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Feature Article – To Do or Not to Do (English)

Hello everyone, some time has passed since my last article. Since that point, Avacyn Restored went on sale and Pro Tour Barcelona took place. I think that perhaps by the time this article goes up, Grand Prix Anaheim may also be over.

Of course, the biggest event was Barcelona. That Pro Tour marked the end of the first season. Although it is worrisome that nothing has been announced regarding the new season now currently underway, I still hope that the announcement will be made around the time this article is published.

(Although this is a suggestion directed at Wizards, wouldn’t it be good if Premier Event and policy announcements gave players a sort of road map for the season? Being left entirely in the dark makes it difficult to make progress beforehand and makes us extremely uneasy).

I think I would be able to write a good Pro Tour Barcelona report, but I’m sorry to say that I didn’t reach my desired level. I still made 46th place, and although I reached my target for that season I really want to play in the Magic World Cup.

That reminds me that my last article was about Junya Iyanaga, and it appears that something strange and wonderful has happened. I heard from Yuuya Watanabe that he has changed his mind, and is considering playing in the Magic World Cup.

Sorry, that was a bit of a digression. Today’s article will not be about me; rather I will discuss the Japanese players who had strong results at Barcelona.

Ken Yukuhiro

I think I introduced this Japanese player about a year ago after his strong finish at Pro Tour Paris. At that time, he lost to Naoki Nakada and Shintaro Ishimura, thereby missing Top 8. At Barcelona, Yukuhiro finally claimed a Top 8 seat. Following his path over the past year, at Paris he placed 17th and secured the right to play in the next Pro Tour. With 25 Pro Points he rejoined the gravy train, but at the end of the year he dropped off again after the World Championships. However, from there he Top 8’d last year’s Finals tournament and came in 2nd at Grand Prix Kobe earning the right to play in Pro Tour Barcelona.

Following his footprints in this way, you can see that his career has certainly had extreme ups and downs. When I introduced him before, it was because he had started the Japanese National Championships with three consecutive losses only to win all of his remaining matches. I think that this is definitely a pattern for him, but it seems he might only be able to display this with degree of skill under pressure.

However, there is no doubt that Yukuhiro has had the most success among Japanese players over the past year. This is also true of things beyond just his play.

Yukuhiro’s strength is his personality, and more than that, his honesty. Of course, this trait can also have negative effects, and there are times when he may behave without thinking ahead. Nonetheless he is quite charming, and when he makes a mistake he will apologize sincerely, turning the incident into a funny story. I think that despite the highs and lows of his career, the positive relationships Yukuhiro has amassed have been a huge asset to him. Over the past year, he has taken it upon himself to distribute his own information over the internet to raise awareness of leading Japanese strategy and has worked diligently to build the Magic community offline as well.

Via Akimasa Yamamoto’s invitation, Yukuhiro moved to Wakayama prefecture, which neighbors Osaka. With the help of Yamamoto he established his own store there, building relationships with regular customers and acquiring supplies. As for Pro Tour Barcelona, the region produced four individuals including Yukuhiro and Yamamoto who met the preliminary qualifications for the event. As a result, they turned their focus toward the tournament and tried to outline the new format.

It seems to me it was fortunate that many of them were friends, and I think Yamamoto’s cooperation was important. However, perhaps the biggest contributing factor was Yukuhiro’s enthusiasm.

The community in Wakayama now deserves the same attention as those of large cities like Nagoya and Osaka. The deck that made the biggest impression on me from Barcelona was Shouta Yasooka’s, but next up was Yukuhiro’s Top 8’ing Reanimator build: “I thought everyone would play Reanimator. So I focused on that in my build, which ended up being overkill.”

According to Yukuhiro, his current priority is to guarantee himself a spot on the gravy train. Climbing two steps to reach Platinum level all at once holds a great deal of weight. At the same time building up relationships with others creates different avenues when choosing what kind of steps to take. Being a professional player, if he decides to aim for ascending in a single step—well, that’s different. No matter what kind of road he chooses, for me he is now the Japanese player to watch.

Naoki Shimizu

I’m a little uncertain of my memories here, but at Barcelona another Japanese player made Top 8. I should probably introduce Naoki Shimizu’s story. I think it’s accurate to describe him as more of a “senior” player, as his debut on the international stage was three years ago when Kibler won Pro Tour Austin. His achievement was placing in the Top 8 with Dredge, and that year he graduated from university and was looking for a job. As such, he was a long way off from the gravy train and the forefront of the tournament Magic scene.

Although his life took a different shape from that point forward, he has his own approach to tournament Magic. He constructs decks when he can catch a break from his regular work, battles in Japanese PTQs on weekends, and earns the right to play on the Pro Tour by participating in Grand Prix. Of course, that is not to say that things are exactly the same now as they were in the past.

For example, Shimizu did not qualify for last year’s Pro Tour Philadelphia in Japan, and he eventually ended up playing in a last chance PTQ in Philadelphia. However, even then he didn’t qualify. Naturally, he faced the barrier of not being a full time player. But, in his days as a student he put together his schedule without much money at his disposal. He was juggling his work and Magic career.

As the large group of Japanese players who were students grew older, many players graduated from school and quit the game around the same time. In the midst of this, he was a representative of a lifestyle I have a lot of respect for—it is something I could never do. After the changes to the Planeswalker Points system, the option of reaching the Top 16 of a Grand Prix to qualify for the Pro Tour was eliminated. Regarding that particular change, I think losing the chance to climb the ladder in this way was seriously damaging for everyone.

Nevertheless, Shimizu won a PTQ and came back with a Top 8 appearance.
He is quite well known in Japan, and because he was once a member of the “Third Generation” group of Yuuya Watanabe, Junya Iyanaga, and Shintarou Ishimura he very quickly distinguished himself and made appearances in the Top 8 of Grand Prix and the Japanese National Championships. Besides that, other young players were passive. When it came to writing articles, he was unrivaled. Among other young writers at that time there were some with the same level of achievement. But while there were others with his level of achievements, he was the only one who wrote articles with that level of quality. Also, he has an important skill that other Japanese players lack. He can easily communicate in English. Perhaps that is evident in the articles he has written.

I can just manage to communicate in English, and there have been situations where Japanese players have contributed less than satisfactory articles in the language. Shimizu stands out in that he can hold a nearly flawless conversation in English. When they try to interview Japanese players at the Pro Tour, Shimizu will interpret, and I think he has done so more than a few times.

There is that side of Shimizu; but now, as in the past, among Japanese players his achievements are relatively scattered. In Japanese, there is the word “8th Grader Sickness” which refers to a second-year middle school student who, in his youth, often feels self-important and becomes extremely attached to certain things.

Within Japan, Shimizu’s presentation of himself is full of this sort of “8th Grader” behavior. He himself is self-conscious and makes a special effort to only play a certain part. For example, he has an extraordinary attachment to blue/green, and even in tournaments always starts by building a blue/green deck. Moreover, in his articles he calls himself the “Simic King”. Recently we know that he used a Naya-colored deck at the Pro Tour, and of course one part of the fun is the joke. However, we do tease him: “I didn’t want to see the Simic King fall to the Naya Dark Side.” His reaction? He seemed glad.

Sometimes watching him is interesting, but I tire after too long. He’s that kind of character. However, I don’t dislike it. It’s hard to explain; there are many different types out there.

Although he said that, as of now, it looks like his very strict work schedule will prevent him from going to the next Pro Tour in Seattle. If he was able to come somehow, I think that would be great.

Shouta Yasooka

Top 16 again.

Yasooka absolutely has Top 8 status in tournament Magic. When other professional Magic players and I evaluate a fellow player, we ask: “how many times they have Top 8’d a Pro Tour?” There is also the question of how many times they have Top 8’d a Grand Prix, perhaps despite many drops. There is little discussion of how many times they make Top 16. In Yasooka’s case alone it seems like a good idea to consider this factor.

This year he made Top 16 in both Pro Tours, Dark Ascension and Avacyn Restored. Averaging in the Top 16 and receiving 30 Pro Points just from Pro Tours makes him second only to Jon Finkel for the highest number of points earned only in those events. You can also clearly see that Yasooka has secured his seat in the Magic World Cup. I think that for constructed play, Yasooka is without a doubt the opponent I least want to find myself across from.

At any rate, at Pro Tour Dark Ascension he went 8-1-1, and at Avacyn Restored he went 9-0-1. On Magic’s highest stage, Yasooka won 20 rounds and lost only once. I’ve mentioned Yukuhiro already, and that there was no one who impressed me more in both Limited and Constructed. It seems that one day before the Pro Tour, he assembled the deck Yasooka designed.

For Yasooka, Top 8’ing a Pro Tour is really the one thing he needs. Recently he seemed particularly busy around Prerelease time and couldn’t snag the final win he needed in the Limited rounds.

Last year I wrote about Yasooka in relation to the Hall of Fame. I also made a gentleman’s wager on him among all of the Japanese players that hadn’t made Top 8 of a Pro Tour yet. If I had actually bet money on him it seems I would have lost, but nevertheless I still think he is likely to perform well in the future.

You don’t know about this yet, but here are my hopes for this year’s Hall of Fame: I don’t think there’s anyone who won’t vote for Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and perhaps Kenji Tsumura will also be voted in. Maybe Masashi Oiso. And I really hope the fourth player is Yasooka. Compared to the other players, Yasooka’s accomplishments are somewhat inferior; still, he is the world’s most underestimated player.

Thank you for reading.
Shuhei Nakamura

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