way this deck was drawn up on paper for sure. Saito Sealed the Imp at the end of the turn and swung in with the team on his turn. Nakano bought back the Imp, hitting nothing productive on the dredge, but Saito showed him an Incinerate that would clear the way for lethal damage and both players reached for their sideboards.
Mogg Fanatic came down early for Saito and Nakano offered up Merfolk Looter for goblin sacrifice. Saito was not prepared to give up on the Bridge-buster just yet and opted to Incinerate the Looter and swing for one. Takano gummed things up with Stinkweed Imp and two Wall of Roots while Saito was playing Call of the Herd and flashing it back.
Takano played his fourth Narcomoeba in two games and neither player could mount a profitable attack. Saito decided to let his Marshal go without paying and played Siege-Gang Commander. Saito flung a goblin on his next turn to most efficiently play Gruul Turf. Nakano's Magus of the Bazaar meant that one of the goblins would have to take out the creature but the clock was ticking for Takano who never did any of the things that make the Dredge mechanic so exciting. Saito's deck did exactly what is was supposed to though and he was able to burn the dredge player out with a tandem of Siege-Gang activations and burn spells.
"I am either eighth or ninth," sighed Saito in a way that indicated he thought it would be the latter when congratulations were offered.
Final result: Tomoharu Saito defeated Yoshitaka Nakano in two games.
Saturday, Sept 1: 5:44 p.m. - Round 14: Makoto Nagashima vs. Masaya Kitayama
Japan's got a stereotype of being a harmonious place. Five years of living here gives me a decent picture of where that stereotype comes from. But if there's one situation that's not harmonious, it's the final round of a major tournament. Keita Mori and I dashed from table to table in the hunt for a hot story after the regularly scheduled Feature Match with my pick Ogura was preempted by a concession after he was paired down. A few words with the judges later, we rushed Makoto Nagashima and Masaya Kitayama off to the Feature Match area.
Kitayama's aggro Black-Green discard deck faced the task of keeping Nagashima's Project X off balance. Everything in Kitayama's deck, from discards to two 3/3 elephants for one card, was measured in finite metrics. But he had to square off against a deck that uses the complex interactions of Saffi Eriksdottir and Crypt Champion to generate unbounded numbers of flying white tokens with Teysa, Orzhov Scion or unbounded life with Essence Warden. The odds favored Nagashima.
Nagashima won the die roll and played Dark Confidant. Kitayama followed with a Bob of his own. Saffi Eriksdotter backed up Nagashima's Confidant, who came through the Red Zone. Kitayama untapped and surveyed his plays. He went with a Cry of Contrition, haunting his own Confidant and followed with a Tarmagoyf. Nagashima drew an Orzhov Basilica from his Confidant, which alllowed him to protect the Chord of Calling and Crypt Champion. The Chord of Calling tutored up an Essence Warden and allowed Nagashima to gain roughly three billion life. In the face of all that life, it was only a matter of time before Nagashima came up with enough creatures to clean up.
How much time, you ask? Kitayama let the wheels spin for three minutes before acknowledging the inevitable.
But events outside the scope of the match conspired to determine the result. Kitayama was only playing the match out in order to improve associate Tomoharu Saitou's chances of making Top 8. When Saitou won at the other side of the feature match arena, Kitayama's motivation to play disappeared. Seconds after Game 2 started, Nagashima agreed to Kitayama's offer of an intentional draw.