Drafting with Giants

Posted in The Week That Was on September 1, 2006

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Japanese Nationals is in the books and Counterbalance made a more than respectable debut on the Constructed scene. Of course, if you were a Magic card you could do a lot worse than to have reigning World Champion – and now Japanese National Champion – Katsuhiro Mori shuffling you up for tournament play. If you read the coverage or checked out Frank Karsten's column this week, you are already familiar with the winning list and its rather ugly numbers. Say what you want about all the twos and threes in the deck – it is hard to argue with a 10-0 record in Standard play at Japanese Nationals, which has to be one of the tougher rooms in the world.

Katsuhiro Mori

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I know that much has been made of the rise of Japanese Magic over these past few seasons. I certainly have been beating that drum since my eyes were first opened to Tsuyoshi Fujita and Itaru Ishida when they met in the finals of Grand Prix-Bangkok. Still, I was taken aback when I sat down to play in a Two-Headed Giant draft with several of the players after the main event concluded last weekend. Of the eight players in the draft, only two players did not have a major title or tournament win under their belt – and I was one of those two players.

I teamed up for the draft with Shuhei Nakamura, his three Pro Tour Top 8 appearances, and his two Grand Prix trophies. The format for the draft was Ravnica/Guildpact/Dissension. Four teams sit around the table with teammates sitting side by side – essentially a four-player draft with a Two-Headed Giant in each seat – with the teams that will face each other in the first round sitting opposite each other.

Saito, left, and Kaji, right, form a menacing 2HG team. Yasooka's no slouch himself.We were staring down the barrel of the first two-thirds of Pro Tour-Charleston winning team Kajiharu80. While Tomohiro Kaji “only” finished 16th at Japanese Nationals, he was the designer of Mori's Structure and Force and appears poised to be one of the top players in the world. Sitting next to him was Tomoharu Saito fresh off of his Top 8 finish at Nats.

Player of the Year front-runner Shota Yasooka, the third member of Kajiharu80, was in the other bracket and teamed with a friend of his whose name I did not catch. They were paired against Player of the Year Kenji Tsumura and Masters winner Masahiko Morita. I draft pretty regularly with some pretty well-known Magic players, but even I was impressed with the star power at our draft table.

Originally, I had wanted to do a traditional team draft but everyone there was eager to get a handle on the new Pro Tour format … and when they found out that I had playtested this style of draft a couple of times they quickly assembled a translation team of judges and had me explain the rules. Basically, each Giant sits down with six packs in front of it – two from each expansion – and opens one pack just like a regular draft. Unlike a regular draft, the team selects two cards from the pack before passing the remaining 13 cards to the left. Most players immediately assume that have to assign one card to each player, but the cards actually go into a common pile for the team and the pool of cards is then used to build two decks.

Once the first pack is expended two cards at a time and the fifteenth card is picked last, the next pack – still Ravnica in this case – is opened and similarly picked apart two by two, but in this case passed to the right. The packs alternate left, right, left until all the cards have been drafted. It was interesting to approach the format with some experience while the other seven players had not even played 2HG, much less drafted it. Obviously, cards take on a different value under the rules specific to the format. The most important change is the fact that both players can block for each other and they have a combined 40 life. Cards such as Transluminant, Sell-Sword Brute, and other efficient beaters with no other abilities or evasion are just bad in this format. Something like Veteran Armorer has value but not as a beater. I got a big kick out of arguing with Shuhei over picks. He could not understand why I was eschewing a solid green pick like Transluminant over traditionally weaker cards like Dromad Purebred.

Enigma EidolonLearn to love this card in 2HG.

After struggling to convey some of the finer points of the format with my non-existent Japanese and Shuhei's limited English, I finally just circled the 40 point life total on our score sheet and a light bulb went off over his head. He finally agreed to let me drive the draft and we ended up drafting a very defensive base white deck with walls, Purebreds, Veteran Armorer, and a variety of tappers. Shuhei's deck had cards to support a decking strategy and included 2HG platinum hits like Enigma Eidolon (the best pack I have ever opened in Dissension for 2HG had Enigma Eidolon and foil Enigma Eidolon), Skyscribing, a couple of Compulsive Research, and Invoke the Firemind.

We romped over Saito and Kaji in the first round as they did not fully grok the format, drafting what would have been a pair of individually powerful draft decks but were lacking any synergy for playing 2HG. Twice I picked Purebreds over Nightguard Patrol and although Kaji's vigilant first strikers got in a couple of early beats, ShuDM was still at over 30 life when we stabilized and began to whittle away Kaji's deck (you only need to deck one player in order to win).

Shouta had a clear plan for his draft – flying, flying, and more flying. The only cards his decks had that weren't fliers were excellent graft creatures, and he and his nameless teammate romped against Kenji and Morita. Shuhei and I were an X-spell away from decking Shouta but his fliers took the table before we could find either one. Everyone had a great time and seemed to walk away with a good impression of the format and they all pored over the decks and discussed how they could have drafted differently as I headed off for dinner with Ron Foster.

If you happen to be attending Grand Prix-Phoenix this weekend you might be able to tempt some of the same players to another round of Two-Headed Giant Booster Draft. As many as 10 players from Japan will be in attendance this weekend, including most of the players from my draft.

Ken-ichi Fujita, a veteran of Japanese Nationals.One player who will not be attending is Ken-ichi Fujita. Fujita, who won Grand Prix-Tokyo way back in 1997, played in his 11th straight Japanese Nationals this past weekend – pretty much the only tournament he still plays in, although he does still play Magic for fun with his friends. In fact, he was urging Akira Asahara to concede in the final round of the Swiss so they could go play some fun games with Masashiro Kuroda. I had been hoping to do a feature with Fujita about all the Standard decks he had played over the course of the 11 years, but Fujita laughed at the prospect of remembering all the decks he had played.

He assured me that all 11 decks were capable of producing black mana – even the deck from the first Japanese Nationals tournament which was a Fourth Edition Sealed Deck single-elimination tournament.

He stayed true to his beloved black mana this past weekend. He played an Osaka-area deck that was dubbed The Real Reanimator. The best finisher with the deck was Osamu Fujita in 26th place. The deck takes the reanimation theme from Solar Flare and stretches it all they way throughout the deck with more card drawing and 10 reanimation spells. If you were looking to give your Ideas Unbound a shot at making it in Standard before they rotate out with Time Spiral, this is the deck for you.

Ken'ichi Fujita

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Solar Flare, courtesy of Hiroaki Yamakawa, Naoki Shimizu, and Takahiro Suzuki.One of the highlights of the tournament for me was meeting Top 8 competitors Naoki Shimizu and Takahiro Suzuki. They were two of the players responsible for the design and development of the deck you know as Solar Flare. Suzuki was also the designer of the famous GhaziGlare deck that stormed Worlds last year.

If you are looking for two rising stars in Japanese Magic circles, these two players are definitely worth keeping an eye on. Naoki could be a really interesting figure in the game if he steps up to the professional level of play. In addition to being able to speak excellent English, the Tokyo University student is also conversant in French. If he could only learn Dutch…

Hall of Fame Ballot

This was really hard for me to figure out … sort of. I know that there has been a lot of emphasis put on a variety of statistics for Hall of Fame enshrinement but I am still impressed by five Pro Tour Top 8s. I appreciate median finish, peak median finish, adjusted dollars, length of career, contributions to the game, and just about everything else that has been bandied about when looking at player's careers. But we are talking about the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Top 16 finishes don't make you famous, Sundays do.

The first three votes I would cast were never in doubt for me, with two of them repeat votes from last year.

Rob and Dave could be joining fellow YMGer Darwin Kastle in the Hall of Fame.Dave Humpherys
Scott Johns
Rob Dougherty

These three guys have it all covered. They all have five Sundays and one win each. Dave's career numbers are just nutty and I was shocked that he missed the Hall last year. Rob and Scott not only have the stats but have pretty impressive contributions to the game. I didn't vote for Scott last year taking the coward's way out by justifying that he and Alan Comer were working for Wizards of the Coast and could not take advantage of the Level 3 status. Alan showed us how quickly that could change, and even if Scott works at Wizards for the next 20 years he still deserves to have his accomplishments and contributions enshrined in the Hall.

Just to give you an idea of how rare the air is in five Pro Tour Top 8 territory; my next candidate did not reach that number during his stellar career. Actually no one else could – those are the last three HoF eligible players with that many Sundays. Even at a ‘measly' four Pro Tour Top 8s, my next vote was a no-brainer.

Bob Maher, Jr.

Bob was one of the most exceptional Magic players I have ever had to the privilege to watch. He is the kind of player who makes people better just by watching him. A lot has been made about Bob's suspension for actions that took place but I have rarely seen met a player who wants to win fairly as much as Bob did. The man who played on the Pro Tour was clearly a changed one from the boy whose actions hopefully will not keep him from this much-deserved honor.

I remember playing one game against Bob at Grand Prix-Philadelphia and I was contemplating a play. Bob read me like a badly written strategy guide and shook his head. “Don't do that…that means you lose on my turn.” And he was right. Whenever I think of Bob, I think of someone whose passion to win was tempered by his desire to play a good game – and was just that much better than everyone else that he could afford to play that way.

My first four votes were easy but the last one that stymied me. There were so many players who I could not only justify voting for but that I wanted to see standing on the dais in Paris sporting some shiny new hardware. In the end there was no one I wanted to see up there more than Steve O.

Steve OMS was integral in shaping the New York Magic scene.Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz

Both Randy Buehler and Mike Flores have written eloquent passages about why Steve should be in the Hall of Fame but my reasons are much more personal. Without Steve OMS, the New York Magic scene would never have been the nexus of professional Magic that it became. In addition to being integral to the formation and success of both Neutral Ground and Gray Matter Conventions, Steve made everyone around him better. He played the game with as much integrity and passion as anyone I have ever met in the decade-plus I have been involved with Magic. On top of that he was simply the best Limited player in the world for several years.

The deadline for committee members to turn in their ballots was August 31, so the die has been cast. Check back in this space next week when I announce the five newest members of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame.

Singapore Nationals

Junwei Hei, another one of my well-placed coverage sources, brought me the skinny on Singapore Nationals, and now I share it with you. Here's a metagame breakdown, followed by the Top 8 decklists. Congratulations to National Champion Alvin Tan!

Deck Number
Snakes 12
Heartbeat 9
Solar Flare 9
Zoo 9
Hand-in-Hand 8
Izzetron 5
Magnivore 5
Ghost Husk 3
Boros Deck Wins 2
Erayo 2
Greater Good 2
Gruul Aggro 2
UG Control 2
Satanic Sligh 2
GhaziGlare 2
Other 8
Total: 82

Alvin Tan - 2006 Singapore National Champion

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Kok Seng Ong - 2006 Singapore National Finalist

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Chang Chua – 2006 Singapore National Team Member

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Jack Tan - 2006 Singapore National Team Alternate

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Qun Zhang - Quarterfinalist

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Milton Lin - Quarterfinalist

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Ralph Tay - Quarterfinalist

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Ding Yuan Leong - Quarterfinalist

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September Spoils

Just in time for heading back to school, September Friday Night Magic gives you a special foil-y treat. Click here to reveal.

Find a participating Friday Night Magic store near you and go play!

Firestarter: Friday Night Lights

Now that the summer's coming to a close, I know I will be heading to Neutral Ground in an attempt to win one of those foil Astral Slides for my favorite deck – Eternal Slide – with Extended looming in the coming year. What cards would you guys like to see given away in a bright and shiny version? Go to the forums and plead your case.

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