Kenji Tsumura Interview: How Magic Helped Me, Eluded Me, Inspired Me

津村 健志

津村 健志


Text & Photography: Seo Asako

 Starting this spring, Class of 2012 Pro Tour Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura will return to professional Magic not only under the HARERUYA helm, but also as a staff member of the venerable Takadanobaba institution.

Known not only as a Hall of Fame member, but also as just one of the most popular Japanese players abroad, the name “Kenji” is already famous anywhere sleeved Magic cards can be found. In this exclusive and candid interview, the freshly-unretired pro opens up at length about his storied history with Magic, his dreams of marriage, and even some stories he has never shared before.

Profile – Kenji Tsumura

Born: August 19, 1986.
Height: 167cm (5’6”), weight: 45kg (99lbs)
Personal Quote: “I want to gain weight to play football, but I can’t quite bulk up.”

The 2005 Player of the Year, Kenji was the third of currently only four Japanese players elected to the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Since his second-place finish at Japanese Nationals in 2004, he has reached the Top 8 a staggering six times and accumulated hundreds of professional-level match wins in the process.

● I Like to Draw Cards!

――First I want to start from your profile. What’s your favorite color in Magic?

Tsumura:I like Blue. The reason is the same as Satoshi Nakamura, “I like drawing cards.” I am happiest when my hand is so full I have to start discarding cards (laughs).

――Like, from Sphinx’s Revelation?

TsumuraSphinx’s Revelation is a little much, it can make the opponent just give up on the spot. I think Opportunity is just right, though. I also like Karn, Liberated or Cruel Ultimatum. It’s possible to use those on MO and at least not have opponents immediately concede (laughs).


――It’s not too fun if they concede immediately without squirming first. That sounds pretty evil (laughs).

Tsumura:Sure (laughs).

――What other cards do you like?

Tsumura:I love Gaea’s Cradle and I also really like Mind’s Desire, too. You are never guaranteed a victory with them, since they’re kind of gambles, but they really take ingenuity.

――Rather than purely stand-alone strong cards, you like cards whose power really depends on how you use them?


Tsumura:Right, that’s why I also like Gifts Ungiven. I quite like how with cards like Gifts Ungiven or Fact or Fiction, you can’t really be sure which cards you truly want until they come up. For example, on five lands, you cast Gifts Ungiven, leaving one mana up. If you reveal two 1-drops, a 2-cost card, and a single 3, your opponent would see the two 1-mana cards and think, “He’s got to want the 1 drops,” so he would put those two into your graveyard. But actually, as long as there already is a one-mana card in your hand, what you really want are the stronger 2- or 3-mana cards. It’s like a game of induction.

――I see, it’s more of those ingenuity-testers.

Tsumura:Also cards like Karn, Liberated; or Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker-I love just about any planeswalker.

――Have you ultimated Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker?

Tsumura:I mean, I want to, but they always concede just before he goes off (laughs). If it were Cruel Ultimatum, you can possibly draw three weak pulls and not outright win. Semi-related, but not really, I’ve recently been listening to “Critical Hit” by Radwimps while casting Cruel Ultimatum. Get the song flowing about two turns before casting it, and the main part kicks in just in time and it feels great (laughs).

――“Let’s rock out with our Ultimatums out!” (laughs)

Tsumura:My Extended deck for GP Yokohama 2010 had a fair package of Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and Cruel Ultimatum and it was nuts. It’s my favorite deck of mine.

――What other decks do you like?

Tsumura:I started Magic with a “Stompy” deck, so I have a great fondness for that one. After [Tomoharu] Saito won [Japan-exclusive tournament series] The Finals ’99, I used a near exact copy of his deck for about two years. After that was “Psychatog.” I played blue for the first time and thought, “Man, this is fun-this whole time I’ve been missing out!” I also liked using “Turbo Land” a lot in Extended, but back then it was mostly known as a poorer-performing deck, so people who would say, “You need to use another deck if you want to win,” were pretty amazed.

――What did you like so much about Turbo Land?

Tsumura:You can take infinite turns-that’s every kid’s dream (laughs). You can also end the game and still have a grip of seven counters at the ready.

――I think we’re getting a good glimpse of the real Tsumura. “Batter the opponent just enough so he doesn’t concede,” “I want every card in hand to be a counter” (laughs).

Tsumura:That’s a pretty sinister guy, huh? (laughs)

●A Reluctant Encounter

――So, I wanted to ask you about your history with Magic up until the present, step by step-you started around fifth grade, back when Fifth Edition was out, right?

Tsumura:Back when “Yu-Gi-Oh!” cards hadn’t yet been released, my friend and I found out that the source of the card game in the comic was called “Magic,” so we picked it up and started playing that together. By the way, if you quote me as saying that “I only started playing Magic reluctantly just because Yu-Gi-Oh! cards didn’t exist yet,” that better be the first cut you make when you edit this thing (laughs).

――But eventually they did release Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, right?

Tsumura:Well, at first Carddass came out, but there wasn’t much strategy to it, so we were drawn away thinking, “if this is all there is to it, then Magic has got to be more interesting.”

――I see.

Tsumura:But then when I went to sixth grade, I became the captain of the soccer club. Because I didn’t have any money to buy cards, and by then all my friends had quit Magic to study for the junior high school entrance exams, the Magic fad died out pretty fast.

――By the way, do you have any siblings?

Tsumura:I have an older sister and a younger brother, but I’m not terribly visible to everyone.

――Kind of like being the youngest of the family, I suppose. So your brother doesn’t play Magic?

Tsumura:When I was eleven, my brother was 5, I tried teaching him but when it became too much of a Spartan education, I gave up.

――What great things 11-year-olds give up on…

Tsumura:He was quite a serious little brother, so after that he worked hard in school and in his school club. To be fair, I was a bad teacher, so he really had to work hard in any case (laughs).

●Magic Helps a Withdrawn Boy Come Out of His Shell

Tsumura:After junior high school started, I stopped going to school. I only went to school for something like fifty days.

――「In a Mana Burn (2010) interview, you even mentioned, “When I stopped going to school, every day was free, but just packed with despair.”

Tsumura: I really nailed it there, huh? (laughs) But that’s exactly right.

――Why did didn’t you go to school?

Tsumura:Originally, I just hated places with a lot of people, though now I feel the complete opposite. But to start things off, I wasn’t exactly the coolest guy in school. School wasn’t any fun and I was kind of an air-head, but a kid from another elementary school was like, “Hey, let’s try Magic,” so I did. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen him in forever, but I’ve always wanted to thank him. His name was Harada.

――Wow, that guy can say, “I made Tsumura what he is today!” If he’s reading this, please get in touch (laughs)!

Tsumura:Yeah, no joke, I wouldn’t be here today without him. Back then there weren’t a whole lot of places to buy cards, so when I would go to the shop near a junior high school and there’d be a kid from school there, I would always think it was so annoying. But he turned out to be a pretty sweet dude so we eventually became friends and would go to tournaments together every week.

――Great, a happy ending!

Tsumura:I really am grateful. I couldn’t go to tournaments any farther than about an hour by bike, but as the weeks went on, I made more and more friends, and as I got to know more people, they would teach me about other shops. I came to learn of a shop about thirty minutes from my house so rather than going to school, I’d go there every day. I mean, life was a mess, though. I didn’t sleep until about four or five in the morning, didn’t get up til three or four in the afternoon, then after school was over everyone would go to the shop and then we’d do it all over again the next day.

――Around that time sanctioned play started up, right?

Tsumura:That’s right. Thanks to that, I got to know [Takao] Higaki and his friends. And pretty soon after that you could go to game shops and buy Game Gather [Now Card Gamer]. I remember in the first issue I bought, they covered Tomoharu’s The Finals ’99 win. There wasn’t really an Internet back then, so I devoured that magazine every month.

――Oh, thank you so much (I edited Game Gather magazine at the time).

Tsumura:Yeah, I still like all those articles to this day. I have always loved reading coverage and magazines and everything; I’m kind of a coverage junkie.

●I Wanted to Take a Plane to A Grand Prix

――When was your first Grand Prix?

Tsumura:It was in 2002 for Utsunomiya. When the judge asked at the draft table, “Has anyone here never Rochester Drafted before?” I was so embarrassed to find that the only hand raised was mine. Really, I just wanted to ride in an airplane for this event-I had actually never ridden in an airplane before. A guy named Manabu Morimoto was like my mentor, but he was sort of a strange guy. When he bragged, “I’m taking a plane to the next Grand Prix!” I was like, “If you’re taking a plane, then so am I!” but then for some reason or another we landed at Hiroshima Station. This was pretty ridiculous of course, because obviously we should have just taken the overnight bus there. Geez, even the Bullet Train (laughs).

――What a rip off (laughs)!

Tsumura:Frankly, the Grand Prix didn’t even really matter, though now I only ever look forward to flights (laughs).

――It was still a strong performance, though; you finished 21st.

Tsumura:Meh, I was lucky.

――With this 21st place finish, you qualified for a little more Pro Tour play, so you told Higaki, “I want us to get on the Pro Tour together,” and you really started out in earnest at PTQs.

Tsumura:We also started practicing properly. We traveled around by car to PTQs in Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu, even Osaka, too, and we were able to qualify immediately. During that time, because I would always follow closely behind people, I got the nickname “Kogamo[Little Duck]” (laughs). By the way, I’m also a Head Duck, leading my own little line, of sorts. I call the duck behind me, Jumonji Taro.

――Who’s this person sticking so close behind you, then?

Tsumura:Ahh…you know, I have no idea how I became a duck pod leader. It’s great that Jumonji is kind and caring and all, but I mean, pretty much anyone is capable of being an excellent pod leader (laughs).

●Kai Budde’s Impact

――What about your first Pro Tour?

Tsumura:It was Pro Tour Chicago 2003, and only three of us went, including that Jumonji plus The Rookie [Hall of Famer Masashi Oiso ’12], and man, it was too much fun. And then when [Hall of Famer] Kai Budde [’07 of Germany] sits down right in front of you, the intensity just got insane. I watched that Budde vs. Finkel [Hall of Famer Jon Finkel ’05 of the USA] semifinal; unlike today, you could watch from up close, and I watched everything Budde.

――Do you mean we could find you in any given crowd somewhere?

Tsumura: I would describe it as being near him in a sense, as I would study his strategy articles back home. I didn’t have much of a choice being so isolated from that kind of environment, but in a nutshell, it was common knowledge that because there’s only removal in black and red, you could take eight players alternately as being in red, black, red, black. But I didn’t even know that much, so despite the person to my right taking red, I would take white, and since the person to my left was taking black, I realized you shouldn’t fight with your neighbor. Returning home having read those kinds of articles, I realized I had no idea of the world’s common knowledge, and what an incredible difference it made! It had a huge impact on me.

――Ah, I see, I see. And to top it all off, this trip you also realized your long-sought first-ever plane ride (laughs).

Tsumura:The connection was something ridiculous like 10 hours, but I was so excited the whole time, and I got to see the moon from the plane, I was amped up (laughs). But there were times when the plane shook heavily and really dropped hard, so I death-gripped The Rookie’s hand, who was sitting next to me. But he just grumbled, “We’re not crashing, man!” (laughs)

――Not quite the toughest guy around, huh (laughs).

Tsumura:マHey, I’m completely different when I’m playing Magic, though (laughs). But anyway, soon after that, The Rookie really started killing it, then when everyone around me started winning, it was just huge. And this when everyone in the Hiroshima area was putting in just as much effort.

――How was the Hiroshima community back then?

Tsumura:I felt like [Takao] Higaki and [Kazuki] Ueno, who were years above of us, were more like wranglers. At the time, I think we had about fifteen people, but Higaki’s group didn’t have so many guys seriously in it and only about seven people were actively vying for the Pro Tour. As for Ueno and his guys, there might have been a few impatient or perhaps not-quite-ready players among them, maybe.


From left: Masashi Oiso, Takao Higaki

――Even you took on The Rookie monicker, right?

Tsumura: I longed for titles or nicknames like “Rookie,” “Best High School Player,” and stuff because I felt like you can only earn them once in a lifetime, so it was no good if we had a no-name, lifeless ghost haunting the neighborhood. I was about fifty points off away from the grave (laughs).

●Becoming a Slugger is All in the Spine

――Up until Japanese Nationals 2004, though you blasted through PTQs, you struggled to get past day one at Grand Prix and Pro Tours, right?

Tsumura:Back then, I never wanted to go to a tournament thinking, “I’m just going to lose anyway…” At the time, Jin [Okamoto] wrote in a Gather article, “If you don’t go to tournaments, you can’t win them.” You never know how many shots you get, but you’ll never make the shots you don’t take. If this outlook was prevalent around Hiro’s group of such strong players, then I felt that even someone as weak as me should not want to drop tournaments. Also, around this time I came to speaking with [Masahiko] Morita and his group. Morita likes the song, “No Hit, No Run” by Bump of Chicken. It’s got lyrics like, “Even the greatest slugger is tense before he steps up to to the plate,” but I was surprised to hear that someone like Morita, who at the time was Top 8ing Grand Prix regularly, could sympathize with a song like that or ever get nervous at a tournament.

――So you pulled inspiration from that.

Tsumura:I felt if I became one of those guys who is intimidated at an event by having dropped his previous tournament I would eventually just live in dread of tournaments.

●From Debut to Osaka

――Having just grinded into Japan Nationals 2004 the night before, you proceeded to finish in the finals making for a debut that was nothing short of spectacular.

Tsumura:h, I was just lucky. I mean, “Affinity” was just that ridiculous, after all. If I recall correctly, my draft was a mediocre 4-2 or something sad like that. Of course my spirits were completely different when I was facing Rolly [Hall of Famer Tsuyoshi Fujita ’07] in the finals and was focusing solely on winning. Admittedly there’s not really much of a good ending here since Rolly took down Osaka, and you couldn’t just say I won, right? (laughs) Anyway, thanks to the adjustments to my game that I found in Osaka through Rolly and his friends, who had their eyes on Worlds, my own view of Magic changed considerably.

――Even to this day you have worked hard in the Hiroshima scene, but Osaka also changed you, huh?

Tsumura:Hiroshima is a serious, or rather a stoic place, but in a good way, and it was grueling. If you make a mistake, play carelessly, or cheat, they’ll call you on it and make you stop. I felt I could seriously focus on going international. Though I followed Higaki’s training method, I didn’t want to lose my relationship with friends who had quit Magic. But playing Magic definitely became thoroughly more rigorous, though it was usually still pretty fun.

――It was like a matter of separating work life from private life.

Tsumura:It was like that exactly, but Rolly and his group took the total opposite attitude, where seeing Magic as a really fun, extended hobby was wrong.

――But practice must have been fun.

Tsumura:After I ran bad for a while, I would tell myself, “Oh, man, I stink,” and I really thought so, too. I lost so many PTQs, losing the finals to bad luck, yet I was so strong at the local level, I felt beastly. But if any of these local players were to call me out for playing poorly, that’s when I would go into beast mode.

――So in Hiroshima you must have felt like a big fish in a small pond.

Tsumura:Yeah. Enjoying that kind of comfort isn’t doing yourself any favors in the long run, so I knew I had to make a big change and get to Osaka.

● The Ultimatum

――You stopped going to junior high school, but did you go to high school?

Tsumura:I didn’t go to high school for more than like three days. I wanted to play Magic every day and I felt high school wasn’t helping.

――But if I were your parents I’d have to think, instead of going to school you’re just playing some idiotic card game.

Tsumura:Right. At the time my father was on a work transfer away from home, so when he’d come back home on the weekends it was always war. Back then, it was much worse than it is now in terms of the respectability of people who opt out of school. To my family, making them feel ashamed only made it worse.

――So around this time, the idea that “this is going to end,” started emerging?

Tsumura:I went to Japan Nationals, Worlds, and then was told Pro Tour Columbus would be my last event. But that was because it was a matter of money. I mean, I had a tentative job, but my parents paid all my Pro Tour expenses. At the time, even the Pro Tour champ would only win 50,000 yen. As a parent they would see their son holed up like a hermit indoors, but then become cheery when heading out into the world, and all the money the would have spent on college for me just went towards the Pro Tour. So whatever the cost, that’s what it took.

●Thanks to MoriKatsu

World Championship 2005Tsumura congratulates
Katsuhiro Mori just after winning the tournament
――So for your so-called final Pro Tour, you ended up with a winning record with the deck you got from MoriKatsu [Katsuhiro Mori], right?

Tsumura:I mean, I did all right; I was barely able to pay my travel expenses with the prize money, but the deck was definitely one of the strongest in history.

――I was a huge MoriKatsu fan back in the day.

Tsumura:Kacchin[Katsuhiro Mori] has always been in coverage and magazines a ton even from way back. The deck was a little nutty, it played so ridic-fast I’d end up like, “Er…so, I guess I win, then…?”

――Yeah, back then you really had that image of a super young player.

Tsumura:Even in junior high school, I had that feeling of being a hotshot “Best High School Player,” so to be that good, I played hecka fast, like if my opponent were playing a spell, before he actually cast it, I would counter it, which made the judges kind of angry (laughs).

――That’s overkill (laughs)!

Tsumura:But I later kind of got a lot of that. The “Legendary Three Minutes” (※ Editor’s note :Japanese Only) at Pro Tour Atlanta 2005 was when there were about three minutes left in my match to advance to Day Three, and I won in just about that much time, so preparation in action doesn’t get any better than that. The faster I hit, the more absolutely confident I am that I’m not making mistakes.

――Your respect-worthy achievements definitely demonstrated your skills to MoriKatsu. By the way, what was your first meeting with him like?

Tsumura:I didn’t really know K-Money too well before Columbus, but suddenly I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize and the voice was like, “Yo, what’s good, this is MoriKats…” so there was totally no pressure there, but I thought this has got to be fake. But then he just started teaching me about this deck for some reason right over the phone, and to this day I have no idea why (laughs). And come to think of it, I don’t even remember hearing a voice on the phone. But thanks to that call, I got prize money and got on the gravy train [continuous Pro Tour qualification].

――And so did this lead to convincing your parents to come around?

Tsumura: I mean, they were convinced, but doubtful. In the end, I was enjoying myself so I would have liked their full support, too. But after Nationals and cashing and setting up further qualification at Columbus, I think that convinced them that Magic wasn’t just fun and games.

●Moving on Up to Tokyo

――After that you transferred your practicing grounds to Tokyo, dissolving your Hiroshima base.

Tsumura:Because The Rookie was busy with school, everyone started quitting Magic to go do traditional work.

――Why move to Tokyo?

Tsumura:Ah, I would go from home to play at NakaChika Manor [Chikara Nakajima’s house], and back then, going there beat going to a convenience store (laughs). Ridin’ the Bullet Train like a VIP.

――Pro Tour Atlanta 2005 was a team event and you joined Tomoharu Saito and Tomohiro Kaji on team “One Spin”

Tsumura:When they announced three-man teams could earn Pro Points I was pumped. I practiced the hardest I ever had in my life for that Pro Tour.

――It would have to be a challenge to practice for Team Rochester.

Tsumura:The practice regimen of those two guys wiped me out. They pitched a practice system where we would separate the day into three eight-hour session, then every session, while one guy slept, the other two practiced, so every eight hours one guy went to sleep and another guy woke up and on and on and on. We actually considered using this system (laughs). Of course we ended up not doing it, but when I heard them seriously talking about using it, I seriously started thinking about going home (laughs).

――I guess Kaji and Tomoharu’s happy-go-lucky natures aren’t everything…!

Tsumura:I mean, we would argue about stuff and everything, but we were all unified in sharing a common goal. But, this was true even at NakaChika Manor, the absolute most important thing was having a unified sense of purpose. When I was with these two they’d say “I want to be the world’s greatest deck builder and win a Pro Tour,” and at NakaChika Manor, everyone there would think together, “We want to become the world’s greatest players.” If it weren’t for NakaChika we never would have assembled such a group of habitual dreamers (laughs). It was a cult of personality.

――So looks like NakaChika can also say, “I made Tsumura what he is today!”

Tsumura:Absolutely. Everyone who’s helped me along the way, even those I who aren’t still around……especially the guys with me from the start, if it weren’t for them, I could have quit life itself (laughs). It’s just been pleasant encounters overall.

●Friends Overseas

――You went on an incredible run of tournaments around the world in 2005, culminating in winning Player of the Year (PoY) 2005.

Tsumura: And back then I was still a little intimidated by foreign people…everyone was like at least twice my size out there (laughs). But when I was in a bit of a bind at a Grand Prix abroad, despite not uttering a word, [US powerhouse] Gabe Walls and his friends were able to communicate, “Is there anything we can help you with?” and “What a sweet dude!”

――Even though you were intimidated, you weren’t afraid to try to communicate.

Tsumura:Though I took PoY at Worlds 2005, whenever I was bummed my rival, Oli [Hall of Famer Olivier Ruel ’08 of France] , would always encourage me. At one point during the tournament, my opponent got DQed [disqualified] for cheating. I thought really hard about the situation, wondering what if because of the DQ due no less than to a game with me, that guy possibly quits Magic? I really like Magic, so for some reason I got really depressed and sad at the thought of being responsible for this guy possibly quitting Magic. But then, despite our just ending a dead-heat race for PoY with a one-point difference between us, Oli said to me, “You can’t win PoY looking all sad like that, man,” and I realized Oli was not only a great player, but also a great human being. If our positions were reversed, I never could have said something like that.

――What a great story!

Grand Prix “Fusion Dance” with Olivier

――Additionally, after you won PoY, you trained to improve your lackluster Limited play, studying under [Grand Prix Kyoto 2013 champion, Canadian Limited expert] Rich Hoaen.

Tsumura: I became friends with Rich early into 2006, and he taught me things like pointing cards, for better card evaluation and he’d ask things like, “at this time, why did you pick that card?” and generally walk me through drafts. He really felt like a teacher.
Rich Hoaen at Grand Prix Kyoto 2013

――When I was watching the Grand Prix the other day, he had quite a professorial look to him.

Tsumura:He’s just a year older than me, you know.

――He’s got such a dignified presence, doesn’t he? What kind of person is he? He gives off such a nice impression.

Tsumura:That’s quite astute. Thanks to Rich, though I was the only Japanese guy among fifteen foreigners, I was able to go to all the drinking parties I wanted. Oh, which reminds me, in his Grand Prix Kyoto profile, when he answered, “If you want to get better at Magic, throw away your youth,” that day happened to be his girlfriend’s birthday (laughs).

――I guess she was busy throwing, too, then (laughs). She must have been glad he won.

Tsumura:He was chatting on Skype with her all night, so I don’t think he got much sleep.

――You even competed on a team with Rich at Grand Prix Amsterdam 2007 and Grand Prix Massachusetts 2007.

Tsumura:We scrubbed out on day one in Amsterdam, unfortunately, but we got seventh at Massachusetts. Rich plays a razor-sharp Limited game, but despite it being Two-Headed Giant, I had to make my own picks and plays, too. Even though Rich had discussed, “would you first-pick Cancel in 2HG?” when I saw one I was thinking of it as a normal draft and figured it would table, so I let it through, but of course it didn’t come back.

――You learn through the heat of battle, I suppose.

Tsumura:But I mean, a Grand Prix wasn’t exactly some local neighborhood tournament, though I guess I was just green anyway. But right in the middle of it all, I thought, “Wow, I’m truly awful, I gotta get better at this” (laughs). From the start, Rich was positive breaking into the Top 4 wouldn’t be impossible, but he never blamed anything on me and was an incredibly friendly, nice guy about the whole thing.

●Another Unlikely Crew

――And so, you, [Hall of Famer] Shuuhei Nakamura [’11], Tomoharu Saito, and Shouta Yaso’oka spent the next two years playing in tournaments around the world.

Tsumura:There was a fight every week. Mostly my fault, though.

――What kind of fights did you guys have?

Tsumura:If it were about Magic, any little thing could get me. And though we lived under the same roof, we didn’t lose our strong sense of rivalry. But it was because we still got along so well that we could even toss words around.

――Well, because someone has to reign at the top at some point, meanwhile still working directly with everyone under him, I would think it’s got to help you grow.

Tsumura:Right. You have to constantly think about why someone else thinks a certain way and why, and having thorough arguments is fine if you learn to understand each other better by the end of it.

――But what would you do if you couldn’t agree on something?

Tsumura:Even if you’re not convinced, you can think, “Well, I feel I’m right, but I can see where he’s coming from and it’s a valid opinion, too,” and by taking in the best points of the other person, you can make use of these accumulated incremental advantages at some point later on. If talking about what kind of player you want to be in the future, just take Nak [Shuhei Nakamura] and me and you’ll see we have totally different goals. Anyway, we fought well.

――Is that so!

Tsumura:For me and Yaso [Shouta Yaso’oka] it was, “I want to be the greatest player in the world.” For Tomoharu, “I want to be the greatest deck builder in the world,”……his play-skill wasn’t quite there, but he felt if your deck is the absolute strongest, you can beat the spit out of anyone. And Nak alone said, “I want to stay on top forever.”

――Ah, I’d certainly think so.

Tsumura:He definitely kept his word. At the time we were hitting tournaments every week so he had the most confidence in the world when it came to Magic. You know, some say stuff like, “Why don’t you want to be the greatest player in the world?!” But really, there are many different appeals to Magic: maybe you like collecting, or making theme decks, or you just enjoy meeting and enjoying people. Because there’s no need to emphasize winning necessarily, forcing a friend to have the same goal as you is nonsense. But then again one could say, “these four, of all people, are supposed to be able to share the same goal.”

――So would you say, “Although it seems we’re all aimed towards the same goal, it’s such a lackluster thing to say,” is the general idea?

Tsumura: I mean, just I don’t like when people impose their views on others, you know? Anyway, for better or for worse, who knows which, but I was in pretty close proximity to those three. When I think about it now……ah, youth (laughs).

――It would seem if it weren’t for Magic, this unlikely quartet would likely have never crossed paths, but that’s how they found themselves ultimately working together.

Tsumura:It was just about a miracle that these four people were motivated at the same time to be at the same place. We argued strongly with each other, but I don’t think you’ll ever again gather people better able to seriously discuss anything so freely, so I feel these were an incredibly valuable two years.

――It seemed like time well-spent on everything and anything.

Tsumura:Ah. I missed my sister’s wedding for Pro Tour Valencia 2007 and still regret it to this day. I am thankful that my family was so understanding about it.

――At that time you were desperate to get PoY again, right?

Tsumura:It would be only too sweet to be able to skip a Pro Tour and still get PoY, but if you really want to win it, when something else important comes up, it’s ideal to have some points banked for a safe margin for these kinds of emergencies. Granted that’s impossible (laughs).

――You didn’t want to have to say, “I didn’t get PoY because I had to go to a wedding,” naturally.

Tsumura:I mean, it’s bad if you’re making up excuses to your family. I happened to have given up everything in my life up till then for Magic, because I didn’t want anything but Magic as an excuse for things like that.

●Forgetting to Pay the Pact

――By the way, during Grand Prix Montreal 2007, there was the famous episode of your opponents forgetting to pay for their Pact cards and you gentlemanly reminding them.

Tsumura:Actually it’s a story I’ve never really told before, but there was an incident in the first Grand Prix of 2006. Right after getting PoY, I immediately hit a Grand Prix overseas, and my opponent was maybe an elementary or even a junior high school boy and I was 5-1. As soon as I sat down, one of the kid’s friends excitedly crowed to him, “WOAH! Dude! The guy you’re gonna play is the Player of the Year! That’s insane!” But the kid’s deck was just….man, some cards were upside down or even flipped around. I’m sure he absolutely meant no offense, but the kid had certainly gotten a feel for most of Friday play at this point, and when I called over a judge, he issued a match loss to the kid, and the kid burst into tears. There was nothing I could say in English…I thought, if that kid quits Magic, it’s because of me.

――And this after they were so excited to get the chance to play against the PoY…

Tsumura:And there it is. But the story continues on to Montreal, where I managed to point out three out of four forgotten Pact payments. Only my first opponent, I didn’t stop him from forgetting to pay for his Pact because I thought, “I have no obligation to remind him of missed triggers, it’s his own responsibility,” so that was that and he took the game loss. But when I won the match in a pinch, I felt like how I felt with that boy. Hypothetically speaking, though I would be considered the winner even if all my opponents forgot their Pacts, what am I going to do, boast to my cheering family, “Yeah, dominated!” or something? I realized I never want it to come to anything like that, I want to compete legitimately in Magic.

――But though you may think that in your head, even if people were obligated to point out an opponent’s likely avenue of self-defeat, surely there are a lot of people who would still say nothing if it would mean they could secure themselves victory.

Tsumura:Well, I wonder, if you are likely to lose, then losing is fine, right? As Oiso would often say, “Always play like your opponent is Kai Budde.” Never assume your opponent will make a mistake. Of course bluffing is part of the game, but a Pact death is something else entirely. If you’re about to lose and your opponent forgets to pay for his Pact and so you end up winning, and because you win, the Pro Points and prize money come rolling in, what do you say to that? Other people might feel it’s all the same either way and might not feel any desire to say anything, but at least for me, that doesn’t make me happy one bit. It was such a nauseating way to win I of course never wanted to win like that again. That day I stopped three more Pacts from being missed.

●A Break for the Moment

――After tearing through 2007, you suddenly dropped off the tournament scene starting in 2008.

Tsumura: In order to study to get into college, I decided to quit Magic for that year. I was around for a Pro Tour, but it was only to for the Level 8 Pro benefits.

――Just stopping by to get some work done.

Tsumura:I was about to enter college because I wanted a job at Wizards of the Coast, but they require a college diploma to be eligible to work there. I wanted to give back to all the people who were involved with me up until then, even from way back when I was terrible at Magic, so I wanted to get a job at Wizards. I particularly wanted to be a tournament organizer.

――You wanted to plan and manage tournaments, then?

Tsumura: Right. The idea is that since more people are playing Magic now, I want to make the system more friendly to people who are lost or struggling. I thought the pro wrestling theme(※ Editor’s note :Japanese Only) from the recent Grand Prix Shizuoka 2013 was incredibly cool.

――So you want to help make sure the spectator aspect of events is as enjoyable as possible?

Tsumura:Right now, about 1500 people drop from day one play at any Japanese Grand Prix, and other than side events, there’s nothing for them to do. The idea would be to plan something fun that didn’t require too much knowledge of Magic to enjoy, and of course if you do know more about Magic then you can have even more fun, but I would like to increase the overall festival-like atmosphere. Having prizes like swag or cash, stuff like that, would be great ideas for helping make everybody feel satisfied with their Grand Prix experience.

――I see, so you felt the best path for getting into Wizards at the time was going to college and studying English.

Tsumura:Yeah, I mean, it was kind of a mental short-circuit there (laughs). Since I didn’t go to junior or senior high school, my only English experience was from talking with foreigners. I studied at a prep school for a year but when it came to grammar and stuff, I was dumber than a box of rocks with chicken pox. And yet I managed to get into a foreign-language college.

――Yeah, even if you have no idea what a relative pronoun or whatever is, hey, you can always try your best communicating via Magic.。

Tsumura: I mean, Magic has taken care of me in every other way. This reclusive hermit of a kid is now about to head off to college? What?

――Magic really had serious power, to be able to spread your wings and flap your way from inside a secluded house all the way to countless countries abroad.

●Bright College Years

――Your college life started in 2010, at which point you also officially started writing your “Standard Analyze”(※ Editor’s note :Japanese Only) column.

Tsumura:That was ridonculous. All-nighters like crazy for the article.

――All-nighters only increased the sheer perfection of your articles, and even though they say all-nighters are a must, I have to admit I’m not crazy about that part.

Tsumura:Or rather, they say it makes you lazy. In any case, I’d read all the Channel Fireball and StarCityGames articles, but I thought, even though there are substantial articles from abroad, why are there so few Japanese articles? If you were abroad, you could get ten or more great articles a day, but if you were in Japan, you’d get, like, one from all that. Meanwhile I also liked long articles. While on the train, even if you’re riding for like ten minutes, there isn’t enough rewarding work to read that isn’t dull, so I like articles that are as long as possible while still being grounded and worthwhile.

――During college why did you make it point not to overdo Magic?

Tsumura:Because the best thing I could do would be to make sure I graduated in four years. I only went to one Pro Tour because it happened to be during my summer vacation by sheer chance, but I decided not to attend any others afterward. And so since [Shuhei] Nakamura lived around the neighborhood, he’d call up and go like, “Next week is a PTQ, are you going to hop in the car?” and I really, really wanted to go, so it was pretty painful having to graciously decline.

――Meanwhile that NakaShu is off in some foreign country somewhere having fun, stuffing his face, and strolling around without a care in the word, huh (laughs)

Tsumura:Yeah, of course I wanted be out there with him. And there’s one more reason I quit Magic. See, I want to get married soon. Um, though I don’t have any prospects at the moment (laughs). I can get along just fine alone, but I don’t have enough revenue to to get married, so I quit Magic so I could get a regular job. When I was about twenty, my parents told me, “Well, it’s getting to be about that time you start thinking seriously about the future soon.”

――And it was after that moment that your total focus began to change. Did you rip the band-aid off and quit just like that?

Tsumura:I had a lot of pride to try to deal with, so I did have one remnant of my old life. I started off my article series unsure of what to expect for better or for worse, but I didn’t think it would be so demanding and I had to quit writing to go job hunting.


――After that you joined the Hall of Fame.

Tsumura:Yeah and ever since I haven’t had to wrestle with PTQs since I can go to all the Pro Tours I want for life. This is huge for me because it changes the math completely. It always felt like such a difficult decision since if I ever joined Wizards, I could never participate in any more tournaments, so I started thinking it would be such a waste. When I talked to people like the Director of Organized Play, Helen [Bergeot], she said, “If you play in tournaments as a Hall of Fame player, then I think you should consider that a worthy enough contribution to Magic,” and I thought a lot about that. And eventually I started thinking about returning to tournament play.

――If you join Wizards, you’d have to be more behind-the-scenes in contrast to playing as a Hall of Famer. And given the choice, you pulled up a seat and joined Tomoharu for a drink, eventually calling out to ask if you were meant to join his shop.

Tsumura:That’s right. Ideally, I’d want to be like Mammoth [Taisuke Ishii], working a normal job, but playing only in weekend tournaments, you’d dream yourself to death, fantasizing about a life playing Magic, so I reached out to Tomoharu and asked, “Can I try being a pro player and a company employee at the same time?”

――And so now you find yourself sponsored by HARERUYA!

Tsumura:Yes! It was a dream come true. Because of the income, I don’t have to give up professional Magic, but because the salary is regular, I can also work steadily like any other company employee. I am utterly happy.

――Yuuya Watanabe had also said earlier about the appeal of having a great sponsor enable players to be pros, “Cool! I want one like that, too!” with all the energy of a child, which I’d say means the future of Magic is looking pretty bright.

Tsumura: If a model like this can work in practice for players, this could definitely be huge.

――By entering tournaments as a Hall of Famer, it also provides more tangible aspirations to players everywhere. Pro Tour Born of the Gods will begin soon, though I’ve heard there will be two people wearing matching uniforms along with Tomoharu.

Tsumura:I was told Tomoharu said, “Don’t expect too much this time around, but next time we’ll make one just right for you,” or something (laughs).

――How’s the Pro Tour prep going?

Tsumura: I have played about 1,000 Modern matches. It’s a little meh, though. The shop has a saying, “you don’t have to win,” but I apologize in advance to the shop if I don’t do well.

――But no pressure, since from now on, you’ll be playing regularly, not just this one shot and that’s it.

Tsumura:Right! I don’t think this practice environment seems like the old, dark days, but I still have a little anxiety, you know.

――Ah, even at HARAERUYA, it’s all right for players with older history, there’s plenty of people around here like that.

Tsumura:Right, there’s [Masaya] Kitayama and [Shu] Komuro and such.

●Meet and Greet a Pro

――So you’ll start working here in April, but can people come to HARERUYA to meet you in a “Meet and Greet” sort of thing?

Tsumura:I’m not sure about all the details yet, but I do believe I’ll be entering tournaments here.

――So even during weekday tournaments, there’s a chance to duel you. And then, not quite sure about “Meet and Greet” details.

Tsumura:There’s that phrase again (laughs). Yeah, but I think I’ll be doing articles and some video. Videos are fun to watch because you can easily look in and get a feel for what’s going on, so I want to devise a bunch of ways to generate different kinds of content. I like reading so I definitely want to enrich the reading environment, too.

――Looking forward to it!

Tsumura:Also, earlier I also mentioned, “I want people who have scrubbed out of tournaments to be able to enjoy themselves,” well, as the shop has come to be involved in Grand Prix as a sponsor, I am definitely thinking about possibilities for the future.

――And eventually NakaChika and Tomoharu will make a point to finding you some good marriage material…

Tsumura:Really! My sister looks like the happiest person when she’s watching her kid, so I could go for a family soon. I love kids, too.

――Let me make a note, “Wanted: Girlfriend!”

Tsumura:If you make that poster and nobody comes, I’ll be horrifically depressed, so you should probably cancel the poster order (laughs).

――Ah, good point.

Tsumura:Though if I’m playing MO at home and she yells out from behind “Hey, you should probably attack there!” or something, that is also sadness (laughs).

――So it’s better if she’s worse at Magic then you? Tell me more.

Tsumura:Nah, it’ll become another Spartan education and that would probably discourage any potential break up (laughs).

――It’s difficult to consider, huh. Is having two same-level, incredibly skilled players together a bad idea? You could possibly get along well, even if every day you do fight like crazy.

Tsumura:Wait don’t I already hold that relationship with a woman? Well, let’s say Nakamura were a woman, even so I don’t think my heart would flutter a bit (laughs).

――Well played (laughs).

● Future Soon

――What are your goals for the future?

Tsumura:In the same way professional chess or soccer players are seen as relatively commonplace career paths, I want to help make Magic get to that level of accessibility.

――Since bout 100,000 people tune in to the live webcasts, I would want to see at least one CS broadcast on terrestrial, commercial TV.

Tsumura: I would love if every relatively young male knew Magic primarily as the card game rather than the thing with top hats and rabbits.

――Yeah, there is the association Magic has with being a hobby-genre-defining game at least.

Tsumura:And after being a “hobby jan,” I could only ever want to convey to the world the kawaiiness of Jace (laughs). Really though, I want to spread Magic so that more people can experience it, and we can experience the game through more people. One of the phenomenal things about Magic is throughout a tournament you can become friends with so many different people, and then you can even get to go to so many different places, even abroad, I mean, how is that for Magic’s appeal?

――Becoming direct friends with people around the world, not many other hobbies can do that.

Tsumura:Right? Even some guy who doesn’t know any English can still head on out there.

――Do you have any specific goals as a player?

Tsumura:I want to Top 8 a Pro Tour once a year, and I want a Pro Tour win as soon as possible. I wonder if when I won, that didn’t motivate Oiso….He picked right on up and we got into the Hall of Fame together without much effort, so I would love to go to a Pro Tour together someday.


――Finally, do you have a message for readers out there reading this?

Tsumura:From the very start of my Magic life, I really have been indebted to so many people. When writing those recent articles, my thanks to everyone who would tell me they were interesting and because I can now keep on going, I hope you can continue tuning in just as warmly as then, onward into the future.

――Thank you for sharing your thoughts and time!

Tsumura: No problem. If there’s any criticism, you’d have to look hard, and then we’d want to make use of it for next time. I’m also glad that thanks to me people’s travel times felt a little shorter.

――And with that, thank you! Please keep on rocking!

※ Editor’s note: in addition to photography by Seo, this article has photography courtesy of the following sites:
『Live Coverage of 2005 Pro Tour Atlanta』
『第60回 マジック:ザ・ギャザリング日本語公式Facebookページ!』