There are quite a few stacked teams here at Grand Prix Kyoto. From the Juza/Nakamura/Watanabe super team to the massive Yasooka/Mori/Saito machine, there are quite a few teams boasting a load of talent. One of these teams is that of Asahara/Komuro/Kitayama. Akira Asahara and Masaya Kitayama already have one team Grand Prix Top 4 together, making it to the finals of Grand Prix Hamamatsu back in 2006. The year before that, their teammate Shu Komuro made the Top 4 of Grand Prix Osaka with two teammates of his own. All three players have a tremendous amount of experience to go with their excellent team performances. Asahara has two Pro Tour Top 8s to his name, while Komuro has a win at Pro Tour Nagoya in 2005. While Kitayama has yet to break through to the Pro Tour Sunday stage, he has proven his skills as recently as Grand Prix Yokohama earlier this year, where he took the tournament down in impressive fashion.
Standing between them and another victory are the trio of Hayato Ishii, Yuusuke Sasaki, and Soo Han Yoon. While the trio may not have quite the level of experience as their powerful opponents, they have tasted some higher-level success, with a trio of Grand Prix Top 8s for Sasaki to headline. Aiding them in their quest for victory are three incredibly powerful decks, including one archetype that has been surprisingly efficient this weekend: mono-green devotion. Interestingly, both of these teams devoted a spot for this powerful monocolored strategy, each relying on a different set of cards to get the job done. Komuro's deck relied on a pair of Reverent Hunters and a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, to power them out. Sasaki's version of the deck used Karametra's Acolyte as its mana generator, ramping into a bevy of fatties, including the powerful Arbor Colossus. Neither deck was entirely mono-green (Sasaki dipped into red while Komuro touched blue), but devotion was so central to each of the decks that it's hard to classify either as anything else.
Masaya Kitayama (Blue/Black) vs. Yuusuke Sasaki (Green/Red Devotion)
This was an unfortunate opening for Kitayama and crew, as he failed to find a third land drop for quite some time. Sasaki, meanwhile, wasted no time putting Kitayama out of his misery. While Kitayama was failing to find lands, Sasaki's deck was serving up monsters like Nemesis of Mortals and Stormbreath Dragon. Needless to say, Sasaki won the first game in short order.
The second game looked like it might be closer, with Kitayama bursting out of the gates with Vaporkin and Ordeal of Thassa. Unfortunately for him, that start was far too slow to compete with Sasaki's draw. Between Voyaging Satyr and Karametra's Acolyte, Sasaki found himself flush with green mana. This allowed him an early Arbor Colossus to stop Kitayama's assault. In addition to that, the Colossus's mana cost gave Sasaki even more mana to work with. Kitayama tried to slow him down with a Disciple of Phenax to force Sasaki to discard one of his three cards, however he soon realized how much trouble he was in upon looking at Sasaki's hand. Sasaki held Nessian Asp, Nemesis of Mortals, and a Vulpine Goliath, any combination of which he would be able to cast on the following turn. Kitayama took the Asp for good measure, but he was ultimately unable to do anything about the deluge of fat coming from Sasaki's hand, and his team found themselves quickly down a match.
Akira Asahara (Red/White/Black) vs. Hayato Ishii (Blue/White)
Asahara had his work cut out for him, his team down a match. The first game saw a few interesting turns shape and define the game, resulting in an incredibly tight race, something that would be common for this match. Asahara's Stormbreath Dragon dominated the table for a turn before Ishii managed to bestow a Hopeful Eidolon on a Horizon Scholar, taking control of the board. It looked like he might be able to pull away, but a Divine Verdict forced Ishii to use Gods Willing to save his big flier. Unfortunately, giving hit protection from white to survive the Verdict also knocked the Eidolon off, preventing him from gaining any life. This swing was incredibly important, as it kept his life total reasonably manageable.
Asahara tried to end the game quickly, using his monstrous Dragon to rip a large chunk from Ishii's life total. He was about to secure victory when a Wavecrash Triton brought his offense to a crawl. This was Asahara's only source of offense, as well, giving Ishii a window to begin his own attacks. With Asahara down to one life, Ishii ran out of ways to empower his Triton, allowing Asahara to untap for a fateful attack. Ishii was down to ten, and the final swing from the freed Dragon was enough to put Ishii in range of Lightining Strike, stealing an incredibly close game for Asahara.
Game 2 looked like it might go the same way only faster, as an Opaline Unicorn enabled a turn-four Stormbreath Dragon. Unfortunately for Asahara, it would only get one attack. Ishii once again had a Wavecrash Triton, and this time it brought its own offense. Between Nimbus Naiad and Thassa's Emissary, the Triton was both large enough to dodge Asahara's removal (Lash of the Whip and Lightning Strike), as well as large enough to finish the game before he ran out of ways to keep the Dragon locked down. Asahara came very close to stealing the game once again, but a Lagona-Band Elder gave Ishii just enough life to ensure his victory.
The final game of this match was another incredibly close affair, but it didn't initially look like it would be at all. Neither player had a particularly impressive start, with Ishii stumbling on lands early and Asahara not making a play until a fourth-turn Ill-Tempered Cyclops. Ishii was able to take advantage of this early, despite his mana troubles, by getting in for quite a large amount of damage with a Vaporkin.
The reason for Asahara's slow start quickly became apparent, as Ishii drew his way out of his mana troubles and began to build his board. Over three consecutive turns, Ishii added a creature to his board only to be denied his creature. Glare of Heresy, Lash of the Whip, Divine Verdict, and Lightning Strike dealt with everything Ishii could muster, eventually leaving him with just a pair of Omenspeakers. Still, the Vaporkin had done its work, dropping Asahara to an unreasonably low life total. He finally found some offense with his trusty Stormbreath Dragon, but Ishii tried to stall his way to a victory. One turn from defeat, Ishii had managed to add a Benthic Giant to his side of the board and sent all three of his creatures. Asahara was at a potentially safe 9, but he didn't risk anything, using his lone chump blocker to stand in the Giant's way. When Asahara attacked for the win on the following turn, Ishii revealed the Dauntless Onslaught that would have been lethal had Asahara blocked any other way.
Shu Komuro (Green/Blue Devotion) vs. Soo Han Yoon (Black/White)
It all came down to the outcome of this match. Komuro had narrowly lost the first game of this match by the time the other matches had finished. Despite having a pair of massive Reverent Hunters, Komuro's army was held at bay by a tide of Soldiers pouring out of an Akroan Horse. Even when he was able to find a Vulpine Goliath to begin to trample over, Yoon simply went over the top, adding Erebos's Emissary to his Insatiable Harpy. Komuro made a valiant attempt to wrest control of the game, but a Keepsake Gorgon combined with Whip of Erebos proved too strong, eliminating his team and sending it to a second game.
In this second game, Yoon showed the raw power his deck possessed. Using early removal to handle the cheap threats from Komuro's deck, Yoon stalled until he could chain together three absurd turns, adding two copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel and an Abhorrent Overlord to his team on consecutive turns. To add insult to injury, he added a Whip of Erebos to his side, giving him all the inevitability he would ever need. Komuro could do nothing, his life total rapidly falling behind that absurd string of plays, dropping his team to 5-2.