Satoshi Kato and the OCG | The Irish Duelist

Satoshi Kato and the OCG


SJC Nashville has just ended and we have another international SJC champion, but this one's different, he's from Japan! Satoshi Kato won the event with Zombiesworn and while I was googling things to find out more about the player, I came across an interview that he did with Jason Grabher-Meyer just before Worlds last year. You can find the article in full here, but I'm gonna take a few of the more interesting pieces out of it and post them up.

The Man
I'm often criticized for focusing on “the Duelist behind the deck” a bit too often, but so far I've told you alot about Satoshi's strategy and nothing about him personally. He's a good dude, so let's fix that!

Satoshi Kato goes by the name Taichi in Japan's tournament rankings. He's twenty-three, and he started playing Yu-Gi-Oh! in 2000, but after leaving the game twice he returned in 2007 for his current run. “I originally got started making fun decks with my friends. It was very fun. My little brother asked me to play with him. Now I play in tournaments once or twice a week. I have a lot of friends that are strong players, but I do not belong to a team.”

One of the things I wanted to find out was how Satoshi qualified to compete in a Championship in Japan. This is rare information to come by in North America, as the Japanese OP system is largely a mystery to us. While the US has a single National Championship that sends the Top 4 from that event to the World Championships, Japan actually has two District Championships each year. Each event awards Worlds invites to two finalists.

“I won at Kansai-Senko-kai,” explained Satoshi, giving the name of the Championship tournament he won. “Kansai is the district. Senko-kai means selection.” The sister tournament to the Kansai-Senko-kai is the Kanto-Senko-kai, and these two events serve as Championships for the West and East halves of Japan respectively.

Only 75 competitors are invited to each tournament, and Duelists don't have all year to qualify like they do in the TCG. Earning an invite to a Senko-kai tournament means scrambling for ranking points for ten weeks straight. It's what's referred to as a “term of selection”, and it lasts from the beginning of March into the second week of May. During that period all sanctioned tournaments contribute to a Duelist's ranking towards qualification. Once the ten-week term is over the top 75 players in each district are then invited to their respective Senko-kai tournaments. To make things a bit more confusing, there's actually a Japanese Nationals tournament each year at Jump Festa, the big annual V-Jump / Shonen Jump convention in December. Winning that event does not earn an invite to Worlds.

The Senko-kai tournaments are unforgiving events with no cut to Top 8. In Satoshi’s case, that meant a bye and five straight wins in order to earn his invite to Worlds. It’s fast, brutal, and there’s absolutely no room for error.

Needless to say, a highly defensive control deck coupled with a conservative play style is an asset in this type of competition. “[I am a conservative player,]” commented Satoshi, when I asked him to categorize his playstyle. “[I always play carefully.]” Don't get the wrong impression, though: playstyles vary in Japan. “[I think many Japanese players are conservative, but many others are aggressive.]”

Decks like the one Satoshi played really didn't seem common before he won the Kansai-Senko-kai. I asked him how many people were playing similar decks before his win, and he replied “Almost zero.” That's really no surprise. Satoshi developed the deck for two months in preparation for the District Championship, and it was driven in part by his own ambitions as a Duelist. “[I usually try to make different decks. I like to make decks that are stronger than ever.]”

While Satoshi managed to face nothing but his preferred matchup at the Kansai-Senko-kai, he wasn't without a plan for other matchups. He sided Doomcaliber Knights and Kycoo the Ghost Destroyers against Gladiator Beasts, along with more trap cards. He also sided Mind Control against Blackwing and Lightsworn, giving him better access to Synchro summons in the matchups where Synchro monsters were less likely to be threatened by Gravekeeper's Guard. “[In almost all cases I sided out one Necro Gardna, one Armageddon Knight, one Dark Creator, Foolish Burial, Shining G, and Book of Moon.]” The result was a sided build that could afford to be a bit more aggressive earlier on, and didn't necessarily need the strong defensive openings required to dominate Syncro Cat.

Yu-Gi-Oh! In Japan
The OCG is often very different from the TCG, and it goes way deeper than the actual card pool. When I was taking suggestions from a few friends about what to ask Satoshi for this interview, one suggestion kept coming up: “Ask him about what the game's like in Japan!” One of the big distinctions between the TCG and the OCG is that while most tournaments in the TCG are sanctioned, many in the OCG are not. And there's a big difference between the two.

“[Official tournaments are very friendly,]” explained Satoshi, “[but big unofficial tournaments are very competitive.]” That didn't make much sense to me – I couldn't understand why sanctioned tournaments contributing to ranking would be less competitive than the un-sanctioned tournaments. Satoshi explained further: “[Because of prizes. Unofficial tournaments give big prizes like Wii's, Xbox's, and Nintendo DS's. Official tournaments give Tournament Packs. They contain various cards, but they are not expensive.”

Unlike the US, a significant number of tournaments are run by competitive teams or individual players, generating a lot of competition amongst experienced vets. Tournaments are generally local and pretty small by Western standards, with the average tournament in Tokyo seeing 10-30 competitors according to Satoshi. “[The biggest tournament is the National Tournament. 500 people took part in it this year.]” But the somewhat low turnouts are due in part to the huge number of them available. When I asked Satoshi how many tournaments he's aware of each day in Tokyo, he replied that “[weekdays have two or three, and holidays have ten to fifteen.” That's per day. Sure, Tokyo has a massive population, but that aside can you imagine having three different tournaments to go to on any random Tuesday? It's a testament not just to the store owners who run events, but to the numerous non-professionals who take time off from playing to run their own tournaments.

More random questions: the OCG is often held up by TCG players as a promised land of innovation and open mindedness. Do most Japanese players want to try new decks, or do they try to stick with their current deck as long as possible? “[I think it's mostly the latter,]” replied Satoshi. That wasn't really a surprise to me: the myth that the OCG is this land of creativity and casual play hasn't been true in my experiences either. As I noticed previously, there's definitely more respect for casual interests and attempted innovation, but the competitive core is extremely strong regardless. If anything, the casual and competitive players of Japan seem less divided in many cases than those in TCG territories.

One thing I was personally interested in was his perspective on Raging Battle. Raging Battle was extremely popular in Japan – it's sold more packs than Phantom Darkness. That's kind of mindboggling given the massive competitive impact Phantom Darkness had. Raging Battle is also doing extremely well in the TCG, having sold out at least once that I'm aware of. I was hoping Satoshi could shed some light on the response to the set in Japan, and he replied by noting how many good cards it has: “Blackwings, Deepsea Diva , and Forbidden Chalice are very good cards.”

Forbidden Chalice had drawn a lot of attention when it was first released in the TCG, and still commands a decent price on the secondary market, but has never really seen play in a big tournament. I asked Satoshi if it was different in Japan: “[For one example, another Japanese ambassador uses a Forbidden Chalice deck {“ambassador” is a title commonly used for Worlds competitors in Japan}. He plays Synchro Cat with Rivalry of the Warlords, and he plays Natural Beast and King Tiger Wanghu. He sets Solemn, Rivalry, and Chalice a lot.]”

“[With Chalice set he can stop the effects of Blackwing – Gale and Gravekeeper's Guard, and he can keep Natural Beast and Wanghu on the field. The deck is very similar to the combo of Royal Decree and Horus LV8!]” Chalk another one up for Natural Beast – it's impressive just to see the surface impact that card has on so many different issues.

With Extra Pack 2 bringing 30 former TCG exclusives to the OCG in just a few weeks, I was curious as to what exclusives Satoshi wanted to see in the OCG. “[I want to use Overdrive Teleporter, Avenging Knight Parshath, Moja, Swallow's Nest, and Charge of the Light Brigade.” It was an interesting list, since four of those five cards have received relatively little play in the TCG, but it led into another Question. With all the Lightsworn hate in the OCG, did Satoshi think they could make an impact with the release of Ehren and Charge?

“[Yes, Lightsworn will be a top deck.]” No second-guessing there: it was a strong statement. “[Brigade, Ehren, and Judgment Dragon are very strong. Right now the Japanese Lightsworn deck is not very fast, but once they have Brigade, they'll get stability and quickness.]”

This weekend some of the world's greatest Duelists will face-off in Tokyo for the title of the World Champion. The Worlds format list makes Synchro Cat and Blackwings two definite standouts, but with innovators like Satoshi Kato in contention the tournament should be filled with surprises. Satoshi is one of my top picks for the win this weekend, and I'm honored to introduce him and his unique style to an international audience.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer