Welcome to Pro Tour–Kyoto! The crack reporting squad of Bill Stark, Rich Hagon, Nate Price, Dave Guskin, and Craig Gibson are combing the halls of Pulse Plaza for all the inside information.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 7:08 p.m. – The Great Ninja Hunt
by Nate Price
- 5:30 p.m. – Checking in with the PTQ Metagame
by Nate Price
- 4:35 p.m. – Cloudgoat Ranger and Chums
by Rich Hagon
- 3:52 p.m. – Setting the Standard Scene
by Rich Hagon
- 1:57 p.m. – Converging Planes Produce Hidden Gems
by Dave Guskin
- 1:25 p.m. – Beta Drafting at the Pro Tour
by Bill Stark
- 11:27 a.m. – Brothers in Arms
by Rich Hagon
- 9:50 a.m. – Big in Japan
by Nate Price
- Day 1 Blog Archive – Influx of Conflux, Headlines, Four-Word Deck Review and more!
by Event Coverage Staff
Saturday, February 28, 9:50 a.m. – Big in Japanby Nate Price
A few months ago, I got the email I had been waiting for since I started covering Magic: The Gathering.
“Hey, Nate. You wanna go to Japan?”
Seriously? Is that a real question?
I am in love with Japan. If Japan was a woman, I would marry her. That is, unless my unhealthy obsession led to a restraining order first. I love the constant contrast between the old and the new, modern skyscrapers sharing the same city block as the entrance to a shrine that remembers a time before the United States even existed. I love the incredible efficiency with which the country looks after itself. Coming from the U.S., where roadside litter is as much a part of the landscape as trees, I was amazed to see that Japan is virtually litter free despite the recent extinction of the Japanese trashcan due to the urbanization of its natural habitat.
I love Japan’s entertainment exports. Squaresoft is one of my poisons of choice, and I have virtually every Square game ever made for all systems. I love the ridiculous Japanese game shows and their American spawn like MXC and Ninja Warrior. I am also a huge anime fan. Just gimme something with some giant dueling robots and I’m in fanboy heaven.
Obviously, when I was offered the opportunity to make the big jump across the Pacific, I jumped on it quick enough to warrant a steroid test (it came back negative). For weeks leading up to my travel date, I became increasingly impatient. I live in freaking Indiana, and I’m getting to visit Kyoto, Japan. Time couldn’t move slower. It was like a boxer desperately waiting out the round bell. Only with more head trauma.D&D sourcebooks, Wheel of Time books, and a box of cards. Yes, this is a gamer's room.
I prepared for my first trip to Japan the same way anyone would. I bought the Japanese Rosetta Stone in order to learn a little more Japanese than Keita Mori had taught me, but neglected to use it. I researched a list of places I really wanted to go see, but never printed off the sheets and had forgotten them by the time I got to my car. I even decided that I’d try to set my internal clock to Kyoto time, but only succeeded in going for about 38 hours without sleep. Basically, as far as preparation for travel goes, I had epically failed.
So fighting through the early morning haze, I was shuttled along to the Indianapolis International Airport to catch my first flight. My itinerary had me going from Indianapolis to Chicago (damn you O’Hare!), and then onto San Francisco before ending up in Osaka’s Kansai International. It involved three different planes, each a higher level version of the one that preceded it. It was appropriately like some sort of bizarre Pokemon evolution chain.
The first couple of flights were depressingly uninteresting. I am not the world’s biggest fan of flying, mostly because I am tall enough that I’d be lucky if most of the Japanese I met would come up to my elbow. This makes it, shall we say, uncomfortable to fly anywhere, let alone for 16+ hours. Despite sleeping as much in four days as I usually do in one night, I somehow couldn’t close my eyes for more than an extended blink. Feeling like a sardine is not exactly conducive to sleep, so I started to burn through my entertainment material early. About three quarters of the way to SFO, I realized that I had exhausted all my reading materials. I briefly considered bashing my head on the window until a self-inflicted concussion put me out, but internal bleeding never really solves anything.
In San Francisco, I finally made it to the top of the jet evolutionary chain. The massive 747 had two stories, seven different classes of seats, and a small country’s worth of flight attendants. I’m actually pretty sure that its enormous size prevented it from actually flying, but took advantage of its massive, well, mass to fold space time around it to travel. You’d think that with that level of sophisticated technology, they could manage the trip in less than ten and a half hours, but I guess when you’re moving a jet the size of Newark, you take what you can get.
Boarding the plane, I recognized a few faces in the seats around me. BDM was sitting in the compartment ahead of me, Brandon Scheel was a few rows to my front, and right in front of me was none other than the infamous Lando Griffin, in the flesh (if you don’t know who that is, you’re missing out). After about six hours of actually boring myself into a sort of catatonic coma, I snapped out. Something had caught my nose. The avid drafter I am, I can smell a cracked pack a mile away, and I knew that somewhere close, someone had just opened up a Flameblast Dragon (true story—I am that good). A few rows ahead of me, where I noticed Scheel was sitting upon entering the plane, I saw a huddle of what could only be Magic players.The highest echelons of drafting.
How could I not have thought about that?! I had a bag full of draft sets and was bored to tears. Time to remedy that. They had carved out a small section of six seats and were passing cards around the rows. It was like watching someone hand me the deed to California—I was ecstatic! I grabbed a couple sets and wandered up to put my quarters on the machine. Their draft was just underway, but I was assured I would have a spot in the next one. I went back and waited as patiently as I could as the slowest hour of my life passed. I was on the verge of reentering my coma when Scheel dropped by and said, “You still want in?” Before he could finish the sentence, I was sitting a few rows up, cracking my first Shards of Alara pack.
As I have come to expect, my deck was a pile of trash. I have been, to say the least, ineffective at drafting this format since the addition of Conflux. It kind of makes me sad considering how good I was getting towards the end of the last format and how much I love five-color decks. You’d think this format would be good for me. Instead, I seem to embarrass myself every time I crack a pack. Oh well. I still had fun and blew a couple hours on the plane. After the bigger draft, BDM and I took a couple of neighboring seats in the row over to do a little Winston Draft, which is a format I’ve come to absolutely love and is incredibly well suited to a pair of players on a long train or plane trip. If you don’t know how to play, I highly suggest learning, especially if you’ve got some traveling ahead of you.
After the Winston (I think I was like 4-2 against BDM with a nifty five-color deck featuring virtually all the mana fixing in the draft), I returned to my seat and waited for breakfast with a large hole in my stomach. When it finally came, I gorged myself of delicious cardboard airline food. I’m pretty sure I ate ravenously enough that I scared the poor little old lady next to me. With my belly full and my appetite for drafting also sated, I was finally able to drift off for a little sleep. Too bad it was with only an hour left in the air. Oh well. At this point, all I wanted to do was deplane and start my journey into Japan. And what a journey it was ....I guess you had to be there ....
Saturday, February 28, 11:27 a.m. – Brothers in Armsby Rich Hagon
How many pairs of brothers have played together on the Pro Tour? Think about that for a minute, and see how many you can come up with. If you’ve got a couple, you’ve probably been paying attention to the history of the Pro Tour. If you’re heading towards four pairs, you really know your stuff. And if you can name what the collective coverage brains trust reckon are the six sets of brothers to have played simultaneous Pro Tours, you are indeed a master. So let’s see how we get on:
The easiest to name must surely be the Ruel brothers, Antoine and Olivier, both present and correct here in Japan, and both in Day Two action. Olivier entered the Hall of Fame last year, while Antoine has a Pro Tour victory to his name from Los Angeles in 2005. If you remember your history, the next most famous would be the O’Mahoney-Schwartz brothers, Dan and Steve. They actually played the Ruel brothers at the first ever Team Challenge event at Pro–New York in 2000.
Our next pair can boast multiple World Champions. Daniel Zink of Germany managed to carry off the individual crown in 2003, while twin brother Sebastian was part of the Team Champions that took the title a year later. We stay in Germany for the Grafensteiners, Daniel and Toby. They have yet to have major Pro Tour success, but both have made a handful of appearances.
Moving to the Netherlands we find not one, not two, but three brothers vying for attention. Kamiel Cornelissen may be the best-known of the trio, and he had a 100% Grand Prix record last year, as he won GP–Brussels on his only outing. When it came to Team play, he was joined by brothers Stijn and Jesse, both very capable players in their own right.The Orsini-Jones brothers—Marco, left, and Matteo—goad each other one.
And that brings us to the latest additions to the fraternal brotherhood of Magic, Matteo and Marco Orsini-Jones of Great Britain. Both were in action here on Day Two, with Matteo still on a high from his Arena match win late last night over Shingou Kurihara of Japan, which took Matteo to an impressive 6-1 record. Marco meanwhile won his final match to take him into Day Two on 13 points. For Matteo, today’s draft wasn’t as exciting, but it’s hard to match getting passed multiple Bull Cerodon s and a Broodmate Dragon . Still, his black-red deck has plenty of unearth and solid removal, and at 6-1 he has some room to play with before the Standard downhill run to Top 8. So how did the brothers get started in the game?
“I was only 10, and Marco was 12, when we started playing, just fun games at home with friends. Stuff like big green decks stuffed with the fattest monsters we could find. We didn’t really start taking the game seriously until Ravnica.”
So how do the brothers compare?
“We have different skill sets. Marco tends to take a safe and consistent approach, whereas I tend to take more risks. Sometimes, like last night, that means I get to 3-0 against some great players, but it also means things go wrong more for me. Marco is also extremely focused on matches, and I find that tough.”
Marco, meanwhile, offers this assessment of their relationship:
“We’re both competitive, but not in a destructive way. We rarely make fun of each other when the other is having a bad run, although occasionally it’s just too tempting. Basically, we manage to drive each other on. Over the last couple of years, one of us has been Qualified for every Pro Tour, and then the other does everything they can to join in the fun. For the last three seasons, Matteo has won the first PTQ of the season, and then it’s been up to me to catch up. This time around, I’ve already qualified for Honolulu, so a Top 50 finish for Matteo here would mean we could travel together again, which would be fantastic.”
Honestly now boys, which of you is the better player?
Marco is uncertain. “Maybe my brother, just,” he says tentatively. “I’m good at playing Constructed, and have good memory skills, so I know what my opponent is playing better than Matteo. But at Limited, he’s probably a better player. “
Matteo has no such doubts. “Without question,” he grins, “he’s almost as good as me!”
And would he hear the end of it if Marco makes a Top 8 before him?
Saturday, February 28, 1:25 p.m. – Beta Drafting at the Pro Tourby Bill Stark
Say you’ve traveled thousands of miles to play Magic. You’ve tested, prepped, drafted, and finally come to the best possible Standard and Limited strategies you think you can muster. You show up for the first day of competition, ready to show the world what you’re made of and ... find yourself out of contention after seven rounds of high-level play. Potentially a bit of a bummer, huh? But what if I told you, instead of having nothing to show for your efforts, you could open up a free pack of Beta? Would that heal your wounds just a little? At Pro Tour–Kyoto 2009, eight lucky individuals are going to find out.I guess you had to be there ....
There are a ton of exciting things happening all weekend long in the Public Events area, but one of the most talked about and highly anticipated events is the Pro Tour–Kyoto Beta Draft. Invite-only, the event will kick off Sunday and provides eight lucky participants with a draft set of one Beta booster, one Italian black-bordered Revised Booster, and two undersized boosters of Japanese Portal Three Kingdoms (which will be combined to make one functional booster). So how do you qualify for the chance to open a brand-spanking-new Black Lotus ? Simply by playing all the other great offerings in the Public Events area, all weekend long!
Throughout the first two days of Pro Tour play, certain special Public Events have been marked as “Beta” Events, meaning in addition to the usual great prizes you win for getting first, you also earn a spot to draft on Sunday. The formats are all inclusive, with Vintage, Legacy, Extended, Standard, Two-Headed Giant, and Shards Sealed all serving as backdrops for players to qualify. You could even qualify just for playing a Grand Prix Trial! That also means anyone could qualify to play in the Beta Draft, whether they are a long-time Magic professional, or signing up for their DCI card for the first time this weekend.
As if that weren’t enough, the winner of the Beta draft not only gets to open some of the oldest Magic product in the land, but they’ll walk away with a pocket-size PC as well! The Pro Tour–Kyoto Beta Draft is single-elimination and takes place Sunday. The event is sponsored by Inside Gaming.
Saturday, February 28, 1:57 p.m. – Converging Planes Produce Hidden Gemsby Dave Guskin
Conflux‘s arrival hasn’t just shaken up the constructed scene: it’s had a considerable impact on the Shards of Alara Limited format as well. Many pro players discovered an array of powerful and synergistic commons over the course of their two drafts here in Kyoto, and had a bit to say about these underrated workhorses.
Midwest players Brandon Scheel and Dustin Marquis were joined by future of American Magic Ben Lundquist in their support for the blue-black duo of Parasitic Strix and Sedraxis Alchemist . These tempo-oriented cards give the aggressive Esper and/or Grixis archetype a huge boost in controlling the flow of the game.
Speaking of flow, Lundquist also gave a thumbs up for Drag Down , the domain-powered creature sanction, as a solid all-around player in all black-X decks. Japanese superstar Shuhei Nakamura added his own opinion that Rupture Spire and Armillary Sphere are important top picks for the Esper archetypes, since they help out the often painfully ironic mana requirements of the artifact deck.
PT–Berlin Top 8 competitor and up-and-comer Martin Juza agreed with the Midwesterners’ picks, but also pointed out the two red burn spells, Fiery Fall and Dark Temper , are very good at getting the job done. Juza echoed sentiments by magicthegathering.com‘s Limited Information author Steve Sadin that the black basic landcycler, Absorb Vis , is an excellent spell and very underrated right now—in Steve’s words, “It’s an awesome card; it always does exactly what you want when you want it.”
Belgian Marc Dictus pointed out Matca Rioters as an excellent early-game play for any green deck. Croatian Grgur Petric, consistent top finisher, added in that Ember Weaver is another great addition to green-X decks in the format.
The true sleeper by consensus of those here, however, was Darklit Gargoyle . Reigning Rookie of the Year Aaron Nicastri and Belgian two-time PT Top 8 competitor Marijn Lybaert both remarked on the incredible and deceptive power of this 1/2 flyer, and Nicastri pointed it how stupid it could be at holding defense against 5/3 monsters while holding the option to go aggressive as a 3-power flyer. Magic R&D developer Matt Place, here taking all comers at the Champion Challenge, commented particularly on the Gargoyle, saying “I always liked [that creature], but my respect for him recently has skyrocketed.”
“I think the tribe I most want to be now is Gargoyles,” agreed event coverage reporter Randy Buehler.
Saturday, February 28, 3:52 p.m. – Setting the Standard Sceneby Rich Hagon
So here we are, sitting down on Saturday afternoon for Part Four of the five episode epic that is Pro Tour–Kyoto. The 40-card Limited decks have been put away, and won’t make their reappearance until the exotic locales of Honolulu drift into view at the start of June. That means the survivors return to the 60-card Standard format, using the same decks they came in to battle with yesterday morning—which now seems a long time, and a ton of Magic, ago.
With 380 players setting off on the road to Pro Tour glory, a full 22 managed a perfect 4-0 start in Standard. Of the seven Japanese players on that mark, four were relatively unknown: Daisuke Muata, Akimasa Yamamoto, Takayuki Nagaoka, Yuuichi Kishimoto. Added to them were Yoshitaka Nakano and the man who paced the Japanese challenge in Kuala Lumpur last year, Shuu Komuro. The undoubted star of the squad was former Player of the Year Shouta Yasooka.
Matching the seven samurai were seven road warriors from the U.S. Peter Ingram, Nicholas Lynn, Brian Robinson and Kamui Kaye were making their first steps into the bigtime spotlight. Cedric Phillips, looking immaculate in suit and tie, was having great fun, and beating people. Brian Kowal was well-known as a deck-builder and community figure, but had yet to dominate at this level. That wasn’t the case with the final undefeated American, Luis Scott-Vargas, undoubtedly the single most feared and respected opponent on the planet right now.
The remaining eight undefeated players all hailed from European shores. For France, Gabriel Nassif represented a massive early threat, putting down a marker for the rounds ahead. Peter Wimmer was a new name from Austria, while Sweden’s Mattias Anderson and Thomas Driessen of the Netherlands were similarly newcomers to the top Pro Tour tables. Switzerland’s Tommi Lindgren, one of the Tour’s quietest figures, was (quietly) going about his business, while Marcio Carvalho, a man to whom quiet doesn’t come naturally, was making waves in many senses. Placing two players in prime position were the Italians, with Grand Prix winner Emanuele Giusti joined by stalwart David Besso.
The big question was how many of these would survive the searching examination of six rounds of Shards / Shards / Conflux draft, and remain in contention by the time we returned to the known quantity of their Standard decks.
Poor Peter Wimmer was the first to drop from the scene. Loss followed loss followed loss, and the second draft was no better, leaving him languishing in 179th place coming back to Standard, too late for his deck to save him. Takayuki Nagaoka, Peter Ingram, Diasuke Murata, David Besso, Shuu Komuro, and Kamui Kaye all posted two Draft wins, leaving them on 6-4, again out of the running.
Perhaps surprisingly, Marcio Carvalho had only a 3-3 record in Draft, a record he shared with Brian Kowal, Tommi Lindgren, Emanuele Giusti, Thomas Driessen, and Yoshitaka Nakano. At 7-3, they could certainly afford no more slips, and would need another perfect Standard record. Even that 11-3 record might not be enough.
That left 8 of the 22 originals still right there with chances. On 24 points were Cedric Phillips, Gabriel Nassif, Akimasa Yamamoto, Nicholas Lynn, Brian Robinson, Mattias Anderson, and Shouta Yasooka. That represented five of the Top 8 coming back into Standard, with Nassif and Phillips just outside on breakers.
Undisputed frontrunner Luis Scott-VargasOne man however, had built a perfect record in Standard, and traded up for a perfect 6-0 record in Draft. That man was Luis Scott-Vargas, who stood heading the field alone on 30 points.
But what of the rest of the field? Who had quietly gone about the business away from the undefeated spotlight, and came back to Standard ready to pounce on any weakness among the leading pack? In 2nd and 3rd place, both on 27 points, stand Yann Massicard of France and England’s Matteo Orsini-Jones. Another Englishman, National Champion Jonathan Randle, was among the dozen on 24 points. This group included Pro Tour Hollywood runner-up Jan Ruess of Germany, outstanding Dutch Pro Robert van Medevoort, Japan’s Kazuya Mitamura and, ominously, the reigning Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura.
As for archetypes, the Top 8 right now would feature three copies of the popular Red-White “Boat Brew” deck, two Black-White Tokens, a Five-Color Control, a Four-Color Control, and a lone Faeries deck, looking to remind everyone that it still has game.
So that’s the Standard set. Scott-Vargas sets the pace as everyone, but everyone else, falls away. But everything can change in the gathering rush for the eight slots that make up Super Sunday. Who wins? Who goes home? It’s time for Standard to give us the answers.
Saturday, February 28, 4:35 p.m. – Cloudgoat Ranger and Chums (or God’s Own Country gives the Colonies a Kicking)by Rich Hagon
As some of you may know, I’m English. Amongst assorted fringe benefits, we understand irony better than anyone on Earth. We understand that for some of you, we’re an island of bowler-hat wearing, umbrella-swinging, hair-gelled upper-class toffs, with servants at our beck and call, catering to our every aristocratic whim. To be honest, that’s not a stereotype most of us would recognise as the face of modern Britain. In my case, of course, it’s absolutely true.
In the spirit therefore of the great British broadcasters of the past, we’re delighted to offer you a window into the 1930s, as we show you what a top table match might have sounded like between the star of the show Luis Scott-Vargas and the leading British contender Matteo Orsini-Jones.
We would like to make it clear that our collective tongue was wedged so firmly in our cheeks for the creation of this piece that actual surgical procedures were required. Thank you.
Saturday, February 28, 5:30 p.m. – Checking in with the PTQ Metagameby Nate Price
|Red-White 'Lark ("Boat Brew")||24|
|Black-Red (with and without Blightning)||9|
|Red Deck Wins||6|
|Quillspike / Devoted Druid Combo||1|
The PTQs that run on Day 2 of the Pro Tour are a study in lessons learned, especially when the format is the same as the concurrently running Pro Tour. The metagame breakdown has been completed, so players will know what the Pros are playing. In fact, many of the players in the PTQ are Pro Tour players who failed to make the cut to Day 2 who can only hope that their experiences during the previous day’s play have taught them something that will improve their chances in this tournament. With the amount of information the coverage staff gives you, including archetype breakdowns, deck and player records, even a few random strategy pieces, players for the second major Standard event of the weekend should be able to refine their deck choice and play and make more informed decisions throughout the tournament.
Looking at the metagame breakdown from yesterday, you can see that the two most played decks in the tournament were Red-White “Boat Brew” and Five-Color Control. Of the players who ran the Standard portion of the day undefeated, close to half of them were Boat Brew, with no other deck really putting up an overwhelming performance. Based on this data, you would expect Boat Brew to be the most prominent deck in the format.
Sure enough, Boat Brew clocks in at 24 players, making it the most played deck in the PTQ. While it’s still the most played deck in the format, the portion of the field it makes up is down from nearly one-third to a mere sixth. What’s surprising is the fact that there were 23 players playing Five-Color Control. It was the second most played deck yesterday in the Pro Tour, but even there it only made up half as much of the field as Boat Brew did. In the PTQ, it was about even. After a dominating performance like Boat Brew had yesterday, sometime these schisms occur. People either play the “best deck” or they try to play a deck that they think has a better matchup against that deck, especially if tuned to beat it. This explains why there was a fairly solid band of deck representation near the top end before tapering off into decks without much representation at all.
It should be noted that with the Five-Color Control decks, there are almost too many variants to count. The most popular version seems to be the classic Cruel Ultimatum -powered version that was the mainstay going into this event. However, with the new twist on Five-Color Control that Gabriel Nassif and crew brought to this tournament, another contender for the face of the deck has emerged. Beyond that, there are a smattering of other decks that are a few cards removed from one version or another, and yet with enough of a wrinkle to be called their own. Honestly, as long as you’ve got the mana, anything goes.
Saturday, February 28, 7:08 p.m. – The Great Ninja Huntby Nate Price
After a ten and a half hour flight, there is no sweeter moment than when you finally get to step off the plane and into whatever destination you made the mistake of booking a ten and a half hour flight for. I walked with BDM, Matt Place, Kelly Digges, Dave Guskin (Gussskkinnnnn!! *angry fist shake*), and few random other players and staffers down to collect our bags. Crossing through customs, we got held up a second by Matt’s unexplained disappearance. One second he was there, the next he wasn’t. After popping up a few seconds later, he told us that he had been pulled aside for a few questions. Considering that he was walking normally, I figured it hadn’t been anything too serious. No need for the cavity search.
We wandered down in a massive school of people who were very clearly not Japanese and very clearly had no idea where they were going. Leader of men Brian David-Marshall, in his bright orange jacket, took charge, and our once-lost flock of people soon headed in what he assured us was the right direction. The only thing that kept us from arguing with him was the fact that he just exuded confidence, though I’m pretty sure that was more the jacket than him. It was a really charismatic jacket. Anyway, BDM (or the jacket) got us where we wanted to go, and not a moment too soon. Trying to take a group this size through the train ticket line was like trying to take a cruise ship through a Wendy’s drive through. After being very politely told in Japanese that we were being a bunch of idiots and blocking the way, we finally managed to escape down to the train tunnels below. Before we went, I just had to get a photo of myself in this sweet painting of two crabs with cutouts for peoples’ faces. They’re a weakness of mine, and my previous blog entry has the proof.
After a long train ride, most of which was spent discussing various ways to survive a zombie onslaught, we finally arrived at our hotel’s station. From this point, the night progressed pretty much as all first nights of the Pro Tour go: we meet up, draft, go get dinner, and draft. After we draft ourselves to exhaustion (which can take a while), we finally go to bed to get ready for the next day.
The Thursday before the Pro Tour is always sightseeing day. Despite Wednesday night going fairly late, I got downstairs early in the morning after awkwardly waking up at like three in the morning for no apparent reason. Even stranger was the fact that virtually everyone I talked to at breakfast had the same story. Naturally, I blamed Guskin (Gussskkinnnnn!! *angry fist shake*). After consuming a well-balanced breakfast, we grabbed a couple of maps, decided which temple we wanted to go see, and jumped into a cab.
Cabs in Japan, much like everything in the country, are robotic, the Earthbound manifestations of either demons or angels, and occasionally conscripted to fight in interstellar battles. At least that’s my theory. But when the doors on the cab open and close on their own, is there really any other conclusion to come to? After a short jump through hyperspace, the preferred method of travel for Japanese space-cabs, we arrive at our destination: Rokuon-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion.
Up next on MTV Cribs: Midas.
As we walked along immersed in the impressive natural beauty of the meticulously tended gardens surrounding the shrine, we were lulled into a meditative sense of well being. For those of you traveling to Japan, I warn you now that this is a trap, for when you awake from your never-before-felt feeling of inner peace, you will quickly realize that you are entirely surrounded by a throng of bloodthirsty junior high students! The preternatural senses of these diminutive Japanese attack forces are easily able to distinguish between native Japanese and the dreaded gaijin (read: editor Kelly Digges). Like antibodies during an infection, they swarm to attack any invaders, drowning them in a tide of red hats, hospitality, English assignments, and wishes for world peace. It’s really quite devastating to watch.
Only the strong survive.
Needless to say, we survived to tell the tale, and actually had a pretty memorable time taking our pictures and answering any questions posed to us by the little warriors. The temple and the surrounding grounds were incredibly cool. Despite my vast wealth, this was my first experience with a building constructed entirelyof gold. It looked quite heavy. I also had an absolute blast watching as various compatriots were picked off by the junior high students for their interviews. As one would expect from predators, they always picked off the slower stragglers instead of the stronger, more robust members of the group. That’s why I failed to get interviewed, but Matt Place, BDM, and Guskin (Gussskkinnnnn!! *angry fist shake*) mysteriously disappeared as we went along. They made it back eventually, and were even carrying gifts of green tea, much to my jealousy. Damn my robust physique!
Perhaps my favorite moment from the temple was right after we entered. I was walking along with the group when I noticed a sea of red hats floating around the corner at about waist level. Upon rounding the corner, we saw an entire junior high class wearing matching red hats complete with protective chin bands. They were quite lucky that they had those bands, because I really wanted a hat of my own, and that band (along with the very real possibility that I might actually learn how many ten-year-olds I could beat in a fight) was the only thing preventing me from “obtaining” one. Dave was so taken by their overwhelming redness that he whipped out his camera to snap a photo of them. As if a switch was flipped, they immediately transformed from a loose collection of children into a camera-ready, organized regiment of red-capped kids, complete with smiles and peace signs. We were amazed enough that we hesitated for a minute before we remembered that we had pulled out cameras out to snap a photo in the first place.
More than meets the eye.
After leaving the temple, we huddled around the map looking for our next destination. It didn’t take us long to decide—the Ninja Temple. It was spelled Ninnaji, but we were convinced that the misspelling was just a clever way to keep their secret headquarters safe from the likes of tourists. After about fifteen minutes of “following” the map, we realized a couple of problems. First of all, the scale of the map was incredibly misleading. I’m pretty sure that it even changed from section to section, just further throwing us off. In addition, the roads that were shown on the map were arbitrarily chosen and unlabeled. This meant that, instead of “two roads down and to the right,” the Ninja Temple was “no one has any idea how many roads down and to the right.”
Luckily for us, I was born with a prototype of the GPS chip that is now standard in most cars, cell phones, and Japanese junior high students in my head. After following me like lost dogs and praying that I wasn’t just wandering (I was), one of the guys with me noticed a sign that had the Ninja Temple listed as a little further down the road we were following. I knew it all along. Instead of heading right there, though, we noticed that Ryoanji Temple’s rock gardens were just ahead of us and on the way. Since it was right there, we decided to dip in and check it out.
This place rocks.
This temple was a little different than the last. Rather than a giant house made of a precious metal, this temple featured meticulously tended gardens of rock. I was a little skeptical about how cool a field of rocks could be, but I was quickly put in my place. The rock gardens ranged from a tabletop to a massive thousand-square-foot layout near the entrance. Each was absolutely pristine, and very clearly each of the millions of rocks used in their construction were in the exact right spots. It was like staring into perfection.
This was also the first place I felt way taller than everyone else. The doors and crossbeams of the temple actually came to about my mouth level, which forced me to duck every time I wanted to exit a room, enter a room, or really walk more than ten feet. At one point, I ducked to get under a beam while Dave Guskin, who stands a little less than a foot shorter than me, passed right next to me with ease. Curse you, Guskin!
Being this tall can really be a headache.
Perhaps it was the serenity of the place, but out of nowhere, BDM and I had a moment of clarity. As our compatriots began taking photos of their surroundings, we made a game out of trying to get photos of them. Once we revealed our game to the rest of our camera-toting competitors, it soon became a game to get as long a chain as possible, but the people you were snapping couldn’t know you were getting them. You had to be a photo chain ninja. The concept of the game seemed so brilliantly stupid to us that we couldn’t stop laughing about it or deciding how far we were going to take this over the course of the weekend. In fact, the full extent still remains to be seen.
I’m pretty sure the whole point of the temple is to inspire thought, and I definitely took a different perspective on the world as I walked through the end. I was surrounded by ancient trees that stood over a hundred feet high and were perfectly straight from the ground to the sky. The amount of tending required to get a tree to do that is just absurd, and I can really appreciate anything that takes that level of dedication.
While I was admiring the majesty of these impressive specimens (though not as impressive as myself), I noticed BDM indulging his fetish for tree crutches. Let me explain. In order to get a tree to grow up instead of down in some places, and to “repair” a broken tree, sometimes it’s necessary to give it a leg up and support the boughs with a long crutch of bamboo. For some reason known only to him, BDM apparently loves photos of tree crutches. In fact, most of my photos of him taking photos were taken while he was enthralled in his fantasy world of handicapped trees. They looked incredibly out of place surrounded by the statuesque trees I was examining, but they still seemed to be right at home. It was a surreal vision.
Pretty amazing things can happen when nature and man work together.
After leaving the temple, we sadly realized that it was time for half our group to head back to the event site for our staff meeting. This meant that we were losing a good portion of the army I intended to use to conquer the Ninja Temple and bend it to my will (better my will than Guskin’s (Gussskkinnnnn!! *angry fist shake*)). Consequently, we decided to give up our hunt for the Ninja temple and return to the hotel. While this meant it was soon going to be time for more sushi and drafts, I still couldn’t help but feel somehow cheated. We never found the Ninja Temple. But then, who’s to say we didn’t walk right by it? For all we know, it could have been one of the other temples we visited. Or maybe that Scottish bar we passed on our way to Ryoanji Temple. They’re ninjas. It shouldn’t surprise me that we couldn’t find their temple. One of these days, though, I’ll find it.
I just hope I get there before Guskin.