Grand Prix Nagoya: School of Hard Knocks
The magic number was 4. All I had to do was win 4 times and I was a shoe in for day 2. I started the day 3-0 thanks to byes I earned from my PTQ win back in January. Before the Grand Prix, I had done a few sealed events, including GPTs and PTQs. I failed more than I succeeded, but I learned a lot about the format. After more than 20 sealed/booster drafts, I had come up with some good advice for myself for Theros/Born of the Gods limited.
What I learned
- Two colors are the best unless you’re lacking bombs/finishers. If that is the case, splash in a 3rd color to give yourself some more power, but don’t go too heavily into that color or you’ll really screw up your draws. Consistency is key.
- Two and three drops are extremely important in this format. Being able to trade with heroic decks early or to put pressure on slower midrange decks is the key to doing well in BNG/THS limited. Having a good curve that is heavy on 2 and 3 drops is a good idea.
- Removal isn’t necessary. It’s pretty weak overall in this format and forcing a color or splashing for removal is only going to make your deck slower and weaker.
- Combat tricks and tempo cards are the key to doing well. Using creatures to kill your opponent’s creatures is better than straight out removal. It allows you to dictate the pace of the game and to keep your opponent guessing all the time. Heroic is a good strategy, but just having spells in any deck that can fill two roles is better than straight out removal sometimes.
- Focus on good strategies and synergies, not good cards. This means don’t build around your best card, build around your best strategy. Which cards will help you to accomplish this strategy the best? Back during RTR block, I used to build around bombs and it rarely worked out well for me. Find cards that work well together and have a goal in mind when you’re building your deck. Don’t be afraid to put your best card in your sideboard.
- Last but not least, make sure you have win conditions/finishers in your deck. You need to be able to close out a game. You could have tons of tempo, removal, and card draw, but if you don’t have have a big creature or powerful card like a planeswalker in play, you’re just postponing the inevitable. Just keep in mind that you don’t want to load up on them either. Make sure you still have a decent curve that you don’t straight out lose to lightning fast decks like UW or RW heroic.
Come Saturday morning, I cracked my packs, filled out the form, then got passed my own pool from none other Nam-Sung Wook (GP Melbourne winner). The pool had a strong UG strategy with some high end finishers and lots of flyers, but after constantly losing to heroic decks I decided I wanted to play something a little bit lighter on the curve.
People say removal sucks in this format, but when you open up 6 pieces of removal in your pool and a somewhat aggressive curve, you better play it. I ended up with a BW aggro deck of sorts. The curve was very low to punish slow playing decks, and it was chock full of bestow creatures (6 total). There weren’t too many bombs in these colors, but being able to “voltron” up a creature early and turn it INTO a bomb worked pretty well for me. Nighthowler, Akroan Skyguard, Pain Seer, and Hopeful Eidolon all were great cards for me. The Archetype of Courage also kept a lot of players at bay, letting me bestow one of my creatures until I could attack for the win. Here’s the full list.
- Sip of Hemlock x2
- Pharika’s Cure
- Lash of the Whip
- Bile Blight
- Ray of Dissolution
- Ordeal of Erebos
- Hopeful Eidolon
- Nyxborn Shieldmate
- Akroan Skyguard
- Celestial Archon
- Evangel of Heliod
- Heliod’s Emissary
- Oreskos Sun Guide
- Opaline Unicorn x2
- Returned Centaur
- Archetype of Courage
- Nyxborn Eidolon
- Elite Skirmisher
- Pain Seer
- Traveling Philosopher
- Swamp x 9
- Plains x8
I lost my first match to a bant deck 1-2 due to a mana flood, but bounced back against a UG deck to make the magic number 3. At 4-1, I was pretty confident. Especially when you look at my pool. I felt it was really consistent and aggressive. I could definitely sneak in a few more wins. In game 6 I faced UG tempo. The player was using Prognostic Sphinx as well as Kiora, the Crashing Wave. Try as I might, his 3/5 sphinx and arsenal of tempo spells to bounce my creatures kept me from stopping Kiora’s ultimate. In two long games, I found myself losing to an army of 9/9 krakens. I fell just short of beating him in both games.
I was now 4-2, and felt that my 3 byes were going to be wasted. I had to put everything I had into game 7 to remain alive. I played against another Bant deck. Lots of bestow, some heroic . . . I drew nothing but mana for about 8 turns in game one to lose, then mulliganed down to 4 in game 2. Horrible luck. I was really disappointed. Round 7 had been the highest I’ve ever been in contention of making day 2. With only 2 rounds left, I decided to play it out and make it respectable. In round 8 I faced a UW deck and beat him pretty easily with all of my removal and fast creatures. I was 5-3 going into the final round of day 1, and round 9 proved to be my most difficult match of all day.
We were both in it to finish respectfully at 6-3. I was BW bestow, he was playing GR midrange. He hit me really hard in the first game and got me down to 6 life. I had a few creatures to block, but wasn’t feeling confident that I could win it. I then proceeded to draw my Sip of Hemlocks and other removal in the following 3 turns and destroyed his team and won the game. In game 2, he had a very aggressive start and quickly made an army of 5+ power beasts to beat me down with. It all came down to game 3. I again found myself on the defensive. I had to keep blocking with my creatures to stay alive. I had played my Nighthowler, which had grown to a 13/13 to deal with his 9/9 Arbor Colossus, but he still had other ways of attacking. I managed to keep his attack off just long enough with my removal spells to bestow Celestial Archon on the Nighthowler and swing for 17 damage in the air. People think the top 8 players are strong, but nobody fights harder than a player on the edge of defeat.
At the end of day 1, I was at 6-3, my best finish ever at a GP. My final ranking out of 1786 players was 323. Not bad, but I’m ready to take my game to another level at the next Grand Prix in August.
Good Food, good people, great times
1786 players may have participated in Grand Prix Nagoya this year, but by and far there were a lot more people there at the same time. By my estimation, there were probably close to 2500 people altogether in the hall during it’s peak. Hundreds of people waited in line for artists’ signatures, 8-man drafts were so popular during the weekend that they almost ran out of Theros booster packs, and the amount of side events you could do was mind boggling. There were also quite a lot of spectators. The event was streamed on Nico Nico live for everybody watching at home, but those that came out to the hall could watch all these pros in person. On Sunday, many people took part in the Super Sunday Sealed and Super Sunday Modern events. Both drew close to 500 players, and Hobby Station’s BearCat Legacy and Standard Cup for a chance to win a full foil Theros set also drew about the same amount of players. Both days at Fukiage Hall were absolutely packed.
I also met quite a few people from around the world at this event. Nagoya’s location drew a lot of players from Korea, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, and even as far as Mexico. I had the chance to get some ramen after day 1 with a guy from Korea and Mexico, and after day 2 I met up with some people from Taiwan and New Zealand. While the friends in your Magic group might not like it, you should definitely try to network and meet new people when you go to an event of this size. The MTG community has some great people if you take the time to get to know them.
I actually went to the hall on Friday for the Foiled Again Friday Night Magic event, and I have to say that I had one of the best times I’ve ever had on a Friday. I was simply overwhelmed by the level of professionalism, the amount of staff that were available to help you, the number of vendors (such as Hareruya, TokyoMTG, and Hobby Station), and most importantly, the Food.
Up until GP Shizuoka last year, every other Grand Prix I had gone to before left the players up to their own devices to find food in between rounds. This led hundreds of people scrounging the severely understocked and understaffed convenience stores near the event halls for subpar food in between rounds. It was always one of the worst experiences at a GP. At GP Shizuoka they had beef bowls (Gyudon) from Matsuya, but they could have still done better. At GP Nagoya, things finally came full circle. Inside Fukiage Hall, they still had the tried and true beef bowls from Matsuya, they also had snacks and fried chicken brought in from Lawson’s convenience store nearby, and outside they even had food vendors that you could eat at in between rounds! This is the closest I’ve ever been to a MTG festival. Food, friends, games all weekend. It was an overall great experience for me, even if I didn’t make day 2.
Raising the bar
Grand Prix Nagoya raised the bar again for MTG events around the world. While it was mainly about the game and making day 2, there were enough things to take part in to feel that your time was well spent at Fukiage Hall. More than 200 people crowded around Shuhei Nakamura’s presentation on the limited format in Theros (courtesy of TokyoMTG), and afterwards they held simulation pools where players could build a sealed deck then get feedback from Shuhei himself. It was very well done.
Going foward from here, I think we can expect each Grand Prix to not only hold side events, but also workshops to help raise the skill level of players in Japan, more coverage from the floor from 3rd parties other than Wizards of the Coast, large numbers of staff to help out the hundreds of visitors to the event, and most importantly, FOOD. Grand Prix Nagoya, even though it was hard to fail again, I thank you for helping me to raise my own level of play. We have to fail countless times before we succeed, and that just makes the success all that much rewarding.