The Japan Metagame Diaries – World Magic Cup Qualifier In Nagoya

The final WMCQ in Japan this year took place in Nagoya last weekend, and American Ryan Schwenk was able to attend. See which decks made the Top 8 to get a feel for the Standard metagame in Nagoya, Japan.

Before I fill you in with all the information I collected at the Nagoya World Cup Qualifier, I’d like to quickly address some comments made about my previous articles.

As a person who loves competitive Magic and a longtime player, I find writing for StarCityGames.com to be a great privilege. I love the diverse articles on SCG. You can learn about new ideas and new decks for various formats such as Legacy and Standard, you can read about tournaments from around the world, and you can even read about playing ‘just for fun’ with your friends. There’s something here for everyone.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not a professional player; I’m nowhere close to it. I won’t be able to give you tips that will let you win every game. I won’t be able to tell you how to defeat deck A and deck B. What I am is an American player who is living and working in Japan and playing Magic because I love the game. I play as much Magic as I can over here against a variety of different players and at various locations so that the people who read my articles can get a taste of how Japanese players play. What I want to offer the readers of SCG are decks that are totally different from what everybody else is using or popular decks that have been tweaked and changed. I want share how people play the game over here as well as how the gaming culture over here is different from where you live.

I realize that my view is limited to just one city of 2.4 million people at the moment, but I will work to expand this to other cities like Osaka and Tokyo in the future to give readers of these articles a better view of how the metagame is behaving. Using the feedback from my last article, I’m going to change how I write "The Japanese Metagame Diaries" in the future and what information I include in it.

I will try to focus on things such as what cards are getting a lot of play and which decks are winning the tournaments I attend, as well as keeping the information about myself and my deck to a minimum if it’s not related to the article. At the same time, I will continue to post decklists as well as report on which decks are seeing play week to week because I believe it’s interesting to see how Japan’s metagame parallels North America’s.

The World Magic Cup Qualifier

Before I talk about the WMCQ in Nagoya that were on June 30th, I want to thank all of the judges at the event for their hard work. The event started at 8:30 AM with registration, but the judges were there even earlier to help with setting up the tables and chairs for the event amongst other things. The event finally finished at 8:30 PM and went off with relatively few problems. I especially want to thank Level 2 Judge Takanori Nakamura for supplying me with the decklists for the Top 8 as well as answering my questions during the event. He was very helpful and so were the other judges working the event.

It was a harrowing day for Yuuta Takahashi of Tokyo, but he secured the final spot and will join recent GP Manila winner Yuuya Watanabe, Akira Tanaka, and Sunao Nakai on Team Japan for the upcoming World Cup.

The field of 155 people in Nagoya on Saturday, June 30th was heavy with U/W Delver, G/R / Naya Aggro, and Zombies builds. From the first round to the eighth round, both G/R Aggro and U/W Delver played a game of attrition. One round the Delver decks would saturate the top player tables, but in the next round it would be the G/R Aggro players’ chance to dominate. They were two giants, slugging it out with neither willing to fall. A few people tried to sneak into the Top 8 with W/R Tempered Steel decks and one W/B/R Frites player with Zombie Infestation and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite almost pulled off an upset. But in the end, the Top 8 was made up of six U/W Delver builds, a Naya Angel deck, and a U/B Heartless Summoning deck.

The decks were all piloted by superb players, but in the end it was Takahashi’s tweaked Delver build versus Mori Katsuhiro’s "Yuuya Watanabe" Delver in the final match.

If the names look familiar, it’s probably because Katsuhiro Mori was the 2005 world champion and Yuuta Takahashi was the 2008 GP Kobe and Shizuoka winner. Both Yuuta Takahashi and Katsuhiro Mori are from Tokyo, Japan and traveled to Nagoya for their chance to grab the last spot at the World Cup. Katsuhiro dominated the field most of the day, going undefeated with a 7-0-1 record (with the help of a few bye rounds) before the Top 8. However, Yuuta was right on Mori’s heals the whole time with a 7-1 record. Prior to the event, Takahashi had prepared by playing Magic Online and taking part in Pro Tour Qualifiers, while Katsuhiro said he didn’t do any extra preparation before the final WMCQ.

So how did Yuuta manage the win? Well, like I said at the beginning of this article, I’m not good at talking strategy, but I can just give you the cold hard facts of the games they played.

The biggest differences between their decks were Yuuta’s Blade Splicers and his lack of any equipment in his maindeck. He had told me that he had built this deck with defeating G/R Aggro and U/W Delver in mind. He focused more on how he could get the edge against other Delver decks, and Blade Splicer did just that for him. By putting in a 3/3 first striking Golem token, he could make his Delver opponent think twice about attacking with his Geist of Saint Traft. The Golems also do well against a creature with Runechanter’s Pike on it, and Blade Splicer has good synergy with Restoration Angel.

DISCLAIMER: My memory might not be 100% accurate (somebody took a video of it and it should be up on the internet in the coming week), so I’ll do my best to remember the match and apologize for any errors I make. I was also interviewing another player for a few minutes during the first game and can’t give many details about it.

Mori grabbed the first win by flipping over two Delver of Secrets and relentlessly pounding his opponent, but he found himself in trouble in the second game when Yuuta took out both of his Delver of Secrets with Gut Shots. Yuuta followed up with a Delver of his own, which Mori-san used a Phantasmal Image on the next turn. During Yuuta’s next turn he cast a Blade Splicer, and suddenly you could see the panic set in. While tapped out, Mori used a Vapor Snag on the token and ended the turn. On the next turn Yuuta attacked, and Mori took the damage instead of blocking with his Phantasmal Image. At the end of Mori’s next turn Yuuta used a Restoration Angel, blinking the Blade Splicer and adding even more to his growing army.

The next turn took almost ten minutes (maybe not that long, but the judge had to remind him to speed up his play) as Katsuhiro couldn’t decide what to do next. He eventually cast another Phantasmal Image, copying the Restoration Angel in play, and passed the turn. On the next turn Yuuta’s Delver of Secrets flipped, Mori’s Angel/Image was Vapor Snagged, and Takahashi went all in, ending the game.

The third game went much faster than the first, with Takahashi able to get out a Geist of Saint Traft early by turn 3 while Katsuhiro only had a Runechanter’s Pike in play after his Delver took a Shot to the Gut. Mori was able to get out two more Delvers out on the fourth turn, but the Geist’s last attack had taken him down to ten life. After Mori passed his turn, Yuuta attacked again with a Geist of Saint Traft, a Spirit Token, and a flipped Delver. He blocked the Geist to live another round, but on the next turn his Delver was Vapor Snagged, and that was the game.

Phew…after twelve hours, the day was done. Yuuta Takahashi caught the last train back to Tokyo as a winner.

Tsuchiya Hideaki of Team Chagam Fireball (I asked what it meant and he said it’s one of his friend’s nicknames) and Imai Masakatsu were Katsuhiro Mori and Yuuta Takahashi’s opponents in the semifinal round.

Hideaki is from Nagano, Japan, and before the event he practiced heavily with his friends and teammates of Chagam Fireball with killing Delver in mind. He kept his deck light and fast, with three Daybreak Rangers to handle all the Delver of Secrets he planned on seeing. Along with Bonfire of the Damned and a playset of Restoration Angels, he managed to keep U/W Delver at bay before losing in the quarterfinals. Katsuhiro Mori’s well timed Vapor Snags and having to mulligan twice in his second game led to his loss.

Imai Masakatsu traveled from Kyoto, Japan, and hopefully a Top 4 finish will satisfy him until his next chance at glory. Imai-san went up against Yuuta Takahashi in the quarterfinals, and with a build similar to Mori’s, he ended up having some of the same problems. He chose to run Sword of War and Peace and Phantasmal Images in the maindeck in order to defeat G/R Aggro, but by looking at his sideboard it seems like he wasn’t totally prepared for a Delver mirror match. While he did very well during the Swiss rounds, the lack of anti-Delver measures compared to the other Top 8 players led to his quarterfinal loss I think. But as I said before, I’m no pro. This is just a casual observation.

The remaining four players that rounded out the Top 8 were Yamada Shingo of Mie, Japan, Kurashima Kazuki of Nagoya, Japan, Niwa Kouhei of Ishikawa, Japan, and Takeda Hiroki.

I was glad to see that the Top 8 wasn’t entirely Delver. I am proud that my friend Yamada Shingo made it to the Top 8 with his U/B Heartless Summoning deck. He barely got in with a 6-1-1 record, but he deserved it. U/B Heartless Summoning is an extremely tricky deck to play in this environment and needs a lot of skill. The set up can take a few turns and if you can’t keep the Delvers and big green monsters from crushing you, you’ll lose really quickly. However, Shingo managed to keep the Insects, Humans, and Wolves at bay for most of the day before falling to Tsuchiya Hideaki’s Naya Angel deck. When asked why he decided to play U/B Heartless Summoning, he said it’s because of the huge impact you can make on the game in a short amount of time.

And I did see that happen quite a few times.

Drop two Heartless Summonings, and suddenly you have a nasty army of Frost Titans, Rune-Scarred Demons, and Phyrexian Metamorphs staring down your opponent. But without Heartless Summoning, you’re in trouble. After winning the first game against Hideaki, he lost the next two games by keeping hands without Heartless Summoning, therefore making most of his cards impossible to cast quickly.

I can’t say much about the other participants and their decks because I wasn’t able to watch each match in the Top 8. My main focus was on the non-Delver matchups leading up to the finals. I also want to apologize for my rather basic report of the events and if I misquoted any of the players. I was doing the interviews after the matches entirely in Japanese and my vocabulary isn’t really at a native level. While I got the gist of their answers, some things might have been lost in translation. If there is something I didn’t cover or that you wanted to know more about, please leave a comment and I will do my best to answer your questions.

That wraps up my World Magic Cup Qualifier in Nagoya coverage. M13 will be released in two weeks, so I’ll be paying close attention to the metagame leading up to and after its release in Nagoya, Japan. I wish you good luck at your Prerelease and hope that you pull some good cards! Thanks for reading.