Finals: Riku Kumagai (Naya Midrange) vs. Kazushige Suzuki (Grixis Control)

Posted in GRAND PRIX TOKYO 2016 on May 8, 2016

By Chapman Sim

Prior to this weekend, if you have been asked to predict what the finals matchup looks like, we unlikely to pinpoint it specifically. This is due to the fact that there are so many strategies that are viable, and Standard hasn't been that diverse in a long time.

To narrow it down, I might have gone with "a midrange deck" versus "a control deck". It certainly looks that way, considering that the number of aggro decks have dwindled over the past few weeks. There are plenty of midrange decks in the format, taking form in an assortment of colors. Selesnya, Sultai, Jeskai, Mardu, you name it and someone will brew it.

In particular, Kumagai's Naya Midrange shell is an evolution from the White-Green Tokens deck that have been experiencing great success lately. Replacing Nissa, Voice of Zendikar with Nahiri, the Harbinger, one can tell that it's not as "beatdown-centric" as its predecessor.

It also draws strength from Dragonlord Atarka, a trump which has proved to be a very valuable splash all weekend. Aside from the Kumagai's deck continues to posses all the other elements which White-Green decks have access to, for instance, Sylvan Advocate, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Archangel Avacyn and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

On the other hand, most of the pros in the room have already foreseen Grixis Control's meteoric rise. To say that it was "the elephant in the room" would not be an understatement. Ever since Oliver Tiu's Top 8 performance in Toronto, a lot of attention has been drawn to it and Kazushige Suzuki has decided to pick it up. Running so much removal in the deck, one wonders if the original deckbuilders have simply logged on to Gatherer and thrown in every kill spell they've come across. The deck also runs the recursive combo of Kolaghan's Command and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. If this combination is good enough for Modern, it should not be a surprise that it's similarly strong in Standard. It even runs Snapcaster Mage, which takes the form of Goblin Dark-Dwellers.

It is both players' first Grand Prix Top 8, and the fact that they're playing for the title of Grand Prix Champion is simply beyond their wildest dreams. After eliminating 3,333 other players, it just down to the two of them. One match, one Grand Prix title, eternal glory.

Game 1

Both players dropped the best two drops in their respective colors, Sylvan Advocate against Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. They seemed to be in sync, both passing their third turns, and adding important four-drops next.

In Kumagai's case, it was Nahiri, the Harbinger, which allowed him to filter through some unwanted cards. Suzuki's Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet was equally powerful, even though it was removed with Stasis Snare.

Kazushige Suzuki

Before Kumagai could arrive at six mana, Transgress the Mind robbed Linvala, the Preserver away. Now that he was totally out of gas, with no cards in his hand, he hoped to draw something relevant before Wandering Fumarole could kill him within the next three turns. Long story short, he didn't and the Izzet Manland proceeded to singlehandedly seal the deal.

Riku Kumagai 0 – Kazushige Suzuki 1

Game 2

Now that Kumagai was down a game, he tried his best to equalize the score. Sylvan Advocate burst out of the gates, followed up Gideon, Ally of Zendikar later.

Suzuki's Duress revealed that Kumagai had two solutions to an incoming Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. He removed a Stasis Snare, leaving the other copy in his hand. However, He was in deep trouble because we all know how fast Gideon, Ally of Zendikar can clock.

Gideon, its token and Sylvan Advocate crashed in for 9 damage. Suzuki falls to 5, and Kumagai complicated matters by adding Nissa, Vastwood Seer. Even if he had Radiant Flames, Gideon will still be sufficient to deal the killing blow.

This is why you play White.

Riku Kumagai 1 – Kazushige Suzuki 1

Game 3

Suzuki immediately went for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar with his turn one Duress, a card that had caused him so much grief previously. Using Read the Bones to find some solutions in case Kumagai's Oath of Nissa granted him some action, he was able to pick up a couple of removal spells.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer hit play, netting Kumagai a Forest. Suzuki shrugged it off, preferring to disrupt with Transgress the Mind first. The choice was between Stasis Snare and Tireless Tracker, and he opted for the removal spell to pave the way for Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet should he draw one in the near future. Kumagai had little other choice than to summon Tireless Tracker, before laying Evolving Wilds and cracking it to yield a pair of Clues

Riku Kumagai

Radiant Flames cleared both creatures away, with Suzuki maintaining firm control of the situation. However, as you know, things can easily change in the blink of an eye. A second Oath of Nissa found a second copy of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which hit the battlefield immediately. Fiery Impulse took care of the 2/2 Knight Ally token, but Suzuki still had the Planeswalker to worry about.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers, flashing back Read the Bones, offered some pressure but without Ruinous Path, there was no way he could get himself out of the fix in a pinch. However, it's not as if Kumagai was having a picnic either. Goblin Dark-Dwellers had Menace, and against a deck like Grixis, you really don't want to be double-blocking.

Eventually, he decided to charge into the red zone for 5, dropping a 4/5 Sylvan Advocate to race. A second Goblin Dark-Dwellers ripped Nissa, Vastwood Seer away but he was down to 9 life and was forced to hold back both creatures.

However, it was a futile attempt because he was already dead on the board.

All Kumagai had to do was to animate a 4/3 Needle Spires charge into the red zone together with Sylvan Advocate and Gideon. Suzuki was down to 9 life, and performed the obligatory chump blocks before flipping his next card and extended the hand.

Riku Kumagai 2 – Kazushige Suzuki 1

Riku Kumagai defeats Kazushige Suzuki in the finals and transforms into a Grand Prix Champion!