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When Dragons Fly Like Faeries

October 18, 2021
Meghan Wolff


It was an unforgettable moment for those watching Magic World Championship XXVII, and even for those who caught it in clips and replays shared across the internet. Yuta Takahashi covered his face as he cried tears of joy after the final round of the Swiss, then leaned back and yelled. He'd made the Top 4, after an 0-3 start against almost insurmountable odds.


Takahashi's journey to this moment began when he went out and bought a copy of Kai Budde's Artifact Red deck that "the German Juggernaut" had piloted to a World Championship win in 1999. From his earliest days playing Magic, Takahashi dreamed of being like the legendary Budde and Jon Finkel—two of the greatest to ever compete in the game.

Kai Budde, winner of Pro Tour Chicago 2003 and his seventh career Pro Tour title.

"Admiring champions like Kai and Jon was my first step into competition," Takahashi said.

That was twenty years ago, and through those years Takahashi became legendary in his own right. In 2007 he made his first Pro Tour Top 8 in San Diego with two-headed giant partner Kentaro Yamamoto. That led to Takahashi's first shot at the World Championship in 2007. He placed 24th in a field of almost 400.

Then, in 2008, he claimed not only his first but also his second Grand Prix win, first in Shizuoka and then in Kobe. Shizuoka was where Takahashi first prevailed with Faeries, and while Shizuoka was Standard and Kobe was Block Constructed, Takahashi won the second Grand Prix with an almost identical Faerie list.

The "King of Faeries" had arrived.

Yuta Takahashi, winner Grand Prix Kobe 2008

"Last time I sat down to do a finals match where Yuta Takahashi was playing Faeries to win a Grand Prix, I have to admit, I had trouble seeing him as the favorite," coverage reporter Tim Willoughby wrote at the time. "I'm pretty sure now though that Takahashi is safe money to be amongst the best Faeries players in the world."

Those two wins cemented a lifetime-long love of the deck, and also made Takahashi the first back-to-back Japanese Grand Prix Champion.

Again and again, though, Takahashi's successful decklists come back to a faerie-inspired theme of instant speed interaction, card draw, and counterspells. In 2013, Takahashi made the Top 8 of GP Kitakyushu with White-Blue Delver, and his Top 8 player profile is full of references to his favorite deck. Asked which card in all of Magic history he has the best memories of playing with, he answered "Cryptic Command. Drawing it in Faeries always meant I was going to win."

Takahashi had one moment he defined as his career high before his World Championship win: "Pro Tour Eldritch Moon Top 8," he said. That was in 2016, and though it might not have been blue-black, Takahashi's Bant Company list, with its copies of Spell Queller, Collected Company, Dromoka's Command, and Reflector Mage, had the instant speed interaction, card draw, and counterspells that he loves to play.

Takahashi's path to World Championship XXVII started with his fourth place finish at Players Tour Nagoya in 2020. That catapulted him into the Rivals League where his excellence continued, finishing fourth in the league for the 2020-21 season, earning him invitation to the event.

Yuta Takahashi

When it came time to prepare for the World Championship, Takahashi teamed up with fellow competitors Yoshihiko Ikawa and Rei Sato, as well as Riku Kumagai—who nearly qualified himself—and Kenji Tsumura. Tsumura happened to also be there when Takahashi won that very first Grand Prix in 2008, losing to Takahashi in a Faeries mirror in the semifinals.

"They were friends who accompanied me through many matchup practices, and we went through hard times together," Takahashi said of his testing team.

Going into the tournament, Takahashi knew that Limited was going to be his weak spot. "I'm better at Constructed, and had a lot of rounds of Constructed, which is good. I'm just not good at Limited, so I'm going to practice hard," he said. "With my most trusted friends, we tested every Standard deck in the metagame."

"I also drafted 200 times, but the result was no good."

He's speaking, of course, about his 0-3 draft in the Midnight Hunt Limited portion of the World Championship. It was a brutal start to the tournament, and one that not every player would be able to mentally recover from.

"After starting 0-3, I cannot lose a single match for Top 4," Takahashi said when describing the most challenging aspect of Worlds. "However, I was able to focus on each game one by one."

Takahashi's experience reading and adjusting to the metagame while remaining true to his strengths and preferences as a player helped him draw parallels between the current Standard environment and those of the past. That, in turn, helped him leave that abysmal draft in the dust and surge ahead with an outstanding run through the Standard rounds.

"Mono-Green was the center of the metagame and it reminded me of Abzan Aggro," Takahashi said of Standard leading into the World Championship. "Dark Jeskai was very strong against Abzan Aggro, so I imagined something similar to that. Excellent 4-damage removal, Smoldering Egg is early blocker and finisher at late game, Legacy-grade draw spell, and flying haste creature."

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Izzet Dragons was far from a given conclusion to weeks of Standard testing. Takahashi's teammates in the tournament ended up on Mono-White, and Takahashi was one of only three competitors in the 16-player field who brought a deck that no other player registered. That preparation and risk paid off, though.

"I chose Izzet Dragons [because] instant draw and counterspell decks are good for me, like Faeries," he explained. "Smoldering Egg felt like the best two-drop. Attacking with dragons is more suitable for the environment than the Izzet Turns combo. This deck is Faeries in my heart. Blue-Red Faeries."

It was a stunningly perfect call, and Takahashi didn't drop a single match in the Standard rounds of Days One and Two, or in the Top 4. On Day Two, he only lost a single game in five rounds of play. It's one dream to win the World Championship, and another to show up to a tournament with a surprise deck and pull the rug out from under the competition. In one weekend, Takahashi accomplished both by remaining true to his title, even if these Faeries looked a lot like Dragons.

With a career-long dream realized, what could be next?

"Second World Championship win?" Takahashi suggested. "Too greedy?"

There's a unique joy in seeing someone who loves Magic so much be so openly emotional about their win. It's a hope that doesn't come across as at all greedy when his win-and-in for the Top 4, and his title match win, resonated with the world. It was Takahashi's win, but one we all shared in the momentousness of.

In the meantime, Takahashi can enjoy being amongst the great players he once watched and dreamed of joining.

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