Feature Article – Rise or Fall

Hello, everyone.

this is my third article for ChannelFireball. Unfortunately, there has been a little extra time between this one and the last. Since my last article there was the first ever Magic Weekend, but for me this meant a difficult week in Paris. At the Pro Tour I dropped after the first day, and on day one at the Grand Prix even my Phyrexian Juggernaut didn’t prevent a crushing loss to the German Juggernaut, Kai Budde. I made it through however, and the following day in the first draft I went 2-1. I was not satisfied with my second deck, but I won my first match and if things continued to go smoothly I could attain the position I was aiming for: put myself in position to stay alive for Top 8. I thought that even if I had a total of three losses I might ordinarily make Top 16, and even with the worst series of four consecutive defeats I could still receive around two pro points. Unfortunately, I lost in a feature match to David Sharfman and I realized in the final match that the worst had occurred when I was destroyed by a colorless dragon. Moreover, when I looked at the results I found I could not make Top 64, much less Top 32 and that there was no point. Around Sunday afternoon I was thinking, “Pro Tour Paris was fruitless, but because I had good results at the Grand Prix, my next ChannelFireball article will be about that weekend.”

It was truly a difficult weekend for me, but on the other hand after a long time the strength of the Japanese community finally shone brightly.

Last year, the number of Japanese players on the train went down all at once from eighteen to nine, and this year there was concern about what would happen in tournaments. However, in Paris, younger Japanese players put up good results. In today’s column, I would like to introduce some of the new faces who might become strong Japanese players. In short, although they are of the same generation there is a rich variety of people in the community: players who were known previously in Japan, complete newcomers to the scene, and players who balance Magic with their social lives.

Nagoya’s Leader: Naoki Nakada

Nakada is a young player who placed fourth at Pro Tour Paris. This year a Pro Tour is being held in the twenty-one year old’s home city of Nagoya, where he still lives at this time. By winning last year’s Grand Prix Manila and getting 50th place at the following Pro Tour in Amsterdam, he earned himself ten and five pro points respectively, thereby earning him the right to play in Pro Tour Paris and making him a level three pro player.

His first appearance in a premier event was in the 2007 Japanese National Championship. At that time, he was still a high school student and made Top 8. Because the highest-placing player was suspended before the World Championships and another declined to represent at the tournament due to their work, his career history also included playing on the Japanese National team at Worlds that year. Currently he lives with a Magic judge while independently organizing tournaments in Nagoya, and players from the suburbs gather at his house, a place that feels a bit like a sort of Magic training hall. I have also been there several times to play, and if someone puts out an invitation all of a sudden Magic players have gathered at his doorstep. However, it is worth noting that when this is not going on both he and his roommate are full-time employees at a company. I believe that this is characteristic of the Japanese system of living, but as a general rule people take advantage of lifetime employment as well as the one-time bonus provided halfway through your career and other various company welfare services. That being the case, it is difficult to get a request for a holiday granted and this fosters an environment in which finding time to accommodate playing tournament Magic is not very effective. Nakada could not participate in last year’s World Championships even though it was held in Japan. Despite this environment, both he and his roommate have a great passion for Magic.

In the midst of the retreat of former champions Jin Okamoto, Ryo Ogura and Ryoma Shiozu, Nagoya’s Magic community is stretched thin. The next Pro Tour is being held in Nakada’s hometown, and he surely wants to master his company’s metagame and find a way to participate.

His nickname is “Keroyon”. In Japan, this is a popular frog character, but it seems to me that this is a good name for him. When I first heard it I was puzzled, but when I got to know him the next day I remember finding it strangely appropriate.

The Last Veteran: Shintarou Ishimura

Ishimura was also in the Top 8 at Pro Tour Paris. He is a young player from the Kantou region of Japan, but in contrast with Nakada he has been a familiar name for some time, at least domestically. In terms of generations, Ishimura is part of Kantou’s “Third Age,” represented in part by Yuuya Watanabe and Junya Iyanaga, who are also young group members from this time. Before now, he also made Top 8 in 2008’s Grand Prix Shizuoka, was a runner-up for the Japanese year-end Limited tournament “Limits” title in 2009, and has constantly put up good results in domestic tournaments. His play is exceedingly tight, reminding me of American player Josh Utter-Leyton. However, he did not really intend to be on center stage and rarely participated in tournaments outside of Japan. He said that his participation in Paris was the result of a bonus he received for winning a PTQ on Magic Online. I think that because of his personality, he is part of a lesser-known class of players and not an internationally recognized name, but that after this Top 8 finish and his qualification for a Pro Tour outside of Japan, there is more than enough of a chance that this will change. I believe that even at the current stage he is the most underestimated Magic player in Japan and perhaps the rest of the world.

The first thing I would mention about him is that his Magic Online account name is also his nickname: “Raiza,” the reason for which I believe is the following. It started at Grand Prix Yokohama. If I remember correctly, it was 2003 and the format was Onslaught Block constructed. Back then, the Japanese player with the most influence was Tsuyoshi Fujita and he and Ishimura, who was still a high school student at the time, were paired together on day one. But, when Ishimura played a Stabilizer game one against Fujita’s white/red cycling deck, Fujita appeared bewildered and then looking skeptical, called over a judge to request a deck check on Ishimura. To put this in a more modern context, I feel like this is similar to a deck like Dredge, which relies completely on its graveyard, being suddenly faced up against a game one turn zero Leyline of the Void. Certainly, at that time white/red cycling decks had a dominant position in the metagame and this was not impossible, but in the maindeck…? I have also come across this situation many times before, but I can understand Fujita’s reaction.

But of course, this story does not end with Ishimura cheating. The judge confirmed his deck list: indeed he had put Stabilizer in the main deck!

The decks Ishimura brings to events are always creative, and because of this they are uniquely his. Moreover, his winning percentage is high and for those who are interested I would recommend taking a look at his excellent results in the Standard rounds of the World Championship. I think that much like this year, we will be able to see unconventional Ishimura-style decks in the future.

New Faces

Ken Yukuhiro

Yukuhiro played against future Top 8 players Nakada and Ishimura in the last two rounds of Pro Tour Paris, and although he was beaten by both he still finished seventeenth in the final standings. His deck building ability may surpass even that of Ishimura. In Paris, his “Stoneforge Bant” build developed the board with mana creatures and used Stoneforge Mystic to get equipment or Thrun, the Last Troll to beat down all the while having counterspells to back up its efforts, distinguishing it from Boss Naya from last year’s Pro Tour San Diego. Yukuhiro brings decks overflowing with creativity to events every time, from his two-mana cost mana acceleration spell land destruction deck at Japanese Nationals to Pro Tour Amsterdam’s Fauna Shaman and Oriss, Samite Guardian lock. His distribution of his own real-time Magic Online play is very popular in Japan.

And, although this is in regards to his character, hmmm, how should I put it…? Perhaps he could be described as impulsive, or having a predisposition towards emotion. Impulsive seems like a good expression to me. Last year at the end of the Japanese National Championships he won out after a start of three consecutive losses, and when he was announced to have finished in ninth place he was overcome with emotion and burst into tears. Yukuhiro sometimes exhibits other unexpected behaviors, but maybe it would be most correct simply to call him “young”. More than anything though, it is his Magic career itself that is young.

He formerly played the Pokémon card game but converted to tournament Magic in 2009. That year, because he won a PTQ and made Top 8 at Grand Prix Kitakyushu, he became a level four pro in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately last year his results were not as strong and he dropped to level three, but because of his record in Paris and his ability to attend the other Pro Tours this year, it is likely that he will have a comeback as a level four. He has lived in Kitakyushu until now, but in April he is scheduled to graduate from school at which point he is moving to the Osaka area to help his friend Akimasa Yamamoto (Top 8 Pro Tour Kyoto 2009 player who missed Rookie of the Year by one point) with his internet mail order card game business. There, he’ll still have plenty of room to grow.

Masaya Kitayama
The last player I will be introducing is Masaya Kitayama, but the truth is he did not play at Pro Tour Paris. It wasn’t that he was not qualified; presently he is a level four professional player and placed 32nd at last year’s World Championships. If I were going to list more of his achievements, I’d mention that every year at the Pro Tour he just misses Top 8, and because of these results he has been on the train for no fewer than four years. Furthermore, Kitayama was the Japanese National Champion when Nakada served as a representative on the national team.

So, why am I featuring Kitayama? It is because of the strange coincidence that while Magic weekend was happening in Paris, Magic Online’s Championship Series was also going on – and he was the winner. These last two years, there was a Magic Online Championship being held jointly with the World Championships. Each time there was a Japanese player in the playoffs, and each time they were defeated. yaya3 and Archer. Shouta Yasooka and Akira Asahara. They are very close friends and are well-known among the Japanese, but when he first heard at the Pro Tour that Kitayama had won the Championship Series Yasooka was thrilled with his success and declared: “The last of the Stardust Crusaders!”

Asahara, Yasooka and Kitayama. They play Magic in the same region and are longtime friends. That’s not all, they also played together on a team they called “Stardust Crusaders” at Grand Prix Hamamatsu, and were the runner-up team. Both teams remaining in the playoffs were made up of friends, and they were defeated. Was it too much to hope for?

Only one problem remains for Kitayama’s Magic Online account, manzi. He still cannot use his credit card and uses an account created by an acquaintance for now, but this conflicts with the current guidelines for use and we do not know whether or not he will be able to go to the San Francisco championship.

Kitayama is breaking the clearly specified rule “Each person can only create and use one account” set out by Wizards. However, in Japan, American credit cards are not generally used. For example, I have been using my account since the beta but when it was time to switch over to the actual product I was still a student and could not use my own credit card. So I borrowed my parents’ card for this purpose. Now I have a credit card in my name and have changed my profile to reflect my own information. However, even now I don’t know whether a way of handling this was announced on the official site. Perhaps if I had not changed the name and I won the Championship Series on my account no one would pay any attention.

When I switched over from the beta, there was no option to choose Japan as your country in the written fields, so I accidentally registered as the similar-looking Jamaica, a funny story at the time. However, nowadays I suspect it might be best to register appropriately. I hope that those in charge at Wizards of the Coast are somehow tolerant and appreciate Kitayama’s participation… and as a friend I wish to see Kitayama participating in the Championship and winning the finals.

So that is the subject of today’s article, but last year, the Japanese Magic world suffered great losses. This was not only because of Saito, but other professional players as well. In the midst of this, much like America’s ChannelFireball, Japan also displayed a new generation of standout players. I wanted to introduce them. I think that whether Japan sinks or once again rises up depends on their activity, like that of LSV or Paul Cheon.

However, I don’t know if you have an interest in this sort of article. Outside of Japan not much is known about the character of these players. Because it was truly my personal desire to spread the word about Kitayama’s problem, I think perhaps I have made a mistake in stating my opinion about it through an article on ChannelFireball.

I want to write articles on subjects you would like to hear about. If you think I have made a mistake, it would definitely please me to hear your opinions in the comments. I will consult them in the future, as I want to improve my articles.

Until next time, thank you for reading.

Shuhei Nakamura

Editor’s Note: Shuhei has recently informed us that it looks as if it has been officially decided that Kitayama cannot take part in the Championship series.


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