One of the breakout countries in the world of professional Magic in the early to mid-2000s was Japan, who brought multiple major players on the Pro Tour into the spotlight. Many of those players now occupy spots in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, such as red mage Tsuyoshi Fujita, globetrotter Shuhei Nakamura, and young superstar Kenji Tsumura.
Oftentimes when the names of Japan's great players come up, Yuuya Watanabe is a name that often enters the discussion. This is no small feat, especially when you take a look at when he actually began playing on the Pro Tour.
2015 World Championship Competitor Yuuya Watanabe
"I started playing Magic when I was in elementary school with my friends," Watanabe recollected. "I got Urza's Rage in my first booster pack. I didn't know much about the value of any cards, so I happily traded the card for a Forest that was absolutely necessary for my deck. I was completely perplexed by my decision, after learning more about the sought after nature of those cards."
While Watanabe's interest in Magic was strong, his origins on the Pro Tour did not come until much later. While many of his country's greatest had been playing in the early 2000s, Watanabe is actually part of Japan's younger generation of Magic. His Pro Tour debut did not come until he was around eighteen-years-old, following his win at Grand Prix Kyoto a month prior.
"My first Pro Tour was in Yokohama 2007," Watanabe recalled. "I didn't make the Day Two, but I felt the world-class level that Magic was played at in the tournament. It was a memorable event for me because that was the tournament where I made my decision to challenge myself to climb to the top someday."
It was a valuable learning experience for Watanabe, who would go on to win the 2007 Rookie of the Year title.
Two years later, and he also claimed the Player of the Year title. Watanabe has become a contemporary legend out of Japan, and it's hard to believe that he isn't even eligible yet for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
Watanabe, in his recollection of origin stories, also pondered one event in particular that has remained a constant in his life.
"My first Magic World Cup is something that I can never forget," Watanabe explained. "The day before the event, we found out that we wouldn't arrive at the destination in time due to mechanical problems of the plane. After discussing with my teammates, we decided to take a taxi from Washington, D.C., to Indianapolis. It took us ten hours and cost $1,400 to drive 500 miles, but we made it to the event on time. We came such a long way, and we were ecstatic when we finally got there, but as you can guess, we were so exhausted from the trip that we played disastrously at the main tournament."
"I still play Magic with my teammates from that event. We also became good friends, and do things outside of Magic, whether it's grabbing drinks or just hanging out. I shared joys and agonies with those guys through this experience, and they have become invaluable friends."
Watanabe will be competing in his fourth consecutive World Championship event this year at PAX Prime, making him the only competitor who has returned to Magic's most defining battlefield since the Players Championship in 2012. In his first year, he took home the trophy as well as his second Player of the Year title. Last year, he almost did it again.
Will he get his second trophy later this month?
Tune in to find out.
The 2015 Magic: The Gathering World Championship takes place in Seattle, Washington, during PAX Prime on August 27, 28, and 30. To learn more about this year's competitors, head over to the 2015 World Championship Competitors page, and check back every weekday leading up to the World Championship for new profiles on each of this year's competitors.