28 countries held their Nationals this weekend, including the mighty nation of Japan. On Saturday, 811 players arrived at the Twin Messe in Shizuoka for their shot at eternal stardom. On Sunday, only one player departed with a shiny trophy.
Before this tournament, there were many mysteries unsolved. Who was the top Pro Point earner/Team Captain? Who would be crowned the National Champion? Who were the three members who formed Team Japan?
Thankfully, we have answers to all those questions now. Let's have a quick recap of the weekend, shall we?
The Top 8 of Japan Nationals 2018!
Saying Goodbye To The Reigning National Champion
Kenta Harane considered himself to be a player from the "new generation". After learning how to play Magic for just a few months, he finished in 3rd place at Grand Prix Kyoto 2015. He made the Top 4 at Grand Prix Kyoto 2016 just a year later, and then the Top 8 at Grand Prix Singapore 2017.
Kenta Harane, the reigning National Champion, will be stepping down this weekend as we crown a new Champion.
These strong showings, coupled with a 12th place finish at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, earned him enough Pro Points to hit Gold level, allowing him to fulfill his dreams of playing Magic professionally. Keeping up with his winning streak, he took down last year's Japan Nationals by dispatching Pro Tour Hall of Famer Shota Yasooka in the finals.
And then, he made the Top 8 again this year!
"It's hard to believe that I only played Magic for three years before I won Nationals. Including this year, that's only four years. I'm incredibly fortunate," Harane professed.
How did a relative-unknown manage this unlikely ascension?
Harane attributed his success to hard work and good friends. He feels that there is a lot of talent within the Japanese community and many of them are much better players than he was. By practicing as much as he could with as many people as he could gather, Harane learned a lot about Magic at an accelerated pace.
Harane always has a keen sense and firm grasp of concepts and is never afraid to ask and learn.
"I was about 25 years old then. While I don't consider myself a young boy, I am certainly a young Magic player, with lots to learn. I feel that to increase the standard of the Japanese Magic scene, the entry of new blood is essential. As with many other things in life, the older generation will move on to pursue other things in life, creating new opportunities for new players to rise to the top. I certainly hope to see more young players around, to ensure the prosperity of the future Japanese generations."
Throughout this weekend, Harane gained a lot of attention as the reigning National Champion and was heavily featured at the Feature Match tables. He started out with one bye and finished Day 1 in 10th place, with a very respectable 7-1 record. He kept his dominance and was in contention for the Top 8 all throughout Day 2. After winning Round 13, he entered the Top 8 in the 5th seed and dispatched Takashi Boku in the semifinals.
However, his journey to become a repeat champion fell short as he succumbed in the semifinals. Kenta Harane tried his very best to defend his title, and although he failed to advance to the finals, he is confident that this year's Japanese team will turn out to be great, just like every other year.
(11) Ken Yukuhiro, Captain of Japan!
Allaying fears that (19) Yuuya Watanabe might make the National Team and win Grand Prix Hong Kong next week, (11) Ken Yukuhiro took matters into his own hands. Wanting to eliminate all possibilities of an upset, Yukuhiro decided he should just try to win Nationals himself.
Not only did he make the Top 8, but he also dispatched Watanabe in the semifinals to secure captaincy. With this quarterfinal victory, Yukuhiro was guaranteed a trip to the World Magic Cup, whether or not Watanabe won Grand Prix Hong Kong next week. The single Pro Point which Yukuhiro gained put Watanabe entirely out of reach.
Ken Yukuhiro cemented his spot at the World Magic Cup with his stellar performance all year.
Going 8-0 in Day 1, he was one of three undefeated players. Then, after winning his first two rounds in Day 2, he was the only 10-0 player left standing. After navigating past the next few rounds, he found himself locked for the Top 8. Needing to win only one Pro Point this weekend to secure his captaincy spot, that was exactly what he did.
Most importantly, he assembled one of the most exciting draft decks in Core Set 2019 Booster Draft, a five-color Dragons deck featuring Dragon's Hoard, Arcades, the Strategist, two Sparktongue Dragons, and Volcanic Dragon. One game, he even drew two cards from double Wall of Mist and then attacking with both of them. In Paul Cheon's words, those were "strictly superior Wall of Omens" when combined with Arcades, the Strategist. Oh, he also had Banefire, which I hear is a rather good card.
The audience marveled as he piloted his masterpiece under the bright lights, even impressing Marshall Sutcliffe who had "never seen two counters on Dragon's Hoard" with a duo of "three-for-one Sparktongue Dragons. As we bid goodbye to Core Set 2019 Limited and welcome Guilds of Ravnica, let's commemorate one of the greatest decks to have ever seen the light of day, drafted by one of the best players in the world.
Watanabe had nothing but praise for his comrade as he extended his hand in gracious defeat. Not only was Yukuhiro the only Japanese player at the World Championship, but he was also going to the World Magic Cup, and for the first timein years, Watanabe found himself unqualified for either of these tournaments. "Yukuhiro is the best player in Japan right now."
When a legendary player such as Watanabe makes a bold statement like that, it was impossible to refute.
Meet Team Japan
After sixteen rounds of intense competition, it was Masahide Moriyama who remained the last man standing. Hoisting the trophy and earning the title of National Champion for himself, Moriyama will also represent Japan at the upcoming World Magic Cup in Barcelona. The finalist, Naoya Nanba, also earned a spot on the team as the finalist of Japan Nationals 2018. This stellar performance came just six weeks after he made the Top 8 at Grand Prix Chiba.
The two will be accompanied by Japan's top Pro Point earner, 11th-ranked Ken Yukuhiro. Yukuhiro dominated the tournament by going 10-0 and swooping into the Top 8. In the quarterfinals, he even had to defeat Yuuya Watanabe to advance to secure the captaincy slot with absolute certainty.
(From left) Naoya Nanba, Ken Yukuhiro, and Masahide Moriyama
- Top Pro Point earner of Japan: Ken Yukuhiro
- Japan Nationals 2018 - Champion: Masahide Moriyama
- Japan Nationals 2018 - Finalist: Naoya Nanba
While it is impossible to better their previous record - after all, they did win World Magic Cup 2017 - we believe that this team, with the weight on their shoulders, will strive to do its very best to do Japan proud.
Masahide Moriya, the 2018 Japan National Champion