Playing Magic in Japan: How different is it from overseas?

I’d like to try something a little different with today’s article. Usually I’m posting about the metagame or other big events, but I don’t post much about the player. I think we players usually get caught up in the same group of people at our favorite game place and that becomes out metagame. Finding places to play in the USA are especially hard because everything is so spread out. Because of this, we usually don’t get a chance to gauge how we play against other play styles, we don’t really get a chance to grow as a player and to let our decks evolve with the metagame.

Today I’d like to start the first of many interviews with foreign players who are currently playing Magic in Japan or played Magic in Japan before. My first volunteer was Brendan from Pennsylvania, USA.
TJH: How long have you been playing in Japan?

I’ve been playing since September of 2011.

TJH: When did you come to Japan/How long have you been here(or were you here)?

I came in August of 2011 , and plan to be here until Mid-July 2012.

TJH: What kind of decks do you use? (ie, standard, Modern) /What colors do you like to use? What is your playing style(ie control, aggro)?
In Standard, I currently use a usual UB Zombies build. Although I don’t play it much, I also have a Merfolk deck for modern. This is all new to me though since I’ve been playing UB control since my start in magic in RoE (Rise of Eldrazi). I’ve also began playing pauper recently and I have a Mono Blue Faeries list sleeved up.

TJH: What deck have you used the most in Japan? Why?
I would have to say my UB control but with the release of Dark Ascension I’ve been playing UB Zombies ever since. I felt that control was losing its edge and I wanted to try something new but within the same colors. This was reinforced a bit with the printing of Cavern of Souls but it seems that it was a case of boy-cried-wolf and is only used as a mana fixer these days.

TJH:  What is your opinion of Magic culture in Japan? (for example, what are the differences in the meta, playing style, and evolution of decks)
I still kept track of the metagame in the United States by reguarly watching the SCG Opens Series and Daily Lists from MTGO. I feel there isn’t much difference between the metagame, but a slight difference in cards used. The Japanese aren’t afraid to try something new as compared to the Western metagame where decks tend to stay the same unless there’s some new breakout card. This also goes with the extreme price differences in cards between Japan and America. In the US, Thragtusk is fetching for about 15 dollars as in Japan its currently 3600 yen, three times that price ($46 USD).

TJH: How have your  decks performed? (how could you explain these results?)
Control was doing fairly well, usually breaking even at tournaments, until the flux of aggro decks where I wasn’t able to keep up. So I switched to the hyper-aggressive Zombies where I’ve been seeing much better results.

TJH:  What kind of difficulties have you had to overcome in Japan while playing Magic?
The obvious being the language barrier but the majority of a Magic game can be played without saying anything. Aside from that, not too much.

TJH: What have you learned/changed about your playing style since you came to Japan?

Don’t be afraid to try something new. What’s the worse that can happen? You learn not to play it!


I met Brendan for the first time at Card Brunch during a Friday Night Magic in late 2011 as he was poking around the single card area. We quickly became friends and play tested regularly. He also had the rare opportunity to take the Lvl 1 Judge examination in Japan and passed it! He helped out the Lvl 2 Judge in Nagoya at a few tournaments as well as Game Day Avacyn Restored. I only just got into competitive Magic last year when I moved to Nagoya in August. With Brendan’s suggestions and constant play testing, I really improved my level of play and deck building skills. I have a lot to thank him for!

I agree with Brendan about the Japanese players’ use of strange cards. You could be playing against what you think is so and so deck from a big tournament, but then you suddenly see new cards that shouldn’t be in there and it totally throws you off. I also think it true that you can play Magic in Japan without a lot of Japanese skills (but it does help if you’re playing against a new player and have to explain something to them, or if somebody hasn’t seen a new card yet). Most players understand the rules so unless you do something wrong you won’t have to use Japanese much.

I also agree that Aggro is the way to go in the current metagame in Japan. Control is having a helluva time winning games in this current environment. The decks here are crazy aggressive. Prices are also inflated in Japan. If anybody plans on visiting in Japan in the future, bring cards instead of cash to exchange, and you’ll save a lot of money. I can help you in Nagoya if you visit for this year’s GP, but be sure to bring good cards to sell!

I plan on interviewing a few more people about their experiences playing Magic in Japan and as I hear back from them I’ll be sure to post their answers here. After a few articles are posted, I’ll consolidate the answers into an overall article so that those people who are interested can get a better view of Magic in Japan. Thanks for reading today’s article!