The Japan Metagame Diaries: Weight of the Underworld

The world of Theros has grown dark. Nightmares have begun to invade the dreams of its inhabitants and the gods grow restless. How is a simple mage to survive in this ever changing world?

If you’re like me, you’ve been dipping your feet into standard little by little since the release of Born of the Gods at the beginning of the month. The Super Sunday Series championship in Seattle explored some of the new cards from the new set and got the ball rolling on our new standard metagame. We’ll have to wait until after Pro Tour Born of the Gods to get a better view of standard, but at the moment two decks seem to have come out of the gate running: GR monsters and mono black devotion. GR Devotion has been flexing its muscle literally these first few weekends, using cards like Xenagos, God of Revels and Fanatic of Xenagos to power through insane amounts of damage. Black devotion, on the other hand, has taken over the metagame here in Nagoya. Mono black devotion won last weekend and B/g devotion won this weekend at Big Magic, one of the most competitive places in the city. Black/White midrange, UB control, and even Orzhov Aggro have benefited greatly from the new cards.

This brings me to my point of the article, choosing a deck for this harrowing, brutal metagame. Do you choose mono black? Do you go with GR monsters? Which decks should you stay away from? Well, I have a few ideas I’d like to share with you today, so read over them and tell me what you think. I think each of my following lists will be competitive over the next few weeks, so if you want to catch a lot of people by surprise, put them together.

Cheat The Maze
75 cards, 15 sideboard
2 Breeding Pool
1 Hallowed Fountain
2 Orzhov Guildgate
2 Rakdos Guildgate
2 Izzet Guildgate
2 Golgari Guildgate
2 Gruul Guildgate
2 Boros Guildgate
2 Azorius Guildgate
2 Selesnya Guildgate
2 Simic Guildgate
4 Maze’s End
2 Dimir Guildgate

27 lands

2 Courser of Kruphix

2 creatures

1 Fated Retribution
1 Cyclonic Rift
3 Divination
4 Defend the Hearth
3 Urban Evolution
4 Druid’s Deliverance
4 Fog
4 Supreme Verdict
3 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
4 Riot Control

31 other spells

2 Into the Wilds
2 Bow of Nylea
1 Merciless Eviction
2 Wear // Tear
3 Negate
3 Crackling Perimeter
2 Pithing Needle

15 sideboard cards

As crazy as it sounds, I think Maze’s End decks have a good chance of making it to tier 2 status or higher during Born of the Gods. The additions of Courser of Kruphix and Kiora, the Crashing Wave super charge this strategy and shore up some of the weaknesses it had before to burn and direct damage from cards like Fanatic of Mogis and Ruric Thar, the Unbowed. For those of you that haven’t touched this deck before and don’t know much about it, the strategy behind Maze’s End deck is to get all 10 Guildgates from the Return to Ravnica block into play and win the game with the Maze’s End card. To get to this point, you need a lot of fogs. Theros was good enough to give us a 4th fog effect in  Defend the Hearth. To help speed up this strategy and to make sure you have enough fogs to negate all damage done to you, you need to draw cards with Divination and Urban Evolution (which also puts 2 lands into play if you have them). You also have access to the board wipes Supreme Verdict, Cyclonic Rift, and my new favorite toy Fated Retribution. I like Retribution because it’s an instant speed board wipe and hits cards like Obzedat, Ghost Council and Mutavault which can be a pain for this deck sometimes (not to mention destroying planeswalkers and most cards that give devotion).

My main additions to the deck are Courser of Kruphix and Kiora, the Crashing Wave. Most people prefer to play a more controlling version of this deck, forgoing creatures and Kiora in favor of cards like Detention Sphere and Sphinx’s Revelation. This might be alright if you want to play control, but if you are actually trying to get to your win condition as fast as possible, this is the way to do it. An early Courser almost assures that you are able to play a land every turn if it’s on top of your library (which is great if you just drew a fog and didn’t play a land this turn), and Kiora lets you put 2 Guildgates into play if you used her -1 ability. I had the chance to test them out together in conjunction with Gatecreeper Vine the other day at a standard tournament and I have to say I was impressed. When they were in play together, they tore through land like no tomorrow. The problem was that the build lacked card draw and enough fogs, so I had to cut the Gatecreepers.

The sideboard still needs some work (and I still need more experience with the deck), but it covers most of your needs. Into the Wilds gives you land acceleration against control decks, Bow of Nylea helps you to replenish your deck with fogs of to put any cards that got discarded due to a Rakdos’s Return or Thoughtseize back in your library (not to mention 3 life against burn and red decks), Merciless Eviction takes care of things like Gods that can’t be destroyed otherwise, Wear//Tear is incredibly important against all decks since everybody can play Pithing Needle to shut down your Maze’s End, Negate helps you a lot in control match ups, Crackling Perimeter is also good against control and can be played against mono black too, and Pithing Needle is a catch all that will take out cards like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver (which can ruin your day). The deck might need some revising down the road, but this is exactly where I think it wants to be going forward in the next few weeks. Discard, Burn, and mill strategies are the biggest problems against Maze’s End, but against GR monsters, Esper/UW control, and Mono black, I think it will have really good match ups. The deck is incredibly cheap to build (around $100 from scratch), so put it together if you want to try something different.

75 cards, 15 sideboard
5 Plains
8 Forest
4 Temple Garden
1 Selesnya Guildgate
4 Temple of Plenty

22 lands

4 Hero of Iroas
4 Voice of Resurgence
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Eidolon of Countless Battles
4 Fleecemane Lion
4 Boon Satyr

24 creatures

2 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Selesnya Charm
4 Unflinching Courage

14 other spells

3 Witchstalker
3 Fiendslayer Paladin
2 Pithing Needle
3 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Glare of Heresy
2 Revoke Existence

15 sideboard cards

This next deck might be a little familar. Back during Theros standard I put together a GW hexproof-ish deck and played it for the first month or so to some success (I won my first tournament at Big Magic with it). It had problems with board wipes like Supreme Verdict, but otherwise is was solid as long as you knew how to mulligan. There are some familiar faces such as Voice of Resurgence, Gladecover Scout, Boon Satyr, Fleecemane lion, and our package of enchantments. The additions to this deck are rather nice though. Hero of Iroas makes keeping a 2 land hand much easier to do since having him in multiples will allow you to cast Boon Satyr’s Bestow form and Unflinching Courage much easier. Eidolon of Countless Battles acts as a mix between a Voice elemental token and an Ethereal Armor, but it also gives the deck a lot more resiliency against wraths such as Supreme Verdict. Dropping Gladecover Scouts on turn 1 and loading them up with all the enchantments you can draw is still the way to win the game easily. Ajani, Caller of the Pride is a nice 2 of that lets our creatures fly over and hit hard, but I’m still on the fence as to whether I use Gift of Orzhova or him. I went back and forth with the last deck as well, so this might need more testing.

The deck still has some trouble with mana from time to time, but if you can learn to mulligan well with the deck, it can be really strong. The scry lands help out a lot, but it might be worth splashing blue to get access to Aqueous Form so you can scry to the cards you need whenever you attack. The sideboard is currently stacked against black control decks with cards like Fiendslayer Paladin and Witchstalker, but Mistcutter Hydra is a nice addition against control decks. I usually bring Pithing Needle in against control and mono black to take out planeswalkers, Mutavaults, and Underworld Connections, but it’s probably a good card against GR monsters too since it stops Domri and Xenagos. I think Glare of Heresy is still relevant against Red devotion (Chained to the Rocks and Boros Reckoner), but also something I would side in against UW/Esper control (Detention Sphere, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion). Revoke Existence is a much needed upgrade in the enchantment removal department. We now can take care of Gods, which was impossible before. I went 2-2 with this deck in its first outing, which means there is still work to be done, but is shows promise (lost to BW midrange thanks to Vizkopa and Obzedat as well as UB control – Pack Rat, counterspells, and just enough removal did me in). 

Pyrodancer Burn (updated)
75 cards, 15 sideboard
2 Temple of Silence

12 creatures

2 Warleader’s Helix
4 Shock

26 other spells

2 Burning Earth
2 Oracle of Bones

15 sideboard cards

The deck I’m most excited about for the current metagame though is my Firedancer Burn deck. It builds off the mildly successful RW build from Theros standard, but the additions of Satyr Firedancer and Searing Blood suddenly make this deck incredibly scary to play against. With Satyr Firedancer in play, you no longer have to worry about burning the creature or the player. Each spell suddenly becomes a 2 for 1 (or in Searing Blood’s case a 3 for 1), letting you burn your opponent while at the same time dropping their life total. It gets even crazier when two or more into play. It’s like a rain of fire and brimstone from above. Satyr Firedancer also turns Boros Charm into a 4 damage burn spell now, which means you don’t have to worry about carrying Mizzium Mortars to take care of cards like Blood Baron of Vizkopa. 

I’m sure you’re wondering about some of these card choices, so let me explain why I chose what I did. First off, Boros Reckoner. This deck should be all about burning people in the face, right? Well, you need to live long enough to do that, and nothing says “don’t mess with me” better than Boros Reckoner. He puts up a wall, and since your opponent will know they are on borrowed time, counting down until burn saps their last points of life, they’ll give you more time to stay in the game. Satyr Firedancer, Chandra’s Phoenix, and Young Pyromancer are a given in this deck, as are the previous burn spells from the Theros version of the deck. I feel like Chained to the Rocks is as necessary as Boros Reckoner because we play in a world where a 4th-5th turn 10/10 Polukranos is a real thing thanks to Xenagos, God of Revels. Better to have it main than not at all. Having Skullcrack in the main improves our chances of winning game one if the player has main board life gain (Sphinx’s Revelation anyone?), and Chandra gives the deck some badly needed reach from the sideboard against control. 

As for the other cards in the sideboard, I got some good advice from my local Red Deck God (who’ll I’ll name later when he wants me to) here in Nagoya and after hearing his reasoning, the choices are rather brilliant. First off, Toil//Trouble is an amazing card against control because it lets us draw cards if we need to, while also punishing an opponent for keeping a large hand. Burning Earth is a solid card in this sideboard too, mostly punishing control again and especially Maze’s End. One of the suggestions my buddy made was to move the Chained to the Rocks to the sideboard for match ups where I absolutely needed it (like against Master of Waves), and it makes sense to focus just on burn the first game to put your opponent on the defensive. Some other cool tech he suggested was to add in Oracle of Bones, which gives you either a 3/1 haste creature + a burn spell, or a 5/3 haste creature. I’m not sure how I would use it yet, but the obvious addition would be against control. By far the biggest contribution he helped me make was to add in more scry lands to the main deck. This does 2 things: 1 – It makes both Toil//Trouble and spells like Boros Reckoner easier to cast & 2 – The added scry lets you dump more lands to the bottom of your deck (especially when it’s later in the game) so you mana flood less.  

I think this deck will be really good against mono black because they tend to hurt themselves a lot as it is. 2 points of damage from Thoughtseize, -1 for a Underworld Connections trigger . . . and I think Satyr Firedancer also helps us out against GR monsters. The deck will need some testing, but it shows a lot of promise.

Safe Travels

There you have it. I have decide to shelve my red devotion deck temporarily and try out sometime new, and I think you should too. Right after a new set comes out is the best time to brew new ideas and test them out. You never know, you could stumble into a deck that works perfectly against the metagame and wins you a lot of big matches. With Born of the Gods Game Day coming up in about 2 weeks, get in as much practice as you can with different types of strategies so you can choose the right one come next month. If you decide to play any of my decks, let me know how they do! I look forward to playing some standard again finally, but I’ll also be talking about modern in the coming weeks! Modern is really starting to grow over here in Nagoya, Japan finally, and I can’t wait to throw myself into the metagame. I hope you’ll be able to help me out ^_^. If you have any comments or questions about the decks I posted above, please feel free to comment below. Thanks for reading.