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Inside the Newest Superteam

March 08, 2022
Elizabeth Rice

Japanese players are a crucial part of the greater competitive Magic fabric. Their innovation in deck building, willingness to experiment, and high technical caliber has always drawn admiration—and more importantly trophies—since the early 2000s. As time passed, the grip of Japan's superstars on the top of the game loosen, but it never disappeared. Now, across events leading to the Neon Dynasty Championship, they are resurgent once more.

Reigning World Champion. Multiple league promotions and qualifications. Five of the seven players currently qualified for Magic World Championship XXVIII. Many of the very best across Japan are not only competing together but succeeding together.

Japan's foremost team is large, including Rei Sato, Yoshihiko Ikawa, Yuta Takahashi, Riku Kumagai, Kenta Harane, Yuuki Ichikawa, Kenji Tsumura, Yuta Hirosawa, Toru Kono, Yuma Koizumi, Toru Saito, Kazuki Yada, and Shuhei Nakamura. Kicking off with the Strixhaven Championship and throughout the 2020-21 postseason, players from Japan's Magic scene delivered consistent and dominant performances.

They bring decades of experience to their group and a wealth of skill. If you asked them, they would say their performance was not the product of a solo endeavor but rather the effectiveness of their teamwork. With a team as large as this one, a key part of their success is building a process where each can contribute most effectively.

"Starting from the Kaldheim Championship, we decided to divide our team into two groups, 'A format team' and 'B format team,'" explained Yoshihiko Ikawa. Like other events, the Neon Dynasty Championship will be a split format, this time featuring Alchemy and Historic Constructed.

Yoshihiko Ikawa

Ikawa is one of the designated leaders of this force. He made his professional debut at Pro Tour Yokohama in 2007 and more recently converted his 2020 Rivals League invitation into a spot at Magic World Championship XXVIII and the 2021–2022 MPL.

Kenta Harane

Kenta Harane is the other leader of the team. Harane is a decorated Magic player, with a Players Tour and World Magic Cup win under his belt. His analytical abilities and organizational skills have made him a cornerstone of the team alongside Ikawa.

"He is great at analyzing and summarizing data he gathers to see what the trend is on the current meta game," said Ikawa.

"He is always very logical during the process of choosing the deck to bring, how he builds a game plan, and even when he makes a schedule for team preparation, which all helped build an important base for the team. Thanks to this, each player who joins the team has a specific role in the team and is able to work efficiently," said Kumagai. "They both have excellent skill of managing the progress of preparation and have tremendous influence on the final decision on what to bring."

Riku Kumagai

Kumagai is one of the players from this coalition who has already qualified for Magic World Championship XXVIII, along with Yuuki Ichikawa and reigning world champion Takahashi. For a world class player like him, teamwork has been an important part of his preparation and success.

"First, we assemble team members to prepare . . . we assign players to each format considering what the strongpoints are for the player, how well they understand the format, and which time slot they can be available," Kumagai explained. "We usually spend the two weeks before submitting our decklist for the preparation. During the first week, we focus on sharing data on by using various decks on ladder matches, and whenever we find interesting decks on social media, we share these on our Discord server as well. During the second week, we focus on playing each other or watching one of our teammates play ladder matches and have a discussion to find what the best deck is and what the best play can be for it. We decide what deck we want to use two days before the submission, and we spend the rest of the days tweaking. After that, we share our knowledge about each format as much as possible, then we are finally ready to fight in the championship."

This two-pronged approach is one of the team's greatest strengths. Having a large community has allowed them to divide and conquer more formats while giving them the opportunity to put their specialists where they can be most effective.

"We have specialists for each archetype . . . and for tuning a deck," explained Ikawa. "And thanks to this we get to have very efficient and high-quality preparation."

Yuta Takahashi

"Our team has ones who gather data, ones who summarize these, and ones who offer counterarguments to them. Those are all such valuable skills in the working world, especially at a meeting," said Takahashi.

While Ikawa and Harane's specialty seems to be in organization and analysis, other teammates such as Takashashi bring archetype knowledge.

"Yuta Takahashi is a specialist for a deck that has lots of instant-timing interaction. He is specifically great at defeating various decks which don't have enough deck power to defeat him. One of the key factors of choosing what deck to bring is if it can defeat Yuta's deck," said Ikawa.

Indeed, the King of Faeries is known as a master of interactive and sequence-heavy decks such as his namesake Blue-Black Faeries, but more recently the Izzet Dragons deck he piloted to an undefeated streak in Standard to become Magic World Champion XXVII.

"Yuta Takahashi, Rei Sato, and Kenji [Tsumura] have such amazing skill in playing that they are great at measuring exactly how much potential each deck has," said Kumagai. "However, Yuuki Ichikawa and Yuta Hirosawa have the most important skill among our team. They are both good at making everyone laugh."

"Riku Kumagai often brews his own decks," said Ichikawa. "Kenta Harane provides well-summarized data to our team. Yuta Takahashi stands against us as a master of one specific deck. And I enjoy making jokes and having fun with them."

Indeed, Ichikawa is affectionately identified as the "class clown" of the group. However humorous he is, he backs up those laughs with skill. He already has Top 8s in two Pro Tours and nine Grands Prix, with four of those resulting in the final trophy. If securing his spot at this year's world championship by making Top 8 of the Innistrad Championship was not enough, he went on to defeat Simon Görtzen in the finals with the team's Golgari Food deck.

This strategy of specialize, divide, and conquer has paid dividends for this team. Most obviously seen by their performance but also felt in the development of their own skills. By relying on each other to fill the gaps in their own skill sets, they have grown even more in their individual understanding of the game.

"I strongly believe that the reason we had a big leap last year was thanks to Kenta's skill. There are countless things I can learn from him, and I'm deeply grateful to him," said Kumagai.

"My teammates are not just Japan's top players but many of them are world's top players, so I get to learn countless things just by playing against them or watching them play ladder matches. They often make me realize how narrow my point of view is, and I strongly feel my skills are improved every time I prepare with them," added Ikawa.

"From my teammates, I get to learn great insights of archetypes I'm not really good at, and also the reason why they would like to put the cards I've never even tried to do, which are very valuable," said Ichikawa. Heading into the next event they show no signs of slowing down in their quest to fill the ranks of Magic World Championship XXVIII.

Tune in March 11–13, live at, to see if they can continue their stellar performance, and who will ultimately be at the pinnacle of the Neon Dynasty Championship.

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