The Japan Metagame Diaries: Picking up the Pieces

Sakabe Kyohei, using Aristocrats, wins the 4th and final spot for team Japan on June 3rd, 2013

Kusakabe Kyohei, using an Aristocrats build, wins the 4th and final spot for team Japan on June 3rd, 2013

On June 2nd and June 3rd, Over 600 players descended on Nagoya, Japan for the final World Magic Cup Qualifier and a Pro Tour Theros Qualifier. Among them were many legends and professionals: Shuhei Nakamura, Katsuhiro Mori, Saito, Sunao Nakai (team member from Japan’s 2012 Magic Cup team).  It was kind of intimidating and also thrilling to be in such close vicinity to such great players.  I played in both events, doing 18 rounds total, wearing myself extremely thin doing so and learning a lot about choosing decks and match ups at the same time. For pictures and notes about both events, check out my Twitter (  I’d like to use this post to talk about the shortcomings of some cards and strategies that I used and how they figure into the current metagame.


I went into the World Magic cup with my friend Chris on Saturday with good expectations. My friend went 6-3 with a GWB reanimator deck at the WMCQ, and beat Shuhei Nakamura in the second round and finished in the top 60. I didn’t fair as well though. (NOTE: That was Shuhei’s only loss of the day. He finished 14th with a 8-1 record and missed out because of the round 2 loss. Needless to say, my friend’s win will become legendary amongst players here in Nagoya.)  I had been finishing near the top of events, winning a number of  FNMs, and also doing well at larger events of 20+ people. I felt really good about my RWB Vampire Midrange deck, thinking I could get at least 5 wins out of it but I was in for a rude awakening.

Good blood Bad blood
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Cavern of Souls
Clifftop Retreat
Vault of the Archangel
Blood Crypt
Godless Shrine
Sacred Foundry
Dragonskull Summit
Isolated Chapel

24 lands

Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Vampire Nighthawk
Tithe Drinker
Olivia Voldaren
Boros Reckoner
Stromkirk Captain
1 Bloodline Keeper

4 Cartel Aristocrat

23 creatures

Blasphemous Act
Orzhov Charm
Underworld Connections
Pillar of Flame

13 other spells

Rest in Peace
Boros Charm
Sire of Insanity
3 Sin Collector
Slaughter Games
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Pithing Needle
Blasphemous Act

15 sideboard cards

Round after round I found myself losing close games, unable to finish my opponent. I finished 3-6 with this deck, and around 163rd place out of 386 players.

  1. Round 1 – Frites – lost 2-0. I mulliganed to 5 first game and fell behind as my opponent use Angel of Serenity to lock me down early. The 2nd game was too slow which allowed him hard cast everything. I had sided in Slaughter Games to take care of his Angel of Serenity and Thragtusk, but I never drew them which lead to a bad finish.
  2. Round 2 – BR Heartless Summoning – won 2-0. My opponent was mana screwed the first game, and in the second game he couldn’t deal with all the creatures I had. My deck functions pretty well as an aggro deck when I get the cards and curve out with my hand.
  3. Round 3 – RDW (Red Deck Wins) – lost 0-2. I did what you shouldn’t do against aggressive aggro decks and kept slow hands. I kept subpar hands in both games and got burned to a crisp before I knew it.
  4. Round 4 – Esper control – lost 0-2. This just wasn’t my lucky day. I couldn’t draw anything and got out tempoed by my opponent thanks to Azorius Charm and Sphinx’s Revelation. I could have sided in more aggressively against control, but I didn’t and paid the price for it. Slaughter Games would have been nice, but I didn’t side it in.
  5. Round 5 – Naya blitz – won 2-0. I’ve had a lot of practice against this deck so it was a strong match up for me. Life gain and removal are great these types of strategies. Blasphemous Act utterly destroyed blitz in both games.
  6. Round 6 – Bant flash – lost 2-0. Should have been a win but I couldn’t finish him at 1 life. 2nd game kept a 2 land hand. Must have 3!!!), Naya midrange (won 2-1. Met a guy named Ryo. Removal did well this game), Naya ramp (lost 1-2. Didn’t have enough removal to take out his Reckoners. Take out cartels for more removal? Maybe a merciless eviction for Reckoners.)
  7. Round 7 – Esper control – Lost 0-2. This deck had absolutely no creatures and was based around tempo, card draw, and board wipes. It was full of Supreme Verdicts, Terminus, and Planar Cleansing. This was an extremel long, grinding game and I was glad to be done with it.
  8. Round 8 – Naya Midrange – won 2-1. Drawing my removal early, I slowed down his turns and easily took control of this match, especially after siding in the Blasphemous Acts and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. This was a case of my deck doing well, and also facing a Naya deck that did NOT have Voice of Resurgence or Bonfire of the Damned.
  9. Round 9 – Naya Ramp – lost 1-2. I lost this game mostly because I couldn’t answer for his Boros Reckoner’s in time. If I had more removal, this could have gone differently but that’s all in hindsight.

Playing an unknown deck at a large event can be fun and lead to some interesting situations, but you have to be careful. Consistency and efficiency are incredibly important when building a deck. While I had good luck playing at lower level events around town with this deck, when it came time to prove itself the problems that showed up were glaring.

To keep it short, this deck wanted to do a few things, namely be Vampire Aggro and RWB control, but it was spread too thin and had trouble finishing games against control and sometimes fell short of removal to deal with aggro. If I had another chance, I’d probably drop the Aristocrats and Boros Reckoners, add in some more more removal and a few more Vampires to make it a consistent Vampire aggro deck instead of midrange.

The cards that did really well in this deck were Pillar of Flame (good against one drops and Voice of Resurgence), Tithe Drinker, Vampire Nighthawk, and Stromkirk Captain. Against an aggro heavy meta, the first strike addition to all my vampires, as well as the life gain, proved to be substantial in my wins. One card I had trouble dealing with (and saw a lot of) was Angel of Serenity. It always screwed up my tempo, and let me opponent get back in the game. You can be sure it will be big in the next few months.

Hitting Rock Bottom

After the sheer number of Frites/Reanimator decks, control, and other midrange decks, I BELIEVED that it would be a good idea switch to control myself. I had been playing around with a Grixis deck over the past few weeks, and with all of the available removal in red, blue, and black, I thought it would be a good idea. Again, I was very wrong. I finished 4-5, which was an improvement over Saturday’s big tournament, but I wish I had played a different deck when all was said and done.

Grixis Control, PTQ Theros, 89th place


  • 3 Crypt Incursion
  • 2 Negate
  • 2 Jace, Memory Adept
  • 1 Dreadbore
  • 2 Blasphemous Act
  • 2 Dispel
  • 1 Aetherling
  • 2 Notion Thief

Main (35)

  • 4 Think Twice
  • 4 Augur of Bolas
  • 4 Pillar of Flame
  • 3 Far//Away
  • 3 Turn//Burn
  • 2 Desecration Demon
  • 2 Olivia Voldaren
  • 4 Mizzium Mortars
  • 3 Snapcaster Mage
  • 2 Syncopate
  • 2 Jace, Architect of Thought
  • 1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
  • 1 Aetherling

Land (25)

  • 1 Desolate Lighthouse
  • 1 Nephalia Drownyard
  • 4 Steam Vents
  • 4 Sulfur Falls
  • 4 Watery Grave
  • 4 Drowned Catacomb
  • 3 Blood Crypt
  • 3 Dragonskull Summit
  • 1 Mountain

New cards like Far//Away, Turn//Burn, and Aetherling make Grixis a force to be reckoned with again. When this deck is working it’s one tough mother to beat, but without the proper balance it can fail miserably as well. My first two glaring mistakes were the inclusion of Desecration Demon and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. I had originally had Niv Mizzet, Dracogenius in the demon’s spot, but after some switching around, he fell out of the list (probably because I was doing this late at night the day before and was delirious after 9 rounds). This ended up being a mistake since it hurt me  in the late game when I wasn’t able to draw cards. There were a few games where he definitely would have made a difference. Nicol Bolas tended to be overkill and too late in most match ups, and probably should have been replaced by a Jace, Memory Adept in the main. I had problems drawing cards all day.

  1. Round 1 – Jund control – lost 1-2. This was a pretty close game. My removal spells kept me in the game for a long time, but the lack of decent card draw doomed me in the 3rd match up.
  2. Round 2 – RWB Human Reanimator – lost 0-2. This loss came mostly because of sideboard errors. I initially thought it was Aristocrats because I saw Cartel Aristocrats and tons of Champions of the Parish, and sided against it, but those changes led to me targeting the wrong creatures and getting in trouble without any life gain in my deck.
  3. Round 3 – GR blitz – Lost 0-2. There were a lot more blitz and GR aggro decks at the PTQ than at the WMCQ, and there was absolutely no way for me to beat this deck without a perfect hand of removal spells. Even siding in Crypt Incursion for life gain wasn’t enough to counteract a Burning Tree Emissary into 3 more creatures on turn 2.
  4. Round 4 – GR Aggro – lost 1-2. This deck was a little slower than the blitz decks I faced, but it still had a lot of the same threats (just with more non creature spells).
  5. Round 5 – BYE – At 0-4, I probably should have dropped but I was in it for the points. Yay for 20 points.
  6. Round 6 – No Show (Won 2-0). Hey, I was on a roll at this point! An opponent dropped and didn’t put it on the slip, so I lucked out. I was now 2-4, but I had YET to actually win a match which was extremely frustrating.
  7. Round 7 – GR Blitz – Lost 0-2. I played again YET ANOTHER Blitz deck and the results were the same. It was too fast, I didn’t have any life gain, and I ran out of removal. Boo.
  8. Round 8 – Unexpected Results – Win 2-1. This was an extremely fun deck to play against. I lost the first game due to my opponent getting out a Door to Nothingness and then a Temporal Mastery, but afterwards I took out his Jace Memory Adepts and other win conditions methodically to win 2 in a row. Notion Thief ended up proving to be an excellent sideboard card against Sphinx’s Revelation.
  9. Round 9 – Bant Control – Won 2-1. I ended up drawing more than my opponent in these games to get the upper hand. It was close though.

Lack of card draw and life gain doomed this deck against an aggro heavy field. I still think Grixis is a viable deck type, but the correct combination of cards is still missing. Without Sphinx’s Revelation you lose both of those, but you do pick up more finishers such as Olivia Voldaren and a stronger sideboard with cards like Notion Thief and Slaughter Games. Once the Innistrad block cards rotate out, I think we’ll finally see some decent Grixis decks that merge the best of UWR and Esper control decks together (minus the $30 Sphinx’s Revelation).

Picking up the Pieces

After losing both days, I was feeling kind of down on my luck. Whenever I lose badly with decks, I tend to go into brew mode to try and overcome my weaknesses. Over the weekend I saw quite a lot of aggro, and aggro tended to do the best at the top tables. By the end of both days, Aggro decks such as Naya aggro, Naya Blitz, and GW aggro were reigning supreme. If I want to compete, I have to be able to accelerate quickly, have life gain against aggressive decks, finish the game in mirror matches or control matches, as well as put threats on the board that my opponent has to waste his removal on. What I came up with is a hodge-podge of standard Selesnya staples in a deck I like to call Token Surge.

Token Surge
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Temple Garden
Sunpetal Grove
Gavony Township
Grove of the Guardian

24 lands

Loxodon Smiter
Arbor Elf
Acidic Slime
Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
Restoration Angel
Avacyn’s Pilgrim
Armada Wurm

4 Thragtusk

29 creatures

Selesnya Charm
Garruk, Primal Hunter

7 other spells

Rootborn Defenses
Rest in Peace
Oblivion Ring
Angel of Serenity
Renounce the Guilds
Unflinching Courage

15 sideboard cards

  • Turn 1: There were a few things I learned about the metagame right now. Aggro is big, the faster you hit, the harder you hit, the better. This means you need to get those threats out QUICK. Mana Acceleration in the form of Arbor Elf and Avacyn’s Pilgrim has been doing the job well for a while, and at the moment they are better than Farseek in this hyper fast aggro meta. At least they can block if needed.
  • Turn 2: Once the Mana creatures are in play, getting a Loxodon Smiter on the battlefield on turn 2 is a snap. Putting a 4/4 creature on the battle on turn 2 gives you a huge wall against aggro decks, forcing them to use removal against you the following turn or to not even attack at all. You could also play a Selesnya Charm to block an opponent’s creature too, but it’s probably better to save that for later on.
  • Turn 3: This is where it gets interesting. With 3 mana, and possibly 2 mana dorks, turn 3 could be the turning point of a game. A turn 3 Thragtusk. A turn 3 Garruk, Primal Hunter, a turn 3 Acidic Slime – all of these choices have a huge impact on turn 3 (especially Slime if you’re playing against a control or midrange deck). These aren’t your only choices, but they are probably your best. Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice is a good card against beatdown decks to help you gain back any lost life, but you definitely want to play one of those aforementioned cards first if you don’t need life.
  • Turn 4: This is where the deck’s power really starts to come out. By turn 4 you can be blinking your Slime or Thragtusk with a Restoration Angel, drawing cards with Garruk, and playing Armada Wurm as well if you want the power. The Scion of Vitu-Ghazi could also be a good play here if your Thragtusk was killed in the last attack phase. It lets you populate the board with tokens (3/3 Beasts, 2/2 Knights, etc), and also puts a decent body or blockers in the air if you need them.

Those first 4 turns are pretty important. Selesnya is able to put huge threats on the battlefield quickly, giving this a distinct advantage against blitz and burn decks. It also has the ability to put pressure on control decks early and consistently (as long as you don’t over extend and play all your cards when you know a Supreme Verdict is coming on turn 4). Tokens are also a good against tempo decks using cards like Unsummon and Azorius Charm. 

The other decks that were dominating the Japanese meta a few weeks ago, Reanimator and Jund control/midrange, are also good match ups for this deck. White and Green gives you all the tools you’ll need against reanimator (Rest in Peace, Selesnya Charm for their big creatures), while the sheer number of creatures in this deck make it difficult for Jund to keep up unless they get a Bonfire of the Damned or wipe the board with an overloaded Mizzium Mortars. Even then it’s not sure to hit everything. Unflinching Courage should be a good card to use when you’re racing decks like hexproof (that pretty much lose to large amounts of life gain), and Angel of Serenity is great for getting rid of creatures you don’t want to touch with a 10 foot pole. 

The benefit or running this deck is two fold. First off, I believe running two colors makes this deck more consistent which is important when you need to draw the right lands and hit your land drops. People have been getting incredibly greedy with 3 and even 4 color decks, making their mana base fragile and vulnerable to land destruction strategies based around Acidic Slime. A well timed slime can cripple an opponent and give you just the edge you need. The colors also give you a lot of weapons in the main and sideboard against a number of decks.The other benefit  is that it’s balanced against a wide variety of decks. It has big creatures, token creators, life gain, and in the sideboard it has cards that take care of a lot of the problem cards in the format.

Shuhei Nakamura read the metagame pretty well that weekend I think. Using GW aggro, he finished 8-1 and capitalized on players using aggressive (but small creatured) blitz decks and slower midrange decks that couldn’t deal with his speed. His deck consisted largely of Loxodon Smiters, Silverblade Paladins, and Sublime Angels, and along with Selesnya Charm and Faith’s Shield he was able to consistently push damage through to win the game. He was on to something, and in the near future I think we’ll see more two color decks focusing on power and reliability instead of speed and quick kills. With another few weeks until the next Pro Tour Theros Qualifier in my area, I hope I’m right!

Thanks for reading and sorry for the delay in posting this article. Work has been killer,  but as it tapers off I’ll be focusing more on the Japanese metagame and bringing it right to you. See you next time!