Japan Nationals is in the books! The Japan National Team was set and the Japan National Champion was crowned. After fifteen rounds of intense competition, what were the top stories which defined this amazing weekend?
A Photo Essay of Japan Nationals
Napoleon once said. "A good sketch is better than a long speech." If you'd like a quick feel of how Japan National was like, let's start you off with some pictures!
619 players attended Japan Nationals 2017, making it the largest Japan Nationals in Magic history. Players will play six Standard Constructed rounds and six Booster Draft rounds before the Top 8 cut. The top two finishers qualify for the World Magic Cup, while the winner walks home with the coveted title of Japan National Champion.
Pro Tour Champion Tomohiro Kaji & Associate BrandManager Hiromi Iwasaki check in with Rintaro Funabiki after he won Round 1. Aged 13, Funabiki is the youngest competitor at Japan Nationals.
The tough battles started as early as Round 2 for even the best players in the room. Early in the day, we saw Pro Tour Hall of Famers Kenji Tsumura and Shuhei Nakamura paired against each other in an Energy mirror match.
Nationals is an important event where even the most accomplished of veterans cannot pass up a shot at being the National Champion or qualifying for the World Magic Cup. Pro Tour Kobe 2004 Champion Masashiro Kuroda was sighted having a great time winning with White-Green Ramp! He was one of 41 4-0 players by the end of Round 4.
For the comfort of all attendees, a catering service is usually provided at major Japanese events. Rich Hagon poked fun at the standee, causing Rashad Miller and myself to chuckle. "You can only eat here? Oh no, we're going to die in the booth."
This is face you make when your God-Pharaoh's Gift gets Dispossessed. Naturally, Yuuki Ishikawa lost his match in Round 4 proceeded to the Booster Draft rounds with a hilarious frown.
As the rounds progressed, the titans quickly rose to the top. Picture is Pod 2 of Draft 1, where Kazuyuki Takimura, Kentaro Yamamoto, Riku Kumagai, Yuuya Watanabe, and Keita Kawasaki will be pitted against one another.
You know that you're in good shape when you've got a nice White-Black Zombies base before even heading to Pack Three!
Shota Yasooka lost out against Yuuya Watanabe in the race to become Japan Team Captain. However, he shrugged it off by steamrolling through the Swiss Rounds to make the Top 8.
Shota Yasooka, Ryoichi Tamada, Yuki Matsumoto, and Riku Kumagai are the the four players to take an intentional draw and lock up a spot in the Top 8. Four other win-and-in matches will determine who joins them.
Walking Down the Nationals Memory Lane
The previous Nationals took place in 2011. From 2012 to 2016, it was replaced by World Magic Cup Qualifiers. As you know, in 2017, Nationals has made a triumphant return. What did the community feel about this change? How were things different back then, and how are things now?
To get a few perspectives, we've decided to speak to a judge, a coverage commentator, as well as a pro player. Whether you're a new or old player, I invite you to take a stroll down memory lane with me.
Judge: Kensaku Otake
Kensaku Otake had been a Level 2 judge and scorekeeper. As one who frequented Premier Events, Otake was certainly no stranger to Nationals. In fact, during the previous Japan Nationals in 2011, he judged in the main event.
"I think the atmosphere today is more light-hearted than years ago. Since there were many qualified players - the invite list contained over 3000 players - a large majority of players who wished to participate in Nationals could do so. Many casual players even worked hard all year around to accumulate Planeswalker Points because their goal was to attend Nationals. Winning or losing was not important to many of these players. It was the experience of participation which kept them motivated and excited."
Well, the only thing that is constant is change, right? Organized Play has constantly evolved through the ages and everyone initiative has its pros and cons. Otake felt that today's system allowed more players to compete for the National Champion title, but he misses certain aspects of older Nationals.
"We used to have Rochester Draft at Nationals. It is a discontinued format because I believe it was too challenging, both strategically and logistically. As a judge, I loved watching the flow of the Rochester Draft and it is something that we'll never see again. Also, I really like Nationals over World Magic Cup Qualifiers because it features two formats instead of only one. And since everyone is so excited about Nationals, maybe we can make it a three-day event where everyone can come and get together."
Coverage Commentator: Tsuyoshi Fujita
Tsuyoshi Fujita won Japan Nationals in 2004, solidifying himself as one of Japan's greats. After that, he continued to excel in the professional scene and became the first Japanese player to be elected into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
After playing in over 50 Pro Tours, he joined the ranks of the Japanese coverage team as a fixture and can be seen providing commentary at almost all Japanese official broadcasts. It's been 13 years since Fujita won Japan Nationals and today, his passion for Magic lives on in the commentary booth. As a grizzled veteran who's been there and done that, does he have anything to reminiscence about?
"I guess I'd like to share a quick story from the 2004 Nationals. At that time, I was on the same deck as my friend Yoshitaka Nakano and we made the Top 8 together. Nakano lost 0-3 in his quarterfinals and his opponent advanced to the semifinals, where I played him. I won 3-0 despite being on the exact same 75 cards. Many players were surprised since the matchup was the same, and yet the results were totally opposite. I believe it was due to the fact that the opponent played well in the quarterfinals, but made mistakes against me. It didn't mean that Nakano was the worse player. Nakano later made the Top 8 of the 2007 World Championship, proving that he was no slouch. I think the key takeaway is that life is always about being at the right place at the right time."
His first of two Nationals Top 8s came in July 1998, where he made it to the Top 4. That qualified him for the World Championships in Seattle and that was also his Pro Tour debut. Not only was Nationals his gateway to the Pro Tour, it was also his path to a bigger destiny.
"I miss the days when we had Nationals Qualifiers. There is a great sense of accomplishment when you play a tournament and make the Top 4 or Top 8 in order to qualify for Nationals. I remember myself being very happy when qualified for Nationals that way. Today, it is not that difficult to qualify for Nationals and I believe that changes the dynamics of this tournament."
He also thought that the barrier to enter Nationals should be set higher, because he believed that Nationals was an important tournament for selecting the best players in the country to represent the nation. As they say, you should never have to apologize for raising your standards. People who really want to make the National Team will rise up against any hurdle, insurmountable as it may see.
Pro Player: Tomoharu Saito
"I'm really glad to see Nationals coming back. It is a big event for us and everyone is really excited about it. We are passionate about our own country and there is no other event that we feel so strongly about."
As one of the most important pillars of the Japanese community, he has been through a lot in the last couple of decades. As someone who has seen it all, Saito has probably felt more grief, loss, and pain than most Magic players but because of what he's been through, he's also had more happiness, joy, success, and accomplishment than most. He recalls his first taste of bittersweet success from over eighteen years ago.
"When I was sixteen, I participated in my first Nationals Qualifiers. I wonder if it was the first time in my life where I dreamed of becoming the best player in Japan and in the world. Qualifying for Nationals was such an inspiring and touching moment, because anyone who has tried would know that is isn't easy. That year, I made the Top 8 of Nationals but I lost to Katsuhiro Mori, who eventually won the whole tournament."
Thereafter, he embarked on a relentless chase for greater heights and a commoner simply cannot imagine the blood, sweat, and tears along the way. Despite having won a Pro Tour, crowned Player of the Year, and winning more Grand Prix than most players have Top 8s, he still had unfinished business in the dark chasms of his heart.
"It is not something I'm happy to say out loud but to this day, it pains me that have never been the Japan National Champion and neither have I been part of any Japan National Team. I guess that's why I was really happy that Nationals is back, so that I can continue fulfilling my unfulfilled dreams."
It has been five years since the last Nationals. Did Saito have anything to say about the reinstatement of this tournament?
"Years ago, a lot of people say that Japan Nationals was one of the hardest tournaments in the world. I agree with that. It was not easy to qualify because there were Nationals Qualifiers and Regionals Qualifiers. Anyone who qualified was a great player and that's also why Japan has had a lot of previous success at World Championships. I hope I can be part of that greatness one day."
What's Better Than a Third Glorybringer?
We all know that Glorybringer's a great card, right? Aside from being a Limited powerhouse, it also saw heavy play in an assortment of Standard decks and it was also included in Ken Yukuhiro's Mardu home brew. However, his masterpiece turned upon him in the most crucial juncture of the tournament, resulting in one of the biggest heartbreaks of the weekend.
During Round 12, the final Swiss round, Yukuhiro found himself in a great position to win Game 3 against Takesi Hattori. At that time, he was holding 3 Glorybringers but had only four lands in play. He drew a spell, and played it. The next turn, he drew another spell, and then played it again. Then, that happened a third time. Barely staying alive, he drew his next card to reveal...
... his fourth Glorybringer. Which, he couldn't cast, of course.
Thereafter, he proceeded to draw four more nonland cards and eventually lost the rubber game with the full playset in his hand. To add insult to injury, when Hattori summoned Thought-Knot Seer at the edge of Yukuhiro's demise, Yukuhiro "embarrassingly" plopped the quad of Dragons onto the table. For eight turns, he was holding onto nothing except three or four Glorybringers, as if mocking him. Despite Yukuhiro's stellar run at the beginning, he stumbled on his fifth mana for eight turns right at the final moment. The moral the story is that too much of a good thing can be detrimental.
What's better than a Glorybringer? A second one.
And what's better than a second Glorybringer? A third perhaps?
And what's better than the third or the fourth Glorybringer?
Yukuhiro's answer would undoubtedly be "a fifth land".
Nonetheless, here's Yukuhiro's decklist for your viewing pleasure. He's won our heart with this creation at the very least!
A Super Stacked Top 8
I try to steer clear of sensationalistic claims but wouldn't you also agree that this weekend's Top 8 goes down in history as one of the most stacked ever?
(Clockwise from top left) Yuki Matsumoto, Yuuya Watanabe, Yuuta Hirosawa, Takesi Hattori, Riku Kumagai, Kenta Harane, Ryoichi Tamada, and Shota Yasooka!
Yuuya Watanabe was already qualified for the World Magic Cup as the Team Captain. Shota Yasooka lost his spot to Watanabe on tiebreakers but decided it wasn't too difficult to crack the Top 8 anyway. Ryoichi Tamada's placed second at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, and has six Grand Prix Top 8s with a win in Manila earlier this year.
Yuki Matsumoto won Grand Prix Chiba 2015, a tournament with over 3500 players, while Riku Kumagai was also a champion himself, taking down Grand Prix Tokyo 2016. Kenta Harane was a Gold Pro who most recently finished 12th at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in Kyoto, while Yuuta Hirosawa was a Silver Pro who placed Top 32 in the same event! As for Takesi Hattori, he might not be a household name just yet, but he was floating atop the standings all weekend. All things considered, he did a really great job walking among titans and navigating past them!
Meet the 2017 Japan National Team and National Champion!
When the 2016 - 17 season ended, Yuuya Watanabe and Shota Yasooka were separated by the narrowest of tiebreak margins. Hall of Famer Watanabe would lead the Japanese Team at the World Magic Cup in Nice, France. Hall of Famer, Yasooka would have to take his chance in the Japanese National Championships - traditionally one of the toughest tournaments to win in the world.
Today, the two friends, rivals, and countrymen were separated once again, by the narrowest of margins.
Knowing that a Japanese team featuring Yasooka would be a huge plus to their nation's chances at the World Magic Cup, Watanabe stood aside at the penultimate hurdle, leaving the way clear for Yasooka to reach the final where he would now await the winner of Kenta Harane and Takesi Hattori. Their semifinal match would now complete the Japanese lineup for the World Magic Cup alongside two of the most decorated and dedicated professional players the game has ever known.
When the dust settled, it was Harane who emerged victorious but his work was not done just yet. There was still the finals match to go! In three epic games, he took down Yasooka on the back of The Scarab God, a trump which proved effective in the Energy mirror.
Regardless, the line-up of Watanabe, Yasooka, and National Champion Harane gave the entire Japanese community great hope at the upcoming World Magic Cup. Once again, congratulations to Yasooka for making the team and also Harane for winning it all!
Japan National Team 2017: Kenta Harane, Yuuya Watanabe, and Shota Yasooka.
Congratulations to Kenta Harane, the 2017 Japan National Champion!