Atsushi “Matsugan” Ito
Editor’s Note: This article uses Mr. Yasooka’s official, DCI-listed surname transliteration, despite its tendency to reflect the incorrect pronunciation, “yah-SOO-kah.” The more accurate pronunciation is “yah-so-OH-kah.”
Today I bear news that could well shape the course of Japanese Magic history.
Pro Tour Charleston Champion, 2006 Player of the Year, 2009 Magic Online Player of the Year, Runner-Up 2012 Magic Players Championship (now known as the World Championship), Runner-Up Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, and 19 Grand Prix Top 8s give just a glimpse of his monumental achievements. Also, just recently as of Pro Tour Magic Origins, he is Class of 2015 Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame-elect. I refer of course to:
Shota Yasooka (Tokyo).
In an amazing development, starting from the 2015-2016 season onward, Shota Yasooka will be joining our venerable own Hareruya Pros [Japanese]!!
But why exactly did Yasooka decide he wanted to be a part of the Hareruya Pros?
Known for his blazing speed, Yasooka plays with decision-making so lightning-fast and pin-point accurate that it leaves most ordinary players baffled.
But what vision of the future do his synapses fire off now? What exactly does he see in the distance for Japanese Magic?
To get a more in-depth look at Yasooka’s decision, we took the opportunity to sit down with him for an interview.
● Why Join the Hareruya Pros?
――Let’s get right down to it, why did you decide to join the Hareruya Pros?
Yasooka: Because there was no other way.
Yasooka: There was no other way.
――Yes, er, I was hoping you could be a bit more concrete. Putting it like that makes it sound like Hareruya put you under Duress to join! I hope you’re not implying that!
Yasooka: I suppose that in order for me to realize my vision, I simply had no choice but to join the Hareruya Pros.
――I see…um…is there possibly a more upbeat way you could put it, maybe?
Yasooka: Well, it is the case that there was an absence of alternative avenues.
――All righty then, so what is this “vision” you wish to realize?
Yasooka: I wish to foster and advance Japan’s professional Magic community.
Yasooka: What what? Surely you follow.
――Please forgive my rudeness! I didn’t expect to hear such admirable words! So, by “foster and advance Japan’s professional Magic community,” you mean you hope to help increase the number of Japanese players on the Pro Tour?
Yasooka: Your rudeness resolves. But no, while I cannot guarantee results as far as the Pro Tour, I certainly do want to increase the number of people seriously endeavoring at Magic. I want to support that kind of player.
――Considering you want to increase the amount of people serious about Magic, you think the perception is that too few people in Japan are giving it their all at the moment?
Yasooka: I think so. This is especially true when talking about the younger generation, which is basically, what, just Nabe [Yuuya Watanabe] and [Ken] Yukuhiro at the moment?
――Well, lately newer guys like [Yuuki] Ichikawa and [Teruya] Kakumae have been popping up here and there, right?
Yasooka: Well, in terms of generation they are actually closer to mine. But if we just look at the numbers, there is still a lot left to be desired when it comes to Japanese participation.
――So you want to increase the amount of people serious about the game, definitely a tall order. How would you go about making this happen, if I may ask?
Yasooka: I’ll allow it. I would rent a space.
● “I Want to Create an Environment for People to Endeavor at Magic.”
――Let’s back up a few steps here, “I wish to foster and advance Japan’s professional Magic community” means renting a space? I feel like I am definitely missing a few crucial steps in this line of thinking.
Yasooka: Really? I would think it is pretty straightforward.
――Well, if you think a space is necessary, then. So what you’re trying to do is relieve the bottleneck of people who don’t have a stepping stone for going from local into global competition, is that right?
Yasooka: Right, like that.
――So now you’ve piqued my interest, what would you consider is necessary to become better at Magic?
Yasooka: Definitely a good environment.
――An environment in the sense of people and location, I presume?
Yasooka: Yes. You definitely need a kind of place where you can have strong players nearby, with whom you can face-off directly, or just ask questions about anything. As you might expect in Magic, if you do not push yourself against strong players, you cannot realize your weaknesses, you cannot improve. Without even just slightly stronger people around, you severely hinder your growth as a player. Like grinding low-level Slime monsters in an RPG, sure you level up, but it is glacial.
――And so this is why you want to rent a space, to gather any wild “high level” monsters for people to grind in one place? We’re talking Metal Slimes and Metal King Slimes, here.
Yasooka: Well, sure, Metal monsters, Platinum players, people who have won various events, you get the idea. I want to create an environment for people to thrive, who dearly, earnestly want to strive at Magic. I want to bring together, for example, Silver level players, players who qualified for the Pro Tour via RPTQs or GPs, or just Japanese players who truly aspire to play high-level Magic. I want to create a proper place for these kinds of players to improve and prosper.
――Will the space be in Tokyo? Also what sort of applications do you see it having?
Yasooka: I am still undecided, but it will most likely be somewhere close to Takadanobaba [Hareruya’s host city]. I want this to be a convenient base for motivated people to crash at and prepare for the Pro Tour for about a week straight, like a boot camp. I have not worked out all the details yet, but I think it will focus primarily on drafting. Just get people together and draft all through the night. Drafting is something you have to do on a regular basis or your skills just erode.
――Would you say it’s the same for Constructed? If you don’t go at it regularly, you won’t be able to keep up with the metagame?
Yasooka: This is not so much about preparing for specific environments as it is more about understanding that in order to win you need to perfect your grasp on the basics. And Limited is the format that packs in all the fundamentals, where fundamentals matter the most. Of course picks and theories will differ depending on a lot of environmental factors, but when it comes down to playing and winning actual games, it is no exaggeration to say that you can find all the essential skills you need to win at Magic–combat, racing, and mulligans–in Limited.
――If we’re just talking about opportunities to prep for the Pro Tour would you say the “Kikuna Training Camp” [Japanese] isn’t quite enough?
Yasooka: Kikuna is pretty far away, and even if we disregard that it is essentially just staying over at a friend’s, it is just not suitable for long stays. Also it is not clear KAKAO [Hajime Nakamura] will necessarily be going to any Pro Tours.
● What’s in Store for Pro Player Shota Yasooka?
――Anyhow, this new boot camp revelation does feel a bit sudden.
Yasooka: I have actually had the idea to rent a space to use for Magic training for a long time, but in order to make it happen I definitely had to lock up Platinum for next season.
――Oh, I see. Did this perhaps have any relevance to your joining the Hareruya Pros?
Yasooka: Going Platinum cannot help but change the relationship between someone’s focus on Magic versus other things, so this time around it looks like I will be dedicating myself even more to Magic. This season I was at around a 3:7 split between Magic and everything else, but next season I would like to up it to something like 5:5 or 6:4 since I figure I might as well do this as something I have wanted to do for a long time now. I had an earnest talk with Tomoharu [Saito] about all this, one thing led to another, and now here we are.
――Ah, now I get what you meant by “there was no other way” (laughs). Well, anyway, it should be safe to say you’ll certainly be devoting yourself even more to Magic next season. Continuing on that subject, which is your priority–further success at the pro level, or helping foster the next generation of Japanese players?
Yasooka: Well, I think I have to go with the former. As a player, I intend to continue pushing myself as always towards winning the Pro Tour as my number one goal. I cannot imagine that changing any time soon before I retire.
――So then in other words, the goal of helping grow the number of serious Magic players in Japan would be less for your personal sake and more for the benefit of the Magic community at large?
Yasooka: Magic and its player base are still expanding, so I thought this would be a good way to help serious Japanese players keep up. A lot of these ideals also happened to coincide with those of the Hareruya Pros, so everything really just clicked into place.
――Well, if it means keeping up with you, you’ll certainly be one tough act to follow (laughs)! Thank you for your time!
Tomoharu Saito. Kenji Tsumura. Kentaro Yamamoto. Yuta Takahashi.
These four phenomenal players now heartily welcome their fifth renowned veteran. Together with the Hareruya Pros, Shota Yasooka looks to make further breakthroughs and cut open a path towards a bright new future for Japanese Magic! We can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeves!