I’m back in the prognostication business! M-League played their second to last night, last night, with the final night coming up tonight! The good news is that it’s still an exciting race that almost anyone could win. That makes this year’s final day a little more exciting than last year’s given how the Drivens had really sealed the 2018 before the final day.
Bold prediction for tonight? Sakura Knights will not be this year’s champion. More than 300 points behind 3rd place Pirates and more than 450 behind Phoenix at the top, they would need several consecutive miracles to even start getting close to contention. It would be an amazing thing to watch if it were to happen, but I’m looking foward to it with the same expectation that Tokyo will have a surprisingly cool summer.
If you compared the standings from today to after game 4 of the series, you might be tempted to ask why does the only change seem to be that Kadokawa suddenly has a huge negative score. The answer is that even when the Abemas or the Pirates managed to land a strong blow, Phoenix countered immediately just as fiercely. Take game 5 for example. Asakura of the Pirates and Ooi of the Abemas were neck and neck with around 35,000 as the South round started with Asakura as dealer. His starting hand looked like this:
Those are the kind of starting tiles that make it seem like destiny is calling. Indeed Asakura was able to pon the green dragon in the first drawing round and expectations immediately rose when it was noted that the other white and red dragons were all still in the deck. He ponned the red dragon and when he got to tenpai, he of course chose the double pair wait for the yakuman possibility rather than a gut shot which would have given him haneman. He’d actually discarded pretty well to hide the fact that he also had a half flush so even the cheap winner would have been a pretty big score. Kondo has shown a remarkable propensity to eke out cheap wins in this series when other players have monster hands, but not this time. As everyone chose to get out of Asakura’s way and the deck gradually ran out of tiles, it was starting to look like maybe destiny had chosen another moment, but on his second to last draw, finally there it was. The last white dragon and 16000 points from each player.
Okada put up a good fight at the end of the game to recover some points on an extended turn as dealer, but it still ended with a small win by Ooi to put Kondo in last. So far that has been Phoenix’s only 4th place finish so far in the series. Asakura had also had a rough year going almost the entire way without a win until nearly the very end of the season. It seemed like perhaps the wind might start filling some different sails.
Phoenix’s Wakutsu finished relatively middle of the pack individually in her first season of M-League. While 4 wins in 15 games wasn’t bad, when she lost it was big so she finished in 19th out of 29 with -130. But she showed up for game 6, her only game so far in the final series. And she made the most of only a couple winning hands, 4000 all, and 1300/2600. It was enough to win the game and end the only time since the beginning of the final series that Phoenix wasn’t in the lead.
And that’s been the story of the Finals so far. Every time someone manages a hit, Phoenix punches right back. Abemas and Pirates both managed wins on Friday night but Phoenix’s ace for the year, Uotani still took second both games to hold on to their lead. She lost a few points in third place of the first game last night, but this time Kayamori stepped up to win the second game keeping Phoenix on top with a good lead. I like Kayamori’s style too. She had a sizable lead on the final hand and even decided to push against Asakura’s reach. I often find myself in similar situations trying to take the win all the way to the end rather than sitting back and letting my lead do the work for me. Perhaps she was worried about Ooi extending his turn as dealer, she decided to push against Asakura, but when she threw his winner, her heart must have leapt to her throat for a moment as we all waited to see if he could get also get a couple ura Dora to take drop her out of first place. Luckily for her it was a blank, she retained in first, and Phoenix stayed on top also.
So that’s how it stands going into the final night of the Final Series. Another bold prediction? Phoenix will remain strong like they’ve been all series. I’d expect Uotani to play at least one if not both games, Ooi and Aiko to represent for Abemas, and despite Asakura’s yakuman, Kobayashi and Mizuhara to mix it up for the Pirates. Will any of them be able to snatch Phoenix before they reach the Heavens? We’ll have our answer in a few hours.