Grand Prix Kobe - Day 2 Blog

Posted in Event Coverage on February 19, 2012

By Wizards of the Coast


Day 1 Undefeated Decks

by Event Coverage Staff

Naoki Shimizu - Day 1 Undefeated Deck

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Ken Yukuhiro - Day 1 Undefeated Deck

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Katsuhiro Mori - Day 1 Undefeated Deck

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Ryo Tamura - Day 1 Undefeated Deck

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Hiroshi Ishida - Day 1 Undefeated Deck

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Keita T. - Day 1 8-0-1

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Sunday, 11:45 a.m.: Drafting / with Naoki Shimizu

by Nate Price

Naoki Shimizu shook his head with a sad smile as he slid into his seat. He knew that his draft hadn't gone the way that he wanted to, and he ended up with a middle of the road deck. "I'm not sure how this is going to go," he told me.

We talked for a minute about his tendencies going into Dark Ascension/Innistrad Draft. When I asked him what his favorite archetype to draft was, he quickly responded "Blue/white fliers," as he fanned his hand over the motley assortment of creatures he had assembled.

The draft started going downhill soon after the first pick. Both Shimizu and Katsuhiro Mori directly to his right had opened Soul Seizers, with Shimizu also opening Havengul Runebinder. The Runebinder is an incredibly powerful card, but the pair of Soul Seizers opened are also incredibly powerful, and not taking one sends a very visible signal to the players to your left. That's exactly what happened as Shimizu took the Runebinder, passing his Seizer to the left, even as Mori passed one to him. After that, both Shimizu and the player to his left took the Soul Seizers passed to them, resulting in quite the pickle. Shimizu had position on the player to his left, so he didn't expect him to stick with blue, knowing that he was soon to be cut off. That wasn't the case.

"I was surprised when the player to my left went blue. I passed him that first Soul Seizer, but I took the one that Katsuhiro Mori opened to my right immediately afterwards. I didn't expect him to stay blue, but it looks like he did."

When organizing his cards, the first thing he did was shake his head at the abundance of 4-drops in his pile.

"I almost took Angry Mob over Moon Heron in that second pack simple because I knew I had too many 4-drops." It was apparent as he shook his head a couple of picks later when the only white or blue card in the pack was an Abbey Griffin. This was the unfortunate consequence of the second part of the first pack and the beginning part of the second pack containing very few creatures. He had an opportunity at a Midnight Haunting early in the second pack, but opted to go with a Bonds of Faith, which he chose because cheap, efficient removal is essential in the blue/white fliers deck. Despite this, Shimizu knew that he was in a tight spot, and desperately needed creatures. He was forced to pick up a late Thraben Purebloods and a Village Bell-Ringer just to fill space on the ground.

Ultimately, his deck proved to have one of the easiest problems a deck in this format can have: lack of focus. In this case, it wasn't really his fault. The cards simply weren't there. He had half of a blue/white fliers deck and half of a blue/white humans deck, but together, they don't really make a deck, at least not by Innistrad standards, where homogeneity and synergy are the key. Despite this, he still had a few nice interactions with the cards he did have. His deck was chock full of instants and sorceries such as Moment of Heroism and Griptide, making the Delver of Secrets that he nearly windmilled into his pile a reasonable threat to flip early. While he would have liked to open an Invisible Stalker in the third pack (or a Geist of Saint Traft for that matter), he still had enough evasion that his Moments and his Butcher's Cleaver would be well used.

"I now have 24 cards, 15 creatures, 7 instants and sorceries, and 2 other cards. I think I need to play 17 lands in this deck, thanks to these 4 drops. I want to play all of the creatures…so I guess I have to cut this," he said, putting the Bone to Ash back in his sideboard. "I think this is it. It's probably a 1-2 or 2-1 deck. I'm pretty sure I can beat the player to my left if I play him. I don't think his deck can be that good since I didn't pass any good blue cards other than that first Soul Seizer. I guess we'll see. I went 9-0 yesterday, so as long as I don't 0-3, I should still be fine."

He felt after the draft that he had positioned himself well for his colors, assuming correctly that Mori was in black just to his right, which prevented him from maximizing the impact of his Runebinder. Hid questioned this for a second as he got a late Dead Weight in the final pack, but eventually decided that he was right. He toyed with the idea of switching into green one point for a green/blue mill yourself deck, but never made more of a commitment than a Tracker's Instincts just in case. The biggest thing, he felt, that impacted his draft was his neighbor's decision to stay blue, which had the effect of making both of their decks worse. Meanwhile, across the table, the player with the Huntmaster was sure to see his share of good red and green cards, as they were making the rounds, and late. Shimizu was resigned to his fate.

"If I play against the Huntmaster, I can always side these in," he said, pointing to the Dead Weight and his Evolving Wilds. "We'll see."

Round 10 Feature Match - Ryo Tamura vs. Naoki Shimizu

by Nate Price

There is no more pleasing sound than the crackle of opening booster packs…but since the packs for Grand Prix are opened and stamped, I suppose I'll have to settle for the snap and shuffle of cards. For about an hour, I sat listening, soothing as waves on a beach, as the 139 players around me weaved their way through the intricate landscape of Dark Ascension/Innistrad Booster Draft. Four of those players sit atop the standings with perfect 9-0 records after one day of play. Within two rounds, only one will remain.

Naoki Shimizu is a player used to success. With a Pro Tour Top 8, a Grand Prix Top 8, and multiple Japanese Nationals Top 8s to his name, Shimizu knows what it takes to make it to the elimination rounds of high profile tournaments. In addition to all of his success, he is one of the most popular Japanese strategy writers, utilizing skills he honed as a member of the Japanese coverage team, proving that members of the coverage team can play Magic well…as long as they're Japanese. His opponent this round is Ryo Tamura. While his resume is not quite as impressive as his opponent's, Tamura's 8-0 run yesterday after a single bye proves that he is able to hold his own in a difficult field, earning his spot on the short list of undefeated players.

Game 1

Shimizu started the first game of the match down two cards, mulliganning a hand containing only one land followed by another containing two lands and expensive cards. His third proved alright, and play proceeded. Both players played white 2-drops: Silverchase Fox for Tamura and a Thraben Heretic for Shimizu. The two traded on the following turn, and Tamura built his board up with a Deranged Assistant alongside a Midnight Guard, Gallows Warden, and Gavony Ironwright. Shimizu fell behind quickly, only able to muster a Village Bell-Ringer for defense. His Chant of the Skifsang locked down the Silverchase Fox (ironic), but the game wasn't anywhere near close. Tamura's draw never slowed down, and Shimizu, who was already down a card and on the draw, was never able to even up the board, let alone get an advantage. In three lightning quick minutes, he was down a game, in danger of losing his first match of the weekend.

Ryo Tamura 1 – Naoki Shimizu 0

Game 2

Game two started in similar fashion to the first, with Shimizu making a 2-drop Stitcher's Apprentice to sit across from Tamura's Thraben Heretic. An attempted Silverchase Fox met Dissipate, and Shimizu found himself reasonably safe for the time being. He made a Selfless Cathar and passed the turn to Tamura. When Tamura sent his Heretic, Shimizu made a Homunculus with his Apprentice, sacrificing his Cathar. After combat, Tamura removed the Apprentice with a Fiend Hunter.

Tamura takes an easy Game One.

Shimizu kept adding to his board, or at least trying to. His Moon Heron met an Urgent Exorcism, leaving him with no creatures to hold his new Butcher's Cleaver. He did find a Village Bell-Ringer at one point, but a second Fiend Hunter prevented it from handling the weapon.

Tamura chipped away, sending his creatures over to peck at Shimizu's life in one point chunks. He added a Stitcher's Apprentice to his team as well, but it was unlikely that he would be sacrificing either of his Hunters unless forced. Shimizu found the perfect way to start turning things around with a Relentless Skaabs, which made for quite the hardy, very dangerous attacker. Brandishing a Butcher's Cleaver, they began to hew away at Tamura's life total. Unfortunately for Shimizu, his Skaabs didn't have any friends, allowing Tamura to swing back at an undefended board. Shimizu didn't have another creature, but Tamura's army of little men was soon joined by a big one: Murder of Crows. With so many creatures, Tamura had enough creatures in play to begin to chump block should it be necessary, all while swinging through the air for 4 a turn. Life totals quickly dropped to 8 for Tamura and 4 for Shimizu.

Shimizu attempts to keep this game alive.

Shimizu went into prevent mode. During Tamura's next attack, Shimizu used a Feeling of Dread to stop the Crows from attacking, as well as tapping the Apprentice. Tamura responded by sacrificing the Apprentice to itself to replace it with a 2/2 Homunculus. Rather than attack in with his team, Tamura passed the turn. Shimizu sent his monster, prompting a chump block from Tamura. On the following turn, Tamura sealed things up. He forced Shimizu to use his Feeling of Dread to stop his flier one more time, and it would be the last. As Shimizu's deck failed for the last time to provide someone to simply put a body in the way of Tamura's team, Shimizu knew the game was over. He did a bit of quick math and shook Tamura's hand with a smile. He then turned and apologized to me, sad that he wasn't able to win the Feature Match following his Draft Analysis. Fortunately for him, he said it best when he told me that after a 9-0 start, he'll be just fine as long as he doesn't 0-3. As for Tamura, he now moves on to face the lethal Katsuhiro Mori in Round 11 to determine the last undefeated player in the field.

Ryo Tamura 2 – Naoki Shimizu 0

Round 11 Feature Match - Ryo Tamura vs. Katsuhiro Mori

by Steve Sadin

At the end of 10 rounds of play, only two players have perfect 10-0 records: Ryo Tamura, an amateur player looking for his first Grand Prix Top 8 – and Katsuhiro Mori, a former World Champion who is used to playing under the intense scrutiny of the lights.

Game One

At the start of the match, Katsuhiro Mori accidentally dropped a card as he was pulling his deck out of his deck box. A judge noticed the card on the floor, and rushed in to intervene, but before he could Mori had already drawn his opening hand.

A judge explains that Mori will need to Mulligan to make up for a dropped card.

After briefly conferring with some of his fellow judges, the table judge ruled that Mori would be forced to mulligan down to 6 cards because he had presented an illegal deck. Mori then voluntarily mulliganed his new hand, before decided to keep his next five cards.

Despite Mori's double mulligan, it was Tamura who found himself struggling to start the match. Mori had removal spells to deal with Tamura's first two creatures, and after that Tamura was simply done casting spells.

A few attacks from a Diregraf Ghoul, a Sightless Ghoul, and a Murder of Crows later, and Mori had taken the first game without breaking a sweat.

Mori still manages to pull off the win despite a double Mulligan.

Katsuhiro Mori 1 – Ryo Tamura 0

Game Two

Game two didn't go any better for Tamura, as Mori again had removal spells for all of Tamura's creatures. It didn't take long before Mori had flown to victory with his Stitched Drake, and his Murder of Crows.

Tamura's on the ropes.

Katsuhiro Mori 2 – Ryo Tamura 0

Round 12 Feature Match - Yuuya Watanabe vs. Yian Hsiang Chye

by Steve Sadin

Malaysian player Yian Hsiang Chye fell just short of making the Top 8 at Grand Prix Shanghai in 2011, and with a 9-2 record coming into round 12 he again finds himself within striking distance of the Top 8 here in Kobe.

GP Veteran Watanabe faces off against Yian Hsiang Chye

But in order to keep his Top 8 hopes alive, Chye is going to have to beat one of the best players in the world. Former Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe.

Game One

Chye got off to a fast start with a Highborn Ghoul, an Unruly Mob, and a Mausoleum Guard – while Watanabe tried to keep up with a Kessig Wolf, an Afflicted Deserter, and a Hollowhenge Beast.

Che looking to make his first top 8 takes game one

When Dead Weight, and Victim of Night laid waste to Watanabe's Afflicted Deserter, and his Hollowhenge Beast, things looked very grim for the former Player of the Year. And while Watanabe came close to sneaking away with a victory thanks to Rage Thrower, and a well-timed Moonmist he couldn't pull together quite enough before Chye's Highborn Ghoul won him the game.

Game Two

“So good!” exclaimed Watanabe as he looked at, and immediately kept an opening hand of Village Ironsmith, Immerwolf, Tormented Pariah, 2 Forests, and 2 Mountains.

“My hand isn't so good, ” said Chye as he mulliganed into a somewhat more acceptable six card hand.

Victim of Night dealt with the Immerwolf, and a Skirsdag Flayer (one of the top cards in White-Black) threatened to pick apart Watanabe's board -- but without a fourth land, there wasn't much that Chye could do.

Chye stuck around for a few more turns, but he never could find that fourth land he needed to get back into the game.

Chye 1 – Watanabe 1

Game Three

Watanabe mulliganed to start the third game, and kept his six card hand.

“So good?” asked Chye.

“So-so,” replied Watanabe with a smile.

Chye started game three with an Unruly Mob, a Dead Weight to take out Watanabe's Village Ironsmith, and a Mausoleum Guard – while Watanabe looked to establish his side of the board with a Villagers of Estwald.

Chye blocked the incoming Villagers of Estwald with his Mausoleum Guard, and further built up his air force with a Silverclaw Griffin.

But after his good early start, Chye began sputtering out. A Russet Wolves, and a Immerwolf put Watanabe firmly on the offensive, and a second Immerwolf looked like it would spell doom for Chye.

But just as it seemed like Watanabe had the match in the bag, Chye played a Drogskol Reaver, and suddenly it was Watanabe who needed to topdeck something fast in order to win the game.

When it comes to a veteran player, luck can be considered a skill as well.

A Moonmist, and a Rage Thrower fit that bill, and just like that Yuuya Watanabe was 10-2.

“I am lucky master” explained Yuuya after the match.

Watanabe 2 – Chye 1

Sunday, 4:09 p.m. - Spooky, Scary! Werewolves with Yuuya Watanabe

by Steve Sadin

In triple Innistrad Booster Drafts, Red-Green Werewolves was a fringe archetype that players rarely found much success with. But with the addition of Dark Ascension, Werewolves has become one of the decks to beat.

When it comes to a veteran player, luck can be considered a skill as well.

But how do you draft it?

After quickly 3-0ing his first draft pod with an aggressive Green-Red Werewolf deck (that didn't include a single removal spell!) former Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe was kind enough to spend a few minutes to explain what goes into drafting a successful Werewolf deck.

Yuuya Watanabe 3-0

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After laying out his deck, Watanabe immediately pointed out that you need a lot of creatures for your Werewolf deck to function properly.

“You should have about 16-18 creatures, and you need 10 or more Werewolves/Wolves for the deck to work.”

But in order to get that many Werewolves (and creatures in general), you're going to need to give up on cards that you would normally place a premium on. Namely, removal spells.

“In this draft, I took a Reckless Waif over a Geistflame. I did this because removal is less important in Werewolves than it is in other decks. With Werewolves you want to play creature, creature, creature, and smash, smash, smash.“

When asked what the most important card for the deck is, Yuuya didn't need to waste anytime thinking about his response.

Moonmist is the most important card for the deck.

In pack two, I took Moonmists second, and third pick in pack two and I would be very happy to first pick it.”

To highlight this point – Watanabe explained that with Moonmist in your deck, even wolves that would otherwise be disposable become quite potent.

On its own, Kessig Wolf is a decent, but ultimately underwhelming card. It can be pretty good if you're ahead, or if the game has dragged on for a long time, so you can easily leave up a couple of mana to give him first strike – but most of the time, you should be happy to trade it for just about anything.

Unless you're playing Green-Red Werewolves, that is.

Kessig Wolf is a good three mana creature in this deck. It's very aggressive, and it's a wolf – so it combos well with Moonmist, and Immerwolf.”

Watanabe becoming part of his pack (of cards...)

So if you find yourself drafting Red-Green Werewolves soon, make sure that you draft enough creatures, and that you take Moonmists whenever the opportunity presents itself – because if you don't, you very well might find yourself howling in agony rather than celebration.

Sunday, 4:48 p.m. - Art-chetypes

by Nate Price

With the addition of Dark Ascension to the Draft format, things were guaranteed to change. The archetypes that players had become so accustomed to were getting shaken up a bit, and it still wasn't clear how things would sort out. As a coverage team, we knew we wanted to keep an eye out for the changes in the archetypical fabric of Innistrad Booster Draft. Needless to say, we had archetypes on the mind.

One of the benefits of the extended trip involved in covering a Japanese Grand Prix is the fact that I get to spend a reasonable amount of time with the featured artists for the Grand Prix. Be it chatting about historical military art in a coffee house with Karl Kopinski, watching Igor Kieryluk try to figure out what the hell is on his plate at a storybook Japanese dinner, or simply hanging out with Jaime Jones and his wife as our train rockets to the opposite side of Japan, they have always provided great experiences.

This time around, I had the pleasure of spending my weekend with Ryan Yee and Franz Vohwinkel. Between touring Himeji Castle with Franz and detailing the finer points of Japanese dating shows with Ryan, I have had a great time getting to know these guys. Considering how we had been focusing on archetypes all day, I decided to take a slightly different approach to my usual artist interview. This time around, I wanted to learn less about how they create their art, and more about what they like to create, their preferred art-chetypes (You're welcome, Mr. Hagon).


On his favorite archetypes:

“I really enjoy doing creatures; it's always a challenge. There aren't really Werewolves or Slimes in the world, so the template you have to use to come up with them is all in your imagination. I really want to work with movie design and special effects, and I got a great chance to do something like that with the Werewolves of Innistrad.

I guess you could say that another thing I really enjoy working on is a challenging piece, which most Magic pieces are. Trying to make a fantasy creature or project believable can be a real challenge. In order to evoke an emotional response in someone, you have to create something that hits them on a relatable level. People who are afraid of spiders are afraid of them because they know what they are. With fantasy projects, you're creating something new, something that people have no personal experience with. It can be hard to make the creature believable from that respect. You almost have to simplify it and distill it to create a really powerful image.

I also like trying to make something that stands up to the test of time. Some of the older Magic cards don't really stand up to some of the things being done today. I want to create something that is going to be memorable.”

Ryan Yee stands near a wonderful custom sketch, a perfect birthday treat for the fan standing next to him!

Every time I ask the artists what they're favorite piece is, they look like their head's about to explode. In order to create something you're proud of, you have to get emotionally invested, which makes it difficult to choose. It's like choosing which of your kids is your favorite. This time around, I decided to ask a slightly different question. I asked the artists to pick a piece that they had created that is the strongest to them in a way of their choosing. For example, tell me the card that was the hardest to approach based on the artist notes, or the card that you think best demonstrates your style. For Ryan, he chose to tell me about one of the cards he enjoyed creating the most.

Command Tower

“I really enjoyed making Command Tower. It was the first land card art that I ever painted. I really wanted to impress Jeremy [Jarvis, Magic's Art Director] with it since it was my first. It is a card that used all monocolors, which made it a real challenge to make it not too all over the place.”

As you can see, I think he nailed it!

Franz Vohwinkel –

On his favorite archetypes:

“Honestly, I don't really have something I like more than others. I like the challenge of doing something new. I like doing landscapes as much as artifacts.


Actually, if I have to pick something, I'd say that I love painting robots. They're a symbol for human beings, but you can do things to them without having to worry about offending anyone. For example, at the moment, I'm doing a piece at home that show a mass grave…but its robots. You look at it and doesn't feel the same to you as if it were a mass grave filled with humans, but it would almost certainly make you stop and think.”

We talked about that concept a little more, which is something I had never really thought about. Look at Star Wars. You chop off a robot's arm, and it can even be comical (I'm looking at you, C-3PO). You try that with a human (Luke Skywalker), and it becomes one of the strongest emotional scenes in the movie.

“That's the thing: robots aren't human. We don't mind if one of them gets hurt or destroyed. There can always be more made. People are different. Using robots as stand ins gives me a way to make people think without realizing they're thinking.”

Franz Vohwinkel sitting right behind some excellent 3-D renderings of his cards made by the unfairly talented Mr. Okubo.

On one of his more influential cards:

Time Sieve

“Usually my favorite piece is the one I just finished working on.” A quick aside: I don't think I've ever gotten a different answer from an artist upon asking this question. “I'd say the most impressed I've been at the completion of a piece would be with Time Sieve. When I got the description, I was like, ‘Umm…you want me to do what?' Yet I still worked on it and pieced it together, and I couldn't believe what I'd created. Even to this day I can look at it and think it is perfect. I'm still happy with it after a couple of years. That says a lot.”

Sunday, 4:56 p.m. - Quick Hits – What Archetype in Booster Draft Got Hurt the Most by the Arrival of ?

by Nate Price
Shuu Komuro – "That's a hard question. Um. I think that, while one half of the blue/white decks got better, the ones with lots of 1/1 creatures got worse."
Shouta Yasooka – "Nothing, really."
Masashiro Kuroda – "To be honest, this is my first time drafting with the set (he's 4-1)! I don't know about worse, but green definitely got better…"
Makihito Mihara – “Definitely the graveyard decks,” he said, thumbing through his own lackluster Spider Spawning deck
Daniel Pham – "Probably Spider Spawning. Dark Ascension added a bunch of new cards to help make the engine for the deck, like Tracker's Instinct, but now you have less kill cards like the Spawning."
Katsuhiro Mori – "I don't really know. I do know that I don't really like green, though."

Round 14 Feature Match - Match Ken Yukihiro vs. Hiroshi Ishida

by Steve Sadin

All weekend long, Ken Yukihiro has been praised by luminaries such as Yuuya Watanabe as the next generation Japanese player to watch out for. So far, Yukihiro has been proving his supporters right, as he comes into this round with an 11-2 record, and in need of only 1 or 2 more wins with his Red-Green Werewolf deck to secure his first Grand Prix Top 8.

Hiroshi Ishida might not have as many fans as Yukihiro does, but he nonetheless comes into this round with an 11-1-1 record, and in a strong position to make the Top 8 even if he takes a loss in one of the last two rounds.

Game One

Ishida's Dawntreader Elk traded with a Hinterland Hermit on turn three – allowing Ishida to play a plus sized Ulvenwald Bear that was soon joined by a Villagers of Estwald.

Fully aware of how much pressure he was under, Yukihiro hoped that he could get himself back into the game with Scorned Villager, Grizzled Outcast, and the terrifying Daybreak Ranger.

Ishida prepares his assault.

Ishida played a Demonmail Hauberk that he equipped to his Villagers of Estwald, before attacking with the Villagers, and his 4/4 Ulvenwald Bear . At this point, things started to look up for Yukihiro as a Ranger's Guile allowed him to eat the incoming Ulvenwald Bear without losing his Grizzled Outcast.

Yukihiro then passed his turn, setting off a series of transformations. With Ishida's transformation trigger on the stack, Yukihiro used Daybreak Ranger plus Ranger's Guile to trade with Ishida's 6/5 Villagers of Estwald.

For a moment, Ishida found himself without a single creature on his side of the board – but a Make a Wish gave Ishida some more ammo, and a Hollowhenge Scavenger gave him another substantial threat.

Yukihiro again found himself gasping for air, and a Silent Departure was enough to give Ishida the game.

Ishida 1 – Yukihiro 0

Game Two

Yukihiro got off to the fast start in game two, with Somberwald Dryad, Scorned Villager, Hanweir Watchkeep, and a Grizzled Outcast, while Ishida did everything that he could to catch up.

A Prey Upon, and a Dungeon Geists helped to (momentarily) pull Ishida back into the game – but a Crossway Vampire, and a Geistcatcher's Rig ensured that Yukihiro would remain very much in the lead.

A couple of Claustrophobias tapped down Yukihiro's Grizzled Outcast, and his Geistcatcher's Rig – but an Immerwolf, and a Spidery Grasp (untapping Grizzled Outcast), allowed Yukihiro to attack Ishida down to exactly 0.

Game Three

Ishida opened on Civilized Scholar (which quickly met its demise at the hands of Brimstone Volley), Festerhide Boar, and Villagers of Estwald – while Yukihiro got off to a far more impressive start with Immerwolf, and Grizzled Outcasts.

Realizing that the situation was only going to get worse if he sat back and waited for things to happen – Ishida played a Demonmail Hauberk, sacrificed hisVillagers of Estwald, and attacked in with a 7/5 Festerhide Boar that traded with Yukihiro's Grizzled Outcasts.

Yukihiro takes this round.

Another Grizzled Outcasts followed for Yukihiro, and Ishida found himself desperately hoping to draw a second blue source that would allow him to cast Dungeon Geists, and Claustrophobia.

By the time that Ishida found his second blue source, it was too late – as Yukihiro had the Ranger's Guile that he needed to keep his Grizzled Outcasts untapped and ready to attack for lethal damage.

Yukihiro 2 – Ishida 1

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