Notes from Grand Prix Nagoya 2004

Standard hasn’t received the same level of focus as Mirrodin Block Constructed. You can draw some conclusions from the coverage at Kuala Lumpur and Nagoya, but here’s some more detailed notes and thoughts gleaned from the floor. I make few suggestions as to how to play or build the decks here, instead just analyzing what I learned from last weekend.

They’re piling in the backseat

They’re generating steam heat

Pulsating to the backbeat

Blitzkrieg Bop

– The Ramones,”Blitzkrieg Bop”

If you’re like me, you’ll be watching San Francisco as the world’s best Magic competitors fight it out to determine who’s the World’s best players this year and which country will earn bragging rights as the best. Careers will be made and dreams will be shattered. Thousands of dollars will be won. Players from literally every corner of the globe will be pouring into the Bay City to compete in the world’s most important Magic tournament.

As those of you who’ve done their homework know, Worlds will consist of Standard, booster draft, and Mirrodin Block Constructed rounds. Preparation

for the MBC format is not going to be hard. There are tons of PTQs and two GPs on the books to glean ideas from. But Standard hasn’t received the same

level of focus as Mirrodin Block Constructed. You can draw some conclusions from the coverage at Kuala Lumpur and Nagoya, but here’s some more detailed notes and thoughts gleaned from the floor. I make few suggestions as to how to play or build the decks here, instead just analyzing what I learned from last weekend.

Japan has nearly always had a healthy, diverse metagame, and in my three years of living here I had never seen so many players jump on a single

bandwagon as Affinity. It had all the synergy that most Japanese players go for, but it seemed almost a forced, painfully obvious affair, rather than

the clever and innovative genius that produced decks like Trix and Life.

Before you do anything else, please check out the coverage Brian David-Marshall and I did this weekend. Look closely at both days 1 and 2, as they’re necessary to make any sense out of this article. I write this with a fairly simple and clean mind; my usual tendency towards flowery and ornate vocabulary got burned out of my system with the Nagoya flavor coverage. (Also, I haven’t gone to sleep yet and am trying to strike while the iron is hot.)

Deck archetypes: Performance and Analysis

1. Affinity

God, where to start. For those except the terminally oblivious, it was obvious that Affinity was the seven-hundred-pound gorilla of Standard.

Almost half the players at one of the Friday Trial tournaments were running Affinity. A good eighty percent or so of the field were running standard

builds, avoiding Aether Vial chicanery and other frippery for the meat and potatoes we are all familiar with. There was no consensus to how many

copies each card deserved. Every player tweaked the numbers to their liking. Some players were running Welding Jars, most weren’t. Some players

were running an entire set of four Myr Enforcers. Others went with two or three, or even none.

Some of the players who ran Affinity at the trial were dismayed at the substantive, but perhaps not quite sufficient hate directed at their choice, so

they went with something else. Day One had about 40-50 percent of the field running Affinity. That’s a heck of a lot, but the percentage was winnowed

down to 33 percent for Day Two.

2. R/G Goblins – The Little Men That Could

Fourteen decks running Goblins made day 2. Many Japanese players had fallen out of love with the small terrors recently, as Affinity could throw out

more damaging, harder hitting men and crank them out quicker. Goblins were more durable, but couldn’t get the job done as well. But that wasn’t the key factor to Kishi’s success.

Goblin decks weren’t facing the amount of massive hate that Affinity decks were. Maindecked Relic Barriers? On top of the standard Shatters and

Electrostatic Bolts? Admittedly, Electrostatic Bolt works nearly as effectively on all of Goblins’ creatures (aside from Clickslither) as it

does on Affinity. But Goblins run many more creatures and focus more on eliminating the opponent’s army, so losing one guy isn’t nearly as painful

for the deck as it is for Affinity.

Kishi’s Red/Green build, just like Tsuyoshi Fujita’s at Nationals, ran Forest and Wooded Foothills maindeck to support Oxidize. Killing an artifact

land on turn 1 kept Frogmites from hitting play early, and that tempo gain made all the difference for Kishi today. Fujita had to worry about

Skullclamp at the time, whereas Kishi didn’t. But that didn’t mean that the Oxidize-optimized build wasn’t obsolete. Mulliganing to an Oxidize-optimized hand seems like an extremely sound tactic at Worlds.

Kishi’s mana base ran four of Wooded Foothills and forests, and three Cities of Brass. While the mana base doesn’t seem ideal, it’s reliable enough to

support Clickslither, the most tricky spell to cast in the deck. Kishi won two games over the weekend without drawing more than two land, so it seems

remarkably resistant to mana denial strategies.

If I had to pick a deck to run in the Standard component at Worlds, I would go with R/G Goblins. It’s got a proven track record against Affinity and has

a decent game against a wide plurality of the entire field. It’s won the two big Japanese tournaments with Standard in the last four months. It’s

not that hard to play, and not too hard to pick up in a short period of time.

3. Tooth and Nail – The Big Deck That Couldn’t

Tooth and Nail seemed like a good idea at the time, really. It had all the hallmarks of a Japanese deck, never mind that Gabriel Nassif popularized it.

Searching for land and dumping it into play, lots of synergy, unstoppable answers… if Japanese players can be persuaded to put their counterspells,

board sweepers, and little red men away, there’s got to be something great about the deck.

Tooth and Nail’s wide use in Day One is an excellent reason why many of the Death Cloud decks succeeded in making it to Sunday. Any deck that has

access to reliable land destruction will keep Tooth and Nail from getting its victory condition. At Worlds, will as many players find the deck as

attractive as the Japanese? Doubtful. But I could very easily be wrong.

4. W/U Control

I write about Japan a lot. It’s almost entirely what I write about. I don’t like talking about much else aside from Japan. And if there is one thing

that I want you to walk away with after reading this article, it’s that Goblins is not the deck you should first associate with Japanese players.

Japan may flirt with decks like Affinity. It may even have regular and passionate affairs with mistresses like Goblins. But the country will always

stand by its lifetime obsession and mate, W/U Control.

Fifteen players made it to Sunday with W/U control. Some ran Akroma’s Vengeance. Others were running March of the Machines and Darksteel Ingots.

One guy splashed red for Magma Jet and Pyroclasm. (A sound call, since few of the Affinity players were running Myr Enforcer.) None were without a

complement of Eternal Dragons and Decrees of Justice.

Think about this, dear reader. How many players are running W/U control where you live? How many articles in Standard do you read that proclaim its

virtues? How can such a slow, ponderous beast make its presence known in the rapid environment that is today’s Standard? Japan’s international

reputation may have risen with the achievements of Fujita and Kuroda, but that belies the massive and passionate affair with Islands and Plains that

has remained constant in the Japanese tournament scene. Japanese players on the whole have demonstrated the ability to kick Goblins to the curb. They

develop numerous bizarre creations and combo monsters. But underneath all the innovation and creativity lies a hardcore, lunatic fringe sect of

worshippers who pray at the shrine of control. Ignore that cult at your peril. The day that Wrath of God rotates out of the core set, I predict

that the Japanese flag will be flown at half mast.

On a more practical note, only one of the fourteen”pure” W/U decks progressed to the top 8. Tomoharu Saitou’s success can be attributed to his

decision to skip running Akroma’s Vengeance in favor of running Relic Barrier in the maindeck. Relic Barrier is cheap, easy to play, and low

maintenance. Akroma’s Vengeance might win you the game, provided the other guy doesn’t have Disciple. Relic Barrier will hinder the enemy hordes

indefinitely. If you want to shave your head and join the faithful at Worlds, run Relic Barrier.

5. Big Red

If you are a lazy player and don’t want to practice playtesting more than one deck at Worlds, do not play Big Red in any of its incarnations. Big Red

was an extremely popular deck at Friday’s Trial locations, making up anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the metagame. (Or, about 30 to 40 percent

of the metagame that isn’t Affinity.) Some versions that were succeeding were running Relic Barriers in the main deck to finish Affinity off. Others

ran Shatters, and nearly all ran Electrostatic Bolt. But if Arc-Slogger or (in rare instances) Megatog failed to hit the table, Big Red didn’t have a


6. W/G Slide

Most decks weren’t quite prepared for Eternal Slide. The popular Tooth and Nail decks were running Tel-Jilad Justice while everyone else was running

the cheaper Oxidize. Few players bothered to consider Naturalize. But Astral Slide can punish any deck that fails to win the game quickly, and

this was one of the two pure control decks. The various versions of the deck run Wrath of God and Akroma’s Vengeances to combat Affinity, but

Gilded Light and Plow Under are often sub-optimal against Affinity. Two players made day 2 with the deck (though Czech player Tomas Krejsa, who

loves traveling to Japan, was not one of them). One made top 8. Arguably the best pure control deck of the field.

7. Death Cloud – run by Ibamoto

It beats Affinity. I’ve seen it beat Affinity hard and thoroughly. You may look at the deck list and say to yourself,”How the hell does this beat

Affinity?” It does, it does. Most of the time, anyway. It didn’t work for Ibamoto in the semi-finals, but the rest of the tournament had Ibamoto

defeating Affinity decks left and right.

Why was it winning so much? Lots of Affinity decks were not running the very large bodies of Myr Enforcer, so Echoing Decay could kill nearly any

creature on the board. (They proved fairly useless against Arc-Slogger, though.) The hand disruption of Headhunter and Chittering Rats makes all

the difference.

For what it’s worth, I had to enter in Ibamoto’s deck list, and boy, was it a mess. Three or four last minute changes, as he couldn’t make his

decisions on eight cards to run. Solemn Simulacrum was almost Withered Wretch. Persecute almost made a maindeck appearance (and this would have

been dreadful against Affinity). The number of Death Clouds changed as well. By choosing to run Barter in Blood, the deck could get two cards for

one repeatedly, since Jens, Chittering Rats and face-down Headhunters often get traded for better men like Frogmites and opposing Jens. Headhunter

doesn’t really like to trade, but if he hits, he takes a serious bite out of the control decks. And Gray Ogre really isn’t that horrid against Affinity.

If I were to run this deck at Worlds, I would make room for at least one more Death Cloud. I would not want to cut a Sword of Light and Shadow,

though. It survives a Death Cloud handily, can be thrown upon an animated Blinkmoth Nexus, and will start replenishing your hand with cheap guys.

Ibamoto himself said he hated his sideboard. He wanted Relic Barrier so badly throughout the day, and mused about putting it into the maindeck. It

has decent synergy with Death Cloud, since it’s so cheap and doesn’t require mana to activate.

For deckbuilders in need of a work in progress, consider: Ibamoto was one of fourteen players running Death Cloud decks in day 2. His was not the only

game in town. There are many other viable builds out there. Consider your options, and use Ibamoto as a starting point.

8. Naoto Akita’s Zur’s Weirding deck

Just kidding.

9. Everything else fit to see print

Ponza seems like a reasonable choice, with five people making day 2. Ponza was a rare sight indeed on Day One, so apparently the deck has some

reliability in the format.

One Cog deck made day 2. The guy playing it was obviously having a blast. Though I don’t think he was having as much fun as Naoto Akita.

The Beast decks were doing excellently in Day 1, but none seemed to fare well on Day 2. They also were being smashed by Death Cloud players and have

horrid matchups against W/U Control and Urzatron decks.

Other notes:

Zur’s Weirding, man. Zur’s Frigging Weirding! Holy Crap, Someone Made Day Two With Zur’s Weirding! Watch as Zur’s Weirdings skyrocket in value. An aside: BDM made a minor, subliminal”Engrish” joke by typoing the card as”Wielding”. He also made another Engrish pun in an entry title. If he pulls that sort of behavior at Worlds, you have my endorsement to slap him.

I was completely thrilled to have the opportunity to write about the accessories and customized stuff Japanese players make and use. I had so

much material to work with. I wish I had two or three hours to do that article instead of thirty minutes.

About my”Shocking Nakamura” article… yes, he used the f-word. Everyone in Japan knows what it means. No, he didn’t receive any penalty for using

it. No one was offended by it. I laughed when I heard it.

One of Nagoya’s local pro players, Yuji Otsubo, managed to play his way through a Standard field of 200+ in to win the Golden Killer Whale

(Kinshachi) open Standard tournament. Otsubo was the first player to befriend hapless me in my first months of Japan. His English was and is

still awful, but he has never let his mistakes get in the way of doing his best to help me. Many Japanese players were extremely hesitant at the time

to try to communicate in English at all, but Otsubo-san was the exception to the rule. He’s no slacker in the skill department, either. He’s made four

GP top eights, but hadn’t outright won any major tournaments to date until now. He humors me regularly as a playtest partner, and passes along any

tournament information or directions that he thinks I might appreciate. Without his hull, I would never have had the enjoyment of the Japanese Magic

scene that I have had. As my Day 1 notes indicate, he was running a B/R concoction that I only briefly flipped through. I will pester him for a

decklist this weekend.

An eight man Type One tournament happened at the side event area. (I was not happy to find out about it after the fact, as I love playing Type One

purely for the ability to play Turboland as God Intended It To Be Played, with Oath of Druids and Gaea’s Blessing.) Japanese industry legend Ron

Foster was impressed.”A Type One tournament? In Japan? And they’re all playing real decks with power nine!” The hardcore Type One otaku have been

building their voice in Central Japan, and hopefully there will be more tournaments of the sort. Osaka’s gaijin hero Michael (sorry, I forget your

last name) won with his Stax Goblin Welder/Smokestack deck against a sea of multi-color control and Dragon combo. I happen to be Aichi prefecture’s

number one Vintage player. (My rating is 1697, and I am ranked number thirteen in Vintage in Japan. Woo.)

No idea what happened in the Columbus PTQ. Sorry.

Mad props and big ups to:

  • the Gaijin Massive who represented with full

    effect. (Insert drum and bass music here.)

  • Royce Chai, who flew in and made day 2 with only one bye. Singapore


  • Oliver Oks. Night buses are not fun, but I hope they treat you well. Tokyo

    and Adelaide represent.

  • Vince Maggio and Ito. Osaka represent.

  • Tomas Krejsa. The only man brave enough to regularly fly to Japan and GP.

    Here’s hoping you’re here for PT Nagoya. People like him and Oliver make me

    wish I were a drinking man. Czech Republic represent.

  • Justin and everyone in Tsu.

  • The other guys whose names I forgot to write down, from Osaka. Big respect,

    even if I can’t keep track of names for the life of me.

I live for feedback, I die by feedback. Hope you enjoyed the coverage and this overflow, though I doubt it was as much fun as I personally had at

Nagoya. Now it’s time to get some sleep.

Eli Kaplan

[email protected]

gaijineli on EFnet

whose fingers are actually tired from typing today