Day 2 Coverage

Posted in Event Coverage on July 3, 2010

By Wizards of the Coast




Saturday, 10:30 a.m. – Drafting With Shuhei Nakamura

by Bill Stark

Shuhei Nakamura's resume as a professional Magic player is impressive. He's a former Player of the Year, has multiple Pro Tour Top 8s, Grand Prix Top 8s, and is the defending National Champion. That made him the perfect player to follow for the second draft of the 2010 National Championships. As the players sat down at the table, Nakamura turned to me and pointed out he was disappointed with the table. That made sense considering it was a tough field featuring Tomoharu Saito, Tsuyoshi Ikeda, and Makihito Mihara, but Shuhei was disappointed because he was paired down! He was the only player at the table with a 6-1 record; everyone else was either 5-1-1 or 5-2.

The first pack was pretty lackluster and Shuhei quickly narrowed things to Induce Despair and Artisan of Kozilek. With time winding down he selected the black spell. The second pick offered up Mammoth Umbra, Might of the Masses, Frostwind Invoker, and Bloodrite Invoker. He seemed to focus on the aura hardest and, sure enough, set it down onto the table when time was called for picks. The third pick was a fairly easy-to-take Beastbreaker of Bala Ged though he glanced momentarily at an Emrakul's Hatcher.

Like any good pro, Shuhei was keeping his early picks open. He had picked cards across three separate colors and was simply taking powerful spells while getting a feel for which colors were open in the packs. The fourth pick offered up a Totem-Guide Hartebeest and Nakamura seemed excited to find the 2/5 there, perhaps because of the Mammoth Umbra he had taken so early. Halimar Wavewatch came next bringing his color picks so far to four out of five (missing only a red card). Hyena Umbra was next, then Regress, Puncturing Light, and Repel the Darkness. It seemed clear he was intent on white as a main color and as he rounded things out with the late picks had a healthy dosage of blue cards too.

Totem-Guide Hartebeest

With approximately a minute to examine the contents of what he drafted Shuhei mechanically flipped through the 14 cards and separated them into appropriate piles. Out went the black and green cards, in went most of the blue cards. He glanced closely at the Hartebeest and Mammoth Umbra and perhaps was planning on building a deck around the powerful aura hunter; in any case he had the building blocks for a blue and white deck provided he picked up additional tools over the next two packs, though he would have to abandon his first pick to do so.

The second pack kicked off with a powerful rare: Magmaw. Unfortunately for Shuhei it was in the one color he hadn't been drafting, red, and would require him to abandon much of his strategy from the first pack to build around it. Instead he looked longingly at a Drake Umbra which made its way to the stack. The blue spell would be a powerful target for his Hartebeest.

The second pick contained a second Drake Umbra and Nakamura nabbed it without so much as a glance at the Flame Slash that was also in the pack. When he found a Totem-Guide Hartebeest for his third pick he snapped it into his deck and gave a longing glance at the Kor Line-Slinger still there; perhaps it would table. A Knight of Cliffhaven was an easy pick fourth in an otherwise uninteresting pack, and then he took Oust to shore up his removal.

Wall of Omens greeted him next, but he paused to examine the Splinter Twin also in the pack. True he wasn't playing red, but the Twin combined with his Hartebeests would be very powerful. After all, making a free copy of the 2/5 each turn would let him fetch up all the auras in his deck, and he could fetch the Twin via the Hartebeest in the first place. Ultimately the double red in the casting cost proved too high a price and the 0/4 Wall made the cut.

The pack rounded itself out with two Glory Seekers, both of which Shuhei seemed happy to have and one that was selected over Mnemonic Wall, the Kor Line-Slinger he had hoped would table, and a Lone Missionary. For the second deck review period his deck looked like it was coming together quite well, and had morphed successfully into blue-white beats with a powerful Plan B of Totem-Guide Hartebeest to create Dragons via the powerful auras it could fetch up.

It was all down to the third pack and Shuhei cracked it and flipped to the rare. When that wasn't interesting he carefully reviewed the rest of the cards and found a third Drake Umbra. He agonized over whether he should take that or the Makindi Griffin in the pack, which could fill a casting-cost hole and serve as an excellent blocker or difficult-to-burn target for his Umbras, but ultimately opted to take the aura. His second pick was an easy Sea Gate Oracle though he glanced momentarily at Vendetta considering a splash in conjunction with his Induce Despair from the first pack.

Frostwind Invoker came third over both Smite and Regress, then a Guard Gomazoa to help with blocking. He had a shot at a second Splinter Twin for pick four and I had to wonder if he regretted his decision to not draft a more flexible deck that could have splashed for his removal and the auras. But he hadn't, and instead took Caravan Escort. A second Kor Line-Slinger was next, then Deprive over Time of Heroes. The enchantment was admittedly very powerful but not in Shuhei's deck, which lacked the levelers to truly take advantage.

Rounding the draft out he picked up a Lone Missionary to help with early beats and winning races, hated a Naturalize over a Distortion Strike to protect his Hartebeest plan, and got a very late Smite to come back to shore up his removal just a tad. The deck looked like a solid one and I asked him afterwards how he felt about it. "It's just good," he explained. "It's not excellent, but it's pretty good."

His prediction on how he'd do? "2-1, with luck 3-0. But that pod is really tough! I hope to defend my national title!"

Shuhei Nakamura

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Feature Match Round 10 - Shuhei Nakamura vs. Tomoharu Saito

by Bill Stark
Tomoharu Saito

Tomoharu Saito and Shuhei Nakamura are behemoths in not just the Japan scene, but the Magic world at large. Both are former Players of the Year with impressive resumes the likes of which few players ever achieve. They found themselves beginning the second day of the 2010 Japan National Championships at a very tough draft pod and for the final round of Limited play they found themselves battling one another with a crowd pressed in to watch that was as large as you'd expect for such big name competitors.

Winning the die roll and opting to play, Shuhei's blue-white deck came out of the gates with a second-turn Lone Missionary. The 2/1 attacked a turn later and was joined by a twin. Saito didn't cast a spell until the third turn when he made an Reinforced Bulwark. Nakamura bashed with both of his creatures and cast Kor Line-Slinger.

The 0/1 was a pretty powerful threat against Saito's Wall, able to shut it down if he allowed it to remain on the table and Tomoharu opted to use Vendetta to kill it before casting a second copy of REINFORCED BULWARK. He also had a Lust for War to force Nakamura into attacking him each turn. Unfortunately for Shuhei his 2/1 couldn't effectively battle through his opponent's defensive blockers and he would have no choice but to take 3 each turn trying to attack fruitlessly.

Shuhei turned the tables on his opponent by casting Mammoth Umbra on the Lusty Missionary. Saito let it resolve, then used Flame Slash on his turn to take out the aura. He also cast Surreal Memoir to return his Vendetta, which he cast in response to Drake Umbra from his opponent targeting the Missionary with Lust for War on it. The spells kept flying as Shuhei cast Totem-Guide Hartebeest to fetch up a Hyena Umbra, but he lost the 2/5 to a third casting of Vendetta that his opponent had rebounded back to his hand with Memoir.

The Hyena Umbra was a ruse, however, as Nakamura actually wanted to resolve a second Drake Umbra that was in his hand targeting his Lone Missionary. Saito smiled at the honeypot having fallen right for it and began taking sky beats. Because his Vendettas had done significant damage to his life total he had a reduced time frame in which he could deal with the Missionary. When he didn't come up with a solution he was forced to concede and look for help from his sideboard.

Shuhei Nakamura 1, Tomoharu Saito 0

Shuhei Nakamura

It was Tomoharu Saito's turn to come out of the gates for the second game opening on a Zulaport Enforcer which began attacking. Shuhei was close behind, shutting off the attacks with Glory Seeker and then a Caravan Escort he worked on leveling up. Saito soon found himself with his Reinforced Bulwark twins again, resolving the two on back-to-back turns, but lost his Enforcer to a Puncturing Light from Nakamura.

Staggershock took out the Caravan Escort and to prevent the red instant from taking out his Glory Seeker on the rebound Shuhei targeted it with Hyena Umbra. Saito managed to take care of the Umbra with the Staggershock anyway after some help with a Wrap in Flames too. The two players were both "screwed" in a manner of speaking: Shuhei had only three Plains and was missing Islands and lands in general while Tomoharu was struggling to draw a relevant spell.

An Island for Shuhei allowed him to cast Sea Gate Oracle but his opponent found Null Champion off the top and cast and leveled it. He also had Perish the Thought and forced Nakamura to put a Plains back into his deck. That meant Shuhei would need to topdeck a land to get to five mana in order to cast Drake Umbra or Totem-Guide Hartebeest in his hand but like a pro he found a Plains waiting for him right on top of his library.

He attempted to cast Drake Umbra targeting his Sea Gate Oracle but Saito responded with Vendetta to counter. Nakamura gave a knowing nod as though he expected the play and had to soak up an attack from a level four Null Champion. He did manage to resolve a second copy of Drake Umbra on his Glory Seeker and began getting some attacks in.

Still, he was behind in the race to his opponent's 7/3, particularly as part of his attack was undone each turn via Saito's pair of Reinforced Bulwarks and their activated abilities. Mammoth Umbra on the Glory Seeker bought him some breathing room allowing Shuhei to continue attacking but in a manner that left him with a blocker back on his turn. It just happened that that blocker was the same as his attacker and was a massive 8/8 that would have to be killed three times before it would actually die.

The tides had turned for Tomoharu who played a Swamp on his turn before passing and falling to one attack step away from death. His opponent added insult to injury by casting a Lone Missionary and putting himself out of range of the Null Champion as well as giving himself a second blocker. With one draw step Tomoharu somberly picked up his top card and gave it a close look. He surveyed the board, then picked up his opponent's massive creature to read something. He looked at the card in his hand again and called a judge with a question. The card? Heat Ray and his question was whether casting it on the Glory Seeker would somehow allow him to get the Drake Umbra to fall off. When it was determined it would not barring a mistake from his opponent he scooped up the cards he had on the table.

Shuhei Nakamura 2, Tomoharu Saito 0

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. - Something About Art

by Bill Stark

Premier level Magic events are well known for their special one-of-a-kind experiences, things you can't get at other tournaments. One of the biggest draws is always a guest artist, one of the people responsible for helping to breath life into Magic cards. At the 2010 Japan National Championship the visiting artist was quite a heavy hitter: Volkan Baga of Wurzburg, Germany was here. You may know him better as the artist of Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Dauntless Escort amongst many, many cards.

"I always thought I would do something creative," Volkan said when I asked him about when he thought he might become an artist. "I always loved drawing but thought I might do architecture or something like that. Something creative. I finished school in 2002 and I've been working as a freelancer since then." It was his first time in Japan and on the continent of Asia and I asked him for his perspective on being received by the Japanese players in attendance at the event on the weekend. "It's been absolutely positive. They really respect the images as art, which isn't always the case. People may admire the art but see it as a product; here it's clear they also admire the artwork."

Artist Volkan Baga signing a card for a fan.

One fan who was delighted to see Baga in attendance was Ito Hiromichi. The businessman from Hiroshima identifies himself strictly as a Vintage player and only competes in the game's oldest format. He has even managed to win the title of Vintage Champion at Gen Con. The prize there? One-of-a-kind, the original artwork for an alternative take on Mox Emerald. The artist for that work just happened to be one Volkan Baga and Ito could barely contain himself at being able get the original piece signed by the man responsible for creating it.

"It's a treasure," Ito said, describing how he feels about the artwork. "I'm only here to get the Mox signed!"

Ito Hiromichi with his favorite card.

The cycle of Moxes in a newly imagined form was a special prize concepted and created to reward fans of the Vintage format each year at Gen Con. Volkan has done the work for each of them and still has four of five of the original sketches of each, most of which were available for purchase on site on the weekend.

One of the Mox sketches available from Volkan Baga.

Two other artists were also in attendance on the weekend: Ookubo and Yoisuke Yamamoto. Ookubo is world famous for his 3-d card creations in which he uses a sharp blade and seven or more copies of a Magic card to cut out intricate scenes that functionally creates a 3-d interpretation of a Magic card. And I took a moment to check in with him about the weekend.

Ookubo mentioned he and Yamamoto were peers and had known each other for years. How had they met? "Standing in line waiting to get things signed by artists!" Ookubo replied with a laugh. I asked him what he thought about Volkan's work, which he had already replicated into a number of sculpted creations. "Too detailed! Also, very difficult to get multiples of!" He said, again with a huge grin on his face. With Volkan's work containing a number of the game's most sought after cards, Ookubo is no doubt not the only person who has struggled to get seven copies of Elspeth!

Yoisuke Yamamoto, appearing in his first Japan National Championships as an official exhibitor, explained he has been playing Magic for five or six years. His favorite work that he's done so far included Clockwork Avian and Divine Transformation but he pointed out they changed from week to week as he worked on new creations. While his cards were certainly impressive, I was captivated by the planes he had worked on from Planechase. Check out Horizon Boughs:

Truly breathtaking, and as ever photos just can't do the creations justice. The two masters of their craft were working diligently throughout the weekend with many, many creations on display.

Ookuba (Left) and Doisuke (Right) Yamamato

I turned back to Volkan, for whom the entire experience of being at the tournament seemed to have made an impression. He was touched to meet the excited Ito Hiromichi saying "It was a good feeling to see the original [Mox Emerald] how it had been framed and presented. And to see the happy winner? It was good to know he wanted to have the Mox." He also seemed impressed by the work of Ookubo and Yamamoto. "People sometimes sketch on my cards or otherwise change them, but I was pretty amazed [by their work]. These are different kinds of takes on artwork, but it's a whole separate form of artwork. I see it as art itself!" That last was a point he punctuated by asking the two fellow artists if they would take the time to sign the creations they had made for him, a reversal of rules as the artists waited for someone to sign cards for him.

Neat artwork and getting to meet the people who bring said artwork to life; just one more reason to hit up any Premier event for Magic!

Saturday, 3:15 p.m. - T.O. the Game, See the World...

by Bill Stark

Yesterday we brought you the story of Naoaki Umesaki, a Level 3 judge competing at Japan Nationals after qualifying on rating (read that story here.) . His tale is one of being a competitive player despite being a high level judge, enjoying the game and the world as a competitor while also contributing to the game as an adjudicator. Another player enjoying the role of top level competitor while contributing to Magic significantly in a different fashion was Sachiko Furuya. Sachiko doesn't identify as a judge per se but is instead the premier organizer for Magic tournaments in Okinawa.

To find out more about her journey with the game I asked Sachiko how long she's been playing. "Since Tempest, so 13 years?" She replied through translator Ron Foster. "Tempest was the second set translated into Japanese. Some of my friends started playing and they just sucked me in." As the tournament organizer for Okinawa she runs most of the events held there and qualified through a National Qualifier tournament.

As I had asked Umesaki, I had to know: which was better, playing or organizing events? "They're about the same. It's hard to say because organizing is my job but they're both fun." She also was quick to point out that she felt it was important as an organizer to take time to compete. "I feel playing makes me a better organizer because I understand things better from the player's perspective." Sachiko also pointed out she felt being an organizer helped her as a player too, making her understand how tournaments run and using that to better prepare for the events over the course of a day.

So what deck was she playing for the Standard portion of the tournament? "Jund," she said with a guilty laugh. "I'm not very good at playing control decks. I like Jund because it's pretty straightforward but the maindeck can be flexible and changed to use different strategies. With the sideboard you can prepare for any deck in the format." Wiser words about Jund may never have been spoken, and Sachiko Furuya was certainly not the first non-pro player competing at a high level event to shore up any weakness in play skill by using an aggressive deck.

I asked Sachiko if she worked with other famous Japanese players but she explained she mostly works with her local players from Okinawa. Because her store, Absolute Zero, is a premier store it's open daily and she gets to play Magic every day each week. At least one other player from Okinawa was competing with her at Nationals and I wanted to know how important making the national team or playing on the Pro Tour was. "Rather than getting on the team or playing the Pro Tour I'd prefer to have a Premier Event held in Okinawa," she replied. When it was pointed out that the winner of the Japan National Championship earned the right to have the tournament held in their home prefecture the following year Sachiko could only laugh.

"I know, but somehow that's not helping me win!!!"

Feature Match Round 12 - Kenji Tsumura Vs. Atsushi Hirayama

by Bill Stark

Recognized as one of the game's best players before school and work forced him off the Pro Tour full time, Kenji Tsumura is Japan's golden boy. His slight build belies a powerful mind for Magic and he put up some incredible finishes during his time as a regular competitor on the Pro Tour. One year ago he even managed nabbing a slot as the alternate on the Japanese national team finishing in fourth place at last year's Japan National Championship. His opponent for Round 12 was Atsushi Hirayama who had some Pro Tour appearances himself though none quite as prolific as his opponent.

Kenji Tsumura

Hirayama opened the game off on a double mulligan, his hands clearly poor ones as he sent them back almost immediately. He kept the hand of five and opened on Nest Invader on his second turn. Kenji's first spell was a Rampant Growth fetching him a Forest to join one on the table alongside a Halimar Depths. The Invader got in for 2 but Atsushi had no third turn play despite having access to up to four mana. That meant Kenji was able to cast Explore and a second Rampant Growth under minimal pressure from his opponent.

Hirayama continued attacking with his Nest Invader but still had no spells to cast. Jace, the Mind Sculptor hit for Kenji's Turbo Land deck allowing him to Brainstorm but falling to one loyalty a turn later as it absorbed an attack from the Nest Invader. He cast Oracle of Mul Daya after Brainstorming a second time and had set his library up to feature two lands. That gave him enough mana to cast Time Warp and he took his extra turn with a revealed Time Warp on top of his library via the Oracle.

Without even needing to use his Jace Kenji found two more lands waiting for him on the top of his deck after he had drawn for the turn. He used Misty Rainforest to reset his library and cast not one but two additional Time Warps. With a Mind Spring on top of his library to ensure he had a full mitt of cards over the course of the two turns Tsumura had Atsushi's Jund deck locked out. When Tsumura revealed an Avenger of Zendikar Hirayama came to the same conclusion and conceded.

Kenji Tsumura 1, Atsushi Hirayama 0

The second game kicked off with neither player needing a mulligan and Atsushi Hirayama again had a second-turn Nest Invader. He began attacking with it before casting Sprouting Thrinax to add to his team and pumping it with an active Oran-Rief, the Vastwood. Tsumura struggled to get any early action casting zero spells until his fourth-turn Oracle of Mul Daya. Fortunately for the plucky pro two of his lands had been Halimar Depths allowing him to rig his library a little even if he wasn't casting spells proper.

Atsushi Hirayama

Maelstrom Pulse took out the Oracle of Mul Daya as soon as Atsushi had the chance. His creatures smashed to drop Kenji to 10 and it was clear Tsumura was going to need some help to get out of the game alive. He cast an Explore to play some extra lands and had just enough mana to cast Time Warp. His extra turn saw him with enough mana to cast Avenger of Zendikar and then play a Khalni Garden giving him eight Plants that were each 1/2. How quickly the tables had turned!

Atsushi Hirayama did some math on his turn, then cast Nest Invader and Maelstrom Pulse targeting his opponent's Plants. He sent the first Invader and his 4/4 Sprouting Thrinax to the red zone and dropped Kenji to 6 as the Avenger took out the 2/2 Nest Invader. Firing back Kenji used a Tectonic Edge to take out his opponent's Oran-Rief, then cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor and netted himself a free Unsummon targeting Sprouting Thrinax.

With his opponent having the board momentarily stabilized, Atsushi worked on rebuilding by spending his turn to cast Master of the Wild Hunt. Kenji decided to Brainstorm with his Jace, then cast Oracle of Mul Daya and Time Warp. On his extra turn he got a free land from Oracle as he found a Scalding Tarn sitting on the top of his library, then used Unsummon targeting the Master and attacked with his Avenger. Post-combat he had one final spell: a second Time Warp.

Turbo Land was doing exactly that, and Kenji's final extra turn saw him bounce his own Avenger, cast it to get an army of 1/2 Plants, and cast a second Jace to bounce his opponent's Nest Invader. Atsushi had one turn to try to draw a solution that would let him out alive, but when he didn't find one he lost the game that had seemed within his grasp just a few turns before.

Kenji Tsumura 2, Atsushi Hirayama 0

Saturday, 5:07 p.m. - Undefeated Draft Decklists

by Bill Stark

Here are the decklists for the players who went undefeated during the Draft portion of the 2010 Japan National Championship (with many thanks to Yusuke Yoshikawa for help with translations).

Koutaro Ootsuka

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Koutaro Ootsuka

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Ken Yukuhiro

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Ken Yukuhiro

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Jun'ya Iyanaga

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Jun'ya Iyanaga

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Yuichi Aizawa

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Yuichi Aizawa

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Naoaki Umesaki

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Naoaki Umesaki

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Shota Kuze

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Shota Kuze

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Saturday, 6:20 p.m. - American Yankees in Emperor Akihito's Court

by Bill Stark

The Japan National Championship is home to some of the very best players the world has to offer, but in general those players are all Japanese. Occasionally, however, a few competitors from outside the nation qualify to compete for the title of national champion each year by having lived in the country since January 1st of the year of the competition and managing to qualify for the event. At the 2010 competition at least two players met those criteria, Americans Kenyon Colloran and Chia Lee.

Colloran hails from southern Oregon and lives in Japan after studying and participating in foreign exchange programs in the country throughout high school and college. Fluent in Japanese he teaches English to elementary school children. "I started playing Magic in Revised," he explained, describing how he had gotten his start in the game. "It was kitchen table Magic with friends. We didn't know the rules back then. I was pretty casual until I went to college in 2000, took a break for a few years, then came back towards the end of the Time Spiral Block."

Since that time some of Kenyon's Japanese friends inside the country hooked him into tournament play. "I'm a casual competitive player," he described adding "I like Limited, but I play Constructed if I have to. If I could I'd only play Limited." So how did he manage to qualify for the National Championship if he specialized in the forty card formats? "I did terribly at a national qualifier then had a super blowout birthday weekend and managed to qualify in a second one despite having had no sleep."

The cultural differences between Japan and America are simultaneously minor but significant. Did differences exist in his interactions with Japanese gaming community? "As a Magic player I feel it's not different than being a foreigner but there is a shyness about dealing with foreigners for the Japanese," Kenyon said. "Japanese players are very welcoming but they don't always know how to interact when I bring friends who don't speak Japanese. In general the Japanese have been very welcoming, though speaking Japanese is a big help."

With players like Shuhei Nakamura, Tomoharu Saito, Kenji Tsumura, and many, many more of the game's best had Colloran ever taken advantage of his geographic location to work with them? "I haven't played enough high level events to interact with the big names. My friend has been on the national team and Top 8'ed a second time. The closest I've come is Twittering back and forth with Tomoharu Saito." Did he have plans to try to work with them more in the future in order to become more competitive? "I'm going to try a few PTQs a year but I'm not deadest on that goal. If I qualify I will definitely go."

Up next was Chia Lee from Stockton, California. He was a resident of Japan while also teaching English and, ironically, worked for the same company as Kenyon though neither had met until the national qualifier they both qualified at. "I've been playing since Invasion and playing competitively since Mirrodin," he said about his beginnings with the game. "In the U.S. I played with Kenneth Ellis. I got him playing, but now he plays way more than I do! Playing in California meant facing a lot of good players like Luis Scott-Vargas."

Having lived in Japan for longer than a single year, Chia had originally had no expectation of playing cards while he lived in the country. "I hadn't played Magic since I got here and wasn't planning to. Then I found a card shop and some people told me about a national qualifier. I couldn't play at Nationals that year because I hadn't lived in Japan long enough, but I came back next year." He described the competition at the tournament he won with a sort of polite bluntness. "I don't want to sound like I'm bragging but I tore the room up. I was undefeated until the last round when I scooped to help the guy earn the travel award."

Kenyon's understanding of Japanese had been a big help in allowing him to network with other Japanese players. How well did Chia speak the language? "I'm semi-conversational. I'm better at understanding people speaking than saying the right words myself," but he quickly added "Magic is universal, so we don't need an actual language. Everyone understand the 'wait' signal where you just put your hand up. I haven't had any problems so far."

Did he work with any of the Japanese communities in preparing for events, or perhaps test with any of the country's big names? "In Okayama there aren't a lot of players to play with so I mostly play on Magic Online. I test there with Kenny [Ellis]."

Like Kenyon Chia felt his experience overall in the country had been a good one. "I've had a positive experience. Everyone here is really nice. Everyone shows 15 cards in their sideboard before starting games, for example, which never happens in the U.S. If you miss something they remind you." Did he have plans on returning to the States, or was he going to remain in Japan? "If I can, I think I want to stay here. I respect Luis Scott-Vargas, but it's hard to compete against him!"

Two Americans, two positive experiences living in Japan and competing as foreigners in Japan's National Championship. Magic is truly a game without borders…

Americans Kenyon Colloran and Chia Lee (L-R) competing at the 2010 Japan National Championship.

Feature Match Round 14 - Koutarou Ootsuka vs. Shouta Yasooka

by Bill Stark

The Swiss portion of the 2010 Japan National Championship was down to one final round of competition for Koutarou Ootsuka and Shouta Yasooka. Both were playing for a shot at the Top 8 with a win putting them in but first they had to get through one another. Shouta was the second Japanese player to win the Player of the Year title while his opponent had a Worlds Top 8.

As the two players shuffled and prepared to present, a judge swooped in saying "Deck check!" Their battle for Top 8 was going to have to wait while the staff confirmed neither had anything wrong with their decks. After getting them back with no problems to speak of, the players drew their opening hands. Yasooka didn't like his and shipped it back for six but was able to keep that.

Ootsuka was playing a blue-red-green deck that many of the top pros were using on the weekend. It was essentially an update to the Turbo Land decks that had been taking the world by storm adding red to make the deck a bit more flexible. Yasooka was playing Jund and had no spells over the first three turns of the game. That meant he could only watch as Koutarou cast Rampant Growth to accelerate into Jace, the Mind Sculptor. He used the powerful blue card to Brainstorm before passing the turn.

Koutarou Ootsuka

At four mana Yasooka finally cast a spell: Bloodbraid Elf. The 3/2 cascaded him into a free Putrid Leech then crashed to the red zone to dispatch Jace. Koutarou untapped and cast Lotus Cobra, then played a land to cast Oracle of Mul Daya. That gave him a free land on the top of his library and potentially threatened to allow him to generate a massive amount of card advantage in short order if his opponent didn't dispatch the 2/2.

Yasooka attacked but inhaled sharply when he had to pass the turn with no spells or removal for the Oracle. Ootsuka played Scalding Tarn and used it, generating two mana with his Lotus Cobra. That gave him enough to cast Explore and Shouta responded with Lightning Bolt targeting his opponent's Lotus Cobra; he did have removal but had held it to deal with the Snake! With access to plenty of mana Koutarou cast Avenger of Zendikar for seven Plants, then played a land from the top of his library to give them each a +1/+1 counter. Thanks to a second land he was able to make them each 2/3s and Shouta had to have Maelstrom Pulse to get out of the situation.

But the former Player of the Year did have the sorcery and cast it to wipe out the token creatures. That still left his opponent with an active Oracle of Mul Daya and the Avenger, so Yasooka definitely wasn't out of the woods. Koutarou went through his turn playing free lands with Oracle until he had enough mana to cast Earthquake for 4, wiping out the board of creatures save for his Avenger, then Time Warp. The blue sorcery was enough for Shouta to pack it in due to the fact he had no blockers for the 5/5 and was going to face 10 points of unblocked damage before untapping, enough to finish him off after early hits from Oracle and his own fetch lands.

Koutarou Ootsuka 1, Shouta Yasooka 0

Down a game Shouta Yasooka managed a very aggressive start by casting a second-turn Putrid Leech. His opponent was ready, however, putting his red splash to good use and casting Flame Slash to take the 2/2 out. Koutarou didn't have anything to protect him from a Duress out of Shouta's Jund deck, however, and lost a Jace, the Mind Sculptor before he'd even had a chance to cast it. A Blightning soon after nabbed Island and Rampant Growth putting a serious hurt on his hand in general.

What Shouta wasn't able to do, however, was pressure Koutarou's life. That meant Ootsuka had plenty of time to draw himself out of the early handkill. He cast Time Warp in an effort to do exactly that, casting a topdecked Oracle of Mul Daya on his extra turn but simply passing without playing any additional lands. Shouta cast Siege-Gang Commander and passed back.

Ootsuka drew for the turn and flipped a Rootbound Crag up on the top of his deck. He played that and found a Scalding Tarn waiting afterwards. He played that as well, revealing Flame Slash for his next draw, then considered his options. He had a second Time Warp in hand but should he pull the trigger so early in the game? No; instead, he cast Sphinx of Jwar Isle and passed.

Yasooka untapped and tried to figure out how best to use his active Siege-Gang Commander. He opted to cast Blightning first, forcing Koutarou to discard the Time Warp, then played a land and passed. He had two mana up he could use to sacrifice a Goblin at any time, but he waited to see what his opponent would reveal after drawing the Flame Slash sitting on top of his deck. The next card? Rootbound Crag and a Goblin went to the graveyard to take out Oracle of Mul Daya before Ootsuka could play the free land. Koutarou attacked with his Sphinx then cast Flame Slash to take out the Siege-Gang and passed.

Yasooka sat up straight in his chair on his turn before activating Raging Ravine and attacking with that and two remaining Goblin tokens. He had to race his opponent's Sphinx of Jwar Isle but Ootsuka had two Plant tokens generated by Khalni Gardens to chump. Ootsuka continued pressing with his Sphinx and dropped Shouta to 8.

Shouta Yasooka

The Jund player drew for his turn and sent his team sideways, casting Lightning Bolt to remove his opponent's last remaining Plant token from blocking. That forced Koutarou to sit back in order to block with his Sphinx to survive and he did exactly that. He then ripped Avenger of Zendikar and cast it for seven Plants, playing a Rootbound Crag afterwards to make them 1/2s. Shouta Yasooka's tournament life was on the line and he had been so close to winning the game. Was the lucky Avenger going to be too much for him to handle?

He did some math on his turn before sending Raging Ravine sideways. A Plant chumped, then post-combat Yasooka cast Doom Blade to take out the Avenger. The game was going to be a close one, and Koutarou went into the tank to figure out the proper combat step on his turn. He decided to send two Plant tokens, and lost one as Shouta double-blocked it with two Goblin tokens. Lightning Bolt for the win from Yasooka was countered with Negate and the game transitioned to Shouta attacking with his Raging Ravine eating a Plant token each turn while Koutarou attacked with his remaining Plants eating points from Yasooka's life total.

Slightly flooded Shouta found enough mana to attack with a Lavaclaw Reaches in addition to his Ravine and Ootsuka found himself down to two Plant tokens a turn to chumping duty. That meant no more attacking for him with the score at 6-1 in his opponent's favor. When a second attack with the two creature-lands knocked his last two Plants out Koutarou was back to looking to the top of his deck for a hail mary. He didn't find it, and the two were on to the rubber game; Koutarou's topdeck was not enough to end Shouta's run at the Top 8.

Koutarou Ootsuka 1, Shouta Yasooka 1

The third game's opening turns were rather anti-climactic as neither player had any spells. Koutarou missed his fourth land drop, and having reached four mana of his own Shouta cast the first spell of the game. That card? Goblin Ruinblaster with kicker. The 2/1 took out a Rootbound Crag from Ootsuka who inhaled sharply in dismay.

Luckily for the Turbo Land player he found a Rampant Growth on top of his deck to allow him to begin rebuilding. Shouta made him discard two cards with Blightning while continuing to pressure on the ground with the Goblin. Jace, the Mind Sculptor for Koutarou Brainstormed him into some goodness and he stacked the top two cards of his library looking to dig his way out of the early hole he had found himself in.

Yasooka cast Duress to sneak a peek at what plans his opponent was scheming and found two targets in Mind Spring or Flame Slash. The removal spell went to the graveyard and Blightning then knocked two more cards out of Ootsuka's hand as well as burned Jace out. Koutarou untapped and cast Time Warp. His extra turn allowed him a Mind Spring for three cards and he played Khalni Garden for a free blocker, but Shouta had Doom Blade to kill the 0/1. That wasn't good for Ootsuka.

With the turn back Shouta activated a Lavaclaw Reaches. With enough mana left over to pump the creature-land and Goblin Ruinblaster he had enough to deal lethal damage by attacking his opponent. Ootsuka checked the math and realized his run at the Top 8 was over.

Shouta Yasooka 2, Koutarou Ootsuka 1

Saturday, 8:48 p.m. - Top Standard Decks

by Bill Stark

Below are the top decks from the Standard portion of competition at the 2010 Japan National Championship.