Saturday, 3:05 p.m. – 249 Ways To Read Japanese

Posted in Event Coverage on July 16, 2011

By Rich Hagon

Rich Hagon combines a deep knowledge of the players of the Pro Tour with a passionate love of the game. He's a regular commentator for Pro Tour and Grand Prix live video coverage, and is the official Pro Tour Statistician. He has been covering Magic events since 2006.

'Would you like to play Friday Night Magic?' isn't a question I usually have too much trouble answering. 'Yes', obviously. Yesterday, however, there was a problem. Or closer to 249 problems. The format, you see, was M12 draft, and much to my surprise the 63 Japanese players in the 64 player field at Japanese Friday Night Magic here in Japan had opted for Japanese M12 boosters, featuring Japanese on all the Japanese cards.

I don't speak Japanese. I don't read Japanese.

As I believe I may have said earlier, 249 problems.

Still, surely it couldn't be that bad, could it? With an hour to go before decision time, I took my handy M12 Player's Guide, and started working out just how much I didn't know about the set that was only released yesterday. Here's the edited version, with all the swearing taken out:

First, 20 basic lands, know what those do. 229. Next, 119 cards I remember from 15 years of playing Magic. 110. Well, I managed to play a midnight pre-release draft last weekend, so I can eliminate the cards I played with and against there. That takes me to 90. That's still a lot of cards I don't know. So, let's eliminate all the Mythic Rares. If someone plays one against me, I'll just have to ask. And if I open one and don't know what it does, I'll take it anyway. I can always look it up after the draft! Now I can get rid of all the cards that are vanilla monsters, things like Armored Warhorse. Then there are the cards I can guess at, because in the middle of all the Japanese text you get the +1 +1 bit on cards like Benalish Veteran.

Hey, this is easy! Anyone can play with a set they don't know in a language they can't read!

By the time I sat down to begin this strangest of exams I hadn't prepared for, I felt like I had a reasonable chance of knowing what at least most of the cards in my deck would do. I worked on the basis that if a card was costing a lot less than it 'should', then I was probably going to find a nasty surprise waiting for me when I finished the draft. You know the sort of thing:

2GG
Gigantithon Wurm
9/9
Trample
When Gigantithon Wurm enters the battlefield, sacrifice it unless you discard your hand, sacrifice all your lands, remortgage your house and agree to file the tax returns for your closest 5000 friends.

In the event, things went (mostly) ok. I opened a five cost white flyer (Peregrine Griffin), found that blue was clearly open (with double Belltower Sphinx), and opened the Garruk, Primal Hunter in the last pack, taking it anyway. I only got really stumped by this guy:

Right then. A 1/2 for two mana, with a tap ability that has to be sufficiently good to demand paying mana as well. Trouble is, because it's blue, that ability could be utterly pointless. I took it, and subsequently discovered it was Merfolk Mesmerist. Now, since I had double Belltower Sphinx, and had also picked up a couple of random late-pick Jace's Erasures, there were possibilities. In the end, though, I came to the conclusion I was probably not going to need them. Here's what I ended up playing:

1 2/2 for U that runs away when it's targeted
1 White tapper dude
1 2/1 white guy for 1L with a 1L ability
1 1/1 flyer that gets +3+3 when something or other happens
1 Aether Adept
2 3/1s for 2U that almost certainly fly, looks like they fly, can only block flyers?
1 Assault Griffin
2 Belltower Sphinx
1 2/4 flying first strike in white
3 Elixir of Immortality
1 Ice Cage
2 Frog instant thingy
1 Mighty Leap
2 Cancel
2 Divination
1 Mind Control
11 Islands
6 Plains

Yes, that's three copies of Elixir of Immortality. I won my first two rounds easily, never dropping into single figures before taking control with an endless supply of life gain, card draw, and countermagic, not to mention high-toughness flyers. I was worried about a potential black-red aggro deck, and did indeed meet that in the final, getting battered in game one, despite using Ice Cage on his turn one Goblin Fireslinger. It turns out that Goblin War Paint is quite an effective answer to Ice Cage...

Still, all's well that ends well, and the Elixirs did their thing in games two and three. Friday Night Magic victory was mine!

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