Day One Highlights of Grand Prix Singapore

Posted in Event Coverage on December 16, 2017

By Chapman Sim

Nine rounds of Sealed Deck elapsed and the field of 575 was boiled down to just 185. Before we head into Day Two of Grand Prix Singapore, let's discover some of the top stories of the day.

Catching Up With The World Magic Cup Champions

They finally did it.

Team Japan, the World Magic Cup Champions

Before, the Japanese were considered one of the worst performers at the World Magic Cup. This year, they proved everyone wrong and claimed the title with a blazing vengeance. No. 6-ranked Shota Yasooka, No. 9-ranked Yuuya Watanabe, and reigning Japan National Champion Kenta Harane were among the top teams at Nice, France. Sure enough, they rose to the top to everyone's expectations.

After a fortnight's rest, the trio was back on the road, hunting for even more prize money, Pro Points, and prestige. Naturally, they were among the top contenders to win this tournament outright. With the help of Tetsuya Yabuki from the Japanese coverage team, I asked the three World Magic Cup Champions about their stellar performance.

According to Watanabe, he only had one thought all weekend. "Yaso is amazing. I don't have to worry about anything. Sometimes, I don't even have to win."

"But, you say that every time," Yasooka burst out laughing. Usually severe and sullen, it was one of the rare times to see him smile.

Harane: "That's because it's true!"

Yasooka: When I participated in the World Magic Cup in 2016 as the Team Captain, we were the fastest teams to go 0-4 and drop out of the tournament. I'm happy we won this time.

Without a doubt, the "star power" of Team Japan was higher than any other team in the field, Yasooka added. However, Watanabe was quick to add that the team understood each other, which made the preparation process even smoother. Since they were all familiar with one another, it is much easier than if three acquaintances were to make the team. Also, all three reside in Tokyo, making team meetups rather convenient.

Looking back on 2017, Harane claimed that it was the most moving year of his career. Starting out Silver, he managed the seemingly insurmountable climb to Gold. After that, winning Japan Nationals and the World Magic Cup in succession felt unreal. "Everything happened so fast, and it is like a dream come true. I don't want to fall off the train. I hope I can play Magic for a long time."

As for their results, Yasooka and Harane both made Day Two at solid 7-2 records, while Watanabe failed to advance and can only cheer on his fellow teammates from the side.

Chewing On It

Two months had come and gone. As Ixalan Limited reached maturity, as did our perception of the format. Since the beginning, opinions formed around single cards - and strategies - have shifted considerably. For instance, Cobbled Wings and Prying Blade were undoubtedly gaining more and more respect, and players on the receiving end soon realized that those cards not mediocre as they thought.

(4) Kelvin Chew had been on a tear all year. In addition to making three Grand Prix Top 8s, Chew also cracked Top 4 of the World Championship. Also, he is a Platinum Pro, the reigning Singapore Captain, as well as the highest-ranked player in the room. It was safe to assume he spent a lot of time being in tune with the format.

He cited Jace, Cunning Castaway as the most overrated card of the quarter. "I thought, as a Planeswalker, it would be great. But now, I think it's barely playable. It always felt disappointing and three mana for a 2/2 which didn't stack up against other two-drops or three-drops. At Grand Prix Lyon a few weeks ago, my teammate Jason Chung even 'ultimated' Jace and lost the game."

Kelvin Chew, Singapore's winningest player.

As for Chew's approach towards Sealed Deck, it was pretty much the same as before. He would typically filter out the unplayables, sort the remaining cards by color, and explore all possible combinations by mana curve or tribe. He also tries to play the most powerful cards in his pool and splash them with Treasure tokens if need be. For these reasons, he cited Contract Killing as his favorite common in Sealed Deck, because it allowed him to play his most potent cards even if they were off-color. Charging Monstrosaur was his favorite uncommon, while Vraska, Relic Seeker was named by him as "an unbeatable card in this slower format," two cards which many players were glad to splash.

In today's case, Chew mentioned that there was a high chance that he would be playing red since he had Captain Lannery Storm and Burning Sun's Avatar. However, Chew had only one red two-drop in his entire card pool, Fathom Fleet Firebrand. Since green also just had one two-drop while white didn't have any, it was easy for Chew to eliminate a few color pairs due to restrictions. For example, you couldn't pair white with green, or green with red, or red with white, unless you wanted to go in with only two or fewer two-drops. Moving on, Chew lamented that Black-Green was "subpar," while Blue-Green had "no late-game."

  • Shaper Apprentice
  • River Sneak
  • Seekers' Squire
  • Queen's Bay Soldier
  • Dire Fleet Hoarder
  • Fathom Fleet Firebrand
  • Deeproot Warrior

An exhaustive list of all of the two-drops in Chew's card pool which severely limited his options today.

"I received a pool without two-drops. Except for Kumena's Speaker, the one-drops are also weak. In the end, I decided to play Black-Red because it gave me the most two-drops combined. Usually, you want 5 or 6 two-drops. Four is just too few."

Chew also provided some notes about a few cards. Treasure Map is excellent in Sealed. You can expect to filter one or two cards you don't need from three scry activations. In addition to the three clues received, Chew still had Contract Killing, Captain Lannery Storm, and Dire Fleet Hoarder. In addition to Treasure generators, he also had a fair number of explore creatures - three, to be exact - and it helped mitigate against mana problems. Swashbuckling was another card Chew felt was unplayable during Ixalan's infancy, but after watching Christian Calcano 3-0 his booster draft at the World Championship, he was pretty impressed with it.

Chew advanced to Day Two with a 7-2 record.

"I'm missing a few important cards such as Pirate Cutlass and Lightning Strike. And also Charging Monstrosaur. Haha! But, I would give this deck a 7/10. Not great, but above average."

Would you build this deck the same way Chew did, given this card pool?

Kelvin Chew’s Black-Red

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Team Grey Ogre Games

Because the majority of Singapore's Magic players convened at the Singapore Expo, it felt like a fitting time to write about the local community. As a Singaporean myself, I am thrilled to share that we have an all-Singaporean team entered for the Pro Tour Team Series.

Team Grey Ogre Games, supported by a local store of the same name, comprised Felix Leong, Fabien Li, Lim Zhong Yi, Tay Jun Hao, Ernest Lim, and Joshua Yang.

From left to right: Joshua Yang, Tay Jun Hao, Ernest Lim, Felix Leong, Lim Zhong Yi. Unpictured: Fabien Li, currently studying in Europe.

Combined, the six Singaporean players boast over a century of gaming experience. They have a total of 315 lifetime Pro Points which put their average at a rather impressive 52.5 Pro Points each. All six of them were qualified for at least two Pro Tours in the current 2017 - 18 season, with two of them qualified for a third. The remaining players had four or five more chances to qualify, through upcoming Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers, Grand Prix, or by hitting Silver.

Leong, a Top 8 competitor from Pro Tour Hour of Devastation , as well as Li, Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur 2014 were affiliated with MTG Mint Card but lend strength to the local team.

Also, reigning Singapore National Champion Lim Zhong Yi was a member of Hareruya Hopes but elected to join up with his local comrades. In Round 9, he was paired against Kelvin Chew, his team captain at the recent World Magic Cup. He won that match, pumping himself up to 8-1, putting him in a great position to make his second Grand Prix Top 8.

Tay Jun Hao playing against Yam Wing Chun (playing Burn in every format possible) at the X-1 bracket. Tay was most unfortunately burnt to a crisp with Unfriendly Fire and Repeating Barrage directly to the face.

Since all six had a lot of experience, everyone could contribute to the team in one way or another. Tay (pictured above) has two Grand Prix Top 8s under his belt, and Yang has one. Last but not least, Ernest Lim was currently a Silver Pro. He shared that his goal was to aim for Gold in the upcoming season, but at least maintain Silver such that he could continue to attend RPTQs.

"I'm excited to be on Team Grey Ogre Games especially because it is a local store putting in great effort in supporting local players. Going to a Pro Tour with many other Singaporeans is also more fun than being alone because we can encourage one another along the way. I also hope we can do well enough at the Pro Tour Team Series to qualify for Pro Tour 25th Anniversary."

According to one of the proprietors of Grey Ogre Games, Mark Tan, he said that one of their most mattering goals was to foster the next generation of Magic players.

In addition to all the support rendered by the Wizards Play Network, Tan and his crew designed a local circuit with an annual prize purse of around $20,000 in cash and prizes. This initiative would provide an additional stage for aspiring Pro Players and grinders to shine. Players earn Ogre Points for participating and doing well at all store events. From there, sixteen players will qualify for their in-house Invitational. They also regularly stream and broadcast on Twitch and Youtube, which was a great way to gain reach across the cosmopolitan island of five million inhabitants.

Joshua Yang shared that he usually practiced or playtested alone due to a lack of teammates for Premier Events. However, he now looked forward to improving himself by working with a team. "Having the support from a store is great. In fact, I played Grey Ogre Games's previous Invitational Qualifier and made the Top 8."

"Players come and go depending on which stage of life they are at, but we should never stop nurturing new blood. Since we get fewer Grand Prix than in other regions, we decided to step up and lead the way." Tan added that "all six members of Team Grey Ogre Games are granted free entry to all our Dailies. This means that they can put in as much practice as they wish. Also, we provide stipends for overseas travel to help them achieve their goals."

Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something. Building a community is challenging yet rewarding. By creating a participatory environment, the conditions will favor and motivate players who wish to grow. At the core, it is great to have a small cadre who are particularly consistent and engaged, such as these six dedicated Magic players and those who support their dream.

Exploring Ixalan (and Singapore) With Tomohiro Kaji

Some facts about Kaji are easy to discern - as evidenced by his illustrious Magic career. He is a Pro Tour Champion. He is a Grand Prix Champion. He is a Magic devotee. His will is tremendous. And, his heart is great. This weekend, we hope he will be able to make the Top 8 after a hiatus of over a decade.

Intensely passionate, with a ferociously logical mind and a precise memory, Kaji would spend hours buried in research. "As a coverage coordinator, I spend a lot of time preparing an upcoming format. There is a lot of work going on in the background so we can deliver the best commentary for the audience."

While he's not in the booth, he takes the opportunity to travel around the region where he can put his knowledge to good use. The previous time Kaji engaged in Ixalan Limited was at Grand Prix Hong Kong 2017, where he finished 12-3 - without byes. Yesterday, he invested his Friday afternoon and "one-shotted" a Sealed trial, paving the path towards a potential repeat Grand Prix victory.

What have we learned about Ixalan after two months? Kaji was quick to point out that much had changed, causing the value of numerous cards to rise and fall.

"At the beginning, players were trying to build aggro decks. In an unknown format which had not been playtested extensively, it was usually better for players to be proactive. Now that we understand the format more, midrange and control decks are on the rise."

  • Desperate Castaways
  • Shining Aerosaur
  • Slice in Twain
  • Grim Captain's Call

For example, Desperate Castaways was what Kaji called a "metagame" move because it rarely saw play in aggro decks but was excellent for midrange and control decks to stop aggro decks. If you're going to be more defensive, cards like Shining Aerosaur were significantly better than before.

Slice in Twain was another of Kaji's examples. "It used to be a sideboard card, but now I will play it main deck in Sealed Deck. More and more people are playing Cobbled Wings and One With the Wind. The format has slowed down, the games go longer, and the card advantage is helpful. For these reasons, I also think Grim Captain's Call has improved with time."

Also, players tend to splash more often so we will see more Pious Interdiction and Ixalan's Binding. This brings us to Kaji's next critical assessment - players were playing three-color decks more often. Kaji said that while two-color decks were consistent, they are not fast enough to end games quickly. In the end, the three (or four and five) color decks gain critical breathing space for their more powerful cards to take over the game.

Case in point, he splashed Vraska, Relic Seeker in his White-Black deck yesterday at the Grand Prix Trials. Today, Kaji is playing a White-Black deck splashing for Hostage Taker and Charging Monstrosaur.

Tomohiro Kaji’s 4-Color

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With Ixalan sharings out of the way, Kaji proceeded to partake how happy he was to be back in Singapore.

"It has been twelve years since the last time I came here. The weather is a little warm but at least everyone is nice, and the environment is safe and clean. In the last few days, I went to Chinatown for the most delicious chicken rice ever and had a seafood buffet at the Sheraton. I also had Chilli Crab by Clarke Quay. However, my favorite dish is Sambal Chilli Fried Rice. I could eat it every day!"

He also spent a full day in Sentosa, a famous island resort visited by twenty million people annually. There, he toured the S.E.A. Aquarium - the world's second largest - and also ascended to the top of the majestic Merlion - a well-known icon of Singapore depicted as a mythical creature with a lion's head and the body of a fish. After that, he spent the evening at Gardens by the Bay enjoying a Christmas market.

"I don't think I have a good deck, but I had a lot of good times," summarised Kaji. Whether or not Kaji-san made Day Two (he did, by the way, scraping in at 6-3) or the Top 8, it was safe to say that this was already a remarkable trip for him and he will have great memories of both Ixalan and Singapore.

The 9-0 Players of Day One

From the among the field of 575, only two achieved the desired 9-0 run. Upon their victories in Round 9, Takaya Kensuke and Tomoharu Saito had a considerable head start tomorrow, and they were well-poised to make their first and twenty-sixth (!) Grand Prix Top 8 respectively.

Takaya Kensuke and Tomoharu Saito celebrate their victorious day!


Kensuke Takaya's Red-Green

Grand Prix Singapore 2017 Day One
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Tomoharu Saito's White-Red

Grand Prix Singapore 2017 Day One
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This tournament was also so well-executed that all participants in the main event were ready to leave the tournament hall by 7:45pm. With the less daunting tournament size, minimal downtime, and professional staff, everything ran like clockwork, making it one of the best experiences a tournament goer could ask for. As everyone headed for an early dinner with their friends, things are just about to get started at Grand Prix New Jersey 2017!

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