West's story this weekend has been about preparation. He qualified three months ago and began playtesting his deck almost immediately. As he puzzled out the metagame, he made tweaks, adjustments, and changes until he had crafted the deck had carried him through to the Top 4. His three losses in the Swiss rounds came at the hands of Top 8 competitors Geoffrey Siron, Masashi Oiso, and Pierre Canali. He felt confident playing any of them again based on what he learned from his prior experience.
Compounding West's anxiety about his semifinal match was the fact that Shuhei Nakamura was the only player in the Top 8 who West did not face in the Swiss rounds. For a player who places such a premium on preparation, that was a serious handicap in going into the Top 4.
Shuhei Nakamura, who hails from Osaka, Japan, was playing an established staple of both the Pro Tour and PTQ tournament scene in Red Deck Wins. Three Osaka players were piloting this particular version of the deck. Nakamura's final standing is yet to be determined but as for the other two; Tsuyoshi Fujita finished in ninth and Osamu Fujita in 17th.
Along with Masahiko Morita and Masashiro Kuroda, this was the same group that developed Kuroda's Pro Tour-Kobe winning Big Red deck. The Japanese consider this concentration of players to be the most potent team in a country that has been a dominant force on the Pro Tour for some time now. "The Guys in Osaka" feature four different players with a Pro Tour Top 8 appearance, including Nakamura's performance this weekend. They also can lay claim to a Pro Tour winner in Koroda. They have a Master Team Championship -- Morita and Koroda won the Venice Masters with Katsuhiro Mori. (Interesting side note: Mori helped design the Mind's Desire deck that Oiso played this weekend.) Tsuyoshi Fujita, the team's emotional leader, has won multiple Grand Prix and is the reigning Japanese National Champion.
Nakamura kicked off the semis with a Grim Lavamancer -Wooded Foothills had it halfway to its first activation. West opened with his own fetch land -- Flooded Strand -- and a Chrome Mox imprinting Meddling Mage. Nakamura had a Port and West played a second Strand.
Nakamura made a second Lavamancer and used his Port on West's Strand to force him to break so he could actually tap a land next turn. West had no play and the red player began swinging with wizards. His second Port was not as devastating as it could have been thanks to West's Mox, but it was keeping the Englishman from playing anything on his own turn so he could leave mana up on Nakamura's.
West fell to 13 from the rampaging wizards and had to break a fetch land and dipped to 12 to Mana Leak a Jackal Pup. He imprinted an
He was able to kick it on the next turn but the Lavamancers were nibbling away at West's remaining life. West had to counter a Magma Jet on his upkeep but that only fed fuel to the Lavamancers. When Nakamura drew a Wasteland and was able to Waste his own Port to give him four damage from the Lavamancers, finishing off the Englishman with Mogg Fanatic. Even though he could not cast spells or attack, abilities were still fair game.
Nakamura 1, West 0
Nakamura could not keep a one-land hand. Especially when that land did not produce red mana. His next six had one land as well but it was a Bloodstained Mire and after a long internal debate he tossed it back as well.
West could not but help brighten, "Five Magic cards. That is harsh."
Nakamura made the first play of the game with his Game 1 MVP Grim Lavamancer. West looked to have a little more action this game as he played a turn-two Scepter with Fire/Ice imprinted on it. Nakamura's Port was
West passed his turn without incident and had no upkeep effect. Nakamura attacked West down to 17. The Osakan played his fourth land and passed his turn. West Brainstormed and
West put the Meddling Mage naming Pillage on his opponent's upkeep he
Nakamura took the tapped out opportunity to throw everything he had at the Englishman and even when he missed with a Cursed Scroll EOT it was still enough to get West to exactly zero. The Blood Oath mistake may have cost him the game. "That was a bit of an error," agreed West.
Nakamura 2, West 0
Nakamura had a first-turn Lavamancer again but he stalled at two lands with a Mogg Fanatic and Cursed Scroll in play. He attempted to scry for lands with a Magma Jet but it was Mana Leaked. His subsequent attempts at Mogg Fanatic and Seal of Fire were also Leaked.Nicholas West
West tapped six on turn six and made an Angel. After the Japanese player summoned a Mogg Fanatic, West played a second Exalted Angel after attacking with the first one, "Might as well make a game of it eh?" asked West who knew his Angels were not long for the world.
The two Angels were shot down over the next two turns by a sniper team of Lavamancer, Cursed Scroll, Firebolt, and Mogg Fanatic. West was out of gas, holding a pair of Chrome Moxes. He could offer only the token resistance of a Meddling Mage briefly set on Pillage as the Lavamancers and Cursed Scroll undid the work of the Exalted Angel.
Nakamura 3, West 0
When table judge Yoshiya Shindo congratulated both players on their performance, West could not help but recall his critical mistake from the second game. "Well, except for that bit with Blood Oath."
There were actually a couple of plays in Game 2 that Nakamura felt could have changed its outcome. Most importantly he cited West's reluctance to use the red side of the Fire/Ice that was on the Englishman's Scepter to kill the Lavamancer and the Fanatic. The former did the bulk of the damage in that game and if at any point earlier in the game it had been killed there was no way that Nakamura can get in enough damage.
Nakamura advanced to play in the finals where he hoped to earn a second Pro Tour trophy for "The Guys in Osaka."