by Randy Buehler
It was dueling Grand Prix champions in round 6 when Pro Tour Atlanta Top 8 competitor Matt Vienneau sat down to play 1999 Japanese National champion Masayuki Higashino. Vienneau, who is from Toronto, Canada, won Grand Prix Dallas back in November while Higashino, who is from Osaka, Japan, won Grand Prix Hiroshima last weekend. That was actually Higashino's second Grand Prix win - he triumphed in Tohoku in 1999. Each player won his first table at 3-0 and each player was 0-2 so far at their second draft table. 4-3 looks like the magic number for advancing to Day 2, so both players seem to be in decent shape, but they'd like to go into Day 2 in position to make a run at the Top 8.
Vienneau spent the time before the round complaining loudly about the draft. After Brock Parker first picked a Thornscape Master, Vienneau expected the #2 seated player to go black/blue so as not to compete with Parker. However, that guy drafted Benalish Trapper. Then that player - the guy feeding Vienneau - opened up and drafted Reckless Spite - a double black spell. Vienneau explained "then I LePined . . . I haven't drafted that badly in I don't know how long." Higashino drafted a solid, but unspectacular black/red deck that you can read about in other Sideboard coverage.
Higashino spent some time agonizing over his opening draw in game 1 and Vienneau commented "that's not a very good poker face." Higashino laughed and that set the tone for the entire match. For the rest of the match, the players were laughing and Higashino was reacting very obviously to all the cards he drew. You have to give Matt Vienneau credit for having a pretty good mental game. He read Higashino's intentions very well for the entire match and manipulated the entire tenor of the game into a situation where Higashino was emotional and constantly giving away information about his hand and his confidence in his board position.
Anyway, Higashino decided to keep his 1-land hand while playing first - an extremely risky play that most pros feel is simply a mistake - and it worked out for him. His first three draws were Swamp, Swamp, and Mountain. Higashino started out with Hate Weaver, Urborg Phantom, and Kavu Aggressor while Vienneau traded a Might Weaver for the Phantom and an Explosive Growth (on a Mourninged Sparring Golem) for the Aggressor. Surprisingly, Higashino left Hate Weaver on the sidelines for both of those attack phases. He also forgot to use Hate Weaver to pump up the Aggressor to 4/2 so it could take down the 2/4 Sparring Golem with it when it died. I think Higashino left the Might Weaver home because he was reading Vienneau for an Explosive Growth in hand. Higashino was right, but it seemed to me that he should not have been disappointed to trade his Weaver for the Growth, because he couldn't really play around it anyway. Higashino then put Maniacal Rage on a Shivan Zombie and continued to apply pressure. His pressure wasn't as aggressive as it could have been, though, because he once again left Hate Weaver back. Meanwhile Vienneau was having color problems. Higashino kicked a Skizzek and seemed on the verge of winning, but Vienneau finally found the red mana he needed to cast Breath of Darigaaz with kicker. That left Vienneau at 5 (which could have been negative 3 if Hate Weaver had served at every available opportunity, by the way). Next Vienneau played Serpentine Kavu and then enchanted it with Armadillo Cloak. Higashino had no answer and they moved on to game 2.
The players traded damage for the early turns of game 2 and then Vienneau Cloaked up his Serpentine Kavu again. Higashino was then forced to leave back all his creatures, quadruple block the Kavu, and hope that was all Matt had. Higashino could have tried triple blocking it and holding onto his kicked Duskwalker, but he was obviously worried about another Explosive Growth - a perfectly reasonable judgment call. After the dust settled, it turned out that Cloaked up Kavu really was all the Vienneau had. Vienneau was up a bunch of life, but Higashino had board advantage with an Urborg Phantom and a Hooded Kavu to Vienneau's Ancient Kavu. When Higashino drew and played Halam Djinn the life totals were Vienneau 16 and Higashino 6. With 8 power worth of creatures, it seemed like Higashino should serve with everything, threatening to serve for the win on the next turn. However, Higashino seemed terrified by the one card in Vienneau's hand and he decided to leave the Djinn back as a potential blocker. Vienneau was happy to attack and trade, especially since he had just drawn a Kavu Chameleon. Higashino then chump blocked the Chameleon with his Hooded Kavu rather than drop to 2. This sort of playing-not-to-lose strategy rarely works out in the long term and this game was no different. Higashino used Pain to knock that last card out of Vienneau's hand (it turned out to be a Forest), and was then able to get Vienneau to 2, but couldn't finish him off.
It's interesting to see how certain players have certain strengths and certain weaknesses. There are some players who can't draft very well, but play so spectacularly that they win anyway. I would put Darwin Kastle, Jakub Slemr, and Warren Marsh in this category. On the other hand there are some people who earn their living during the draft, but don't play quite as well - like Gary Wise. This category also appears to include Masayuki Higashino.
Final Result: Higashino - 0, Vienneau - 2