The Japan Metagame Diaries: Gearing up for Game Day

The first few weeks of a new metagame are always going to be rough. Many people expected Black aggro to be a thing back in the first few weeks of Khans standard, but it never really panned out. BW Warrior decks, followed by red aggro deck evolved into Mardu midrange and Abzan aggro decks during the pro tour, and Goblin Rabblemaster has been absolutely everywhere. In Nagoya, it’s been pretty hard to find a dominant deck. I’ve been playing both my Abzan planeswalkers deck and RW tokens in the weeks leading up to Game Day Khans of Tarkir, and I’ve gotten mixed results. 

Temur has proven powerful and tricky to deal with, but GR and most green devotion decks haven’t been too much of a problem. Aggro decks in general, aside from Jeskai also seem to have trouble dealing with midrange decks like Abzan. I’ve finished first place a couple times with the RW tokens deck as well. It was pretty good against control and midrange, but had a very tough time against Mardu midrange due to Stormbreath Dragon and Butcher of the Horde. Green/Black decks seem to be doing very well, be it a straight GB midrange build, Sultai Whip, or Abzan midrange. In the week leading up to Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, I was steamrolling almost everything in my path with Abzan midrange. Mardu Midrange continued to give me some trouble thanks to cards like Deflecting Palm, but since then I’ve learned to play around it. I have yet to find a good control deck I like, but Jeskai seems like it can be very versatile, switching from aggro/midrange to control after sideboarding. 

After a few weeks of practice with Abzan Walkers/midrange, I was pretty sure that was the deck I wanted to be on for Game Day. 

 

Abzan Walkers
4th Place, The Last Sun Qualifier – Nagoya
1 Temple of Silence
2 Temple of Malady
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Plains
4 Windswept Heath
4 Sandsteppe Citadel
3 Caves of Koilos
3 Llanowar Wastes
4 Forest


24 lands

4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Siege Rhino
3 Polukranos, World Eater


19 creatures

3 Thoughtseize
4 Hero’s Downfall
3 Abzan Charm
2 Utter End
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion


17 other spells

Sideboard
1 End Hostilities
1 Bow of Nylea
2 Unravel the Æther
2 Bile Blight
3 Drown in Sorrow
2 Nissa, Worldwaker
2 Murderous Cut
2 Wingmate Roc


15 sideboard cards

 

October 13th was a National Holiday in Japan and it just so happened that Hareruya was sponsoring a Last Sun trial that day (their end of the year tournament in Tokyo composed of 4 rounds of modern and 4 rounds of standard on the first day, and 3/3 on the second day followed by a top 8). The Pro Tour was winding down before the event started, so I went into the event thinking there would be a lot of Jeskai aggro and a decent amount of Abzan decks. All in all, there were 38 players at the event. I was actually rather surprised to see a lot of Jeskai, UB, and Sultai control in the room. It was difficult to count how many Prognostic Sphinx I saw on the tables. Jeskai Tempo/aggro was definitely out in large numbers, and quite a few players were on a new Rabble Red version as well. There were some Abzan decks, but not a lot. 

  • Round 1 – Jeskai Aggro (won 2-0) – Removal was key in this match up. I was able to keep him from getting any type of board presence and a strategic Thoughtseize late in game 1 cleared the way for my win. The player switched to control mode after the first match and never put any type of pressure on me. Once I landed something like a Polukranos, World Eater, it was hard for him to deal with it. 
  • Round 2 – Naya Midrange (lost 1-2) –  I was rather surprised to see Naya midrange there, but the deck was pretty damn strong. I curved out well the first game and drew my removal for the win, but in the following 2 games I fell behind due to early Goblin Rabblemasters and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. I would have really liked another End Hostilities in the sideboard instead of the Bow of Nylea to deal with all of their creatures. 
  • Round 3 – Jeskai Combo (won 2-1) – I’ve played against this deck in a casual setting, but not a big tournament. It’s really scary to play against in my opinion. The deck can combo off at any time and suddenly it’s game over. Thankfully my opponent couldn’t combo out the first game and I ran over him with my big creatures, but in game 2 I couldn’t stop him after he put down 2 Jeskai Ascendancy. Thoughtseize really came through for me in game 3, and a 1-2 punch of Unravel the Aether and Utter End in took away any chance he had in game 3 when he tapped his Sylvan Caryatid’s for mana. 
  • Round 4 – Mono Red Aggro (Won 2-1) – I was absolutely blazed in game 1 by his speed, but Bile Blights and Drown in Sorrow destroyed him in the next 2 games. I kept my life high and never let myself drop below 10 life.
  • Round 5 – Temur Midrange (won 2-0) – My opponent mulliganed to 3 the first game (myself to 5), so it wasn’t really a fair fight. In game 2, my removal and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion were able to keep him at bay then seal the deal. 
  • Round 6 – Mono red aggro (won 2-1) – I face yet another mono red deck in the 6th and final round, but removal and life gain saved the day once again. Siege Rhino + Sorin, Solemn Visitor was amazing. 

 

The Sideboard

I’m still finding sideboarding a little difficult with this deck, but I can explain my choices at least. 

  • End Hostilities – With all the planeswalkwers Abzan has, it’s okay to wipe a board. Cards like Elspeth and Sorin can put bodies on the board right after it’s cast. It’s a good card against aggro decks, as well as midrange.
  • Unravel the Aether – a must have against Jeskai combo, but also works well against Reanimator decks. The reason I’m running this over Deicide is that it targets artifacts too. Utter End also works well as a way to get rid of key cards. 
  • Bile Blight – really good against Goblin Rabblemaster decks, and just aggro in general. Somebody actually said it’s good against combo as well cause you can use Bile Blight on your own Sylvan Caryatid to take away their win condition
  • Drown in Sorrow – again, another must for aggro decks. Really good against mono red, but also not bad against reanimator/devotion decks using Hornet Queen.
  • Nissa, Worldwaker – Powerful against decks with little or no removal. Good against control, and also not bad against Reanimator.
  • Murderous Cut – I play this against GR monster decks, and other midrange/aggro decks in general. I would drop the Utter Ends for mono red or maybe 2 Downfall to make space for them in a Jeskai aggro match up. 
  • Wingmate Roc – a must against all aggro match ups. Not only does it supply you with 2 big blockers, but it also puts them on a clock. If they can’t finish you and you can stall the board, Wingmate Roc will put the game out of reach for them. 

 

I must admit, I’m surprised I was able to finish 5-1 for 4th place. The top 4 decks were Temur Midrange, Naya Midrange (the person I lost against), Mardu Tokens, and Abzan Midrange (myself).You should be able to see a full list of the top 8 decks from their trials on their website if you’re interested (which might/might not be updated at the time of this posting). Look for the October 13th Last Sun trial to see my deck along with the others. 

The pro tour helped me out with my mana base, but the biggest change I made was adding the 2nd Sorin, Solemn Visitor into the mainboard along with 2 Utter End. Both over performed and will be in the mainboard for the immediate future. Abzan Charm was also really good. I found myself using all 3 modes rather effectively, and I’m considering going up to 4. As for the sideboard, I was happy with it overall but I think I would like another End Hostilities in there instead of the Bow of Nylea in order to deal with midrange strategies such as Green/x devotion, Abzan aggro, and maybe even for Jeskai combo. I’m also considering running the Wingmate Rocs in the main board and dropping the Polukranos altogether, but a 5/5 puts a lot of pressure on an opponent and makes them block him. I don’t know what I’ll do for Game Day just yet. 

If you plan on playing in Game Day this weekend, there are a few decks I think you should watch out for.

  1. Mono Red Aggro – although its power level is slightly weaker than it was in M15 standard, this deck can still be blazingly fast and kill you if you’re not ready. You need to have a good sideboard plan against it, and be careful not to keep a slow hand. 
  2. Jeskai Aggro/Tempo – It put the most decks in the top 8 of the Pro Tour, so I expect a lot of people to put together some sort of build. You need to be ready to deal with Goblin Rabblemaster and Mantis Rider, but at the same time beware of cards like Deflecting Palm and burn. If you get too low in life, this deck can burn you out. 
  3. Abzan aggro/midrange – These decks have powerful creatures, good removal, and disruption like Thoughtseize. I expect these to be tough, but control decks with good sweepers should do well. G/b devotion + Setessan Tactics might match up well against it.
  4. Mono Green devotion/G/b devotion – It can put tons of creatures on the board with Hornet Queen, has built in life gain with Nylea’s Disciple, and a splash of black makes it a lot harder to deal with. You also can’t forget about Nissa, Worldwaker’s Power level. 

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see more UB  or Sultai control decks, and Abzan/Sultai Reanimator should have some fans after the Pro Tour as well. Temur Midrange is another sleeper that I think could go toe to toe with Abzan in terms of power, but it also gives you the option of tempo and access to counterspells. Naya/GR midrange also shouldn’t  be forgotten. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker showed us how powerful he could be at the Pro Tour, and Xenagos, the Reveler and Stormbreath Dragon have already proven themselves from previous standard metagames. Whatever happens, I wish you good luck this weekend and hope you can at least make the top 8 and get that cool Utter End promo! See you next time. 

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