With Pro Tour Journey into Nyx just around the corner, many players are looking to get in some practice with the new set before Atlanta. For Tomoharu Saito of Japan, this weekend is part of a slightly longer journey. Not qualified for the Pro Tour, this former Player of the Year is looking to build his pro points and experience with the format in order to get back onto the Pro Tour. Currently at Silver level, he'll be playing at the Grand Prix in Atlanta, and travelling there with Japanese countrymen who eschewed a trip to Poland.
While Saito is not currently a regular on the Pro Tour, his influence on international Magic is still very much felt. Even if you speak not a word of Japanese, his Twitter account of @TomoharuSaito is a goldmine of valuable information, often in picture form. Cunningly skirting the 140 character limit by using pictures to tell a thousand words, Saito regularly posts images of his latest constructed masterpieces (including 16 Journey into Nyx Standard lists at last count). Lately this has branched out into pictures of various draft decks too, and their records.
From a quick study of what Saito has been up to at his shop MTG Hareruya, it seems that there has been quite a bit of Journey into Nyx play at Japan's largest Magic store. Working with his customers and staff (including Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura), Saito already has some ideas on how the format works for both sealed and draft.
For sealed deck, it seems that there is quite a bit of room for maneuver, based entirely on what cards are opened. This is not a format where any one colour dominates, and Saito likes to let the contents of the packs dictate where he's going rather than wading in with too many preconceptions on what to play. For this weekend for example, he found himself with a fairly classic blue white pairing, building on the heroic storyline that has permeated the format since the arrival of Theros.
When things come to draft things get a little more interesting. Journey into Nyx has shaken up the format a little, and Saito has been drafting apace to get a feel for exactly how. After a little consideration, he found that red is simply not where he wants to be in this format. While some of his greatest success in constructed has come from aggressive red decks, for this draft format, he doesn't feel that there is quite enough power there. Of the other four colours, green is one he's a little less happy to be drafting. A rueful smile and a wince came as he admitted that, 'while green decks look good, they don't seem to 3-0 drafts - that is the trouble with mana ramp'.
The colour that Saito is most interested in right now is black. "Black is a colour that a lot of people have overlooked in Theros draft. They focus on Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and not much more. With Journey into Nyx, black decks, especially aggressive black decks, have got a lot better. Everyone knows blue and white are good, but I think (I hope) that not everyone has figured out black."
A card that Saito referenced as a good example of something that takes a while to get a clear valuation of is Cast into Darkness. This innocuous looking common aura gives -2/-0 and means that a creature can't block. While cheap to cast, it doesn't seem like an all-star for the black decks. However, in forcing a creature to race (with less power to do so) it plays exactly into the new game plan for many of Saito's black draft decks, and is a card he thinks he should be able to pick up fairly late in draft.
It's still early in the weekend, with plenty of sealed deck to get through before draft day, but Tomoharu Saito already has 4 Grand Prix titles under his belt, and seemed psyched up and ready to go. Watch out for him on a Sunday coming to you soon.