Sitting 7th in the Top 25 Player Rankings, Japan's Yuuya Watanabe is riding high. Not only is he the captain of Team Japan for the World Magic Cup, but he'll be battling it out solo at the exclusive World Championships. The Grand Prix circuit is his bread and butter, however. His resume boasts a staggering GP wins, the kind of relentless excellence that will earn you two Player of the Year Titles.
There would be no easy rides here, however, as opposite him sat Kuo Tzu-Ching. Best known as the man who led Chinese Taipei to a spectacular Worlds victory, Kuo is a member of APAC powerhouse Team MTG Mint Card. His last season wasn't quite up to the tall standards he's set for himself, and he's looking to get back on top in 2014-2015.
Watanabe is playing the sensation of Grand Prix Boston-Worcestor, Rock with White. Kuo is betting on a dark horse this weekend: Scapeshift.
Watanabe's eyebrows went up when he opened the first game with Thoughtseize. He hadn't expected Scapeshift. Kuo's hand was two land, two Search for Tomorrow, Quicken, Remand, and Izzet Charm. Watanabe got rid of the Remand. He got on the board with Lingering Souls while Kuo built his mana. Inquisition of Kozilek stole Snapcaster Mage, revealing Kuo's relatively weak hand. Tarmogoyf joined the party as a 4/5. Kuo was under heavy fire.
Kuo searched out another land and rigged the top cards of his deck with Halimar Depths. Watanabe's attack dropped him to eight, and the flashback on Lingering Souls gave him lethal on board. Unfortunately for him, Kuo had found Scapeshift, and the pain from Watanabe's lands had left him south of 18. Kuo spilled out six mountains and a Valakut from his deck, and Watanabe scooped.
Kuo 1 - Watanabe 0
Watanabe had to send back his opening seven. Kuo considered doing the same, but chose to stand pat. Watanabe's six were better, but still not acceptable. He stayed on five, but he wasn't happy about what he saw: Four land and a Noble Hierarch. He missed on his draw step and had to content himself with an attack for one and a Treetop Village. He hit for four on the following turn while Kuo built up his mana with Sakura-Tribe Elder. Inquisition of Kozilek was stopped by Cryptic Command, and Kuo took another four.
So Watanabe had a clock, of sorts, but nothing in the way of disruption. Kuo was enjoying the luxury of operating with a full grip. He had Remand for Liliana, and then Snapcaster Mage (targetting Cryptic Command) in response to Inquisition of Kozilek the following turn, revealing the kill combo primed in his hand. Watanabe feigned like he had some way to stop it, but Kuo simply untapped, played Valakut from his hand, and then Scapeshifted for six mountains. Kaboom.
Kuo Tzu-Ching defeats Yuuya Watanabe 2-0
I managed to snag both players after the match for a quick insight into deck choice. Watanabe laughed when I asked him, saying that he hadn't had much time to prepare. The Rock with White deck has performed well, and its strong disruption package made it a natural choice for him.
Kuo said that he picked up Scapeshift this weekend precisely because it was under the radar. It has the luxury of playing strong sideboarded games. "A deck like affinity, you might always win Game 1, but you know you're going to have to play against a lot of hate in sideboarded games. I think in Modern your best chance is to play a deck that won't be sideboarded against."