It was a pretty exciting Nationals season with France's freshly minted Hall of Famer Olivier Ruel, American juggernaut Paul Cheon, and the Netherlands 2006 World Team Champion Robert Van Medevoort all earning spots on their National teams. Despite these impressive players racking up Pro Points and opportunities to fight for national pride at Worlds no team is more exciting than the one fielded by Japan and captained by certain future Hall of Famer Masashi Oiso.
When you look into the future at the year-by-year Hall of Fame eligibility of players who have crossed the 100-point threshold there are only a few that you know are "mortal locks" to be inducted no matter how the voting may change. Just like Jon, Bob, and Kai, there are certain players who demand your attention. While he may not have been the first Japanese player to make a Pro Tour Top 8 or the first to win a Pro Tour, Oiso was the player that people pointed to in the early part of this decade and realized that Japan was going to be a major Magical force on the Pro Tour for a long time.
While the Hall of Fame class of 2012 has swelled to a whopping nine players, when the Hall was first announced Oiso was his year's lone potential candidate for induction. Masashi has always let his excellence speak for itself and has never been the international ambassador that players like Shuhei Nakamura and Kenji Tsumura have become or a showman like Tomoharu Saito. That is why people were so surprised when the six-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor guaranteed a return to victory for the Japanese National team at this year's World Championship.
After a Japanese team that featured Oiso won the event in 2005 the title has traveled around the globe to the Netherlands and Switzerland in the past two years. Now Oiso is promising that he will return the title to Japan. With the help of Bill Stark, Keita Mori, and the inimitable Ron Foster I was able to arrange an interview with arguably one of the game's greatest players as he is about to dive back into the world of competitive Magic after stepping away for awhile to further his education.
BDM: Congratulations on winning the National Championship! Before this one, how many times have you been in the Top 8 or on the National Team? Tell us how you feel to win the title.
Oiso: This is my second Top 8 at Nationals. The last time, I came in 3rd, which earned me a place on the National Team, which won the 2005 Team Championship.
I've been traveling around the world playing Magic since the 2002-3 season, but a title eluded me. My only win came at "that" Grand Prix-Boston. My ongoing goal is to win a Pro Tour, but I feel that winning Japan Nationals, arguably one of the highest level events in the world, is almost as good.
BDM: I hear you are predicting—maybe declaring is a better word—that Japan will win the Team Championship at Worlds this year. How serious is that prediction? Why do you think Japan can take the trophy back this year, and what would doing so mean to you?
Oiso: As a representative of Japan, which is now one of the top countries for Magic in the world, I would be negligent in my duty were I not to go for the win 100%. What's more, my teammates this year are every bit as talented and reliable as those who were with me in 2005 on the champion team. We're already friends with each other, which will make practicing easy.
Making it to the Team Day at Worlds is a tough mountain to climb in the first place, so winning it a second time would be an extremely noteworthy accomplishment. Also, looking ahead to next year's Pro Tours, I wouldn't say no to the extra Pro Points.
BDM: What is the level of this year's Team Japan? Who's on the team, and how good are they?
Oiso: Yuuya Watanabe is the King of Standard. The fact that he is the current Rookie of the Year should be more than enough proof of his talent. Akihiro Takakuwa is a madman. His Constructed decks are always on target for the metagame, and are something that only a genius could come up with.
BDM: You've probably been asked this plenty of times before, but how did you start playing Magic?
Oiso: I first picked up the game about 10 years ago, right when Tempest came out. At first, I just played with my friends, but I got into booster draft during the Masques block, and then I just got sucked in.
BDM: When did you first seriously start playing Magic as a professional and what made you decide to go that route?
Oiso: When I was in high school, there was a player who had experience on the Pro Tour—his name was Nada—who came to the same shop I did. I got interested in the Pro Tour by listening to his stories. To be honest, though, more than prize money or being a Pro, I was interested in traveling abroad and playing Magic with people from different countries. That's what attracted me to the Pro Tour. I started making the rounds of the qualifier circuit, but the first time I got an invite was for Pro Tour-Boston, the same year I became Rookie of the Year. (How lucky!)
BDM: What was your first Pro Tour Top 8? What do you remember about that event?
Oiso: It was at Pro Tour-Yokohama 2003. The Rookie of the Year race was really close that year, and I remember playing as best I could, not wanting to lose to Craig Krempels. Craig was on the cusp for Top 8, and I didn't want to let him out of my sight, so I fought and fought to make it into the Top 8 as well. I remember when they announced the Top 8, I was shocked less by the fact that I had made it in than that Craig had lost out on tiebreakers.
BDM: Do you have any advice for the next generation, the people trying to succeed on the Pro Tour today? What do you think is the easiest, the best way to improve one's game?
Oiso: I think the most effective way to become a better player is to always review a game that you have just finished. No matter whether you get mana screwed or mana flooded, no matter how good your opponent's top deck was, every game has the potential to be won if you play perfectly. Once the game is finished, you can see what the perfect play would have been—maybe you should have bluffed an attack, or done what would normally be an unthinkable trade. From the order you play your lands, to declaring an attack with each single creature, if you are always thinking about what the best play would be, your game will improve. Even now, I always think to myself, "Kai Budde could have won" after each loss.
BDM: Will you be playing at Berlin? Will we see more of you next year?
Oiso: One way or another, I'll be at Berlin. (smiles) With the Pro Points I got from Nationals, I'm now qualified for Kyoto. If I can get enough points to reach Level 5 or higher in the Pro Club, I think I'll be able to make more Pro Tours.
BDM: This year's Team Day will be played with each team using a Legacy deck, an Extended deck, and a Standard deck. Who on Team Japan will be playing what?
Oiso: I'm the Extended man. It's one of my favorite formats, and I'll be able to leverage my experience with it. Standard is Watanabe's shtick, so he gets that deck. Legacy is a bit of a problem. Hopefully the three of us will be able to come up with something together for Takakuwa to play. (laughs)
BDM: Did you play in the Shards of Alara Prerelease Tournaments last weekend?
Oiso: I did. I'll be at the next one in Nagano as well, so if you're in the neighborhood drop by and say hi!
BDM: Of the cards from Shards you've seen so far, which one excites you the most?
Oiso: Violent Ultimatum, which I used at the Prerelease. It's a little over the top. (laughs)
BDM: Who do you think is the toughest opponent you've had to face on the Pro Tour and do you have any good stories about them?
Oiso: When I started playing on the Pro Tour, it was during Kai Budde's reign, when he was at the top of his game. I was enamored of him and his success. I got paired against him in the first draft of Pro Tour-Yokohama. I remember in one game, I got lucky and was able to play a second-turn Sparksmith. However, every time I used its ability, Kai was able to deflect it with a Giant Growth-like effect, and in the end I lost to a Dirge of the Dead. I remember that being the only time I ever played a turn-two Sparksmith, had it live throughout the entire game, yet lost.
BDM: Do you prefer Constructed or Limited over the other? If so, why?
Oiso: I love Limited! I have the most fun playing when I'm trying to decide what to pick in a draft. It's always fun if you can build a strong deck, and it's even more fun if you can win with a deck that you weren't confident about. I also like Sealed a lot.
BDM: What color(s) do you like, and why?
Oiso: I like black, even if I haven't used it much lately. I like thinking about the best way to use tricky power cards, like Spoils of the Vault.
BDM: What is your favorite deck of all time?
Oiso: The Mind's Desire deck. It's always interesting to play, as it never wins quite the same way each time. There's a lot of thinking involved in playing it—do you go for the library-out win condition, do you drain their life...So much to decide!
BDM: What is your favorite card of all time?
Oiso: Vampiric Tutor. It's the most representative black card, and it fits into any deck—control, combo, even aggro. It lets you do what you want to when you want to. The best tutor evar!
- Five Questions: Suiting up with Raphael Levy
I have played on the Pro Tour a handful of times over the years. The first time I qualified was early on in the process — for the second Pro Tour–Los Angeles — and I don't recall what I wore or how I looked. I am sure I was nervous and excited but I definitely did not expect it would take me another four or five years to return to that level of competition. When I had the opportunity to play at Pro Tour-New York, alongside teammates Eric Kesselman and Brook North, I understood what a rare opportunity I was being given to play the game on its highest level—against legendary end bosses like Marco Blume, Gary Wise, and Aaron Forsythe (just a few of the opponents that leap to my increasingly cluttered mind). I prepared seriously for the event, working with the successful New York area players on the challenging Team Sealed and Team Rochester draft formats, but I also wanted to dress seriously and as such wore a jacket and tie for the event.
I am not so much for ties these days—although I still have a pretty nice collection of them from my younger times—but I do get the opportunity to wear a suit each year at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and almost always wear a jacket when working at the Pro Tour. I take Magic pretty seriously—it has been a huge part of my life for a decade and a half. When I see myself on camera wearing something sloppy I don't feel like I am representing myself or the game of Magic very well. I mention all of this in preamble to an event Raphael Levy is trying to initiate for the upcoming Pro Tour in Berlin. When I logged on to Facebook recently—to buff and heal my friends in Tiny Adventures of course—I was greeted by an invitation from the French Hall of Famer and player's advocate to join the group Suit Up in Berlin. From the group's description:
Help make Pro Tour-Berlin the best event of all time!
Magic is an awesome game, but we all know that. However, the players do not exactly give the best image of the game. Lousy T-shirts, baseball caps and all kinds of old school "cool" stuff have been seen all over the Pro Tour for too long.
Let us try to give the Pro Tour a new look!
Imagine if all the players, or at least a majority of players, wore suits; the game would look so much more serious, the tournament like a real professional event.
On the 31st of October, in Berlin, on the first day of the Pro Tour, let us all wear a suit! It does not need to be a very fancy suit. A nice shirt and jacket should do it.
If you like this idea, and would like to take part in it, bring and wear a suit at the tournament. It would be great to have all the players playing in the Pro Tour wear one. But if you are planning to come as a spectator, or play in the side events, you are welcome to do so as well.
I quickly chatted Raph up for Five Questions about his attempt to dress up the Pro Tour.
1: Where did the idea for Suit Up in Berlin come from?
Raph: I first played in a suit on the day of my Hall of Fame induction and I wore it again in Dallas for the GP. I liked the feeling of actually being dressed up for a tournament. The game suddenly looks more serious and professional when you sit down at the table and take off your jacket. Players look like gentlemen and not like kids anymore (I have yet to see a girl wearing a suit at the tournament, but I'm sure the ladies qualified for the PT will find something nice to wear!). Players in suits always have this kind of awe around them.
2: What do you hope to accomplish with this movement?
Raph: It feels like pro players are being left out these days. Fewer Pro Tours, no new Pro Player Card, less of everything... Why should only Wizards of the Coast try to improve the events and the game itself? What if we could add a little value to the tournaments? Maybe looking good at one event can make the people who see Magic as a childish card game see it differently. I can't remember seeing a pro chess player wearing a baseball cap. Poker is for "bad boys", and it doesn't matter how they are dressed. I believe Magic needs a new face, and that could help. And it would indeed be awesome!
3: Do you worry that having the day of the event be on Halloween that it will dilute some of the impact? Or will it make people more likely to participate?
Raph: I didn't even realize it would be on Halloween. To Europeans, Halloween is more about monsters and ghosts. I would not have made the connection between Halloween and Magic players wearing suits had you not told me about it. So I don't really think it will be an issue at all.
4: What player would you be the most surprised to see in a suit? Least surprised?
Raph: I expect the people I told about the project and who said they would do it to keep their words. I expect the players least likely to have access to the information to not wear a suit. The two reasons I see for a players not to wear a suit are: 1: They are afraid to be alone wearing one or looking "ridiculous"—that will not be the case! or 2: They don't actually own a suit. In that case, there are many places where you can buy a cheap one. I'm quite sure you'll have a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah coming up pretty soon, so you will be using it again!
5: I never thought I would have the opportunity to ask such a question about a Magic tournament but: Who will you be wearing in Berlin? More importantly who will you be working with to prepare for the actual tournament?
Raph: I'm not sure yet. So many good names for this one occasion... I will prepare with Geoffrey Siron, like in the good old times! We often ended up with winning decks and I believe we can pull it out once again.
- Double Foil Goodness
November's Friday Night Magic foil is an Extended staple that I have seen imprinted with everything from Counterspell to Lightning Helix. The so-called "stick" of No-Stick decks, Isochron Scepter is what's in store for you if you head to your local shop next month to take part in FNM. My personal favorite use for the Scepter was in the early days of Affinity when players would imprint Shrapnel Blast to throw land after land in an effort to eat 25% of their opponent's life total each turn, with the last five often coming from the Scepter itself being sacrificed.
Shards of Alara Launch Parties are this weekend, October 3-5, at stores worldwide, and you won’t want to miss them. Get your chance to buy Shards of Alara cards as soon as they go on sale, play the new set with your friends, and get a foil, alternate-art Ajani Vengeant promo card!