A total of 1674 players, or 588 teams, gathered in Shizuoka for the third Premier Event to take place in this city this year - the first being Grand Prix Shizuoka (Spring) and the second being Japan National Championships. Nonetheless, that didn't douse the enthusiasm of hundreds of explorers, ready to brave the unknown shores of Ixalan. What were the most interesting discoveries of the weekend?
A Quad of Squads to Watch
As with every Team Limited event, team dynamics are as important as gameplay mechanics and the format. Not only do you want to team up with great players, you'll want to pick the people you can put your trust in. Let's check out the top four teams to watch this weekend and get to know them a little more!
(9) Yuuya Watanabe, Hajime Nakamura, and (7) Shota Yasooka
After the pair's dominating performance at the 2017 Japan National Championship, Yuuya Watanabe and Shota Yasooka will be headed to the World Magic Cup together but they were not teamed up with the 2017 Japan National Champion for now. Instead, they opted for Hajime Nakamura (a lesser-known Nakamura compared to the Shuhei who was in the commentator booth this weekend).
The two Pro Tour Hall-of-Famers need little introduction so let's focus on Nakamura. For starters, he made the Top 8 together with Watanabe and Yoshihiko Ikawa at Grand Prix Sydney 2017, also a Team Limited event! An old friend of Watanabe even before he burst onto the scene, clinching the Rookie of the Year (and practically every other award thereafter), they practiced together during their fledging days. Since Nakamura's wife was also an avid Magic player, the married couple often offered their home to Watanabe and friends for booster drafts and playtesting sessions. This tradition of holding "boot camps" before major events continues to this day and Nakamura regularly helps out Watanabe before he heads for the actual battlefield, either by preparing a gauntlet of decks or rallying sufficient players to kickstart a Booster Draft.
Ichirou Shimura, Takuya Osawa, and Yuta Hirosawa
Since we're in Ixalan and speaking of Dinosaurs, here are three veterans with a combined of fifty years of Magic experience between them.
Ichirou Shimura finished 3rd at Pro Tour Seattle 2004 (with teammates Ryiuchi Arita and Masami Ibamoto) and also has four Grand Prix Top 8s including a win at Grand Prix Sendai 2004. Thereafter, he made the Top 4 of 2005 Japan Nationals and attended the 2005 World Championship alongside Takuma Morofuji and Pro Tour Hall-of-Famer Masashi Oiso, who took home the team title together. Clearly, Shimura is no stranger to team events and he will be able to extrapolate his skills for today's competition.
Takuya Osawa won Pro Tour Prague 2006 and later made the Sunday stage again at Pro Tour Geneva 2007. With six Grand Prix Top 8s under his name, he continues to play Magic to this day and was gunning for his seventh this weekend. Tomohiro Aridome has Top 8 experience himself. Making the finals of Grand Prix Niigata 2005, he fell short of winning the title after being defeated by former World Champion Katsuhiro Mori two games to one. He was also well-known to the Japanese community as Shota Yasooka's apprentice. Having learned the ropes from the control master, Aridome always played Yasooka's decklists card-for-card, including the famous Jushi Blue control deck.
These old friends will leverage their wealth of experience and close rapport to try and break into the Top 4 this weekend.
Yuki Matsumoto, Yuuki Ichikawa, and Kazuyuki Takimura
Yuki Matsumoto, Yuuki Ishikawa, and Kazuyuki Takimura might just be the happiest-looking team in the room. For sure, they were excited about Ixalan Limited and were ready for whatever came their way. This was not the first time that they have teamed together and their greatest achievement collectively was winning Grand Prix Kyoto 2016 together.
Grand Prix Kyoto 2016 Champions!
Enough said, these guys are great at Team Limited and all eyes are on them to repeat this weekend!
Yuta Hirosawa, Katsuhiro Mori, and Kenji Tsumura
Last but not least, we'd light to highlight the trio of Tsumura-Mori-Hirosawa. You guys already know who is the Pro Tour Hall-of-Famer and who is a former World Champion, so let's zone in on Yuta Hirosawa and find out why two Japanese juggernauts have decided to pick him as the third! According to Katsuhiro Mori and Kenji Tsumura, Hirosawa was not only a close friend, but also a strong player.
Yuta Hirosawa has played Magic for over fifteen years and made his first (and only) Top 8 at Grand Prix Sapporo 2002 when he was only fifteen years old! He was also Tsumura's teammate of choice at the Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour at San Diego back in 2002. Placing 5th, it was heartbreaking to miss out on the Top 4 cut on tiebreakers, but it was solid proof that Hirosawa was no slouch. He also frequently playtested with another Pro Tour Hall-of-Famer, Tsuyoshi Fujita during the early days!
Deckbuilding with Chew-Lee-Dezani
(12) Kelvin Chew and (16) Lee Shi Tian were two players headed for the 2017 World Championship in Boston. However, before their far-flung flight coming Monday, they've still got business here in Asia. Teaming with with Pro Tour Theros Champion Jérémy Dezani, they were one of the strongest teams in the room. Since Ixalan Limited was a relatively-new format and nobody had a whole lot of practice thus far, the trio would rely on whatever they learned at the Prereleases and bank on their years of experience to tackle the brand new format.
The work began!
After customarily sorting out their card pool by color and arranging them by mana cost, the first thing they zoned in upon were the two-drops. Two mana creatures were of utmost importance in Team Sealed Deck and the trio felt that this was a key indicator in determining how colors were to be paired. The next bottleneck were the five-drops. Since this was a faster format than regular Ixalan Sealed Deck, it was also imperative not to have too many five-costed cards. For example, despite Shining Aerosaur being a decent finisher with great stats and a relevant creature type, the team left the third copy in the sideboard, making sure to have no more than three or four five-costed cards as a general guideline.
Dezani quickly pointed out that red was lacking in good two-drops, only a single Tilonalli's Knight. This indicated that they had to find a way to pair red with another color which was abundant in two-drops. Green was the deepest color within their card pool, and with Regisaur Alpha and Charging Monstrousaur in the mix, it nudged them to try out Red-Green Dinosaurs.
"I'll take the Dinos," murmured Lee as he began to fit the pieces together. Meanwhile, Chew worked on a White Weenie-styled deck (splashing only six black cards) while Dezani picked up the blue and black cards for a blue-black tempo deck, featuring River's Rebuke, Entrancing Melody, double Walk the Plank, and numerous annoying Pirates and Vampires.
Since they were exploring the perilous plane of Ixalan, the three players decided to evaluate the possibility of maximising the other tribes, now that they took a look at the Dinosaurs already. It was quickly determined that there were not enough payoff cards in Merfolk or Vampires. However, not wanting to dismiss them prematurely, Lee and Dezani quickly sought Chew's help in assembling a Blue-Green Merfolk deck. Starting with double Kumena's Speaker and double Shaper Apprentice and topping things off with Emperor's Vanguard and Storm Sculptor, Chew felt uneasy after review.
"This deck cannot attack very well. There are not enough fliers and combat tricks. The creatures are weak and I don't have a lot of spells as support." Lee echoed Chew's sentiments. "Aside from a couple of rares, there is nothing much in Merfolk."
"In that case, if you guys really think Blue-Green Merfolk is unplayable, can you pass me all the blue (cards)? I want to try it with other colors," Dezani suggested. Without a second word, Lee and Chew pull the plug on the Merfolk party and surrendered their blue cards to Dezani, who moved on to attempt pairing them with white or black (to no avail).
Dezani and Chew swap seats (and projects).
Five minutes later, Dezani was convinced of his judgment and stood firm. "Pairing green with red for Dinosaurs is bad. The deck is just a bunch of big creatures with no spells, no ramp, no support, no nothing. Pairing green with blue is our best bet. And regardless of what you guys think about the deck, it can win a lot of games with the rares. If things go bad, we can still rely on Entrancing Melody and River's Rebuke to steal games. I am pretty sure that you have to pair green with blue, while the other two decks share the white, red, and black cards. There is no other way."
Finally convinced, Lee and Dezani had a brief conversation about which color to share, while Chew silently sandpapered the Blue-Green Merfolk deck to make it as streamlined as possible. The final products were as follows:
- A White-Red Aggro deck that seeks to push early damage with fast creatures, stunning blockers with Territorial Hammerskull and combat tricks, before topping off with Charging Monstrousaur and Shining Aerosaur. Since it was not going to be blocking that much, Settle the Wreckage provided an opportunity to blowout in the event of a race.
- A Blue-Green Tempo deck with small beaters backed with Pounce and bounce, as well as Entrancing Melody and River's Rebuke to clear the path. It had the potential of opening with Kumena's Speaker and Shaper Apprentice into Vineshaper Mystic and Storm Sculptor for additional fun and +1/+1 counters.
- A White-Black midrange Vampires deck with an assortment of great removal spells and lifelink creatures as a foil to the aggro decks they were expecting to face. Contract Killing, Bright Reprisal and Walk the Planks can deal with nasty monsters, while Skulduggerys were extremely efficient against fast decks.
Jérémy Dezani, Lee Shi Tian, and Kelvin Chew
Interestingly, Register Alpha was left on the sidelines. Dezani said, "I dislike Gold cards in Team Limited in general, half the time we end up not playing those." With that, they registered their deck and headed for Round 1. How will Chew, Lee, and Dezani fare today? How did their expectations pan out?
Tribes and Archetypes of Ixalan
While Team Sealed can sometimes be complicated - it is not always easy to find three decks from among 12 booster packs - it can also be a breeze. According to Tomoharu Saito who wasn't participating this weekend (he was the organiser of this event), he shared that sometimes you can just follow where the tribes take you. For example, the Merfolk automatically suggested a Blue-Green deck, while Vampires involuntarily pushed you into White-Black.
Let's take a look at what Ixalan's tribes have to offer and how they can point you towards the path of enlightenment.
There are a total of 20 Merfolk in Ixalan (excluding Jace's Sentinel) and they are found in blue and green:
- 9 blue, 9 green, 2 gold.
- 1 mythic rare, 4 rare, 6 uncommon, 9 common.
- There are also River Heralds' Boon and Deeproot Waters as payoff cards.
River Heralds' Boon, Jade Guardian, Vineshaper Mystic, and Shaper Apprentice are the most compelling reasons to include more Meffolk in your deck - or if you know your opponent has six Walk the Planks. However, there is little reason to deliberately increase your Merfolk count. Deeproot Warrior, Merfolk Branchwalker, Shapers of Nature, and Watertrap Weaver are solid cards in their own right, regardless of their creature type. Sure enough, Ryoichi Tamada curved out beautifully (on successive turns) with Deeproot Warrior, Watertrap Weaver, Chart a Course and Shaper Apprentice, Snapping Sailback, Wind Strider, and finally Shapers of Nature. which was good enough to beat an opposing turn-six Carnage Tyrant in a crucial match during Round 7!
Teammates Keita Kawasaki and Teruya Kakumae watch on as the outcome on the match hinged upon this nail-biting Game 3.
You could change the creature types of all the creatures on the board an irrelevant type and still have quite the same commanding board against a Carnage Tyrant.
There are a total of 20 Vampires in Ixalan and they are found in white and black.
- 10 white, 9 black, 1 gold.
- 1 mythic rare, 4 rare, 7 uncommon, 8 common.
- There are also Call to the Feast, Legion's Landing, Queen's Commission, and Vampire's Zeal as Vampire-themed cards.
Kelvin Chew, Lee Shi Tian, and Jérémy Dezani jointly work on their White-Black Vampires deck with care.
In the words of Jérémy Dezani who masterminded the Vampires deck for his team, he called Anointed Deacon "a really good card that makes playing Vampires worth it". However, Lee and Chew refused to play with Queen's Bay Soldier, a vanilla creature which they felt provided no value in a tribe that thrives on utility. It was not worth it to include a subpar card just because it had an appropriate creature type sometimes. Many Vampires have "gain life" and "lose life" abilities to help you out in a race, while cards like Sanctum Seeker, Legion's Landing, Deathless Ancient and Bishop of the Bloodstained encourage you to create a wide board. Call to the Feast, Paladin of the Bloodstained and Queen's Commission aid in that quest. However, many of the payoff cards are uncommons and rares, making it difficult to achieve in Sealed Deck or Booster Draft.
An honorable mention goes to Legion Conquistador in Team Sealed! Since there are twelve boosters being opened in Team Sealed, you could potentially build a deck of 24 Legion Conquistadors (12 regular, 12 premium foil) and 16 Plains. I don't recommend it though, you are unlikely to win many games with that deck even if you - by some miracle - manage to get it.
After examining the "smaller" tribes, let's take a look at the 39 Pirates of Ixalan , which is almost the same number as Merfolk and Vampires combined. However, they're spread across three colors instead of two, namely blue, black, and red.
- 10 blue, 12 black, 12 red, 5 gold.
- 3 mythic rare, 9 rare, 14 uncommon, 13 common.
- There are also Fell Flagship, Fiery Cannonade, Lookout's Dispersal, March of the Drowned, Pirate's Cutlass, and Siren's Ruse which synergise with Pirates.
As you can see from this list, the only Pirates that allow you to "profit" from having more Pirates are Admiral Beckett Brass (gasp, a three-color card!), Dire Fleet Captain, Dreamcaller Siren, Fathom Fleet Captain, Headstrong Brute, and Lightning-Rig Crew. Some of the noncreature spells are also great payoff cards but plenty of them are uncommon rarity and up. That's not to say that the Pirates are no good. Quite the contrary, really. Almost every blue, black, or red decks I've seen were happy to play Captain Lannery Storm, Deadeye Tormentor, Marauding Looter, Storm Fleet Aerialist, Hostage Taker, and Storm Fleet Spy regardless of what strategy they adopted, since they're such great value on their own.
There are 37 Dinosaurs in Ixalan (excluding Sun-Blessed Mount), which is almost the same number as the Pirates. They are also spread out across three colors, white, red, and green. However, to make up for the smaller number, (ok fine, it's really just one less), they make up for it in size and synergy.
Card Fan of Ancient Brontodon, Bellowing Aegisaur, Bonded Horncrest, Charging Monstrosaur, Colossal Dreadmaw, Grazing Whiptail, Imperial Aerosaur, Raging Swordtooth, Shining Aerosaur, Thundering Spineback, Kinjalli's Caller, Savage Stomp
- 11 white, 9 red, 12 green, 5 gold.
- 3 mythic rare, 8 rare, 12 uncommon, 14 common.
- Commune with Dinosaurs, Dinosaur Stampede, Drover of the Mighty, Imperial Lancer, Kinjalli's Caller, Otepec Huntmaster, Priest of the Wakening Sun, Pterodon Knight, and Savage Stomp also have great interactions with the Dinos.
Size is a huge deal in a format where everything else is significantly smaller. It represents card advantage, since it requires three 2/2s or two 3/3s to take down a single 6/6. High-toughness creatures also evade damage-based removal (such as Pounce and Lighting Strike), meaning that only white and black (Pious Intervention and Contract Killing, for example) can truly snuff them out for good.
Huang Hao Shan, Nam Sung Wook, and Yam Wing Chun battle in the Featured Match area.
According to the trio of Huang-Nam-Yam (Grand Prix Taipei Champion Huang Hao Shan, Pro Tour Journey into Nyx finalist Nam Sung Wook, and Pro Tour Hour of Devastation semifinalist Yam Wing Chun), they all agreed that synergy was the strongest among the Dinosaurs, leaps and bounds ahead of the other three tribes. In particular, Huang who was piloting the Dinosaurs deck of his team shared that "cards like Pterodon Knight and Thrash of Raptor may not look impressive because they are Hill Giants, but they are actually very good, because there are a lot of Dinosaurs everywhere. Also, if you don't get ‘out-tempo-ed' against other decks and end up in an attrition war, Dinosaurs will win due to their size."
Do you agree with the opinions of these teams? The tribes have spoken! For additional reading, check out Ixalan Limited Synergies - In Graphics which was posted less than a week ago which details additional tricks each tribe can utilise. Find out for yourself when you next head for an Ixalan Booster Draft or Sealed Decks and put these ideas to the test.
It's Lonely At The Top
After nine rounds of showdowns, only a single team went 9-0. Team Yao-Kuroda-Omonishi consisted of Shunsuke Yao, Pro Tour Kobe 2004 Champion Masashiro Kuroda, and Kojiro Omonishi. For reference, they also went undefeated at the previous Team Limited Grand Prix which they played together and that was Grand Prix Kyoto 2016.
Kojiro Omonishi, Masashiro Kuroda, and Shunsuke Yao
Lucky coincidence? I think not. More like sheer skill and great teamwork! What decks did they come up with enroute to the victorious day?
Seat A: Shunsuke Yao
Archetype: Blue-Green Menfolk
MVP of the Day: One with the Wind, it won me many games.
Seat B: Masashiro Kuroda
Archetype: Naya Dinosaurs
MVP of the Day: Captain Lannery Storm
Seat C: Kojiro Omonishi
Archetype: White-Black Vampires
MVP of the Day: (Ironically) Pirate's Cutlass
What was the biggest memory of the day?
We were scribbling to each other on paper in order to communicate among ourselves without our opponents finding out. However, our handwriting was so bad sometimes the message got miscommunicated! However, we still managed to go 9-0!
What is everyone's goal tomorrow?
Naturally, we hope to make the Top 4 and draft our way to the champion title!