Sunday, 10:24 a.m. - 20/20 Vision: Round 10
Welcome back to day two, and our ongoing quest to work out the top decks of the metagame. Overnight, we've had the chance to look at many of the U/W Tokens decks that have been gradually populating the top tables. It's clear that they share similarities to the U/W Humans deck that has appeared occasionally at Standard events since the release of Innistrad. Although the Tokens count has been upped, we're going to call it 'U/W Humans', and you can read more about the deck archetype in detail with my colleague Nate Price later today.
With that said, here are the numbers for round 10:
And here are our totals through 80 decks:
Mono-White Tokens, Tempered Steel, and Infect are all long gone from the top tables. Mono-Red continues to show stronger and stronger, having started with zero decks in the 20/20 in round one, and reaching
3 out of the 20 here in round ten. U/B and U/W Control and Solar Flare together form roughly 25% of the top tables through the weekend so far, while G/W Tokens holds steady.
The top two are now clearly ahead of the rest, and seem certain to stay there. Wolf Run Green and the U/W Humans decks are the dominant forces at this event, and with one more set of data to come, we should be close to the overall day two metagame. There's still six rounds to go, but a top 8 like this would be no surprise:
- 3 U/W Humans
- 2 Wolf Run Green
- 1 Solar Flare
- 1 Mono-Red
- 1 G/W Tokens
Sunday, 10:38 a.m. - Day One Undefeated Decks
Sunday, 10:41 a.m. - The Juza Years
Picture this. You're on a plane ride, and you're bored. You can't sleep. You've already watched the movie. You've finished your book and there's still several hours to go. What do you do? If you're Martin Juza, one of the most successful and travelled Magic players of recent times, you dig out your iPhone, and spend the time trying to reconstruct the last three years of your Magic career, all from memory. This is what you come up with:
2008 - This was the year that Martin came to prominence on the Pro Tour. In four events that year he scored 32 Pro Points, finishing in the top 8, top 16, top 24, and top 64. Top 64 was his worst finish that year, which is crazy. He barely played in Grand Prix in 2008, but those Pro Tours showed him that Magic was a real possibility for him.
That's where the crazy years kicked in...
2009 - 29 Pro Points was the haul from the four Pro Tours. He got his second top 8, another top 16, a top 64, and picked up four points for finishing in the top 100. Then we get down to the business of the Grand Prix, and Martin wanted to know how he'd done between Limited and Constructed GPs, as he had a feeling he'd done better in Limited.
In 10 Limited GPs in 2009, he racked up 29 Pro Points. This included second place finishes in Brighton and Bangkok, a top 8 in Tampa, and two top 12s in Rotterdam and Melbourne. In his 6 Constructed GPs that year, he scored 6 Points, for a top 12 and a top 32.
2010 - 17 Pro Points came from the four Pro Tours. After a top 64 and top 32, he ended the year making day two twice without getting to the money slots, getting 3 Points each time for finishing in the top 200.
His 8 Limited GPs brought fantastic rewards, a total of 28 Pro Points.
He got two GP titles, in Bochum and Portland, plus a top 8 at Nashville. There was a top 32 at Sydney, and a top 64 in Florence. So that's 28 Points from 8 events. How about Constructed? 9 Constructed GPs last year brought a miserly 7 Pro Points, for three top 32s, and a top 64.
2011 - That brings us to the current year, and on the Pro Tour he's been struggling. After a top 24 to start the year, he missed day two for the first time in 15 events, which is a phenomenally consistent run. With 13 Points from the three Pro Tours to date, he'll be looking for a strong finish at Worlds.
On to Limited then, and in 9 Limited GPs he has 19 Points, including second place at Denver, a top 8 last weekend in Santiago, a top 12 in Shanghai, and top 32 in London. In 8 Constructed GPs (before this weekend, where he starts day two at 9-0) he has just 9 Points, with a top 8 in Kobe, top 16 in Singapore, and top 64 in Dallas.
As the miles sped by at 600 miles an hour, Martin began to collate the data he'd ploughed through. Since the start of 2009 he had played in 50 Grand Prix. He had made the top 8 of nine of them. He had top 12 in five more. What was the balance between Limited and Constructed?
Eight Limited. One Constructed.
In 23 Constructed Grand Prix, he has 22 Points. As Martin says, "that's ridiculously horrible".
In 27 Limited Grand Prix, he has 76 Points. As Martin says, "that's pretty good I think".
Of all the facts that came out of this time-chomping exercise through the skies, one really stands out.
"It turns out" he says with a smile, "that I have a 1 in 5 chance of making the Final of a Limited Grand Prix".
I'd take those odds. Wouldn't you?
Round 11: Feature Match - Martin Juza vs. Rin Satou
It took ten rounds of play, but the field was finally whittled down to the last two undefeated players. On the left of your radio dial sits Martin Juza. After breaking into the upper echelon of Magic, Juza has become one of the more consistent members of the professional community, placing in the Top 10 of the Player of the Year race each of the last three years running. He has admitted that his strength lies in Limited, but he is proving that he can be just as successful in Constructed with enough work. His opponent this round is Rin Satou, Japan's only representative in the unbeaten bracket. He is playing an old-school version of the UW deck, more akin to the versions that have been played in the past few events, featuring Geist of Saint Traft and Angelic Destiny rather than eschewing them for more token producers like Doomed Traveler, Geist-Honored Monk, and Midnight Haunting, which give the deck more game against UB control and Solar Flare. This is to his advantage, as Juza's GW tokens deck is better suited to deal with the token-based version of the deck.
After patiently waiting for Juza to mulligan, Satou began with a Gideon's Lawkeeper and an Honor of the Pure. Juza didn't have the all-important mana critter for turn one, something I'm sure he lamented. When Satou played a Mirran Crusader on turn three, Juza quietly muttered, "That's pretty good." Juza made a copy of his own, but Satou's enchantment, combined with a pair of Gideon's Lawkeepers, seriously outclassed Juza's side of the board. A Hero of Bladehold did nothing more than provide a target for Satou's Gideon's Lawkeeper, and a swing from the Crusader forced Juza to chump with his own, keeping him from dropping below 10.
After Satou passed the turn, Juza made an Elpeth Tirel, making a trio of tokens. When he went to attack, Satou calmly tapped the Hero and a token. Juza had nothing else and passed the turn. As Satou considered what to do, Juza began to muse on his side of the table.
"Man, I really sucked at M12 Limited, and this game kind of reminds me of that," Juza joked, turning to me with a smile.
With his thinking done, Satou chose to attack Juza with his Crusader, who immediately got rid of one of his untapped tokens. Satou doubled his Crusader count and passed the turn. On his turn, Juza thought for a second before declaring his attack. Surprisingly, Satou allowed him to send his Hero of Bladehold, generating two more tokens. He had two lands remaining and may have been representing Negate or Mana Leak. Deciding to ride his planeswalker, Juza simply added three more tokens to his team and passed the turn, choosing not to play into a counterspell. At the end of the turn, Satou used his mana to tap a token, leaving Juza with a mere seven untapped.
Back on the attack, Satou sent his two Crusaders to whittle away at Juza's team. Two tokens sacrificed themselves, leaving Juza with six. Satou added a Geist of Saint Traft to his team and passed the turn. When Juza went to attack this time, a Gideon's Lawkeeper kept the token-generating Hero of Bladehold home, causing Juza to carefully consider his attacks. With an Honor the Pure and the Geist on Satou's turn, Juza's 10 life only gave him two attack steps to live.
Juza was thinking so long at one point that Satou asked him if he was ready to go back to the main phase. Juza wasn't sure yet and continued to think, occasionally grabbing his tokens and grouping them, or tapping the table for some phantom math. Eventually, he chose not to attack. Elspeth had two more counters on it, and he had to carefully choose whether to use them to make more creatures or gain some life. After some definitive taps on the table, he chose to complete his army. Elspeth went away, leaving a legacy of nine tokens in play. He passed the turn.
Satou attacked. Geist of Saint Traft, two Mirran Crusaders, and Jon Finkel smashed into the red zone. Juza carefully aligned his blockers, placing one in front of the attacking Crusaders, letting the other two creatures through, dropping Juza to two. During the attack, Satou asked a judge to make sure that Juza picked up his pace of play. It was true that he was playing fairly deliberately, but that was understandable considering the number of creatures and the amount of combat math required for each turn. At the end of the turn, Juza used his Gavony Township to pump his team. He did the same after untapping, bringing his 1/1s to 3/3s, and then attacked. He had crafted his team in such a way that he was able to poke through Satou's defenses for just enough damage to end the game in one fell swoop.
Martin Juza 1 – Rin Satou 0
After the game, Juza apologized to Satou for playing a little slowly, promising to play a little faster for the following game. Satou acknowledged, smiled, and bowed his head a little. Both players understood that the situation wasn't malicious on either end, just a function of a complex game, and they each wanted to protect their best chances for winning the match.
After a very brief sideboarding, the players shuffled and presented decks. For this game, Juza did have the Avacyn's Pilgrim to start things off, while it was Satou who found himself without a play for the first turns of the game. Juza followed his first mana critter with a second, but his Birds of Paradise was hit with a Mana Leak. He nodded and placed the Birds in the graveyard before adding a Mortarpod to his team, netting a read from Satou.
On the third turn, Satou's deck kicked into gear. Mirran Crusader provided a large enough threat that Juza was forced to place it in an Oblivion Ring. When Satou replaced it with a Geist of Saint Traft, Juza probably wished he had the Oblivion Ring back. He made a Geist-Honored Monk to fill his board, but he still didn't really have anything other than a temporary answer to the Angel token. Things got even worse when Satou added a Sword of War and Peace to his side, equipping his Geist and attacking. The Mortarpod jumped in the way of the Geist, the only untapped, non-white creature Juza had. He chose not to do anything about the Angel, dropping to 16.
Juza was in trouble. Without an Oblivion Ring or Naturalize for the Sword, he was going to have a tough time digging himself out of this hole. After taking a moment to clarify the working on the Sword, Juza sprang into action. A Sword of War and Peace of his own at least evened things up, and he equipped his Monk and attacked with his team. His own Sword was in Japanese as well, meaning that he couldn't actually read either Sword, explaining the judge call. Satou dropped to 8.
Just like that, the tables had turned. The entire time I was looking at the Sword of War and Peace, I couldn't find a way out of the situation other than destroying the Sword. I didn't even think about the possibility of using another Sword to nullify the original. With that one attack, Juza, who had the far superior army, had put Satou, who was sitting on a lonely Geist of Saint Traft, one turn away from dying. When Satou didn't find an answer to his predicament during his draw step, he conceded to Juza and shook his hand.
"Nice card," he said with a smile, indicating his own Sword of War and Peace.
"Yes it is. I run really good," Juza laughed back.
Martin Juza has furthered his Player of the Year cause by advancing to become the only undefeated player remaining in Grand Prix Hiroshima.
After the match, Juza looked over at me with relief in his eyes.
"I think I learned more from the testing I did with Shuhei during the byes yesterday than I did from anything else. We must have played the tokens mirror match like fifty times. We figured out the right way to sideboard, like how Overrun is bad despite the fact that it seems good. We just ended up using Mortarpod, Fiend Hunter, and Oblivion Ring to kill all of each other's creatures, which made Overrun pretty bad ultimately. If we hadn't tested that matchup so much, I would have been sideboarding wrong all day and probably wouldn't be doing as well as I am. I learned the matchup so well, and I've beaten GW tokens three times and UW twice now. I'm really glad we worked all of this out."
Martin Juza 2 - Rin Satou 0
Sunday, 12:16 p.m. - A Quick Glance at UW Tokens
Sometimes, looking at the differences between decks is easy. UW Control is different from UB Control which is different from Solar Flare. These differences are very apparent and easy to pick up on. Sometimes it's a little more difficult. Take a look at the Bant decks from Legacy. There are at least four major delineations of the deck: Bant, NO Bant, "Budget" Bant, and NO "Budget" Bant. The differences between these decks is subtle yet major. Traditional Bant and NO Bant differ by the inclusion of a Natural Order package, which allows the Bant deck to play completely different than the other version of the deck despite only differing by about eight cards or so. The same goes for Bant and "Budget" Bant which only really differs by the exclusion of Force of Will, which is replaced by a more aggressive set of six or so cards. The differences are around ten percent of the deck, yet the decks play completely different. Determining the differences between decks like this is difficult, yet because of the difference in play, they're very important.
We ran into a situation like that this weekend with the advent of a UW tokens deck that looks eerily similar to the UW Humans decks that have been popping up at various Standard tournaments since the release of Innistrad. In the UW Humans deck, the most efficient and aggressive Humans are paired up with Champion of the Parish for a tight, aggressive deck. Thanks to the strength of Gideon's Lawkeeper and Mirran Crusader, the deck has a large amount of game against the Kessig Wolf Run decks. Angelic Destiny and Geist of Saint Traft give the deck some play against the GW Tokens deck. Where the deck runs into trouble is against the UB Control and Solar Flare decks that have been winning recently, including Jeremy Neeman's Grand Prix Brisbane winning deck. These decks pack too much removal for the UW Humans deck, which relies on the synergy between its cards, to handle.
The deck that showed up in force here in Hiroshima was a modification of this deck, designed as a response to the overwhelming win percentage of the UB Control decks from Brisbane. This new deck, and I should stress that it is a different deck, uses the basic UW Humans shell, with cards like Champion of the Parish, Mirran Crusader, and Grand Abolisher to beat opponents into submission while backed with Honor the Pure, Mana Leak, and some Angelic Destinys. This sentence could easily describe the UW Humans deck. But the similarities end there.
In this new version of the deck, the curve has been greatly reduced, running a full complement of twelve aggressive 1-drops, including Elite Vanguard and the resilient Doomed Traveler. This allows for some lightning-quick starts to slip in under the UB Control deck's radar. It also runs a full complement of Fiend Hunters, which are much better at dealing with Consecrated Sphinx than Gideon's Lawkeeper. This makes the deck far more proactive at shaping the board than the Humans deck. Where the Humans deck plays more like a subtle tempo deck, using Gideon's Lawkeeper to find spots to poke through, the Tokens deck uses a sledgehammer, dropping the hammer with an army of early, large creatures and shoving creatures out of the way with the Hunter rather than the gentle guidance that Gideon's Lawkeeper gives. If the opposing player is able to stabilize with Day of Judgment or Black Sun's Zenith, they have usually taken enough damage that a Spirit left over from a Doomed Traveler and an Angelic Destiny can finish things off.
This deck is a great example of how simply changing six to ten cards from the same basic shell of a deck can completely change both how a deck plays and the strengths and weaknesses of its matchups, but it's important to realize that this isn't an all-upside change. While the matchup against the control decks has gotten better, the deck now plays more like the GW Tokens deck, featuring far more creatures with a toughness of one. This makes it vulnerable to cards that are very good against the tokens decks, like Mortarpod, Curse of Death's Hold, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. When you adopt a deck's strengths, you also assume its weaknesses.
In any case, the whole point of this was to demonstrate the emergence of a new deck type, one that might go unnoticed because of its similarity to an existing deck. While the similarities are what are usually what we look at to determine what a deck is, it's the differences that truly define the deck.
Round 12: Feature Match - Takuma Morofuji vs. Yoshihiko Ikawa
The 2005 National Champion Takuma Morofuji comes into this round 12 feature match at 9-2, facing Yoshihiko Ikawa, the man who made his first Pro Tour top 8 at San Diego last year.
Morofuji had Birds of Paradise on turn one, which Gut Shot dealt with in short order. Stromkirk Noble completed a terrific first turn for Ikawa. Turn two was pretty great too, with a second Stromkirk Noble and Grim Lavamancer, while Morofuji had no play. Turn three brought Morofuji back into the game, Arc Trail eliminating both the Stromkirk Nobles.
Chandra's Phoenix arrived for Ikawa, who piled in. When Morofuji attempted a Llanowar Elves to help him accelerate, Ikawa returned the favor with Arc Trail. In he came again, dropping Spikeshot Elder to the battlefield. Morofuji needed to reach six mana to get Primeval Titan into play, but all his acceleration spells were in his graveyard. Moments later, the players were sideboarding for game two.
Morofuji 0 - 1 Ikawa
With neither player having a turn one play - Ikawa off a mulligan to six - Morofuji was first out of the gates with Spellskite. Rampant Growth kicked his mana up a notch, while Ikawa had Chandra's Pheonix on turn three as his first play of the game. Down came Thrun, the Last Troll, the Last troll for Morofuji, who found himself under pressure from the Phoenix and a freshly-played Hero of Oxid Ridge. He used Thrun, the Last Troll to block and trade with the Hero, taking two from the Phoenix. Arc Trail dispatched the Phoenix and dealt one to Ikawa, who was finding this a much tougher proposition than game one.
He activated two Inkmoth Nexus, and began a poison route, adding Stromkirk Noble with his fifth mana. Morofuji had Wurmcoil Engine, but Ikawa continued to poison through the air, Morofuji now at four poison. Acidic Slime was a good answer, taking out one of the Inkmoths, before Morofuji sent his Wurmcoil into the fray. A fifth poison counter went his way, while Stormblood Berserker came down for Ikawa, who was just looking to block repeatedly.
Green Sun's Zenith found Morofuji Acidic Slime, which dealt with the second Inkmoth Nexus. Now it was hard to see what Ikawa's plan might possibly be. Two Acidic Slime and a Wurmcoil Engine entered the red zone, and Ikawa was left with nothing in play against an opponent on
33 life, and now with a second Wurmcoil Engine on the table.
Morofuji 1 - 1 Ikawa
Ikawa chose to mulligan, while Morofuji kept a hand of six land and Devil's Play. That seemed like a sketchy keep at the time. Would he find what he needed to pull out against an aggressive red deck opening?
Ikawa opened with Spikeshot Elder. It attacked for one, with Stormblood Berserker up next, with two Bloodthirst counters on it thanks to the Elder. Morofuji drew into Green Sun's Zenith, but had to decide between that, or Devil's Play to kill the Elder. If he used the Zenith, Ikawa could just activate his Spikeshot Elder on turn three to kill the fetched Birds of Paradise, so Morofuji quickly decided there was no real choice, and the Devil's Play was his choice. In came Ikawa's Berserker, joined by Grim Lavamancer on the board. Morofuji cast his Green Sun's Zenith the following turn, netting him a Birds of Paradise that he would really like to stick around.
Although Grim Lavamancer died in the battle, Ikawa was ready with another Stormblood Berserker. At that point Morofuji was prepared to say that he probably should have mulliganed his six land opening hand, despite the large number of high casting cost spells in his deck.
He didn't mulligan, and it cost him.
Takuma Morofuji 1 - 2 Yoshihiko Ikawa
Sunday, 1:23 p.m. - 20/20 Vision: Round 13
For the final time this weekend, we take a snapshot of the top tables.
With only three rounds to go in the Swiss, everyone in this sample is in with a chance of making the top 8, with a record of 10-2 or better.
Here's the sample:
Now our final tally across 100 decks:
It was a surprise to see Tempered Steel back amongst the top tables.
Sure, it's only one copy, but if the player can win this round they'll be within touching distance of the top 8, and anything can happen from there. Mono-Red receded slightly, and neither of those players are amongst the pace-setters, although still doing very well at 10-2. The Control decks continue to slightly decline, with U/W Humans and Wolf Run Green heading for the top 8 in multiples. To my right, our Japanese coverage colleagues are busy converting all 104 day two decklists into a metagame breakdown, and then we'll see how closely our 20/20 Vision experiment matches the final day two data. What is certainly apparent is that there are a lot of decks that can be played successfully, and a look at the day two start list confirms that it's a lot more about how you play than about what you play.
What will the top 8 look like? We're just three rounds away from finding out.
Round 13: Feature Match - Daniel Pham vs. Masashi Oiso
Pham is a Magic player originally from the Toronto area, transplanted to Kobe to work as an English teacher while going to school full-time to get his MBA. With the workload for school increasing, he is finding himself with less and less time for Magic, and he told me that this may be his last year to play for a while.
"Things are just getting a little too intense at school. I may have to take some time off from Magic."
If he continue to play as well as he has thus far this weekend, his opinion may change. You'd be surprised how much winning a Grand Prix can help you find time for Magic.
His opponent this round knows how difficult it can be to step away from the game, and how good it feels to come back. After taking some time away from Magic for school and work himself, Masashi Oiso, at one point one of the best players on the planet, proved that some skills never diminish, returning in 2008 to win the Japanese National Championship. Since then, though he infrequently plays in tournaments outside of Japan, he has proven that he is a threat to win every event he enters. His skill is so well known amongst both the professional community and those close to the game that when he comes onto the ballot for the Hall of Fame next year, it will be hard to argue against his inclusion.
Oiso, playing UB Control, got on the board early with a Ratchet Bomb, setting it up to blow shortly. Pham began accelerating with his mono-green Kessig Wolf Run deck, playing a Birds of Paradise into a Dungrove Elder. Oiso made sure to prevent things from getting out of hand, using the Bomb to kill the Birds before finishing off the hexproff Elder with a Tribute to Hunger. Pham rebuilt with a second Birds of Paradise, but didn't have anything to follow it.
Oiso began to dig through his deck with a Forbidden Alchemy, filling his graveyard with goodies. Still wary of shenanigans, Oiso used a Snapcaster Mage to flashback the Tribute to Hunger, killing Pham's lone Birds. Pham retaliated by playing Garruk Relentless and using it to kill the Mage, flipping into Garruk, the Veil-Cursed. Oiso did him one better by making a Bloodgift Demon, ensuring a constant stream of cards. Pham used his Garruk to start churning out Wolves, but chose to leave all of his lands available should he need to trade his Inkmoth Nexus for the Demon. When he tried to do just that during Oiso's attack, the former Japanese Player of the Year used a Snapcaster Mage to cast a Doom Blade, making sure that his Demon ate Garruk.
Pham knew he was in trouble. He had a second Garruk Relentless to play, using it to kill the Mage, but didn't have an answer to the Demon. The second Garruk went down. Pham had a single card in hand while Oiso had a nearly full grip thanks to his Demon. Despise stripped the Garruk, Primal Hunter from Pham's hand, likely sealing the game. The Liliana of the Veil that Oiso played was nothing more than icing on the cake. It only took a few more futile turns for Pham to go down.
Masashi Oiso 1 – Daniel Pham 0
Pham blazed out of the gate in the second game, getting an early Dungrove Elder. And then, something interesting happened. He didn't play a third land. He tried to cast a Rampant Growth, but Oiso stopped him with Mana Leak. The 2/2 Elder attacked over for a puny amount of damage. When in lumbered (ha!) over again, Oiso used a Snapcaster Mage for a little know ability: he blocked. Eventually, Pham drew into more lands, and he tried threat after threat, each falling short. Acidic Slime met Dissipate. Garruk Relentless met Dissipate. Dungrove Elder met Snapcaster Mage (again) before getting Dissipated (again). Eventually, an Acidic Slime stuck, but by this point, Oiso was way ahead. A Beast Within ate Oiso's sixth land, giving him a Beast to begin attacking. Pham tried to get big with a Primeval Titan, but it met a third Dissipate.
Oiso started attacking with his Beast token. Without much hesitation, Pham pushed his Slime in front of it. When he tried attacking on the next turn with his Snapcaster, Pham used a Beast Within to turn a Forest into a Masashi Oiso token and block. On Pham's turn, the token attacked. Oiso drew and passed the turn. The token attacked again. Oiso drew and paused. He played the land he had drawn, his seventh, and played a Karn Liberated, immediately going to work on Pham. Pham didn't take things sitting down. His Beast began reducing Karn Liberated's loyalty. After attacking him down to two, Pham found a Dungrove Elder, 6/6 at this point. Oiso defensively put Karn Liberated up to six. He then put a Bloodgift Demon into play on his side, keeping Karn Liberated alive another turn.
Pham drew his card and smiled: Sword of Feast and Famine. He windmilled the card onto the table only to immediately, and animatedly, shove it into the graveyard when Oiso showed him the Mana Leak. When Oiso made a Wurmcoil Engine on the following turn, Pham shoved all of his cards together and congratulated Oiso with a smile.
Masashi Oiso 2 – Daniel Pham 0
Round 14: Feature Match - Akira Asahara vs. Yoshihiko Ikawa
Having made the top 8 of Pro Tour San Diego last year, and now finding himself in top 8 contention here with two rounds to go, Yoshihiko Ikawa keeps facing tough matchups. Here in round 14 he's paired against Akira Asahara. Twice Asahara has made the top 8 of Worlds, on home soil in Yokohama 2005, and then in Memphis 2008. He also has nine GP top 8s to his name, including two titles.
Asahara continued to simply lay land, and bide his time. Spikeshot Elder was countered with Dissipate. 17 life became 13, as Ikawa continued to function off just one land. A second allowed him to cast Shrine of Burning Rage, Asahara choosing to respond with Forbidden Alchemy, rather than the hard counter Mana Leak he had in hand. The Shrine thus resolved, but when a rather large Stromkirk Noble looked to attack, Asahara was ready with Doom Blade. Stormblood Berserker then met the Mana Leak Asahara had elected not to use a turn earlier.
Liliana of the Veil was next from Asahara, who now saw the board clear except for Shrine of Burning Rage, which stood at three counters. At end of turn, Ikawa aimed Volt Charge at Asahara's face, which put a counter on the Shrine. Asahara cast Snapcaster Mage in response, allowing him to re-use his Dissipate to counter the Volt Charge. The Shrine was up to five, but Asahara was still at 12 life.
Another Volt Charge aimed straight for Asahara. Forbidden Alchemy drew him into Think Twice, a second Liliana Vess, and a pair of unexciting lands. The Volt Charge resolved, Proliferate did the rest, and the Shrine of Burning Rage which Asahara could have countered ultimately dealt him the last nine points of damage to take the opener.
Ikawa 1 - 0 Asahara
Once again Ikawa had Stromkirk Noble on turn one, but at least Asahara had Ratchet Bomb on turn two. Ikawa added Spikeshot Elder, trying to force Asahara to explode his bomb, and that was indeed enough pressure. Shrine of Burning Rage arrived for Ikawa, who watched as Forbidden Alchemy resolved. Asahara had six cards in hand, and was still on twenty life. Would he let a second Shrine of Burning Rage resolve? He would not, flashing out Snapcaster Mage and then using a Frobidden Alchemy-discarded Mana Leak to stop the Shrine.
Ikawa cast Chandra's Phoenix, Asahara again responding with Forbidden Alchemy. With Oblivion Ring, Consecrated Sphinx, and Wurmcoil Engine all in the top four, he had choices to make, but his game-winning plan involved none of them. He cast Sun Titan, used Oblivion Ring to send the Shrine of Burning Rage away, and Ikawa, thoroughly beaten, swept up his permanents.
Ikawa 1 - 1 Asahara
At eleven wins and just two losses on the weekend, the winner of this next duel would most likely be in the top 8. Would it be the mono-red of Ikawa, or the Blue-White Control of Asahara?
Yet again Stromkirk Noble opened for Ikawa. It attacked and gained a counter on turn two, Ikawa pausing before laying a second Stromkirk Noble and a Spikeshot Elder. It was foot-to-the-floor Magic. If Asahara had no Ratchet Bomb, the firepower on board would be a massive deal. If he did, Ikawa could be in trouble.
Asahara had Ratchet Bomb, leaving Ikawa to attack and then add Shrine of Burning Rage. When Ikawa went for Koth of the Hammer, Asahara was ready with Mana Leak, and Ikawa attacking for one poison with Inkmoth Nexus hardly seemed likely to trouble the multiple GP champion. For five mana he cast Gideon Jura, and Ikawa rocked back in his seat. His Shrine of Burning Rage was at four counters, but Asahara was at 18.
With a Gideon Jura. And lots of cards.
Think Twice drew Asahara into Liliana of the Veil, and it was hard to see where Ikawa was going to conjure up enough threats to make a game of it. It really did seem like it was Ratchet Bomb or bust, and Ikawa had bust. Down came Liliana of the Veil, and Asahara passed.
With Gideon Jura being a glutton for punishment, Chandra's Phoenix was no threat. Oblivion Ring took out the Shrine of Burning Rage, and it would only be a matter of time before Gideon Jura destroyed Ikawa in enormous chunks.
Ikawa identified the moment, knew he would win without Ratchet Bomb, and found Ratchet Bomb waiting for him. That's the breaks with mono-Red. Sometimes they don't have it. A lot of times they don't have it. In round 14 when they don't have it, you're into the top 8.
Asahara had it, and it was he who now advanced to the verge of another knockout appearance.
Yoshihiko Ikawa 1 - 2 Akira Asahara
Sunday, 2:38 p.m. - Mission Accomplished
If you're a regular devourer of all things Magic, you'll already know the story of Melissa deTora and and her boyfriend James Searles, travelling the world in search of the wondrous Planeswalker Points that can turn into plane tickets to the Pro Tour. With her top 8 performance at Santiago, Chile last weekend, Melissa is now definitively qualified for Pro Tour Honolulu next year. We caught up with her here in Hiroshima to talk about the trip, and the future.
Melissa, last time we met you were planning on attending a PTQ in Honolulu between here and home, before competing at Grand Prix San Diego. I guess those plans have changed a little.
"First, they changed the date of the Honolulu PTQ, so we couldn't play in it any more. At that point, we found a PTQ in Vancouver that we could play in next weekend. Then, with my top 8 in Santiago, I wasn't allowed to play in it anyway! Now we're contemplating shifting plans again. Maybe we'll go to Las Vegas and play in the starcitygames.com open series event there, before going on to San Diego."
You might be thinking why they wouldn't go to Hawaii for the sake of, let's say, Hawaii, but if you're going to be going back there in a few months anyway...I knew that the goal of the trip was to generate as many Planeswalker Points as possible. Did they actively plan their GP Sundays, for if they were knocked out of the main event?
"Not really. For me it was very straightforward. If I wasn't in day two, I was going to play in the Sealed PTQ on the Sunday. I like Limited, I'm pretty good at Draft, so I didn't really bring anything Constructed with me except Standard for Brisbane and here in Hiroshima. James looked at a few Sunday options, but obviously the main idea was to be in the GP as long as possible."
Melissa has a long history in the game, and has played in more Pro Tours than the overwhelming majority of players. Don't be fooled - this isn't an easy route to the Pro Tour, and it helps to be very good at the game, which Melissa is.
"I've played in nine Pro Tours before. Five of those were due to PTQ wins, a few were on ratings, and then I had a GP top 16. I always went into each Pro Tour with top 50 as the goal, because that allowed you to come to the following event. 54th was the best I managed, though, and in 2009 I was off the train and felt as if that was it. I was getting a little older, I had a full-time job, and it's really hard to qualify. It really did seem like the end."
When Planeswalker Points were announced, Melissa and James saw another window of opportunity open up, and plunged head first into the deep end of the global pool. But what about her full-time job?
"I'd been working for seven years with kids in a group home, which is very demanding" she says. "I'd been looking for something else for a while, and when this chance came up it was the push I needed to actually quit. Of course, now I'll have to find myself a job when I get back next month."
Would she like to do the Martin Juza full-time tourist/Magic player gig?
"I really like travelling, but it can get a little expensive. I see these people who go from Kansas City to Vegas to San Diego to Worlds, travelling for a month at a time, going home for a week, and then starting again. That's incredible."
With her goal accomplished, and a slot in Hawaii guaranteed, what does the immediate future hold?
"We'll be focusing a lot on Standard and Limited for the start of next year. We may not go to every single North American Grand Prix, but we're certainly going to go to most of them. I've never played Modern, which is the format for the new year PTQ season, so I'll probably enter some of those. It's odd, but it's a little disappointing to have qualified at this point in the trip, because it means that I don't have to work really hard for the Points. Yesterday I dropped out after seven rounds, and I would never have done that if I was looking for Planeswalker Points."
"It also affects the events I'll play in for the rest of the trip. I already have three Byes for San Diego from winning a GPT a while ago, so I won't play in any trials on the Friday for the Points. It's interesting, because usually if you're at 3-3 in a Grand Prix it's very relaxed, because everyone knows that they're not going to make day two. Now, though, players are really wanting the Planeswalker Points, so the last rounds of the day can be really competitive."
Amongst all the Magic, have they found time to sightsee?
"The timing has worked really well. We've tended to arrive a few days ahead of the GP, and stay a couple of days afterwards. So, next week, we've got a couple of days in Tokyo before we fly out. The only place we missed out on was Australia. We didn't arrive until the Thursday, and just slept the entire time until the GP trials on Friday."
In their long-term calculations, getting a ton of Points for making a first GP top 8 wasn't on Melissa's agenda. Now that she's cracked the top 8, does that change the way she views future events, and her expectations of success?
"I'd like to aim for top 16 at San Diego. It's important not to set your sights too high, because it's so hard to succeed. There are only eight people who are going to get there, and that's out of more than a thousand people. Then again, if I win San Diego, I get to actually play at Worlds."
She pauses, smiles, and says,
"And if I don't win San Diego, then it's $10 Drafts all day Wednesday in San Francisco!"
Sunday, 2:55 p.m. - Going Places
Magic truly is a global game. Sure, there are tournaments all around the world and it's printed in more countries than I can spell. It's really the little things that amaze me. Like how quickly the Commander format spread to Japan. Like how you can walk into a restaurant near the event site and see players from four different countries talking over a meal. It's cool.
Enter Ricardo Madriz. As the more observant of you may have noticed, that is a less than Japanese name. Madriz made the long trip to Hiroshima Japan from Costa Rica, on virtually the opposite side of the globe. For the Costa Rican, this is his first trip to Japan. He made it here by virtue of a very intriguing contest. The Latin American distributor Devir held a very unique tournament in their distribution area, the winner of which would get an all-access trip to the Grand Prix of their choice. Pretty cool, huh?!
Anyway, the tournament structure is such that there were five smaller satellite tournaments held in five different Latin American countries. The Top 8 players of each of these tournaments would be invited to a final tournament in Brazil. The winner of that Brazilian tournament would win the top prize. Madriz won his local Costa Rican tournament, getting him a trip to Brazil and an opportunity to play for a chance to win a trip.
"It was actually pretty funny the way all this happened," Madriz laughed. "The qualifying tournament was Standard, so I played Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. When I got to Brazil, the tournament format was Extended...so I played Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle!"
With victory his, Madriz decided he wanted to go to Brisbane. For those of you who figured out that Madriz is a less common Japanese name, you probably also put together that this Hiroshima is just a little outside of Brisbane. It turned out there were some problems getting a trip to Brisbane. As his friend, Costa Rican Judge Arick Dickerman, explained to me, "At first, he decided he wanted to go to Brisbane. I looked at prices for tickets, because I was going to go with him, but it was like $5000 to make the trip...that wasn't happening. But then Ricardo had some trouble getting a visa to travel to Brisbane, so he decided to change to Hiroshima. He asked me if I wanted to go with him, jokingly at first, but I told him I did. So I planned the trip, called up Head Judge Kenji Suzuki to ask him if he would like any help from a prospective Level3 judge. He said "Yes," and I hopped a flight to Hiroshima with Ricardo! This is my first trip to Asia. Before Magic, the farthest I had been away from home was Minnesota in the United States. Now I've been to Europe and Asia! Magic is great!"
Madriz feels much the same way. For him, winning this tournament was a great opportunity.
"I looked at the rest of the tournaments for the year. I knew I could get to San Diego on my own if I wanted, so I really wanted to take advantage of the fact that they were going to pay for all of the travel expense to go somewhere far off, someplace I wouldn't be able to get to on my own. Since I couldn't make Brisbane, I knew Hiroshima was where I wanted to go. I've always loved Japanese culture. It's just so respectful...honorable...I don't know, quiet. The US is basically the same as Costa Rica, just more advanced. Japan is something else. It's just completely unlike anything I'm used to, and I love having the chance to be here. I've visited Hiroshima Castle, the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial...lots of places. It has been a wonderful experience. I won't forget this."
This wasn't the only fun international story from the weekend. Hiroshima is wedged on the far western side of the main island of Japan, putting it very close to mainland China, Korea, and Taiwan. Because of this, there were a larger than average number of non-Japanese players attending this tournament than many others in Japan. To accommodate them, this tournament boasts the largest international contingent of judges ever assembled at a Japanese tournament.
In addition to Costa Rica's Dickerman, the US has a representative in Jeff Morrow, who is here to help advise and oversee the training of some newer members to the ever-growing Japanese judging staff. Hong Kong has three representatives in Lik Hang Yu, Hon Ying Lau, and Simon Lee, who has been training this weekend at the scorekeeper's table and doing an excellent job. Korea's Eum Sung-Dae, Kim In-hwan, and Ha Sang-mook are here as well. Lastly, Taiwain has three judges present: Ming-Chih Wang, Arthur Wu, and Hans Wang. This team of ten international judges are getting an opportunity to gain a little more experience in a rapidly growing part of the Magic world, just in time for next year's massive increase in Grand Prix. Just like for the players, Magic provides judges a wonderful opportunity to get out and around the world, especially at the Pro Tour level. With Pro Tours having invited players from all around the world, a truly global team of judges has to be present to accommodate any problems that may arise. This gives judges from one side of the globe a chance to visit countries on the other that they might never have gotten a chance to visit otherwise, just like Arick Dickerman and Ricardo Madriz.
Sunday, 3:11 p.m. - Day 2 Deck Archetype Breakdown
|白単人間（タッチ《マナ漏出/Mana Leak》）||White Human (splash Mana Leak)||5|
|赤単ビート（タッチ《ケッシグの狼の地/Kessig Wolf Run》）||Red Beet w/Kessig||1|
|白単鋼||White Tempered Steel||2|
|緑白ケッシグコントロール||G/W Kessig Control||1|
|緑黒ケッシグコントロール||G/B Kessig Control||1|
Two Pictures Worth
I am a nut for the flavor behind Magic. I'm talking big enough to put people with a nut allergy into the hospital just by shaking their hands. I love delving into the worlds in which Magic takes place, exploring the nooks and crannies, getting to love and hate the characters. I love becoming a part of the fabric of the worlds.
With that in mind, it's easy to see why one of my favorite parts of covering Grand Prix is the fact that each one has a guest artist invited. For me, the artists behind Magic are mythical creatures. First, without them, this game would be nothing more than words on cardboard. All of the brilliant writing work that Brady Dommermuth, Jenna Helland, Doug Beyer and the rest of the creative team put into designing the story and feel of the worlds behind Magic wouldn't be nearly as impressive. Simply reading the flavor of a world doesn't work as well for Magic as it does for a novel. As silly as it is to say, the game gets in the way. That's where the art comes in. While the text team comes up with the characters, locations, creatures, and abilities of each set, it's the visual artists that give them all flesh. It's they that turn the things we visualize in our imaginations, with eyes closed, and turn them into what we see with our eyes open.
The thing is, everyone, whether they want to admit, loves the art of Magic cards. Even the hardest core professional players, many of whom claim that the artwork doesn't matter at all to them, betray that. Why do you make sure that your deck has that exact Island in it? Why do you pick that Mana Leak over another? Because it has your favorite art. I've even heard people who profess that art doesn't matter to them berating what they think to be "bad" art for cards? You know that saying something has bad art implies that you feel something else has good art, right? Even if you don't think it matters, the art of the cards calls to us all.
One of the reasons I feel so strongly about the artwork depicted on the cards, other than the way it brings the story to life and gives a face to the world, is the fact that I am a miserable artist. I am talking dreadful. My stick figures look like they have some sort of vitamin deficiency. It ain't pretty. Because of this, I have an incredible amount of respect for someone who is able to take a vision of what they have in their heads and translate that to a computer screen or canvas. It's like magic to me. Magic artists are some of the best in the world at what they do, and they have my utmost respect. I love how well Jeremy Jarvis and the art direction team matches artists up with their strengths and puts them on the exact perfect card for their talents. When the artwork is finished, you couldn't imagine it another way. It seems so perfectly matched that the artwork calls to you.
There. I've gotten my art-goober moment out of the way. Thanks for indulging me. I just think that the artists behind the artwork that are the visual front of Magicdon't get enough respect for their contributions, and I don't think people fully recognize how different the game would be without their artwork. It's like watching a movie without the soundtrack. People don't ever fully realize how much the music in a particular scene affects its effects on them until they watch a scene on mute. Powerful becomes mundane. Sad becomes laughable. Without the music, it isn't complete. Magic without card art is the same way.
Crap. Did it again. Sorry.
There are two artists on hand here in Grand Prix Hiroshima, and they approach the art of Magic in two different ways. The first is Igor Kieryluk, and you definitely know his work.
How about this card:
Here's one that you might not have seen:
And I can't forget one of the best pieces of art in New Phyrexia. This piece gave me shivers the first time I saw it, and as far as I am concerned, there is no piece of art in the entire set that exemplifies Phyrexia for me than this:
Just the juxtaposition of vaguely human and decidedly foreign, innocuous with grotesque...it's that very obvious and creepy "this is very wrong" feeling that I search for when I think of Phyrexia, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite completely embodies that for me.
Kieryluk hails from, as he puts it, "A small village on the western border with Germany and the Czech Republic, right in the corner of Poland." He laughed after telling me this adding, "Technically it's the countryside since village implies more than one building."
from his magnificent beard. I'll never shave again...
Like many of the artists illustrating for the hobby world today, Kieryluk got his start with traditional oil-based paintings, but quickly moved to digital work to accommodate the fast-paced requirements of contract work.
"I do know some people who stick to traditional oil-paintings, but they are only really able to put out one piece per rotation. I tend to get three or four, and there's no way that I would be able to keep up with the work without working digitally."
Like most of the artists I've spoken to who work digitally now, but started by working with oils, Kieryluk does admit that he really enjoys working more in oils than digitally.
"I tend to work mostly digitally now, though I do make my textures the old-fashioned way. In a perfect world, where time wasn't a factor, I would probably paint more in oils. Even though there is equipment now that lets you work more by touching rather than by relying on a mouse, there's just too much detachment with digital work. I prefer being more involved in creating my work. There's something to be said for holding a brush in your hand, moving and mixing the paint by brush...it just feels right. Heh, I still find myself trying to touch the screen sometimes, trying to change a shape or mix paint with my fingers, even though I should have been doing this long enough digitally to know I can't. Even though I prefer the involvement of working in oils, I do still love my work, and I am proud of everything I create."
I have heard a similar sentiment echoed from nearly every artist I've talked to, and I completely understand it. There's just something to be said for the methods by which you work. Artists don't simply sit down and just put something together. They tend to get invested, involved in their work. Creation of art is a tactile thing. Every artist, regardless of medium, has a method of production that just feels right to them. Sure, you can produce things another way, but there is one way above all others that is preferred. It's true for writers, too. I've known writers that produce their work by word processor for their jobs, since speed and efficiency is essential. But when they sit down to work on a personal project, they can't write unless it's on an old-school typewriter, sticking keys and all.
When I asked Kieryluk what his favorite piece of art produced for Magic was, he laughed.
"That's actually a really difficult question because the answer is usually the last thing I've made. I really enjoy everything I produce, so it's just the freshest in my mind. Like the most recent card I made, which I really like a lot, is an alternate art version of another card. But if I had to pick something that has already been produced, I'd have to say the daytime side of Cloistered Youth. I am incredibly happy with the way that the lighting and texture turned out with it. It has the perfect combination to allow me to fool myself into believing that it isn't digital."
I was curious about what he meant by that, so I asked him to explain a little more about his use of texture, creating it himself, and how it enhances his digital work.
"Well, I tend to use a lot of fabricated textures. I take things like sand, sawdust, crumpled paper...then I take a bunch of pictures of them from all different angles with all different kinds of lighting. I can then use these textures to lend a greater sense of reality to the digital work. The human brain has been trained after years of exposure to look for the tiny imperfections in lighting and surface composition, things that brushstrokes create in oil paintings. If those things don't exist, there's a portion of the brain that realizes that something isn't right. That's why I like Cloistered Youth so much. Everything about the texturing is perfect. Everyone loves Linvala, Keeper of Silence, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and I am really proud of those pieces as well, but I can still tell by looking at them that they are digitally created."
Considering the unnatural nature of Phyrexians, I asked Kieryluk if having Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite look a little unnatural is a bad thing or not. Why couldn't he produce her with a little less texturing to make her look like something isn't quite right?
"There is a big difference between having the character look unnatural and the art as a whole look unnatural. Even though Elesh is supposed to look creepy and unnatural, she is still highly detailed and textured. She looks like she could be real, even if it is a disturbing kind of real. If the texturing was off, she stops being a character and becomes a piece of art, which isn't what you try to create. You want to create characters. For Elesh, I was working with someone else's design as well, taken from the style guide. Another card I illustrated, Suture Priest, which is another popular piece of work, I got to make all of the stylistic decisions on it to make it as potentially lifelike as possible.
With Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite , it was already decided what she would look like, but I still got to make slight alterations to her depiction in the style guide to make her more realistic, something very small that I felt was necessary to make her complete. I know many artists in this field who adhere wholly to the style guide passed to them, and they make wonderful pieces, but usually these artists end up feeling that something just isn't right with their work. I really have enjoyed working with Jeremy Jarvis because he has faith in the artists he selects and trusts them to do what they think is best to bring their creations to life. That is one of the major reasons that I feel so pleased with everything I have created."
There are few things in life that are able to inspire me to jealousy as much as great artists. Maybe So You Think You Can Dance. When I explained how I envied Kieryluk's ability to take the images he sees in his head and tease physical things to match them, he simply turned the statement around.
"It's simply a certain type of coordination. For example, I have terrible hand-eye coordination, which many people think is strange for an artist. I could never be a piano player. Everyone has a type of creativity that they are capable of that others wish they had. Everyone has their own gift."
Feeling much better about my horrible inadequacy and understanding much more about the aesthetics of Magic art, I bid Kieryluk farewell and let him return to taking care of the horde of Japanese Magic players lined up at his table, waiting to get his signature or a print depicting one of the incredible characters he has brought to life. Here is a bit more of his fantastic work for you: