Pro Tour Kaladesh Champion Shota Yasooka

Posted in Competitive Gaming on October 18, 2016

By Corbin Hosler

Shota Yasooka was first introduced to Magic in middle school, and it wasn't long before he was dreaming of playing on the Pro Tour. However, for a kid drawn to the competitive aspects of the game but not sure how to embrace it fully, it took a special moment close to home to really bring the game into his life.

The scene was the 2005 Magic World Championship and World Cup in Yokohama, Japan. A young Yasooka was watching the world's best players compete from the comfort of his home country. And what a week it was for the small but dedicated contingent of Japanese pro players. Katsuhiro Mori won the World Championship. Takuma Morifuji, Masashi Oiso and Ichiro Shimura won the World Cup, defeating the United States 3-0. Kenji Tsumura secured the Player of the Year title by a single point over Olivier Ruel in the culmination to what is remembered as the Year of Japan.

And Shota Yasooka was there watching it all.

Those events ignited the fire for Yasooka, and the result was stunning. He put together a historic 2006 season and won the Player of the Year title, earning 60 Pro Points to narrowly best fellow countryman Shuhei Nakamura.

Ten years later, Yasooka has seemingly done it all. He has 20 Grand Prix Top 8 appearances. Three Pro Tour Top 8s, including a victory in 2006 at Charleston's team Pro Tour. He's secured a place in the hallowed halls of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame and the respect of the Magic community worldwide.

After an incredible weekend in Honolulu, Yasooka can add one more accolade to that list: individual Pro Tour Champion.

His run through the Pro Tour Kaladesh field was dominant. He was the first to lock up a place in the Top 8, and the last to lose. His 3-1 victory over Carlos Romão in the finals capped off a nearly perfect run through an unknown field that included decks from across the spectrum. He defeated aggressive, midrange, and combo decks alike throughout the weekend, and he finished off the tournament with a masterclass in the control mirror, using his innovative Grixis Control deck to shine bright under the sun in Hawaii.

In true Yasooka fashion, he did it himself. The Hall of Famer built his career on the back of blue-black control decks, and in an age when large pro teams and multi-week stays in Pro Tour locations have become the norm, Yasooka stands in stark contrast. He works alone, testing all the decks he's considering for the Pro Tour and leaving it until the last minute to finally make up his mind.

"For this event, I didn't choose a deck until 11 p.m., after the Hall of Fame dinner Thursday night," Yasooka laughed as he talked about his literal eleventh-hour choice of decks just before the submission deadline. "That's one of the main reasons I don't play on a big team; I wouldn't be able to share the deck with them beforehand since I don't make up my mind until the last minute."

It's an unorthodox strategy, but one that Yasooka has proven time and again works for him. One of the more memorable moments of his career was the 2012 Players Championship, when he advanced all the way to the finals of the Modern event playing a previously unheard-of deck of his own creation featuring Aether Vial, Eternal Witness, and Cryptic Command, where he pushed fellow Hall of Famer Yuuya Watanabe all the way to five games before coming up just short.

Yasooka's method worked then, it worked in 2006 when he won Player of the Year, and it was still working in Honolulu, where his deck was finalized just minutes after Watanabe and Owen Turtenwald joined him in the Hall of Fame.

With another Pro Tour title under his belt, there doesn't seem to be much left for Yasooka to accomplish. But he still has a few goals left for his Magic career. For starters, he wants to continue to be a positive role model and influence on those who stand where he did just ten years ago, looking to break into the game and leave their legacy.

There's also that small matter of winning the World Championship.

"That's what is left for me," he said. "I came close in 2012 and last year, but I want to take that next step," he explained. "This weekend was great—I really take joy in seeing the happiness that winning brings my friends and the fans—but what is really left for me is to win the World Championship."

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