Fantasy Basho Draft Guide: Natsu 2019
Although Fantasy Basho is a fairly simple game, pick four sumo wrestlers and accumulate points from their performance, Sumo is a rather particular sport. It's got it's own weird terms, traditions that somehow impact the matches, and can throw up surpise performances every basho. With that in mind, here are some guidelines for drafting. These apply generally to every basho, but this will take the lessons to the upcoming Natsu Basho.
1. Trust the Banzuke, Generally Speaking
The Banzuke is, in theory, a fairly strict ranking based on a wrestler's most recent performances. You win, you go up; you lose, you go down. Additionally, the more you win or lose, the more you should move in the rankings. That should make the Banzuke a good guide as to a sekitori's ability.
On the other hand, sometimes a rikishi can get overpromoted or overdemoted. If someone faces very different competition, it is only reasonable that their performance will be very different. Those occasions are rare, and most rikishi go up or down one rank, settling into the correct spot.
2. The Last Basho Won't Predict This One
It can be very tempting to think a rikishi who got double-digit wins last time out is on a roll and will keep on winning. Sadly, that isn't usually the case. Just look at the big winners in the Maegashira ranks for Haru. Aoiyama got 12 wins after just 7 at Hatsu. Kotoshogiku's 11 wins came on the back of 6 in January. Most notably, Ichinojo got his 14 wins even though he only managed 6 the previous basho.
It works the other way, too. Kaisei's 3 wins in Osaka came after getting 10 wins the previous basho. Sadanoumi's miserable 5 wins came on the heels of a solid 9. Most strikingly, Tamawashi fell from a Yusho-winning 13 in January to a less than spectacular 5 wins. Look at the recent performance of rikishi over a few basho and you are much less likely to be disappointed.
3. Beware the Joi
In Japanese, joi-jin means, roughly speaking, the "high rankers." Loosely, that refers to the top rikishi who must all face each other. However, the Sanyaku, the highest ranked and titled wrestlers, are rarely referred to as the "joi." That appellation usually goes to the top Maegashira, usually 1-4 in numbered rank, that will end up facing all of the Ozeki and Yokozuna.
To put it more simply, the upper Maegashira get pummeled. The way matchups are made, a Meagashira 3 will likely only face wrestlers ranked higher on the Banzuke. Therefore, they are not significantly likely to pile up a huge number of wins. Sorry to Hokutofuji, Kotoshogiku, Endo, Daieisho, Chiyotairyu, Tamawashi, Okinoumi, and Abi.
4. The Curse of Being a Komusubi
Ideally, the first matchup any Yokozuna has is with a Komusubi, and with two Yokozuna, both Komusubi will begin the basho with two days of Yokozuna matchups. (Assuming everyone is healthy.) From there, they take a tour of all the other Sanyaku. That's a week of facing literally the best of the best.
Not only does that often lead to a rough first-week record, it can also make a Komusubi get off his sumo. Or maybe beat up. So even though Komusubi earned a lofty rank with great performances, they only get to see anyone ranked below them after they've been through the wringer.
5. Someone Will Dominate the Bottom
The Banzuke features 42 wrestlers, but the tournament has only 15 matches. With the intention of facing only those at the same level, the ranks of Maegashira 10 to 17 form their own mini-league. Someone has to win that league, and usually someone does to a significant degree.
There are a few caveats here. First, predicting who that will be is tough. Second, usually when someone does put up wins, they face harder competition in the second week. The most important thing to remember is that the bottom of the Banzuke will hold some surprises, and it's the spot where flyers are worth it.