Planeshift Prerelease Report *T2* – Handa, Japan

Do YOU enjoy playing Japanese Limited? Sure, pros and casual players alike love playing Japanese cards once in a while. The kana and kanji (Japanese’s written characters) look downright silly paired up with your familiar and friendly card art. Japanese cards are also the most expensive per pack (going for an SRP of 500 yen,…

Do YOU enjoy playing Japanese Limited? Sure, pros and casual players alike love playing Japanese cards once in a while. The kana and kanji (Japanese’s written characters) look downright silly paired up with your familiar and friendly card art. Japanese cards are also the most expensive per pack (going for an SRP of 500 yen, which is currently 4.40 US dollars at the moment). But hey, you’re a Limited ace, right? How about trying a Japanese Prerelease?

Personal Tech: You have the advantage of being able to read partial spoilers weeks before they make it into a Japanese magazine. You have the advantage of being able to read tournament reports from previous prerelease tournaments, since the US gets them before Japan. These reports come from all over the world. Most Japanese players don’t read the wide body of English-language Magic content. You know that the Red common base is solid. You’ve been playing since Arabian Nights and have at least two years’ playing and analytical experience on top of any Japanese player.

Disadvantage Anti-tech: "What the heck is that?" "Chotto matte (Wait a second), what number is that card again? Let me go look through this spoiler list again…" (repeat ad nauseam)

It’s not that it’s a disadvantage to have to check the spoiler list that the judge graciously lets you have, since you can’t read Japanese. It’s that all your matches take forever, since what the heck is that card, anyway? I used the Neutral Ground spoiler, since it managed to be only seven pages long. The Wizards spoiler would have killed many trees.

An Invasion Starter, three Planeshift boosters, a beautiful tournament location and a DCI-sanctioned shot for the Greek Hippo are mine for 3500 yen (about thirty bucks). I opt to use an English Invasion Starter and get a 200-yen discount. Almost all of the other twenty-four players make the same decision. This makes me happy. I’ve played eight or nine Japanese Invasion drafts in the past before, so I’m fully prepared to deal with Japanese Invasion cards. The attendance is poor, however. The Invasion prerelease had 56 players! I was disappointed.

Report the First:

Here’s the list of the cards I played, as well as the other cards I received. If you’d disagree with the way I built it, I’d love to hear why.

Eli’s Deck:

Removal: Terminate, Magma Burst, Zap, Strafe, Agonizing Demise.
Only five removal cards, but I have an ace up my sleeve.

Creatures: Lava Zombie, Halam Djinn, Mire Kavu, Ancient Kavu, Kavu Scout, Kavu Recluse, Thunderscape Battlemage, Slingshot Goblin, Maggot Carrier, Duskwalker, Plague Spitter, Goham Djinn, Volcanic Imp, Phyrexian Bloodstock, Shivan Zombie.
Fifteen creatures; that’s a decent sized army. The mana curve is a bit top-heavy, but I don’t anticipate problems.

Other: Maniacal Rage, YAWGMOTH’S AGENDA. I hate this card in Constructed, since I am a beatdown player by nature. I don’t like playing late-game decks. My Invasion Limited experience urges me to cut my mana curve and add some more colors and Grizzly bears, but I resist the evil inclination.

Land: Sulfur Vent, Geothermal Crevice, 8 Swamps, 8 Mountain

The cards that didn’t make the cut:

Artifacts: Drake-Skull Cameo, Skyship Weatherlight, Mana Cylix

Land: Archaeological Dig, Rith’s Grove, Dromar’s Cave

G/W: Steel Leaf Paladin, Fleetwood Panther

Green: Thornscape Familiar x2, Serpentine Kavu, Stone Kavu, Amphibious Kavu, Blurred Mongoose tic-tic-tic-tic-tic, Tranquility, Explosive Growth, Gaea’s Might, Planeswalker’s Favor, Falling Timber, Aggressive Urge, Llanowar Elite

G/R: Voracious Cobra, Yavimaya Barbarian, Hull Breach x2

Red: Stun, Crown of Flames, You Shall Pay For Your Insolence, Goblin Spy

Black: Shriek of Dread After Getting This Card in Your Pack, Tainted Well

Blue/Black: Foily Marsh Crocodile, Lobotomy, Recoil, 2x Malicious Advice ("Hey, man, I hear drafting mono-blue’s some good in Planeshift-Planeshift-Planeshift booster draft!")

Blue: Shimmering Wings, Sleeping Potion, Escape Routes, Worldly Counsel, Probe, Vodalian Serpent, Stormscape Familiar, Hunting Drake, Rushing River

Red/Black/Green: Destructive Flow (card voted Rare Most Likely To Make You Rip It In Two Upon Opening in Limited)

Black/Blue/Red: Crosis’s Charm

Blue/White: Absorb, Silver Drake

White: Orim’s Touch, Benalish Lancer, Ardent Soldier, Liberate, Blinding Light, Obsidian Acolyte, shiny Obsidian Acolyte, Aura Blast x2, Guard Dogs, Samite Pilgrim, Sunscape Familiar, Dismantling Blow, Razorfoot Griffin, Strength of Unity, Sunscape Apprentice

After the fact, I think I built a fairly optimal build for this deck. My first thought was to splash Blue for Recoil, Lobotomy, Crosis’ Charm, and Probe, but I would lose quality Gray Ogres for my army lines. At the Prerelease, I could have boarded the Vodalian Serpent, but decided to pass on this strategy. I hated my White cards; there were no bombs, though I did consider making a sideboard deck against a heavy black deck with the backbreaking two Obsidian Acolytes. I knew I could set up an army of heavy attackers and slowly pound down my opponent’s life, freely throwing out removal spells, knowing that they would be getting recycled with the Agenda. Halam Djinn in the graveyard’s also a fast, powerful kill card when the Agenda’s on the table. It’s a shame to play both Djinns in a two-color deck, knowing they’re not going to hit their peak performance. But I still found the Djinn brothers highly playable. I never got mana hosed with eighteen land, though I did get flooded twice.

Please note that I have the highest respect for Japanese players, but I don’t really have much of a social experience when I play. My Japanese grammar and command of verbs is atrocious. But that doesn’t keep me from knowing enough to play. I use Japanese name order in this article, listing family name first.

After scrawling my sloppy deck list into my handy tournament notebook, I sat down at the second table and faced off against Sugiura Kunikazu. I’ve played Sugiura-san before twice in Standard tournaments, and he’s polite. I decline to play Jan-ken-pon (Rock-Paper-Scissors), as I can’t keep up my speed with most players. If I’m calling, I still lose about 70 percent of the time. I gesture up with the thumb, roll the dice, and lose. He opts to play first. Sweet! All of my opponents today opt to play first, much to my delight. I shock them by always selecting to draw. I guess they haven’t read as many Invasion Limited reports as I have. He’s playing B/U/R with a lot of cheap creatures. He obviously knows what’s up in Invasion limited.

Game 1, He can’t kill me fast, but no 3rd land in my hand by turn 8 hurts. My Shivan Zombie, Duskwalker, Terminate, Maggot Carrier, and Strafe thwart his initial sorties, but his endless ability to drop Kavu outraces my sad defenses. I make sure to shuffle up extremely well for Game 2.

Game 2, he starts fast with a Dream Thrush and Nightscape Apprentice. On Turn 3, I drop a Lava Zombie, and he taps a blue and attempts to put my Zombie on top of my library. I’m rather bewildered by his gestures and call over Ishikawa-san, the assistant judge, and point furiously. I offer "Takeback?" and he instead opts to put his Apprentice on top of his deck. Fair enough. It’s a prerelease and I’m a pretty lenient player, especially when playing against Japanese players. I don’t want to come across as a rude, offensive American. His one turn loss doesn’t help when I follow with a Plague Spitter next turn and proceed to stomp him flat.

Game 3, I keep dropping my Kavu Recluse, and he manages to return it again and again to my hand with Rushing River and Repulse. His Apprentice and Vodalian Zombie are pinging me down relentlessly in the meantime. He then drops an unpleasant Sleeper’s Cloak and throws it on the ugly evil zombie. (I still think this is a janky play.) I topdeck my Agonizing Demise and make him PAY for playing such a great card. I finally manage to set up a passable defense with Halam Djinn, Terminate his Zanam, Magma Burst his weenies, and then display to Sugiura-san that I am a proud supporter of Yawgmoth’s glorious Agenda.

Games: 2-1, Rounds 1-0

Round 2, Goto Yuse. Goto-san’s one of the regulars at Yu-Can, Handa’s local Magic emporium. He’s always an energetic, good-spirited opponent who enjoys a great challenge. I win the roll and announce that I will draw. Goto-san is taken aback at this bizarre proclamation. He gives me a quirky stare; I grin and nod knowingly.

"Majii de?" "Hai, majii." ("Really?" "Yeah, really".)

He mulligans in game 1, I shrug my shoulders and try to show sympathy. I feel a little bad, but I don’t kid myself that this is a good thing. He’s playing B/U/W and drops three 1/1s in the first three turns – then groans when I drop a Plague Spitter. After that, he can’t keep up with the succession of Mire Kavu, Ancient Kavu, and Halam Djinn.

In game 2, the same thing happens. Duskwalker, Obsidian Acolyte on turn 2, and Tower Drake meet my turn 3 Plague Spitter. However, a timely Zap and Terminate help my Plague Spitter go all the way. A timely Turn 6 Battlemage with a two-discard kicker throws away his single Wash Out he was hoarding. He and I exchange decks after the match and I see he’s playing a Dromar. Ouch! His lack of creatures with a two toughness that come out before turn 6 makes this matchup too favorable if I get Spitter out. I play another with him for fun, and this game shows my offense stall out while he sits behind a Vodalian Serpent and Washes me out. However, the Agenda seals his fate as my recurred removal just wrecks him.

I have a tournament curse that prohibits me from winning Game 3 when I’m 2-0. This has happened to me in the last seven tournaments straight. I’ve always started off at a comfortable 2-0, and invariably get handed a loss. Can I break this streak today? I’m sitting at the top table in the first seat, so maybe I can persuade Lady Luck to let me slide through Round 3 today.

Games: 4-1, Rounds 2-0.

Round 3, Suzuki Takahito. He’s a fairly quiet, dignified player and is playing B/R/G. He wins the die roll and opts to play, again eliciting my joy.

Game 1, I mulligan and struggle to trade my Grey Ogres for his Grey Ogres, but Caldera Kavu makes blocking a hassle. I get lucky and topdeck Terminate and Molten Lava to make up for my poor early trades. My Goham Djinn keeps him at bay, though he’s hammered me down to six. I Demise his Maniacally Raged Mire Kavu with kicker and he Death Bombs like a Pro, taking out my Kavu Recluse. I then topdeck my Agenda and get back all the creatures who’ve taken hits for the team. Superior removal and insane card advantage help seal the win.

Game 2, I mulligan with two Djinns, a Maggot Carrier, Agenda, and three lands in hand. This is too slow a hand for my tastes, even when I’m drawing. I pull Swamp, Swamp, Mountain, Maggot Carrier, Shivan Zombie, and Lava Zombie. That’s more like it! He smacks down a Keldon Mantle on his Firebrand Ranger, but can’t pull enough mana to put himself on the offense, and I pull a Terminate and enough removal to help my team press through. He graciously handles the loss and strikes a weird pose for my digital camera.

Wow! I’ve finally broken my streak! I don’t believe I’m going to maintain my luck, though. I retain my top seat for round 4.

I took poor notes for Round 4, but end up losing to Takeuchi Yuhei. This high school student is the only Handa player I don’t like playing. I have played him many times and figure he’s bearing a bit of a grudge against me, because the last time out I cleaned his clock in an Extended tournament which I thought was Standard. I had quickly dug through my junk binder to find enough cards to improve my B/U Evil Merfolk deck and put together a janky deck that managed to go 3-2. In the last round of that tournament in game 2, I had faced him playing Pandeburst and played a Turn 4 Lobotomy I had sideboarded out. It resolved. I said "Huh?" He was completely humiliated, since we were being heavily watched and he Frantic Searched, discarded two Saproling Bursts, and angrily extended his hand, displaying a Saproling Burst, Replenish, and Pandemonium. I pointed to the Burst and he essentially used every single dirty word I can think of in Japanese. He then sat down and played out twenty-five minutes of further counterspells just hoping to stall himself to a win. My Rootwater Thief would have nothing of that, and I actually had to call a judge over to watch the match and make sure he was playing in a timely fashion.

Anyway, he refuses to roll the die and instead covers it in his hand, saying something I can’t comprehend. I am flustered and he calls over Ishikawa-san, who can’t properly explain to me the situation in his broken English. I hate situations where the judge gets annoyed in these situations, and try to avoid them as much as possible. Come on, a brandished die and a thumbs up gesture – how hard is that to understand, especially when we’ve done it in the same fashion many times before! He protests to the judge and I essentially offer him Jan-ken-pon, which he takes and wins, picking to play first. He’s playing a B/U Harpy/Battlemage deck and stomps me flat, though I was mana flooded in both games. He’s also not especially polite about the affair. So he was 3-0 and wanted to win. I’m happy to say that his rudeness is atypical of most Japanese players.

He was playing B/R and had fast weenies, managing to demolish my mana-laden hand. I Strafed his Pachinko Goblin in Game 1 and then ended the turn, not realizing I had made an illegal play. Ishikawa-san was watching the round intently and didn’t catch the mistake. On the following turn, Takeuchi-san had dropped a Halam Djinn when I was at thirteen life. I then looked at Strafe, checked my spoiler, and realized I had made an illegal play, pointed it out to the two, apologized for my error, and scooped. It’s the only honest thing to do, right? (Especially when you have the sinking feeling you’re going to lose anyway!)

I dropped two in a row here, bringing my game totals to 6-3, rounds 3-1. I look around and see I have pretty solid tiebreakers, so if I can win my fifth opponent, I’m in a lock for second place.

Round 5, Saomuru-san. He’s playing G/R/W and manages to drop a Radiant Kavu on turn 3 in game 1. YIKES! Talk about efficient creatures! However, my favorite line (a hokey Austrian-accented "You’re Terminated") again fails to be appreciated as the Kavu slinks off into the graveyard and my Kavu army knock him down until he’s at six. We continue to trade, and I stupidly chump block my Volcanic Imp against a Phyrexian Slayer without giving it first strike, fearing a tap-out trick and keeping my Terminate in reserve. However, a fresh Yawgmoth’s Agenda the following turn makes me realize that Phyrexia has forgiven me for my error, and the Imp gets Maniacal to swing the day.

Game 2 is anticlimactic, as he suffers from not drawing enough creatures. A Kickered Magma Burst on turn 5 is enough to slow me down, but not enough to eventually drive home the win with the Djinn brothers. He never managed to put up a solid defense.

Final results: Second place, 4-1, games 8-3. I take home a limited edition Di Gi Charat card binder, the shiny Greek Kavu, and pride in making my first DCI-sanctioned Japanese tournament finals. After being stuck in a rut of 1700 over the last few months, I’ve finally eked out a 8-3 monthly record to hopefully keep me in the one-round bye for the next Limited Grand Prix. It’s a shame that there aren’t too many Limited sanctioned events in Aichi prefecture. However, this weekend I’ll be attending a PTQ Barcelona event and will be armed with English Invasion and Planeshift cards to put myself on an even footing. I trust my skills, so here’s hoping my luck holds for the week!

And a little something extra:

Report the Second:

The format? Planeshift-Planeshift-Planeshift Japanese Booster Draft. I had dreaded that this side event would happen. While I had learned the art to quite a few Planeshift cards, I still knew I was not prepared to analyze the draft cards properly, so I had prepared the ultimate Unknown Japanese Card draft strategy tech: Draft the Grey Ogre! I ended up playing a deck with four Caldera Kavu, three Mire Kavu, three Morgue Toads, and about five other Gray Ogres, a Terminate, Magma Burst, Strafe, Bog Down, two Death Bombs, and three Keldon Mantles! I also was maindecking the card I had wanted to see all weekend: Goblin Game! I avoided taking unfamiliar cards, since I knew B/R was pretty fierce in PS and didn’t think that the other colors would have too great a creature base to work with. The Keldon Mantles and Grey Ogres managed to take me 2-0, where I would AGAIN face Takeuchi, who was more polite this game, and I maintained a civil demeanor. He had drafted B/U and managed to lock me TWICE with a Cavern Harpy/Hunting Drake combo! I complimented him on his good play and was happy to take a #2 seat in drafting out the rares and foils.

Anyhow, I hope to put together a nice report for this weekend. I’ve got three days of Magic in a row, a PTQ, followed by two Standard tournaments. After playing a slightly modified version of the Red Zone in the last three tournaments, I’m switching to Zvi’s Chevy Fires with Chameleons and Fires to fight the annoying prevalence of Blue/White Wrath-Go decks that seem to dominate the local area. I guess Japanese players seem to prefer control in Standard environments and only saw one Fires deck while scouting at the last Standard out of sixty – so why not try the road less traveled?

Comments? Questions? I’ll be attending PT: Tokyo as a spectator and hopefully article writer (look out for an article from me on Another Major Magic Site in the next few weeks!). If Tobey Tamber or Matt Weinfeld is reading this, drop me a line, please!

Eli Kaplan

Team Eli, Chaya-san, and Outsubo-san (Okay, we don’t have a name yet. Like I can really talk about that when I can read only twenty kana!)

Owner of the Best Damn Region 1 DVD Collection in Aichi-ken

Proud Sega Saturn Owner