The Japan Hobbyist: 350 – A Card Odyssey
On December 5th, 2011, The Japan Hobbyist Was Born.
It’s been a wild ride from a casual MTG player wanting to help other Magic players in Japan to the wannabe Magic pro looking to make his mark in the world of Magic. This post marks the 350th on my website, and I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the milestone with a look back at how I got here. Today I’d like to take a break from metagames and decks to talk about my growth as a player from 2011, my growth as a deck builder from 2011, how I’ve contributed to the world of of MTG (and would like continue to do so), and finally leave you with a few of my favorite posts over the last 2.5 years. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey!
Growth as a Player
Every journey has a beginning, and for me that was way back in 1994 with my brother and a few other friends learning how to play Magic from one of the kids that was 2 years older than me. The older boy, Bryan, had brought over his small collection of cards and taught us how to play over a few weeks. Back then, Magic was simpler. Starter boxes (packs with 60 cards for $10 that came with 2 rares, 13 uncommons, land, and a bunch of commons) were plentiful back then and came with a rule book which we poured over for hours on end until we learned about what trample, flying, and the difference between a sorcery and instants. From that time until 2010, I was a casual player. I had some decks that I made for fun and played with friends at a kitchen table every weekend (this was after an 8 year hiatus that started from Exodus). Back then, the main point of this was to have fun. I’d build decks to beat my friend’s decks, usually making them with only 1-2 of the same card because I wanted to have a lot of power instead of consistency. I had no other goal but to do fun things.
It wasn’t until 2010, when I moved back to Japan after working a temporary job in the USA for 2 years, that I started to embrace the standard format. At the time, Zendikar block and Scars of Mirrodin block were standard legal. I had played in the Zendikar, Worldwake, and Rise of Eldrazi pre-releases and bought a few packs, but my collection was absolutely pitiful. I tried playing in a few events but got my ass handed to me each time easily. I had started a new job in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka at this time, so instead of playing standard I decided to learn MTG vocabulary, study Japanese, and attend random events when work allowed it. I probably played no more than 10 standard events that whole year.
In 2011, my schedule changed a bit and I was able to attend a few more standard events. I bought some packs of Scars of Mirrodin, Mirrodin Besieged, and New Phyrexia packs to bolster my collection (which was still pretty bad), and took part in my first Pre-release in Japan for Magic 2012. By this time, I was starting to get a hang of things and I had some decent bombs in my collection. Around this time, my girlfriend (now wife) received news that she was being transferred to Nagoya and I jumped at the chance to get out of my job at the time and look for a new one in a bigger city. We moved at the end of the summer, and from then on I was in paradise. I spent the next few months searching the city and finding shop after shop of Magic cards. While before it was merely a hobby, from that time onwards whenever my girlfriend was working and I was free, I was at a MTG standard event (which are held almost every day in Nagoya).
I lost a lot in 2012 and 2013, but my card collection grew and with it my skills as a player. I participated in my first GP in Nagoya in winter 2012, took part in my first PTQ the following year, and from then on out the competitive spirit only got stronger. It all culminated in my first PTQ win in Nagoya in January 2014, and now standard has become one of my strongest points.
Limited, on the other hand, has been an uphill battle for me. I used to only do booster drafts or sealed at pre-releases. I managed to luck out at the Innistrad pre-release and picked out a winning archetype, and my initial Theros choices led me to win 2 pre-releases that weekend, but I still struggle from time to time putting together those types of decks. I used to have no idea how to build a limited deck. I didn’t know about mana curves, which creatures to use, how to evaluate cards, etc. I wanted to get better, but I didn’t know how. That’s when I decided to start my Playing to your Weaknesses articles (see my first article here). The idea behind it was to look at all the cards and practice evaluating them and see how they worked with the other cards in the same set. Not only did this help me to improve, but it put The Japan Hobbyist on the map. I went from 300 views on my blog in a MONTH to more than 3000. This series has been integral in helping me to both improve and to reach out and help the Magic community as a whole.
In April, 2014, I finally started playing modern. I started off with RW burn and BW tokens, but after some middling success I decided to go all in on Affinity. I’ve done pretty well with it so far. I’ve won some events, placed in others for some packs, and I think I just might have a chance to make day 2 at GP Kobe in a few weeks. I still could use more experience with a variety of decks, but my experience has grown exponentially thanks to weekly events, GPTs, and PTQs in the format. I reckon I’ll be a strong Affinity player in the future.
I’d also like to quickly talk about Legacy. Due to putting together my Modern Burn and Affinity decks, I’m within striking distance of building decks for the format. I was also lucky enough to get my hands on a box of cards in the USA for $500 that contained 5 Dual Lands (3 Volcanic Islands) and I will be using those to put together a UR Delver deck. I have zero experience with the format, but I plan on getting to know it before GP Kyoto next April which is going to be the first Legacy GP in Japan in a LONG time. I’ll be posting about the metagame and deck ideas later this year as decks come together.
Another format I’m going to start working on is Cube. I’ll be working on a Pauper Cube specifically. I have a lot of extra common cards building up in my collection, and instead of throwing them away, I’d like to get some use out of them. I’ve already put together a decent all common cube, and look forward to playing it with my Magic group in the future. I’ve also had my mom send over my full collection of Tempest. I had collected the entire set when I was in middle school, and then sat on it for all these years. I couldn’t have been happier when it arrived.
I plan on making a Tempest Draft simulation with all the cards I have, meaning I’ll have one of each rare, 2 of each uncommon, and 4 of each common. I never actually had the chance to play with most of these cards when I was younger because there weren’t too many other players my age and I was merely a collector. With what I know now and looking at how powerful some of the cards in this set were, I’m getting pretty excited and can’t wait for the first tournament with me friends.
As I said up above, I felt like all of that hard work and getting beat down constantly culminated in my first Pro Tour appearance in May this year. However, I realized the limitations of being a one man team and merely playing on a local level. If I ever want to return to that stage again, I’ll have to do a lot more training and put together a good team of players that are ready and willing to help each other out at any time. That’s is one of the goals of Team Japan Hobbyist, which has already reached more than 20 members and is quickly approaching 30. It’s exciting to have a network of players working with each other on the global stage and I want to thank all of them for being a part of the team! The new PTQ system is going to make it a lot more difficult to qualify for future Pro Tours that way, so I wonder if it’s not a better idea to just focus on Grand Prix and being at the top of your game that day in order to make the top 8 and get an invitation to the Pro Tour. We’ll see what happens as these changes go into affect.
Growth as a Deck Builder
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . actually it was probably the worst of times every week when I first got back into standard in 2012. I had to make due with packs that I opened, and build around the very few strong rares that I did have. These limitations both hurt and helped me to become a better deck builder in my opinion. I believe that limiting yourself is a good way to improve your deck building skills. Consider making a budget deck using mostly uncommons, commons, and a few cheap rares. First, you have to consider what kind of decks everybody else is using and look through all the cards in your disposal to see which ones would be strong against it. You also have to look at things such as synergy, how your deck wins, and of course correct mana distribution. Many of these things come with time and experience, but you can accelerate that transition by brewing time and time again and learning from your mistakes. Taking notes after each loss and trying out different strategies helped me to learn what I needed to have at the core of my deck and also helped me to come up with better and better sideboards as I continued to play.
Here are some of my favorite decks, as well as influential ones, from the last few years. I think you’ll laugh at some due to their lack of win conditions or use of horrible cards, but I think you’ll also notice that over the months the decks got better and better.
- Titan’s Flame – As you can see, this deck was all over the place. It lacked a clear strategy and was very inconsistent. It did have some nice bombs though, and I was able to usually slow players down until I got one of them on the table to finish the game.
- GWB Tokens – This was my second try at making a deck. my card collection had grown, and I was making more consistent decks, but the problem lay with power this time. I was playing sub par cards such as Jar of Eyeballs and had more of a reactive strategy instead of a proactive one. I found myself with lots of dead cards in these games and did not do well.
- Fushi Titan (Undying Titan) – This was my first try at a combo deck. It kind of had a similar idea to artistocrats but before Aristocrats became a big thing. The mana base was a lot better in this deck than previous decks, but there was still a huge problem with consistency. It’s no wonder that I didn’t win at all that first year.
- Get A Life – This deck helped create my legend here in Nagoya. Using this deck, I went 2-4-1 in my first GPT, but not before gaining more than 800 life in a draw against my round 6 opponent. After this event, I was forever known as Life Gain Ryan.
- WR Humans – This was my first try at an aggro deck. It caught a lot of people off guard because they all thought I’d be running life gain. It had a clear goal in mind, was more consistent, but needed more refinement.
- Hooves of Glory – My first try at a reanimator deck. Was a lot of fun. Best part of this article was me buying Craterhoof Behemoths for 100 and 280 yen apiece.
- Eat. Brains. Love. – My decks started to get a lot better around this time. This zombie/mill deck was a lot of fun to play and pretty consistent. Still not tier 1 material, but my deck building skills were improving.
- Flash Gordon – My first use of Music videos in a deck article ^_^.
- Token Surge – This deck took me higher than I ever had at a PTQ. I finished in 11th place, but had actually gone 5-0 and was sitting in first place until my inexperience knocked me out of contention. This all happened because I read the metagame well and was on the right deck at the right time.
- R/w Devotion – This is the deck that got me to the Pro Tour, so it’s only fitting that I mention it.
I came a long way from my first deck with Inferno Titan to the Hydra deck that I’m using today. It took countless trials and errors, more losses than I’d like to take credit for, and sometimes all I needed to do was have fun. I believe that the last point is most important. If you truly want to become a better deck builder, just go out and build for fun. Don’t look online for ideas, but instead take some cards that you really like and make a deck around them. Your deck most likely won’t be able to beat Tier 1 decks, but it will make for some very fun Friday Night Magic tournaments. My advice to you is to keep brewing and to not be afraid to try new things.
Becoming a Contributing Member of the Magic World
The Japan Hobbyist wouldn’t stand out amongst all of the other MTG websites in the world if I didn’t have something unique to offer. My goal from the get go was to provide insight and information about Magic the Gathering in Japan, and I’ve done that a number of ways. First and foremost have been The Japan Metagame Diaries, which focuses on the standard metagame in Japan, as well as other events relating to it such as Grand Prix and PTQs. I’ve also recently begun my series of articles titled Modern Times which focuses on the modern metagame and tournaments in Japan. Both of these articles are great resources for players in Japan that are going to take part in big events. I recommend checking them out if you’re going to be in Japan before any major event. You can also be sure that I’ll continue my Playing to Your Weaknesses articles to help people playing limited, as well as to further develop my card evaluation skills. If you are interested in contributing to collection of metagame information here in Japan, as well as tournament reports, I would be grateful to have you as part of the time. Please join Team Japan Hobbyist on Facebook if you’re interested (link on the tab at the top of the page).
I also hope to continue my Hobby/Magic Shop list over the next few years and to eventually find all of the major stores in Japan. I think this will become a great resource for players visiting the country from other parts in Asia, as well as those living here and wanting to play Magic. I will also be continuing to update my list of MTG terms in Japanese as new sets are released, so be sure to check for revised lists for both standard and older formats every few months (I’ve currently updated all the way up to M15 and will add new words in there as I play more modern and Legacy).
“Best of” The Japan Hobbyist
For the last part of my 350th blog post, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite posts since I’ve started The Japan Hobbyist. First is my interview of Saito Tomoharu at his old Hareruya store in Tokyo. I was lucky enough to get a hold of him over twitter and to ask for an interview, and was able to meet him in person after a PTQ in Chiba in 2013. I hope that I can do more interviews like this in the future as I meet more and more players at events in Japan. I also interviewed Sunao Nakai, a team Japan member from the 2012 World Magic up in The Road.
Outside of deck ideas, limited articles, and tournament reports, there wasn’t a lot of time for for other material. However I managed to squeeze in some various MTG related articles that I think you might find useful or interesting. The first one was about Team Sealed and what it’s like to play with 2 other people on a team. I also wrote about what it was like being a foreign Magic player in Japan, and I recommend checking it out if you’ve recently moved to the country.
As for GP reports, I think the best one I did was for GP Shizuoka last year. It wasn’t pictures of people’s heads and deck ideas, but instead covered what the GP experience was like and talked about how it has been improved over the last few years. I think the article on GP Nagoya 2014 was also done well and followed in the vein of the GP Shizuoka article.
Here’s to the next 350 posts . . .
If there were any other articles that really enjoyed, or something that you’d like to see more of in the months to come, please leave me a comment below. I would never have gotten this far without the continued support of my readers, the Magic players living over here in Japan with me, and all the “lurkers” who never post but whom share information with their friends and link the website to forums such as MTG Salvation. If it wasn’t for all of you, I never would have reached this point. I’m coming up on my 5th year in Japan next April, and my 3rd year of playing competitive Magic. What will change when we reach 700 articles? I can’t wait and hope that The Japan Hobbyist community grows even larger by then! Thank you for your patience and your time, and I look forward to being one of your sources for information about MTG in Japan! See you next time!