The Japan Metagame Diaries: GP Shizuoka – You’re a Wizard Harry

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It’s not every day you get a chance to meet flesh and blood wizards, and while their ability to brew polyjuice potion might not be up to snuff for the Half-Blood Prince, Helene Bergeot and Gavin Verhey are the closest I’ve ever got to Magic royalty (well, WoTC speaking). Both were in Japan this last weekend for Grand Prix Shizuoka and I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with them for a few minutes about Magic the Gathering in the land of the rising sun.

Truth be told, it’s very rare to see either of these Wizards in Japan. While talking with Helene I heard that she has actually been to Japan multiple times, but I believe it was the first time outside of Tokyo for Gavin (he had visited once before). When such a rare opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t help but ask to interview them. Using well-timed guerilla tactics, I ambushed both of Mrs. Bergeot and Mr. Verhey before the top 8 of GP Shizuoka and had a nice conversation with each of them. Lucky for you readers, I was able to interview them for my blog! Helene was incredibly interesting to talk with and I’m afraid that my interview and note taking skills were somewhat lacking, but hopefully some of her charisma and friendly personality come out in my writing down below! (You’ll forgive me if I take some liberties in writing this article to make it easier to read.)

An Interview with Helene Bergeot

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The Japan Hobbyist: It’s very rare to see somebody from WoTC’s home office in Japan at a competitive event. If you don’t mind, may I ask why you decided to come to Grand Prix Shizuoka this weekend?

Helene Bergeot: Well as you might already know, we recently announced that we’re rolling out a new system for Grand Prix starting next year. The main reason of this visit it to experience a major Japanese event first hand so that we might understand things such as the culture of competitive Magic as well as the atmosphere or overall feeling of Grand Prix here. Another reason is to make some contacts and meet with others on moving forward with our plan for next year.

TJH: Is this your first time in Japan? What do you think?

HB: This is actually about my 7th time I believe. I’ve been here before for Worlds and Pro Tours, but this is my first Grand Prix. One of the things I love the most about Japan is all the delicious food that it has to offer.

TJH: Oh really? I guess I should have done a little bit more homework. So you said that GP Shizuoka was the first Japanese GP you’ve ever attended. What was your first impression? How is it different from other events you’ve attended?

HB: The first thing that struck me was how organized the event was. Even with software problems with the online pairing system, the judges did a remarkable job of organizing 2700+ players this weekend and finishing on time. Japanese events seem well oiled and efficient. It’s also very clean and it seems like the players take pride in keeping it so.

I am also impressed at the level of competition. Japanese players seem to play at a very high level, which is apparent at Grand Prix like this one and on the competitive scene. As for differences, the biggest one is the Sunday atmosphere at the Grand Prix. In places like the USA, Sunday’s tend to be more subdued and all about “the business” of playing cards, but Japan’s more festive like atmosphere such as GP Shizuoka’s school room stage with different events going on all weekend was a big surprise to me. There seemed to be a lot of things for people to do outside of just playing in tournaments all weekend.

TJH: Moving on to my next question, do you believe MTG is growing in Asia still? If so, what plans are there to further expand competitive MTG in the region? Will there be more Grand Prix in the future?

HB: To your first question, absolutely. There is very high potential in Asia, and as for Grand Prix, Japan actually has the highest amount of Grand Prix per player. Our goal in the region is to continue to bring more players to Magic, and also to give them access to more competitive events. Compared to the USA where professional tournament organizers have more than a decade of experience putting together events, Japan is still somewhat of a newbie. The tournament circuit is still growing and we’re looking into having more independent organizers put events together in the future in Japan.

TJH: I’ve actually never taken part in a Grand Prix outside of Japan, as I only just started playing competitive Magic at the Grand Prix level since Dark Ascension came out. If you could make a hybrid tournament that brought together the best of east and west, what would you include?

HB: As I said before, I think the shows that the tournament organizers put on are great. It would be nice to see something like that from time to time at other Grand Prix. I like that both days of the Grand Prix in Japan are full of energy and that people can just come to enjoy the experience. In other countries, TOs have put together some really innovative side events that I think would carry over well worldwide. In Europe you have a very international community with players coming from all sorts of different countries. I think promoting the international community, and welcoming people from all over to participate together is great as well.

TJH: I appreciate you taking the time to answer all of my questions today. I have one more that I think you might have talked about already online, but I’d like to ask for clarification. How will Grand Prix in Japan change when Channel Fireball takes over tournaments on a global scale? What difficulties do you forsee them having?

GB: If I use GP Shizuoka as a base, I’d say that in the future you can continue to see “the experience” being promoted, hopefully in new and interesting ways. More artists, perhaps encouraging the Cosplay community more in Japan, that sort of thing. In that vein, I think you can also inspect improved decor so it doesn’t feel like you’re just playing in a big stone room. I think you’ll also see events being promoted more to the international community, so hopefully that brings even more diversity to future Grand Prix.

The biggest challenge Channel Fireball is going to have is connecting with the players in Japan. While their name might be known, it’s going to take some time to earn players’ trust. Once CFB is able to do that, things should run more smoothly.

TJH: Helene, you’ve been amazing and I’ve enjoyed talking with you. Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and I hope to see you back in Japan soon!

Hanging Out With Gavin Verhey in Nagoya

After interviewing Helene at the Grand Prix, she recommended that I introduce myself to Gavin so taking her advice I did. I found out that Gavin would be spending a week in Japan taking in the sites and checking out what the Magic community was like over here, so I invited him to make a stop in Nagoya on Monday, which was a national holiday. I was surprised when agreed and took me up on my offer but also psyched to be able to share what my experience playing Magic in Japan has been like. I introduced him to the people I play with which includes both the Japanese players I know and my local play group which is made up of mostly foreigners living in Japan.

We started off by Nagoya station and checked out some stores in the are for a few minutes then took a break to play a quick game of Magic. I introduced him to the wonders of the fledgling Frontier format by letting him play a Mardu Tokens deck I built while I used a GR See the Unwritten ramp deck (both are of my own design). We ended up playing a best of 5 game so he could get a feel for the deck and I managed to push him to the brink before he got me in the last game by killing my Verdurous Gearhulk with a Kolaghan’s Command then swinging in with an army of Servo and Goblin tokens courtesy of Sram’s Expertise into Hordeling Outburst with a Gideon Emblem in play.

From Nagoya we headed to the Osu Kannon area next, which is the heart of MTG in Nagoya. There are more than 10 stores in a very close vicinity so it was easy to check them out as well as to grab a lot of food in between stops. If you follow Gavin’s Twitter then you probably know that he’s quite a world traveler and has eaten the best (and worst) countries have to offer. I introduced him to popular local places like a ‘fast food’ okonomiyaki restaurant (think veggie pancake with cabbage, bacon, and bacon on the inside), took him to the famous taiyaki shop (fish shaped cake with sweet bean or custard inside), then checked out a few of the shops in the area. After checking out the pseudo toy museum in Osu at Mandarake and some retro video games at Super Potato, I suggested he try some miso katsu, or fried pork covered in special Nagoya Miso sauce.

For the last part of the day trip we went up to my Nagoya play group’s favorite store Mishimaya in Ozone. If you’ve read about it in my store review articles, it’s the one run by a husband/wife team that uses consignment as a ways for players to get more money for their cards than by just buy listing it in town. When we arrived, my play group was just finishing up a game of EDH so I played against Gavin’s RW spicy Indomitable Creativity with my RW Tokens deck. His Gideon, Nahiri, and Chandra Flamecaller ended up being too much for my tokens to handle, and once he brought a Ulamog and Void Winnower into the battlefield, I was finished.

We got in on the next 2 EDH games and with my friends and had fun, and while it was close (especially in the second game), Gavin ended up winning both matches. Best play of the game was my friend Rajib making tons of tokens with Krenko, playing a Goblin Piledriver, then using Reckless Bushwhacker to give them all haste and try to kill everybody in one turn. I flashed in my Platinum Angel thanks to my Shimmering Myr and ended up surviving while everybody but Gavin died (because of game politics). I was at -46 life, but still alive, and I exacted revenge on Rajib’s goblins on my next turn, but lost when Gavin turned all my creatures into 0/2’s without any abilities. Hilarious way to end the day.

With the game done, one of my fellow Nagoya players and I got Gavin back to Nagoya station and on his way to his next stop in the Kansai Region. If you’re lucky you might just catch a glimpse of him at your local MTG store if you live in Kyoto, Osaka, or Kobe!

(I’ll be following up this article with another one soon detailing my exploits at GP Shizuoka, such as how I did, how I sideboarded, and my thoughts on the tournament as a whole. Thanks for reading and be sure to stop by from time to time!)

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