Grand Prix Chiba: Shaking Things Up

May 30th Earthquake

May 30th Earthquake

Modern Masters 2015 weekend will go down in history as having the biggest simultaneous Grand Prix ever, but I will forever remember it as the weekend that shook the Magic world. If you were watching coverage going into round 8 of GP Chiba, then you probably saw the earthquake in Japan happen live. It was kind of unnerving to have the ground and building swaying slowly for almost 5 minutes, but for the most part there was so much focus on playing Magic that many players shrugged it off. They happen so often in the Tokyo area that it’s become a common occurrence. I can’t say I was that worried myself, especially after experiencing the March 11th earthquake first hand while I was living in Shizuoka prefecture.  While the Earth is something to be reckoned with, MTG itself has also become an almost unstoppable force. Nothing can get between a player and their Magic cards.

 

 

My Weekend

 

Friday

GP Chiba on FridayGP Chiba on Friday 

I arrived on Friday with one of my fellow Cardboard Samurai to walk around the sight. The hall was absolutely huge and there was plenty of space to walk around between tables. As you can see, the tournament was split into 3 different colors: white, green, and blue. I ended up being in the green tournament. I was a little disappointed with the lack of side events and overall entertainment. I had been following GP Utrecht and GP Vegas’s twitter and there seemed to be so much more going on there. Last Chance Trials were going on all day long, as well as Modern version of Foiled Again (which lets you win FNM cards each time you win a game), but that was it. I had considered playing, but I wanted to save my money since the weekend was already pretty expensive (hotel, transportation, and the GP fee was already close to $500). I couldn’t, however, pass up the awesome art of Peter Mohrbacher.

Peter Mohrbacher's awesome artPeter Mohrbacher’s awesome artI was very impressed with his art. It was so different from anything I had seen before, and being an Affinity player in both Modern and Legacy, I had to buy this when I saw it. I had also tried to get my hands on the Tokyo Robot mat he made for GP Chiba, but it had sold out each day before I had even made it to the hall. Seriously, check out his website!

 

Food at GP ChibaFood at GP Chiba 

We had a convenience store on site at GP Chiba which was nice, and there was also a coffee shop vendor and a Matsuya the beef bowl truck to service all the players at the event. I don’t feel like players had any problems grabbing food in between rounds, though the selection was a lot less than what was available at GP Kyoto just a month before.

 

Unused side Makuhari MesseUnused side Makuhari MesseI’d also like to point out that the location was more than able to fit 4000+ players. As you can see in this picture, the hall located directly next to the hall where GP Chiba was taking place was empty. This makes me believe that space was never an issue at the event, but that there was a severe lack of Judges to be able to handle it. For such a big event the judges did a great job and deserve our thanks, but this also goes to show you that it’s nearly impossible to hold simultaneous events worldwide at the current judge capacity. It’s up to the MTG community to support those who want to be judges for our game so that they can continue to bring us a high level of professionalism and allow the community to hold more events in order to encourage growth of the game. I’d like to hope that by the time the next Modern Masters set comes out in 2017, that we’ll have enough judges to give the same experience to everybody all over the world.

 

Saturday

 

I was lucky enough to sit next to some of my friends from the Cardboard Samurai for the sealed deck building portion of Grand Prix Chiba. I opened a pretty good pool with Dark Confidant, All is Dust, and Karn Liberated, but I felt that pool was just under the threshold of dropping and holding onto. I passed it and it luckily ended up with one of my friends, so I don’t feel so bad about not dropping and keeping it. I mean, just how bad of a pool could I get?

 

 

I thought I had put together a rather decent BRU Proliferate/Bloodthirst deck, but the deck lacked any real power outside of Niv Mizzet. There were some flyers with evasion, but the removal probably could have been better. My strategy was to play more tempo cards and be more of a pure aggro deck, but I was easily beaten by green decks playing bigger creatures and Affinity decks that could put more pressure on me. It might have been better to play 2 colors than 3 for consistency.

 

 

The Esper Affinity/Artifact deck I used as a sideboard had better removal and better synergy, but just as with my Bloodthirst deck, it didn’t have a great finisher to win the game with. I went a disappointing 5-4, picking up my 3rd loss in round 6 but staying in the tournament for the experience. After playing with the set, I can say the overall limited experience was good, but I was incredibly disappointed with my pool as well as the type of cards that were chosen for this set. I was charged 12,000 yen ($100) for this event and felt cheated when I only received about $20 in value in return ($50 when the playmat and goods are factored in, and that’s being generous). Here’s what I ended up with.

 

 

Needless to say I won’t be too keen on taking part in the main event for MM3 in a few years if Wizards doesn’t approach the way they build the set. I felt like I was playing in a Scars of Mirrodin and M13 tournament that had nothing to do with the Modern format. I’m not the only one that felt this way I think, and I’m sure there are a lot of jaded people after last weekend that will be very cautious from now on when it comes to these sort of events. I came in expecting a unique Modern Masters 1 type of experience that Las Vegas had a few years ago, and I left feeling like I had been thrown into a normal, albeit large Japanese Grand Prix and overcharged.

 

Sunday

 

This supposed “history making” weekend ended up being one of the most quiet Grand Prix I’ve ever been too. One only need to look back as far as GP Shizuoka from December to see an event done right. GP Shizuoka not only had a good number of side events, but it also had many events for spectators that involved Japanese pro Magic players such as a drafting presentation sponsored by Tokyo MTG, or a traditional (MTG themed) game of Karuta hosted by Big Magic. Aroni Hipperson over at MTG Zoo did a good article at the beginning of this year about the event that really captures what an enjoyable, well put together event is like. Now I realize that resources such as space are limited at a tournament of this size, but you think the tournament organizer could have been a little more creative and crafted some other events for people not taking part in the main event to do.

I ended up doing Super Sunday Standard to test out my white devotion deck, but after picking up my 4th loss in round 7 (putting me out of prize contention) I decided that was it and dropped. I was done with Magic for that weekend. Luckily, this gave me a lot of free time in the afternoon which I used to hang out with friends, trade, and try to enjoy myself in the little time I had left. Before heading home, I also thought it would be interesting to see what other attendees thought about the tournament weekend. Were they happy? Disappointed? Angry? Read on to find out.

 

Jesten and Mac from Chiba

Jesten and Mac from ChibaJesten and Mac from Chiba, JapanJesten (right) and Mac are friends both currently living in Chiba. You might have recognized Jesten from the Sushi-draft that Wizards held with Shota Yasooka. I managed to run into him after the event to see how it went, and he seemed to have had a great time. Both Jesten and Mac are originally from the USA, with Jesten  hailing from Michigan, not to far from my home state of Indiana.

 

The Japan Hobbyist: What brought you to GP Chiba? What did you expect before you arrived?

Jesten: The Grand Prix was right in my back yard, so how I could I miss out on it? Besides having the chance to play in a Grand Prix, this was a great way to meet new friends and to see old ones. I came in no expectations and was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.

Mac: Same here. The location was great for me. It seriously only takes me a few minutes to get to my place from here. I thought that the format seemed exciting and want to try it out.

 

TJH: How would you rate your experience?

Jesten: Day 1 was a 5. It was a good experience but I felt burnt out from playing too much Magic all day long. Day 2 on the other hand was a 8.5. I didn’t feel like I was under any pressure and just hung out with my friends all day. Plus, the Sushi draft.

Mac: I would rank my Day 1 as a 7. I did alright in the tournament, finishing 6-3, and got some good cards from my pool. However, I would rank my day 2 as a 6. I played in 2 Headed Giant sealed and it took way too long to get started. It also went way too long. I would have preferred it to be single elimination so I could have done other side events.

 

TJH: What did you like/dislike about this weekend?

Jesten: I liked the scope and the size of the event. The number of players in one place was impressive. What I liked the least about this weekend was the dread you feel before opening you packs and switching your pools. I was really worried that I would get a bad pool.

Mac: The size of the event was a definite plus. There were so many people here and day 1 was pretty exciting. Lots of my friends also came which made the experience even better. I wasn’t satisfied with the number of vendors however. I would like them to double the number of vendors, especially at such a large event. GPs in Japan need to be more like the tournaments overseas.

 

TJH: How would you make the experience better in the future? What would make these type of tournaments better for you?

Jesten: The overall incentive to play in side events was non-existent. There was very little reason to play, and the cost was high. I would have made the side events more interesting/exciting for people to play in.

Mac: I’d like to add that the side events also need to be on schedule. There was a lot of time wasted in between rounds and I think things could have been run smoother. I’d also like to see Grand Prix become more festive and enjoyable with various activities to do along with MTG.

 

TJH: What were your thoughts on the location of the tournament and area surrounding it?

Jesten: I loved the location. It is easy to get to the airport and from there, there are good restaurants nearby, and Disney is also close. There are lots of things to do around the tournament area. The only gripe I have is with the food options at this event. There needs to be more variety, especially when you have 4000 people from around the world.

Mac: I was pretty happy that the event was so close to where I live. There was lots of room to play in the event hall, and good casual areas too.

 

TJH: Final question, what do you think caused the earthquake on Saturday?

Jesten: It was people opening chase foils, dropping, and running home.

Mac: A Griselbrand murmuration. When you get so many in one location something bad is bound to happen.

 

Katie and Matt

Matt from New Zealand and Katie from the USAMatt from New Zealand and Katie from the USAI caught Matt and Katie at the end of their shifts on Sunday and asked them if they’d be willing to give me a judge’s point of view of the event. Katie had lived in Japan before, but for Matt it was his first time coming to Japan. Both are Level 2 judges.

 

The Japan Hobbyist: What brought you to GP Chiba? What did you expect before you arrived?

Matt: I’ve always wanted to come to Japan and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Katie: I lived here for 3 years before and had lots of friends I wanted to see again so this was perfect. I can also speak some Japanese so it made judging here much easier. I thought it would be pretty hectic/crazy but it didn’t turn out that way.

 

TJH: How would you rate your experience?

Matt:  I’d give it an 11/10. Japan has been a great place to judge, and the players are so polite here.

Katie: I’d rank the experience an 11/10 as well. The tournament organizer communicated extremely well and the Japanese players were also great to deal with.

 

TJH: What did you like/dislike about this weekend?

Matt: I really liked that I was able to use the Japanese I studied back in school.

Katie: Yeah, it was very rewarding to be able to communicate in Japanese.

 

TJH: How would you make the experience better in the future? What would make these type of tournaments better for you?

Matt: No comparison. This has been the best event I’ve ever judged. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Katie: Same. It was a great event. Not many people can finish early at a 4000 person event.

 

TJH: What were your thoughts on the location of the tournament and area surrounding it?

Matt: The convenience store was great, and the large number of restaurants in the surrounding area were great for a busy judge.

Katie: It was good. The place was easy to find, but more air conditioning is always welcome when it gets hot outside.

 

TJH: Final question, what do you think caused the earthquake on Saturday?

Matt: The 5 Dragons of Kamigawa hatching!

Katie: The gathering of actual Planeswalkers for a draft.

 

Petr from Tokyo

 

Petr from the Czech RepublicPetr from the Czech RepublicPetr is originally from the Czech Republic but is currently working in Tokyo in the aviation industry. He’s been playing Magic for a long time, but only recently decided to get back into it. We had sat close to each other for the sealed pools, and he also joined my cardboard Samurai that weekend to hang out.

 

The Japan Hobbyist: What brought you to GP Chiba? What did you expect before you arrived?

Petr: The last GP I went to was in 2000, but it felt natural to come back to the Grand Prix scene for Chiba. I recently started playing Magic again after a long time, and having the event so close to my home seemed like it was my destiny.

 

TJH: How would you rate your experience?

Petr: Both days were great, but I was disappointed with my results on day 1. The side events turned out well I thought.

 

TJH: What did you like/dislike about this weekend?

Petr: I made a lot of new friends this weekend, but also saw a lot of my friends from the local game shop in my area. It was cool to see them at a large tournament and to cheer them on. As for what I didn’t like, I thought the organization could have been better. I also think that communication with non-Japanese speaking players needs work. Things such as where to go and what to do need to be communicated clearly and easily in English.

 

TJH: How would you make the experience better in the future? What would make these type of tournaments better for you?

Petr: Make it more international. To me, GP Chiba felt like a larger Japanese GP and nothing more. They need to improve their communication, use more English for non-native players, and also advertise the events outside of Japan.

 

TJH: What were your thoughts on the location of the tournament and area surrounding it?

Petr: I’m happy becuase it was close for me. The facilities were also good, and actual food was nearby (not only convenience stores and snacks). 

 

TJH: Final question, what do you think caused the earthquake on Saturday?

Petr: The rumbling of Thunderblust as it returned to play with trample.

 

Lee Shi Tian, Huang Hao-Shan, Soh Weng-Heng, and Wing Chun Yam 

 

Lee Shi Tian, Huang Hao-Shan, Soh Weng-Heng, and Wing Chun Yam (not featured, Jacky Chan)Lee Shi Tian, Huang Hao-Shan, Soh Weng-Heng, and Wing Chun Yam (not featured, Jacky Chan)As the final hours of Grand Prix Chiba approached, many people had already gone home. Side events had stopped firing, only a few traders were making deals, and people were saying good bye. Being an international Grand Prix, I wanted to get the viewpoints of players from outside of Japan but that also typically play in Asia. I was lucky enough to run into Lee Shi Tian from Hong Kong, Huang Hao-shan from Taiwan, Jacky Chan (not pictured) from Hong Kong, Soh Weng-Heng of Singapore, and Wing Chun Yam from Hong Kong. They are all good friends and probably some of the best players in Asia. Lee Shi Tian was interviewed on day 1 for Wizard’s website as the top player at the tournament and Huang Hao-Shan was featured in an article by WoTC as well.

(To make it easier to read, please use this key to see who is saying what: Lee Shi Tian = L, Huang Hao-Shan = H, Soh Weng-Heng = S, Wing Chun Yam = W, and Jacky Chan = J)

 

The Japan Hobbyist: What brought you to GP Chiba? What did you expect before you arrived?

H: I was hoping for a good finish coming into GP Chiba.

L: I thought it would be a pretty big event, but this turned out to be too big in my opinion.

S: The feeling of the event, the atmosphere was also pretty big I thought.

W: For me, I expected to meet many of my friends that don’t usually play. This event attracted a lot of those types of players.

 

TJH: How would you rate your experience?

H: 9 – The event ran smoothly for just a large Grand Prix. 

J: 8 – The atmosphere was great, but there needed to be more translation support.

S: 7 – I thought that the rounds took too long to finish.

W: 9 – I would have liked to have had more facilities such as bathrooms, etc.

L: 8 – Wifi would also have been great.

 

TJH: What did you like/dislike about this weekend?

L: 4000 people was a bit too much, even if people dropped after opening their pools. The event should be split into 2 to make the difficulty more realistic. With 4000 people, losing more than 1 time takes you out of contention for the top 8. 

J: I liked that the event went smoothly without many delays, but I also thought that the judges needed to be spread more equally around the event hall. Especially those with language skills needed to translate for foreign players.

W: I would have liked to have had more play space. The tables were really small and you couldn’t even fit 2 playmats on a table.

S: More payouts also would have been good. I don’t like that the pay out structure/amount doesn’t change according to the number of players. On the plus side, there were a lot of events for everybody to play in this weekend.

H: The overall atmosphere was comfortable, and it went smooth considering how big it was, however I also agree that more multilingual judges are needed for the future. I also didn’t like that all of the hotels close to the hall were very expensive.

 

TJH: How would you make the experience better in the future? What would make these type of tournaments better for you?

L: I’d like to see more technology used in the future. This is Japan. There should be things like big screens for pairings, wifi, etc. It would make it much easier for players instead of using the very small sheets of paper on the walls. 

S/H: I would have judges dedicated to translating for certain tables that have non-Japanese speaking players there.

 

TJH: What were your thoughts on the location of the tournament and area surrounding it?

L: The size of the event hall was fine for the size of the event. 

H/S/W: Considering the size of the tournament, I think WoTC did a good job of finding a location. There might have been  better places, but none that could handle this many people.

 

TJH: Final question, what do you think caused the earthquake on Saturday?

S: Too many people casting Savage Twister

L: Aethersnipe picking up and dropping Godzilla

W: One of the Eldrazi smashing into the ocean (possibly Ulamog).

 

 

Making Ripples

 

There you have it. The people have spoken and told you how they felt about GP Chiba. I would say that it was a good experience for most people overall, but I think some people were left with a sour taste in their mouth as well. This was Japan’s first large event, and they showed they can handle it. Realistically, only Japan has the judge power to hold such an event. Tournament Organizers have done a good job for the most part, but nothing outstanding. We can learn a lot from TOs such as Channel Fireball and SCG on how to put together both a smooth and entertaining event. Magic players pay a lot of money to keep their hobby going, but in the end the reward must be worth it. This doesn’t mean that everybody needs to make back their money in product and prizes, but it does mean that they incur that value some other way. Tournament Organizers are not only promoters and sponsors, but are also entertainers. Grand Prix are tournaments for most people that first day, but afterwards they need to transform into something more. Tournament Organizers need to strive to bring the best possible event to their customers, and hopefully the overall experience of GP Chiba has set us on a much better path for the future. I’m looking forward to what the future brings.

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