Grand Prix Shizuoka: Mind or Meta (Part 2)

After a weekend of tournaments and looking at HappyMTG’s website about Magic in Japan over the past week, I feel like I should revise the list I made before. Previously, my top 8 was:

  1. Mono blue Devotion
  2. Mono black devotion
  3. GR Devotion
  4. Esper control
  5. mono red aggro
  6. BW devotion
  7. Junk midrange (GBW)
  8. UW control

I participated in a 37 person standard tournament on Saturday, and a 44 person Grand Prix Trial on Sunday, and I think the metagame is shifting towards black this week.

  1. Black devotion
  2. Esper control
  3. B/u devotion control
  4. R/w devotion
  5. Blue devotion
  6. mono red aggro
  7. BW midrange
  8. G/r Devotion (Mihara Gruul)

The website, which collects data from various tournaments around Japan (but not all), is showing an increase of red aggro decks in the Tokyo area, but also a lot of black players. I think most players are toying around with black because of it’s ability to deal with just about any threat: planeswalkers, creatures, enchantments and artifacts (with a splash of another color) – but I’ll talk about that more later. Today I’ll be covering the newcomers to the list

  • B/u control
  • R/w devotion
  • mono red aggro
  • BW midrange

Blue/Black Control

Recently, some of the control players have been switching over to UB devotion control in Nagoya. The deck can be really tricky to deal with. They can play the control tactic and destroy everything on the board, or they can switch gears and go the blue devotion route and overwhelm and opponent.

Key Cards

Nightveil Specter

  • Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
  • Jace, Architect of Thought
  • Master or Waves
  • Nightveil Specter

There are actually 2 different modes. The black mode uses Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Underworld Connections, removal spells and other black cards used  in black devotion deck, but splashes blue for Ashiok, counterspells, Cyclonic Rift, Jace, and sometimes Aetherling. The blue one focuses on Jace, Architect of Thought for card draw, lots of removal and counter spells, but uses Master of Waves to finish the game. They both use Nightveil Specter, so be careful in how you play against them.

I haven’t played this deck a lot, but I guess the same would hold true of for the previous devotion decks I talked about. If the player is using the black mode, play against it like you would against a black devotion deck: hit fast and hit hard if you’re playing aggro. Keep the pressure on the player to win, and take out those Underworld Connections if you can. As for the blue mode, destroying blue devotion sources is key. A deck like mono black devotion might give you an edge against this mode. I you can keep them from activating a ton of tokens with Master of Waves and getting card advantage through Jace.

Red/white Devotion

For all the vaulted power of G/r devotion using Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and huge draws from Garruk, Caller of Beasts, R/w devotion can win the game even faster. The strategy behind Red devotion is to play tons of creatures (usually 24+), get in some quick attacks at the beginning with cheap 2 drop creatures, then to use Nykthos to power out a turn 4 Stormbreath Dragon or a Fanatic of Mogis following the drop of Burning-Tree Emissary. This deck has ways to go over the top, to push damage through, and sit back and play defense while they pick away at your life.

Key Cards

Fanatic of Mogis

  • Boros Reckoner
  • Stormbreath Dragon
  • Fanatic of Mogis
  • Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
  • Burning-Tree Emissary

Red devotion usually won’t start out until turn 2. They’ll play a scry land on turn 1, then proceed the following turn with a Ash Zealot or Frostburn Weird. On a good turn 3, they’ll drop a Nykthos, play a Burning-Tree Emmisary, and depending on if they have a second one or not they’ll then use Nykthos to add anywhere from 4-8 mana to their mana pool. While the 8 is unlikely, you could possibly be looking at 5 damage from a Fanatic of Mogis, a Stormbreath Dragon with an extra mana to pump the Frostburn Weird with, or a Dragon with a Boros Reckoner. They sometimes get insane hands and there is nothing you can do about it. If you’re not dead by turn 4, they’ll make their Dragon monstrous, attack with Boros Reckoners, or pump out Golem tokens with Hammer of Purphoros until you are. This deck is scary!

However, if you practice against it a lot, I think there are various match ups that are bad for it. Supreme Verdict in a UW or Esper control deck would hurt this deck a lot, especially if they don’t have a Boros Charm to save their creatures, and just as you would play against any other devotion based deck, you can use removal to take out their creatures to make their plays a lot less explosive. I think mono black would be a good match up since it can hurt them early on, and Mono blue would have the ability to use Cyclonic Rift to put everything back in the red devotion player’s hand. Blue also has a lot of flyers that will disregard red’s attempts to clog up the ground, and they can block the dragon as well.

Red Aggro

Red aggro could mean all red, it could mean Boros (RW), Rakdos (BR), or any other red based aggro color. For the most part, you’ll see mono red because of the consistency. It’s strategy depends largely on pushing damage through quickly and relentless before an opponent can stabilize. They’ll do this with fast creatures, burn spells, and combat tricks. RW has access to other removal like Chained to the Rocks and evasion such as Gods Willing, while BR uses Dreadbore and kill spells to clear the path for their attackers.

Key Cards

Ash Zealot

  • Ash Zealot
  • Lightning Strike
  • Boros Reckoner
  • Rakdos Cackler
  • Magma Jet

As I stated above, red’s strategy is to hit fast, hit hard, and to not let their opponent stabilize. They’ll play Rakdos Cackler on turn 1, Ash Zealot on turn 2, and then keep the pressure on you all game long. This can catch a lot of control and midrange decks off guard, but if you’re playing with fast removal spells or creatures that can block well, you’ll  stay alive long enough to stabilize the board. Life gain is this deck’s bane, as it has a weak long game after the player exhausts their cards in hand. Selesnya (GW) aggro decks, especially those with Unflinching Courage are especially painful for red decks. Decks like red devotion would also do well against it since they can block and wait out their opponent, I think even black control can do well if they have enough Pharika’s Cure in the sideboard. Because of mono red’s weakening state, I don’t think you’ll see a red aggro deck without a second color. Just remember, life gain is key!

BW Midrange

While mono black gives you a lot of removal, card advantage, and ways to recur your dead creatures once (Whip of Erebos), there is a deck that can match it almost blow for blow. BW midrange has access to the same removal spells that mono black has, but it also has access to scry lands and other Orzhov colored cards that make it tough to deal with.

Key Cards

Blood Baron of Vizkopa

  • Blood Baron of Vizkopa
  • Obzedat, Ghost Council
  • Whip of Erebos
  • Desecration Demon
  • Underworld Connections

The strategy behind BW midrange is somewhat similar to mono black. They can use Thoughtseize on turn 1, they’ll use removal on turn 2 such as Ultimate Price or Doom Blade, and they’ll even play an Underworld Connections on turn 3. However, you won’t see a lot of the creatures that mono black uses in this deck. Desecration Demon will probably be there, but this deck has a lot of fun playing Obzedat, Ghost Council. The Ghost Council is immortal in this deck unless you make the correct choice. With a Whip of Erebos in play, Obzedat can return from the dead and use its remove/return ability, even if it was returned to the battlefield with a whip. This makes it a huge pain for control players. This deck also plays Blood Baron of Vizkopa which is extremely difficult for both white and black decks to deal with. It also had better sideboard options than mono black, especially against control. Sin Collectors and Thoughtseize will strip you of all your removal then leave you in top deck mode, hoping to draw a card to deal with them. Merciless Eviction is also available to BW, which means not even enchantment based decks like Naya control or creature based decks like G/r devotion are a sure win.

I believe there are a few strategies to use against BW. In black decks, play Erebos, God of the Dead to shut off their life gain. Golgari (BG) has a lot of the same removal BW does but they also have Abrupt Decay to destroy Underworld Connections, Golgari Charm for Whip of Erebos, and Scavenging Ooze to eat up graveyards and block a Blood Baron. I think Blue devotion and G/r devotion would do well against this deck, since they can put out tons of creatures, draw lots of cards, and win the game of attrition by outdrawing BW.

My Grand Prix Shizuoka Preparation

I’ve been thinking about the metagame, about the devotion based decks, the popular cards and creatures, and I’ve decided on two possible decks for Grand Prix. This is my first choice.

Golgari Devotion
75 cards, 15 sideboard
15 Swamp
Golgari Guildgate
Overgrown Tomb

25 lands

Erebos, God of the Dead
Nightveil Specter
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Pack Rat
Desecration Demon

17 creatures

Golgari Charm
Whip of Erebos
Ultimate Price
Underworld Connections
Hero’s Downfall
Abrupt Decay

18 other spells

Abrupt Decay
Mistcutter Hydra
Fade into Antiquity
Whip of Erebos
Lifebane Zombie
Pharika’s Cure
Erebos, God of the Dead
Golgari Charm

15 sideboard cards

I originally thought that GB midrange would have been the best choice for the metagame because it has access to great removal like Abrupt Decay, Putrefy, and Golgari Charm (which has gotten a lot more fans recently). I put together a list with Reaper of the Wild, Sylvan Carytid, and everything else you’d see in GB midrange. I then showed it to my friend Chris Wilson back in Indiana, and he said that others had the same idea as mine but the GB archetype has been rather underwhelming at tournaments. I asked him why, stating that the removal it has available is great, and he agreed. The problem wasn’t with the spells, it was with the creatures. He suggested mono black with a touch of green and then we worked for a few hours on a list. Since then I’ve tweaked it a little bit based on my experiences with it, as well as using Ryan Hipp’s (of notes from his testing of B/g devotion.

I’ve been pretty satisfied with it so far. I played B/g devotion/control for the first time on Saturday at a 37 person standard event. I finished 4-1, beating Naya control, blue devotion, Esper control, and B/u devotion. My only loss came to Jund midrange, and that was due to overextending into an Anger of the Gods and mis-sideboarding. Naya control was easy since I had Abrupt Decay for Chained to the Rocks and Loxodon Smiter and Golgari Charm for Assemble the Legions. For mono blue, I sided in a lot of removal such as Pharika’s Cure and Abrupt Decay to keep their devotion count down, and against Esper control it helped that he mulliganed to 5 in game 3 then letting me Thoughtseize him for another card on turn 1 to impede his ability to fight back further. My enchantment removal also gave him fits, making his Detention Sphere’s all but worthless. My last match was against a B/u devotion deck that splashed for Ashiok, Far//Away, and Aetherling in the sideboard. I basically considered this a mirror match and proceeded to take out his Underworld Connections while using mine to get card advantage, then going crazy on him with an army of Pack Rats.

I firmly believe that BG are the colors you want to be in for the Grand Prix (or in any other big event before February), and I say this because it gives you the best removal in standard as well as a way to get around mono black’s weakness to enchantments. For those of you that haven’t played a mono black deck in this metagame yet, allow me to explain the card choices and how they interact with each other.

Black’s strategy is to control the game through removal. They’ll play Thoughtseize to take out the biggest threat to them on turn 1, keep mana open on turn 2 to respond to a turn 2 card, and then on turn 3 they’ll start putting pressure on an opponent with Nightveil Specter or to play Underworld Connections. Both cards contribute to the deck’s amazing card advantage over their opponents, and Nightveil never ceases to let me down. On turn 4 you’ll be playing Demons or keeping the mana open for removal if your opponent is aggressive, and by turn 5 you could have a decent number of black symbols on the table to activate a high devotion life drain from Gray Merchant. With all the extra cards you’ll be drawing, you’ll probably hit a lot of land, which is great food for Pack Rats. They can be both aggressive early on against slow decks, or make an army later on when you have multiple card drawing enchantments in play.

What makes B/g control better than straight black is Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm. While the concentration of them in your main deck depends on what your metagame is like, they both do a lot of work in standard right now. Abrupt Decay will hit quite a few popular devotion targets in every deck you play against. It kills Domri Rade (G/r devotion), Nightveil Specter (mono black and blue devotion), Underworld Connections (black control decks), Detention Sphere (Esper control), and Boros Reckoner (red aggro, red devotion). It also saves Desecration Demon from Chained to the Rocks, which makes it worse for white/red decks as well. Decay solves the Doom Blade/Ultimate Price/Dark Betrayal issue by making it moot.

Golgari Charm helps out in other ways. It gives your creature resilience against Supreme Verdict, it hits Underworld Connections in mirror matchs, it takes out armies of tokens against Elspeth and Master of Waves, and it also hits a variety of popular enchantments seeing play right now, most importantly mono blue’s Bident of Thassa. These two cards alone (in multiples) gives you a huge advantage over other black decks. As you can see in my sideboard, I have extras for just those situations.

Aside from Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm, green also gives you access to Mistcutter Hydra which is great against UW and blue devotion at any point of the game, and Fade into Antiquity to get rid of gods such as Erebos which can be a pain. I’m sure I’ll be switching around my sideboard a little more before December 21st, but let me tell you my decisions for the current one. The most important tool is Pharika’s Cure. Aggro decks, especially red ones, will kill you before you get enough removal to stop the onslaught or even put a creature into play. Cure will stop most of their early threats while keeping your life high. I went 2-4 this past Sunday at a Grand Prix Trial thanks to losses against mono red, GR aggro, and red devotion which all have fast starts (I also lost to BW midrange due to play mistakes from inexperience, but I beat a UW control deck and another red devotion deck.). Cure should also do well against mono blue, hitting most of their creatures aside from Thassa and Specter. Whip is another card I side in against aggro to help with the life gain. Lifebane Zombie should come in against Selesnya, G/r devotion, and any deck that possibly has Blood Baron of Vizkopa (yes, even against Esper control). The 2nd Erebos, God of the Dead would come in against Esper control to shut down their Sphinx’s Revelation based life gain, but it would also be great against Naya and GW midrange decks that are using Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice.

It’s not over yet

For the deck explanations, yes it’s done (unless another new archtype gains popularity over the next week), but I’m not done with this article yet. There is still one weekend left before the GP, which means the metagame can change even more. After the weekend, I will be reporting on the metagame here in Nagoya, information collected at, as well as conducting an informal survey amongst the 50+ Nagoya player contingent heading to Shizuoka. I’ll also be talking about my second deck choice for the GP. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them down below. Be sure to check back later this week for a non-GP article. Until then, thanks for reading.