Friendly Rivals, Separated by Sea: An Interview with Owen Turtenwald and Yuuya Watanabe


We conducted an interview with Owen Turtenwald and Yuuya Watanabe on Sunday of the Pro Tour Hour of Devastation.
Both Owen and Yuuya, Platinum-level players, were inducted to the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame at the same time and are roughly the same age (Owen is only four months younger than Yuuya). They also both became well-known for their precision-focused play styles.
This interview is a rare opportunity to hear about their memories and their strengths as Magic players.


Question 1: When did you first meet Yuuya? What was your impression of him?

Owen:It was a Grand Prix in Singapore back in 2011. I had just played for top 8 against Shuhei Nakamura and I beat him. It was in the season when I had a bunch of Grand Prix top 8s and I was in the lead for Player of the Year. It was memorable because after I beat Shuhei, he came up to me and congratulated me on winning my match and making top 8. That was a remarkable thing for me because if somebody was to beat my friend, I wouldn’t say nice things to them. I would say, “Oh, that sucks, I wish that my friend had won the match.” But, it was nice that he said congratulations even though it was at the expense of his friend losing the match. That kind of stuck with me.

Interviewer:Do you remember the format?

Owen:It was constructed and standard. I played Caw-Blade.

Interviewer:Yuuya, do you remember your first impression of Owen?

Yuuya:I remember us meeting in 2011 at the Pro Tour in Paris. It was the second day, during a standard constructed round that I faced off against Owen. I used a blue-black Tezzeret deck and he used Caw-Blade.

Owen:Oh yeah, I go Stoneforge Mystic and I get Sword of Feast and Famine and he plays Inquisition of Kozilek. I discard it. I top-decked Stoneforge Mystic and he goes, “Oh, very lucky,” but I searched through my deck and my only equipment was Sylvok Lifestaff. He was so mana screwed that I eventually won just because he didn’t draw lands.

Yuuya:I lost our first game and I don’t remember everything about our second game, but I remember he used Gideon Jura in a really technical way and I lost. I realized then that he was a very good player.

Owen:I remember in the last game, I played really bad. I either had lethal or I missed it and I was just really nervous because it was just one round away from top 8. I forgot that happened.


Question 2: What is your most memorable match against Yuuya?

Owen:Probably Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir round 16. I got paired down. I was hoping to just get a draw and I basically thought I had made top 8 already. So, I got paired down and it wasn’t a very good match up, but in the first game he took a mulligan and his draw was just terrible.

Interviewer:What was your constructed deck?

Owen:I played blue-black control; Dig Through Time and Pearl Lake Ancient.

Yuuya:I used a Jeskai (UWR) aggro deck.

Owen:It was a real heart-breaker because people were already congratulating me on making top 8 and then I had to play. In the first game, his draw was just awful. Just lands and burn spells. He won with exactly all of the cards that he had. I tapped out for Dig Through Time and he cast Stoke the Flame. I was at 4 life. It was very bad.

Interviewer:So, Yuuya won the match?

Owen:Yeah, he won.

Yuuya:That’s also the match I remember most. In the first game, I drew an incredible hand with nothing but burn spells—no creatures at all. All of the removal spells in Owen’s hand were useless, and I was able to take out all 20 of his life. That string of luck was really memorable.


Question 3: What do you think is Yuuya’s strength as a magic player?

Owen:I would say the biggest strength is his ability in the game to appreciate exactly what his position is. If he’s losing, he knows exactly how likely he is to win the game and what he’s supposed to do with that information. A lot of people lose sight of how good their position is in the game. They may think, “I don’t know, it seems close” and then they don’t press their advantage or play more conservatively. Even with a bad draft deck and a bad draw, he knows exactly how likely he is to win, exactly how good his creatures are, when to trade-off and when not to trade-off, and which resources are important. No matter what the constructed deck, or the draft deck, or the value of the cards, he always knows exactly where he’s at in the game.

Yuuya:I appreciate Owen as a player, but I think his true strength lies in being able to skillfully determine what deck needs to be chosen for the specific environment he is in. He belongs to a team of elite players, Team Puzzle Quest, and during the early days of an environment, he takes advantage of their help. Then as the environment evolves into the mid and later stages, he uses MTGO (Magic Online) to continue preparing. Because he’s always able to make full use of all of his resources, no matter what kind of tournament he enters, I feel he always brings the best deck. That, combined with his abilities as a player, contributes to his outstanding track record. I admire his gift to bring decks to the Pro Tours that are polished to perfection. Even in the Grand Prix he reaches heights that no one else does. He’s even able to determine when he needs to use older decks that work perfectly for the current meta. He really is excellent at selecting decks. During Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, I recall his deck consisting of what I simply thought was a common card used only in Limited (Wretched Gryff), but was actually used to trigger Kozilek’s Return. When he started winning with this combo, I was blown away by such ingenious craftsmanship.

Owen:Almost all the deck was built by Jon Finkel. I played a little with it, but that was almost all him.


Question 4: What do you think is essential to remain at the Platinum-level for such a long time like you and Yuuya have? What makes it possible?

Owen:Definitely a little bit of it is luck. You can be great and go to all the tournaments and still just have a bad run of cards. But, mostly a sustained level of excellence just across at all the tournaments… Always playing at a high level of competition… Playing to win and just having a lot of heart… I mean honestly, just showing up and trying your best… You can get discouraged when you do poorly at some of the tournaments but when you get knocked down, just get up again and keep playing. I always love that.

Interviewer:Many players are trying to reach Platinum-level, which is a very hard thing. But, you guys have reached and remained at the Platinum-level for so long. What’s the difference between those players and you two?

Owen:I don’t know. Just being better than everybody else… I mean honestly, just showing up and trying your best… Just continuing to play and go to all the big tournaments… Just play hard to beat. Just play tough. I don’t know.

Yuuya:I’m of the same opinion. I couldn’t have said it any better.


Question 5: Which of Yuuya’s constructed decks is your favorite?

Owen:This is a deck from a really long time ago… I don’t even remember the tournament exactly, it might have been called “The Finals” or “Japanese Nationals” but it was a blue-white Reveillark deck. I loved it. 4 Ponder, Reveillark, Coldsteel Heart, Glen Elendra Archmage, Sower of Temptation, Mulldrifter. I absolutely loved it.


Interviewer:You remember the list?

Owen:I actually looked it up because I got the question emailed to me and I remember I used to play it. I just loved it. It was just a great deck.

Interviewer:Did you try to use the same deck?

Owen:Yeah, I copied and played it and I won some local tournaments with it and I wrote an article about it. This was like 2006.

Interviewer:How old were you then?

Owen:I was probably like 16 or 17 years old. I remember I copied the deck and Gerry Thompson was teasing me because I played Ponder instead of Ancestral Vision. But I had played a little bit with the deck and I just knew that Ponder was much better. I mean, if you look back now, everybody knows Ponder is great, but at the time it was a new card and people were not so sure about whether or not to play it. And it was unique distinction about the deck to choose to play with Ponder and not Ancestral Vision. And I copied the deck and I played it, and I just knew this deck is great.

Yuuya:That deck ranks in first or second place as my all-time favorite. It brings back a lot of memories, so I’m so glad he chose that deck.

ancestral-vision Ponder

Yuuya WatanabeBlue-White Reveillark
2008 Japan National Championship

6 Island
4 Plains
4 Adarkar Wastes
4 Mystic Gate
4 Mutavault
1 Reflecting Pool

Land (23)

4 Kitchen Finks
4 Mulldrifter
4 Reveillark
4 Riftwing Cloudskate
4 Sower of Temptation
3 Venser, Shaper Savant

Creature (23)

4 Ponder
2 Pact of Negation
4 Mind Stone
3 Momentary Blink
1 Coldsteel Heart

Spell (14)

3 Condemn
2 Crovax, Ascendant Hero
2 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Pact of Negation
3 Remove Soul
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
3 Wrath of God

Sideboard (15)


Interviewer:How about you, Yuuya?


Yuuya:I don’t think favorite is the right word—but during legacy Grand Prix Washington DC 2013, Owen used a Patriot deck (UWR Delver). That was the time when Owen won the Grand Prix for two weeks straight in limited and legacy. I normally don’t play legacy, and I think pro players able to excel in legacy are few and far between. When I learned Owen took first place at a legacy event, I was really impressed. After that, I dipped my toes in legacy and found the Patriot deck to suit my play style. For the small time I actually played legacy, that deck was all I used.

Owen TurtenwaldUWR Delver
Grand Prix Washington D.C. 2013

4 Wasteland
4 Tundra
3 Volcanic Island
4 Polluted Delta
4 Arid Mesa
1 Flooded Strand

Land (20)

2 True-Name Nemesis
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Stoneforge Mystic

Creature (10)

4 Ponder
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Force of Will
4 Daze
4 Spell Pierce
4 Brainstorm
1 Batterskull
1 Umezawa’s Jitte

Spell (30)

1 True-Name Nemesis
4 Meddling Mage
2 Pyroblast
1 Red Elemental Blast
2 Rest in Peace
2 Grim Lavamancer
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Wear + Tear
1 Grafdigger’s Cage

Sideboard (15)


Interviewer:Many pro players are good at standard and limited, but not at legacy.

Owen:The secret to winning at legacy is to always put 4 Wasteland in your deck. I always win when I play with it. Just mana screw people… How are they going to win if they don’t have lands?

Interviewer:How did you make that Patriot deck?


Owen:I forgot exactly where I found the first list. It was a deck that some people played, but I had just found a random list and, I had played in a couple of SCG opens in a row and I was tweaking cards here and there and eventually they came out with True-Name Nemesis. I had been playing with Geist of Saint Traft because I wanted something that was good against decks that had a lot of removals. You almost can’t win if you just have Stoneforge Mystic and Delver of Secrets against them. So, I actually wanted something that was remarkably similar to Geist of Saint Traft and then they came out with this one. This was just way better and so I was lucky that the deck I liked got a new card that fit perfectly in what I was trying to do. I actually had played no games with the card before the tournament. I just straight swapped Geist of Saint Traft for True-Name Nemesis and it just turned out that this was an insane card.

Yuuya:That’s incredible.


Question 6: What kind of conversation/communication do you have between Yuuya, during events?

Owen:Well, there’s actually very little just because of the language barrier. It’s very hard to communicate. Also, we’re competitors competing against each other. It’s hard to share a lot of information and talk. Like, I don’t want to talk about the meta-game or decks with him because it’ll help him and I don’t want to do that. But, just in general I think almost all of it is watching him play and seeing what kind of deck he shows up with, so I can compare my deck choices to his. I want to improve as a player, so I try to watch the other best players to see if they’re doing something that I’m not. It’s not exactly communication, but just the terms of interaction.

Yuuya:He stole the words right out of my mouth. In the past, we used to draft together on Sundays; and I think two or so Pro Tours ago, I was in the process of drafting when Owen suddenly threw an Eldritch Moon pack my way.

Owen:Yeah, that was funny.

Yuuya:Just like Owen, I also watch my competitors’ matches and learn from what they do, but what I really like about Owen is his sense of humor. At last year’s world event, he and I were standing next to each other and he did this.
(Yuuya raises his hand to his neck and gestures a beheading)



Question 7: How did you feel when you and Yuuya were inducted to the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame at the same time?

Owen:Well, that was just amazing. It was cool because you have to have been playing on the Pro Tour for more than 10 years to get inducted to the hall of fame. That means each of our first Pro Tours were around the same time and so as I started to play Pro Tours and get better, I kind of would also see him doing well in tournaments. When he gets Pro Tour top 8, it was like “well, I have to get another one now.” It was sort of like going back and forth and trying to be the best. I want to have better results than him. If he does well, I need to do well before he does well again. So, it just happened that we had pretty good, somewhat similar, results and it was just nice that all the people felt the need to vote us in. Also, it kind of burned me a little that I got 71% of the vote and he got 90%. So, I was like, “Oh! I still got work to do.” I still could make my results better. You know? Be better.

Yuuya:For 10 years, we’ve fought over who takes Player of the Year. Sometimes I end up taking it and sometimes he does. I really do think he’s a great rival. I’m truly glad that we were both chosen to be inducted into the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame.


Question 8: From your perspective, who are the current top five Magic players in the world?

Owen:I think me, Yuuya, Jon Finkel, William Jensen, and Reid Duke. I might be a little biased.

Yuuya:Did you really just pick Jon Finkel? I wouldn’t call him a currently active player—I’d call him a legend.
Owen:Well, the thing is, you would think that because he doesn’t play as much Magic. But when he shows up, he always wins. I mean at the Grand Prix last weekend, he just got top 4. He gets top 8 like almost every season. Last season he got 2 top 8s. You would think that he’s not trying his hardest but he’s just still always winning, so I feel like it’s fair to put him on the list.

Yuuya:I see. For me, Jon Finkel is more like a higher being, so if I don’t count him, then I’ve got the three from the Peach Garden Oath, myself, and Shota Yasooka.

Interviewer:What do you think of Shota?

Owen:He is very good, but I think sometimes he plays a really bad deck and only he can win with it. He had a stretch when he made top 16 of the Pro Tour like a bunch of times in a row and one of them he had a Tezzert deck that had Bloodline Keeper in it. A horrible deck… I couldn’t win with that. And, when he got second in the world championships, his modern deck had an Eternal Witness and Aether Vial. Like, what’s going on there? People tried it after that and then they just couldn’t win so they stopped playing it. Obviously, he’s a truly excellent player, but I think he would do a little bit better if he would get better decks.

Yuuya:Yeah, the ability to play a deck that no one else can use is really something else. I think that’s a skill we don’t possess, so he beats us both there. I value players with extreme talent who are able to think outside the box, so I went with Shota.

Owen:Absolutely, I agree.

Interviewer:Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us.

Despite being separated by not only a language barrier but also the Pacific Ocean, it is clear that your mutual respect for one another has forged an understanding that overcomes these obstacles. You are truly friendly rivals.
We look forward to seeing how you both perform in your upcoming tournaments!

A little later…
After saying, “See you at the next Pro Tour!” Yuuya screamed, “Shoot! I forgot to tell him something.” When we asked Yuuya what the cause of his outburst was, he said, “For the article Feature Match: Mushroom Mountain vs. Bamboo Village, Owen picked the Bamboo Village! That guy sure has great taste—is what I was going to tell him…”

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