Posted in GRAND PRIX SHIZUOKA 2015 on January 10, 2015

By Frank Karsten

When a living legend like No. 7 Yuuya Watanabe claims that he has his “lifetime best deck ever,” we’d better take note. Featuring six powerful rares in the Abzan colors, a smooth mana curve, and good mana to boot, his deck had been the talk of the tournament so far. And when you put such a powerhouse in the hands of one of the best players in the world, it came as a surprise that he had “merely” gone 6-1 and hadn’t locked up Day 2 yet.

See for yourself; is this the best deck ever?

Yusuke Tabata, on the other side of the table, had also posted 6 wins and 1 loss so far. While he is not as accomplished as Watanabe, he had also registered an Abzan deck with a small splash for a fourth color. Hence, we were in for a pseudo-mirror match.

Game 1

After some early exchanges, Watanabe played Death Frenzy to clear the board, except for an Archers’ Parapet on both sides. Afterwards, Tabata was stuck with black cards in hand but only Forests and Plains in play, while Watanabe powered out the goods. With Ivorytusk Fortress, Woolly Loxodon, and Suspension Field, Watanabe easily overpowered his opponent. Even if Tabata would have drawn a Swamp in time, it felt unlikely that he would’ve been able to fight back against the card quality that Watanabe presented.

Yuuya Watanabe 1 – Yusuke Tabata 0

Game 2

Tabata’s first creature was an Alpine Grizzly, but Watanabe was not worried as he had Heir of the Wilds and Archers’ Parapet to block it down. So even if Tabata would have a removal spell, Yuuya would still be able to contain the 4/2. However, Tabata had something much better than a removal spell: Molting Snakeskin.

It turned Alpine Grizzly into a 6/2 regenerator, and suddenly Watanabe was in trouble. Even worse: he was missing black mana and couldn’t play a single spell from his hand. The situation felt dire for Watanabe, and I doubted that he would be able to figure a way out.

Tabata takes over the second game with Molting Snakeskin.

But he did, at least for a while. Rakshasa Deathdealer provided a good blocker for the regenerating Alpine Grizzly; Siege Rhino bolstered his life total; and Abzan Ascendancy would provide value against any opposing removal spells.

After that sequence of Abzan-colored rares, Tabata suddenly found himself on the back foot. Nevertheless, he clawed back by chaining Anafenza, the Foremost into four consecutive removal spells. Anafenza meant that Watanabe’s creatures wouldn’t hit the graveyard and thus wouldn’t provide a token via Abzan Ascendancy, which turned out to be a hugely important interaction. Once Tabata had dealt with the opposing creatures, he moved in for the kill.

Yuuya Watanabe 1 – Yusuke Tabata 1

Game 3

Early on, it was a tale of mana troubles. Watanabe had all four of his colors by turn three and curved out perfectly with Siege Rhino and Sultai Soothsayers, which casually put Duneblast in the graveyard. That’s something you don’t see very often, but Watanabe felt that Rakshasa Deathdealer would be even better than Duneblast because it allowed him to add more pressure to the board. This made sense because Tabata was missing black and red mana mana once again in the meantime.

Watanabe, having casually milled Duneblast, attacks with an almost Constructed-worthy team of creatures.

Once Tabata found his Swamp, he regained the ability to cast some spells, but how do you come back again Rakshasa Deathdealer and eight open mana? Tabata actually had an answer: Molting Snakeskin on Abzan Guide. Once again, the black enchantment dominated the board. Although most players are not holding the card in high regard, it can certainly do some work if the game revolves around combat situations with non-evasive creatures and especially if you can put it on a creature with lifelink.

The game turned into a sequence of complicated combat steps in which both players tried to maximize the activated abilities of their regenerators, even though Watanabe was still leading in the damage race. At some point, Tabata made a risky attack with his regenerating Abzan Guide, and it ended up costing him: Watanabe used Feat of Resistance on his blocker to deny any lifegain and, all of a sudden, he was able to attack for lethal on the swing-back.

Yuuya Watanabe 2 – Yusuke Tabata 1

Watanabe locks up Day 2, whereas Tabata has to win the last round to make it to the Sunday draft competition.