This was Kazuaki Fujimura's second visit to a Grand Prix Top 8, the first being Grand Prix Shizuoka 2013. That time, Fujimura fell to the mighty Shota Yasooka in the Quarterfinals, so this was his first trip to the Top 4. Coincidentally, his apprentice Tomonori Hirami also made it to the Top 8 with him and both close friends have found themselves paired against each other in this bittersweet semifinals.
Hirami shared, "This is one of the happiest moments in Magic. Fujimura is my mentor and learning from him has helped me improve greatly. We prepared together for this event and I think we figured out a solid strategy."
Probably due to this reason, both their decks were of similar concept. The formula of cheap, efficient creatures and combat tricks had served them well thus far and it was the best shell to exploit the "Support" mechanic. They had plenty of way to enhance their team, such as Saddleback Lagac, Lead by Example and Shoulder to Shoulder. These spells could turn an early pair of "lowly" Grizzly Bears into formidable attackers as early as turns three to four.
Since it was a beatdown mirror match, tempo was of utmost importance. It was easy to fall behind once +1/+1 counters have been added to the opposing team, and with both colors being combat-based, there was no efficient way to come back because of White and Green's inherent lack of removal.
Will the "master" be able to defeat his "apprentice"? Let's find out!
Fujimura threatened to end the game really quickly, leading with Ondu War Cleric and Scion Summoner, before boosting both bodies with Saddleback Lagac. Hirami was not about to go down without a fight, and attempted to put up a defense with Makindi Patrol and Spawnbinder Mage.
A second Support spell, Lead by Example, further bolstered Fujimura's team and Hirami slid behind. After trading a 4/4 Eldrazi Summoner with Tajuru Pathwarden, Fujimura added a copy of his own. Isolation Zone negated it, but Hirami was down to just 2 life. A couple of hits from the Eldrazi Scion eventually did him in.
Kazuaki Fujimura quickly claims Game 1.
Tomonori Hirami 0 vs. Kazuaki Fujimura 1
Both players were unhappy with their opening hands and went down to six. It was Hirami's turn to showcase how good Support really is. Scythe Leopard, Stalking Drone and Shoulder to Shoulder is a pretty scary start on turns one through three.
Fujimura had Kor Castigator to discourage combat, but a second copy of Shoulder to Shoulder transformed both creatures into 4/4s, sufficient to get past the opposing blocker. Fujimura took the hit, falling to 10 life before he could even take his fourth turn.
Doesn't Support seem absurd in the correct deck? It certainly is very powerful!
Allied Reinforcements provided additional defense, but Hirami had a way to get past. Seer's Lantern allowed the 4/4 Stalking Drone to grow into a 5/6, which meant that Fujimura had only the option of blocking with his entire team and losing it all, or taking 4 damage. He chose the latter, dropping to 6.
Expedition Raptor turned both 2/2 Tokens into 3/3s, and Fujimura jokingly nudged Hirami's creatures away from the red zone.
"Please don't attack me anymore!"
Hirami obliged, choosing to add Tajuru Pathwarden to the board as he waited for a good card off the top of his deck. Saddleback Lagac was a godsend, and grew Scythe Leopard and Stalking Drone for the third time. After some customary chump blocking in the face of a such a dominant board position, Fujimura conceded.
Tomonori Hirami 1 vs. Kazuaki Fujimura 1
At first glance, it would seem like both their decks were mocking them, since both players were quick to take the mulligan. However, upon further inspecting their hands, it was found that they were mulliganing aggressively for a faster draw.
As mentioned earlier, it was easy to fall behind on tempo, and even missing a two-drop could be disastrous. Both players kept their six, performed their "Scrys" and they were off to the races.
Since Fujimura lost the previous game, he was able to first deploy Baloth Pup. Hirami missed his two-drop, and it would seem like he was in trouble. Or was he?
Fujimura's Oath of Nissa failed to find him a third land, and Hirami was able to capitalize. Offering Makindi Patrol to trade with Baloth Pup, he then proceeded to recruit Broodhunter Wurm and Expedition Raptor.
Tomonori Hirami counterattacks, and triumphs!
All this while, Fujimura was stuck on two lands, which was unfortunate because Oath of Nissa had made the hand very "keepable". A couple of hits later and Hirami was off to the finals!
Alas, the "master" has fallen to his "apprentice". Either way, Fujimura should be very proud of Hirami. He had done a good job raising a worthy student, and his friend was on his way to the finals.
Tomonori Hirami 2 vs. Kazuaki Fujimura 1