Grand Prix Taipei 2014 Champion Huang Hao Shan is no stranger to the Pro Tour and is one of the most well-known players in the Asia Pacific region. Recently winning the final WMCQ in Taipei, he will be part of the Chinese Taipei Team at the World Magic Cup. However, let's try to get to know Huang a little more, aside from his five Grand Prix Top 8s.
I asked him when he started to play Magic. After all, most heroes arise from the most humble beginnings. Huang fondly recalls that he learnt how to play Magic when Portal was released, the very first time that an expansion was designed specifically to introduce new players to the game.
"I was a huge fan of Panther Warriors. I mean, it had 6 power for just 5 mana. How great is that? Archangel was my favorite card back then. I was one of the lucky kids to open an angel in my first booster. The beautiful artwork of Magic cards captured my heart and I fell in love with the game instantly."
Eventually, he learned that Panther Warriors weren't as awesome as he thought. After learning the basics, he moved on to explore more advanced expansions. His first sanctioned tournament was a very memorable Prophecy prerelease event in his hometown, Taichung.
"I played only 15 lands in my Sealed deck. I theorized (wrongly) that excess lands were all useless cards to draw in the late game and I would rather play more spells instead."
Needless to say, such logic was mathematically flawed and Huang learned the hard way, mana-stalling several times that day and throwing away so many games that could have been averted by playing even one more land. However, as beginner's luck (or raw talent) would dictate, Huang managed to make the Top 8 in a field of over a hundred players despite his improperly-built deck, largely on the back of Avatar of Will.
His first experience with Constructed was during a Nationals Qualifier for Taiwanese Nationals in 1999. Quickly transforming into the Spike that he is today, he was piloting the powerful combo deck featuring Sneak Attack and Serra Avatar, supported by Grim Monolith and Gamble for speed and consistency.
Pause. I was momentarily stumped. How did a "noobcake" playing only fifteen lands in his Sealed deck quickly evolve into a hardcore Spike?
Apparently, there was a local Magic: The Gathering magazine titled Cardmania (風雲卡訊) being sold at all card shops and major bookstores all over Taiwan. It was a monthly publication akin to American counterparts like The Duelist, Inquest Gamer, Scrye and The Sideboard. Costing 99 NT (around US$3) per issue, Huang never failed to pick up his copy whenever it hit the shelves. "As a student, I only received 200 NT in allowance per week, but Cardmania was the best source for Magic news before the digital boom." Nowadays, strategy and information are disseminated digitally and these print magazines phased out.
So as Huang was reading Cardmania one day when he chanced across a tournament report. It was written by Tzu Ching Kuo which featured his escapades at Grand Prix Kyushu in 1999, where he placed 24th after losing his win-and-in match to a fatal mistake.
On the turn Kuo was about to win and make the Top 8, Kuo over-excitedly threw out three Serra Avatars using Sneak Attack. His opponent, playing AC Blue, tapped down his whole team with Turnabout and proceeded to kill Kuo with Morphling and Palinchron. Since he needed only a single hit from a single Serra Avatar to win, it was needless to throw out all three pre-combat. Had he left the excess copies in his hand, he could have plopped them into play after Turnabout had resolved and have eleven lifetime Grand Prix Top 8s instead of "just" ten.
Sorry, I digress.
Huang didn't know Kuo at that time, aside from the fact that he was the top player in the country. With the "I will play whatever the Pros are playing" attitude, Huang copied Kuo's decklist and attended his first Nationals Qualifier. "I crashed and went something along the lines of 3-3."
However, Huang was instantly hooked to high-level competitive events. He had tasted blood and couldn't go back. The adrenaline rush of winning, discovery of strategy and the intellectual stimulation the gameplay provided had him hooked. He started to attend Grand Prix Trials and Pro Tour Qualifiers. In just another year, he was good enough to qualify for his first Nationals, a tiny personal milestone worthy of praise.
Huang started to take Magic seriously only after he won a PTQ for Pro Tour Philadelphia. He was Level 3 back then (equivalent to Silver Level today) and had one invite to an upcoming Pro Tour. After winning the PTQ for yet another Pro Tour, he booked the air ticket the next day and then flew out to Singapore the next in an attempt to go fully pro. His decision paid off handsomely and he broke into his first of five Grand Prix Top 8s with "Dark Blade", a monstrosity featuring the powerful duo of Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. What set him apart from the other "Cawblade" players was the black splash for Inquisition of Kozilek and Go for the Throat.
"It was quite a tough event for me. Since Grand Prix Singapore 2011 was the week before Pro Tour Nagoya, the field was more than star-studded. I remember I played against Brandon Nelson, Conley Woods, Martin Jůza, and Chikara Nakajima in Day One. I went 9-0 on Day One to everyone's surprise. In Day Two, I drew against PV, took my first loss against David Ochoa before rattling off a couple of wins to take an ID with Owen Turtenwald to break into my first Grand Prix Top 8."
With this stellar performance against so many of the top names in the game, he gathered momentum like a snowball sliding down a wintry plains. He racked up a bunch of solid finishes, including a money finish at his debut at Pro Tour Nagoya, Top 4 at Chinese Taipei Nationals and a Worlds Top 4 Team finish. He ended that season with 33 points, good enough to hit Level 6 (equivalent of Gold Level today) and hop onto the gravy train from zero to hero.
Life has its ups and downs though, and Huang admits that has had a terrible 2013 – 2014 season. In this game, it hurts to come in second since the winner usually takes it all. He lost in the finals of WMCQ the previous year, and when he travelled to Singapore for a PTQ, he once against failed to win his final match. To make matters worse, he fell to Tomoharu Saito at Grand Prix Beijing's Super Sunday Series tournament, once again in the finals playoff. In yet another Pro Tour Qualifier for Pro Tour Valencia 2014, he lost to Cheng Tung-Yi (World Magic Cup 2012 Champion) in the semifinals. If he had won that one, his best friend Ryan Young was happy to scoop to him in the finals to put him back on the Pro Tour.
Grand Prix Taipei 2014 Winner, Huang Hao-Shan
Since then, like a phoenix reborn, Huang has risen from the ashes and went on to win Grand Prix Taipei 2014 and becoming the July Player of the Month. He has Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir as well as the upcoming World Magic Cup on his schedule.
Will we be seeing more of Huang Hao Shan in future? I should think so.