The Japan Metagame Diaries – It takes more than faith, you need Devotion

 It’s been a rough week in Magic in Nagoya, Japan. Following GP Kyoto’s Super Sunday Series standard event, I thought I had learned my mistakes when facing GR devotion and mono blue devotion. I added in Pacifism to the main to take care of big blockers like Polukranos, World Eater, and put in Gods Willing in the side for other devotion decks, but I think I got it backwards.

I took my GW Aura deck into a 34 person Grand Prix Trial on Saturday with high hopes. I lost my first game against Junk midrange thanks to mulligans and bad hands but I won my next game against a UR Devotion deck that was similar to blue devotion but the player splashed in red for Young Pyromancer and red burn spells which really kept the deck from reaching critical mass. I had problems again with mulligans against GR devotion in round 3, almost beating him but failing to push through the last few points of damage thanks to getting flooded with mana.

In round 4 I played against BG midrange and was totally unprepared for this match up. It was hard to deal with Lotleth Troll, Corpsejack Menace, and Kalonian Hydra. The player’s access to Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm also made it a bad match up for my aura heavy deck. In the following round, I played against a Jund build for the first time in Theros standard, and while I won my first game thanks to speed, Anger of the Gods gutted me in games 2 and 3 and Reaper of the Wilds finished me off since I was unable to interact with it in white and green. In my last match up I played against mono black control, and thanks to aggressive play and cards like Gladecover Scout, I won 2-1.

The Top 8 for this GPT was:

  • Black Devotion x3
  • W/r aggro
  • UWR control
  • Esper control
  • Red Deck Wins (red aggro)
  • Blue Devotion

I went 2-4 for the day and convinced myself that it just wasn’t a good metagame right now for Selesnya aggro/Auras. It has an especially difficult time with Junk (GBW) and GB decks. However, I don’t think it’s a bad deck. It just needs to have the right metagame and the right balance so I don’t get mana flooded/mana screwed all the time. If you’re interested in the changes I made to it after this weekend, here’s my list.

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 Gods Willing
Unflinching Courage
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Ethereal Armor
Selesnya Charm

18 other spells

Rootborn Defense
Celestial Flare
Last Breath
Pithing Needle
Glare of Heresy

15 sideboard cards

I decided that this deck wants to be aggro and needs to push damage through whenever and however it can. It’s already powerful, but needs more evasion. Therefore, I’m putting Ajani, Caller of the Pride back into the main board and dropping the Gift of Orzhova, and I’m switching out Pacifism for Gods Willing in the main. Gods Willing is much better against a variety of decks, especially devotion ones that dominate the current metagame. Pacifism is still good in match ups where giant creatures clog the board, but I don’t think it should be in the main board right now. I also decided it’s worth having a Rootborn Defense in the sideboard to help against the 2nd or 3rd board wrath in a control match up. I’ll let you know over the next few weeks if this works out well. Hopefully the consistency of this deck will make it easier to play and reduce bad hands. 

No Win Scenario

After my disappointment on Saturday, I was ready to try something different on Sunday. As I’ve said before in previous articles, Big Magic is THE place for competitive Magic The Gathering in Nagoya. On Sunday, 72 players showed up for the Grand Prix trial. Players came from far and wide, and more than half the room were players that made day 2 at the last standard Grand Prix in Nagoya. I decided to use my BW aggro deck at this event, which is basically a BW human deck with Cartel Aristocrats, Xathrid Necromancer, Mogis’s Marauder, and a number of other black creatures coupled with removal like Ultimate Price and Orzhov Charm to take care of blockers. I tested it out a few times over the last few  tournaments in the city and it tested well against both GR devotion and mono blue devotion, but I didn’t see hide nor hair of it on Sunday.

In game 1 I played against a very nasty RW auras deck that used double striking creatures with Madcap Skills to win the game (I took 20 damage on turn 4 thanks to a Fabled Hero and Ethereal Armor). In my next match I played against BUG control and won the game by playing aggressively. In game 3 I was routed by Esper control thanks to poor draws. I took game 4 against a GB reanimate deck by aggressive play, but in round 5 I lost to Esper again. It was insanely hard for my deck to beat Elsepth, Sun’s Champion and Jace, Architect of Thought. I proceeded to lose again in round 6 against a GR aggro deck since I couldn’t deal with Hammer of Purphoros, and in the final round Esper control routed me once more.

I definitely think my GW deck would have done better than the BW, but I don’t think I would have been anywhere close to the top 8. It’s pretty much a no win scenario for non red/white aggro decks right now. There are times when perfect draws can let you steal wins, but I think we’ll have to wait for the Selesnya scry lands and the GW god before it has a chance. Speaking of the top 8, here’s what the group looked like at the 72 person event on 12/1:

  • Blue Devotion x3
  • Black Devotion x2
  • GR Devotion x2
  • Junk Midrange

The Current Metagame in Nagoya

As you can see, blue is incredibly popular at the moment. Not only is it dominating over here in Japan, but it also had a very strong showing at GP Vienna. Getting rid of devotion is tough, and you’d think more people would be playing Esper or Azorius control to combat it, but the numbers for those decks aren’t there. Junk (GBW) and GB decks have become more popular as of late, and I think that’s a step in the right direction. These colors give you access to great removal spells like Abrupt Decay and Putrefy (to take out cards like Whip of Erebos), but it also has Gaze of Granite which is a great card against devotion decks. I’m currently working on my own GB midrange deck, but the pieces aren’t all there yet so it will have to wait until another day.

With devotion running rampant, I thought I’d try it out myself. There have been a few players playing with white devotion lately, and since I have all the cards for it, I thought I’d put one together myself.

White Out
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Temple of Triumph
Sacred Foundry
12 Plains
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

24 lands

Angel of Serenity
Judge’s Familiar
Archangel of Thune
Heliod, God of the Sun
Precinct Captain
Boros Reckoner
Soldier of the Pantheon
Banisher Priest

23 creatures

Planar Cleansing
Boros Charm
Brave the Elements
Gideon, Champion of Justice
Spear of Heliod
Ajani, Caller of the Pride

13 other spells

Boros Charm
Planar Cleansing
Banisher Priest
Angel of Serenity
Glare of Heresy
Fiendslayer Paladin
Pithing Needle
Celestial Flare

15 sideboard cards

I’ve decided to combat the other devotion decks my own way. Luckily, white has something none of the other colors have – mass removal in the form of Planar Cleansing. It’s a long shot, but with the number of devotion decks out there, just one of these going off will win you the game, especially if you have a Boros Charm in your hand to make all of your permanents indestructible until the end of the turn. White isn’t as fast as mono blue, nor does it have the removal of mono black or the card advantage, and green’s creatures are just insane. What white can do though is go over the top and stall the board long enough for you to take control of the game.

As with the other devotion decks, it’s important to get white sources on the ground fast and to quickly use their mana symbols to activate devotion on a larger creature. Soldier of the Pantheon is a given, but I went with Judge’s Familiar as my other one drop to help me in my match ups that have a lot of removal spells. Flying is also good against most decks. The metagame is severely lacking any type of flyers right now other than mono blue’s creatures and Desecration Demon. Boros Reckoner and Precinct Captain are 2 more solid cards in this metagame. They’ll stall the board for you as well as add a lot of devotion to your side.

After we hit the 3 drops, things start changing from most other white devotion decks. I’m using 2 Spear of Heliod, 2 Ajani, Caller of the Pride, and most importantly 2 Banisher Priest. With GR not as prevalent as it was before, I think the others can rest in the sideboard to make space for more aggressive cards. Heliod, God of the Sun is a given in this deck. With tons of mana floating around from devotion, you can pump out an insane number of Cleric tokens that can do all the dirty work for you. Gideon, Champion of Justice is also pretty sweet in this deck. He combos great with Ajani, and being able to attack for 5 on turn 5 (or 10) isn’t bad for what he costs. He also gives you a good way to attack Esper control after a Supreme Verdict wipes the board. 

I’ve tested this deck a little with 3 Angel of Serenity, but it seems too heavy, even with devotion. That’s why I’m only playing with 1 at the moment. I’ve decided to put in Archangel of Thune instead because aggro decks can cause a lot of trouble for this deck. If you’re playing against a slower one, by all means side in those other Angel of Serenity, but I think you’ll definite want Thune in that first game. The counters from life gain work great with the Captain’s soldiers or Heliod’s clerics. Brave the Elements is a great way to save your creatures from a Anger of the Gods or Mizzium Mortars (not to mention being able to attack unblocked), but what this deck really wants to do is to activate that Planar Cleansing + Boros Charm combo against opponents with devotion dependent boards. It hits everything: Detention Sphere, Elspeth, Whip of Erebos, Blood Baron of Vizkopa . . . it’s your ace in the hole. Playing Boros Charms main is also worthwhile because it will save your creatures from board wipes, give Gideon, Champion of Justice double strike, or just hit your opponent for 4 when they least expect it.

For the sideboard, you have another Boros Charm and Planar Cleansing for control or slow rolling decks like mono black, Banisher Priest and Angel of Serenity for decks that like to stall the board and wait you out (like red devotion), Fiendslayer Paladin for those red or black aggro match ups, Pithing Needles for various troublemakers like Aetherling, Glare of Heresy for various white permanents that could give you a headache, and Celestial Flare for gods and Blood Barons attacking alone. I’m not sure how it will do over these next few weeks, but I think playing it will give me more options come December 20th for Grand Prix Shizuoka.

Grand Prix Shizuoka

The Grand Prix is about 2 weeks away and after the showing that blue and black devotion made at Grand Prix Vienna, I believe many people are going to be gunning to take out devotion decks. I think there will be a significant increase in Esper (UBW) and Azorius control because Supreme Verdict is hands down the worse card for devotion decks right now. I also believe that GB and GBW (Junk) midrange will see a lot of play because of their ability to emulate mono black strategies while having access to cards that can also deal with enchantments and artifacts like Underworld Connections and Whip of Erebos. 

If you’re thinking about making the trip to Shizuoka City on December 20th-22nd, you better act quickly. Online registration ends on December 11th and can be done on Big Magic’s website at I’d like to also note that you can only do this with credit card. If you plan on doing it in person, you’ll have to get to Shizuoka on Friday and register before 8:30 pm. As for directions to Twin Messe Shizuoka where the event is being located, you can get more information from Wizard’s website by clicking here

While I believe that we’ll see more control in the coming weeks to combat mono blue, I think it’s a good idea to plan accordingly for the event. The meta is back to a game of rock/paper/scissors, and it might be a good idea to test out and play with a few different types of decks over the next two weeks. Even if you have to proxy cards in order to make the deck, do it. If you find a good match up for mono blue, make sure you also test it out against mono black and GR devotion. Play around with control decks, aggro decks, and a devotion deck or two to get a feel for them and watch the meta closely. Know your enemy well and maybe you’ll stand a chance. 

More to come later

I’ll be busy with work leading up to the event, but I’ll do my best to keep my readers in Japan and those thinking of playing at Grand Prix Shizuoka up to date with the latest metagame information. Next time I’ll be talking about the results of my week of testing mono white devotion, and I’ll also have a GB deck brewed up and ready to test out. There should be another decent sized Grand Prix Trial next week to get some goof information from, and results on Hareruya’s website should come pouring in by next weekend too. I’ll be sure to gather what data I can and make another conclusion after this weekend. Thanks for reading, and if you have any information that could help other readers at GP Shizuoka, I’d welcome those comments below.