The Japan Metagame Diaries: Unwavering Devotion
If you work hard, you can do anything
– random fortune cookie
For the longest time, I thought this saying was a lie, especially when it comes to Magic. Countless people I know play and play and play and they never quite get there. They never win a Grand Prix Trial, they never win a Game Day or Pre-release. Sometimes being the FNM champ for a night is all they have to their name.
I was there, I was that person.
When I first started playing Magic competitively in 2011, I was living in Japan and didn’t have the experience. I would grind out points whenever I had time to make it to a casual tournament, going to where the big boys played on the weekends, and always getting crushed. I had a losing record for most of 2011 and 2012, until making top 8 of the Dark Ascension Game Day in Nagoya. From that point on I was severely mediocre. I played my own brews, I won some, I lost some, I met a lot of friends. Those friends, and the members of the Magic The Gathering community here in Nagoya, really helped me to grow as a player. I won my first GPT for Grand Prix Kitakyushu in 2013, and almost followed it up with a Pro Tour Qualifier top 8 a month later (I finished 11th).
I realized my improvement wasn’t a fluke, and started to take my hobby seriously. I kept detailed notes after each match I played, detailing why I won or lost, and which decks were seeing a lot of play and which weren’t. This helped me to adjust my playing style and sideboard to the metagame rather easily, and always thinking of how to beat such and such card led me to become a pretty good evaluator of decks so I knew which ones were poised well against others. My win percentages went up, I won more FNMs, casual events, pre-releases, and made top 8s in both Game Days and Grand Prix Trials. By the end of 2013, I was feeling pretty hopeful for myself. 2014 was going to be my year. I even made New Years resolutions regarding that. With all the hard work I was putting in, I was sure I would become one of the best in my prefecture/state.
I just didn’t think it would happen so fast.
Never Give Up, Never Surrender
In Japan, the second Monday of January is Coming of Age day. It’s a national holiday and most people get the day off. It’s the day where kids who turn 20 years old go to their city halls and attend a ceremony to congratulate them on becoming adults. At 20 they can now vote, drink, and smoke legally. As lame as it sounds, it ended up being a Coming of Age Day for me as a Magic player as well.
January this year is full of Pro Tour Qualifiers in Japan, and on January 14th the third one of 2014 for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx was held in Nagoya city in Aichi prefecture. It was held at Higashi Betsuin Kaikan, which luckily for me is a 3 minute bike ride from my apartment. I jokingly said I had home field advantage to a few of my friends. Recently in Nagoya, the metagame had switched over to aggro decks such as GR, Esper midrange, and G/B midrange. There was also still a good amount of Esper control, and both red devotion and blue devotion had a few fans as well. For the PTQ, I chose to go with a new build of my R/w devotion deck.
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
|4 Sacred Foundry
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
1 Boros Guildgate
4 Temple of Triumph
|1 Hammer of Purphoros
4 Mizzium Mortars
4 Chained to the Rocks
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
11 other spells
15 sideboard cards
In the previous week, I had won a rather large standard tournament in Nagoya with my R/g devotion deck that uses Domri Rade and Clan Defiance. Against control it’s a great deck with a much better main board thanks to Domri and Clan Defiance instead of Chained to the Rocks in R/w. However, on Saturday, 1/12, I lost horribly at a local event, going 2-3 (with one bye) due to being unprepared against aggro. I switched back to R/w on Sunday and went 3-2, but still had problems with GW aggro, but I felt like that was the color I wanted to use. The biggest change I made was to add Chandra, Pyromaster to the main deck, as well as to adjust my cards in the sideboard so it was balanced against a wide variety of strategies. Most of the cards seem rather stock, but I bet there aren’t too many people running Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and a 2nd Hammer of Purphoros in the sideboard instead of Assemble the Legions.
My reasoning for these changes was thus: Chandra in the main gave me a stronger main board against control in the first game, where before I was always a coin flip (50/50), and Hammer of Purphoros and Elspeth are much more aggressive than Assemble the Legions is against control and mono black. I don’t know how many times I played an Assemble only to have it get Detention Sphered the next turn. Elspeth does a number of things, and is good not only against control. She will always win the race to her ultimate against control because you have Fanatic of Mogis, Chandra, Pyromaster, and Purphoros, God of the Forge to chip away at an opposing planeswalker’s loyalty, and against black decks she not only provides Desecration Demon food but also clears the board of Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Obezdat, Ghost Council, and multiple demons in the air. By the time you play her, there is a good chance they’ve already used their Downfall if they kept it in the main board, but usually players will side them out in favor of Pharika’s Cure to stop your devotion as quickly as possible. I also found that having 2 Boros Charm was plenty, while upping my Glare of Heresy to 2 was great. The card is incredibly versatile in the current metagame. Against control it can hit a Detention Sphere or Elspeth, against white/X aggro it acts as a 2 mana removal spell (as well as getting rid of cards like Spear of Heliod), and in the mirror it can really hurt your opponent by getting rid of Boros Reckoners and most importantly Chained to the Rocks.
With this fine tuned deck, I was ready to take on all comers.
- Round 1 – Esper Midrange (lost 1-2): My day was off to a shaky start after losing to Esper midrange. I had kept a more creature heavy hand instead of removal in the first game and was blown out by a Supreme Verdict. In the second game though, I had both aggressive creatures like Boros Reckoner and my removal, so I was able to take game 2 by turn 5. The last game went long, and it was the player’s combination of removal and Desecration Demon that did me in. I also took out the wrong cards when I sideboarded, which also hurt me. SIDEBOARD: +3 Anger of Gods, +2 Glare of Heresy (hits their humans and Detention Sphere)/ -1 Hammer of Purphoros, -2 Purphoros, God of the Forge, -2 Burning-Tree Emissary
- Round 2 – BW Midrange (won 2-0): Black tends to be a good match up for me if I can put the pressure on them quickly, and I dropped 3 Emissaries on turn 2 of game 1 to put me really far ahead of him. I followed up with a Boros Reckoner the next turn and a Fanatic of Mogis after that for the win. In game 2 I kept an equally aggressive hand, curving out from Zealot, to Reckoner, to a Stormbreath Dragon through my Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and kept attacking with the dragon. He had no choice but to block with his Desecration Demons after I made it monstrous, and once he ran out of those it was all over. SIDEBOARD: +1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, +1 Hammer of Purphoros / -2 Mizzium Mortars
- Round 3 – Mono blue devotion (won 2-1): I managed to beat him on the play in the first game by racing him. We knocked each other back and forth, I took out some of his creatures with removal, and finished him off with a Fanatic of Mogis. In game 2, he had the advantage on the play and I didn’t draw any of the extra removal I sided in against him. In game 3, I kept an opening hand with Anger of the Gods, played a Frostburn Weird on turn 2, then waited for him to fill his board. I wiped the board on turn 4 when I was at about 10 life, then proceeded to lock him down with Last Breaths while I kept dropping creatures to attack him with. It was incredibly important to keep removal against this deck in your opening hand. SIDEBOARD: +3 Anger of the Gods, +2 Last Breath / -1 Hammer of Purphoros, -1 Purphoros, God of the Forge, -2 Chandra, Pyromaster, -1 Ash Zealot
- Round 4 – Esper control (won 2-1): Round 4 was when my opponents were going to start getting a lot stronger, so I had to be very disciplined if I was going to keep winning. The player mulliganed to 5 the first game, but managed to hold me off through counter spells and Supreme Verdicts until I had him at 2 life. I mana flooded and he got back into the game with 2 Sphinx’s Revelation to win game 1. In game 2, I kept a very aggressive hand and drew a Nykthos to force him to concede by turn 4 (due to lack of removal I’m guessing), and in game 3 I whittled my opponent down with Purphoros triggers until he was at 13 life. With him tapped out from casting Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, I played the 2 Fanatic of Mogis I had saved and hit him for about 16 damage and the win. SIDEBOARD: +1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, +1 Hammer of Purphoros, + 2 Wear/Tear, +2 Glare of Heresy, +2 Boros Charm / -4 Chained to the Rocks, -4 Mizzium Mortars
- Round 5 – Orzhov Aggro (won 2-1): This deck can be pretty damn scary. I was overwhelmed in the first game due to his quick start and Spear of Heliod and on the ropes. I wasn’t sure I could win this match up due to his access to removal such as Doom Blade and Orzhov Charm. However, I sided in ALL my removal spells and managed to set up a very good defense in games 2 and 3 to win the match. Warleader’s Helix was a key card in both of my wins. Without it I would have lost the game. Anger of the Gods also helped me to wipe his board once. SIDEBOARD: +3 Anger of the Gods, +2 Glare of Heresy, +2 Warleader’s Helix / -1 Hammer of Purphoros, -2 Purphoros, God of the Forge, -4 Burning Tree Emissary
- Round 6 – R/w devotion (won 2-0): This was my first match up against the mirror, but sadly I can’t say I had to work to hard to win this game. My opponent kept an opening hand with a mountain and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, and didn’t draw another land until about turn 5. I easily beat him but curving out into a Dragon and he conceded. In game 2 he had a much better hand. He had a much better board state than I did, with Boros Reckoner, Ash Zealot, Stormbreath Dragon, and BTE, but I had double Frostburn Weird and a BTE of my own, which was just enough to get 6 devotion to cast an overloaded Mizzium Mortars with Nykthos. After that, I was able to develop my board state while he went into top deck mode. I should also point out that he was using Lightning Strike and Chandra’s Phoenix, which made his deck a lot slower at getting a lot of devotion. SIDEBOARD: +2 Glare of Heresy / -1 Purphoros, God of the Forge, -1 Hammer of Purphoros
- Round 7 – Esper control (won 2-0): Well, game 7. This was it. If I won I could ID into the top 8, if I lost I still might be able to win and in in round 8, but I hope it didn’t come to that. Luckily for me, in game one my opponent let me hit him for about 10 damage with 2 Frostburn Weirds before he was able to deal with them, and afterwards I finished him off with Purphoros triggers and Fanatic of Mogis. Once I had my sideboard package for removal in for game 2, he didn’t stand a chance. I had all the answer for his Detention Spheres and played conservatively to get him to counter non important spells, and with Chandra, Pyromaster in play I was able to continuously put pressure on him each turn. SIDEBOARD: +1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, +1 Hammer of Purphoros, + 2 Wear/Tear, +2 Glare of Heresy, +2 Boros Charm / -4 Chained to the Rocks, -4 Mizzium Mortars
- Round 8 – Intentional Draw
After 7 rounds, I was sitting in 6th place, so I IDed with my opponent and after round 8 was complete I checked the rankings.
I have to admit, I was in disbelief at first. I knew I was playing well that day, and I knew there was a slim chance that I could make it, but I wasn’t putting too much pressure on myself. Just 2 weeks prior I had made the New Years resolution to try and make a Pro Tour Qualifier top 8, and I considered myself fortunate that it had happened so soon.
Home Field Advantage
THE TOP 8
R/w Devotion x2
GR Monsters x2
Playoff 1: Esper Midrange
As I said at the beginning of this article, Nagoya is my hometown. I play with these players every weekend, and I know my opponents well. Therefore, I felt pretty good when I sat down at my first top 8 and my first match was against a player I know well, and that ALWAYS plays control. We laughed, knowing that he has had trouble beating me the last few weeks, and when I looked at my opening hand of Ash Zealot, Double Chandra, Pyromaster, and 4 mana, I decided to keep. I played my Ash Zealot and hit him quickly, and waited for him to tap out his mana on turn 4 for a Jace in order to play my Chandra. Once she hit the table, I was able to put more and more pressure on my opponent through card advantage, and by the time he drew a Detention Sphere to deal with her, it was already too late. I played my second one, had tons of mana on the table, and Purphoros again helped me to finish off the game against Esper control. In game 2, I just had to chip away at his life total until he was low enough, then cast a Fanatic of Mogis to finish him off.
Semi-Finals: UW control
I had been eating up Esper control decks all day, so when I made it to the semifinals and sat down across from Saito Tomoharu (whom I interviewed last summer for my blog for those of you that didn’t read it), I didn’t feel nervous or anything. I had built my deck with control match ups in mind, and it hadn’t disappointed me all day. We both played a good game one, but I don’t think Saito was expecting my set up. After putting initial pressure on him with my creatures in the first few turns and getting my Hammer of Purphoros resolve, I waited for him to tap out for a Jace, Architect of Thought and then I followed up with a Purphoros the next turn, killing his planeswalker even with the +1 to his loyalty. My deck was too much for him in game 1. In game 2, in typical Saito fashion, he totally threw me for a loop by playing a playset of Soldier of the Pantheon in his deck. I took a lot of hits early, and he kept up with the removal to kill me before I could kill him. By far the best game of the day was game 3 against Saito though.
He was feeling confident after his win to even it up at 1-1, but after surprising me with the Soldiers (and probably hoping I’d take the bait to side in removal, which I didn’t), I believe he went back to a typical UW control set up since I was on the play. I played as I always played against control, and kept another great hand with Nykthos, Burning Tree Emissary, Frostburn Weird, and Hammer of Purphoros. Around turn 5 or so, I had managed to drop a Purphoros on the board, but with my Hammer of Purphoros covered with a Detention Sphere I had wait until next turn to attack. Saito used Jace, Architect of Thought’s -2, then played an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion to put some chump blockers on the table. With only 2 mana open, one being a Mutavault and the other being a Hallowed Fountain, I played a Fanatic of Mogis. Purphoros killed Jace, while 6 damage was more than enough to kill Elspeth. Saito had to block with his tokens and he fought back with another Elspeth the following turn and a Detention Sphere on my Purphoros. I managed to get him to 3 life thanks to a Fanatic of Mogis the following turn, while still having another in my hand.
With Saito at 3 life, a Fanatic and a Boros Charm in my hand, I left all but two mana open to cast Fanatic of Mogis for lethal, and Saito tapped out for a 8 life Sphinx’s Revelation. I then tapped my 2 open mana, put the Boros Charm on the stack, and won the game. The dozen or so people left watching the match got pretty excited and congratulated me on the win. I shook hands with Saito, and was on to the finals.
The Finals: GR Monsters
Out of all of the out of town players that had come to the PTQ in Nagoya, it all came down to a guy from Mie prefecture (about 40 minutes away by train) and me, the hometown hero that lived less than 3 minutes away. In the first game against GR monsters, I had a well balanced hand with both removal, Frostburn Weird, and Nykthos. I was able to hit devotion rather quickly, play aggressively, and win the first match. The second match got out of hand quickly with him casting Elvish Mystic T1, dropping a Burning Tree Emissary, Burning Tree Emissary, and Sylvan Carytid T2, and then putting a Ghor Clan Rampager on the board Turn 3 when I didn’t black on turn 3. I had blockers, so used Mizzium Mortars on his Ghor Clan Rampager and kept playing defense. On turn 4 I drew an Anger of Gods and that ended up being the deciding factor. I wiped his board while keeping my Frostburn Weird, then I followed up with Boros Reckoner and knocked him down with the Weird after that. I developed my board state with BTE and cast a Fanatic of Mogis to get him within lethal the following turn, and put the ball in his court. I was at 6 life, and he had an Elvish Mystic and a Ghor Clan Rampager on the table. All I had to do was stay alive, another Rampager would kill me if I didn’t play smart. He attacked with both creatures, I double blocked his rampager with BTE and Fanatic, which meant that even if he used the +4/+4 trample bloodrush card in his hand, I’d still be at 1 life.
He conceded, shook my hand, and it was over. At 9-1-1, I had won the Nagoya Pro Tour Qualifier and I’ll be heading to Atlanta, Georgia in May for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx.
Joining the Big Leagues
After the PTQ, I checked Planeswalker Points on Wizard’s website and was surprised that the points had already been updated. I received 1165 points for the win, which put me at #6 IN THE WORLD in Planeswalker Points at the moment, #3 in all Japan, and #1 in Aichi prefecture. This means that I’ll have 3 byes at any Grand Prix I go to until June, so it means I can focus on testing other formats and improving my overall skills as a MTG player instead of grinding out points for a bye. It’s going to be hard to top this accomplishment, but hopefully sometime in the future I can make a day 2 at a Grand Prix as well as finish in the money. Who knows, maybe I’ll even do well at the Pro Tour (but no promises :D)
It still hasn’t really set in yet. I think it’s because I won’t be able to play MTG again until the weekend. Will the people I always play with know what happened? Will word spread? The support I’ve gotten from my friends on Facebook, at MythicMTG.com, TokyoMTG.com, and my Nagoya MTG group has been incredibly positive. I’m very lucky to have such a strong network of friends in this area and I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the help of all of them.
I also want to thank all of my readers that have stuck by me over the months here at The Japan Hobbyist and I hope that I can continue to help you and you me. With standard behind me for the near future, you can count on me to put all my focus onto the new Born of Gods set. I’ll be working hard in the next two weeks to help put the set into a limited perspective so I can help you with drafting, sealed, and of course the pre-release. There are a good amount of cards already spoiled, so look for a new article on here by the weekend! As always, thanks for reading and be sure to check back a lot next week for Born of Gods updates!