The Japan Metagame Diaries: Pro Tour Journey into Nyx (Part 2) – Just Play

(For the first part of this article, please click here)

Pro Tour Playmat

Pro Tour Playmat

As the dust cleared from day 1, I found myself thinking a little bit clearer, listening a bit more, and the nervousness that had weighed me down from the week prior to the event suddenly evaporated. I wasn’t the only person that didn’t make day 2 though. Martin Juza, 11th ranked Shaun McLaren, 16th ranked Jacob Wilson, Melissa DeTora, Raymond Tan, Tzu-Ching Kou, Dusty Ochoa, and even Japanese pro Kenji Tsumura didn’t make it. Overall, 124 people missed the cut and were left up to their own devices for the rest of the weekend. I wasn’t going to let  my performance get me down. I had planned on showing up the second day no matter what, and although I don’t have the numbers to show it, I accomplished quite a lot at the Pro Tour.

I slept in a little bit on Saturday but ended up finding myself back at the Cobb Galleria Center around 10 am. The first thing I did was walk up to information counter to receive my free Draft set. With 3 packs in hand, I walked around the play area to see how round 9 was going. It was really hard to believe my eyes as I did so, to see so many professional players in one place for one tournament. There was probably more talent at one table at the Pro Tour than in the whole of Japan. I mean, I thought Japan had some good players but after watching and playing against some of the best in the world, I realized that the country still has a lot farther to go before it can become a MTG super power again. Down below you can see what I mean. Bonus points if you can spot all the famous people in the pictures!

Can you spot: Makito Mihara, Huey Jensen,

Can you spot: Makito Mihara, Huey Jensen, Luis Scott Vargas, Willy Edel, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, and Alexander Hayne?

You couldn’t walk two steps without seeing somebody with more talent in their little finger than you had in your whole body!

Can you Spot: Brian Kibler,

Can you Spot: Brian Kibler, David Ochoa, Sam Black, (and I think Craig Wescoe)?

I seriously felt like Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World the deeper I went into the tables on Day 2 – “I’m not worthy!!”

Can you spot:

Can you spot: Brad Nelson and Kai Budde?

Can you Spot:

Can you Spot: Todd Anderson, Jon Finkel, Conley Woods, and Yuuki Ichikawa?

I think by now you get the point by now. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into when I won that PTQ. After taking some more pictures, watching some games, and walking around some more, I ended up heading downstairs for lunch just before the break. I had talked with my team mate from Team MythicMTG Joey Andrews for a bit that morning, but strangely enough I felt odd to mingle with the English speaking players at the Pro Tour. It’s crazy, right? I saw Nathan Holt of Walk The Planes walking around and talking to people (and still regret not introducing myself!), I found myself waiting in line for lunch in front of one of the Channel Fireball teams, listening to Kai Budde and Owen Turtenwald talk strategy, and yet when I finally had my lunch, I decided to head over to the table where one of the Japanese players was sitting. I introduced myself in Japanese and made small talk in Japanese, and as rounds ended up on the second floor, more and more of the players came down to the food area and sat at our table. We chatted, I gave them my “business card” of sorts and got theirs, and before I knew it I was sitting directly across from Makito Mihara, listening to him and the Japan contingent talk about the draft and block constructed from the previous day.

Now I’ve seen Makito Mihara and his wife countless times at different Grand Prix and other events like the World Magic Cup, but I had never had a better chance to meet him until then. After a few minutes of listening, I found an opening and talked to Mihara-san and introduced myself. I don’t expect him to remember me other than a vague acquaintance at future events, but I’m pretty psyched that I was able to get my foot in the door. It’s one of my goals to break into the professional scene in Japan, and as I improve my skills, I want to be known in the higher circles as well. I’ve actually developed a pretty good rapport with Saito Tomoharu over the past year or so, so I feel like I’m on the right track. So you’re probably wondering by this point, WHY did you end up talking with, befriending,  and hanging out with the Japanese players at this event when you live in Japan and can do it at any time? One word,

 

NETWORKING.

 

I can not stress how important networking at big events are. I’m not talking about just going up to meet somebody to meet them and get their picture taken with you, I’m talking about getting to know somebody, discussing “business”, and making a contact. If you’re serious about taking your game to the next level, you’ll have to start making inroads out of your small group of friends (no matter how solid of players they are) and to the bigger stage. I plan on seeing these guys a lot  over here in Japan over the next few years, and easier you can share information and communicate with each other, the better you will do overall I think. Especially in Tokyo which holds the most Pro Tour Qualifiers and tournaments in Japan. If you want an inside scoop on the metagame or players in that region, networking and finding contacts should be one of your priorities the next time you’re at a big event like an Open, Invitational, or Grand Prix. You never know when they’ll come in handy.

Day 2, team drafting with new Japanese friends

Day 2, team drafting with new Japanese friends. From right to left, GP Shizuoka winner Nakata Ryo, Nakashima Hajime, Matusbara Ichiro(face covered), Sugiyama Yuya, a player I didn’t have a chance to meet, and Okamoto Keita.

As we talked over lunch, I noticed a few things about all these players. The first was that EVERYBODY was from Tokyo aside from me. Had I not beaten Saito and the other finalist for the spot, it would have been a whole Tokyo affair at the Pro Tour. I also noticed that quite a large number of Japanese players didn’t make day 2. Why was this? Well, as I said before, Japanese players are good, but there are some genius level players in the Pro Tour. I don’t feel like any of us were ready for that level of play aside from Makito Mihara, Ken Yukihiro, and Yuuki Ichikawa. The other reason, and the main reason I did so poorly at the event was lack of a team like the Fireball guys or TCG player competitors. I think if the Japanese players and myself had been more organized, we would all have done a lot better. That’s why in my next part, I want to talk about team building.

 

Building a Team

 

If it wasn’t for my friends, I never would have reached the level I’m at today, nor would I continue to strive to reach even higher levels. When I originally started to take competitive Magic seriously during M12, I loved to brew crazy decks. The thing is, I had a very limited collection of cards at the time and had to make do with what I had. However, the one thing I did have were my friends David, Brendan, Mitsuo, and Takazawa. In those first few months, I credit most of my improvement to these people. They were playing the best decks and allowed me to put my brew through a gauntlet of tests, and afterwards gave me good feedback as how to improve my deck. There is absolutely no way a single player can do everything on their own anymore.Sure you have MTG Online now to sharpen your skills and play against some of the best players, but there are some things that a team can bring that playing online can’t.

For starters, immediate feedback. The people you play with usually know your deck and can offer good critiques right then and there. You can always post your list up on a place like MTG Salvation, but that can be a mixed bag. With MTGO, you’re considered extremely lucky if you run into somebody that doesn’t use some kind of expletive to address you, let alone offer you feedback. Some people might not understand what you’re trying to do with your deck, and they also don’t understand the metagame in your area. The metagame is also a very important part of working with a team. If you’re playing online, there is a good chance that you’re playing a lot against a deck that’s built to beat all the decks being played online, and not in your town. Another benefit of building a team is to pool your card collections together. Money can be extremely limited to some people building decks on a budget, but having a team you can trust can side step this problem. The list of benefits can go on and on, so what I’d like to do now is give you my opinion on how to build a team in order to help everybody become better players. 

  1. The first step in team building is to choose your team members. This should be done wisely. Choosing your best friends might seem like the logical thing to do, but when choosing members you should focus on recruiting people with lots of experience playing Magic, people who can communicate well, people you get along with, as well as people who’s schedule matches your own. If you’re playing against weaker opponents all the time, people you don’t like, people who can’t express themselves articulately when explaining things like sideboard plans or lines of play, then you’re going to run into a lot of problems. It also sucks if you always want to practice on a given day but nobody else is available to play (this happened to me a lot during Pro Tour testing). I think you should also recruit serious players for your team instead of casual. Keep your play group for fun events, but you’ll need this tight knit team for tournaments and PTQs. 
  2. The 2nd step should be to set up a schedule and stick to it. I can’t stress this enough. Consistency is incredibly important when play testing. If you’re always skipping dates or jamming the play sessions right before a big event, you can miss out on a lot of subtleties and lose time needed to test out a revised build or sideboard choice. At the moment, I set up two dates for my team to meet up an play/test. We have a Tuesday meeting and Sunday meeting every week. Another benefit of setting up a schedule allows your team members to be flexible and attend one or another. Two to three days a week seems like a good number, since is also allows you to focus in different formats (Which leads me to my next point). 
  3. For step 3, choose a format you will be testing and stick to it. You can still go to FNM or other casual events during the week, but for your team testing, you should really be focusing on one format. We are currently starting a Modern PTQ season, so the members of my new team are going to focus on that format until the PTQ season is over at the end of summer. You can choose whichever format you want depending on your needs. Maybe your next Grand Prix is standard, or perhaps there is a Legacy Open at the end of the month you want to do. Whatever you test for, decide it as a team and stick to it for those team sessions. 
  4. Step 4 could be considered related to step 1 and choosing team members, but I believe that you should always support your teammates if it’s in your power. If somebody wants to test Modern and you don’t have a modern deck, proxy up some cards and help them out. If your teammates are looking for sideboard ideas or want to make a variation on a popular deck that hasn’t been tried yet, work with them and help them get to where they need. Don’t tell them to just go online and test by themselves. I feel that totally defeats the purpose of having a team and having two heads is ALWAYS better than one. Even if you only have an hour or two to spare for a couple rounds, that’s better than nothing. Be there for your team. 
  5. Step 5 is to give/take constructive criticism. If somebody has a crazy idea they want to try, don’t shoot it down immediately without any type of explanation as to why it won’t work. Everybody learns differently, so it’s important to know how to communicate and talk with each other. Some people might just need to read an article online that previously covered the topic, others might have to actually see something in action in an online video or something to learn, and there are even people that have to play and see their idea fail in order to learn. Having a team mate explain what they learned from each experience afterwards as a teachable moment is more beneficial than just saying “that’s a bad idea”.

I’m sure there are more good suggestions out there on how to build a successful Magic team, so if you have any other ideas or comments please be sure to add them down below! Sadly, I didn’t have any team building skills prior to my Pro Tour experience, and the lack of one severely hampered my performance. I just hope that you’ll be able to learn from some of my mistakes and become a better player yourself from it!

 

Back on Tour

Chapin Vs Watanabe and Mengucchi Vs Duke

Feature matches: Chapin Vs Watanabe and Mengucchi Vs Duke

 

Day 2 ended for me around 6 pm after a few drafts with people I knew and some more networking. Overall, I felt like it was a day well spent. I went out to dinner with my wife and mom again, did some shopping and called it a day. On day 3, I made it back to the event to say my goodbyes and to take home some last minute souvenirs from my trip. 

Pro Tour Tokens

Pro Tour Tokens

The first thing I did was pick up my last draft set, and afterwards I got my picture put on these cool Pro Tour tokens. By day 3, the event hall was pretty much closed off. All that was left was a seating area with a screen in front of it to show the matches going on the other side of the giant curtain, some tables for drafting and trading, and last but not least you could play against some of the Research and Development guys from Wizard’s of the Coast.

Day 3, playing against the R&D team

Day 3, playing against the R&D team

For anybody that wanted to, you could bring a deck and play against one of 4 people: Pro Tour Hall of Famer Mike Turian, Ethan Fleischer, Ian Duke, and the cosplayer Christine Sprankle. You didn’t really get to choose however. Whenever a game opened up, you could take a seat and chat with them about Magic cards or anything else that was on your mind. 

Ethan Fleischer of Wizard's R&D

Ethan Fleischer of Wizard’s R&D make some hand tokens for our matchup

My opponent for the day ended up being Ethan Fleischer, who most recently worked on developing Journey into Nyx. I was using my Naya midrange from my block constructed portion of the pro tour, while he was using a Green White centaur tribal deck that was developed by Patrick Chapin (or so he said). With only one game to play, I wanted to make it count. He managed to get in some early hits and got me down to single digits, but thanks to Courser of Kruphix I managed to get back into the game. During the game we talked about some design thing such as the reasoning behind Deicide when everybody thought they really wanted to push the gods in this block, we talked about his family and history with MTG, as well as one of the future sets he was working on. He seemed really excited about the Khans of Tarkir block.

As our game continued, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion populated the board with token after token and was followed by Xenagos the Reveler, and before all was said and done, I had a massive army of Soldiers, Satyrs, and 2 angry, monstrous Stormbreath Dragons. 

The game ending attack

The game ending attack

I attacked him for around 71 damage after ultimating Elspeth and won the game. I thanked him for the game, shook his hand, got a cool hand drawn centaur token from him, then I was on my way. He was a good guy to hang out with for a game and very interesting to talk to. I hope they do events like this again in the future! 

 

The Journey is Far from Over . . .

Well, my story about Pro Tour Journey into Nyx is, but my journey as a Magic player is far from concluded. For those of you interested, after the Pro Tour I went on my honeymoon with my wife, driving all the way down to Orlando, Florida from Atlanta for a day at Universal Studios, another at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and a day at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. We eventually had to drive back to Atlanta in order to fly out of the international airport there, and I did manage to spend a few hours at my first ever American Grand Prix in Atlanta. I managed to trade away a lot of my Japanese foils and a few others cards to put together quite a few pieces for my Modern affinity deck. I also came into a collection of old cards for a good price while I was back in the USA and now I have a Legacy deck on the way as well. I look forward to getting back into the Japan metagame reports again now that the Pro Tour is over. The Modern PTQ season is now here, and standard is also a whole new ball game. Be sure to join me again soon for some interesting deck lists and insight into Magic in Japan. Thanks for reading!

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