Grand Prix Shizuoka: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

John Avon Fuji Playmat

John Avon Mt. Fuji Playmat

Work It Harder Make It Better
Do It Faster, Makes Us stronger
More Than Ever Hour After
Our Work Is Never Over 

-Daft Punk, “Harder Better Faster Stronger”

Ryo Nakada Vs Nakashima in the semis

Ryo Nakada Vs Nakashima in the semis

Grand Prix Shizuoka will be one to remember for a number of reasons. For those of you that followed the coverage and read the articles about it online, you’ll know which decks were played and that through all the mono blue devotion, UW/Esper control, and black devotion decks, it was 2 white based aggro decks that were in the finals. This in and of itself is pretty amazing. People had been saying aggro was dead and that it simply could not win against such a removal heavy metagame, but both Ryo Nakada and Shota Takao proved the non-believers wrong. While the level of competition and depth of the meta game are both important in creating a good Grand Prix, there were a few more things at Shizuoka that made it great.

Do it Faster

The main Event

The main Event

While it’s been said time and time again that the Judges are the most important and hard working people at Grand Prix events, I don’t think most people realize what kind of effect they have on events. The quality of judges, organization, and speed of decisions is what makes or breaks GPs. Grand Prix Shizuoka seemed to be the culmination of all the hard work to fix the mistakes that have plagued large Magic events for the past few years. I’ve only been to a few Grand Prix, but Shizuoka was one of the best run events I’ve ever been to. There have been many changes in 2013, and they were all implemented flawlessly at this GP.

  • No Saturday Registration – I went to GP Yokohama, where there were more than 2000 players and Saturday registration, and Shizuoka where there wasn’t. The difference was like night and day. I went from arriving at the event to waiting 2 hours to get product and start, to starting within 15 minutes of the original start time to sit down for my first match.
  • 8:30 am start time – While this was tough on A LOT of people, especially myself since I had to take the bullet train at 6:37 am from Nagoya to arrive in Shizuoka on time, this start time plus the lack of Saturday registration made GP Shizuoka one of the fastest Grand Prix in recent memory. Day 1 finished at 7pm for most people, and the finals on day 2 were over before 6pm. This is mindblowing considering how many GPs have finished at 9pm or later before this one.
  • Split Tournament Brackets – I believe it was Las Vegas that spurred the creation of brackets for big GP events, and with 1784 players, Shizuoka was split into a green and blue bracket of about 900 players each. With a main judge station located in the middle of the event hall, they were able to effectively communicate with both sides of judges and to react quickly.
  • On site food vendors – I really don’t understand why more event don’t do this. Day 1 is a marathon of gaming, with little time in between rounds to eat food or to get any drinks. GP Kyoto had no vendors, which meant that over 1700 players had to scavenge (and I mean scavenge) the 3-4 convenience stores nearby that had no idea such a large event was even happening that day. Food was scarce even before game time at 9am. At GP Shizuoka, Matsuya, a chain, beef bowl restaurant supplied drinks, food, and snacks in the vendor area. On site vendors ARE A MUST for future events in my opinion.

While these things added to the ease of play at the event, there are a few things that I think could still use some work. First off, due to the earlier start times and no Saturday registration, I think more people will be doing sleep in specials in the future. However, I believe that $20 is too expensive, especially for players that have worked hard to get 2 or 3 byes before the tournament. This cost should be topped at about $10 I think, especially if GPs are performing more efficiently due to earlier start times and no Saturday registration.

I’d also like to see more events utilize the QR Code reader system where you scan a bar code with your smart phone to access a website that has pairings for each round (GP Shizuoka had it, but you could only find the code on your deck list. If you didn’t scan during that time, it was hard to find another way to access the QR code site. I arrived with very little time before having to turn in my sheet, so I wasn’t able to use it. There were also problems for the first 3-4 rounds with it). I’ve done this at Pro Tour Qualifiers and at last year’s World Magic Cup Qualifier, and it makes it so much easier for players to find their seating arrangement instead of crowding the walls to find their name and to push through everybody. I’d like to suggest that judges add this computer skill to their repertoire to make both their job easier and to start rounds faster. The QR code should also be posted in places around the event so that players who missed doing it at the player meeting can use it at any time. The event could be further shaved by about 30-45 minutes if they implement this system I think.

Work it Harder

For your Viewing pleasure

For your Viewing pleasure

2013 was also the year that coverage changed for Magic the Gathering events. After the article on SCG’s website about the problems with MTG events this summer, various MTG news outlets, as well as Wizards of the Coast have been restructuring how they do things in order to create better content for their readers as well as to grow the interest from competitive players to casual ones watching from home. WoTC has recently implemented a ranking system, SCG has created a coverage specific “News Team” of sorts, and many other companies have followed suit as well in response to this article.

At GP Shizouka, Big Magic and NicoNico Douga worked in conjunction to create one of the best spectator GPs I’ve ever been too. There were TVs and chairs for viewing around the event hall, with Big Web promoting events all day, and NicoNico conducted interviews with players, artists, and other personalities. Shuhei Nakamura himself was doing coverage for the event instead of playing. The event was very accessible to people watching from home, as well as for those players that were just enjoying the atmosphere after their games were done. TokyoMTG also worked hard to give us even more content to look through such as behind the scenes interviews, vintage coverage, and also tweeted information in both Japanese and English to help those who were not Japanese players.

Willian Murai being interviewed

Willian Murai being interviewed

Make it Better

Play against the Pros event

Play against the Pros event – Saito and Mihara played against some lucky players

Not everybody was able to make day 2, myself included. Quite a few Nagoya players made it to Day 2, but only one person in my play group made it. It was his first day 2, so we were all pretty excited for him. For those of us with nothing to do on day 2, many people turn to side events. The was an insane amount of side events going happening on Sunday. There were your 8 man standard events, sealed/drafting, the Super Sunday Series (both Sealed and Standard), legacy, and much more. Along with the artist signings, on-site shops, and coverage, I felt like there was always something to do. While I had breaks in between the Super Sunday Standard rounds, I found myself wandering around to say hello to people, to talk with friends doing other side events, or to just watch TV. It was great. It felt like the GP wasn’t just for those players that made day 2, but rather all players had a way to enjoy themselves in one way or another. There was no shortage of players for these events either. There was a lot of interest in all of them.

It goes to show you that, “if you build it, they will come”. If you provide the options, people will participate in these events. Down below you can see a picture of a “Grand Melee” standard side event. It was a giant 86 person game where you could only attack the person to the left of you. Players laughed as had a great time as players attacked one another with 300+ damage a turn, put tons of tokens on their board, and one player was even playing a Maze’s End deck which killed the player to his left whenever he played a Mazes End from his hand. Good times were had by all, and santa hats were also provided ^_^.

Grand Melee side event

Grand Melee side event

Make Us Stronger

GP Shizuoka was the result of ‘organized play’ getting better and the Magic community in Japan getting stronger, but it also helped me to become a stronger player. This event was the first time I ever used a “real” deck at a major event. I had always used the deck I wanted to play, and tested it until I bled, but for Shizuoka I decided to go with a Black devotion deck that splashed green for Abrupt Decay, Golgari Charm, and Mistcutter Hydra among other cards. I had attended events in Nagoya and exhaustively followed the metagame (I think I did pretty well with my prediction of the meta in my previous articles before the GP), and I had done fairly well with the deck. I had a winning percentage and felt like the deck dealt with a lot of strategies well, but sadly only 3 weeks of practice prior to the Grand Prix showed my inexperience with the deck.

I came into Shizuoka with 2 byes thanks to attending GP Kyoto and a number of large MTG events in the previous season. I had practiced against all the popular decks and felt like I had a good handle on each one, but playing against somebody using that deck and playing against somebody good that KNOWS that deck is entirely different.

  1. Red Devotion (Lost 1-2) – In the 3rd round, my first opponent for the day was a red devotion deck. I had played against this archetype before and knew what my targets were, but I played too aggressively in my first game and didn’t keep enough removal. I won in game 2 after siding in more removal, but in game 3 I kept a 2 mana hand and never drew more. Chalk one loss up to inexperience with the deck.
  2. Black Devotion (lost 1-2) – When you can start off the game with two Thoughtseizes, and take out their Pack Rats, you can win this match up pretty easily (especially if you have your own Pack Rats). If you let their Pack Rat hit the board, then let more and more hit the board, you’re screwed. I could have picked up a win here in game 2, but misplayed by blocking a Rat with my Demon when I could have had him in two turns if he didn’t sacrifice them instead. 2 losses to inexperience.
  3. Esper Control (won 2-1) – I was already on the ropes by round 5, and I didn’t like that feeling. Luckily I was able to handle Esper by siding in Duress to complement my Thoughtseize, as well as use Pithing Needle to stop his Pack Rats from multiplying. It was hard fought, but I was still alive at 3-2.
  4.  Mono Blue Devotion (lost 0-2) – I usually can handle mono blue well, but this was more like mono blue control. The player had Claustrophobias and 3 Domestications main, which means even if I destroyed his creatures, I couldn’t put any pressure on him or had to use him removal on my own creatures. It was just a matter of time until he brought out Master of Waves to finish me. I was utterly destroyed and unprepared for this match up, even though I had 2 Golgari Charm and 2 Abrupt Decay in the main deck.
  5. Junk Midrange (lost 1-2) – I mulliganed to 5 in both games 1 and 3, and couldn’t get the removal I needed. Very bad draws in this game. I probably should have had more than 8 pieces of removal in my main deck.
  6. Junk Midrange (won 2-1) – Lifebane Zombie, Thoughtseize, and Devour Flesh did a lot of hard work this game, but this is how it’s supposed to be against Junk Midrange. I stole 2 Polukranos, World Eater away from my opponent and then kept the game under control with removal and double Desecration Demons.
  7. G/r Devotion (lost 0-2) – This was another match up that I should have won easily, but playing B/g really shorted me on effective removal. I didn’t draw enough removal in either game, and I came to realize that having Golgari Charm instead of something like Ultimate Price or Doom Blade hurt more than it helped.

I ended the day at 4-5, which is unfortunate since I had 2 byes going into this event. I learned that black devotion decks need to be jammed full of removal to survive in the metagame, and in next year’s PTQ season, I plan on using B/w instead to help with both removal (Last Breath) and to fight the mirror (Blood Baron of Vizkopa). It would have been great to test more with this deck to and learn that I needed more removal before this event, but when you work full time there is a trade off between skill and free time.

On Sunday, I participated in the Super Sunday Standard Series and did much better.

Burning Devotion
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Boros Guildgate
Temple of Triumph
Sacred Foundry
11 Mountain
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

24 lands

Legion Loyalist
Boros Reckoner
Fanatic of Mogis
Stormbreath Dragon
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Ash Zealot
Frostburn Weird
Burning-Tree Emissary

26 creatures

Chained to the Rocks
Mizzium Mortars
Chandra, Pyromaster
Hammer of Purphoros

10 other spells

Last Breath
Hammer of Purphoros
Warleader’s Helix
Boros Charm
Assemble the Legion
Wear // Tear
Anger of the Gods

15 sideboard cards

I made some changes prior to the last time I talked about this deck. I had a feeling like there would be a lot of black and control at the event, so I wanted to add some anti-control elements into the main deck while still keeping the aggressive nature of red devotion against slower decks. I had tested with this deck for about the same length of time I tested with B/g devotion, but this deck is by far a lot easier to play. Red devotion is one of those decks that just wins out of nowhere. It could be a totally helpless game, then suddenly you draw a card that sets a combo in motion that deals an insane amount of damage. I finished 6-3, just one win short of prizes, and I think I could have finished 8-1 if I had made some better choices when keeping hands and sideboarding. Again, this is a deck I don’t have a lot of experience with, but it is a lot easier to play than the mono black devotion decks I played with on Saturday.

  1. Maze’s End (won 2-1) – I was scared when I mana flooded in game one, thinking that I might actually lose to this deck, but I switched to indirect damage through Purphoros, God of the Forge, Fanatic of Mogis, Boros Charm, and Warleader’s Helix and won my next two games.
  2. mono black devotion (lost 0-2) – I sided in wrong after the first game, putting in Last Breath when I didn’t need it, and lost this game due to the huge amount of removal that my opponent had. Chalk another loss up to inexperience with a deck. Usually this should be a good match up for me, but I kept less than perfect hands.
  3. Simic Devotion (won 2-1) – I played too aggressively in the first game, with my opponent using Prophet of Kruphix to flash in an Arbor Colossus and block my Stormbreath Dragon that was going in for the kill, effectively wiping away any chances of a win, but in games 2 and 3 I played defense with the deck, targeting the Prophet with Mizzium Mortars and exiling 2 Polukranos with Chained to the Rocks, and beat him using a slow roll of Purphoros and Fanatic of Mogis.
  4. R/g Devotion (won 2-0) – This was basically a mirror match except that my opponent was using Xenagos the Reveler and Domri Rade in his deck. However, since he wasn’t using white, I was able to gain the upper hand by using multiple Chained to the Rocks and Mizzium Mortars to keep his devotion count low, effectively stopping his strategy. 
  5. Black Devotion (lost 1-2) – This match was a lot like the first black deck I went up against. It had a lot of removal and I simply wasn’t able to put pressure on my opponent fast enough. This should be a good match up for me, but I needed to be more disciplined with my hands and I wasn’t. If you don’t have creatures coming out every turn, black will win the game of attrition, especially if they have Gray Merchant of Asphodel to gain back lost life from Mogis. 
  6. Esper control (won 2-1) – at this point, I knew I couldn’t make the top 4, but I was going to try my hardest to finish 7-2. I was at 3-2 going into round 6, but due to a smart decision to keep 2 Mizzium Mortars after the sideboard, I was able to beat his Blood Baron of Vizkopas and beat him down using Assemble the Legions and Purphoros, God of the Forge. 
  7. B/g Devotion (won 2-1) – Having played this deck myself the previous day, I knew how to play against it. I sided in Assemble the Legions, my extra Hammer of Purphoros, and was able to keep myself out of Gray Merchant range by dealing with threats such as Pack Rats and Nightveil Specter early. Without any defense, I was able to wear my opponent down for the win. 
  8. B/w Devotion (won 2-1) – A deck check slowed down any momentum I had coming into this match, but even that couldn’t stop me. Having played against 3 black decks in the tournament already, I was a pro at it. I knew to keep fast hands, I knew what to side in, and I knew what cards of his I should take out. Purphoros and Assemble the Legions were the death of my opponent. 
  9. UW control (lost 1-2) – I felt good about this match up, and routed my opponent easily in game 2 to even our set at 1-1 apiece, but in game 3 I mana flooded after a fast start of Frostburn Weird, Ash Zealot, and a Legion Loyalist. My opponent was able to shut me down with Detention Spheres and Supreme Verdicts, and after his first Sphinx’s Revelation and a Jace, Architect of Thought, I wasn’t able to put enough pressure on the board to kill him.

Super Sunday final rankings

I’m in no way ashamed of my record on Sunday. I ended up winning more games than I did on Saturday, and I finished 19th out of a total of 194 players. I learned that I need to work on sideboarding more, as well as to know what hands to keep versus certain decks. I’m really liking Red devotion in the current metagame, and I will continue to use it up until after the PTQ season starting in January. The deck does well both on offense and defense, and it also can win out of nowhere thanks to Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Mono blue devotion might prove to be a problem if you don’t draw Mizzium Mortars early, but I feel like it has good match ups against black devotion, Esper and UW control, and that is can also hold it’s own against Green devotion decks by playing defense and scaring opponents away with Boros Reckoner. If aggro decks such as Nakada’s Orzhov aggro, or the Esper aggro build become popular in the coming weeks, red devotion should be well poised to deal with it by using Mizzium Mortars and Anger of the Gods. I recommend you try it out if you’re not sure what to use before Born of Gods is released in February. 

Our Work is Never Over

There isn’t much time left in 2013, so this might be one of the last major articles I write before the new year. If you liked it, please share it with others! Things will start to pick up after the new year with the start of spoilers from Born of Gods, and a full spoiler should be released sometime around January 27th. As always, I hope you visit The Japan Hobbyist often to check out my articles “Play to your Weaknesesses” dealing with the strongest cards in limited, “Bang for your Buck” dealing with the financial impact of the new set, as well as how I think the new set will impact standard. I want to thank all of you that have followed my blog through 2013, and welcome all the new readers who have recently started looking at my website. I should have one or two more posts before January 31st, so be sure to check back before the New Years! If you don’t come back before then, happy holidays!