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By: Pyrosin, Matt Rossi
Dec 14 2008 8:56am
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Grand Prix Okayama,
Taipei, & Auckland

 

Welcome to the Highlight Reel, and the homestretch of the 2008 season.  This week we're going to take a little trip around the Pacific rim to see if any other players in the Top 10 of the Player of the Year Race could put a dent in the large lead currently held by Shuuhei Nakamura in these final three Grand Prixes of 2008; where the format in each was Shards of Alara limited. 

We'll start off in Okayama, Japan where a plethora of top Japanese Pros were out in force to defend the homeland against the two Frenchmen, Olivier Ruel and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, who made the decision to tough it out on this roadtrip across the Far East.  Next, its on to Taipei, Taiwan.  And then we finish it up with Wizards' first trip to New Zealand and Grand Prix Auckland for the last GP before the start of Worlds.

 

Announcements

The Grand Prix schedule for 2009 has been released; so if you can about the where and when you can check it out here.  But what I found more interesting was the mention of the format change that went along with the schedule release.  Next year, there will no longer be an automatic Day Two cut at 64 or 128 players (depending on whether there are less or more than 800 participants on Day One), instead all players with at least an X-2 record will advance to the second day.  I like the change, because I hate to see when the big name Pros lose out on Day Two because they had that first loss in Round 4 or 5 which made their tiebreakers too low once Round 9 came around.  And anytime you can minimize the importance of tiebreakers, that's a good thing.

The DCI also announced their Banned/Restricted Lists for December, and if you read Tom LaPille's article, then you wouldn't be surprised to see that there weren't any changes.  Many were hoping for a neutering of Elves! after the ridiculousness at PT Berlin, but Wizards wants to see what happens in a metagame where everyone is prepared for the little green men before they start banning stuff.  We'll just have to wait for Worlds to see.

 

Grand Prix Okayama

The focus of the Pacific Rim GPs was definetly the Player of the Year Race.  Starting with GP Okayama where Shuuhei Nakamura, Tomoharu Saito, and Olivier Ruel were all competing.  With only 635 players showing up in Okayama, anxiety was running high for players looking to make Day Two, which compelled 48 players (including Nakamura and Ruel) to intentially draw in Round 8, giving them 19 points and a pass into Day Two.  That was bad news for Saito, who picked up two early loses, and finished in 82nd with 18 points and low on tiebreakers.  At least that won't happen next year.

Day Two saw the cream rise to the Top 8, which featured Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Kazuya Mitamura, Makihito Mihara, and the aforementioned Olivier Ruel.  You can see the entire Top 8 here.  This was a great opportunity for Ruel to make up points on Nakamura who only finished in 13th (the big slacker), but the Top 8 draft did not go well for the elder Ruel brother.  We've talked previously in this column about Shards of Alara draft, and how its easier to move between the  Shards (ie Naya, Jund, and Grixis) than it is the  Shards (Bant or Esper) because its harder to support multiples of the more synergistic strategies of the Exalted mechanic and artifacts.  Well if you look at the decklists from this Top 8 table,  you'll see that everyone was scared of  Shards, as we only had one player in Bant, one player in Esper, and a grand total of Six in Naya and/or Jund, including Olivier Ruel.  Ruel found himself in the unenviable position of being between two players who were also in .  With his underpowered card pool, Ruel was bounced out of his 25th GP Top 8 in the Quarterfinals meaning he would only gain 1 point on Nakamura.

Finals
Kazuya Mitamura vs. Makihito Mihara

The final came down to a matchup between Pro Tour Yokohama finalist Kazuya Mitamura with his  Naya build versus the 2006 World Champion Makihito Mihara with the only Esper deck at the table.  Kazuya kept a land-heavy hand, which Makihito got to see from a Turn 2  Tidehollow Sculler.  This allowed Makihito time to build up an army of 2 and 3 drops before Kazuya's big men could come on board.  Puppet Conjurer gave Makihito an army of chump blockers that when combined with Etherium Astrolabe, drew a bunch of extra cards.  The 0/1 artifacts then turned into 2/2 Zombies once Archdemon of Unx came into play and Makihito overwhelmed in opponent for a 1-0 lead. 

 Kazuya had a quick start to Game 2 with Dispeller’s Capsule into Manaplasm that after a couple attacks had Makihito down to 9.  But then Bone Splinters from Makihito took care of the Manaplasm and then quickly turned the tide with double Sanctum Gargoyle and Courier’s Capsule that gave Makihito an impressive amount of card advantage that earned a concession from Kazuya.  Makihito Mihara wins Grand Prix Okayama defeating Kazuya MItamura 2-0.

Congratulations to Makihito Mihara,
winner of Grand Prix Okayama

 

Grand Prix Taipei

The following week, the Pros were in Taipei, Taiwan competing against a much smaller field of 270.  That meant it only took a measly 17 points or a 4-3-1 record to make it to Day Two, and yet Nakamura, Saito, and Wafo-Tapa all missed out on Day Two even though they were starting on 9 points because of their 3 byes.  Those must have been some poor Sealed pools.  That opened the door once again for Olivier Ruel, who went 7-1 on Day One.  Ruel finished Day Two in 18th place, gaining 2 points on his closest competitors. 

Other big names making Day Two included Aaron Nicastri, Martin Juza, and Marcio Carvalho.  But none of them made Top 8, instead we had a Top 8 of three solid Japanese Pros, one from mainland China, and 4 local players from Taiwan.  You can find their player profiles here and the decks they drafted here.  From those decks you'll see another -centric Top 8, with three-quarters of the table fighting for either the  burn or the  fatties, leaving just one Bant and one Esper player again.

Finals
Shu Komuro vs Yoshitaka Nakan

 And unsurprisingly, the finals matchup came down to Shu Komuro's Bant deck versus Yoshitaka Nakan's Esper deck.  Komura mulliganed and was stuck on two lands to start Game 1, while Nakan found all his Shard's colors and quickly developed his board.  Double  Agony WarpEsper Battlemage, and an Executioner’s Capsule kept the coast clear for Nakan and he took Game 1 easily. 

Congratulations to Sho Komura, winner of Grand Prix Taipei

 Komura had an early Jhessian Infiltrator in Game 2, that combined with Exalted creatures, took Nakan down to 9 before he found the Executioner's Capsule to get rid of it.  At that point, Nakan looked to stabilize with a couple of artifact flyers in the form of Sanctum Gargoyle and Cloudheath Drake.  But Komuro's Exalted creatures kept coming over the red zone, one at a time of course, forcing chump blocks Nakan.  Finally, Komura had an Oblivion Ring to remove Nakan's Esper Battlemage and the match was tied.  In the decider, Nakan got stuck on three lands and was denied access to  mana when Komura used his Oblivion Ring on Nakan's Esper Obelisk.  This forced Nakan to start discarding cards, and before Nakan could find a Swamp, Komura finished him off.  Shu Komura defeats Yoshitaka Nakan 2-1 to win Grand Prix Taipei.

 

Grand Prix Auckland

The last GP of the year drew only 252 players, but a lot of big names showed up including Paul Cheon and Luis Scott-Vargas.  Day One only saw 7 rounds of Magic, meaning the 3 bye Pros only had to go 2-2 with their sealed pools to make Day Two.  Saito was really the only big name that couldn't advance to Day Two.  Olivier Ruel finished the thirteen rounds of Swiss tied for first, making his 2nd Top 8 in the last 3 events, and had yet another stellar opportunity to make up ground on Shuuhei Nakamura, who finished 9th falling one point short of the final table.  Gerry Thompson, LSV, and Aaron Nicastri finished 10th, 12th, and 13th, respectively.  And even though there were lots of Pros near the top of the standing, besides Ruel, the Top 8 itself was dominated by local players from Australia and New Zealand.  There profiles can be found here, and the decks they drafted here.

As in Okayama, the coverage staff followed Olivier Ruel's draft, where Ruel once again fell into the Naya trap when his first pick was a Sarkhan Vol, but had to pass the Naya Charm and Wild Nacatl also in the pack.  And just like the previous two Top 8 tables we've looked at, there was one Bant drafter, one Epser drafter, and six guys left fighting over virtually the same cards.

Finals
Nick Tung vs Dominic Lo

Finally one of the  decks made the final table, with Nick Tung's Jund deck facing off against Dominic Lo's Bant deck, but the  deck (probably) only made the Top 8 because the Bant and Esper players squared off in the Quarterfinals.  Lo's Exalted creatures got in for some early beats bringing Tung down to 10 before Vithian Stinger and a Jund Charm set to Pyroclasm was able to clear the board of all but a Rhox War Monk for Lo and a 4/4 Thorn-Thrash Viashino for Tung.  Lo took the beats from the Viashino while rebuilding his board with a Courier's Capsule that got him a flyer and a  Jhessian Infiltrator.  When Lo's Oblivion Ring took the Viashino, Tung conceded Game 1.

In Game 2, Lo had to mulligan and then had no action as Tung played out Topan Ascetic and Jund Battlemage.  The Battlemage gave Tung a token to sacrifice to Bone Splinters, removing Lo's only really blocker and in a couple of turns, the match was tied.  Game 3 quickly turned into a race as Lo refused to block Tung's Topan Ascetic with his exalted creatures, while those exalted triggers went to Cloudheath Drake that was getting in through the air.  Lo found Naya Battlemage to tap down Tung's big threats, played an Akrasan Squire, giving him three exalted creatures and just enough damage to win with the Drake.  Dominic Lo defeats Nick Tung 2-1 to win Grand Prix Auckland.

Congratulations to Dominic Lo,
winner of Grand Prix Auckland

So that makes a total of six Limited GPs since the release of Shards of Alara, and we seem to have found a trend.  The  Shards are the deepest, and because of that they get overdrafted at every Top 8 table we see.  This has opened the door for the singleton Bant and Esper drafters to build decks that are more synergistic than the others at the table, and thus win the last four GPs.  We've still got a couple months of triple Shards of Alara draft on MTGO.  I don't know about you, but I think I'm gonna start trying to force  in my first couple of picks and see what happens.

Top 20 in the 2008 Player of the Year Standings 
Following Grand Prix Auckland

Ranking Player Points
1 Shuuhei Nakamura *

67

2 Olivier Ruel 53
3 Luis Scott-Vargas ** 50
4 Tomoharu Saito 48
5 Marcio Carvalho 45
6 Raphael Levy 39
6 Guillaume Wafo-Tapa 39
8 Martin Juza 38
9 Mario Pascoli 37
10 Yuuta Takahashi ** 35
11 Makihito Mihara * 34
11 Manuel Bucher 34
11 Paul Cheon * 34
14 Jan Ruess 33
14 Robert van Medevoort 33
16 Joel Calafell 31
16 Gabriel Nassif 31
16 Matej Zatlkaj 31
19 Yong Han Choo 30
19 Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa 30

* 2008 Event Winner

 

Player of the Year Race

Over the past three events, Olivier Ruel made two Top 8s, but lost in the quarters of both, and thus was only able to pick up 4 points on Shuuhei Nakamura.  That makes the margin 14 points going into Worlds, meaning Ruel would need a top finish in both the individual and National team portions of the tournament to have any chance of overcoming Nakamura, and that would also have to assume that Nakamura doesn't do well himself.

We'll just have to wait and see.  Join me next time when we begin our review of Worlds 2008.