First they won their quarterfinals. That guaranteed them a plane ticket to Worlds. Then they won their semifinals. That guaranteed them a place on the National team. Now it's time for the final, and one of these two will be forever-remembered as a National Champion, while one of them, er, won't.
Fujimoto has already used his green-white deck to edge past another Tempered Steel opponent, defeating Yoshihiko Ikawa in the semifinals by 3-2. Ishida meanwhile had to pass Makihito Mihara in the semifinal, taking out the Valakut player in another five game set.
Signal Pest, Memnite, Ornithopter - and that was just turn one! Ishida got the ball rolling in good style. Fujimoto had turn one Birds of Paradise. Ishida laid Mox Opal, Contested War Zone, and smashed in for six, using the War Zone to good effect. With Metalcraft also good to go, he used Dispatch to deny Fujimoto the acceleration of the Birds of Paradise. Fujimoto had to be content with Nest Invader, with accompanying 0/1 Eldrazi token.
Ishida cast Tempered Steel, and in came the team. Already at fourteen, Fujimoto was in a tight spot. So tight, in fact, that he knew he was stuck. Turn three, good game, 1-0. Wow.
Fujimoto 0 - 1 Ishida
Ishida had shown real passion after his victory over Mihara, and it was obvious as he prepared for game two that he was acutely aware of the glittering prize on offer. Signal Pest, Memnite, Memnite, Ornithopter, Ornithopter. Excuse me????? That was turn one from Ishida. Turn two from Fujimoto was Lotus Cobra.
In came many, many men. Fujimoto was at fourteen, with Ishida adding Vault Skirge at the cost of two life. Marsh Flats triggered Lotus Cobra, and then again as Fujimoto went in search of a Plains. That meant five mana on turn three, which he used to cast Acidic Slime, nailing the Signal Pest and making Ishida's board position a lot less scary.
Contested War Zone arrived, meaning Ishida could pile his men sideways once again, now that they could successfully trade with the Lotus Cobra and Acidic Slime across the table. The Slime blocked Memnite, with Fujimoto keeping his Lotus Cobra back, at the cost of being down to seven life. The Cobra attacked, allowing him to steal the Contested War Zone. It is Contested, after all. Birds of Paradise completed the turn.
Memnite and Vault Skirge attacked Fujimoto to five, getting Contested War Zone back for Ishida. He cast Glint Hawk Idol, Mox Opal, and passed. With Lotus Cobra triggering, Fujimoto got to seven mana, enough for Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Strangely enough, that'll do it...
Fujimoto 1 - 1 Ishida
Fujimoto had Creeping Corrosion in his opening hand for game three, an utter beating against the all-artifact, all-the-time deck across the table. Creeping Corrosion, however, costs four, and that's a long time to wait on the draw, especially if you know your opponent has a hand sufficient to keep, which Ishida had already done.
Inkmoth Nexus, Signal Pest. That was it for turn one, while Fujimoto had Birds of Paradise. Two mana was for Steel Overseer, while Fujimoto had three mana available with the Birds. He didn't need the bonus, casting Nest Invader (plus 0/1) with his two lands. Glint Hawk Idol arrived, followed by Signal Pest, triggering the Idol. Although it couldn't attack, it could get a counter from Steel Overseer. In came the first Signal Pest, and we were back to Fujimoto, who - as we know - had Creeping Corrosion. Once the board was empty, Nest Invader attacked, and Fujimoto was in control.
Tempered Steel from Ishida was a potential threat down the line, but no backbreaker, with nothing to pump. Hero of Bladehold came down for Fujimoto, which left Ishida to see if there was any way he could get back into this third game. Mox Opal, a second Tempered Steel. No, that wouldn't do it. In came Fujimoto with Hero of Bladehold, two Soldiers, Nest Invader, and even the Birds of Paradise, getting in on the attacking act.
Nope. No help for Ishida.
Fujimoto 2 - 1 Ishida
Offering up a prayer, Ishida looked at his opening seven for game four. Head in hands, he pondered, then elected to mulligan. At least Fujimoto was also starting with six cards. Ishida couldn't keep his next hand either, but Fujimoto was happier, and would start up one card. If Ishida could pull off a similar opening to game two when he dropped almost his entire hand onto the battlefield on turn one, he might be able to find a route to victory on top of his library.
As he looked at five, this was a huge moment. He simply had to have something playable to stand a chance. Turn one was Memnite, Plains, and Mox Opal. Not bad. Memnite attacked, Contested War Zone came down, and Glint Hawk Idol followed. Fujimoto had no Birds of Paradise, and when he cast Lotus Cobra he found that gone within moments via Dispatch. Porcelain Legionnaire activated Glint Hawk Idol, and in came the beats from Ishida.
Journey to Nowhere from Fujimoto stopped the Porcelain Legionnaire from getting involved, but Contested War Zone still meant Fujimoto was down to ten life. He cast Blade Splicer for the first time in the match, creating a 3/3 first striker to go with his 1/1. Not bad for three mana. The Glint Hawk Idol could still take to the skies unopposed, but Ishida had to be wary of losing his Contested War Zone.
Fujimoto passed, giving more hope to Ishida, who really wanted to see a Tempered Steel. He saw Ornithopter instead, cast it, and sent his air force into action, pumping them with Contested War Zone. Four more life gone, Fujimoto at just three life.
He attacked with both Blade Splicer and Golem, stealing the Contested War Zone, but staying alive to benefit was the problem. Stirring Wildwood came down, and Ishida had one more chance to force game five.
Plains activated the Glint Hawk Idol. Fujimoto was at one, and had to give back the Contested War Zone. He badly needed a fifth land, but didn't see one. In came Blade Splicer and Golem once again. The Ornithopters blocked, and Fujimoto passed.
Signal Pest triggered the Glint Hawk, and with Acidic Slimes and Wurmcoil Engine in Fujimoto's hand, the absence of a fifth land had cost him the game. A mulligan to five had been overcome, and we were heading for a decider.
Fujimoto 2 - 2 Ishida
It had been an excellent final. Both players had contributed, played hard, played courteously, and the games had a good mix of power, intrigue, and excitement. Undoubtedly adding to the drama for the spectators was the heart-on-sleeve emotions of Ishida. While Fujimoto remained stoic throughout, every scrap of intellect, effort, and desire could be seen in Ishida. Now the question was whether he would overcook and destroy himself in the heat of battle, or use that desire to claim the title.
Both players kept their opening seven, making the ideal start to a final game. On the draw, Ishida had Memnite, Glint Hawk, replayed Memnite, and Mox Opal. Pretty good to be sure. Fujimoto had turn two Lotus Cobra. Did Ishida have a Dispatch waiting? He activated Inkmoth Nexus to gain Metalcraft, and sent the Cobra packing, before sending the Memnite and Glint Hawk into battle. Fujimoto recovered with Blade Splicer, with 3/3 Golem in tow.
Down came Tempered Steel for Ishida, and another Memnite. Fujimoto was at fifteen, and staring down the barrel, even with his first strike Golem. Ishida had just one card left to play, but it could be the card that claimed a National Championship. Fujimoto held double Garruk Wildspeaker, Birds of Paradise, and two land. He sent in the Golem before casting the planeswalker, dropping him to two loyalty in exchange for a 3/3 Beast.
Ishida now had double Inkmoth Nexus to play with, and he sent both of them at Fujimoto, and Glint Hawk at Garruk. Ornithopter completed the turn. Could Fujimoto find a way to stay alive? He was at six poison, facing an arsenal of flying Nexuses. Nexi. Whatever. He sent in the Blade Splicer and Golem, with Memnite and Ornithopter blocking. A second Garruk Wildspeaker came down, he untapped two land, and played Birds of Paradise.
Back to Ishida, who was so close to the finish line he could almost touch it. He activated his Blinkmoths, and sent everything into the red zone. The Inkmoths aimed directly at Fujimoto, while the rest took out Garruk for the second successive turn. Fujimoto drew for the turn, and extended the hand.
Ishida let out a howl of delight as a huge burst of adrenaline, relief, and ecstasy flooded across his face.
Amazing. Just amazing.
Ryuuichirou Ishida is the Japan National Champion 2011!