The Japan Metagame Diaries: Grand Prix Key-Ta-Q-Shoe

I realize that it can be difficult for foreigners to pronounce Japanese names sometimes, so I wanted to make sure you know how it’s said. When watching coverage of Magic events, I tend to cringe whenever somebody tries to say a Japanese player’s name (other than Saito, Nakamura, and Watanabe). My name is also notoriously difficult to say by native English speakers and Japanese, so I can feel their pain. By the time you read this article, Grand Prix Kitakyushu will be just around the corner. On August 24th and 25th, players from all around Asia will arrive in Fukuoka prefecture to make a name for themselves. However, only one player, Martin Juza, has ever won a GP in Japan. Every other win was by a Japanese player, and there have been many Grand Prix in the land of the rising sun. Aside from America, Japan has the second most wins (72) by any country at a Grand Prix. They’ve dominated inside of Japan, as well as many parts of Asia such as in the Philippines and Thailand.

Kitakyushu probably isn’t going to be on anybody’s radar this August, in fact, Wizards of the Coast hasn’t even chosen to cover it on their website. What you’ll see are deck lists from the top 8/ top 16 and the name of the winner afterwards. If you want to know what’s going on during Grand Prix Kitakyushu, I’ll be tweeting between rounds and sharing pictures throughout the first day and some of the second day. You can follow me on Twitter @yoschwenky. I personally think we will see some new archetypes or an exciting twist on a well known standard deck after GP Kitakyushu. Yuji Okita’s Human reanimator totally defined the standard metagame for a few weeks following GP Nagoya. Another reason to follow my coverage is to get a glimpse of the major Japanese players. Yuuya Watanabe, Shuhei Nakamura, Kenji Tsumura, Saito Tomoharu, Yuuta Takahashi, and dozens of other semi-pros should be in attendance.

The Current Japan Metagame

GP Warsaw on August 10th and 11th will have a big impact on what sees play in Kitakyushu. At the moment, UWR control, Jund midrange, and Naya midrange have been doing really well in Japan. Both Jund control and UWR control had very large showings at the Magic World Championship, so I think it will still be big in a few weeks. The question is whether or not their power will be waning. GBW Aristocrats, GR blitz, GW/GR Elf Garruk Caller, and reanimator are all waiting in the wings to supplant them, but there are tons of new decks being brewed right now that also might have a chance. BRW Aggro with Lifebane Zombie and Silverblade Paladin, WB Human tokens, and GW aggro could surprise us at the GP as well.

I’ve been continuing to play my GW token midrange build, and my most recent build just won me a Grand Prix Trial for Kitakyushu! It was only a 20 person event, but I went 6-1-1 with it and totally dominated the top 8, going 2-0 in each round.

GW Token Midrange
By Ryan Schwenk, 1st place at GP trial for Kitakyushu, 8/4/13
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Plains
9 Forest
4 Temple Garden
1 Grove of the Guardian
2 Gavony Township

24 lands

4 Loxodon Smiter
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
2 Armada Wurm
1 Voice of Resurgence
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Restoration Angel
4 Thragtusk
4 Arbor Elf
1 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice

26 creatures

1 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
4 Advent of the Wurm
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
3 Oblivion Ring

10 other spells

1 Pithing Needle
3 Unflinching Courage
2 Selesnya Charm
2 Rootborn Defenses
2 Triumph of Ferocity
3 Witchstalker
2 Rest in Peace

15 sideboard cards

The lack of fast aggro in the format has freed up a lot of space in my deck that I had otherwise been devoting to life gain (in order to stay in the game against Naya and Gruul blitz). Here are the changes I made:

  • -1 Plains / +1 Gavony Township – I realized that I didn’t need as many Plains as I had before, so I took one out in exchange for a Gavony Township. This has worked out well, as it lets me pump up my mana creatures and put pressure on my opponent regardless of what I have on the battlefield.
  • -1 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice / +1 Voice of Resurgence – I opened one in a pack so I decided to use it for the heck of it. It’s one of the best cards in Magic right now, and to NOT play it in a Selesnya deck is a travesty. If I had $150 to spend, I’d complete the playset, but I’m not rich.
  • -2 Selesnya Charm / +2 Scavenging Ooze – I was sorely missing a two drop to play if I don’t draw a Loxodon Smiter in my opening hand. Ooze has been absolutely amazing in my deck so far. A full playset might be worth playing in this deck.
  • -1 Garruk, Primal Hunter / +1 Ajani, Caller of the Pride – this deck was sorely lacking speed against control decks like UWR and Jund, and Ajani puts them in a VERY dangerous situation early if you can put him down turn 2, play an Advent of the Wurm on turn 3, then give the 5/5 Trample token flying and double strike on turn 4. He’s already won me one game like that, and I think he’ll help me to break through a lot of stalemate situations, as well as give me a cheap way to put out tons of tokens against control after a Supreme Verdict.

From the sideboard I changed around a few things too.

  • -2 Acidic Slime / +2 Triumph of Ferocity – the slime was NEVER getting sided in against any of my opponents, so I decided to take it out for Triumph in order to get card advantage against decks like Esper and UWR control where the biggest creature they play is usually a 3/4.
  • -1 Pithing Needle, -1 Unflinching Courage, -1 Rest in Peace / +3 Witchstalker – I realized I didn’t need the 2nd Needle, and with the drop off in Reanimator and Aristocrat decks I didn’t need Rest in Peace as much (plus I have the Scavenging Ooze in the main board) either. Blitz decks have also been tapering off, which allows me to drop one of the Unflinching Courages. In their place I have put 3 Witchstalker. It’s helped me out immensely against Jund, giving me a way to hurt them a lot before they can put out an Olivia or wipe the board with a Bonfire of the Damned. It is also great against UWR and Esper control because it stops them from casting Azorius Charm on it or any other type of removal. It’s not the best solution, but it has been steadily improving my win percentage against those decks.

I made all these changes after going 1-4 the day before at another Grand Prix Trial. Saturday, August 3rd was a horrible day for me, getting a game loss for forgetting to write “Forest” on my deck list, as well as losing to Gruul blitz, 2 UWR control decks, and an Esper control deck. Here’s a quick run down of how things happened on Sunday at the SECOND Grand Prix Trial that I ended up winning.

  1. GR Elves (lost 1-2) – This deck caught me off guard and I ended up losing to it. I had expected it to be GW elves or straight green, but the player decided to go with red for cards like Mizzium Mortars and Bonfire of the Damned. I also kept a mediocre hand that couldn’t keep up with the speed of 12 elves in his deck. I beat him game one due to overwhelming his smaller creatures with an army of Wurm tokens, but he then went 2-0 afterwards to get me off to a bad start.
  2. GBW control (won 2-0) – this wasn’t a tier 1 deck, not even a tier 2 deck, but it did have some interesting combos. He was playing Primeval Bounty, Putrefy, and lots of other removal spells like Mutilate, but I simply had too much card advantage with Garruk, Primal Hunter and put tons of pressure on him early with Loxodon Smiters and Advent of the Wurm tokens.
  3. BRW control (won 2-1) – This deck was more of a hinderance than anything else. The player’s deck was stacked with removal spells like Doom Blade, Pillar of Flame, Mizzium Mortars, and Blasphemous Act. While he was able to slow me down by killing my mana creatures and early drops, I simply put down too much power on the table, and after sideboarding in a Rootborn Defense, his Bonfire of the Damned and Acts were useless. His win came from the Boros Reckoner/Blasphemous Act combo. I was sure not to let him do that a second time.
  4. BRW aggro (won 2-0) – This was a scary deck, even if I went 2-0 against it. It wasn’t an Aristocrats deck, which I thought it was originally. Instead, it played more like a GW aggro deck (as strangely as that sounds). His key cards were Lifebane Zombie, Falkenrath Aristocrat, and Silverblade Paladin. He also had an Ajani, Caller of the Pride in his deck for good measure. I found myself on the ropes at one point, hovering at 4 life and in danger of dying to a top deck of Aristocrat or Ajani, but I managed to draw an Oblivion Ring and take out his threats, then play a Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice to gain life back and populate tokens for the win. Timely Oblivion Rings saved my butt on more than one occasion.
  5. BUG control (intentional draw, 0-0-1) – we drew this match to get into the top 8.

The top 8 of the event was GW midrange, mono red, bant hexproof, BUG control, BRW aggro, Naya midrange, GW token midrange (me), and BW tokens.

Top 8: Mono Red (won 2-0) -The first round paired me against my friend Keith and his blistering fast mono red deck. We’ve played before though, so he was pretty unhappy about the match up. He knew I had Thragtusks and Trostani in my main deck, and that his creatures could in NO way match up to mine if I accelerated into them. I win the die roll and first game he gets me down to 15 early after attacks from Stromkirk Noble and Ash Zealot. I end dropping an Advent of the Wurm on turn 3 with my mana dork and blocking his attackers, and after that I proceed to cast a Thragtusk and a few Restoration Angels in the following turns to put me up 1-0. Game two is pretty much the same way. He gets me down in life, I play an Advent of the Wurm and block his creature, attack the next turn to put him at 15. He attacks on his next turn and I play another Advent of the Wurm to block and kill his creature with, and on the following turn I play an Ajani, Caller of the Pride and give flying and double strike to my 5/5 wurm token to end the match. Not bad.

Top 4: Bant Hexproof (won 2-0) – This match up is always a 50/50 match up for me. If my opponent is on the play and gets an Invisible Stalker into play on turn 2, then proceeds to put Ethereal Armors and Rancors on it, I’m pretty much done for. Luckily my opponent tapped in lands on his first two turns, allowing me to put out some mana creatures and get a turn 2 Loxodon Smiter into play. It was still outclassed by his Geist of Saint Traft with a Rancor and Ethereal Armor, but those two turns were all I needed. He tirelessly attacked me, getting me down to about 4 life as I hit him with my Smiter each turn. I managed to land an Advent of the Wurm token on turn 4, and then with a Smiter and 2 mana creatures in play, I had enough on the board to do lethal with a Gavony Township. I barely won game 1. In game 2, I sided in my Unflinching Courages and that proved to be all I needed. I was lucky to get one in my opening hand with a Loxodon Smiter. I played Smiter on turn 2, courage on turn 3, and then it was nearly impossible for my opponent to do anything with his turn 2 Invisible Stalker. Game. Match. Set. I was off to the finals.

The Finals

I was feeling like I had a chance to get to the top 8 at the beginning of the day after battling back from my first loss, but there was never a glimmer of hope that I’d get into the finals yet there I was. I had amazing match ups in the top 8 (if I make if there, I’m usually favored to win over the other decks), and my final opponent was Nogimura Ryo, a native of Nagoya. He’s a very technical and talented player, and had made it to the finals with an original BUG control deck. It’s not often that you find a non UWR or UWB control deck in standard, so I was caught a little off guard.

BUG control
2nd place, GP Kitakyushu Trial, 8/4/13
1 Swamp
4 Drowned Catacomb
1 Forest
1 Nephalia Drownyard
3 Breeding Pool
3 Woodland Cemetery
4 Watery Grave
3 Hinterland Harbor
1 Mutavault
4 Overgrown Tomb

25 lands

3 Thragtusk
3 Scavenging Ooze
3 Snapcaster Mage
1 Aetherling

10 creatures

1 Gaze of Granite
1 Vraska the Unseen
3 Think Twice
3 Farseek
1 Cyclonic Rift
1 Doom Blade
2 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Primeval Bounty
2 Ratchet Bomb
2 Dissipate
1 Sever the Bloodline
2 Putrefy
2 Tragic Slip
3 Far // Away

25 other spells

1 Notion Thief
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Duress
2 Barter in Blood
2 Negate
1 Gaze of Granite
2 Golgari Charm
1 Ratchet Bomb
2 Pithing Needle

15 sideboard cards

Playing black, blue, and green gives you access to kill spells, mana fixing, life gain, as well as counter spells. Nogimura had a little bit of each in there. He won the die roll and went first, and for the first few turns he used Farseek and built up his mana base, using Doom Blade and Putrefy to destroy my first 2 threats on turn 2 and 3. We both were able to keep Scavenging Oozes on the table and for a while we were cleaning up each other’s graveyards, but I eventually pulled away by playing Voice of Resurgence, Armada Wurm, and Advent of the Wurm. I ended up having too much for him to deal with, and he had to scoop and head onto game 2 when he didn’t draw the removal he needed.

The second match went a little better for him. He was able to get out a Vraska the Unseen and a Thragtusk, but I was able to apply a lot of pressure on him early with 2 Advent of the Wurm 5/5 tokens. He had to trade his Thragtusk for one of the tokens, and tap out for a Aethering the following turn. Bad choice, because I was able to use Oblivion Ring on it and take it out of the equation. I kept beating away at him, he played a Primeval Bounty and managed to stay in the game a little longer thanks to 3/3 beast tokens and Snapcaster Mage, but in the end I simply had more than he could deal with. The other players in the room were shocked that I was declared the winner, and so was I.

The GPT was only 20 players, but it was still a great boost of confidence for me. I stand at 711 points on the season (which ends on August 11th), and I’ve managed to solve some of the problems my deck had been having against the metagame. UWR and Esper control are still my boogeymen, but I think I have increased my win percentages against them considerably so that it won’t be a blow out the next time we play. I only need 39 points to get a bye for my team at GP Kyoto in November, but more importantly I have 2 byes waiting for me at GP Kitakyushu in 2 weeks! Things are looking better than they ever have for me as a professional Magic player, and I feel like there is a good chance of making day 2 of the Grand Prix!

This weekend is Magic Game Day for M14, and I will be heading Tokyo to test my skills against players up there. I’m planning on checking out quite a few new stores while I’m there, so next week the articles will be chock full of the pictures and my thoughts of the Magic scene up there. Send me a tweet if you’re in the area and want to meet up!


Good luck at Game Day!