A total of 1,674 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?
Checking In With The Defending Champions
The previous Team Limited Grand Prix took place at Kyoto 2016, an event which the trio of Yuki Matsumoto, Yuuki Ichikawa, and Kazuyuki Takimura. These guys clearly know a thing or two about Team Limited, even when the Ixalan format is fresh and crisp. Seeing how they were the defending team champions for this tournament, let's delve into the minds of these three esteemed players!
Upon receiving their card pool, they picked out the rare cards and gathered them in the middle of the table. This allowed all three players to quickly identify what their best cards were. Unfortunately, that had opened three rare lands in their pool (Glacial Fortress, Sunpetal Grove, Rootbound Crag) which meant the power level took a significant hit. Axis of Mortality and Sunbird's Invocation were not exactly great either.
Unfazed, the continued their work, rolling out their unique work process like clockwork. It's like they've done it before. And they have. Rather than sorting their cards by color, they sorted them by tribe and relevance. This process was rather special because of the Ixalan's set architecture.
For example, if you intend to adopt this practice, you would sort Drover of the Mighty and Savage Stomp with Dinosaus rather than Merfolk - even though both tribes are green. Naturally, you do not want River Heralds' Boon and Vineshaper Mystic in your Dinosaurs deck. Utilising this workflow, Matsumoto, Ichikawa, and Takimura cut down the sorting time to save precious minutes.
In no time at all, they quickly began working on the framework of three decks which looked the most obvious. Ichikawa grabbed the Merfolk, Takimura took all of the Pirates in the Grixis colors, while Matsumoto assembled Naya Dinosaurs. Since the Blue-Green Merfolk deck was rather straightforward, Ichikawa moved on to create a fourth potential choice, White-Black Vampires, which looked better than the mishmash of Grixis Pirates. Determining that Vampires were indeed better, Ichikawa was able to wholly acquire all the blue cards in from of Takimura while Matsumoto received additional red cards as options.
Now that Ichikawa's own deck was complete, he moved on to help his teammates with theirs.
Ichikawa: "Can I suggest something? Instead of Naya Dinosaurs, why don't we build a White-Red Dinosaurs deck and splash Green for just Raging Swordtooth and Gishath? You have two rare lands and Uncontested Territory. That way I can take your Pounce and Savage Stomp, and provide my Blue-Green deck some removal."
Matsumoto agreed it was better to put all the green eggs in one basket, because splashing for two "Pit Fight" effects was inefficient anyway. Those spells required a specific window to utilise adequately. With that notion passed, that brought Ichikawa's Blue-Green Merfolk deck up to nearly 30 solid playables (he owned all the blue and green cards in the pool). Lowering down the curve and shaving away the unreliable or inefficient cards such as Deeproot Champion and Jungle Delver, it looked like the first deck was complete.
Meanwhile Matsumoto's White-Red Dinosaur deck was looking very streamlined, consisting 15 Dinosaurs complete with Kinjalli's Caller, Otepec Huntmaster, Pterodon Knight. Takimura continued to work on White-Black Vampires, a deck which he felt was "very average and so-so". Despite Takimura's best efforts, this was all he could come up with and he professed that it might be a tough day for him.
One Dinosaur is much bigger than the others.
"A decent Vampires deck but nothing spectacular."
Overall, the three felt that they had suffered greatly from the lack of bomb rares. Nonetheless, we know that they were able to compensate for the weak card pool with their mastery and deck-building techniques. However, despite their best attempts, they crashed out in Day 2, ending their dreams to go back-to-back.
One World, Many Ways to Perish
Team Limited is all about putting your trust in your own teammates. To win a Grand Prix, you need a combination of great decks, good rapport, and a dash of good luck, among other things.
However, what do you need to survive in the world of Ixalan?
It's not easy when the prospect of being savagely stomped upon by dinosaurs perpetually loomed. You could also get robbed by pirates and lose all your treasures, be captured by Admiral Beckett Brass, or die in a Fiery Cannonade crossfire. You could be eaten alive by the bloodsuckers who roam the land or receive the Mark of the Vampire and become one yourself (that's might be cool, actually). The merfolk aren't exactly friendly either. Fiercely protective of their land, they attack without warning! You could even be seduced by a siren in a bewitching song!
Or, you could die of heat stroke, fall off a cliff and drown on your Perilous Voyage, get struck by lighting, get lost in a Blinding Fog, and even get poisoned by an icky Skittering Heartstopper! Or, everyone could just get wiped out by a Star of Extinction!
With so many "creative" ways to perish in Ixalan, we polled a few teams on their chances of survival on the precarious plane.
Who would you send to face off against Admiral Beckett Brass?
(Wife) Erika Moriya, (Husband) Daisuke Moriya, and (Friend) Kazushi Yamauchi
Daisuke and Erika Moriya are a happily-married couple who chose to team up with Kazushi Yamuchi, a manager of a local card game store. When asked who had the ability to stand up against a pirate, the unanimous decision was Erika herself.
"I'm the most domineering person on the team and my husband lets me have my way. Nobody would dare defy me. Maybe the pirates will be intimidated by my mean look," Erika shared. The two men believed that sending the most "pirate-like" person would be their best bet. However, don't let her looks fool you! Underneath that bravado, Erika really is a chirpy young lady! Admiral Beckett Brass doesn't need to know.
What artifact would you pick to help you survive Ixalan?
Lost, stranded and desolate on Ixalan, you're presented with one of these five artifacts but you can only pick one. Hanging on a thread, your choice could mean the difference between life and death.
Grand Prix Kyoto 2016 finalists Hiroaki Kitahara, 2Ken Yukuhiro, and Kentaro Yamamoto
Yamamoto was the first to pick and he went for the Treasure Map. "Being lost on an island, it is important to have a map. Then, you can navigate and find your way around."
Yukuhiro: "If I have a ship, I can sail away. And since Kitahara has a compass, we will be able to find the correct direction. We can work together with both our artifact choices and go home safely."
I guess Yamamoto's a goner then. He's still trying to find his way out of the thick jungle.
Who is best at (unarmed) combat?
If you're roaming the unknown shores of a dodgy island, there is a good chance that you might actually need to fight with your bare fists. Who is most likely to come out alive in the event they run into a bunch of Merfolk or Vampires?
Yuuki Ichikawa and Kazuyuki Takimura both pointed at Yuki Matsumoto, but for a different reason than we thought. Not that he was a martial artist, but both players felt that Matsumoto was the best beatdown player on the team. According to Ichikawa and Takimura, Matsumoto is well-known for bluffing attacks, pushing extra damage, or representing a combat trick which he doesn't have.
Grand Prix Kyoto 2016 Champions Yuki Matsumoto, Yuuki Ichikawa, and Kazuyuki Takimura
Perhaps Matsumoto could extrapolate some of these trickery techniques in an actual showdown?
Posing the same question to yet another superstar team, the results differed. With Teruya Kakumae and Keita Kawasaki pointing at each other and Ryoichi Tamade nominating himself, we seem to have reached an impasse.
Two-time Grand Prix Champion Teruya Kakumae, three-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Keita Kawasaki, and Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar finalist Ryoichi Tamada
Tamada: "I thought everyone would pick me. I thought I was a beatdown player. But apparently not!
Well... since you volunteered, we'll send you when a brawl arises.
Who is most likely to get eaten by Gishath, Sun's Avatar?
The trio of Riphat-Soh-Robb are seasoned veterans of the Asia Pacific Grand Prix circuit with achievements in their own right. Often traveling for global events, they are seasoned explorers themselves. But what if they ran into a unfriendly, rampaging dinosaur with more teeth than can be counted?
Grand Prix Brisbane 2013 Champion Justin Robb, Indonesia Team Captain Aziz Riphat, and Grand Prix Kobe 2017 Champion Joe Soh
Robb shared, "That's a really easy question. At Grand Prix Sydney, our apartment was about 1 mile away from the tournament venue. Aziz nearly died from that walk. He is definitely dinosaur food."
Aziz: "I can survive if to tackle Joe and hope he doesn't get back on his feet. I don't have the be the fastest. I just need to not be the slowest."
Soh: "But you are incredibly slow. The only chance you have is to tackle BOTH of us! Alternatively, I would make friends with an Ancient Brontodon. It's a 9/9, bigger than a 7/6."
Lesson learned. In the wild, travel with friends who run slower than you. Just in case.
A Second Chance on the Pro Tour
It was a touching moment for two-time Grand Prix Champion Sugaya Hironobu and Grand Prix Kitakyushu 2009 Champion Taisuke Ishii when their team won their Round 14 match. In literal tears of joy, Hironobu rationalised his emotional outburst.
"Kozakai Yukio has been playing Magic for over 20 years, way before Daisuke and myself even won a Grand Prix. He is a relentless grinder and he's played in countless PTQs and GPs, but never had a breakthrough. I'm really glad that we are qualified together for Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan."
Reminiscing a little, Kozakai shared bittersweet memories of his Pro Tour debut at Amsterdam 2010. "It was the only Pro Tour I have ever played in my life, and I went 0-7. However, that motivated me to continue improving and I hope to do better with my second chance."
Taisuke Ishii, Sugaya Hironobu, and Kuzakai Yukio
Despite falling in the semifinals, Hironobu and Ishii were happy to contribute towards Yukio's dream of taking a second shot for a Pro Tour once again. In the words of Helen Keller, "alone we can do so little, together we can do so much". Since all three players were previously unqualified for the Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, they were more than happy to be headed for Bilbao together.
Four World Championship Competitors Make Top 4!
Leading into the World Championship, four out of five qualified players in the room proved that they were the cream of the crop.
With the exception of (23) Ken Yukuhiro who received an underwhelming card pool on Day 2 and dropped out, (7) Shota Yasooka, (9) Yuuya Watanabe, (12) Kelvin Chew, and (16) Lee Shi Tian all made it to the Top 4 playoffs. Coincidentally, they were also the four highest ranked players competing at Shizuoka.
In an unexplored format where everyone had little time to practice, they relied on years and years of accumulated knowledge to quickly evaluate the format in order to beat the rest of the competition! With this stellar performance, it acted as a great morale boost for these four players who now found even more motivation for the biggest tournament of their life in Boston, where they will compete for a total of $300,000 and the prestigious title of World Champion.
For more information on the 2017 World Championship, click here.
First-Timers Conquer Shizuoka!
Prior to this weekend, none of our Champions had a single Pro Point to their name.
Now, they each earned a Grand Prix title!
From among 1,674 players, the trio of Michio Abe, Syo Hayakawa, and Kentarou Tachibana rose to the top to become the champions despite being the underdogs. Having teamed together for every single team event since 2013, they had not tasted success until today.
To achieve victory, they had to defeat (12) Kelvin Chew, (16) Lee Shi Tian, and Jeremy Dezani in the finals and beat (9) Yuuya Watanabe, Hajime Nakamura, and (7) Shota Yasooka in the semfinals. That's a total of 2,197 lifetime Pro Points between Abe-Hayakawa-Tachibana's six opponents in the Top 4!
Together they stood, together they won, and together they took it all home for Japan.
Once again, hearty congratulations to Michio Abe, Syo Hayakawa, and Kentarou Tachibana!