Grand Prix Kobe - Day 1 Blog

Posted in Event Coverage on February 18, 2012

By Wizards of the Coast

Saturday, 3:01 p.m. – Sealed Deck Building Exercise in Kobe

by Nate Price

I am very bad at Sealed Deck. Like many players, I would often just attribute that to being unlucky, which I still feel I am, but lots of experience has taught me that I'm probably just doing something (or many things) wrong. There are so many different ways to build a Sealed Deck and so many decisions that it's easy to make a wrong turn.

As a fun exercise, as well as a learning opportunity, we've taken an extra Sealed Deck here at Grand Prix Kobe and cracked it open. Here's the list:

Throughout the tournament, we'll be checking with various Pro players to see how they would build a deck using these cards. Before we get to that, though, we'd like to see how you would build it! Feel free to take a crack at the pool and post your list in the forums! After that, as the results start coming in from the Pros, compare your build against theirs and hear what they have to say. Hopefully, you can learn a thing or two and have some fun to boot! Now where to begin...

Saturday, 3:29 p.m. – White Hot Sealed Decks

by Steve Sadin

In Booster Drafts, players ultimately compensate for the fact that some colors are stronger, and/or deeper, than others by the way that they draft.

For example, white was particularly strong in Innistrad, so eight player draft pods would frequently end up supporting four, five, or sometimes even six white drafters. Meanwhile, black was arguably the weakest color in Innistrad, and would consequently tend to get drafted by around two (or three) players in most eight-player drafts.

The fact that white is drafted heavily in Innistrad, while black is drafted relatively infrequently, does a lot to balance the colors in Booster Draft – but that balancing doesn't occur in Sealed Deck since players are given a fixed pool of cards from which to build their decks.

So while white decks tended to perform well in Innistrad Booster Drafts – on average they didn't perform much better than any other color, but in Innistrad Sealed Deck events, white was absolutely dominant.

If you walked by the top tables at an Innistrad Sealed Deck Friday Night Magic, PTQ, or Grand Prix – you would undoubtedly find yourself staring at a sea of white decks.

Will white continue to be the premier color now that Dark Ascension has been added to the mix? Or will a new contender challenge white's reign?

Beginning in Round Four, we'll be bringing you snapshots of the colors being played at the top tables so you'll have a better sense of just how many Chapel Geists you're going to need to beat at your next Sealed Deck tournament.

Saturday, 4:05 p.m. – The 24 – It Begins...

by Nate Price

As my illustrious tablemate Steve Sadin has no doubt made you aware, white was very good in Innistrad Sealed Deck. Well, the days of Innistrad have come and gone, and a new player has entered the mix. Grand Prix Kobe marks the first Grand Prix to feature Dark Ascension Sealed Deck. With the addition of some new cards to the mix, we were curious as to whether the balance of power will change, or if white will still reign supreme. Well, with the first three rounds out of the way, things are starting to take shape.

Number of decks containing each color

It appears that, at least so far, white still leads the pack, with the remaining colors represented in fairy similar percentages. The most played color combinations at the top tables were either UW, WR, or WB, though there were some players eschewing white altogether to run wild with RG. As the day goes on, we'll keep posting snapshots of the top tables so that you can see whether things even out, or whether white really is the cream that will rise to the top.

Round 4 Feature Match - Ryuichiro Ishida vs. Akimasa Yamamoto

by Steve Sadin

Ryuichiro Ishida, a 23 year old student from Aichi, won Japanese Nationals in 2011, and helped lead Japan to the Team title at Worlds in San Francisco – their first team title since 2005.

Two top Japanese players prepare to battle.

Across the table from the up-and-coming Ishida sits Akimasa Yamamoto, a player who earned his first Pro Tour invitation by placing in the Top 8 at Grand Prix Okayama in 2008. Yamamoto made good use of that invitation, advancing all the way to the Semifinals of Pro Tour Nagoya before he fell to eventual champion Gabriel Nassif.

Game One

Ishida got off to a good start with a Villagers of Estwald, and a Voiceless Spirit -- but he found himself on the defensive from the get-go as Yamamoto opened on Lingering Souls, and Hellrider.

Without a fourth land, Ishida decided to pass his fifth turn with no play, allowing his Villagers of Estwald to transform in the process. Fires of Undeath took out Ishida's Voiceless Spirit, and cleared the way for Yamamoto's Spirit tokens (which were particularly deadly thanks to Hellrider).

Ishida prepares to go on the attack.

Ishida finally drew his fourth land, and went on the offensive – attacking with his Howlpack of Estwald, before mugging an incoming spirit token, and temporarily exiling a Hellrider, with Hollowhenge Spirit.

A couple of Voiceless Spirits joined Yamamoto's side of the board, and Ishida found himself in dire straits.

Ishida hoped that he could begin stabilizing by using a Prey Upon to take out Hellrider, but when Yamamoto showed him a Faith's Shield, that was enough to force a concession.

Yamamoto 1 – Ishida 0

Game Two

Yamamoto spent his first few turns playing a Ashmouth Hound, and a Hanweir Watchkeep, while Ishida started with a Villagers of Estwald before setting off transformations on both sides of the board when he passed his fourth turn with no play.

Ishida tried to take out the incoming Bane of Hanweir by blocking with his Howlpack of Estwald, and pumping it with Spidery Grasp -- but a Hollowhenge Spirit kept Yamamoto's 5/5 alive to see another day.

Ishida prepares to take Game 2.

A Gavony Township forced Yamamoto to trade his Bane of Hanweir, and a Burning Oil for Ishida' Howlpack of Estwald, while the rest of the attack left Ishida at a mere 10 life.

Ishida began to rebuild with a Hollowhenge Scavenger, and a Wolfbitten Captain – but he still needed to find a way to deal with Yamamoto's Hollowhenge Spirit before he lost in the air.

A Pitchburn Devils, and a Wolfhunter's Quiver served to further speed up Yamamoto's clock, while Ishida's deck offered up nothing but lands – and a couple of turns later Yamamoto had taken the match.

Yamamoto 2 – Ishida 0

Saturday, 5:57 p.m. - The 24 - Round 5 Roundup

by Steve Sadin

Nate Price, and I began today with an eye to see if any color, or colors, could supplant white's position as the top dog in Dark Ascension/Innistrad Sealed. Five rounds into the tournament, and a very real challenger has emerged.

Number of decks containing each color at the Top 12 tables.

Green, or more specifically Green-Red was making its presence felt at the top tables in Round 5. Everywhere I looked this round, I felt like I saw another Darkthicket Wolf getting backed up by a Brimstone Volley, or pumped up by a Wild Hunger.

Can the Green-Red decks continue winning? Or will Chapel Geist and friends reassert themselves in the coming rounds?

Stay tuned to find out!

Round 5 Feature Match - Tsuyoshi Fujita vs. Marcin Sciesinski

by Nate Price

It's never easy going up against a player on his home turf. It's even harder when that player is a Hall of Famer. Marcin Sciesinski, originally from Poland but now calling Ireland home, knew that he was in for quite the ride when he sat down across the table from his Round 5 opponent. Tsuyoshi Fujita is a proven force in Japanese Magic. Though he rarely ventures beyond Japan for tournaments nowadays, he is always welcome at the Pro Tour as a 2007 inductee of the Magic Hall of Fame, a place he earned with a powerful career. Fujita is one of the reasons that sitting across from a Japanese player went from a dream match to a nightmare. Japanese Magic wouldn't be the same without him, and his accomplishments didn't go unnoticed. Despite not travelling much for the game anymore, Fujita still always seems to be sitting around the top tables at Japanese Grand Prix, always a threat to win.

Hall of Famer Tsuyoshi Fujita

Game 1

Perhaps fearing the imposing presence of the Hall of Famer across from it, Sciesinski's deck seemed to retreat into a shell. Fujita's Avacyn's Pilgrim was the first card to hit the board, and it got busy on the following turn, attacking into Sciesinski's empty board. A Gatstaf Shepherd followed soon thereafter, but Sciesinski had a Lingering Souls to keep it a mere Human. Still, when Fujita offered a trade on the following turn, he declined to block. Fujita added a Dawntreader Elk to his board and passed the turn. Sciesinski had yet another spell to prevent the transformation, making a Russet Wolves to join his Spirits. The fliers attacked, and he passed the turn.

Fujita began to play lightning quick, sacrificing his Elk to get an Island before playing a Festerhide Boar. When Sciesinski had no play on his turn, things started to get ugly fast. Fujita's morbid piggy teamed up with his newly flipped Gatstaf Howler to attack Sciesinski for eight. Sciesinski dropped to 9. When Fujita added a Ghoultree to his team, Sciesinski's deck just wanted the nightmare to be over. Again, Sciesinski had no play, and a swing from Fujita's team on the following turn sealed the deal.

Tsuyoshi Fujita 1 – Marcin Sciesinski 0

Game 2

Sciesinski's deck hadn't provided much of a show in the previous game, but he had pushed his way to a 4-0 record without the virtue of any byes, so there had to be some goods hiding in his deck other than the two cards he played. Fujita apparently had just the card in store to deal with those two cards, as he reached for his sideboard, bringing in a new card.

Sciesinski decided to go first in the second game, but his deck was once more against him. Forced to mulligan to six, Sciesinski was forced to start on the back foot. Fujita started to set himself up early, using a Traveler's Amulet and an Avacyn's Pilgrim to give him blue, green, and white sources of mana. Just as in last game, a Werewolf joined the Shepherd, this time a Scorned Villager. A Grizzled Outcasts joined the turn after, and things were once again looking dicey for Sciesinski.

Marcin Sciesinski knows he has cards hiding in his deck somewhere!

Sciesinski was stuck on a Plains and a Swamp, unable to play any spells to prevent the Villager from flipping. He managed to scare up a Mountain for a Stromkirk Captain to prevent the Outcasts from flipping, but Fujita made matters worse with a Grasp of Phantoms. Sciesinski fell to 9. Fujita flashed it back and dropped Sciesinski to 5. The third time around, Sciesinski chose to make a Hanweir Watchkeep instead of the Captain, getting himself a hefty blocker, though he still fell to 2. Fujita's unrelenting assault and his own deck's refusal to fight put the game out of reach. After drawing his card to check for a Wrath of God that might have somehow snuck into his deck, and failing to find it, Sciesinski conceded and shook Fujita's hand.

Tsuyoshi Fujita 2 – Marcin Sciesinski 0

Sealed Deck Building Exercise – Hall of Fame Advice

by Nate Price

Now for the fun part! I have been carrying this Sealed Deck pool around with me looking for the right moment to get an opinion on it. Who should I have sitting in front of me for a Round 5 Feature Match other than Mr. Tsuyoshi Fujita: the man, the myth, the Hall of Famer. After watching him clean up his opponent in his Feature Match, I asked Fujita to hang around a minute for me and show me how to turn this 84-card block of cardboard into a sleek Magical machine. He smiled, nodded, and set to work.

The man, the myth, the Hall of Famer.

"Red is weak. Black is too."

This is the first thing he says as he starts flipping through the cards, sifting out the unplayables.

"Blue isn't very strong, either; Mindshrieker is the only really strong card for this pool."

With that in mind, he made his way to green.

"Essence of the Wild is an interesting card, but I'm not sure about it with this deck. I'm not sure whether Essence or Rage Thrower is better, but I think I like Rage Thrower."

When I asked him about this decision, he pointed to the three little stylized forests in the upper left corner of the card. Considering that most of the cards that were definitely in his deck were white, this triple green seemed a little hard to swing.

After taking a look at his creation, he leveled to share a few tips with me.

"The one thing I've learned from Yuuya [Watanabe], if you don't have any bomb rares in black, you shouldn't play it. In red, you're looking for good uncommons, and the rest you don't really need to worry about. White is obviously the strongest. This green has two bombs (Ghoultree and Increasing Savagery) and a forestwalker. Burning Oil is a good card advantage card. Rage Thrower and Essence of the Wild fill the same role as a way to end games that have stalled out, but the Essence is just too hard to cast. This is what I'd play, but this may be a deck that can't make the cut to day 2."

Here's what he came up with:

Tsuyoshi Fujita

Download Arena Decklist

We'll continue to spread this deck around and see how many ways we can get this deck built! Keep checking back for updates and posting your own versions in the forums!

Saturday, 5:57 p.m. - The 24 - Six Variance

by Nate Price

Well it took until Round 6, but white's stranglehold on the top slot seems to have loosened. Check these numbers out:

Number of decks containing each color at the Top 12 tables.

While white still holds the top slot, blue, red, and green are now featured at a much more even keel than before. As Steve noted earlier, RG seems to be the color combination of choice for those Wizards trying to avoid flying the white flag. There are a couple of other decks floating out there, like a lone RB deck and a UB deck, it still seems that the way to go is either with white/X or taking a walk on the wild side with RG.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to note is the fact that black seems to have fallen right off the reservation. Already starting low with only 8 decks in 24 running it, black did nothing to improve its standing, instead falling down to a mere 6 decks by Round 6. What does this mean? Is black simply the worst color in Dark Ascension Sealed Deck? Did Tsuyoshi Fujita have the right of it when he told me to stay away from black unless you open one of the bombs? The only way to find out is for us to continue to track it throughout the last three rounds of the day. A lot can happen in three rounds, and we'll have to wait and see whether or not it can get back on track.

Round 6 Feature Match - Akira Asahara vs. Daiki Muraoka

by Steve Sadin

Ten time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Akira Asahara doesn't travel outside of Japan for tournaments very often anymore -- but when he does show up for an event, you'd better watch out.

Asahara advanced to a Top 4 finish at the last Premier Event he played in (Grand Prix Hiroshima), and with a 5-0 start here, there's no reason to think that he won't find himself in his 11th Grand Prix Top 8 this weekend.

Asahara's opponent this round is Daiki Muraoka, an amateur player from Nagasaki who has started off the tournament with the single bye, and then promptly won his next four matches to enter into this round with a 5-0 record.

Game One

Daiki Muraoka kept a land heavy opening hand to start the match, and Akira Asahara wasted no time in punishing him for it.

A Civilized Scholar turned into a Homicidal Brute, knocking Muraoka to 15, and was joined by Headless Skaab. Muraoka tried to work his way back into the game with an Instigator Gang, but a Tribute to Hunger allowed Asahara to take the first game before Muraoka had cast a second spell.

Asahara jumps out to a quick lead.

Asahara 1 – Muraoka 0

Game Two

The second game started a bit better for Muraoka, as he was able to cast an Avacyn's Collar, a Midnight Guard, and an Instigator Gang before Asahara had played his first spell.

Asahara used a Brimstone Volley to take out Instigator Gang, and began to mount an offense of his own with Hellrider. However, Asahara's position of power would be short lived as Muraoka used a flurry of removal spells to insure that the ten-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor's side of the board remained free of anything threatening.

When Muraoka cast, and flashed back a Lingering Souls – Asahara knew he was beat, and it didn't take long before he was shuffling up for the third game.

Asahara 1 – Muraoka 1

Game Three

Asahara chose to draw first, and quickly found himself backpedaling as Muraoka got things started with a Dawntreader Elk, and a Voiceless Spirit.

Asahara tried to keep his head above water with a Fires of Undeath, and a Birmstone Volley – but he nonetheless found himself taking hit, after hit from Muraoka's Dawntreader Elk.

Muraoka comes close to finishing Asahara in the third game.

By the time that Asahara had stabilized on the board, he was at a mere 8 life, and Muraoka was threatening to end the game in a hurry with a Heretic's Punishment.

Not wanting to die to the Heretic's Punishment, Asahara used an Into the Maw of Hell to destroy his own Erdwal Ripper (which was trapped under Bonds of Faith), and Muraoka's only Mountain.

Things rapidly went downhill for Muraoka from there as Asahara buffed up his Falkenrath Noble with a Spectral Flight, and used a series of removal spells to ensure that nothing of note lived long enough to prevent him from flying to victory.

Asahara 2 – Muraoka 1

Saturday, 8:03 p.m. - Sealed Deck Building Exercise with Akira Asahara

by Steve Sadin

After winning his Round 6 Feature Match to advance to a 6-0 record, Asahara was gracious enough to spend some time to show us how he would build the communal sealed pool that we opened earlier this morning.

Off to a great 6-0 start

On Asahara's first pass he decided to curve out all of his relevant white cards, and to dismiss his blue, and his black entirely. On his next pass through the pool, Asahara cut his green, and began putting together a White-Red deck.

Asahara, who was all business up until this point, briefly put a Sanctuary Cat into his deck "for the mana curve," before smiling and setting the cat aside with the rest of the cards that he wasn't playing.

Asahara started off with a fairly even split between white, and red – but as he refined his deck he did his best to minimize the number of red cards that he was playing, so that it would be easier for him to cast his double white spells.

A few minutes later, and Asahara was done. "It's easy to build," explained Asahara, "white is really strong, red is okay, and the other colors just aren't good"

Akira Asahara

Download Arena Decklist

Notable omissions:

Avacyn's CollarBurden of Guilt
Elbrus, the Binding Blade Break of Day
Nearheath Stalker

The last two cards that Asahara cut from the deck were Nearheath Stalker, and Elbrus, the Binding Blade. Asahara cut the Nearheath Stalker because he already had a number of better five drops in his deck, and then he cut the Elbrus, the Binding Blade when he realized that he was going to have to cut his seven mana equipment, a removal spell, Intangible Virtue (which Asahara seemed to be a very big fan of) or an evasion creature to get down to 23 cards.

Saturday, 8:12 p.m. - Moments from Kobe

by Nate Price

There's just something in the air around Kobe, and I'm not talking about the light dusting of snow that's beginning to fall. I'm not talking about the mouthwatering aroma of steak that hangs in the air, taunting, either. It's something less tangible, more a mystique than anything else. Kobe has been the setting of some of the coolest stories Magic history has to offer, and it all started over a decade ago.

The year is 2001, and the Magic Grand Prix circuit has come to Kobe. It's hardly the first Grand Prix in Japan (that honor goes to Tokyo in 1997), but you could tell that something about this tournament was different. Walking through the doors and entering the hall, players were treated with a mind-numbing sight. As coverage reporter and supervillain-in-training Josh Bennett said, "tables stretched to the horizon, and out past peripheral vision." Grand Prix Kobe 2001 was the first Magic Grand Prix to crack 1000 players. 1350 players came to Kobe to play Invasion Block Constructed. Ron Foster has gone so far as to call coverage paragon Josh Bennett his secret weapon for getting massive attendance. Bennett has been the coverage reporter for two of the biggest events in Japanese history.

That's why his hair is so big. It's full of secrets!!

Many of you may be scoffing at that number (I'm looking at you, Europe), but allow me to put this in perspective for you. The largest tournament to that point was Grand Prix Yokohama, three months before, checking in at 846 players. The record set in Kobe would last until 2004 when Grand Prix Madrid would top it...with 1351 players. Interestingly, Madrid seems to love setting records, as Grand Prix Madrid 2010 currently holds the record at 2228. I wonder what'll happen next weekend... Anyway, as for Kobe, the tournament in 2001 had over 4000 match results slips used. Ron Foster had his picture taken next to the stack of result slips that measured nearly as long as he is tall!

That smile quickly disappeared when he realized he had to file all of those slips...

Kobe was also the site of Masashiro Kuroda's triumphant breakthrough, becoming the first Japanese player to win a Pro Tour, and he did it in an unlikely way. Pro Tour Kobe in 2004 was Mirrodin Block Constructed...sorry, I mistyped that. Pro Tour Affinity in 2004 was Affinity Affinity Affinity. The stupidly powerful deck was the defining deck of the tournament. Over 40% of the player at Pro Tour Kobe played Affinity, and if you weren't playing it, you were playing a deck specifically designed to beat it. Due to this sea of hate, Affinity decks started to fall by the wayside as decks like Kuroda's Big Red slid into its place. After emerging as the only undefeated player on Day 1, Kuroda rode his Arc-Sloggers and Shrapnel Blasts to a victory, really giving the Japanese home crowd something to cheer about.

The first Japanese Pro Tour champion, Masashiro Kuroda.

Another fun story from Pro Tour Kobe in 2004 tells the tale of one of the best tournaments you've never heard of: the Kobe Beef Open. Kobe Beef Open. Throughout the hall, all weekend long, you would occasionally hear the echoing voice of some disembodied Japanese Santa Claus announcing what can only be described as the best gift no one seemed to want. Eventually, American Pro Osyp Lebedowicz took home one of the vouchers and was treated to a steak dinner. Seems kind of lackluster, right? Remember, this is Kobe. You know, as in Kobe beef? Beef so tender it literally, and I mean literally, melts in your mouth? Beef created by giving cattle beer and massages? The result is a steak with a finely marbled mesh of fat running through the tenderest meat mankind has ever dared to dream of. I know my vegetarian friends out there might be upset at my glorifying steak, but these cattle live better than I ever will. I mean, Kobe beef is basically made from drunk, fat, pampered cows. They're the Larry the Cable Guy of steer. And they are delicious.

Nowadays, Osyp, we call this pose "The Steve Sadin."
The resemblance is uncanny...

When Osyp was back in the venue, after having a heaping helping of pleasure steak, his eyes visibly lit up when the next Kobe Beef Open was announced. Those around him didn't understand. "It's just a steak, right," they would ask? Going through the carnivore's version of an acid flashback, Osyp could only shake his head. "You don't get it. This isn't a steak. This is...heaven." Needless to say, some lucky few probably ended the weekend with a new level of understanding, while the rest simply went home, perfectly fine that they hadn't won "just a steak." Amateurs.

Perhaps my favorite moment from Kobe's Magical history comes from last year. After the devastating quake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 of last year, the first date set for Grand Prix Kobe 2011 had to be postponed. Japan was in the midst of cleaning up after one of the worst disasters in the country's history. There was concern about radiation safety due to Fukushima's fallout. People were far less worried about Magic and far more worried about how to get lives back on track. Eventually, things got to the point when Wizards felt it was alright for the Grand Prix circuit to return to Japan, and the new date for Kobe was set. Grand Prix Kobe 2011 was the first event in Japan after the disaster, and it brought with it a couple of incredible memories. First was the news that Kazuya Mitamura had decided to donate anything he might win to the Sendai relief effort. It was an incredibly cool gesture, and really instilled in everyone how deeply this tragedy had affected the fabric of the country, and yet how determined everyone was to right the ship.

This is the face of a good man. Kazuya Mitamura, Japan thanks you.
Makoto Kawamura knows that even in times of tragedy, you can't focus solely on the bad. Sometimes you just have to play.

The other touching story from the weekend was that of Makoto Kawamura, a judge from Sendai, right at the epicenter of the earthquake. His interview stressed that while Japan was definitely reeling, Magic provided a good way for he and many others to find some enjoyment and something to look forward to in what had otherwise been a tragic and stunning part of their lives. As he put it, "Just play Magic!"

Saturday, 8:53 p.m. - The 24 – Surprises in round 7

by Steve Sadin

Our peek at the top 12 tables in round 7 gave us our first big surprise of the tournament as 15 of the 24 players were seen sporting red decks, while white came in a distant second with "only" 9 players opted to fill their decks with Plains.

Number of decks containing each color at the Top 12 tables.

Red-White, Red-Blue, and Red-Green were all getting their fair share of play at the top tables, but Red-Black decks were noticeably scarce, as were White-Green decks.

The color distribution at the top tables this round certainly seemed a bit anomalous, but even if red isn't as good as this snapshot might indicate – there's no doubt that white is being given a run for its money at Grand Prix Kobe.

Saturday, 10:27 p.m. - Quick Hits – What Card do you Most Want to Open in Sealed?

by Steve Sadin and Nate Price

Shuuhei Nakamura

After taking his third loss ,and dropping from the tournament, Shuuhei tried his best to hide from the world. Fortunately ,he was still nice enough to answer my questions.

Beguiler of Wills. It's easy to play, and it only needs to live for one or two turns for you to win. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is good too – but it's just so hard to cast.

Chikara Nakajima

Old school pro Chikara Nakajima once again thrust himself into the spotlight with a Top 4 finish at Pro Tour Philadelphia ,and a 2nd place finish at Grand Prix Singapore in 2011.

Either Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, or Hellrider. If you have some removal, and a Hellrider – that's just game.

Yuuya Watanabe

2009 Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe knows exactly what he wants to open...

Lingering Souls! White is a must play color in Dark Ascension sealed, and even if you don't have black in your deck Lingering Souls is still good.

If I can cast it, and flash it back – I'd rather have Lingering Souls than Huntmaster of the Fells, or any other Mythic Rare in Dark Ascension.

Ken Yukuhiro

Up-and-coming Ken Yukuhiro is already well known in Japan thanks to his consistent finishes and his awesome live stream on Nico Nico Douga!

Huntmaster of the Fells. It is decent enough being two 2/2s for four. If they kill him before he flips, you still have something to show for it. If they don't you just win the game. There are other cards that will just win you the game in this format, but Huntmaster is by far the best.

Round 8 Feature Match - Masatsuna Suzuki vs. Ken Yukuhiro

by Nate Price

I'm always on the lookout for the next big star. Oftentimes, if that next big star is an American, or even to some degree a European, they tend to occupy more of the public eye. For example, Reid Duke, as impressive as he's been, has been getting a bunch of press for the past year or so as the future of American Magic, and with good reason. One thing that I've noticed, though, is that there tends to be radio silence coming from Japan. Mostly stemming from the fact that few Japanese players tend to venture out of the country for tournaments other than Pro Tours, it is rare that a new Japanese player makes a huge splash outside of the Pro Tour, and then the world often sits dumbstruck as this person they've never heard of takes home the trophy. What they don't realize is that often, the player that won is already a big star back in Japan. The Japanese know their next big thing, and his name is Ken Yukuhiro.

I have done my fair share of coverage on Japanese Grand Prix, and it's starting to have its effects. Yukuhiro was a name that I recognized, but couldn't quite figure out why. When it was explained to me that he made Top 8 of the last Limited Grand Prix in Japan, and that he finished 9th at Japanese Nationals in 2011, and that he had made Top 8 of the last massive Christmas event in Japan...when all of that was pointed out to me, I started to realize why his name was familiar: he is just always there, scratching at the top. Top 16 finish after Top 16 finish, Yukuhiro has taken his play skill and national notoriety and used it to entertain and educate the masses, streaming his Magic Online matches (under the name Death_snow) on Nico Nico Douga, which is effectively youtube for Japan. Similar to AJ Sacher and TwitchTV, Yukuhiro's videos and stream have gained him massive popularity in the Japanese Magic scene. All that remains is for him to move to the big stage and procure himself a Top 8 finish at a Pro Tour, so the rest of the world will finally stand up and take notice.

Undefeated players putting it all on the line

Currently undefeated, both Yukuhiro and his opponent Masatsuno Suzuki are already guaranteed a spot on Day 2. With that pressure out of the way, they played for the pride of finishing undefeated, though only one would get the chance. In the first game of their match, nothing much happened until Yukuhiro broke things with a Lantern Spirit on the third turn. At this point, things sped up dramatically. Suzuki spent three mana to make some fliers of his own, two Spirits via Lingering Souls. Two became four as he flashed it back on the next turn. Meanwhile, Yukuhiro added a Tower Geist and a Falkenrath Noble. His Geist got hit with a Burning Oil and his Spirit got hit with a Geistflame, leaving his Noble and Suzuki's Silverclaw Griffin as the only creatures on the board. When he used a Farbog Boneflinger to kill the Griffin, things were firmly in Yukuhiro's favor.

Suzuki tried to reenter the race, adding a 3-toughness roadblock in the form of a Chapel Geist to his side of the table. After searching a bit with a Faithless Looting, he also found himself a Dearly Departed, taking the lead for the time being. Yukuhiro was not to be denied, though. He made himself a second copy of the powerful Falkenrath Noble alongside the considerably less impressive Walking Corpse. He then put the Departed on a Shutter Island-style lockdown with a Chant of the Skifsang. The needle swung back to Yukuhiro.

The next turns saw a slew of removal from both of these powerful Sealed Decks. Suzuki used a Wrack with Madness to kill a Falkenrath Noble, but the remaining one took revenge, dropping Suzuki's Chapel Geist thanks to a Tragic Slip. Thing seemed destined to continue their back and forth until Yukuhiro dropped the bomb: Bloodline Keeper. Suzuki found himself floundering to deal with it. He did his best to stem the bleeding with Burning Oil removing the last Noble, but Bloodline Keeper was in a league of its own.

Suzuki dug with his Faithless Looting, but it was taking too long. The Keeper made Vampire after Vampire, filling the skies with its progeny. Suzuki did manage to Sever the Bloodlines the Keeper (cheeky!), but not before it had made enough flying 2/2s to end the game in style.

Masatsuna Suzuki 0 – Ken Yukuhiro 1

Again, the game didn't really start to take shape until the third turn, when Yukuhiro added a Stormbound Geist. Unfortunately, it was all him for the first turns of the game. Galvanic Juggernaut followed, and Falkenrath Noble soon thereafter. Suzuki had a Fires of Undeath for the Noble, but his other fliers kept beating. He added a Skirsdag High Priest to his team, and burly flying death looked imminent or Suzuki. As his life dropped, though, it brought him closer to a favorable situation with his Thraben Doomsayer. He kept afloat and avoided a terrible swing by using a second Fires of Undeath to kill the High Priest. He then added a Silverclaw Griffin to his team, evening things up a bit. He was down to 5, allowing his Fateful Hour to become active.

Suzuki is pondering his next move.

Yukuhiro was not to be denied, though, using a Sensory Deprivation to shut down the Griffin, clearing the way for an attack. Suzuki used his Doomsayer to pump his Griffin, killing Yuuhiro's Geist for the first time, but making it that much harder to kill. A flashed back Silent Departure made things even worse for Suzuki, as he would have to go through a turn without an active Doomsayer. He just calmly replayed it and added a Thraben Heretic to his team. Burning Oil kept Suzuki alive, whittling down Yukuhiro's team so a mere Galvanic Juggernaut, but it was able to keep attacking thanks to Yukuhiro's own removal spells. A Victim of Night took out the Doomsayer as it tried to gang up with the deprived Griffin to take down the Juggernaut. Things finally reached a strange plateau on the following turn when Suzuki added a Curse of Death's Hold to his side, along with a Nearheath Stalker. The stalker died to a Tragic Slip, but still came back to finish off the Juggernaut, clearing the board. Suzuki was the first to refill it, adding a Mondronen Shaman to his side. Yukuhiro had things to do, making sure that the Shaman stayed untransformed by making a Walking Corpse. This allowed him to kill the Shaman with a Farbog Boneflinger on the following turn.

Now in control, Yukuhiro began to chip away at Suzuki's remaining health, one point at a time. Yukuhiro made a move to kick things up, adding a Bloodline Keeper to his team, but Suzuki found a Rage Thrower and a Fling to kill it. Suzuki continued to try to stay in things with his Fires of Undeath, but a Stormbound Geist seemed to give him pause. He was facing down three 1/1s, but was only at 3 life. He still held on, flashing back his last Fires of Undeath to kill one of the 2/2s before using Sever the Bloodlines to kill the Stormbound Geist. This left him just enough mana to play a Dearly Departed, giving him the upper hand for the moment, but the creatures had managed one more hit, dropping him to one. Yukuhiro found a saving grace in a pair of creatures, hoping he'd get a chance to get one through for that last point, but Suzuki denied him with a Geistflame.

Yukihiro continues his winning streak.

And with a flourish to rival the best magician, Yukuhiro shouted with triumph as he untapped and put a Blazing Torch into play, equipping it to his remaining creature before flinging it at Suzuki to do the final point of damage. In a nailbiting, back-and-forth final game, Ken Yukuhiro proved why his mante of up-and-coming Japanese star is deserved, maintaining his undefeated record with one round to go!

Masatsuna Suzuki 0 – Ken Yukuhiro 2

Saturday, 10:38 p.m. - Sealed Deck Building Exercise with Ken Yukuhiro

by Nate Price

Ken Yukuhiro, one of the best Japanese players that you probably haven't heard of, kindly provided me some of his time to take a look at our pet Sealed Deck project. An incredibly consistent finisher in the notoriously difficult Japanese circuit of events, I trusted Yukuhiro to provide me a thoughtful dissection of the pool, and he didn't disappoint.

Yukihiro shares some of his winning strategies with our sealed deck pool.

"Isn't it impossible to not build white/red," he asked after about twenty seconds of combing through the pile? I had to laugh at that. As he began to lay the deck out and curve it, I saw him make a couple of decisions that were contrary to things I had seen earlier. For example, he seemed content to let his curve end at the five-mana slot.

"Rage Thrower was the last card that I wondered about putting in or leaving out. This environment needs cheaper creatures. Just play a guy and remove the blockers. It seems like the best way to win with this pool."

With his build, he maximized his chance to draw an early aggressive creature, and he crammed as much removal as he could into the remaining slots. Interestingly, despite his clamor to fit removal into the deck, he left Smite the Monstrous hanging out next to the Thrower.

"I can leave Smite the Monstrous in the sideboard along with Rage Thrower because I already have enough good removal," he informed me. He would rather put the highest quality removal into his deck and then balance that with the fast, aggressive creatures. He made sure to drive home how important aggression and consistency are, things he was trying to maximize in this build.

"I want to stay pure red/white. I've got so many cards with double mana symbols that I don't want to mess with my mana base. Mana base is very important. There was a chance to splash black, but it would end up making my deck slightly worse by messing up the mana."

Feeling confident with his selections, Yukuhiro made sure to point at a trio of cards sitting atop his sideboard as potential additions after game one.

"Nearheath Stalker and Smite the Monstrous can be very good against green decks, and this Rage Thrower will definitely come in to face the token decks."

Here is what Ken Yukuhiro built with our pool:

Ken Yukuhiro

Download Arena Decklist

Saturday, 10:41 p.m. - The 24 - Round 8 Regression Towards the Mean?

by Steve Sadin

After dominating the top 12 tables in Round 7, red took a bit of a step back. However, even after seeing its numbers drop a bit -- red was still tied with white for the most commonly played color amongst the twenty four 7-0, or 6-1 players who found themselves playing at the top 12 tables

Number of decks containing each color at the Top 12 tables.

White's advocates, such as 2009 Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe, still think that white is the color to play in Dark Ascension Sealed– but this tournament's results are making a pretty good argument for Red as well.

Will white regain the top spot for the ninth, and final round of Grand Prix Kobe? Or will red pull off a shocking upset?

Stay tuned to find out!

Round 9 Feature Match - Akira Asahara vs. Naoki Shimizu

by Steve Sadin

Pro Tour Austin Semifinalist Naoki Shimizu, and two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Akira Asahara have both been around the game for years. During their time playing the game competitively, ] Shimizu and Asahara have become two of the most popular Magic writers In Japan, and developed one of the most famous rivalries in Japanese Magic...

Their rivalry, which is known by many Japanese players as "The Grudge Match", was born during the last round of the Swiss at Japanese Nationals in 2006. Naoki Shimizu (who was quite young, and relatively inexperienced at the time) had already secured his Top 8 berth even with a loss, but Asahara (who was then one of the most feared players in Japan) needed a win to make it to the tournament's elimination rounds.

Fierce rivaly and history exists between these two men.

After splitting the first two games, the entire room huddled around their table and watched as Shimizu and Asahara became engaged in a long, drawn out, decider. At first, it looked like Shimizu was going to take the match with ease as he removed the key components of Asahara's deck with Cranial Extraction, but Shimizu nonetheless found his life total getting chipped away by an army of normally unimposing Court Hussars.

Shimizu didn't have any creatures that he could block with, and it seemed like Asahara would eventually come away with the victory – however, time expired before Asahara could seal the game, and Asahara wound up suffering a draw that left him just outside of the Top 8.

Ever since then, Naoki Shimizu, and Akira Asahara's matches have had quite a bit of extra gravity associated with them.

This encounter is no different, as only one of them will be able to end Day One of Grand Prix Kobe with an undefeated record.

Game One

Naoki Shimizu reminded his long time rival just just how good Mythic Rares can be as he started off their match with a turn four Olivia Voldaren.

Shimizu faces off against his long-time nemesis.

Staring at a hand full of spells that he either couldn't cast yet, or would die immediately to Olivia Voldaren – Asahara had no choice but to pass his turn with no plays, before watching helplessly as Shimizu further built up his board with a Hollowhenge Beast.

Asahara played a 5/5 Strumgeist, that immediately blocked an incoming Hollowhenge Beast -- but a Hunger of the Howlpack just made Asahara's nightmare even worse.

Into the Maw of Hell took out Olivia Voldaren – but without a way to stop the 6/6 Hollowhenge Beast, Asahara could do nothing but chump block for a couple of turns before moving on to game two.

Naoki Shimizu 1 – Akira Asahara 0

Game Two

After winning the first game with Olivia Voldaren, Shimizu did some complicated sideboarding that saw him board into a White-Green-Red deck. His extensive sideboarding paid dividends immediately, as Shimizu again found himself on the offensive in the second game with a Chapel Geist, and Thraben Sentry.

Asahara's Nephalia Seakite met a quick demise thanks to Wild Hunger, and a Voiceless Spirit made matters even worse for Asahara who had kept a very slow opening hand.

Asashara tries to hold on against Shimizu's Olivia Voldaren

Asahara played out some creatures that had the potential to be good blockers – but a Niblis of the Mist, and a Markov Warlord later, and Naoki Shimizu had ended Day One with a perfect 9-0 record.

Naoki Shimizu 2 – Akira Asahara 0

Saturday, 10:47 p.m. - Round 9 – The 24 – The Final Countdown

by Nate Price

What a transformation we saw over the course of the day! When we started The 24, white was the dominant color, outstripping the other colors by a reasonable margin. As the day progressed, however, the other colors began to assert themselves, slowly evening things up. Eventually, white's vice grip on the top of the mountain was detached, and a new power became king of the hill: red. Here are the numbers:

Number of decks containing each color at the Top 12 tables.

While this was definitely a surprise, and an interesting turn of events, it was fairly reasonable considering the trends we saw developing on the tables as the day unfolded. The most popular white-based combination was white/red, followed closely by white/blue. The most popular combination for the non-white players in the field was tried and true red/green. This double whammy of red provided it the extra push needed to take the lead.

Ultimately, this speaks to the fact that while white based decks are still quite powerful, and white is probably still the strongest individual color, the large green men backed up with burn can be just as effective as the evasive swarming of the white decks. We set out expecting this to be an unbalanced format filled with white decks, and ended up seeing a kaleidoscope of possibilities. So the next time you're setting up for your Dark Ascension Sealed Deck, don't rule anything out. White does not always make right.

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