Going Native

The clouds were a murky gray and rain fell lightly. For some reason, I had decided to ride my bike. It wasn’t too heavy, but I wasn’t going to risk getting wet with everything I had with my in my back pack: 2 Theros Block constructed decks for Pro Tour practice, a modern deck for a tournament that night at 5pm, my binder full of cards to trade, and most importantly, booster packs of Born of the Gods.

Today was going to be sealed practice for GP Nagoya, which is now less than 2 weeks away. Friends from my local Magic group had been planning the get together for about a week and 7 of us had the time to meet up on this rainy Sunday at Amenity Dream in the Osu Kannon Shopping Arcade located in Nagoya, Japan. This isn’t your typical Magic group from your local game shop though. I am part of an all foreigner (or should I say English speaking) Magic group on Facebook that over the last year or two, has gone from a somewhat small 8 members to more than 30. We are located all over the central Tokai region. Lots of us live near Nagoya, but there are some in Mie prefecture about 40 minutes away by train, as well as others in Gifu prefecture up north near the mountains. It’s a rag tag bunch of MTG players. We have long time players that put together 1994 Cubes, casual Legacy and EDH players, limited format elites, standard grinders, and even beginners. Not everybody is from the same country either. We have Americans, Canadians, some Brits, as well as a couple Japanese players in our group.

None of us had any packs of Theros, so we had to buy them for this draft. Luckily, Amenity Dream had dropped their booster pack prices recently and we were able to get them for about 286 each ($2.71 USD). Today’s group was composed of myself (from South Bend, Indiana), Christopher S. from Texas, Rajib Ali from Andover, England, Beau Albright from Fallbrook, California, Chris Bradford from Davenport, New York, Hiroaki Oyama from Nagoya, Japan, and Kurt. S. (from San Diego, California I believe).

The 3rd round of our GP Nagoya limited session finishes up

The 3rd round of our GP Nagoya limited session finishes up

There are more foreigners living in Japan than you may think. Some have been here for a very long time, and some have only just arrived. Our Nagoya MTG group is pretty diverse and very competitive, but it wasn’t always that way. Most of us started out alone, confined to our different cities around the region and left up to our own devices. However, slowly but surely we all gravitated towards one another. Today I’d like to talk about what it’s like to be a Magic player in a foreign country. How is it different? What challenges have you come across as a player? These are just a few questions I’d like to answer.

Chris Bradford: New York, USA

Chris was one of the first foreign players I met in Nagoya (but not THE first). At the time I met him, he had the distinction of being the most accomplished foreign player I had ever met. He had made it to day 2 of a Grand Prix and finished in the money before, which is more than what I could have said about myself at the time. He’s been living in Japan for more than 3 years now, but has been playing Magic the Gathering for about 20 years. He helped me develop a lot of my basic limited skills back when I was just a standard player, and always pushes people to their limits with his playing style. His claim to fame in Japan is beating Shuhei Nakamura at the 2013 World Magic Cup Qualifiers here in Nagoya.

  • What was your first experience like in a gaming shop in Japan?

Things felt really small compared to the USA. I was used to playing in large shops back in New York, and the shops in Japan are cramped compared to the USA. However, the selection in shops here are pretty good.

  • How would you describe your first time playing Magic in Japan?

It was difficult at first because of the language barrier.

  • What is different between playing MTG in your country and playing MTG in Japan?

I noticed that almost everybody shuffles (not cut) your deck at tournaments, but in free play they don’t cut or shuffle at all. The amount of precise play at even a casual event is rather high too.

  • What surprised you the most about Japanese players?

The players here are overall more relaxed, easy going players. There is a lot less rage at tournaments, and you’d be hard pressed to find arrogant or cocky Japanese players.

  • What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first started playing Magic overseas? How did you deal with it?

As I said before, the language barrier. I studied hard though, and after a few months I was able to play Magic the Gathering in Japanese.

  • How has playing overseas changed you as a Magic player?

I’ve improved simply because there is a lot more competition here in Japan and players are at a higher level than where I used to live. The bigger city you live in, the better you’ll probably become at MTG.

  • What advice would you have for a player wanting to get involved in MTG in a foreign country?

Just go out and play and don’t worry about the language barrier.

 

Rajib Ali: Andover, England

Rajib is a relatively new Magic player. He got a hold of me through my blog after he downloaded (and got addicted to) Duels of the Planeswalkers on PS3, I introduced him to our then 12 person MTG Facebook group, and the rest is history. He’s been growing as a Magic player incredibly fast over the last year, and I think he’ll be another indispensable asset to our group here in the future. Rajib has been living in Japan for 6 years now (about the same length as me), but out of everybody in our MTG group, he probably has the least experience. Baby steps Rajib, baby steps. You’ll get there someday.

  • What was your first experience like in a gaming shop in Japan?

Weird. The people there fit the stereotypical mold of gamers. They were a little nerdy, the place was smelly, etc.

  • How would you describe your first time playing Magic in Japan?

People were really friendly and helpful when I first started. The whole experience was very positive for me, and for beginners. They let me redo things when I made a mistake, they pointed out miss opportunities, etc.

  • What is different between playing MTG in your country and playing MTG in Japan?

I never played MTG back in the UK. From the time I’ve spent there after becoming a Magic player, I would say that MTG is still a rather niche thing. It is infinitely more popular in Japan than where I was from.

  • What surprised you the most about Japanese players?

The level of kindness, patience, and accommodation are all very high. It is really good to not have to deal with ‘shitty’ people.

  • What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first started playing Magic overseas? How did you deal with it?

Learning all the key words and Magic vocabulary so that you can understand the cards being played. The chances of misunderstanding are much greater when cards are in a different language. I’ve asked a lot of questions, especially when I’m not sure,  and I’ve gotten better.

  • How has playing overseas changed you as a Magic player?

I’ve become more communicative, more friendly, more lenient, but most of all I’ve learned to just enjoy the game.

  • What advice would you have for a player wanting to get involved in MTG in a foreign country?

Be patient and enjoy playing first and foremost. Don’t get frustrated by your losses (cause you’ll going to lose a lot in those early days until you get used to things). Having fun should be the most important thing.

Beau Albright: California, USA

Beau is another player who recently contacted me through my Japanese Magic blog. I instantly added him to our group, and this is only the second time he’s joined us for a big event of sorts. Last weekend, he played in his first ever standard event. Don’t misunderstand though, he’s no beginner to Magic. He’s been playing since New Phyrexia (about 3 years ago), but decided to go the EDH route instead of playing standard. He studied in Japan for 1 year, but for the last 4 months he’s been working in Aichi prefecture, about 30 minutes outside of the city of Nagoya.

  • What was your first experience like in a gaming shop in Japan?

Absolutely awesome. It’s an EDH/Commander player’s paradise. There are tons of cheap cards here, especially in the bigger cities. EDH hasn’t become as popular as it has in the USA. 

  • How would you describe your first time playing Magic in Japan?

The level of competition is definitely higher than my local game store back in California. 

  • What is different between playing MTG in your country and playing MTG in Japan?

For starters, when drafting, you only have to pay for the booster packs in Japan. They tend to charge extra back in the USA on top of the packs. The players are also much more mature here, and very accepting to new players. 

  • What surprised you the most about Japanese players?

Everyone’s level is pretty high. There seem to be very few true beginners, but this could be because of the trading card game culture in Japan. Lots of kids play some sort of card game from a young age. 

  • What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first started playing Magic overseas? How did you deal with it?

Learning all of the cards in Japanese so I could play competitively. I’ve been watching a lot of online drafts recently to recognize the cards and it has really helped me out. 

  • How has playing overseas changed you as a Magic player?

It has raised my overall level, and helped me think more strategically when I play Magic. 

  • What advice would you have for a player wanting to get involved in MTG in a foreign country?

Start small at a type of even you are comfortable with (casual constructed, draft, etc.) and make connections with people there. 

 

Hiroaki Oyama: Aichi, Japan

 

Hiroaki was one of the first Japanese members of our Facebook Magic group here in Nagoya. I met him at a local tournament a few months back and since then he’s been joining us for drafts, pre-releases, and various other Magic related events. He’s been playing Magic for a while, but only just got involved in competitive Magic. He’s getting better all the time. 

  • What’s it like to play against foreign players at your local game shop in Japan?

It kind of reminds me of the days at my uni, when I started playing MTG again with exchange students from abroad on more casual basis. For me, it was non-Japanese players who had brought me back to the battlefield, and I’ve played with them through most of my MTG history . . . so, I can understand a bit of the nervousness and awkwardness of non-Japanese players in that sense. I know it does sound unusual a bit hearing this from a Japanese person.

  • How are foreign players different from Japanese ones you’ve played against?

I personally don’t see any remarkable differences between foreign players and Japanese ones. While I do see some minor differences in terms of habits or behavior outside of games (don’t really make your opponent shuffle your deck when playing casually etc.), we are all on the same ground/battlefield based on the universal rules of MTG.

  • What are Japanese player’s thoughts on foreign players? (What kind of image do Japanese players have of foreign MTG players?)

At the moment, I don’t really distinguish players based on their nationality. I was rather fortunate to see lots of players from abroad at the early stage of my MTG history, which let me see both Japanese and non-Japanese players on the same ground. (Sorry, this probably wasn’t the answer you were expecting.)

  • How has playing with foreign players changed your MTG experience overall? Does it make it better to play with an international group of players? Why?

It’s been less than a year since I started playing intensively, so I’m still not in a position where I can talk about my “overall MTG experience.” But I feel interacting with foreign players helps Japanese players to find different perspectives and playing styles/skills in the way usual interaction within (non-)Japanese MTG communities works, but in more interesting way. Also, I’ve never seen any other Japanese players who tried to build wacky decks based on a theme or gimmick and I love such kind of humor which we, Japanese, usually don’t have.

  • What advice would you give to a foreigner that wants to start playing Magic in your country?

I’m sure playing MTG in Japan (aka almost-non-English-speaking-environment) seems to be very challenging for many people. Some just give up on playing MTG in Japan in Japanese and patiently wait till they go back home to play again. You might also feel some of your local MTG communities are kind of exclusive. But I believe they aren’t. Just stop by one of your local card shops for some casual matches or FNM or whatever, and you’ll find Japanese players aren’t that afraid of “外国人/Gaikoku-jin” players. We share the same cards and basic terms which lower the language barrier a little bit. Hope to see you guys somewhere in near future…!!

 

The Grand Prix Nagoya Countdown

 

We are rapidly approaching the next Japanese Grand Prix, and I know there are some of you who are still on the fence as to whether or not you will participate. I think you should definitely come out and try it. It’s going to be an amazing weekend, with lots of side events, artists, people to trade with, etc. I still plan on doing my MTG store tour on Friday morning starting at Kanayama station at 11 am (see my Great Party Nagoya article for details), and finishing it at Fukiage Hall around 5pm so that we can all get some trading in, do the Foiled Again tournament, or hang out with friends until the hall closes at 9pm. Please join us if you can! You’ll be able to check out Magic shops while seeing the city as well!

Be sure to study your Japanese MTG terms as well. Click here or on the tab at the top of my website to study your Japanese vocabulary before the event. With less than 2 weeks until the event, I will be running a special series on The Japan Hobbyist about the MTG shops in the area. I will be revisiting each place I’ve previously written about and add more information to help out those people who were previously looking for phone numbers, websites, and other information. Be sure to check back in a few days for the first one! Thanks for reading, and thanks again for putting up with my crazy work schedule. More posts to come soon!

 

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