The Result

Nationals is back! Over 20 nations held their National Championships over the weekend, with split-format tournaments testing the mettle of wizards worldwide. From Belgium to Bolivia, from Scotland to Sweden—each country had two open seats for their respective World Magic Cup teams, and players had to run a gauntlet of both Hour of Devastation Draft and Standard if they sought to claim one.

Much of the focus of the weekend was on Japan Nationals, as it was covered in full, although this time with a bit of a twist. The coverage team experimented with a new approach to broadcasting this tournament: After prerecording all the day’s matches, they were then replayed on Twitch with live commentary. This helped to deal with some of the logistical issues such as awkward time zones, and also meant that shuffling, mulligans, and other breaks in play are a thing of the past as the replay skips over them.

As for the tournament itself, it resulted in an exceptionally strong Japanese team for this year’s World Magic Cup.

Kenta Harane was named Japan’s National Champion after dispatching Hall-of-Famer Shota Yasooka in the finals, and the team is rounded out by another Hall-of-Famer in Yuuya Watanabe. Watanabe, whose captaincy of the team was locked up on Pro Points, will lead a team touted by some as the team to beat. It’s not a difficult claim to make, as between them the team has two Hall-of-Famers, a four-figure Pro Point total, and eight Pro Tour Top 8s!

The Moment

Following Shota Yasooka’s journey all the way to the finals of the tournament was a blistering ride, as he played with his characteristic immediacy and precision. If you’ve ever seen Yasooka play, you’ll know that the sheer pace of his thinking leads to lightning-quick game play—he never seems to pause to think, always snapping off his decisions at unbelievable speed. He’s a stone-cold master of the game, and nowhere was this more evident than in the quarterfinals against Yuta Hirosawa.

Both players were on the energy plan, with Yasooka on Temur and Hirosawa on 4-Color. The entire match itself is well worth watching, and features a long, slow grind through two sideboarded games. Both players leaned heavily on Rogue Refiners and Tireless Trackers for card advantage, and you would have thought that Hirosawa had the long game locked up as he—unlike Yasooka—was splashing for the Scarab God.

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The highlight came after Hirosawa landed Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and was looking to use her to grind through the stalled-out board. Yasooka seemed to rise to the bait, launching an all-out attack against the planeswalker. Apparently, he recognized her as a huge threat and didn’t have an immediate answer, and therefore had to break through the board and attack.

Here’s what happened.

In one of the sickest bluffs you’ll ever see, Yasooka convinced Hirosawa to trade away almost his entire board in defense of Chandra, firmly implanting Hirosawa with the idea that the red planeswalker was going to win him the game. After the dust settled on the combat, however, Yasooka coolly fires off the Chandra’s Defeat he had been holding the entire time! Hirosawa had sacrificed his board for almost nothing, was left with a lonely Longtusk Cub and a sad look on his face, and Yasooka went on to take out the match.

The Deck

Despite a 14th place finish, ultimately ruling him out of inclusion in the national team, Ken Yukuhiro cut a swath of destruction through the Swiss with his Mardu Aggro deck. No, not Mardu Vehicles—this was a different kettle of fish entirely. Giving underappreciated cards like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Claim // Fame some time in the spotlight, this list looks to exploit the insane synergy between exert creatures like Glorybringer and the vigilance granted by Always Watching.

Mardu Aggro

Ken Yukuhiro, 14th place at Japan Nationals

With Always Watching, Glory-Bound Initiate turns into a 2-mana lifelinking 5/5, Kari Zev rumbles for 5 while still blocking as a 2-power first striker, and Needle Spires gets in for 6. The centerpiece, however, is Glorybringer, attacking for 5 and blasting down opposing creatures every turn. That’s huge game!

An honorable mention also goes to Yukuhiro’s Day 2 Draft deck, the construction of which you can—and should—watch. Marshall Sutcliffe labeled this deck an “A” before Yasooka had even cracked his second pack. “Just another day in the office for Ken Yukuhiro,” laughed Brian David-Marshall, as Yukuhiro yawned comfortably at the end of his incredible Draft.

Red-Blue Spells

Ken Yukuhiro, 14th place at Japan Nationals

Just another day in the office.

The Takeaway

For most, the return of Nationals to the yearly Magic calendar was a welcome addition. The response to split-format tournaments was overwhelmingly positive, although concerns were raised about the length of some events, as many smaller nations only had a single day of play. Nonetheless, as established pros and hopeful up-and-comers came together to seek national glory, Nationals made a triumphant return to the world stage.

The Japanese Top 8 saw a mix between the old (Mardu Vehicles), the new (Mono-White Eldrazi), and various takes on the classic Temur/4-Color Energy. With only a few weeks before Ixalan arrives to upend the format, it’s your last chance to play with old favorites like Mardu Vehicles, but with Energy decks remaining almost untouched, data points like these tournaments (and the ones still to come next weekend) are important in getting on the front foot post-rotation.

As for the coverage itself, the experimental approach taken by the team was a resounding success. Playing the tournament on delay resulted in a novel and very enjoyable broadcast, devoid of drawn-out mulligans or the dreaded shuffle-cam. With the outcome remaining broadly unspoiled throughout its duration—thanks to those who respected the team’s wishes to refrain from announcing hours-old results—the coverage of the tournament offered a new angle on broadcasting events like this.

Next week I’m off to England for their National Championship, which will feature a regular live broadcast with Simon Görtzen, Tim Willoughby, Joel Larsson, and yours truly. I’m looking forward to your company for a final farewell to Hour of Devastation!