“And finally I’d like to introduce you to our Pro Tour Kyoto Champion Sammy T”
And of course, that’s when I woke up from my dream. It must have happened at least four different times during the flight. I guess that’s what happens when you’re on an 11 hour flight. Either way, my head would bob up and down during the flight and I even walked up and down the aisle so that my legs didn’t feel so stiff.
During these trips, I recognized so many people who were obviously on our flight for the Pro Tour. Things were looking up, hopefully I’d be able to follow one of them to Kyoto since our welcome package included instructions on using the Limited Haruka Express from Osaka station, but it all went over my head.
Three movies and a bunch of Diet Cokes later, we arrived in Japan.
If you haven’t seen it, I’d definitely recommend watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a comedy about a man who gets dumped by his movie star ex-girlfriend and then runs into her in another part of the world with her new boyfriend.
Anyways, I digress. Thankfully after clearing customs I joined the McLaren brothers and Paul Cheon, who was on his debut in the Pro Tour coverage booth which he crushed. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much of a clue of where we were going. This message from David Ochoa sums it up pretty well.
After some lost train tickets, some incorrect tickets being bought, and being spoken to by the train conductor we got everything fixed and were on our way to Kyoto.
That’s right, with the wrong tickets we were just spoken to. In Canada, this would have been a large fine and it would have gone on our permanent record. It was literally our first hour in Japan and we already witnessed a huge culture difference from North America.
We finally got to Kyoto on Tuesday evening and we all eventually split up as we each had our own hotel rooms. I was staying in Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa since it was relatively inexpensive and had all week round spa services available. It’s crazy how cheap things seem to be when you’re spending Yen.
SPOILER: It’s not!
The next few days in Japan were a blur since I was battling an illness and jet lag, a devastating combination when you have a Pro Tour to prepare for. Considering I only had two days left, I plugged into Magic Online and played a bunch of drafts. My records were typically 2-1 and 3-0, so I started to wonder what I should do in Standard. The metagame on Magic Online was heavily dominated by Red Deck Wins (Ramunap Ruins), followed by a smattering of Zombies and G/B Constrictor. Every now and then you’d run into a U/R Control or a U/W Gifts deck. If you were showing up to the Pro Tour, this is the same gauntlet that you should be expecting to face.
The “Gifts” deck had the biggest potential since it was constantly misbuilt by those who were testing it online and their versions had really clunky cards. Testing the deck for a few days, here are the conclusions I came to:
- You want to run four copies of Strategic Planning, Refurbish and God-Pharaoh’s Gift – maxing out these cards helps you complete your nut draws in higher than normal frequency.
- Gate to the Afterlife is abysmal and rarely ever works out in a positive manner. One copy is fine if you want to treat it as a fifth way to cheat a God-Pharaoh’s Gift into play.
- You cannot run less than four copies of the following creatures: Thraben Inspector, Champion of Wits.
- Cataclysmic Gearhulk is okay, but it’s not that good against Red Deck Wins and BG Constrictor.
- Putting counters in your sideboard is only for the UR control decks, which will be cleaned off by Red Deck Wins, and even then you’ll still lose the the matchup 1-2.
- A third colour is very important since the deck is under powered with the current offering of blue and white cards.
So this is what I had submitted on Thursday night, since we’re now required to submit it before midnight instead of making last minute changes at the event site.
Jeskai Pharaoh’s Gift
The tournament started off with three rounds of HOU HOU AKH Draft. I had started off in mono-red with a few blue and white cards before speculating on a Kefnet’s Last Word that I opened in pack two, but no blue came so I had settled on RW aggro. There’s a lot of value to be had when you have one solid colour and speculate between two other colours. When I finally solidified myself in white, I didn’t have to make up a lot of ground. Here’s a picture of the deck, continuing with GP Toronto I did not open or get passed any removal spells:
The power level of our Draft seemed to be pretty low. My first two opponents in the Draft had pretty horrendous decks and I ran them over very quickly before facing what would be an insane U/R control deck in the finals. I barely squeaked by in game one, but a mana flood and mana screw in the next two games would see a quick exit. It didn’t help that my opponent cast Deem Worthy, two Electrifys, Sand Strangler, and Struggle // Survive along with other first pick cards. He was on the other end of the table, and apparently red was wide open on that side.
I finished the draft off with a respectable 2-1 record.
The constructed tournament opened up with a match versus Shahar Shenhar who was on Red Deck Wins. I dismantled him in game one by playing early creatures and removal spells and then a Refurbish into God-Pharaoh’s Gift into Angel of Invention. Game two, I did not have a good draw and was punished by Shahar’s sideboarded Crook of Condemnation. In the final game, Shahar assembled a Chandra, Torch of Defiance and a board of some solid creatures before Nahiri’s Wrath completely wiped out his side of the table.
Shahar: “I was positive I was going to win that game”
I would end up splitting the next four matches and ended up 5-3 going into Day Two. My losses were bad matchups against U/R Control and the Japanese BG aggro deck that made Top 8. My wins were against BG Constrictor and Zombies, so it seemed that the deck was beating the metagame that I tuned it for. I just had to repeat that one more time to lock up England captaincy right? Perfect!
On Saturday, I woke up and realized that my pod for day two was a little harder than day one, which was expected, as I had Brad Nelson, Nathan Smith, Ondrej Strasky and Scott Lipp in it. This time I saw some removal spells and got what I thought was a 8/10 UR deck. Unfortunately, I had a bunch of packs that were total whiffs including my second pack where I ended up taking a card that would not make my maindeck in same colour!
Want to take a guess as what it was? The answer is in the slops!
Yes, I realize now that my deck pictures could use some improvement so I’m going to get some lessons on how to improve that!
In my first round, I played against a GW deck that seemed to keep trying to build into a wrath, and since there’s only one non-masterpiece wrath in those colours (Hour Of Revelation), I held my cards in my hand once I got to that spot and (surprise, surprise) he had it in game two. Of course, I slammed most of my hand onto the board to his shock and he instantly conceded since he was out of resources.
In my second match, I faced Nathan Smith’s high powered UG deck and River Hoopoe combined with Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign and two Mouth // Feeds took the match in three. At least he got his revenge, as I beat him in round seven when his BG Constrictor had no real answer to my Gifts deck. I would ultimately get mana flooded in the last round against Ondrej Strasky who Mind Twisted me with a combination of Dreamstealer and pump and removal spells to lose in two games.
So there I was a 6-5 record, and not feeling good about my chances.
In Standard, I would go on to achieve another 3-2 record by playing against U/R Control three more times and beating it once. Really? I played against four U/R control decks and Red Deck Wins. That just happens at Pro Tours due to the diverse fields, and it always sucks to play the matchup you gave up on. I finished 9-7 which gave me an additional pro point and put me at 37 points for the entire season, not bad!
The format was very hostile for God-Pharaoh’s Gift as people were afraid that it would be the breakout deck of the tournament and until those sideboard cards go away, there are way better options to play in Standard, such as Zombies. Once Gifts becomes good again, I’ll post an updated list and recommend it. On Saturday night, the realization sunk in that I would have to head back and duplicate that long commute that brought me to Japan.
I would end up meeting up with Jarvis Yu, Rob Pisano, Adam Ragsdale and Ryan Hare on Sunday morning for breakfast and the trek to the airport. Japan is littered with vending machines on the streets, so every chance I got I used my bigger denomination coins to get soft drinks. The group had Starbucks and I thought this would be the best time to ditch all of the worthless one yen coins that I had been accumulating in Japan. Apparently it is considered super disrespectful as the cashier saw that I had left 30 yen on my tray and rushed out to find its “rightful” owner. I resigned myself to having to get rid of it in Canada instead.
We found Josh McClain and Ben “40 card” Friedman at a nearby gate and started to watch the Top 8 of the Pro Tour with them. All of a sudden the wireless internet disconnected in Yam’s fifth game against Paulo so I quickly loaded Twitch on my phone. With everyone huddling around, I instantly saw the mistake that Yam was going to make.
“He’s going to go to combat to attack with Hazoret before playing a spell, I had my RB opponent do that to me at the Pro Tour.”
“He won’t. And even if he does, can’t he just rewind?”
“Nope, I called a judge and confirmed that since he was in attackers, it wasn’t a legal choice.”
A few seconds later it happened and we were all shocked. Then our plane started calling for people to board our plane. This time, the flight was super packed so none of us could move our seats, but I had the pleasure of sitting next to former Gold Pro Dan Lanthier for the entire 11 hour flight back to Vancouver.
So as I was back on my long flight back to Canada from Osaka, I took some time to reflect on the last week in Japan. As much as I had dreaded coming to the country, it was beautiful and the people were amazing. I hope that Magic can bring me back to Japan one day, and I’ll make sure that I spend at least two weeks travelling and enjoying everything that the country has to offer. It wouldn’t be a good article unless I mentioned the good and the bad, so here goes:
Incredible culture as every Japanese person I met was very polite and honourable. I even bumped into someone by accident on the street and they apologized profusely. If this happened in Toronto, it would have certainly resulted in a fight.
Learning to point at menu items at McDonalds so that I can order effectively.
Meat Pies being available at Starbucks.
Zara having a great sale on the stuff that I had ordered prior to my trip, so I easily saved a lot of money.
Hotel wi-fi being incredible and their spa services even better.
Andrew Jessup for the pre-match concession in the last round to give me the extra pro point.
Yam Wing Chun for staying composed after that epic blunder in the Top 8 against PVDDR, and to PVDDR for winning his second Pro Tour.
Humidity making it impossible to wear anything but shorts and tank tops, and still melting despite that.
Language barrier in Japan making it so difficult to buy things without help.
Starbucks opening after 9:00 am making it impossible to get snacks for the Pro Tour.
Hotel breakfast was very expensive ($35) once you convert Yen to Canadian.
Having to first pick a Strategic Planning out of my B pack in order to cut blue.
So many worthless Yen coins that you can’t get rid of.
Epilogue: England WMC Captaincy
There is just one last thing I wanted to talk about before I wrap up, and that’s the fate of the English captaincy. As many of you know, the pro points leader of each country is awarded its captaincy seat at the end of the pro season. Going into the last Pro Tour, I was leading the race over Niels Molle by six points.
Now, Niels is a great guy and he was sitting at 27 pro points before Kyoto, which meant that he needed an 11-5 finish in order to lock up Gold and make the investment of his time over the last year worth it. I know first-hand how devastating it can be to spend all your time playing this game and come up a few points short of hitting your target, since you have to play in the “minors” again. In the 2013-2014 season, I missed Gold by two points and I quit the game for a year since I couldn’t handle it.
We really only had four outcomes that were possible:
- Niels does not 11-5 and misses Gold. I lock up England captaincy
- Niels finishes 11-5 or better and locks up Gold. I get no additional points from the Pro Tour and Niels locks up the England captaincy.
- Niels finishes 11-5 and I finish 10-6 so that I lock up the England captaincy.
- Niels finishes 11-5 and I finish 9-7 get an extra point so that we go to a tiebreaker for the captaincy.
Of all the possible situations, I was hoping for outcome three since we would both achieve our means. Niels had told me during the Pro Tour that he didn’t care much about the captaincy and that he would consider playing in Dutch nationals if he didn’t capture it. If outcome three did not come to fruition, then I would prefer outcome four since I can still lock up captaincy without taking Gold away from Niels. Finally, outcome two was the next best option for me since it kept Niels on the Pro Tour.
Outcome three came to fruition and Niels mistakenly congratulated me on the captaincy since we were both given false information on what the tiebreaker was. I’m so used to getting screwed that I immediately looked it up at dinner with the Canadians (Omar Beldon, Daniel Fournier, and Paul Dean) and realized that I would lose the captaincy to Niels on the fourth tiebreaker: best finish at a Grand Prix in the season.
It definitely sucked, and people have asked me if I’m going to be competing in Canadian Nationals. Hell no! I made a commitment when I made the switch that my loyalty lies with England and I will be hopefully playing for a spot to join Niels at the World Magic Cup this winter. As for Niels, he is a well-deserving captain as he has dedicated so much of his time to this game. He’s a great addition to the England World Magic Cup Team and I have no doubt that he will be a game changer for us!
See you next week,