The Japan Metagame Diaries: Popping My Cherry

“So what’s it like . . . you know?”

“It’s like warm apple pie”

Cherries

I’m no stranger to Pro Tour Qualifiers. Since I moved to Nagoya and decided to become a serious Magic player, I’ve participated in 4 of them. Up until July 7th, the best I had ever done was a 4-5 finish at the Nagoya PTQ back in June. I’ve been nothing but humiliated in each and every one due to inexperience and poor deck choice. I was starting to feel like it was my lot in life to remain a struggling Friday Night Magic player and weekend warrior. I wanted to redeem myself, and so I hopped on the local train on Sunday, July 7th for the hour and a half ride to Hamamatsu city in Shizuoka Prefecture for their PTQ. My goal was to get 5 wins, but first I had to get into the PTQ.

I had called 2 weeks prior to reserve a spot but they had already stopped reservations at 100 people. They told me there would be a few open spots, so I decided to go anyways (I had lived in Hamamatsu for 4 years prior to Nagoya so I had things I could do if I didn’t get in). When all pre-registered people were there, the event coordinator said there were 10 spots, with 20 people waiting for them. I was first in line (having gotten to event place an hour before it started), so I was the first to flip over a face down card. If I got a plains, I was in . . . and my first choice was a plains. Phew.

With that out of the way, I sat down and waiting for the event to begin.

103 players at PTQ in Hama

103 players at PTQ in Hamamatsu

So it Begins . . .

At the start of the tournament 103 players filled the small room in area D of the Act City complex in Hamamatsu. There were a number of people I knew from Hamamatsu that I had played with before, as well as a handful of players that came from Nagoya that I play with regularly. There were also a few semi-pros in the room: Sunao Nakai (78th Planeswalker Points in Japan), Imai Masakatsu (86th), Kensuke Katou (10th in Japan), and Yuta Takahashi (43rd). Yuta Takahashi actually has GP wins (Kobe, Shizuoka 2008), played for the 2012 Japan World Magic team, and has a number of top finishes across Japan.

With so many high level players in the room, I had my work cut out of me and my GW Token Surge deck.

Token Surge
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Forest
Gavony Township
Temple Garden
Plains
Sunpetal Grove
Grove of the Guardian


24 lands

Avacyn’s Pilgrim
Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
Thragtusk
Restoration Angel
Armada Wurm
Arbor Elf
Loxodon Smiter


24 creatures

Garruk, Primal Hunter
Selesnya Charm
Oblivion Ring
Advent of the Wurm


12 other spells

Sideboard
Acidic Slime
Rest in Peace
Pithing Needle
Selesnya Charm
Unflinching Courage
Rootborn Defenses


15 sideboard cards

I had been tweaking the deck here and there over the last few weeks and was pretty confident about it. I had a few FNM wins at small events, I made top 8 at some larger ones in Nagoya . . . but truthfully I didn’t know how it would handle the top players in Japan. My main strategy was to put a lot of power on the board and to set up a good defense against aggro decks, then proceed to pound them down with 5/5 wurm tokens. I also had Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice in there for added life gain against hyper aggressive decks, and Garruk, Primal Hunters for card draw. It had worked well for me over the last few weeks and I was ready to give it my all. Well, here goes nothing.

Round 1 – Naya Blitz

One of the reasons I built this deck was to fight against super aggressive aggro decks. I had been testing against Naya Blitz (GRW aggro decks that put out a lot of creatures very quickly and hit you hard) since it’s inception. That’s why it was no surprise when I kept a slow hand in the first game with 2 Oblivion Rings and got destroyed. I sided in 4 Unflinching Courage in game 2, and after dropping two consecutive Thragtusks on turn 4 and 5, I put two Courages on them to swing for 14 damage a turn and to gain me 14 life each time. That evened out the match at 1-1. In game 3, I proceeded to do the same thing, dropping Thragtusks early and then blinking them with Restoration Angels to overwhelm my opponent.

Record: 1-0 (2-1)

Round 2 – BR Zombies

A pretty good start. I was happy to get that first win. Once I saw that my opponent was using BR zombies in the second game, I knew my chances were pretty good for another win. I won the die roll and went first, and ended up dropping a Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice on turn 3. My opponent kept the pressure on early, getting me down to about 9 life with 2 Geralf’s Messenger, but then I played an Advent of the Wurm to gain 5 life from the token, and then proceeded to populate the heck out of it. There was no way my opponent could come back from that. In game 2 sided in 4 Unflinching Courage and it was even worse for him. A turn 2 Loxodon Smiter, with a turn 3 Unflinching Courage to make it a 6/6 was all I needed to take that game. Easy peezy . . .

Record 2-0. (4-1)

Round 3 – Human Reanimator (Kensuke Katou – 10th in PWP)

That 2-0 start wiped away all bad feelings I had from the previous 0-4 start at the PTQ in Nagoya a month before. It also meant that my opponents were going to get tougher. Little did I know that my opponent would be on of the top 10 PWP (Planewalker Points) leaders in Japan.

Kensuke Katou, Human Reanimator, 7th place, PTQ Theros, Hamamatsu

Main

  • 4 Cartel Aristocrat
  • 4 Fiend Hunter
  • 4 Huntmaster of the Fells / / Ravager of the Fells
  • 4 Angel of Glory’s Rise
  • 1 High Priest of Penance
  • 4 Faithless Looting
  • 4 Grisly Salvage
  • 3 Mulch
  • 3 Farseek
  • 2 Rolling Temblor
  • 4 Unburial Rites
  • 3 Temple Garden
  • 3 Stomping Ground
  • 2 Overgrown Tomb
  • 1 Godless Shrine
  • 1 Sacred Foundry
  • 2 Blood Crypt
  • 4 Woodland Cemetery
  • 1 Clifftop Retreat
  • 2 Sunpetal Grove
  • 4 Cavern of Souls

Sideboard:

  • 2 Purify the Grave
  • 3 Abrupt Decay
  • 1 Sin Collector
  • 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
  • 1 Sire of Insanity
  • 1 Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts
  • 2 Gaze of Granite
  • 1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa

I haven’t seen a Human Reanimator deck in who knows how long. Everybody has been using GBW reanimator, mostly because of the better mana base and creature selection. It does have a much better long game with cards like Angel of Glory’s Rise, and it can reanimate your entire graveyard if you put enough humans into it when that combo goes off. There is also the infinite life/wolf token combo with Angel of Glory’s Rise, Fiend Hunter, and Huntmaster of the Fells. It’s an interesting deck to say the least. So how’d I do? On the play again, I lead off with an Arbor Elf, him land. Turn 2 I play another land and Arbor Elf, him Mulch. Turn 3 I play a land and Garruk, Primal Hunter . . . that pretty much ended the game. I ended up getting Garruk up to 6 counters rather quickly and then making about 7 6/6 wurm tokens along with whatever else I had in play. In game two my Rest in Peace took care of his graveyard and Thragtusks and Restoration Angels ended up beating him down before turn 10. Looks like today was my day.

Record: 3-0 (6-1)

Round 4 – GR Blitz

This was another favorable match up for me. I eat blitz decks for breakfast. This match up went very similarly to the Naya blitz game from round 1, except he started off slow and didn’t put pressure on me until turn 3. By that time I already had Loxodon Smiter in play, played a Thragtusk the turn after, blinked it with the 3 Restoration Angels in my hand . . . there was no way he could get me down far enough or take care of all the creatures I put on the board. Game 2 was the Thragtusk + Unflinching Courage show again. Blitz decks hate life gain decks with huge creatures.

Record: 4-0 (8-1)

At the #1 Table

At the #1 Table

Round 5 – Jund Midrange (Keita Kawasaki – 50th in PWP)

Holy shit. I just might do this. By round 4 I was tweeting up a storm and my friends on our Japan MTG facebook group were getting excited. For the first time ever I had made it to the #1 table. I was at the top of the PTQ with a 4-0 record and 8-1 overall. Just how long could this ride go? Round 5 matched me up against another one of the top grinders in Japan, Keita Kawasaki. Game one I mulliganed to 5 and made a misplay of using a -3 ability on Garruk when I should have used his +1, and it eventually cost me the first game. Jund was always a tough match up for me, but I had played it enough to know what its threats were. Maybe this was where my journey would end . . .

Game 2, turn 3, Garruk, Primal Hunter.

Okay, maybe not! After my Garruk single handedly beat my opponent in game 2 (he scooped on turn 6), we were even at 1 game a piece. In game 3 I put the pressure on my opponent early with a turn 3 Advent of the Wurm 5/5 token. He managed to stay alive with Thragtusks, but using my own Thragtusks, Armada Wurm, Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice, and Restoration Angels, I managed to put about 40 power on the board and obliterate him. Phew . . .

Record: 5-0 (10-2)

Round 6 – UWR aggro (Takuya Okada, 26th in PWP)

So I’m 5-0, sitting at the top table, and my opponent starts to speak in very fast, complicated Japanese about doing an intentional draw. Being the first time at a PTQ where I was ever in this situation, I listened to him talk (in Japanese) for about 7 minutes, draw numbers, formulas, and squiggly pictures of a stick man jumping up for joy to explain the benefits of a ID. I understood about 20% of it. Due to my ignorance I said “hey, sorry man I just can’t understand you, let’s play it out”.

Takuya Okada, UWR aggro, ?? place, PTQ Theros, Hamamatsu

Main:

  • 4 Steam Vents
  • 4 Hallowed Fountain
  • 2 Sacred Foundry
  • 4 Sulfur Falls
  • 4 Glacial Fortress
  • 2 Clifftop Retreat
  • 2 Mountain
  • 1 Plains
  • 1 Moorland Haunt
  • 4 Snapcaster Mage
  • 4 Geist of Saint Traft
  • 4 Boros Reckoner
  • 4 Restoration Angel
  • 2 Thundermaw Hellkite
  • 4 Pillar of Flame
  • 4 Searing Spear
  • 4 Turn // Burn
  • 4 Warleader’s Helix
  • 2 Unsummon

Sideboard:

  • 2 Sphinx’s Revelation
  • 1 Unsummon
  • 1 Thundermaw Hellkite
  • 2 Negate
  • 4 Syncopate
  • 3 Izzet Staticaster
  • 2 Rest in Peace

He wins the dice roll, goes first with a land. I play an Avacyn’s Pilgrim and pass the turn. He burns the Pilgrim with a Pillar of Flame and lays down another land. I play a land and pass the turn. He plays a land and Geist of Saint Traft, passes the turn. I play a Loxodon Smiter on my turn 3 and pass the turn. His turn 4, Unsummon my Smiter, attack for 6 damage (I’m at 10 now thanks to a shock land). My turn 4, I play a land and the Smiter again. His turn 5, Unsummon the Loxodon Smiter again, hit for 6 with Geist of Saint Traft, Searing Spear for 3, Snapcaster the Pillar of Flame for 2. Dead (not sure if that’s exactly what it had, but it was damn near a god hand).

“No ID” he said in Japanese after swiftly destroying me.

I suddenly remembered that scene from Ghostbusters 1 when they were on the top of the apartment building fighting that demon god Gozer. She/He asks Ray “Are you a GOD???” – he looks around at Egon and the other Ghostbusters, then says “No”.

“THEN DIE!!!!”

Basically, if you are number 1 in the rankings, or undefeated, and a more experienced player says you should do an intentional draw, you should do it. I ended up losing the second game due to more tempo cards and Syncopate. After looking at Facebook after telling my friends I was 5-0 going into round 6, they had all said “ID ID ID!!”, but I didn’t check that until after losing round 6.

Record: 5-1 (10-4)

Round 7: UWR Tempo (Jun Ishihara, 75th in PWP)

This is where not taking that intentional draw hurt me. I thought I could ID in game 7 to get into the top 8, but my opponent had to play or else he wouldn’t make it. I could have easily made it into the top 8 if I had done two IDs in a row, but now I was forced to play a win and in scenario. 

Jun Ishihara, UWR tempo, 3rd place, PTQ Theros, Hamamatsu

Main

  • 3 Snapcaster Mage 
  • 4 Azorius Charm
  • 4 Pillar of Flame 
  • 2 Turn // Burn 
  • 2 Warleader’s Helix 
  • 2 Think Twice 
  • 3 Sphinx’s Revelation 
  • 4 Augur of Bolas 
  • 4 Restoration Angel 
  • 2 Thundermaw Hellkite 
  • 2 Dissipate 
  • 2 Syncopate 
  • 1 Rewind 
  • 2 Moorland Haunt 
  • 4 Steam Vents 
  • 4 Glacial Fortress 
  • 4 Hallowed Fountain 
  • 4 Sacred Foundry 
  • 3 Sulfur Falls 
  • 3 Clifftop Retreat 
  • 1 Island 

Sideboard:

  • 1 Think Twice
  • 2 Dispel 
  • 1 Negate
  • 1 Renounce the Guilds 
  • 1 Thundermaw Hellkite 
  • 1 AEtherling 
  • 2 Cavern of Souls 
  • 1 Turn // Burn 
  • 3 Izzet Staticaster 
  • 2 Supreme Verdict 

This match went a lot slower than the UWR aggro deck the game before. Jun’s deck was more tempo based, meant to slow down the opponent with counterspells, Augur of Bolas, and Azorius Charm until he can get his Thundermaw Hellkite out to finish the job. I couldn’t get any pressure on the board in the first game and ended up losing to my opponent playing 3 Sphinx’s Revelations to get just the cards he needed. In the second game he locked me down even more with Supreme Verdict and a 3rd Thundermaw Hellkite. The was nothing I could do.

Record: 5-2 (10-6)

The Top 8

Final Rankings

Final Rankings after round 7

This was beyond frustrating to JUST miss out on my first ever PTQ top 8, but an 11th place finish at a 103 person event with tons of high level players is nothing to scoff at. I learned to take the intentional draw when you can, especially when you are 5-0 and can draw your way in. I also learned about the weaknesses my deck had, and I now know that I can fight with the big boys.

The top 8 was composed of UWR aggro, Naya blitz, Gruul Blitz, UWR tempo, Naya Humans, Human Reanimator, GBW reanimator, and GBW reanimator. The players that beat me (UWR aggro and UWR tempo), and one of the players I beat before (Human Reanimator) were all in the top 8. If I had made it to the top 8, this might have been a little different. But with all the blitz decks and reanimators, my chances were pretty good in reaching the finals. But instead, I had to watch it from the outside. 

Munching on my bag of cherries that I had brought with me for a snack, I saw both of the opponents I lost to make it to the top 4 (UWR tempo and UWR aggro), along with the Naya Humans and Grull Blitz decks. After the smoke cleared from the semifinals, it was down to Naya Humans Vs. UWR aggro. It was a long battle that went to 3 games, but my opponent from round 6, Takuya Okada, ended up taking home the win and the free tickets to Ireland for Pro Tour Theros. 

Usually, this is where I say the story ends, but with one more Pro Tour Qualifier in Chiba prefecture in August, I might just bite the bullet and see if I can repeat this performance. One thing is for sure though, I know longer doubt myself as a player or deck builder, and think it’s only a matter of time until MY name appears in the top 8. Thanks for reading, and as always, comments are welcome.

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