This weekend, the Twin Messe in Shizuoka played host to Japan's first double Grand Prix weekend, featuring a Legacy Grand Prix on Friday and Saturday, as well as a Standard Grand Prix on Saturday and Sunday.
For now, let’s take a quick look at the main highlights of Friday!
Ultimate Masters “Prerelease”?
Ultimate Masters doesn’t release until next week, but the tournament organisers at Grand Prix Shizuoka had a promotional event. Despite not being exactly a Prerelease, a total of three hundred players in Shizuoka will get their chance to crack open Ultimate Masters packs earlier than anyone.
As part of Grand Prix Shizuoka’s schedule, three very, very exclusive Ultimate Masters tournaments were organised, one on Thursday, Friday and one on Sunday (we expected Saturday to be a busy day since it was the overlapping day of both Grand Prix). Each of these tournaments had a cap of a hundred players, and if more than a hundred players signed up, players would be randomly selected to join. Naturally, this side event was immensely popular!
Play the game, see the convention center. This weekend in Twin Messe, Shizuoka! Short of preparation for legacy, I decided to focus on standard and play the UMA pre-release instead on friday. #GpShizuoka pic.twitter.com/aWsbpt8Zdx— Hao-shan Huang (@HaoshanHuang) November 30, 2018
Six-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Huang Hao-Shan, who declined to play the Legacy Grand Prix citing a lack of experience and preparation, didn’t want to sit still in his hotel room. After practicing Standard sufficiently, he decided to spend all Friday afternoon having his first-hand experience at Ultimate Masters. However, he had first to pass the “ballot”. 193 players registered for this exclusive event today, but there were only a hundred spots!
Thankfully, Huang managed to get his spot, and he had the first shot at Ultimate Masters! “If you go 3-0 in your Sealed Deck, you’ll win not only some booster packs, but also one box topper! I’m hoping I can get my hands on one of those. The new foils are sweet!"
What a great way to celebrate this double Grand Prix weekend as well as the highly anticipated release!
Kentaro Yamamoto And His Favorite Battlebond Addition
Grand Prix Chiba 2016 Champion, Kentaro Yamamoto
It’s been two years since the previous Legacy Grand Prix in Japan and so this weekend’s defending champion is none other than three-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, Kentaro Yamamoto. In addition to winning Grand Prix Chiba 2016, he also won Grand Prix Nagoya alongside teammates Ken Yukuhiro and Rei Sato. Since he won Chiba with Sneak and Show, it made sense to return with his trusty deck, but he made sure to update his deck.
Earlier this year, Battlebond was released, and it shook up Legacy considerably. A lot of juicy cards were added, not only to Commander decks and Cubes but also to Legacy. Not only did a couple of cards spawn wholly new archetypes, but there were also several other cards which saw play today in Shizuoka.
Arcane Artisan is perhaps the most impactful one.
It was last seen in Charles Oliver’s winning deck at the SCG Classic in Las Vegas last month - moving the card even closer to the spotlight than before. Initially popularised by Legacy expert, Bob Huang, Arcane Artisan looks much worse than Show and Tell or Sneak Attack, so you must be wondering what this is all about.
Yamamoto shared, “the real value in Arcane Artisan is in its ability to adapt after sideboarding, allowing Sneak & Show a way to dodge traditional hate cards such as the pesky Containment Priest and Sanctum Prelate, which is relevant in a format where Stoneblade, Death & Taxes, and Miracles have risen in numbers. Also, counterspells such as Flusterstorm and Spell Pierce are ineffective against it,and that gives me a better game plan."
In the mirror match, you usually board out Show & Tell because you don’t want your opponent to be dropping his own Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Instead, you could use Arcane Artisan to create a token copy. Despite costing a hefty chunk of mana, it also helps you dig deeper if you’re out of business. If your opponent has Liliana of the Veil, Innocent Blood, or Diabolic Edict, you have a 0/3 body ready to jump to his death on Emrakul’s behalf. As a creature, it also doesn’t get taxed by disruptive cards such as Thorn of Amethyst or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben!
For example, an opponent playing Death & Taxes would usually sideboard out Swords to Plowshares, since it isn’t exactly useful against Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Griselbrand, but now he or she has to consider the existence of Arcane Artisan. He or she may leave in one or two copies of Swords to Plowshares, but that isn’t without a cost. It could end up a potential dead card, and nobody truly wants to draw dead cards.
Kentaro Yamamoto, back to sneaking and showing.
If you remember, Yamamoto took home his first Grand Prix trophy and title by summoning a first-turn Emrakul in the finals, and he did so in today in his very first match of Magic. Basically, in the last two sanctioned matches of a Legacy Grand Prix (despite a two-year gap in between), Yamamoto managed a first-turn Emrakul!
A flashback from Grand Prix Chiba 2016, Yamamoto’s opening hand in the finals.
However, Yamamoto lost that game because his opponent calmly drew his card and dropped Karakas on the table, sending home the king of all Eldrazi.
Unfortunately for him, he picked up his third loss in Round 7 and dropped from the tournament, losing his chance to win back-to-back Legacy Grand Prix. Anyway, here’s what he registered this weekend. We wish him luck in the Standard Grand Prix tomorrow!
Eldrazi Running Amok Again
On the topic of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, the most popular tribe in Legacy has got to be Eldrazi.
By the time Round 4 concluded, I sighted almost twenty decks containing multiple copies of Eldrazi out of the top 50 tables, spread across three distinct archetypes - one of them a blistering aggro deck, one of them a midrange/control deck, and the last one a dedicated combo deck.
Eldrazi Stompy, Eldrazi Post, and Sneak & Show represent the magical trinity of aggro, control, and combo and are also among the strongest pillars of the format. All three decks draw mana from a selection of unfair (well, if a land produces more than one mana, it's an indication) lands such as Ancient Tomb.
Eldrazi Stompy is the faster of the two creature-based decks, and it depends greatly from Eye of Ugin for its most explosive opening. Eye of Ugin allows Eldrazi Stomp to summon all Eldrazi Mimics and Endless Ones on the first turn. As you can see, this deck tries to overrun the opponent with fast creatures.
Eldrazi Post is the evolution but sacrifices raw speed and brute force in the early game for longevity and card economy. The combination of Cloudpost, Glimmerpost, Vesuva, and even Thespian’s Stage complement Ancient Tomb, Eye of Ugin, and Eldrazi Temple for an exquisite mana base.
Instead of loading up the deck with cheap Eldrazi, the deck opted for Endbringer, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Emrakul, the Promised End, as well as Karn, Scion of Urza and All is Dust, all of which can also be cast with Grim Monolith. You have to watch out for Blood Moon though.
As for the combo deck built around Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, its existence could be traced back to 2012 and at one point also took the form of OmniTell. Remember? The deck was so busted with Dig Through Time, and it was almost inevitable that its sheer power was why it got banned!
Sneak and Show, as the community agreed, was a much more balanced deck and remained one of the most powerful decks in the format. As Kentaro Yamamoto demonstrated, it’s possible for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn to hit the board as early as turn one, thanks to Lotus Petal and City of Traitors.
If you were to pick one of these three decks with Eldrazi in it, which would you choose? I guess it depends on your play style and personal preference because all three decks were seen lurking at the top tables all day long.
Scouring Ichikawa’s Thoughts
Grixis Delver has been a force to be reckoned with for a long time. According to online statistics, it accounts for about 5% of the metagame, which makes it one of the top five most popular decks in Legacy. Today, two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and four-time Grand Prix Champion Yuuki Ichikawa showed up with his very own fine-tuned version. In particular, he singled out Thought Scour as the most impactful decision.
Four-time Grand Prix Champion, Yuuki Ichikawa.
While Thought Scour isn’t new tech - Ben Friedman won an SCG Legacy Classic in Baltimore in 2016 - Ichikawa explained that things had changed a little since. First things first, Thought Scour enables a second turn Gurmag Angler, which is the primary reason it’s better than Preordain.
Secondly, two years later, the format has shifted significantly with the banning of three essential cards. Deathrite Shaman is no more, so you don’t get punished as much for milling your opponent as before. Also, Sensei’s Divining Top took the banhammer last year, which means that it’s even harder for the Miracles player to protect the top of his library. Gitaxian Probe is also gone, which said that players had to find a replacement, and Preordain was not what he wanted.
“I dislike Preordain. It’s a sorcery. Together with Ponder, that’s eight copies of sorcery card draw which can be a liability. In a mana intensive format such as Legacy, every little bit counts. Sometimes, I need to hold up that one mana and I don’t want to react until my opponent does."
“It’s great against Miracles. If you suspect that your opponent has Terminus on (or near) the top of his deck, you can Thought Scour him, and then cast your Gurmag Angler. White-Blue Miracles always popular so it is nice to have a little edge against them. I have to be careful against their Brainstorms, and make sure that they don’t Brainstorm in response to my Thought Scour."
Ichikawa enjoyed playing Grixis Delver greatly, as you can see from his wide smile!
One last thing, if your opponent is on the draw and he or she mulligans and leaves a card on top, you can lay your first land and Thought Scour that card away. This is something that Preordain can’t do! Also, if you have Surgical Extraction, you can even pick out something out of your opponent’s deck before your opponent even draws his or her first card!
Yuta Takahashi (left) and Ken Yukuhiro (second from left) watching one of Ichikawa’s matches intently
We wish Ichikawa the best of luck as he attempts to go for his tenth Grand Prix Top 8 this weekend! Making the Day 2 cut at a 6-2 record, he’ll need to win out tomorrow!
The 8-0 Players
Day 1 of Grand Prix Shizuoka (Legacy) 2018 has concluded! Out of 1429 competitors, only 253 made the Day 2 cut. Eight players achieved the perfect record, including former Player of the Year and Pro Tour Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura who sat in the top spot!
The other seven 8-0 players were Yuuta Hirosawa, Huang Ta Chi, Teruya Kakumae, Daichi Akimoto, Takahiro Ishikawa, Shogo Watanabe, and Shunya Fujita! While we can’t spill the beans right now, we’ll make sure to post all 8-0 decklists tomorrow when the Top 8 begins.
Top left to right: Kenji Tsumura,Yuuta Hirosawa, Huang Ta Chi, Teruya Kakumae
Bottom left to right:Daichi Akimoto, Takahiro Ishikawa, Shogo Watanabe, and Shunya Fujita
Good job, guys! Keep up the momentum tomorrow, for the hardest battles have yet to come!