Taking Hits – Strategies for the RTR and GTC metagame

Yessss!!! Back to the Magic the Gathering posts finally! Right?!? Today I went to a Yokohama Grand Prix trial and did pretty well for myself. Going into the event, I felt like I had a chance to make the top 8, and I ended up finishing in 16th place out of 40 players. A revised sideboard and a lot of experience playing my deck put me in a good position to react to the plays that were being played against a wide variety of decks. These days, you pretty much have to be ready for anything because the current MTG metagame will throw everything at you, including the kitchen sink.

In my previous MTG post, I talked about how the metagame is like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and I still stand by that analogy. But sometimes, JUST sometimes, rock can tear through paper and scissors can’t cut through really thick paper. Today I’m going to talk about how I did at the Grand Prix Trial, as well as strategies I’ve developed to fight against a wide variety of decks. Hopefully you’ll be able to apply some of these suggestions to your own deck and improve your win percentage a few points and win those games that you really shouldn’t have won. First off, my results from today.

Yokohama Grand Prix Trial – 1/12/2013

My first match of the day was against a mono green beat down deck. With only one color, this deck can run fewer lands and pack the deck full of creatures. It’s very fast, and if you’re not careful you can be overwhelmed. Cards like Rancor, Strangleroot Geist, and Predator Ooze are mainstays. This deck has has one goal in mind: To bash your face in as fast as they can with as much power as possible.

I lost 1-2, but only because I kept a bad hand in game 3 without any white mana. Junk tokens has quite a few weapons to beat this deck. Selesnya Charm and Ultimate Price are great, and if you have the mana, Sever The Bloodline can take them out of the game. Basically, what I’m saying is that you need removal. Whatever color you are using, you need removal for this type of deck. The player will keep running after you no matter how much life you gain or creatures you counter.

  • strategy – Against fast aggro decks, your goal is going to be to stablize. They can get your life down to single digits very quickly. Stopping the “bleeding”, setting up a good defense where they can’t attack you anymore, having the numbers to block their assault, or gaining life should be your first step. After that, work on using removal to take out their attackers to the point where they aren’t a threat anymore. Once you’ve gained the upperhand, start chipping away at their life, but be careful not to leave yourself defenseless. Delay (your opponent), Destroy (his creatures or threats), and Develop (your board). If you can do these things, you should fair well against fast aggro decks. 

My second match was against a RWB midrange deck that used various humans like Fiend Hunter and also had Falkenrath Aristocrat, but it wasn’t a human reanimator deck since it lacked Unburial Rites. I made short work of this opponent and went 2-0. He put all his eggs in one basket (Falkenrath Aristocrat), and without that weapon he succumbed to my numbers and constant pressure.

  • Strategy – you probably won’t see too many of these decks, but they are what I like to call “One Hit Wonders”. If you’re playing against a deck that seems to building to just one thing, pay attention and figure out how to beat it. Figuring out what cards are threats to your deck is a good skill. Knowing what to take out with removal, what your creatures can handle, and how to counteract the threats effect will help you to win these decks easily. 

My 3rd match was against UWR beatdown. This is a deck I hadn’t seen for a while. It had cards like Restoration Angel and Geist of Saint Traft, but the pilot of this deck didn’t seem to have developed the deck to compete against various strategies. I won 2-0 easily after siding in cards like Rest in Peace to take out his graveyard and pinpoint removal such as Ultimate Price to take out his biggest threats; Restoration Angel and Hellkite. Aside from those cards, he didn’t have much else going on in the deck.

  • Strategy –  Yes he had the basic cards, but just as before, this was one  of those one hit wonder decks. He wanted to put all his hopes behind Geist of Saint Traft, but with more than enough answers to take care of it, he was stuck playing defense most of the time. Against control, taking out your opponent’s resources (such as their graveyard) with Rest in Peace can win you the game. This deck was more beatdown than control through, however it did use the graveyard to fuel Runechanter’s Pike. Setting up  a good defense is key against these types of decks. Removal is okay, but not 100% necessary. I found myself with a  lot of useless removal sometime. If you’re playing defensively, you can then deduct whether or not your opponent is playing with any removal of his own. If you don’t think they are, don’t be afraid to commit everything to the board so you can beat them as quickly as possible. Sometimes all it takes is attrition – trading your guys for theirs until they have nothing left and you can take them out easily.

Game 4 was against a Bant Hexproof deck, and dear GOD it was nasty. Mono green was only HALF as aggressive as this deck. Against green I actually had time to set up a defense and stablize, but if you miss one step against hexproof you’re a goner. I lost 0-2 after 20 minutes or so.

  • Strategy – these super aggressive decks rely heavily on their early drops. Taking anything and everything in those first few turns is key. Against these decks I would maximize removal. Side in EVERYTHING you have. You need to be drawing it early and often. If you don’t have the necessary removal (ie if their creature has Hexproof or protection from their color), life gain is another strategy. Don’t worry about overwhelming your opponent with numbers because in all likeliness you’ll be dead before you reach critical mass. Just put in life way any way you can. Even if they are putting everything they have into that one unblockable, untargetable creature, if you can negate that damage through life gain each turn while taking their’s down to nothing you can win the game. You can also sidestep these decks but going directly to the source. Target the player head on in a race. Sometimes this works, but it can also be risky. 

In a 6 round tournament, 2-2 means it was pretty much over, but I kept playing anyways. Round 5 was against an acquaintance of mine, and he was using a BR (Rakdos) midrange deck with a vampire theme to push his damage through. Falkenrath Aristocrats, Nighthawks, Stromkirk Nobles, and Stromkirk Captain were his staples. Throwing down 2 Thragtusks after a Trostani made him feel pretty crappy on turn 6. When I started to trade my attackers for his blockers, and his numbers dwindled, I knew I had the game in the bag. I won 2-0 and was 3-2 going into the last match.

  • Strategy – against midrange decks, having a long game is the best thing you can do. If you’re playing a fast deck you’ll probably run out of steam as their deck stabilizes. If you’re playing control you might be able to take out their first few waves of attackers, but without a solid finisher you’ll get overwhelmed eventually. Pacing yourself and not overcommiting to the board, and using your removal only when you need it will help you to beat your opponent. Keep a steady steam of pressure on them and make them use up their cards before dropping your win conditions. If you don’t keep the pressure up, your opponent can suddenly take control of the game and turn it in their favor. This sorta thing happens all the time against Bant aggro/control, as well as reanimator decks. If it looks like you have the upperhand, go for it! Being patient can sometimes backfire on you with midrange decks. 

My last round brought me face to face against a player using Chronic Flooding Angel Reanimator. For those of you that don’t know of this deck, it won the Nagoya Grand Prix last year. It uses the RTR card Chronic Flooding to put 3 cards into the player’s graveyard each time  the land it enchant taps. With such an efficient self milling card, a player can quickly get to his Unburial Rites, and with a graveyard full of humans, reanimating Angel of Glory’s Rise puts about 6 creatures into play on it’s first casting. Cards like Huntmaster of the Fells, Nightshade Peddler, and Izzet Staticaster come into play and wipe out your cards, leaving you wide open to attack. I tried a few things, but being my first time playing against this deck, I had no idea how to play against it. It was strong and kicked my butt quickly, 2 games to 0.

  • Strategy – I can only think of one strategy for combo decks that are explosive as Chronic Flooding frites. I call it the “Silver Bullet” strategy. As you know, Werewolves can only be killed by Silver Bullets. You can throw anything else you want at them, but they’re going to keep coming back for more. A silver bullet strategy is to side in cards that will dismantle your opponent’s strategy in one shot. In this case, Rest in Peace was the silver bullet. I sided in two, but never saw either. Unless your hand is extremely fast and can beat your opponent before turn 4 when shit hits the fan, I’d mulligan until you get a card that will keep you in the game. My fallback was Sever the Bloodline, which helped prolong the game a little more, but in the end I was done for. The silver bullet is risky, because you could leave yourself at a disadvantage if you’re not careful. Decks like this can still hard cast their spells once they have the mana, so know your time frame. It could be on turn 4, 5, or 7. Look at the mana and watch out for the bombs

Other decks contending today

Here is a list of a few other decks that I saw at the Grand Prix trial. Reanimator definitely saw some play today in various forms, and so did bant aggro. Overall, Aggro decks showed up more than control decks, but there was still a good mix of all types of decks. If you want more details on the decks I saw, please ask.

  • Bant control, omnidoor Thragfire, chronic reanimator, Bant sphere of safety, Naya midrange, UWR flash, WG humans, 4 color aggro x2, GW aggro, UW flash, junk aggro

The Top 8:

The top 8 looked like this:

  • mono green (the one I lost to in the first round), Rakdos aggro, GBW reanimator, Naya aggro, GB aggro, frites, WRB tokens, UWR flash

It was a very healthy top 8 if you ask me and shows how crazy (and balanced) the metagame is. You have 2 fast decks (Mono green and Rakdos Aggro), 3 Midrange (Naya aggro, GB aggro, WRB Tokens), 2 Reanimator (Frites and GBW Reanimator), and a control deck (UWR flash). I think midrange decks are set up better to do well in the current metagame. If you’re looking to build a new deck, use something that has a good mid and long game and that can stabilize quickly against aggressive decks, but also has some reach so you can compete against control decks that try to control the board later on in the game.

Looking Ahead

Even though I finished 3-3 (16th place) I feel more confident with my deck than I have in a long time. With only two weeks left until the Gatecrash pre-release and around 100 cards spoiled so far, I’m already letting my brewing wheels spin. I won’t do a full on review next time, but I’d like to share some deck ideas in my next post with cards from Gatecrash and how I think they’ll fit in to the metagame. 

Thanks for reading and check back in a few days for more info on Gatecrash!