The Japan Metagame Diaries: World(s) Domination

Tokyo, Japan, August 16, 2014 . . .

9 rounds of swiss, 387 total players, 3 rounds of single elimination.

After all was said and done, Aryabhima Aulia Rahman of Indonesia stood above it all.

RW burn by Aryabhima Aulia Rahman
1st Place, World Magic Cup Qualifers 2014, Tokyo
9 Mountain
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Sacred Foundry
Battlefield Forge

24 lands

1 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
4 Young Pyromancer

9 creatures

4 Boros Charm
4 Stoke the Flames
4 Skullcrack
4 Lightning Strike
4 Searing Blood
3 Warleader’s Helix
4 Shock

27 other spells

2 Toil // Trouble
4 Satyr Firedancer
1 Anger of the Gods
2 Glare of Heresy
1 Warleader’s Helix
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Wear // Tear
2 Chained to the Rocks

15 sideboard cards

Piloting RW burn, he left countless piles of charred cinders in his wake. The speed of the deck puts opponents in a bad situation early and if they can’t dig out of the loss of life, it will quickly be game over. Against a myriad of midrange, aggro, and black devotion decks, the deck showed that it can disregard everything and just right to the face of an opponent. Aside from the Anger of the Gods (for aggro) and Toil/Trouble (for control) in the sideboard, it’s almost card for card the same Burn deck that Matt Sperling used at Pro Tour Magic 2015. Aryabhima, or Arya for short, is the first foreigner to ever join the Japanese team, but being only in the 3rd year of the World Magic Cup, hopefully he won’t be the last. There have been a few other foreign members of national teams (such as Paul Renie on team Chinese Taipei in 2012 which won it all), and it just goes to show you how far reaching Magic has become. Even if you’re away from home and living in a foreign country (like myself), you can still play at one of the highest levels MTG has to offer. I’m sure Arya feels honored to be on the team, but don’t take it from me, let’s hear from the winner himself!

Aryabhima Rahman, the first member of team Japan 2014!

Aryabhima Rahman, the first member of team Japan 2014!

I was able to sit down with Arya on Sunday in Tokyo at Hareruya during the Modern PTQ and he was polite enough to answer some questions from me regarding his win. Before I get into the interview though, let me give you some background information on this long time Magic player. Aryabhima has been living in Japan for 8 years. He originally came over as a graduate student from his hometown of Malang, Indonesia and after graduating he became a full time worker in Japan. He has lived in the Kanto region (Yokohama, Tokyo, etc) during this time. His MTG history begins during the Invasion block and stops abruptly after Kamigawa. Due to school and other obligations, he didn’t get back into Magic again until Time Spiral. As he warmed up to the game again, he took part in a lot of pre-releases and played mostly for fun. It wasn’t until Zendikar that he finally made the decision to become competitive.

Once the competitive spirit grabbed hold of him though, he found himself going to Grand Prix after Grand Prix, starting with GP Niigata in 2009. He’s been to every GP in Japan since, making his first money finish the same year at Kitakyushu, and finishing in second place at GP Nagoya in 2012 (I thought I recognized him from somewhere! That was my first ever Grand Prix!). He is happy to now add being a team member of the 2014 Japan Magic Cup team along side Yuuya Watanabe to his resume.


The Japan Hobbyist: How do you feel after winning the first WMCQ in Japan this year? Were you surprised?

Arya: It felt strange at first because I wasn’t a Japanese player. My thoughts immediately went to what other players might be thinking. I was just playing because I like Magic, and I wasn’t really expecting this outcome.


TJH: How did you prepare and what would you suggest players do to prepare for big events such as PTQs and GPs in the future?

Arya: About 3 weeks before the event I chose what I wanted to play and started getting the cards I needed. I did some MTGO testing with a cheaper (non-Mutavault) version to get an idea how the deck plays against the metagame, but not much in real life. I also discussed some ideas with my friends back in Indonesia online too. I think the best way to prepare for big events is just to play what you like. If you play a deck well, and enjoy playing it, the results are sure to follow. 

TJH: What difficulties do you think you will face being on team Japan (ie, communication, etc)? How will you try to solve these difficulties?

Arya: I actually passed the level one Japanese test and can speak the language fluently, so communicating shouldn’t be that big of a problem. My biggest issue will be the use of Japanese card names during conversations. It’s one thing to study Japanese, and quite another to learn the obscure names of creatures and spells in the language. Japanese players tend to use the Japanese names most of the time, but it shouldn’t be too hard to ask them to use the English card names instead.


TJH: Do you have an MTG team/group that you practice with? Tell us about them. (If not, would you be interested in joining one in the future?)

Arya: I have friends in Kawasaki and we draft and play casual games from time to time. We also use Line and email to communicate. I would be okay joining a team in the future, but only if there wasn’t any serious obligation to perform. I’m just here to have fun and enjoy Magic, and if I win that’s great. Otherwise, I wouldn’t want the pressure.


TJH: Who has influenced you the most as a Magic player? Why?

Arya: Tomoharu Saito. I love playing aggro, and he always puts together some amazing aggro decks that I enjoy playing.


TJH: What are you goals for MTG in Japan in the future? What would you like to achieve before retiring in the future?

Arya: I haven’t really set any goals for myself. I’d be happy just playing a deck I like in one of Japan’s GPs or at a local tournament. It really isn’t that important to me. I just like playing.


TJH: Do you feel that MTG in Japan is very international? (Do you think there are more foreign players now than before when you first arrived? If so, what do you think has changed since you first started?)

Arya:  Yes, I think there are more foreign players nowadays than before. Perhaps it’s because more foreigners have been coming to japan in recent years? =D. I think local  event organizers like PWC, GCC, LMC, Hareruya and Big Magic have also played a big role in expanding the player base. There are more tournaments now which means more players.


TJH: Would you like to see more international players playing in Japan in the future? Other than language, what do you think are the obstacles for foreign players playing in Japan? How can the MTG community support them in the future?

Arya: Sure, the more the merrier. One big obstacle for foreigners is that most of the event /tournament information is only available in japanese. Wizard’s tournament locator is also not very helpful. I think the MTG community can help by providing this information in English. (perhaps like The Japan Hobbyist? 😀 :D)


TJH: Last question. How does playing MTG in Japan compare to playing MTG back in Indonesia? Is it easier/harder? Do you think that you’ve become a better Magic player while living in Japan? If so, why?

Arya: It is both easier and harder in Japan. It’s easier to play and harder to win. The  MTG community in Indonesia is rather small. There are only few places that hold tournaments. I think I have become a better player while living here because I can play a lot more here. There are GPs every season and many highly competitive tournaments at the local level with 100 players.


(Have another question for Arya? Leave it here and I’ll be sure to pass it along to him next time I see him! Look for him at future Magic events here in Japan and say hello! I’m sure he’ll be playing over here for many more years to come, just like myself!)

One Down, Two to Go


Now that Arya has secured the first spot on Team Japan along side the captain, Yuuya Watanabe, that leaves 2 more open. The next World Magic Cup Qualifier will be taking place next weekend in Nagoya on  August 31st at Port Messe Nagoya (there will also be a SEALED PTQ on August 30th the day before if you’re interested in coming! Max 409 players!). The competition will only continue to get fiercer from here on out. Who will come out on top? How will the Nagoya metagame affect or react to the results from the first event at Hareruya on August 16th? With GP Kobe only a few days away, I don’t really think there will be any time for change. We should see a lot of the same decks from Tokyo there, but there will definitely be a large push from the Nagoya metagame, which the majority if players coming from all around Nagoya to participate.

The Top 8 of the World Magic Cup Qualifiers in Tokyo on August 16th were:

  • WR Burn x2 (Winner)
  • Jund Planeswalkers (2nd place)
  •  GW aggro x 2
  • Rabble Red
  • GR Devotion “Hail Hydra”
  • BW Midrange

The competition was tough, but out of 387 players, I went 5-3-1 with my GR Hail Hydra deck and finished in 63rd place. Here’s a run down of the decks I faced and how the games went down.

  1. UR Burn (won 2-1) – I managed to keep the pressure on my opponent despite all of their burn and Ensoul Artifact. Reclamation Sage was key in locking down my victory.
  2. WR Burn (won 2-1) – Reclamation Sage was again the key in winning this match up for me. By taking out his Satyr Firedancer with it, I was able to gain incremental advantage with Courser of Kruphix and stay out of burn range.
  3. BR Midrange (lost 0-2) – this deck was a really tough match up for me. My opponent had access to great black removal such as Dreadbore and Hero’s Downfall, and they were relentless with their attacks. Lifebane Zombie was especially powerful against me in this match up, but Stormbreath Dragon and Desecration Demon also really hurt.
  4. Rabble Red (lost 1-2) – This was a match up where I really needed a 4th Courser of Kruphix in my main deck and a little bit more removal to stop the loss of life. The deck was unrelenting, but with proper mulliganing it’s winnable.
  5. Naya Midrange (won 2-1) – Fast hands with Burning Tree Emissary and Genesis Hydra are really good in this match up, and Reclamation Sage was especially powerful against my opponent’s Banishing Lights and Courser of Kruphix.
  6. U/w Devotion (lost 0-2) – Just like Rabble Red, this deck can be relentless and both Tidebinder Mage and Detention Sphere can shut down a GR deck very well. I admit, I didn’t keep the correct hand to deal with his threats and paid the price. You have to be able to take out Master of Waves.
  7. BW Midrange (won 2-0) – Playing fast and hard to overwhelm their removal is a good way to win this match up. Planeswalkers were also key.
  8. Jund Planeswalkers (won 2-0) – Thanks to a lack of Garruk Apex Predator and Vraska the Unseen, I found this match up pretty easily. Pithing Needles locked him down early, and Ruric Thar, the Unbowed was more than happy to finish him off.
  9. Jund Planeswalkers (tied 1-1-1) – I managed to eventually get overwhelming advantage against my opponent, but I couldn’t finish him off before time was up.

Hyper fast aggro decks were definitely my weakest match up, and since more than half of the decks in the top 8 can be classified as such, I’ll be ready for them in Nagoya on the 31st. GR Hail Hydra is still a good deck for the metagame I believe and I’m not ready to give up on it yet. Its ability to throw out a large early threat or play a large Genesis Hydra can shift the game into your favor very quickly.

Hail Hydra! by Ryan Schwenk
(anti-aggro build)
1 Mana Confluence
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
2 Mountain
10 Forest
4 Temple of Abandon
4 Stomping Ground

24 lands

4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Polukranos, World Eater
4 Genesis Hydra
2 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Arbor Colossus
1 Xenagos, God of Revels

28 creatures

2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Bow of Nylea
3 Domri Rade
2 Xenagos, the Reveler

8 other spells

2 Scavenging Ooze
2 Setessan Tactics
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
2 Pithing Needle
2 Reclamation Sage
2 Anger of the Gods

15 sideboard cards

The first changes I made to the deck were to finally go up to 4 Sylvan Caryatid. I originally had a 2-2 split with Voyaging Satyr to help make big mana from time to time with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, but in this metagame, having a hexproof 0/3 blocker is much more important. Stemming the loss of life against aggro is key to those match ups. After losing to Nightveil Specters, Stormbreath Dragons, and Desecration Demons, the next card I decided to add was Arbor Colossus. Not only can you power him out early with a turn 3 Nykthos, but he’s a great beater and great blocker too. I dropped the Scavenging Ooze and put it in the sideboard. Going up to 4 Courser of Kruphix is also the result of running into too many aggro decks last weekend. By having 4 I increase the effectiveness of Domri Rade, and also make a stronger early game against aggro.

The last, and probably most controversial change to the main deck is Bow of Nylea. Previously, I had kept it in the sideboard and only brought it in against aggro (for the life gain) and the mirror match (for the death touch). I’m expecting quite a lot of both of those at the next WMCQ, so it makes sense to play it main. It acts as a 5th Courser of sorts against aggro, gaining you 3 life each turn in order to let you build up a defense until you can strike back. Against the mirror, it gives your attacking Polukranos, World Eater and every other creature death touch. It lets you be the aggressor and gives you the upper-hand when attacking. Another possiblity I was considering was putting a 3rd Mizzium Mortars into the main and putting the Xenagos, God of Revels into the sideboard for something else. I’ve really liked having him as a one of in the main deck. There have been few players who expected to see him main, and it left them wide open to blow outs from a Stormbreath Dragon or Genesis Hydra with double the power that attacked on the same turn. However, with aggro baring its fangs, I think putting him into the sideboard is the correct choice. 

Speaking of the sideboard, I moved Setessan Tactics there because it really should only come in against Mono blue devotion or other non removal heavy aggro decks. It is relatively weak against black strategies due to their instant speed removal too. Scavenging Ooze is a stop gap measure against aggro decks. You will probably be blocking a lot early on against aggro, and there will be a lot of fatalities. Ooze gains you back lost life while make sure those creatures didn’t die in vain. He becomes a veritable finisher himself if you play him after turn 4. Chandra Pyromaster is still a good card to have against control decks of all shapes and sizes, and is also good against mono white aggro’s bevy of 1 toughness creatures. Mistcutter Hydra is a nod to blue devotion decks, Ruric Thar, The Unbowed makes it really hard for mono black to keep their advantage over you, and Pithing Needle stops Planeswalkers very efficiently. Stopping a Vraska the Unseen when playing Jund Planeswalkers is key. Reclamation Sage has been an absolute all star for me during my last few tournaments, taking out all sorts of threats and greatly weakening my opponent. It’s strong against MUD, Black devotion, Naya, UW/Esper control, and any other deck that relies heavily on enchantments or artifacts. And of course, finally we have Anger of the Gods, which is a must in these aggro heavy times.


Decks to Look out For in the upcoming World Magic Cup Qualifiers

In my opinion, Nagoya is completely different from Tokyo in terms of the standard metagame. Tokyo loves their aggro and the players from there will be bringing their Goblins and soldiers en-masse, however Nagoya players will be pushing back with their own strategies. Based on the metagame from the last week or two, I believe there will be a lot of BW midrange, Green/x devotion, RW Burn, Jund Planeswalkers, and GW aggro decks in Nagoya. UR Ensoul Artifact decks have also been pretty popular, but only at the FNM level. I haven’t seen that many mono blue or UW control decks recently, but that’ not to say they won’t be there. Given the results of August 16th’s World Magic Cup Qualifier, I think most decks will be prepared for the aggro match up. My guess is that there will be a good number of midrange decks such as Green/x devotion, BW, and Jund monsters. If I have any more data before then, I’ll be sure to let you know. 

If you’re interested in being on Team Japan this year and your address with DCI was located in Japan at the beginning of the year, you can participate at the next one in Nagoya. There is also the threshold of 500 planeswalker points this year in order to participate, but it shouldn’t be a problem if you did a few tournaments and a GP or two. 

If you fill in the form on this page, you can register (without paying! You can also register for the PTQ here further down the page)

The cost is 5000, but you get a discount of 1000 if you don’t want the Geist of Saint Traft promo. The format is standard, and it looks like the max number of participants will be 409. To get to Port Messe Nagoya, take the Aonami Line from Nagoya station to the LAST stop, Kinjofuto. It should be a few minutes walk from there.

The Start time is 9 am for the players meeting, so it’s a good time to get there around 8:30 or so in order to fill out your deck list and pay for your entry. If you have any other questions, please ask! Hope to see you there! I’ll be taking a short break from the blog to participate in GP Kobe this weekend, so if you’d like stay up to date on MTG information, be sure to follow me on Twitter this weekend @yoschwenky . I’ll be posting my results, pictures, as well as anything else that catches my attention. Look for a full report sometime next week about the state of Modern in Japan! Thanks for reading and see you next time!