The Japan Metagame Diaries: Welcome to the Jungle
Welcome to the jungle, I’ve got your metagame. You can play any deck you want, especially with Stoke the Flames.
In the Jungle, welcome to the Jungle, watch it bring your opponent to their knnn knne knees, knees
I want you to take the time to read!
Geez, it’s been a really long time since I’ve done any type of metagame report from Nagoya. The last time I talk about it, it was the week before Khans of Tarkir Game Day (which I went 2-2 at with Abzan Planeswalkers. Deck was good, but there was so much hate in people’s sideboards for it that I had a hard time being consistent.) That’s probably a good place to start with our metagame recap. During one of the local game days at the store I went to, the top 8 was Mardu midrange, RW aggro, Jeskai Aggro, UR Ghostfire Blade burn, Abzan midrange, Abzan Reanimator, Abzan aggro, and UW Heroic. Abzan was downright oppressive that weekend, as well as the week afterwards. It took down a number of events in the area, and didn’t start to lose any followers until Temur midrange took down a large weekend tournament.
During this time, I was having a bit of a problem choosing a deck. I had jumped to RW Aggro after Gameday and had decent results but was finding that the deck had consistency issues, and Sultai Control the week after was an absolute disaster. Jeskai and Abzan went back and forth fighting for supremacy in October, but when the dust settled, there were no clear winners. Decks like Mardu midrange, Temur Midrange, and even white soldier/warrior based decks have been getting good results as of late. Jeskai decks seem to have an edge, but the metagame has pretty much evened itself out going into November. Once such Jeskai deck that did well is Goto Yuusei’s (2nd GP Kobe and Nagoya native if you didn’t read my previous articles) Jeskai Tempo deck.
|Goto Yuusei, 1st place, 30+ person local even
1 Flooded Strand
4 Temple of Enlightenment
4 Mystic Monastery
3 Temple of Triumph
3 Battlefield Forge
3 Shivan Reef
|4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
4 Jeskai Charm
4 Dig Through Time
2 End Hostilities
4 Stoke the Flames
22 other spells
15 sideboard cards
Goto-san doesn’t stay on one deck too long. He likes to switch up his decks from week to week to keep his opponents guessing what he’s using, and I also think that he prefers to fine tune a few decks for the metagame to see which is the strongest instead of focusing on one. He finished 2nd at a 32 player event the weekend after with Abzan midrange.
This deck is slightly different than most Jeskai tempo decks I’ve seen being played as it leans more towards the control side of things. He plays your typical burn spells like Magma Jet and tempo cards like Jeskai Charm, but he has also added Dig Through Time and End Hostilities to the mix. End Hostilities is great against Abzan and aggro decks, and it works very well alongside Ashcloud Phoenix. Keranos, God of Storms gives the deck some reach and extra burn, and puts real pressure on an opponent from turn 5 onwards. I like Ashcloud Phoenix more than Goblin Rabblemaster in this build, but he could just as easily add 4 in by dropping the End Hostilities and Keranos mainboard. Fromt he sideboard, Disdainful Stroke has been flexing its muscles a lot lately against the Green heavy metagame, stopping the likes of Polukranos, World Eater, Siege Rhino, and planeswalkers like Sorin, Solemn Visitor as well.
Jeskai is a tier 1 strategy and is here to stay until at least January. This includes Ascendancy Combo, Tempo, Aggro, and any other similar deck like Yuuya Watanabe’s Jeskai Ascendancy token deck or the recently popularized Jeskai Heroic deck that kicked butt at a recent SCG open. However, it’s not the only strategy that has what it takes. At this point in the metagame though, there are number of tier 1 strategies that can win on any given day. Here’s what I think are viable decks in KTK standard and should continue doing great at events well into Fates Reforged next year.
- Mardu Midrange – tons of great removal spells, burn, and the 1-2 punch of Butcher of the Horde and Stormbreath Dragon are hard to handle.
- Abzan Aggro, Abzan Midrange – both decks are really hard to deal with. Aggro plays a critical mass of high power, high toughness creatures and is hard to deal with barring a board wipe like End Hostilities. Midrange is a little slower and employs the likes of Planeswalkers to take control of the long game.
- Rabble Red – mono red has gotten a second lease on life in Khans standard and has been putting up some decent numbers recently thanks to all of the burn spells and Goblin Rabblemaster.
- White/X aggro decks – just like Rabble Red, mono white is hanging tough and soldier decks using Obelisk of Urd or Abzan Warrior decks have the speed to end a match before an opponent can put any type of defense on the table.
- Green/X devotion – this is another deck people thought was done after the rotation at the beginning of October, but GR, GB, and even GU decks have all been putting up respectable numbers. Hornet Queen should stick around standard for at least another month or so.
Speaking of top tier, I’ve been working with a number of players from The Japan Hobbyist Cardboard Samurai group, as well as getting some help with the mana from some Japanese players in town (thanks Oonishi-san!), and I’ve put together a deck that I think has a chance of being up there with the big boys.
|2 Mana Confluence
2 Battlefield Forge
3 Temple of Plenty
3 Wooded Foothills
3 Windswept Heath
3 Temple of Abandon
|4 Lightning Strike
3 Magma Jet
2 Ajani Steadfast
1 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
10 other spells
15 sideboard cards
I started off with Naya Control, but after a few tournaments with so so results, I was unhappy with the speed of the deck and lack of pressure. I then took a look at some other Naya decks that I saw others were playing. Lots of players were playing Naya midrange of sorts with planeswalkers like Xenagos, the Reveler and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, but I found myself wanting to play even faster. What I finally came up with was something close to what you see above (which I then revised to this current list after a weekend of testing).
The deck shows a lot of progress. I finished 7-5-1 after a gauntlet or tournaments this weekend, and while that might seem sub par, I was capable of winning a lot more and improving my win % with some more practice. I made a number of mistakes that I will learn from in the future, and I wasn’t blown out in any of my games. Here’s a sampling of decks I’ve beaten and decks I’ve lost against over the last week.
- Temur Midrange (2-0)
- Jeskai Tempo (2-0)
- Jeskai Aggro (2-1)
- Rabble Red (2-1)
- RW Burn (2-0)
- Mono Blue (2-0)
- Abzan Warriors (2-0)
- Jeskai Ascendancy Tokens (2-1)
- BR Minotaurs (2-1)
- Jeskai Tempo (0-2)
- RW Aggro (1-2)
- Mardu Midrange (1-2)
- G/u Devotion(1-2)
- Jeskai Midrange/Tempo (1-2)
- Abzan Aggro (1-2)
The sampling is missing out on a lot of Abzan Midrange decks (I did tie one last weekend and would have won if it weren’t for their Whip of Erebos), as well as more Mardu decks, but what I like to see from these results is that it can beat those Jeskai decks as well as other aggro decks. Since these results were pre-revision, I’m interested in seeing how the deck does with all the changes I made, especially to the mana base.
How It Plays
I’m guessing you’re wondering why a wannabe aggro deck is running 8 mana creatures. I mean, don’t mana creatures = midrange? Well, you’re not wrong. This deck is stuck right in between Midrange and aggro. You could easily drop the Elvish Mystic for a card like Heir of the Wilds (which I’ve considered), but this deck craves extra mana. I’ve tried to keep the mana curve low, and for the most part it is (the average is about 2.8), but what this deck has that most other decks like Abzan Aggro don’t have are hungry mana sinks. This deck can play threats early, and then boost their power a few turns later to make them an even bigger threat. Fleecemane Lion, Polukranos, World Eater, Stormbreath Dragon, and even Wingmate Roc benefit from having a card like Elvish Mystic around. He allows for turn 2 Goblin Rabblemasters (and sometimes turn 3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos), but his main purpose is to push out your threats as quickly as possible and then act as a roadblock. This makes him important against both aggro and midrange strategies and thus he’s needed. Sylvan Caryatid is also a must in a 3 color deck.
As for the spells, the deck plays both Lightning Strike and Magma Jet (great for smoothing out your draws, so so at killing most creatures in this meta), a pair of Ajani Steadfast to boost your army of Rabblemasters and Brimaz tokens, and an Ajani, Mentor of Heroes to give your deck some reach. I originally had 4 Magma Jet, but was convinced to go up to 3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos to give me a little more ground power. I also had a Bow of Nylea in the main before as well (goes great with Polukranos), but decided to drop it in favor of the big Ajani.
There are a couple of things I’ve noticed in initial testing that I’d like to point out to anybody interested in building it. First off, 4 toughness creatures rock. Red is the removal color of choice in the current metagame and aside from Stoke the Flames, your opponent will have to work very hard to take out Stormbreath Dragon, Brimaz, Wingmate Roc (and friend), and Polukranos. This is important in match ups like BW Warriors or RW Soldiers where you want to play an early Anger of the Gods and wipe their board. Leaving a Brimaz, King of Oreskos unchecked after an Anger will end the game really quickly. Another great synergy I found in this deck is between Goblin Rabblemaster and Wingmate Rock. The goblin tokens activate the Raid ability to get your buddy Roc into play, and afterwards they gain you life when attacking with the Roc. I’ve also noticed how important Lightning Strike is in this metagame. Just as I explained my reasoning behind Brimaz and Wingmate Roc having 4 toughness, 3 damage kills quite a bit. I had trouble with cards like Fleecemane Lion, Mantis Rider, and Monastery Swiftspear/Seeker of the Way (with prowess activated), but Lightning Strike has been keeping them in their place.
I don’t know if anybody else has noticed this, but sideboarding seems to be the hardest it’s ever been. New tech like transformational sideboarding (such as changing an aggro deck to a control deck or vice versa) has tricked quite a number of people and left many cards they sided in for that match absolutely worthless. There are also too many top tier, viable decks to prepare for. The moment you put in a bunch of cards to “hate out” a specific strategy, the entire meta changes and worthless cards are taking up spaces in your sideboard. I still haven’t had time to wrap my mind around this transformational sideboard thing, so I’m sticking to what I know: reading the metagame and putting cards in my sideboard accordingly.
In an aggro/aggressive midrange paradise, I can not express how important board wipes are. Anger of the Gods is great against the lower end of the spectrum such as RW or BW aggro, while End Hostilities is amazing against G/x devotion, Abzan midrange, and other decks that flood the board with big creatures. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion acts as sort of a 3rd End Hostilities against midrange decks and should always go in if you want a board wipe against those type of decks. Destructive Revelry was a recent change to the sideboard in response to Jeskai Ascendancy deck. I originally had Reclamation Sage in the side but it was too slow for combo, so I changed to Unravel the Aether. I thought the shuffle ability would be good if I came up against any gods while it still allowed for the flexibility to deal with artifacts such as Obelisk of Urd. Erase also came up as a possibility before I finally end up with Destructive Revelry. It deals with Whip of Erebos, Banishing Light, Courser of Kruphix, and Jeskai Ascendancy, and the added bonus of 2 damage seems to match well with the decks aggro theme.
Glare of Heresy has been pretty awesome as a catch-all removal card in this metagame. It takes out creatures (Siege Rhino, Mantis Rider), enchantments (Banishing Light, Jeskai Ascendancy), and planeswalkers (Sorin, Solemn Visitor, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion). When Magma Jet won’t cut it or Lightning Strike is absolutely worthless, Glare saves the day. I’m actually considering adding a 3rd to the sideboard. Nyx Fleece Ram is another meta dependent sideboard card. Its main role is to block and delay an aggro match until you can cast a board wipe such as Anger of Gods or End Hostilities, all the while gaining you life to protect you from being burned out. Not sure that 3 is the right number now that I have 4 board wipes in the sideboard though. Bow of Nylea is another metagame call. I like it as a way to shoot Ashcloud Phoenix out of the sky, as well as Hornet Queen. It also makes your Goblin Rabblemaster tokens absolutely deadly against even the biggest of creatures (don’t forget our old friend Mr. Polukranos when he attacks either! Instant boardwipe!). I think it’s a good card against stalled boards in midrange match ups. Banishing Light is another card that serves a variety of purposes, such as silencing a planeswalker or sending a god like Keranos, God of Storms into limbo.
Ya learn to live like an animal where you play
Now’s the time to hone your skills. The standard metagame this fall/winter is going to be a window into what next spring and summer are going to be like, and learning the ins and outs of each of the dominant decks such as Mardu, Jeskai, and Abzan will be to your benefit. There is only one more standard Grand Prix before Fates Reforged comes out, and I don’t think it will add much more to the metagame than what we already have. I could be wrong though. It will continue to be diverse and wild animal that changes chaotically from week to week, and some players might still be able to squeeze out a few more ideas before we get new blood.
I’ll be focusing on this Naya deck for the next few weeks and will be keeping tabs on the metagame in Nagoya and around Japan leading up to Hareruya’s Last Sun standard/modern tournament (which I’ll be participating in). I’ll be sure to get my readers some information on the modern metagame over the next few weeks as well, but with there being less tournaments and nothing pushing modern for the remainder of the year I don’t expect there too be anything too interesting to speak of. I hope you got some good info from the article and want to thank you for reading. My schedule is finally starting to wind down for winter, so I will try to be a little more consistent with my posts. I still have some store reviews to post, but I’d also like to work on some more original pieces. I’ll be sure to keep you updated! See you next time!