Saturday, May 14th.
Why is Magic fun?
Some of you readers out there might be young enough not to remember the days when music wasn’t sold on the internet or on hard shiny pieces of plastic. At one point in time the music came into our living rooms on pieces of magnetically exposed cellulose. Once upon a time, the music came to us in the form of large, black wax plates upon which one would put a diamond-tipped stylus which would wear down the groove, bringing us the melodies and instruments we craved. And many of the listeners in the world were perfectly content to have that imperfect media.
The joy of digital music is that you get to hear the sound that was originally recorded, exactly. You’re not missing anything. You’re not getting any deviation. It’s crystal-clear and perfect in every way. You can rest confident knowing that what sound you hear, barring aural handicap, is what the audio source was. Magnetic and phonographic technology can’t capture sound with the same precision as that of a computer.
And yet there are a group of rogues. Countless audiophiles make pilgrimages to the Bowery district of New York, or the flea markets bearing yesteryear’s antiquated devices, or the oblong stalls creviced into the side alleys of Akihabara. All to find speakers and players for those old, imperfect mediums. Why? Why do some people swear that analog, which is clearly not the real thing, is better than digital, which is the real thing?
I submit to the reader that one reason is that the analog lovers know that they’re not getting the whole story. They’re losing some of the authenticity, enshrouding perfection in mystery and the annals of the imagination. Surely, the live act must sound much better than this, right? That adds to the music, even though we enjoy the heck out of our imperfect records, tapes, and 8 Tracks. The digital media is devoid of potential. When you listen to a piece of digital music, there is no more, really. It’s a closed book. An imperfect medium allows the potential for so much more to exist in the listener’s head.
Isn’t that what’s great about Magic? There’s no one perfect method of winning. We strive to do our best and improve, and there are always aspects of the game to improve upon. How do we react to the metagame? Can we break the metagame by designing a rogue deck? Can we know that in our Sealed deck build we’ve done the absolute, unquestionable, complete best that we could possibly have done?
That’s what makes Magic fun to me.
Once upon a time, there was a great sage who hailed from China, and he sat down and talked to me one night as I scrubbed out of a Grand Prix with zero byes with 15 points. The passage of time may have fogged the details, but I recall the dialogue as going down something like this.
“O sage and fellow wanderer, why is it that I can not seem to make a Top 8 or a GP Day 2? I play my best, it seems, and I cannot seem to crack the Top 8, only staring in agony at those precious people passing the boosters around. You made it in the money. What am I doing wrong?”
“Well… you’re confident in your skills, and you know that you’re probably better than the average or even most players that you sit across the table from, but when will you know that you’re playing a player who is better than you? Watch and see how many mistakes they make, and watch how many you make, and then you’ll see why you come close, but can’t make it.”
That sage’s name was Tobey Tamber. And I have poorly retold his words.
Three years later, I look back at my Magic career. What have I achieved? Four GP Day 2 performances. Finishes at 17, 37, 55, and 8. (Shizuoka 2003, Shizuoka 2004, Yokohama 2004, Osaka 2005.) But I haven’t had a single PTQ top 8 in that span.
One of the questions you have to ask yourself is, how does a Grand Prix compare to a PTQ? You’re going to have to take a cold, hard look at statistics.
- No ceiling to the number of players, aside from the theoretical of floor space
- 8 invitation slots, 4 in the case of teams
- Pros can and do play
- Usually a ceiling of 250 players.
- 1-2 invitation slots
- Prior invitees can’t play
- No byes unless you’re really, really lucky
Now, as most of us know, the byes can cut both ways. Byes give players considerable advantages and can be acquired through rating, pro points or Trials. Now, in my observation, pro points appear to be the hardest to come by, since they can only be acquired by playing high caliber players. However, you can run into fallen pros who have had finishes and fallen off the train, and that can make your PTQs just as hard.
I would maintain that just as any performance in a PTQ Top 8 would signify a fair degree of competence, so would a GP Day 2 performance, assuming that the cut goes to 64 players. A 128-player cut is considerably more forgiving.
I am curious to hear your observations as to whether making a GP T64 is a greater achievement than a PTQ T8 performance. Here is a fine place to take your speculations as to your opinions to the forum. Then, if you like, please read the rest of this report.
So I finished 74th in the Grand Prix, 5-2 plus a first round bye from ratings/pro points. I sign up for the next day’s PTQ, as I didn’t haul my laptop along for coverage as I would normally do. For one thing, my bags were already stuffed with highly desirable merchandise. I didn’t even have enough room to throw my trade binder in. For another, I had come to Matsuyama to play and show the Japanese community that I could get the job done in a singles format. Sure, I may be the country’s premiere (read: only) English-language Magic writer, but merely writing Magic articles doesn’t mean much, and even though I was the player on Team Gongsta Haircut with the most match wins in any of our events, I may have achieved that due to the fact that I might have always received the best deck. I had already made money finishes in a GP before. Nothing less than an invitation to a singles Pro Tour would do.
After a dinner of fried yakitori and Dr. Pepper, I got a good night’s sleep and trekked to the tournament hall. Waiting for the tournament hall to open, I watched Daihatsu minivans pull into the sunny open air brick walk outside. A local flea market was forming outside the venue. Now, there’s little more that I love than picking my way through a Japanese flea market. The strangest things can be found there. Bandai Playdias. Kabuki masks, or possibly replicas. Weird items of jewelry. If I find a Magen David anywhere in a Japanese flea market, I pick it up. What the heck is it doing there, anyway? So I figure I will have some time today to play in the PTQ, drop, check through the stalls and possibly find some rare treasure. That opportunity never came.
There is no greater flea market remembered than the one right outside that you never had a chance to go through. Untapped potential, in the mind, automatically has that which you most desire.
Sixty-four players. Seven rounds. Long, long judge spiel that I can follow about a quarter of. You and I know the drill.
For registration before deck swap, I opened a busty pool with solid Red, Black, and White goodness. Glacial Ray, Yamabushi’s Flame, Torrent, Befoul, Eradicate, and a bunch of good men. Basically, it looked very similar to my deck from Saturday. Good stuff all around. Since I was at a Japanese GP PTQ, the odds of having other English-registering players was a distinct possibility, so there was at least even odds of not getting the deck back. Was I going to get this back?
I looked around at the tables and didn’t see any of the Chinese players, but I did see Steve, a recent newcomer to Magic and a fellow resident gaijin who I had little opportunity to chat with, sitting a few tables over. Assuming that I didn’t miss any Chinese players, I had even odds of keeping my card pool. I felt that if I got back my apparently strong pool, I’d get a good shot at finishing in the top 8.
I didn’t get it back. Here’s what I got.
Call to Glory
Kami of False Hope
Kami of Old Stone
Kami of Tattered Shoji
2 Terashi’s Grasp
Counsel of the Soratami
Eye of Nowhere
Higure, the Still Wind
Kami of Twisted Reflection
Keiga, the Tide Star (FOIL)
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Peer Through Depths
Reach Through Mists
Toils of Night and Day
Sire of the Storm
Stream of Consciousness
Call for Blood
Scourge of Numai
Yukora, the Prisoner
Crack the Earth
Soul of Magma
Torrent of Stone
Child of Thorns
Harbinger of Spring
Kami of the Hunt
As is my usual habit (as usual as anyone who writes as infrequently as I do, that is), I hereby offer various quotes of edifying nature instead of the mere, cheap white space that other writers generally prefer. Today’s quotes come from bash.org, as screened randomly to weed out profanity, drug references, and degrading humor. Apparently these six are all that are suitable.
[@primig] why is duct tape like the force
[@primig] it has a dark and a light side
[@primig] and it holds the universe together
[Rach] when i get my old puter back i’ll send you some songs
[Olly] What happened to it?
[Rach] i broke it
[Olly] On purpose?
[Rach] i wouldnt say PURPOSE
[Rach] just stupidly
[Olly] So you do know exactly what’s wrong with it?
[Rach] yeah, it’s full of water
[Volt9000] here’s soemthing really mean to do to a random fat person on the street: if you’re approaching them from the front, as you get near, start drifting towards them, going “woooaaaH’ then start circling around them, screaming “I CANT BREAK ORBIT, CAPTAIN!!”
[inertia] i was looking up russian shirts on ebay
[inertia] my lithuanian friend has gotten lots of marxist/socialist stuff off of there
[inertia] they sell red beach towels with a yellow insignia of the sickle and hammer for like 20 bucks
[inertia] i might buy one
[Bl1tz] that is sweet
[Bl1tz] although painfully ironic
[Bl1tz] paying 20$ for a towel that has a symbol of everything that was wrong with paying 20$ for a towel
[Guo_Si] Hey, you know what sucks?
[Guo_Si] Hey, you know what sucks in a metaphorical sense?
[TheXPhial] black holes
[Guo_Si] Hey, you know what just isn’t cool?
[Inignot] here is a magic trick Mordecai – think of a card in a stardard deck and type done and I will tell you the card.
[Inignot] 10 of diamonds!
[Mordecai] I was thinking ‘blue mana’
Now returning to your regularly scheduled article…
Before going through the colors, I have to harp upon my opinion as to the current fundamental turn of the format. In Sealed, I would claim that the fundamental mana cost of the game winners is not three, as it was in Champions sealed, but four. Aggressive three-drops are good, but they usually peter out in the mid-game against the four-drops. All your early spells should be trading to keep your opponent’s threats back and set you up for the turns where your superior creatures are coming over for two or three or four turns to win you the game. Sometimes you can get a cheaper, more aggressive start, but I don’t find that to be very common in the current Sealed environment.
The path of most playables involves black. At least twelve playables, including massive beef in the form of Yukora, Scourge of Numai, Painwracker Oni, and a fair degree of little Black men. I will almost never play a deck without at least two creature removal spells, and here I find Befoul and Horobi’s Whisper. Devouring Greed has some promise. Sealed is generally slow enough for Pus Kami, and I have some Soulshift chain potential happening here. Call for Blood doesn’t enthuse me, but if I really wanted to play with every single playable removal spell, it does happen to be there.
Green isn’t really an option here. I like Feral Deceiver, Kami of the Hunt, and Unchecked Growth, but there just isn’t enough depth in the color to make it playable. Budoka Gardener seems irrationally good, but perhaps that’s the years of playing Turboland rubbing off on me. I am enamored with putting extra lands into play repeatedly.
Red has a few gems. Affordable early game men like Battle-Mad Ronin, Ronin Houndmaster, and Brutal Deceiver come with Blood Rites, Torrent of Stone, and Yamabushi’s Flame to clear away problem creatures. But there’s just not enough staples to draw me into making the color primary or secondary. Blademane Baku only excels in spirit-heavy decks, as do Soul of Magma and Cunning Bandit. But there just aren’t enough here to make a commitment. On the other hand, we can certainly splash the burn.
Blue has ridiculous bombs. First of all we have the best dragon, Keiga. We have Higure and Ninja of the Deep Hours for unblockable ninjutsu pain. We have Sire of the Storm which, if it gets online, is completely ridiculous. Soratami Mirror-Guard combos nicely with Deep Hours, and .. well, four great Blue creatures. Then there’s Quillmane Baku. Many discount him, passing him as late as 14th or 15th pick in MODO draft. (I know, I got him 15th pick tonight as I write this.) As a late game color, Blue promised superior results.
The White seemed custom tailored for a slow, controllish match. Blademaster, Old Stone, and Kabuto Moth were the only amazing men, but Lantern Kami and the Hundred-Talon Kami could stall games quite nicely. Decent spells such as Reciprocate and Candles’ Glow could make all the difference in the late game and pose to be passaable in the early game.
1cc: Kami of False Hope, Lantern Kami
3cc: Kitsune Blademaster, Kabuto Moth
4cc: Ninja of the Deep Hours, Kami of Old Stone, Soratami Mirror-Guard, Mothrider Samurai
5cc: Hundred-Talon Kami, Kami of Tattered Shoji, Higure, the Still Wind, Quillmane Baku
6cc: Keiga, the Tide Star, Sire of the Storm
1cc: Reach Through Mists, Reciprocate
2cc: Candles’ Glow, Eye of Nowhere
3cc: Toils of Night and Day, Terashi’s Grasp, Counsel of the Soratami, Yamabushi’s Flame
4cc: Torrent of Stone
A typical Blue/White control deck, the deck benefits greatly from the multiple draw engines in the deck. Higure enables Deep Hours to draw while bringing unblockable beats. The alternate option is getting Sire of the Storm online and amassing more guys on the board than the other guy can handle. Having Keiga as a trump card sounds good too. It’s aggravating not having so few early creatures, but having stalling spells makes up for it. Quillmane Baku is passable filler.
The rounds went fast and furious, and my Swiss notes were scant and spurious. I lost in round 3 to a Red/Green deck splashing Blue for Meloku but won the rest, up until round 7 where I offered an ID to my opponent. I barely made the cut in 8th place.
There was one cool game of note, though, that I can easily recall from round 2. I was sitting low in game 2 at ten life, with a Keiga, Blademaster, Mothrider, Kami of the Tattered Shoji, and a sideboarded Kami of Twisted Reflection. My opponent had a Kami of the Hunt, Ryusei, Kashi-Tribe Warrior, three snake tokens, Waxmane Baku, and a five-toughness Traproot Kami. The turn before, I had attacked with Keiga and he let it through. He attacked with Ryusei, and I attempted to kill the guy with a Lantern Kami and Torrent of Stone. He had a Kodama’s Might to keep that from working. I attacked again with only Keiga, and he let it through. He tapped out his Waxmane to tap down my Mothrider and sent Ryusei over. He wasn’t happy when I played Toils of Night and Day and threw Keiga in front of it then used my Twisted Reflection to return Keiga to hand. I still got to keep my Tattered Shoji and Blademaster, while all he got out of the deal was a mere Kashi-Tribe Warrior. He died two turns later.
The draft started innocuously enough, as I opened a pack containing Kitsune Blademaster, Ronin Houndmaster, Befoul, and Kami of the Hunt. Since it was the only Black card in the pack, I grabbed the Befoul. Next up was another pack with another Befoul, Wicked Akuba, Nezumi Ronin, a Soratami Mirror-Guard, and a missing common. Assuming that the missing common was a Glacial Ray, I figured I’d try to skip on Red, and took the Befoul. The next pack contained a Sire of the Storm and I grabbed that. It looked like Blue was coming my way. Fourth pack contained .. huh? Scuttling Death? Whoa. Mise. After that I grabbed a Rainshaper and a Gibbering Kami. A wheeled Akuba and late Cruel Deceiver made the soulshift curve look tight.
Strangely enough, I got a 10th pick and 11th pick Reach Through Mists. Why would people let such a cheap arcane enabler go through so late? Following that were not one, but two Eyes of Nowhere. Apparently someone doesn’t like sorcery speed bounce. And no one upstream appears to be drafting Blue. Hope budded within my heart.
The second pack proved to be less fruitful. A first pick gave me nothing more than Pain Kami. Since I had all this soulshift, a potential Red splash could give me recursive creature trades. After another Scuttling Death and Devouring Greed, the well began to dry up. Little more than a Rend Spirit, Callous Deceiver, and Counsel of the Soratami came my way. I hated a Kitsune Riftwalker and Humble Budoka, just to keep others from having an early aggro game. A late Hisoka’s Defiance brightened my day, but my creature base looked pretty sub-par.
Slipping the paper off the Betrayers pack, I opened a pack with absolutely nothing playable or splashable other than the consistent Okiba-Gang Shinobi. No Jitte for me today. Next pack saw Torrent of Stone, Veil of Secrecy, Day of Destiny, Gnarled Mass, Teardrop Kami, and little else. Silently grumbling, I looked at the random expensive Black card at the back of the pack. Pus Kami … It has soulshift 6 and can start my Random Scuttling Death Soulshift Shenanigans all over again while killing a guy. Since there was nothing else going on other than a potential red splash, I took the big dumb Seal of Doom. I grabbed the next pack. Hello, Soratami Mindsweeper!
Soratami Mindsweeper may not be getting the same buzz as, say, Umezawa’s Jitte or Final Judgment. A 1/4 for a flying wall seems a bit pricy. The guy seems obviously crazy in Blue/White with healers and such, but I suppose that having an infinite amount of recursive spirits rising again is another route for stalling games. The Sire promised sauciness, and the cheap card draw made it likely that I would be able to get this win route onto the table in the midgame or late game. Now if only the first pack would go through with its intimations of Black/Blue…
The day was getting long, and Knut passed by and took a jab at me. “Eli, you are the least dextrous player in all of Japan.” And the man was right. In tense situations, my hands shake, and I had the world’s shakiest hands as I laid out the twelve or eleven face down shuffled cards for my opponent to pick up. My hands quivered, but I had a big dopey grin on my face as I shrugged and kept drafting, seeing a plan come into formation. Besides, sleight of hand rarely matters in Magic.
Having read my colors right, I was blessed as a pair of Shimmering Glasskites came my way. I picked up a Stir the Grave to restart the soulshift engine, Phantom Wings, Veil of Secrecy, and a Quillmane Baku. Another Pus Kami showed up, to test how deeply I was committed to ridiculously costed spells.
The final results looked like this:
2cc: Cruel Deceiver, Wicked Akuba
3cc: Bloodthirsty Ogre, Callous Deceiver, Soratami Rainshaper
4cc: Gibbering Kami, Shimmering Glasskite x2, Soratami Mindsweeper
5cc: Okiba-Gang Shinobi, Scuttling Death x2
6cc: Sire of the Storm
7cc: Pus Kami
1cc: Reach Through Mists x2
2cc: Phantom Wings, Veil of Secrecy
3cc: Rend Spirit
4cc: Befoul x2, Devouring Greed
Xcc: Stir the Grave
Potentially relevant sideboard cards: Quillmane Baku, Minamo’s Meddling, Hisoka’s Defiance, 2 Eye of Nowhere, Kami of Twisted Reflection, Counsel of the Soratami, Pus Kami, Call for Blood, Orb of Dreams, Pain Kami, Sokenzan Bruiser
The plan was to stall and trade men. Trade all day, trade all night, the stock market closing don’t mean a thing to me and you, baby! My soulshift curve would hold me through the night. Devouring Greed and a few flyers could bring home the win. So could Mindweeper, provided I can keep him alive and supplied with land on turn 10 or so. Sire of the Storm and soulshift are a natural combination, and I could potentially fly a Scuttler over with Phantom Wings. Not a single ninja was passed to me, but that’s how the game goes.
In my view and in the view of most Japanese players, most people are getting to appreciate the benefits of recursive or three-toughness four-drop mana creatures. Eventually, most bears aren’t going to get the job done any more. My deck relied on gaining card advantage, so I kept the draw first plan in mind.
Prepare yourself, dear readers, for games with notes! Play by play!
My quarterfinal opponent was running mountains and forests. I won the die roll and let him go first. His opening of Frostling, Ember-Fist Zubera, Ember-Fist Zubera didn’t look too horrid. I threw down a Callous Deceiver and Mindweeper, and stood back and took a few hits. He made a Honden of Life’s Web and I figured out his game plan. Either he had a Devouring Rage, a Strength of Cedars, or both, and he was going to shovel them through. So my Rend Spirit would lay his plan asunder.
A pair of Shimmering Glasskites and a Soratami Mindsweeper came out to play on my side. He tried to mount an offense with Order of the Sacred Bell, but I shut that down with a Befoul and my Mindweeper wrapped the game up handily.
Game two went similarly, except this time he added a Kiki-Jiki to his side. Using an Ember-Fist Zubera copy trick, he managed to knock out my early air force. I had stabilized the board and had left him only with a Frostling and two cards in hand while I tapped out to make a Pus Kami and had a Shimmering Glasskite and Soratami Rainshaper on the board. Foolishly, I attacked with both fliers. He untapped, threw a Yamabushi’s Flame at the Pus Kami, slapped a Strength of Cedars on the Frostling, and knocked me out.
I slapped my head and sideboarded in a Quillmane Baku for Stir the Grave. If he was going to try making tokens, I might as well try out the big, pricy Waterfront Bouncer. He might also be able to deal with a little guy as well or trade with a Sacred Bell.
Game 3 wasn’t much of a contest. I made a Sire of the Storm and started playing spirits like crazy. He had a slow start. Frostling, Green and Red Zubera, and the Honden of Life’s Web made yet another appearance, so I was wary of The Big Hit. I had Mindweeper on the table and a Veil of Secrets for backup. As promised, he played a Sacred Bell, and I made a Quillmane Baku that traded with it. After I drew my Rend Spirit, I felt safe, and sent in an army of fliers for a turn. He attempted his Devouring Rage and threw all his men into the effort, and I squashed him.
I had played the guy in the semi-finals in the Swiss earlier. He was the guy who beat me in round 3 with Meloku. He was playing Black/White with Nagao, Kabuto Moth, Waxmane, and a slight soulshift curve.
Game 1 was a squeaker as his Cage of Hands kept my Mindweeper from doing his job (blocking). I blew away Nagao, Bound by Honor and Waxmane Baku with Befouls, and his Mothrider Samurai and Kami of Ancient Law kept nibbling away at me. I traded back and forth and while he kept drawing gas, I was slowly nibbling away at his library while recursing creatures. But I went dry later on as I found Sire of the Storm, but kept topdecking land. I cycled a Devouring Greed for a mere 2 life to keep me a turn away from death as I threw the Sire in front of the Mothrider. A topdecked Cruel Deceiver saved me from lethal beats as it gallantly threw itself in the way of his Kami of False Hope. By that point I had lasted just long enough to put him away with the Mindweeper.
Game 2 was a change. I made a small army of Blue flyers, as the Rainshaper and both Shimmering Glasskites showed up. He had a Mothrider Samurai and Genju of the Fields and used a Call to Glory as a trick to take one down. I added a pair of Scuttling Deaths and attacked. He played Masako the Humorless. I was not amused. He tried to rush to declaring blocking, but I stopped him by throwing a Scuttling Death at Masako, letting my offense continue uninterrupted and returning a Shimmering Glasskite to the table.
Something bizarre happened, though, as my opponent had apparently missed the rules memo about Genju of the Fields. He kept attacking with it and failed to activate his ability multiple times. With a single card in hand and six untapped mana, I assumed the worst and figured he had a game breaking instant in hand. I Befouled the Kami of Ancient Law he threw up as defense, and sent my team of Glasskite and Scuttling Death in for the possible kill. After all, I wanted to soulshift out another guy in my second main phase, assuming he could get rid of the Scuttling Death.
Apparently he hadn’t read the memo about the Genju’s potential for life gain! How randomly lucky!
As I filled out my player information form waiting for the other semifinal to conclude, something strange hit me. I wrote down my birth date. May 15th. May 15th. Something sounded funny about that date. The judge helping translate the form said “no, that’s today’s date, write your birthdate.”
“But that IS my birthdate.”
“Happy birthday, then!”
“Oh geez, I totally forgot!”
Apparently I can only win PTQs on my birthday. Next year’s birthday is on a Monday. That doesn’t sound too promising. Being a hemisphere away from many friends (but certainly not all) and family seems to make you forget your life events. It was a genuinely warm, thrilling feeling, and I haven’t lost that big, dopey grin on my face in the last three days as I write this.
We drew for the finals, my opponent dropped from the tournament and we split the product slightly more than evenly in his favor. I paid the guy his part of the win in cash.
Stories of the GP and Japanese Magic in general:
Akira Asahara has long been reputed as a master of Limited, but internationally all he was known for up until now was his Extended Enchantress combo a year or two back. Now he’s gotten his appropriate plaudits. That’s one of the long-term stories that has been waiting for a happy ending.
Masami Ibamoto may be well known as Tokyo’s second best deck designer and a savage Limited player. He’s also one of the friendliest guys out there and a great guy to playtest with.
It took a little while for the buzz to pay off, but Kenji Tsumura has had the wide admiration of Tokyo and is whispered to be the next Japanese PT staple. Acknowledged as the best control player in Constructed, he built his rep on the back of Blue/White control.
Olivier Ruel doesn’t spend a lot of time here in Japan, although he does come over for more events than anyone. My question is, exactly whose pink One Piece Reindeer Guy hat is that? It keeps popping up and moving around throughout the tournaments. I’d be afraid to wear that thing; it’s been around so much it’s got a risk of head lice.
Japan slowly seems to be consolidating into superteams. The Myojin Flare deck in one of its numerous incarnations was released and developed by a list led by non-qualified Jun Nobushita. We’ll have to see what happens in the relative absence of Go Anan, arguably Japan’s greatest networker and deckbuilder. Will Ibamoto take that position over? Who’s going to step up? (Can I work with them, maybe?) And what’s going to happen at Nationals, traditionally a secretively tested tournament? Last year happened considerably earlier than U.S. Nationals; this time Japanese Nationals happens after what is arguably the most influential Nationals tournament. We’ll have to see how much the U.S. affects the metagame.
Thanks for reading.