Japan Nationals Day 1 Highlights

Posted in Event Coverage on September 9, 2018

By Chapman Sim

The path to the World Magic Cup begins in Shizuoka with Japan Nationals. As the reigning World Magic Cup Champions, all eyes fell upon the Land of the Rising Sun to assemble yet another killer squad.

Today, 811 aspirants converged in Shizuoka for their shot to make the national team, making this tournament the largest Nationals in Magic history. Competitors will engage in seven rounds of Standard and six rounds of Booster Draft before the Top 8 cut. After the playoffs, the National Champion and the finalist will join Japan's Pro Point leader to create Team Japan.

The Largest Nationals Tournament Ever!

739 players at US Nationals was a very respectable attendance, but the passionate Japanese community of Japan broke that number.

At 811 entrants, the crowd at Japan Nationals shattered all previous records, becoming the largest Nationals tournament to have ever been held. Last year, there were “only” 619 attendees and this weekend marked a 30 percent increase! Three players out of 811 had two byes, namely (11) Ken Yukuhiro, (19) Yuuya Watanabe, and (21) Shota Yasooka. 38 other players had one bye.

The large number of attendees also resulted in the creation of 91 draft pods during the Core Set 2019 Booster Draft portion. 91 pods, drafting simultaneously, is very rarely seen even at the Pro Tour and Grand Prix level.

What does this entail for everyone at Twin Messe today? The winner of this tournament would also go down in history for being the National Champion of the largest Nationals tournament ever! What an incredible honor to go along with a title, a trophy, and a trip to the World Magic Cup in Barcelona!

Kazutaka Naide, Japan's Top PWP Earner!

The amount of Planeswalker Points earned is one of the many indications of how much Magic you've been playing. Even though Planeswalker Points do not reflect the best player, it's safe to say that the player who earned the most Planeswalker Points in a single season, was the player who played the most Magic.

Last year, the Japanese player who earned the most Planeswalker Points during the 2017-18 season, was a Silver pro by the name of Kazutaka Naide. Earning 6349 Planeswalker Points in total, that was sufficient to bump eternal road warrior Tomoharu Saito into the second place.

Kazutaka Naide earned 6349 Planeswalker Points during the 2017-18 season.

“I participated in about 16 or 18 Grand Prix this year; I can't remember exactly. I played a lot of Grand Prix in the United States, as well as in Asia. Most embarrassingly, I made Day 2 in less than half of it, but I view it as practice and experience. Also, I play tournaments every Saturday and Sunday, and that's my main form of practice."

Aide feels that even if he lost all his matches, he would never lose his energy. His little failures along the way paved the road towards improvement, and he used that as his guiding principle not only in Magic but also in life. “As long as we do our best, we can achieve good results in time to come, and you'll enjoy success at some point. The most important thing is to keep going and never give up."

Naide believes there is no substitute for hard work when it comes to achieving success.

Last year, Naide managed to chalk up over 20 Pro Points to achieve Silver level. After one season of relentless grinding, he found himself with a couple of Pro Tour invites. However, his great source of joy was the fact that his win rate was better than the year before. “I'm delighted because I won more this year than in the previous year, so that's improvement. This is an indication that my efforts in the last year produced results, no matter how small they may be." This li

All dreams can come true if we dare to pursue them. Naide has a goal to reach Gold level, even though he feels like he “isn't quite there yet." Regardless, he was looking forward to the upcoming season, which features no less than six Pro Tours. He has his eyes set on qualifying for at least a few of them and keep his aspirations of being a professional Magic player alive.

Twenty Players To Watch

Before Round 1 even kicked off, we identified twenty players and added them to our “watch list”. A combination of veterans and up-and-coming players, these esteemed players consist of the winning team at the 2017 World Magic Cup, a few representatives who made the Top 8 at Japan Nationals last year, a few Pro Tour Hall of Famers, as well as several Grand Prix Champions!

• Kenta Harane (2017 World Magic Cup Champion)

• Yuuya Watanabe (2017 World Magic Cup Champion, Pro Tour Hall of Fame)

• Shouta Yasooka (2017 World Magic Cup Champion, Pro Tour Hall of Fame)

• Takeshi Hattori (2017 Japan Nationals Top 8)

• Yuta Hirosawa (2017 Japan Nationals Top 8)

• Yuki Matsumoto (2017 Japan Nationals Top 8)

• Ken Yukuhiro (Current Japan Pro Point Leader)

• Makihito Mihara (Pro Tour Hall of Fame)

• Shuhei Nakamura (Pro Tour Hall of Fame)

• Kenji Tsumura (Pro Tour Hall of Fame)

• Kazuyuki Takimura (Pro Tour Champion)

• Ryoichi Tamada (Pro Tour Finalist)

• Yoshihiko Ikawa (Pro Tour Top 8)

• Yusuke Sasabe (Pro Tour Top 8)

• Shintaro Kurata (Pro Tour Top 16)

• Tomoharu Saito (4-time Grand Prix Champion)

• Yuuki Ishikawa (4-time Grand Prix Champion)

• Yuta Takahashi (3-time Grand Prix Champion)

• Kentaro Yamamoto (Grand Prix Champion)

• Riku Kumagai (Grand Prix Champion)

Collectively, this table represents the archetype they brought to the tables.

Archetype #
Black-Red Aggro 7
Blue-Black Midrange 3
Black-Red Midrange 2
Turbo Fog 2
Mono-Blue Aggro 2
Blue-Red God-Pharaoh's Gift 1
Mono-Blue Storm 1
Black-Green Constrictor 1
Jeskai Control 1
Total 20

Black-Red Aggro was by far the most popular choice, with over a third of these twenty opting to run along with Bomat Courier and Hazoret the Fervent. Blue-Black Midrange, Black-Red Midrange, and Turbo Fog were expected showings, but the pair of Mono-Blue Aggro decks surprised us. Watch out, for Tempest Djinns are in the house!

How will these twenty players fare? We'll post additional updates tomorrow to let you know!

The Current Japan Pro Point Leader

As you know, the winner of this tournament will be crowned the National Champion. Together with the finalist, the two will join Japan's Pro Point leader at the World Magic Cup. Interestingly, the Pro Point leader will only be decided after Grand Prix Hong Kong - due to take place next week.

The current Pro Point leader of Japan, Ken Yukuhiro.

In the lead right now was 11th-ranked Ken Yukuhiro sitting at 60 Pro Points. Despite having a seemingly insurmountable lead, Yukuhiro was not totally safe, as he explained. "(Yuuya) Watanabe has 53, while (Shota) Yasooka has 52. Although I have a strong lead, there is still a tiny little chance things could go wrong."

Firstly, Watanabe or Yasooka would have to make the Top 4 this weekend, in order to gain any Pro Points at all. The first and second placed players at Nationals would gain 3 Pro Points each, while the third and fourth placed players at Nationals will gain 1 Pro Point each. Assuming Watanabe or Yasooka did not earn any points this weekend, Yukuhiro's spot at the World Magic Cup would be confirmed immediately.

However, you can't count those two titans out. If Watanabe did pick up at least 1 Pro Point this weekend and Yukuhiro didn't, he could still win Grand Prix Hong Kong to go up to 61 Pro Points and cause the upset. “It's Watanabe. As ridiculous as it looks, there is still a chance that he could overtake me. As I said, it's Yuuya! I don't have to worry about Yasooka that much, because he already decided not to go to Grand Prix Hong Kong."

Yukuhiro will be "sacrificing” Grand Prix Hong Kong in order to spend more time to practice for the upcoming World Championship. As the only representative from Asia Pacific, Yukuhiro hoped that he could do his region proud. “If Watanabe is going to win both Nationals and Grand Prix Hong Kong, there is nothing I can do to stop him. Watanabe-san can sometimes be truly unstoppable. For now, I wish to focus on the World Championship after Japan Nationals and I will still try my best to make the team. Just in case!"

Well, he certainly lived up to expectations and went 8-0, also drafting a 4-Color Dragons deck to 3-0 his Draft Pod. Let's take a look at this masterpiece!

Ken Yukuhiro's 5-Color Dragons

Japan Nationals 2018 - Round 6
Download Arena Decklist

The 8-0 Players

(From left) So Iwabuchi, Ryoko Kitajima, and Ken Yukuhiro

After eight rounds of Swiss, a total of three 8-0 players remain. The three players to go undefeated were (11) Ken Yukuhiro, So Iwabuchi, and Ryoko Kitajima!

With just five more rounds to go, they would need to maintain their momentum, and gain at least two or three more wins tomorrow to secure their Top 8 berth. Since we'll be seeing more of them tomorrow, we let them return home for a well-deserved rest!

Tomorrow, everyone returns for yet another pod of Core Set 2019 Booster Draft, followed by two more rounds of Standard. Then, we'll witness the birth of yet another stellar Japanese team.

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