Grand Prix Kyoto: Big Pond, Little Fish

Grand Prix Kyoto started for me weeks in advance. I had been practicing team sealed with players around Nagoya for the last 3 weekends, and I felt like I had a pretty good idea how to play it. My teammates didn’t get as much practice in due to time constraints and distance issues, but nevertheless we felt like we had a good handle on the set. Before that, we had issues finding a hotel room (there was nothing available, even 2 months before the event thanks to the weekend being both a national holiday and peak season for viewing the changing leaves in Kyoto). Luckily, our rookie teammate Rajib knew some people living in the city and we had a place to stay. Things seemed to be falling into place. I had sent my team’s DCI numbers to the organizer and a week later I had double checked and confirmed that we were registered, and I had bought my bullet train tickets. The one draw back was that I had to work until 8pm on Friday, which meant I would miss that day’s events and not arrive until about 10:30 pm. It wasn’t until after work finished that things started going wrong for me and my team.

Arriving at Kyoto Station at 9:30 pm

Arriving at Kyoto Station at 9:30 pm

Around 8:10 pm on Friday, my teammates told me that we couldn’t confirm our registration because we didn’t have a form with a number on it that the organizer was supposed to give to us (which I never got from them). Therefore my team had to register again and we missed out on the free playmats. Once I arrived in Kyoto and met up with my team, things calmed down a bit. We talked strategy, played some standard, and went to bed around 1 am (which was too late considering we had to be up at 6:30 am to get ready and head to the event hall.

Day 1

Pulse Plaza Kyoto

Pulse Plaza Kyoto

We made it to the event with about 15 minutes to spare and walked around for a bit. I saw quite a few players I knew from Nagoya, as well as my old friend who had just returned from the USA to work up at Fukui. I had helped him onto my other friend’s team that had a last second cancellation and needed to fill the spot or cancel everything. Just in case, we double checked that we were registered, and then sat down. It was my friend Rajib’s first Grand Prix and he seemed somewhat overwhelmed at the size of it all. Both my other teammate Jaramiah and I gave advice and suggestions to help him with his first experience. In my opinion, having friends with you throughout the day really helps calm your nerves. When everything is up to you, it can be incredibly nerve wracking, but when you have a team to support you things don’t seem as bad as they could be.

The Grand Prix finally started at about 10:30. We got our packs to register (we had opened an Elspeth and Ashiok but had to pass it), and after 20 minutes passed we got OUR cards from the person next to us. We ended up getting a very mediocre pool. Xenaganos, a foil Fleecemane Lion, and a number of okay uncommons didn’t put a lot of confidence into your chances to make day to, but we spread out our cards and looked at what we had. I saw a RW heroic deck while Jaramiah decided to go with a UB tempo build. We decided it would be best for Rajib to take the GR Monster deck, but it might have been a little too much for him to handle. He had more experience playing heroic type decks, but I felt that it was more skill intensive than GR was and that a more experienced player like myself should handle it. Here’s what I ended up with.

My team sealed deck

The deck was incredibly aggressive, with the curve topping out at 3 mana. There were a total of 14 creatures, and 14 targeting effects. They weren’t the best heroic cards, but I would damn sure push them to the limit.


  • 9 plains
  • 7 mountains


  • 1 Soldier of the Pantheon
  • 1 Akroan Crusader
  • 1 Phalanx Leader
  • 2 Leonin Snarecaster
  • 1 Calvary Pegasus
  • 2 Arena Athlete
  • 1 Wingsteed Rider
  • 2 Spearpoint Oread
  • 3 Observant Alseid


  • 1 Spear of Heliod
  • 2 Ordeal of Heliod
  • 1 Spark Jolt
  • 1 Gods Willing
  • 1 Dragon Mantle
  • 1 Dauntless Onslaught
  • 2 Battlewise Valor
  • 1 Coordinated Assault

The strategy of the deck was simple. Hit hard, hit fast, and keep them from blocking. It also was incredibly sneaky, able to turn the game around by using Heroic and wiping out once powerful attackers. I played all 9 rounds with this deck. I lost my first game 0-2 to GR monsters thanks to a mulligan to 4 the first game and a mulligan to 5 the second one, but I went on a tear afterwards and won 8 straight.

I beat BW 2-1, UW heroic 2-0, UB 2-0, BW 2-0, BR 2-0, UW 2-1, RW aggro 2-0, and RW heroic 2-1. My record was 8-1, or 16-5 overall. This deck swarmed the opponent very quickly and penalized them for playing slowly. It also was dangerous on both offensive and the defensive thanks to Heroic spells. A great example was in my team’s second match against UW heroic. I was facing down a Fabled Hero with an Aqueous Form with 5 counters on turn 5. My opponent attacked and left me with 10 life. I was dead the next turn unless I could hit him for 14 damage. On my side I had a Phalanx Leader, an Arena Athlete, and a Leonin Snarecaster. In my hand I had a Coordinated Assault and a Battlewise Valor. I attack, my opponent says no blocks, I target my Athlete and Leader with Coordinated Assault to turn 5 damage into 10, then target the Leader again with the Battlewise Valor to hit him for 15. This is pretty much what a sealed heroic deck does to opponents all day long. Even in the mirror matches, my targeting spells outnumbered theirs which gave me the edge. The great thing about heroic decks is that you don’t have to have any bombs or rare cards to make it work. You can play with a low powered deck like mine and turn it into a lethal weapon.

So anyways, I went 8-1 and was pretty happy with myself, but my teammates struggled all day. My friend that likes to play control/tempo decks found himself going up against similar decks but with better cards all day long and only managed to win twice. Our other teammate running the GR monstrous deck really could have used more practice with it to learn how to play it optimally. He managed only 1 win, which led us to finish 3-5-1. Am I disappointed? A little. However, I was more worried about my friend and making sure that he enjoyed his first big event. Being able to help each other out and to watch either outplay our opponents was very rewarding. The times when we came together as team were better than the times we didn’t.

Yuuta Takahashi working the Hareruya booth

Yuuta Takahashi working the Hareruya booth

In between the rounds we wandered around. There were a large amount of sponsors at the events and quite a few famous players were in attendance. Over 1700 players attended the event, which was more than I had expected. This was an increase of 1200 players from the previous team sealed in Osaka (there were 480 there I believe). It goes to show you how popular MTG has become in Japan over the last decade. I was surprised to see Yuuta Takahashi, GP Shizuoka 2008 winner helping out at the Hareruya booth instead of playing. I ran into Saito Tomoharu and said hello, played against Makito Mihara’s wife’s all girl team in round 6 and LOST (heh, I won, but my teammates didn’t), and also stopped by the TokyoMTG booth to say hello to some friends of mine there. The artists for the event were Ryan Pancoast, Matt Stewart, and Tyler Jacobson. Tyler Jacobson’s lines were long for most of the event, but I was able to sneak into the other two artists’ lines in between rounds on day 2 to get some autographs.

Signed Cards by Matt Stewart and Ryan Pancoast

Signed Cards by Matt Stewart and Ryan Pancoast


Day 2

I was back at the event hall bright and early on Sunday for standard at the Super Sunday Series. I thought I had a good chance of winning some packs (15 points and up got packs), but I ended up running into some roadblocks. I’ve been out of the standard metagame for about a week or two thanks to full time work, and I’ve missed some key changes to decks that I used to be able to beat. Since it’s all that’s worked well for me so far, I went into the tournament with my GW Aura deck (Selesnyauras).

  1. Mono blue Devotion (lost 0-2) – In my first round of the 8 round event, I faced a very good mono blue devotion player. I lost in two games because I simply could not put pressure on him fast enough while all his attackers came at me in the air (which I couldn’t block).
  2. Mono red Aggro (won 2-1) – This player was not happy to play against a playset of Unflinching Courage and Gift of Orzhova in the main deck. I played defense well in the first game and eventually blew him out, and Glare of Heresy actually helped me out against his Boros Reckoners and Chained to the Rocks.
  3. GR Devotion (lost 0-2) – These decks just make me sick. They hit so hard so fast, and I couldn’t do anything after getting him down to 5 life or so. I figure if I had a card like Brave the Elements and other ways to go over and thru my opponent, I can win. Being fast is key.
  4. UW Control  (lost 1-2) – This was just a game of luck. I dominated the player when I had fast starts, but I was unlucky in games 2 and 3, drawing nothing but mana and being unable to keep pressure on him led to my loss.
  5. Junk Midrange (won 2-0) – I played very well, drew well, and Glare of Heresy gave me an advantage against cards like Loxodon Smiter and Obzedat.
  6. GR Devotion (lost 1-2) – Again, the player was just too fast. I do have the ability to beat them if I also get a fast hand, but otherwise I come up short. Have to lower the curve and race them!
  7. BYE
  8. BUG devotion (won 2-1) – This was a fast deck, but not as fast as GR devotion. It was interesting to see Prime Speaker Zegana in the same deck as Polukranos, but my combat tricks and removal clinched game 3 from this player.

So I finished 4-4 at the Super Sunday Event. This wasn’t some random tournament though. Every round had great challengers, and it seemed like people were playing at a Pro Tour Qualifier. People were fighting hard and making very few mistakes. It was at this point that I realized how small my pool of players in Nagoya were. I felt as though I was a small, insignificant player, and that if I wanted to continue to improve, I’d have to raise my level to that of Tokyo and Osaka players. I’ve improved leaps and bounds this year, but it’s still not enough. I won’t give up, I’ll push myself harder, and with Grand Prix Shizuoka coming up in less than a month, I’ll be ready.

I’m focusing on beating mono blue devotion and GR devotion these next few weeks, and I think I’m on the right track after the Super Sunday Series. 

Selesnyauras 2.0
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Temple Garden
Selesnya Guildgate

22 lands

Voice of Resurgence
Gladecover Scout
Boon Satyr
Experiment One
Fleecemane Lion

20 creatures

4 Pacifism
Unflinching Courage
Gift of Orzhova
Ethereal Armor
Selesnya Charm

18 other spells

Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Gods Willing
Celestial Flare
Last Breath
Pithing Needle
Glare of Heresy

15 sideboard cards

After talking with a friend, I decided that it was time to try out Pacifism in the main board again. I had used it before in my mono white weenie deck at the beginning of the set and it had some limited success against cards like Desecration Demon and early builds of GR devotion, but once I stopped playing that deck I stopped playing that card. However, I think it’s just what I need to push through the last 4-5 points of damage that I’ve been unable to do to GR and mono blue opponents. To further improve my chances against mono colored decks, I’ve also added Gods Willing. Will this work? I don’t know yet, but I think it improves the synergy of the deck, lowers the curve, and also slows down their attack. 

I also added in Experiment One instead of Dryad Militant or Soldier of the Pantheon. While the Soldier is probably the best of all three, I had problems putting enchantments on it like Unflinching Courage and targeting it with Selesnya Charm. Experiment One does a few things in that one drop position. First, it will most likely evolve on turn 2 and hit 2 power, and it also has the ability to go a lot higher thanks to Boon Satyr and Fleecemane Lion. I was able to do some nice combat tricks like block a Blood Baron of Vizkopa then flash in a Boon Satyr to evolve him to 4 power. He was also good as both a blocker and against Supreme Verdicts/removal since I could regenerate him. 

Aside from trample and Pacifism to remove blockers, I also added in Gift of Orzhova to go over the top. This deck performs best when it’s fast and on the attack. Therefore, the strategy should be to be relentlessly attack with your creatures and to use combat tricks to remove your opponent’s threats. Gladecover Scout continues to be an indispensable asset early on. Slapping on double Ethereal Armors and a Courage by turn 3 has made it really hard for decks like mono black or GR devotion to keep up. 

As for the sideboard, there have been a few changes. I dropped a few cards like Witchstalkers in favor of Gods Willing against mono colored decks, Ajani is for slower decks and those that like to clog up the board on the ground (As well as control), Last Breath is still performing great against mono blue decks, taking out both Master of Waves and Nightveil Specter, Pithing Needle is also a great tool against GR devotion and Esper control to stop planeswalkers, Celestial Flare is good for indestructible cards or cards that have protection from certain colors like Vizkopa, and Glare of Heresy has been doing well against red devotion’s Boros Reckoner and Chained to the Rocks (not to mention Sphere of Detention and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in Esper). 

I can only hope that this more streamlined, lower mana costed version will play faster, hit harder, and steal the wins I need to make Day 2 at GP Shizuoka on December 21st and 22nd. For those of you out there that are also fighting to make day 2 at a GP or to win a Pro Tour Qualifier or Grand Prix Trial, keep fighting. Don’t give up, especially at bigger tournaments. Even if you won’t make day 2, I think the experience you can garner from a high level event is indispensable. Of course you can read up on cards and strategies online to deduct how you lost such and such game, but playing through your losses and understanding it in person rather than in theory will help you to raise your game to the next level. Take notes, make changes, try new things. If you continue to do the same thing in the same places at the same time, you’ll only work to make the pond bigger while you stay the same size. It also helps to know when to move on and try something new for a while. Expand your thinking and I think sometime in the future that pond will become a little smaller to you.

Thanks for reading. Be sure to check back later when I start to break down the Theros standard metagame in preparation for Grand Prix Shizuoka 2013!