Day 1 was absolutely brutal to most of the better known players in the room. Multiple members of the Top 25 (Shuhei Nakamura, Martin Juza, and Makihito Mihara) failed to put up the requisite 4-2 record after their three byes to make it to Day 2. Many of the players who failed to make the cut voiced their frustrations after coming up dead.
"This Sealed Deck format is so hard to figure out," Juza said. "Most other formats, when you get ahead, it's a lot easier to tell how the game is going to go. When you're up two creatures and you have a Doom Blade in hand, you're pretty sure you're winning that game. In this format, you can feel like that one second, then someone plays a card like Elspeth or Eidolon of Countless Battles and you just can't win anymore. The bombs are so powerful that Sealed Deck just has a lot of variance. The Sealed Deck pool I opened here was exactly what I was looking for, a very good pool, but I still lost three matches with it. I thought I would go 5-1 on the day at the very least. It's just frustrating because the Booster Draft format is so good, and being skilled makes such a bigger deal. I just wanted to be able to draft."
There were a handful of top players who managed to snake their way through the minefield to end up at the Draft today, but most of them just barely made it, limping in on life support at 7-2. There was going to be a lot riding on the first draft of the day, in particular, to set the tone for their push to stay alive. Here's a brief glance around the room to see how the bigger names still live in the tournament ended up after their first Draft of the weekend.
Our King of the Hill to end Day 1, Oldziey was less than optimistic about his chances in Booster Draft coming into today. He admitted that he was a little behind the many of the other players in Day 2, experience-wise, and knew that he was going to have to put it together to keep his streak alive. Fortunately, even if he fails to retain his King of the Hill title, his 8-0-1 record on Day 1 would make it incredibly easy for him to at least finish in a paying position, as well as providing a bit of wiggle room in his search for a Top 8 spot.
His deck ended up very heavy red, almost to the point of being able to play monored, but a few key cards kept him in white, such as a Fabled Hero that he was fortunate enough to open in the final pack of the Draft. Still, his white is very limited, and concessions had to be made to afford the Hero's double-white commitment.
"Drafting under the camera was a lot of pressure," Oldziey said after the draft. "It steals seconds from you, which aren't a lot on their own, but they add up. I have some cards I wish I could play, but I am too heavy red to be able to afford them. It's possible that I should have stayed with black after opening and taking Herald of Torment, but I didn't think the cards were there. I think I can get at least one win with this deck, maybe two, but going for a 3-0 would be pushing it."
Kuo is one of a trio of players to keep an eye on at 8-1 coming into the day. He is an incredibly experienced player who knows his way around a Draft table and this format in particular, so he stands in good position to keep himself alive for Top 8.
While he ended up inadvertently hooking the player to his right into the same colors as him, he endured an abysmal second pack to end up with a deck that could have been phenomenal and, instead, ended up simply acceptable. He's got some very powerful cards, like Eidolon of Countless Battles and a pair of Lightning Strikes, but he's also playing a few cards he wishes he didn't have to. You can read more about his draft and his view on his chances here.
Sato is another player fortunate enough to slip into Day 2 with an 8-1 record. He made Top 8 in Grand Prix Shanghai over a year ago, another Limited Grand Prix, and has been playing exceptionally well thus far this weekend.
His deck from the first draft is a unique blue/red deck, one of the least drafted color combinations in the format. His deck has some very impressive cards, though, and it looks like he may be able to put together the 3-0 he needs to keep his push for Top 8 alive. He has oodles of removal, including two copies of both Fall of the Hammer and Magma Jet, and a Curse of the Swine for anything too tough for his burn to kill. He backs those up with a good number of large fliers, and a pair of Thassa's Emissaries for good measure. A very strong deck.
The final 8-1 player coming into today is Ken Yukuhiro. While Yukuhiro isn't exactly a new name in Japanese Magic, he has been on quite a tear in the past couple of years and has been traveling extensively for Magic because of that. He teamed up with the Asian powerhouse Team MTG Mint Card at Pro Tour Born of the Gods, where Shi Tian Lee made Top 8 using a version of the deck Yukuhiro had played over a year before at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica!
His deck from Pod 1 was a good, but not amazing deck, until he hit the third pack. He already had a couple copies of Retraction Helix, Favored Hoplite, and Phalanx Leader when he was surprised with fourth and fifth pick Wingsteed Riders. I was watching him draft, and I don't think I've seen anyone windmill slam a card onto their pile as fast as Yukuhiro slammed those Riders.
"This deck can definitely 3-0," Yukuhiro said with a smile. "The first Wingsteed Rider was very lucky. The second was a dream."
(15) Shi Tian Lee
"This deck is...I don't want to talk about it."
Those were the first words Lee said to me as I approached his building table, and they should give you a pretty good idea of what his chances of picking up a 3-0 to keep his Top 8 hopes alive are. Pretty abysmal.
"The first pack gave me Retraction Helix and two copies of Nullify plus some other blue cards," he explained. "Then it all dried up. I'm not sure what happened. I don't think this deck is very good at all."
Worse still, Lee has a few very high-quality cards hiding in his sideboard that his mana just can't support. His deck is base blue/green, with some decent creatures and a few good spells, but the problems become quite apparent when you take note of the two Spellheart Chimeras sitting in his three-drop pile. Worse still, his only method of splashing them is an Unknown Shores. No Traveler's Amulet, Karametra's Favor, Nylea's Presence, Oplaine Unicorn, not even a Springleaf Drum. This lack of ability to splash left a Reaper of the Wilds, Searing Blood, and a couple of other high-quality cards in his board that his deck simply can't support.
"I'll be lucky if I can scrape together two wins with this deck."
Yasooka is traditionally known more as a deckbuilder than a Limited player, but he really turned the corner within the last couple of years and has become an incredibly good Limited player, with skills to match his Constructed game. Considering him anything other than one of the Top players in Japan at this point is a serious flaw in judgment.
His draft deck this Pod exemplifies this fact. Sure, it is built around a couple of incredibly powerful bombs: Fabled Hero and Triad of Fates. But almost everyone in the room has at least one powerful rare in their deck. The rest of it is a heroic dream, with Phalanx Leader, Wingsteed Rider, and plenty of cards to trigger heroic. He has a great endgame with Archetype of Finality (it's not just a clever name) and the Triad, and the Hero and his heroic comrades provide a potent early-game punch. His deck looks like an easy 2-1, with 3-0 not at all out of reach, especially for a player of his caliber.
The former World Champion had a pile of cards in front of him that looked like a very good set of cards, yet not necessarily a deck. Phalanx Leader and Medomai the Ageless were part of a reasonable blue/white curve, though one that didn't look too powerful or synergistic outside of those cards. In addition, he had a few black removal spells and an Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, tossed into his deck. The powerful cards in his deck were very powerful, but the weak cards weren't particularly well-supported. His deck should be able to easily 2-1 on power alone, but if he is going to make the 3-0 he needs to stay alive, he'll have to take advantage of every edge he can get his hands on.
(8) Yuuya Watanabe
At first glance, Watanabe's deck seemed pretty reasonable. Two copies of Ordeal of Purphoros plus an Ordeal of Heliod, two Loyal Pegasi, an Akroan Hoplite... his deck seemed quite aggressive and very strong. Still, watching him draw a few practice hands, it seemed really underwhelming. His curve was a little on the high side for a deck that wants to be aggressive, and his ordeals are only really good a few of his creatures. Still, he has a Fabled Hero, and sometimes that just wins games. If he can get an Ordeal on that, he'll be able to beat anyone in the room.
When I asked him how he felt about his deck, he replied, "Eh, not so good. Maybe 2-1. Maybe I can get lucky."
This caused Lee Shi Tian, sitting across from him to burst out laughing.
"I need the luck," he said. "Yuuya always does this at Grand Prix. 7-2 Day 1, 6-0 Day 2 and win the tournament."
Jun Young Park
Fresh off of a Top 8 performance in Kuala Lumpur, a Grand Prix that took place just a couple of months ago in this very same format, Park clearly knows his way around Theros and Born of the Gods Limited. His Sealed deck yesterday was only mediocre, yet he still managed to pick up enough wins to squeak into Day 2 at 7-2.
His first Draft deck is an interesting base-black deck splashing blue and white. There are some very powerful cards in it, including a pair of Keepsake Gorgons, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and a Nighthowler. He speculated into black/blue early with a Siren of the Silent Song, yet it appears that the bulk of his deck decisions were made in the Theros packs, where it became clear that he was one of maybe two black drafters at the table. In the end, his deck is a powerful late game deck which should be good for a 3-0 if he can avoid getting run over by one of the highly-aggressive red/white decks in his pod.
Speaking of aggressive red/white, Grand Prix Yokohama Champion Masaya Kitayama's deck is the red/white dream. He has three copies of Loyal Pegasus, a plethora of two-drops, lots of removal, and ways to win combat. His deck will punish all but the stoutest of decks, and is one of the scariest draft decks I've seen in this format. True to the deck's nature, he has cut virtually all of the cards that cost more than three from his deck, enabling him to cut lands for even more pure, high-octane gasoline. If he doesn't 3-0 his pod, I would be incredibly surprised.
On the other side of the spectrum is Chapman Sim's blue/white deck. The first thing I saw when I walked past his table was Elspeth, Sun's Champion. That's a good place to start. Accompanying the Planeswalker on her journey to a very likely 3-0 are multiple copies of the uncommon Emissaries, Wingsteed Rider, a bunch of bounce spells, and some other large fliers. It's much slower than Kitayama's deck, but it packs its power in an unbeatable late game. It also stands the chance of just straight killing someone before they know what hits them.
"My deck is very good," Sim said before heading off to his first match. "If I don't 3-0 with it, I will be very disappointed in myself."
(25) Kentarou Yamamoto
The last deck to keep an eye on this round is that of Kentarou Yamamoto. The first thing I noticed upon looking at his deck was the lands he had marked off for his deck: lots of Plains, lots of Islands, and a couple of Forests. I immediately became curious about the Forests. The rest of it was fairly self-explanatory. Fated Retribution, Daxos of Meletis, and a pair of Battlewise Hoplites are an incredibly good start to a blue/white deck. And then I got to the two copies of Prophet of Kruphix in his deck. Oh, three Forests. I get it now.
Yamamoto's deck is very strong, with a great early game and a good way to hold out should things go long. It's not the best deck I've looked at today, so I think it's more likely a 2-1 deck than a 3-0 deck, but there's a good chance I'm proven wrong. After all, because of how things shook down on Day 1, most of the players listed above are in separate pods from one another. While their opponents will be no laughing matter, they at least have the relief of not having to fight one another to get their first 3-0 of Day 2.