Chinks in the Armor: Figuring out the current Metagame

If you’ve been following popular websites like Star City Games, Channel Fireball, or TCGplayer, then you no doubt have seen what the metagame looks like. It’s a mess. Go back a few months and you’d see that the top decks were either GR/Naya beatdown with Primeval Titan and Kessig Wolf Run, or a UW Delver build. Flash forward to post rotation after Return to Ravnica came out and the other cards left the format, and suddenly it’s become anybody’s game. Some are more popular than others (BR Zombies, GW aggro, UWR flash, Frites), but even the decks that aren’t standing at the top have a fair chance of winning a big tournament. Take a look at the Human Reanimator deck from the Nagoya GP, or look at the wide variety of decks that won the States tournaments back in the USA this year. The metagame is ALL over the place and it’s only going to get worse when Gatecrash comes out.

Once Gatecrash is released, we’re going to get a whole new pile of shocklands, and with their arrival we’ll see a new wave of decks that were thought impossible before due to mana restrictions. Will the format be fun and rich? Yes. Will it be difficult to build decks and to prepare for certain events? Definitely. However, if you follow some simple tips you should be in good shape.

  1. Balance – While it’s great to have a super fast deck that can kill your opponent by turn 4, it’s also good to have a back up plan in case that doesn’t work out. This is what decks like midrange try to do, but even then those decks sometimes succumb to super aggressive ones. Having a balanced attack that will let you hit early, middle, and late game will benefit you.
  2. Stabilizing – stabilizing is just like it sounds, when your life is taking a nose dive or the baord is getting out of control, you need a way to bring it back on the level. This could be life gain against aggro decks, or a board wipe in the form of Supreme Verdict that returns to the board state to zero, but whatever it is, it lets you get back into control of the game. Make sure you have ways to stabilize and get yourself out of trouble if you find yourself knee deep in it.
  3. Removal – I talked about this before in another post , but it is very important in a creature heavy metagame. Being able to kill a creature is incredibly important. Sometimes your strategy will hit a brick wall and without removal you could be stopped dead in your tracks. Take a look at your city’s current metagame and plan accordingly. Are they playing a lot of Frites? – Rest in Peace. Are they playing Zombies? – Pillar of Flame.

If you follow this advice and build a sound deck, I think your deck will perform very well against a variety of decks. It’s going to be almost impossible to prepare for anything, so your choice will be to either chose the deck of the weak and hope that you can out perform the top players using the same thing, or taking a different route and building a deck that is great against a wide variety of cards in the current meta.

The Nagoya Metagame Diaries

I played in my first tournament after the GP on Saturday, 12/16 at Hobby Station Mei Eki and went 2-2 at an 11 person event. Tiny and nothing much to talk about. I had tried to build my deck closer to a GW midrange token deck, adding in cards like Borderland Ranger to get more many quickly, but I found out that it became too slow and lacked proper mana fixing with only the Ranger and Avacyn’s Pilgrim.  I lost 1-2 to a GW midrange deck because I kept bad hands, and lost 0-2 to a 4 Color aggro deck due to mulligans. I won my last two games against a Frites and UWR control deck. My friend Chris ended up winning this event with his 4 color control deck. This doesn’t really give you a good idea about the meta, but it did give me some practice and I made some big changes before Sunday’s Big Magic Event.

There were 41 people at Sunday’s event, and many of them were players that finished in the top 128 and made it to day two of Grand Prix Nagoya. This was my first chance to really prove myself against top level players since the GP. Here’s the my redesigned Junk Token deck I used.

“Be Fruitful and Populate” – Standard

Land: (24)

  • 4 Temple Garden
  • 4 Overgrown Tomb
  • 3 Woodland Cemetary
  • 2 Gavony Township
  • 1 Vault of the Archangel
  • 1 Grove of the Gaurdian
  • 4 Sunpetal Grove
  • 2 Plains
  • 3 Forest

Planeswalkers: (5)

  • 2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
  • 2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
  • 1 Vraska The Unseen

Creatures: (11)

  • 4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
  • 4 Thragtusk
  • 1 Trostani, Voice of Selesnya
  • 2 Disciple of Bolas

Artifacts and Enchantments: (5)

  • 4 Intangible Virtue
  • 1 Collective Blessing

Sorceries and Instants: (15)

  • 4 Lingering Souls
  • 2 Call of the Conclave
  • 2 Selesnya Charms
  • 3 Farseek
  • 3 Midnight Haunting
  • 1 Increasing Devotion

Sideboard:

  • 2 Centaur Healer
  • 2 Rest in Peace
  • 1 Intrepid Hero
  • 1 Selesnya Charm
  • 3 Ultimate Price
  • 3 Golgari Charm
  • 2 Tragic Slip
  • 1 Sever the Bloodline

With this deck I went 3-1-1 at Big Magic and finished in 10th place, taking down 2 BR Zombie decks easily, as well as a GW midrange deck. My only loss was to a RW Humans deck, and I tied a UWR Flash player. Overall, there were quite a few UWR flash decks and BR Zombie decks on Sunday. I also saw some Jund, 4 Color Nightshade Peddler, and other GW decks.

Against the GW midrange player, the sheer number of spirits I had destroyed him. GW Midrange lacks any flyers in the air, so if you can go over them and race them (especially with Intangible Virtues in play) you can win this game. For my sideboard against him I played:

+1 Sever the Bloodline, +2 Ultimate Price

– 1 Intangible Virtue, -1 Garruk Primal Hunter, -1 Increasing Devotion

Since my opponent was running Collective Blessing in his deck, I wanted to keep mine in so I could go toe to toe with him. I sped the deck up a little by taking out some heavier spells, and with the addition of Bloodline and Ultimate Price, I was able to take out his creatures at key moments. Killing a Thragtusk before it’s blinked, taking out a Restoration Angel, or removing 3 Loxodon Smiters at the same time with Sever the Bloodline . . . all worked well. I kept the spirits coming early and often and won both games.

It looks as though UWR flash is finding it’s way back into the metagame right now. I ended up drawing 1-1-1 with the player I went up against. All forms of counterspells aside from Dissipate seem to be gone from this deck now. It relies heavily on burn spells like Bonfire of the Damned and Mizzium Mortars to keep the board clean. Its win condition still relies heavily on Runechanters Pike, which makes using Rest in Peace a game ender against them if they don’t counter it. My sideboard against this opponent looked like this:

+2 Rest in Peace, +2 Golgari Charm, +2 Ultimate Price

– 2 Intangible Virtue, -1 Trostani, -1 Vraska, -2 Selesnya Charms

Midnight Haunting was sooooo good in this game. If he counters it I get a free play next turn, if he doesn’t, I can put some real hurt on him before he takes my creatures out. I played my games safely, holding back resources and waiting until a board wipe to bring them back out. I managed to get Disciple of Bolas out once or twice, and his card draw later in the game proved to be really helpful. With Collective Blessing in play, you really don’t need the Virtues.

The WR human game was no contest. He had amazing hands that went T1  Champion of the Parish, T2 Thalia or Precinct Captain, T3 Silverblade Paladin, T4 Riders of Gavony. It was amazingly efficient and I didn’t learn how to side in against it until we played a free match afterwards. Siding in ALL of your removal (Tragic Slip, Ultimate Price, etc) is the best way to beat this kind of deck. Taking out all of your high casting cost cards is also recommended. You need to be lean and mean to beat this deck.

My other two wins came at the defeat of two BR zombies decks. I’ve been fine tuning my deck for the last two weeks to take on the zombie menace, and I think my sideboard is finally ready against them. Cards like Thragtusk, Disciple of Bolas, and Trostani were great to have in my deck, and I also sided in Centaur Healers against them. Spirits played a big role in both matches, as my opponent was unable to deal with flyers in any way. As long as I had enough blockers or gained life, my opponent was in trouble. Another amazing card against zombies is Rest in Peace. It halves the power of a deck that relies on Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger coming back from the grave to deal more damage. To add insult to injury, I managed to get my 8/8 Elemental out in each match, which won me the match whenever he came out. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad was also amazing in this match up, gaining me life while putting tokens into play that could block cards like Knight of Infamy.

My sideboard looked  like this:

+2 Rest in Peace, +1 Golgari Charm, +2 Tragic Slip, + 2 Centaur Healer, 

– 1 Vraska the Unseen, -2 Garruk, Primal Hunter, – 1 Collective Blessing, -1 Increasing Devotion, -2 Selesnya Charm

Overall I was very pleased with how my deck did and think it will perform well in the future. Junk Tokens has access to some of the BEST spot removal in the format, and it also has quite a lot of power. The most powerful cards against the current metagame are:

  1. Rest in Peace – Hurts Zombies, Frites, and Flash strategies. Half of the meta relies on their graveyard.
  2. Midnight Haunting/Lingering Souls – hurts GW aggro, GW Midrange, Zombies, Flash strategies. Not a lot of flyers in the current meta.
  3. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad – hurts control, zombies, and any other deck that relies on fast damage
  4. Ultimate Price – great against all mono colored creatures like Restoration Angel, Hellkite, Hellrider, Silverblade Paladin, Wolfir Silverheart, etc. in a variety of decks.

Addressing the one offs

You’re probably wondering why some cards are in the deck and what purpose they serve. Let me shed some light on the topic.

  • Vraska The Unseen – previous I had Garruk Relentless but he died way too easily after using his ability. I wanted a card that would change the board the moment it was played, and Vraska does that. She can kill the Loxodon Smiter or Restoration Angel where Garruk would die. Her +1 ability also ensures that they have to send at least 2 creatures to deal with AND die with her which is also good. 
  • Intrepid Hero – GW players have wizened up to cards like Selesnya Charm and are keeping their Rancors on their small creatures and keeping their Loxodon Smiters at 4 power. Intrepid Hero gets around this and there are few answers for GW players if he hits the battlefield.
  • Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice – life gain/stabilizing against aggressive decks is so important I just couldn’t do without her. I also want a way to keep the pressure on against an opponent if I’m not drawing good cards.
  • Increasing Devotion – before I said that humans suck in token form, and well the do. However, they only suck if you’re casting them on turn 2 (Gather the Townsfolk). If you’re doing it later on in the game after most removal cards have been used, they become very nasty, especially if you have anthems in play. Devotion gives you a long game if you ended up using it early and the board was wiped.
  • Grove of the Guardian – again, he gives you a long game once most of the removal has been used. Aside from a Victim of Night, Unsummon, or Azorius Charm, there are few ways to get rid of him once he’s on the board. With Trostani in play he becomes a game ender. With other Anthems you’ll blow through their remaining blockers very quickly.

Wrap Up

Hopefully I’ve convinced you a little more to believe in Junk tokens and to give them a chance if you’re looking for a new deck. I also hope that the advice is useful too. I apologize for taking so much time in between posts, but this is the last week  before winter vacation to things are busy. I have another store review coming up this weekend, so look forward to it. I’ll also be working on my podcast and should have it out after the weekend. Thanks for reading and see you next time.

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