by Randy Buehler
Masayuki Higashino has won two Grand Prix (including last weekend in Hiroshima) and Japanese Nationals (in 1999), but he's still trying to break through on the Pro Tour itself. He's earned enough Pro Tour points to become one of the regulars - the "Gravy Train" - but like everyone else from Japan, he's still searching for that elusive and prestigious Top 8 finish. Higashino went 3-0 in the first draft on Friday morning (as did countryman Satoshi Nakamura, by the way) and that performance landed him in the #8 seat at table #4 with 1999 Wisconsin state champion Waiken Soo on his right and PT regular Brock Parker on his left.
Parker took a 1st pick Thornscape Master when he opened the first pack and most of the good cards were gone by the time Higashino got a card, Soo had just taken Tidal Visionary so Higashino drafted the Urborg Phantom and the Firescreamer, leaving Ardent Soldier and Wings of Hope for Soo to pick between. None of these cards will matter much once the players actually start playing, but they are invaluable as a way to send signals early in a Rochester draft. Jeff Clark even took 12th pick Dredge so he could pass Aggressive Urge to Yubin Tao, who had taken a Kavu Chameleon 4th overall. Clark's message was the same as Higashino's: "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine, let's just stick to our colors and we'll both get good decks."
Higashino took Dream Thrush out of the 2nd pack, leaving Kavu Climber for Parker, who he knew wanted to be green based on his first pick Master. Parker followed up with 9th pick Maniacal Rage and Higashino drafted Slimy Kavu. Kavu Scout over Explosive Growth further solidified his relationship with Parker - green was Brock's, but they would probably be sharing red. Overload while leaving Dismantling Blow for Soo clearly signaled that he was handing blue/white to Soo. A 5th pick Halam Djinn put Higashino in red for sure and he shied away from blue for the rest of the draft, drafting Phyrexian Slayer over Exclude two packs later. Duskwalker over Plague Spores showed an interesting preference for creatures rather than removal.
After 7 packs, Higashino was essentially done positioning himself in colors and he was done forming political alliances with his neighbors. After reacting to the colors that were drafted around him and sacrificing a touch of card quality in order to send clear signals, Higashino now just wanted to have good black/red cards opened up around him. His two first picks were Exotic Curse followed by Keldon Necropolis. He then wheeled Hate Weaver and Mourning. Phyrexian Slayer, Hooded Kavu, Shivan Zombie, Soul Burn, and Rage Weaver found their way into his deck over the next five packs.
Pack #16 was quite interesting - Brock Parker opened it and took the best available card for his green/red deck: Serpentine Kavu. Higashino then took the best card for his red/black deck: Zap. That left 3rd pick Rout for Waiken Soo. And Yubin Tao followed up the 7th pick Armadillo Cloak he had gotten from the previous pack with a 6th pick Armadillo Cloak.
With two Maniacal Rages in his pile, Higashino really wanted quality one and two drops in the last set of packs. However, the packs just didn't cooperate. He wound up instead with more fatties (Duskwalker, Skizzik, and Lotus Guardian) and some more 3-drops (Viashino Grappler and Kavu Aggressor). There just weren't any Shivan Zombies to be found and fourth pick Rogue Kavu is bad times for Becky.
Higashino had plenty of opportunities to go into a 3rd color. He could have been blue (competing with Soo) or red (doubly competing with Parker), but he preferred to stick to a 2-color strategy. Some of his lack of card quality therefore his fault, but not all of it. I thought he positioned himself well, but the packs simply did not cooperate with him and he never really got paid off for all his political maneuvering. I would label his deck "solid, but unspectacular." Higashino ran the classic Rochester Draft strategy: position your colors and then play nice and hope good cards get opened near you. I wouldn't have done a single thing differently.