Round 4 of each Grand Prix is always where the pros come out to play after enjoying their three round byes. However, with over 3,300 players in the tournament hall, I was worried that I might be hard-pressed to find an exciting match.
Thankfully, the pairings brought together Masashi Oiso and Shintaro Ishimura.
Masashi Oiso (left) and Shintaro Ishimura (right)
Masashi Oiso is one of most successful players in the celebrated history of the game, being one of only seven players to have reached the Top 8 of a Pro Tour six times. Since his Hall of Fame induction in 2012, he has slowed down considerably to focus on his career, but since there was a Grand Prix a thirty minute Metro ride away, we should not be surprised to see him grace us with his presence.
His opponent, Shintaro Ishimura, is much less accomplished. To be fair, few players matched up against Oiso and can boast to have a more powerful resume. However, Ishimura is no slouch either. He has three Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, and also made the Top 8 at Pro Tour Paris in 2011, the very same one that Ben Stark won.
As Yuuki Ichikawa shared with me earlier this morning, he had expected Grixis Control to be popular, and that happened to be Oiso's weapon of choice. A slow, but powerful, deck that attempts answer early threats before taking over the late game with a myriad of Planeswalkers or the recursive powers of Kolaghan's Command and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Grixis Control is the kind of deck that would be good against other aggro and midrange decks.
However, this fight was not something Oiso would have chosen to pick.
On the other side of the table, Ishimura was running a textbook Red-Green Ramp deck, which makes it a great matchup for him. Firstly, he wasn't relying on mana dorks such as Deathcap Cultivator to accelerate his mana, which means that Oiso's point removal such as Fiery Impulse and Grasp of Darkness would be rendered useless. Secondly, it is also unlikely that Oiso would be able to clock Ishimura fast, which allows him to build up his mana, switch on Delirium for Traverse the Ulvenwald and eventually go over the top to end things with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
Despite the matchup not being very favorable, don't discount Oiso's chances just yet. He has some tools in his arsenal that could swing things back in his favor, including Dragonlord Silumgar which was effective against Chandra, Flamecaller, World Breaker and even the indestructible Eldrazi.
Red-Green Ramp's classic opening.
After winning the die roll, Ishimura opened with Evolving Wilds for Wastes, which allowed Ruin in Their Wake to function like Rampant Growth. That was followed up by Explosive Vegetation, guaranteeing an explosive start, except that Ishimura hadn't drawn any threats yet.
Oiso could only lay three lands and pass the turn, a hand filled with nothing but kill spells with nothing to kill. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet which hit play on Turn 4, but as discussed previously, this was hardly a threat at all.
Oiso tries to capitalize on his opponent's lack of action.
Ishimura set things up with a pair of Oath of Nissa and Dragonlord Atarka hit play the next turn, killing off Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in the process. Additionally, Oiso was still devoid of any Blue mana and a 5th land, so the Ob Nixilis Reignited and Dragonlord Silumgar he was holding could not enter the battlefield to turn the tides.
Masashi Oiso 0 – Shintaro Ishimura 1
In this matchup, Oiso's best bet was to keep try and keep Explosive Vegetation in check either by exiling it with Transgress the Mind, or to simply counter it with sideboarded Negates. If that plan failed, he'll need to find a way to kill everything, hope to dodge World Breaker from touching his delicate mana base, while putting up a fast threat to end things before Ulamog came online.
Once again, Ishimura led with Evolving Wilds but before he could crack it for Wastes, Oiso tried to disrupt with Transgress the Mind. Revealing a hand of double Traverse the Ulvenwald, Ruin in Their Wake, double Explosive Vegetation and Dragonlord Atarka, it would seem like Ishimura would get to 6 mana regardless.
Failing to draw his fourth land for Explosive Vegetation, he was forced to expend both copies of Traverse the Ulvenwald to fetch up a pair of basics. Why both? The reason for this was soon apparent. He had no intention of casting Explosive Vegetation just yet, and wanted to secure his fourth and fifth land drops to put pressure to the board in the form of Reality Smasher.
After finding time to finally cast Explosive Vegetation, Ishimura's timely World Breaker took out Wandering Fumarole. Thereafter, Oiso went for Goblin Dark-Dwellers to "flashback" Transgress the Mind, plucking away Dragonlord Atarka (over Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger) which could hit play the very next turn.
A topdecked Reality Smasher put Oiso at lethal next turn, and when he found no way to kill both creatures on the board, he scooped up his cards.
Oiso: "That topdecked Reality Smasher was so good. I thought I would have a little more time!"
Ishimura smashes his way to a swift victory.
Masashi Oiso 0 – Shintaro Ishimura 2
Shintaro Ishimura defeats Masashi Oiso and advances to 4-0.