When I Started Magic
It was in my first year of junior high that I started Magic. I was playing together with some friends from my class at school. My first purchases were Mirage and Fifth Edition. I started out with the Japanese-language version, but the English version was cheaper by a few dozen yen, so I switched to that midway through. English isn’t my strong suit, though, so I had to read through the cards with a dictionary at my side. But the words that I learned from Magic never appeared during class, so while I knew Magic-related English, that didn’t make me good at the English they taught in school.
There were almost no tournaments or shops near me at the time, so I played at school or at a friend’s house. We played Tron lands like Urza’s Tower to cast our Fireballs.
Around my third year of junior high, a card shop opened up in my neighborhood, and I wasn’t in any school clubs, so I was in there constantly. When I went, there was always someone else, and a community of twelve or thirteen people ended up forming. My position was right in the middle; there were players way more casual than me and some really serious players as well. Some of them are still playing, and others aren’t, but we’ll still go out and grab a meal now and then.
At DCI (DCI Tournament Center, formerly located in Shibuya, Tokyo), I’d occasionally take part in Pro Tour Qualifiers. The first time I ranked tenth, the second time I ranked ninth, and on around my third try, I managed to get through. I was sixteen years old then for Pro Tour Barcelona 2001. I made it to day two with a 4-3 record, but then I had three wins followed by four losses. Still, it was a great time. I walked away feeling that the world of Magic tournaments is a really great one and wanting to take part again.
3rd Place in the 2001 Finals
All In for Magic
The 2005 World Championship was held in Japan with participants from all over the country. I came in 15th place.
When Kogamo (Kenji Tsumura of Hareruya Pros) was chosen as Player of the Year, it lit a fire under me. I thought that could be me next year, and that’s how I came into the world of pro Magic.
2005 World Championship. Shota Yasooka watches a featured match involving Kenji Tsumura.
I started 2006 by making it through Pro Tour Honolulu. Then Tomoharu Saito, Tomohiro Kaji, and I won Pro Tour Charleston as team Kajiharu80. After a few more international Grands Prix that year, I was named Player of the Year.
I wasn’t well-known abroad when we won Charleston. I remember people asking why the original team, One Spin—which was Tomoharu, Tomohiro, and Kogamo—had changed its members. Tomoharu would respond that I was well-known in Japan.
2006 Pro Tour Charleston Kajiharu80
I consider that the start of my pro career. Afterwards I was all in for Magic, spending 2006 flying around the world with Tomoharu, Kogamo, and Shuhei Nakamura of Hareruya Pros. We were getting by on our winnings, but it wasn’t great.
All the traveling and flying was taxing on Tomoharu and Shuhei, but it didn’t really bother me. The worst was probably coming home on Tuesday, and then going back to Narita Airport on Thursday.
Everyone was young back then, and there were people who were already fully committed. On the other hand, the generation before mine feels kind of empty. TCG’s were experiencing a boom around then but not all of the younger players were getting into Magic. You’ve got Shimichin (Naoki Shimizu) and KAKAO (Nakamura Hajime) but not many others who’ve made their mark on Magic yet.
Now for my generation there’s me, Takuya Osawa, Akihiro Takakuwa, Masaya Kitayama, KTO (Kotaro Otsuka), Ryo Ogura, and more who had too much time and only Magic to fill it. Thinking about it now, we’re a scary-talented group.Guess you’d have get better among players like that.
On Being Sponsored
In 2012 I was first sponsored by MTG Mint Card which is based in Hong Kong. I’d wear their uniform to for photo sessions and get paid for it. I was just happy to get paid.
Seeing everyone wearing the store’s logo hit home that I was being sponsored. It was just before Japan followed the sponsoring trend, notably with Nabe (Yuuya Watanabe)’s sponsorship by Team Mint.
MTG Mint Card’s uniform.
I was sponsored by Hareruya in the summer of 2015. I had won in Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, and I’d be platinum starting in 2016. It was time to get really serious about Magic.
I thought it’d be better to go with a Japanese sponsorship because I wasn’t sure what an international sponsorship would bring, and I wanted to encourage more Magic players in Japan. Me joining Hareruya Pros wasn’t announced until after I’d been inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame. Just being a pro wasn’t that big of a deal, but I think more people came to know Hareruya Pros.
I had a place I could always come to practice, draft, or film clips. It was like a home away from home. There were articles and videos with me in it that put me on the map, and there were probably merits to fame that I couldn’t see, but honestly I don’t know much about being famous since I have no one to compare it to.
Lots of people asked me for autographs after I used Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, and I gained a lot of fans who enjoyed watching me win with unorthodox decks.
For my last seven months with Hareruya Pros, I joined Musashi, and we went through some trial and error with team cohesion. All we had in common at the beginning was our uniforms. The decks we built for Pro Tour Amonkhet didn’t run the table, but they weren’t bad either, and I think we have room to do more.
Musashi takes the stage for the first time at Pro Tour Aether Revolt.
I practice a little more than before I joined Musashi, but that’s because everyone practices at my house now. [laughs]Half the time we make junk decks to mess around with, but everyone’s in so why not? [laughs]
Once a new set goes on sale, there’s only two weeks of practice before a Pro Tour. Getting familiar with how your deck works is always a good idea, but it’s not the most important thing because it’s not an efficient use of time unless you have all the time in the world. It’s better to focus on reading the options available to your opponent and understanding how they’ll react. Practicing the wrong way could end up affecting you negatively in the end.
On the other hand, you don’t need to do dozens of draft runs; five is about right. What I got the most out of my time with Hareruya Pros was the ability to consistently practice drafting with other pros, and I saw my record improve.
The draft environment is always changing. An archetype might look strong on paper, but you need feedback from actual playtesting to see what you might’ve missed. You can expect a strong deck in Standard to be strong, but that’s not always true for a draft. Even if blue is the strongest, you won’t win against seven other people at the table.
Logical thinking is needed for constructed play or drafting. Generally speaking, the more you practice Magic, the easier it becomes to win, but you’re not always going to have those ideal conditions at a competition. If you keep saying “I win because I practiced”, of course you’ll lose when you don’t have enough time to practice. That’s when you have to find other ways to win. Jon Finkel and other players like him are able to win without practicing that much. Maybe they’re good at figuring out what it takes.
It’s not efficient or sustainable to use what you learn from a week of hard practice to increase your win count by one. Now you have Magic Online and so many tournaments that the amount of prep is way bigger than before. If you want to practice for a long time, I think you need a shortcut that isn’t just pure practice.
Why I Joined Team Cygames
Originally there was talk of forming a team with the top six players from Hareruya Pros, which would consist of just me, the only Japanese player, and five international players on the same team. That made sense from Hareruya’s standpoint, but I felt it didn’t match with what I wanted—to raise the awareness of Magic in Japan—and I parted ways. (Editor’s note: The members of the original team have changed since its formation.)
I thought about finding another sponsorship, but there were many constraints on me in regards to seeking something from outside the industry. If I could join Cygames, doing things with Musashi would certainly make things easier for me.
I’ve known Yamaken (Kentaro Yamamoto) for some time, but he doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, so as a person I think he’s kind of… you know. [laughs] He was originally with a group in Ikebukuro, so we didn’t have a chance to play Magic together, and I had just joined Hareruya Pros.
He strikes me as a player that keeps getting stronger, which I think has to do with the time he spends on Magic Online. He’s a careful player with a rhythm that never changes, regardless of how he’s feeling that day. [laughs] He’s developed a particular pace for himself I guess.
I never got to play with Teruya (Teruya Kakumae) at all back in the day, so this is new for me. He has room to grow, and I wonder how much higher he can go. Magic isn’t a game you win just because you say you will. You can’t win them all, and luck plays an important part in victory.
He puts in a lot of effort when participating in international Grands Prix, but sometimes his motivation drops too. I think if he can keep his motivation up, he can become even better.
Sebata (Yuuki Ichikawa) is also a great player. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He’s the type of player who wins by recognizing the important things. His stance on Magic is to always move forward but without overdoing it; in his mind a loss is a loss and making Platinum means you’re lucky.
If he could take time off from work to go to Pro Tours and cut back on sleep to practice, I think he’d win even more if he really goes all in. Doing all of that for a year or two would’ve been fine back in college, but now we’re at the age where taking big risks is unfeasible.
Nabe (Yuuya Watanabe) is seriously all in on Magic. [laughs] He started going around the world in 2007, just when things were beginning to change.
He’s like a min-maxer—he has to know everything about his decks. 90% isn’t good enough; his deck has to be 120% that wipes the competition. With that said, the current Pro Tour format isn’t as suited to his play style, so more practice will probably result in a different Nabe.
Goals From Now On
In the short term, I want to win the World Championship, a goal of mine which hasn’t changed from before. It’s the highest level tournament there is, and the last mountain to climb.
As for the long term… No plans there really. Basically I’ll just live each day to the fullest. [laughs]
I wonder when I’ll stop playing. I can keep going to Pro Tours because I’m in the Hall of Fame, but the level system is changing next year, one where it’s not possible to stay at Platinum forever, so it’s going to become tougher for us pro players. Who knows how long you can keep winning for with the new rule changes.
To My Supporters/h2>
Even though I’ve joined Cygames, nothing’s really changed in how I act as a pro. We can all draft and play together now.
As for me, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, so I hope you’ll still cheer for me.
I’d like to write articles if Cygames lets me, and if there’s interest for it. There isn’t much right now, so maybe a monthly article would work. If Cygames receives enough feedback from the fans, I hope they’ll be open to the idea.
(Editor’s note: If you would like Shota Yasooka to write articles, feel free to tweet @Team_Cygames!)