Top 5 Moments

Posted in Event Coverage on March 19, 2017

By Frank Karsten

There were plenty of great moments, decks, players, cards, and stories over the course of the weekend here in Shizuoka. The following are my top five picks for things to remember from this Grand Prix.

5. Mardu with five-drops establishes itself as the best deck in the format

Going into the event, many people expected the metagame to be dominated by Mardu variants and Four-color Saheeli. That prediction largely came true, although in contrast to last weekend's Grand Prix events (which were won by Four-color Saheeli) the best-performing archetype in Shizuoka was Mardu.

Even control masters like No. 2 Shota Yasooka chose the deck, and it put six players in the Top 8, including eventual winner Ryohei Kirino. A possible reason for Mardu's dominance this weekend might be that after many weeks of evolution, the perfect version may have been found.

Archangel Avacyn was included in the main deck of every single Mardu deck in the Top 8. She can pressure planeswalkers and profitably block Heart of Kiran, and as a flash threat, she allows you to keep mana open to disrupt the Copy Cat combo. As Mike Sigrist wrote in his article earlier this week, "Archangel Avacyn is the single most important innovation for Mardu Vehicles moving forward."

In the sideboard, the planeswalker plan with Oath of Liliana, Nahiri, the Harbinger, and Ob Nixilis Reignited is well-known by now, but the best-performing Mardu players in Shizuoka took the control plan even further. Painful Truths was cast in both Semifinals; I saw multiple Stasis Snares exiling Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; Fumigate and Sorin, Grim Nemesis also showed up; and I spotted the resurgence of Shock as a way to improve against Saheeli decks.

When you play against Mardu in upcoming weeks, don't make the mistake of boarding against an aggro deck—In Game 2 and 3, your opponent will almost surely be closer to the control spectrum.

4. Four brews stand out

If you were already wondering about some of the peculiar deck names in the metagame breakdown picture above: don't worry; I got you covered. These are my picks for the four most interesting decks from the top tables of Grand Prix Shizuoka.

Motoaki Itou's Jund Smasher – 8th place (13-3) at Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017, Spring Edition

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Combining the best of Ben Stark's Jund Aggro deck and Toru Inoue's Black-Red Eldrazi deck, Itou's deck is a delight. With so much of Standard coming down to planeswalker battles, Heart of Kiran and Reality Smasher are perfectly positioned planeswalker killers.

Meanwhile, he still has access to the powerful Winding Constrictor / Walking Ballista synergy, while his plethora of artifacts enable Unlicensed Disintegration and Spire of Industry. The land helps cast Reality Smasher, which can even come out on turn four via Catacomb Sifter. In the present format where you never want to give your opponent the opportunity to activate a given planeswalker twice, Inoue's deck with haste creatures and direct damage might have all the right tools.

Tomoya Kobayashi's Mardu Tokens – 9th place (13-2) at Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017, Spring Edition

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Missing the Top 8 by the slimmest margins—a tiebreaker difference of 0.11%—Kobayashi almost got there with Yahenni, Undying Partisan, another haste creature that can work well against opposing planeswalkers. It can eat tokens from Sram's Expertise all day to stay indestructible, and it can transform Archangel Avacyn at will.

Kazuki Yamada's Red-Green Energy – 21st place (12-3) at Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017, Spring Edition

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Yamada attacked the format with a red-green energy deck featuring Lathnu Hellion and Invigorated Rampage, which enable him to take out opposing planeswalkers cleanly and quickly. (Notice a theme yet?)

Another standout card in his deck is Bristling Hydra, which is excellent in a format where Unlicensed Disintegration runs rampant. Yuuki Ichikawa also played the 4/3 in the maindeck of his Top 32 Temur Tower deck, so it's a card to pay closer attention to going forward.

Yukio Matsuda's Mono Black Zombies – 90th place (11-4) at Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017, Spring Edition

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Yukio Matsuda was at 9-1 at some point, and he got there with 23 basic Swamps. His deck can be classified as a Zombie deck: Cryptbreaker, Relentless Dead, and Haunted Dead all generate card advantage and offer graveyard synergies. In the late game, Yahenni, Undying Partisan along with Relentless Dead is another powerful engine.

Matsuda's deck is a fun, yet competitive option for people who enjoy having access to their graveyard (and their opponent's decks, via Gonti, Lord of Luxury) as a resource.

3. Grand Prix Shizuoka was a three-day celebration of the game

Over 2,700 players entered the main event, but the Grand Prix offered much more than that. As always, there were side events in all kinds of formats, artists who were happy to sign your cards, dealer booths to complete your deck, and much more.

It's essentially one big three-day Magic festival, and you don't have to be a hyper-competitive player to enjoy it. There was something for every type of player, also in the school-themed events that Big Magic (the Grand Prix organizer) offered on a big classroom stage.

Their creativity at combining a school setting with Magic-related events was impressive. To give some examples: their Art class featured a Magic illustration quiz, their Biology class was essentially a real-life Momir Basic game with a huge stack of random cards, their Physical Exercise class involved a time-attack race where participants moved boxes of Magic product, and their History class told you everything you needed to know about the Phyrexians.

Magic Designer Gavin Verhey, who participated at the spell-slinging tables all weekend, agreed.

Among the huge crowds watching these events, I also found Director of Global Organized Play Hélène Bergeot and ChannelFireball President and CEO Jon Saso. They traveled here to experience a Japanese Grand Prix personally and to facilitate the transition to the 2018 model, where ChannelFireball Events will be Wizards of the Coast's exclusive global partner to run all Grand Prix.

"We want to make sure that we can offer at least the same quality of experience, and we're here to see what makes the event great for the players. Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun," Bergeot told me. "Ultimately, the transition to the new model should translate in an improved experience for all players, wherever the GP they attend is located." Saso agreed: "We're not aiming to re-invent the wheel and change the way Grand Prix events are run. Players seem happy with the way everything is organized here."

Indeed, I saw a lot of happy faces all weekend, as attending a Grand Prix is always a fun experience. For final proof of this, here is a quick glimpse at some of the side events.

2. Two particularly sweet plays stand out

A lot of great games and awesome plays occurred over the weekend. It's hard to pick highlights, but I have two.

First, Australia's Justin Robb, who played Ben Friedman's Delirium Saheeli deck, found a creative way to victory in Round 11: blink Ishkanah twice, then activate for 10 life loss!

He had to jump through some hoops to achieve it—such as finding his singleton Ishkanah in the first place, ultimating Nahiri, the Harbinger for Felidar Guardian to get another blink, and having Servant of the Conduit for black mana—but it clearly showed that the deck can win without the Copy Cat combo.

The other highlight was selected by NicoNico commentator Tomohiro Kaji. He told me that in Round 9, Takehiro Fujimoto emerged Distended Mindbender by sacrificing…Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. That has got to be one of the weirdest sacrifices ever. I'm not even sure how it's supposed to work—the consulate offers a flying ship, and suddenly an Eldrazi appears from the Blind Eternities?

Either way, Fujimoto used the cast trigger to take a Felidar Guardian and a Harnessed Lightning from his opponent's hand, and that was enough for him to win the match and advance to 9-0.

1. Ryohei Kirino took the his very first Grand Prix ever!

When Ryohei Kirino entered the venue earlier on Saturday morning, this is what he saw.

The 27-year-old from Okayama, Japan had only picked up the game last year with the release of Eldritch Moon. Immediately fascinated by this game, he began to visit local game stores and won a Grand Prix Trial in less than half a year. This weekend marked the very first Grand Prix he ever played.

To select his deck, he put his trust in the wisdom of a Pro Tour Hall of Famer: No. 3 Owen Turtenwald.

Equipped with the right deck, he finished Day 1 with a 9-0 record and acclimatized himself to the atmosphere at the top tables. After losing his first match, he was able to regain his calm and play as usual. Once he made the Top 8, he relaxed and focused on having fun. Nevertheless, he made strong gameplay decisions that impressed me when I watched him. For instance, in the Finals he expertly used his removal spells to achieve board advantage in the key turns of the game.

Eventually, after two days of competition, the trophy that Kirino saw on Saturday morning belonged to him. "I cannot believe it," he said. "Everything I saw, everything I experienced this weekend was fresh. I'm very fortunate to have such a great Grand Prix debut."

Surely, all the events of today will be in Kirino's memory forever. It's the kind of Cinderella story that keeps us all dreaming. Congratulations again to Ryohei Kirino, your Grand Prix Shizuoka 2017 champion!

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