The Japan Metagame Diaries: Man in the Mirror (Match)

It’s been a very rough past few weeks. I’ve had great success at the Friday Night Magic level of tournaments around town, but when it comes to bigger tournaments with 30+ people, I’ve been struggling. First off, let me apologize for the complete lack of updates over the past few weeks. Let’s just leave November as a “lost month” or something. My full time schedule, compounded with a severe lack of playing anything other than FNM hasn’t put me in a good position going into December.

There were some great tournaments in the world of MTG though, namely GP Madrid and GP New Jersey. Some SCG Opens have also been shaping the metagame in each of the major formats. Delver decks have found their way into both the Modern and Legacy tournaments around town in Nagoya, and in  standard Abzan (both Aggro and Midrange) have reigned supreme. As much as I tried to make it work, Naya aggro just didn’t have the card advantage I needed to over take decks like Abzan. When Abzan wasn’t involved, I took down events left and right, beating aggro and burn decks such as Jeskai Tempo and Mono red aggro repeatedly. The problem with Naya is that it struggles to deal damage necessary to kill a Siege Rhino and can easily have the tables turned on it with all of Abzan’s removal aimed at it.


Return to the Darkside


Due to the reasons I stated above, my Lion’s Roar (Naya Aggro) deck will go back into testing until I find a good mix of cards to deal with Abzan decks in game 1 while still leaving me in a good position against the rest of the field. In the mean time, I’ll be returning to my Khans of Tarkir roots.

For the first month of KTK standard, I was playing Abzan Planeswalkers and doing really well. Then Jeskai tempo and other decks appeared on the scene and suddenly everybody was gunning for Abzan. The metagame wasn’t easy to navigate needless to say, so I moved into Naya in late October and early November. Now I come back full circle to the deck that did me so well in the first few weeks of the season, but with some key changes.


Junk Midrange
Test deck, By Ryan Schwenk
1 Mana Confluence
1 Temple of Silence
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Llanowar Wastes
2 Plains
3 Forest
2 Caves of Koilos
1 Temple of Malady
4 Sandsteppe Citadel
2 Swamp
4 Windswept Heath

24 lands

4 Rakshasa Deathdealer
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Fleecemane Lion
4 Siege Rhino
4 Reaper of the Wilds

20 creatures

3 Despise
3 Abzan Charm
3 Hero’s Downfall
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Whip of Erebos
2 Murderous Cut
1 Nissa, Worldwaker
1 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes

16 other spells

2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Utter End
3 Drown in Sorrow
2 Bile Blight
3 End Hostilities
2 Back to Nature
1 Glare of Heresy

15 sideboard cards


The core of the deck is still very similar to my previous Abzan planeswalkers deck. Sorin, Elspeth, and Ajani are there, as well as a the removal package of Abzan Charm, Hero’s Downfall, and Despise. The only change I made was Murderous Cut instead of Utter End in order to give me something I can play a little bit easier. Being able to delve and reduce the cost free’s up mana that I can otherwise be using for my creatures’ special abilities.

As you can see, the biggest change to this deck comes in the creature package. I’ve dropped Elvish Mystic and Courser of Kruphix because they simply can’t hold up to decks like Abzan aggro. They become mere speed bumps against bigger midrange decks and lower your overall power level. In their places I’ve added Rakshasa Deathdealer and Fleecemane Lion. The reasoning is that they are great early in the game and can match up very well against a variety of creatures. They can put pressure on an opponent that slips up that Elvish Mystic and Courser of Kruhix simply can’t do. Later in the game, they both become rather fearsome when mana is invested into them, and they are both frustrating to deal with thanks to hexproof, regenerate, or indestructible.

The other big change to this deck is a full playset of Reaper of the Wilds. I’ve had people say Wingmate Roc should be in this deck, or Anafenza, but then it disrupts what this deck wants to do. It’s not an Abzan aggro deck that wants to attack often and fast, it’s an Abzan Planeswalker deck that wants to be able to go head to head with fast decks then switch modes and go into planeswalker control mode. Therefore, Wingmate Roc isn’t a good choice. If you’re playing a Burn heavy meta it might be a good choice, but against Mardu Midrange and other Abzan decks, Reaper of the Wilds is my go to gorgon. First and foremost you can protect it from all removal other than a boardwipe for 2 mana, and secondly you can kill anything on the ground, including Polukranos, Siege Rhinos, and Anafenza. Her scry 1 ability whenever a creature dies is also good in this deck. Without Courser of Kruphix you lose that ability to get card advantage, but you can still smooth out your draws with her and then use Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and Abzan Charm to draw cards if you need something desperately.

The sideboard is pretty solid I think. Utter End is your catch all to get planeswalkers and other permanents such as Artifacts, Drown in Sorrow and Bile Blight are MUST HAVES against aggro decks like Mono red aggro and Mono white, Elspeth is great against more controlling decks like Abzan or Mardu Planeswalkers, End Hostilities lets you shift the deck into control mode against other midrange decks with too many creatures, Back to Nature deals with UW/UWR Heroic/Jeskai Ascendancy decks well, and Glare of Heresy is pretty good removal in the Abzan mirror match. I think the deck will do well, but it’s still only in the testing stages. I’ll be checking it out this week and next to see how it handles. I went 2-1 at a 17 person local weekday tournament, beating mono red aggro and Junk Reanimator, but losing to a hope shattering 4 Color control deck. That’s the first control deck I’ve seen in a long time, so I’m still rather hopeful about this deck’s chances. It should match up well in the Abzan mirror match while still having all of the deck’s advantages over the rest of the metagame. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.


Modern Times


I haven’t really played Modern that much since GP Kobe, and I think I’ve only played it twice since Khans of Tarkir came out. I played my R/g devotion deck in the first event I went to just for fun, and the other day I played at a small 9 person event and went 3-0 with my newest Affinity build. Not a  lot to test it out against when there is only 9 people, but I did get a chance to see how it plays.


Real Steel
Test deck by Ryan Schwenk
1 Mana Confluence
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Glimmervoid
4 Darksteel Citadel

17 lands

4 Signal Pest
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Vault Skirge
2 Master of Etherium
4 Ornithopter
4 Memnite

22 creatures

3 Galvanic Blast
4 Ghostfire Blade
4 Mox Opal
4 Cranial Plating
2 Thoughtcast
4 Springleaf Drum

21 other spells

2 Tempered Steel
1 Tomb of the Spirit Dragon
2 Spellskite
2 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Blood Moon
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Thoughtseize
2 Wear // Tear
2 Spell Pierce

15 sideboard cards


On the surface its like any other Affinity deck, but the new additions from Khans of Tarkir are pretty good. What I’ve learned so far is that Ghostfire Blade can be pretty damn lethal. I used to think that dropping your hand and playing a Cranial Plating turn 1 was pretty darn good, but you still run into the problem of having your creatures get burned before you equip them the next turn. Forked Bolt has been showing up a lot more in modern over here to deal with the Delver of Secrets decks that have been multiplying, and nothing sucks more than having both of your creatures killed before they can attack. A hand with Ghostfire Blade lets you start off with slightly less power, but allows you to equip your Memnite or Ornithopter on turn 1 before your opponent can do anything. Suddenly that Electrolyze or Bolt is worthless against a 3/3 or 2/4 creature. Another benefit of Ghostfire Blade is that it doubles the amount of threats you can make.  Man lands like Inkmoth Nexus, Signal Pest, etc . . . they all can do a lot of damage between turns 2 and 4.

With this kind of Affinity deck, you want to play as many low casting cost creatures as possible, which is why I’m playing 4 Memnites. I’ve also opted out of using Etched Champion at the moment in order to capitalize on all these easy to play threats with Master of Etherium. I like him better than Steel Overseer because of his immediate effect, and getting him out turn 2 or 3 rebuffs your creatures to save them from spot removal as well. You still have to worry about cards like Abrupt Decay, but adding in more threats to the mix overwhelms your opponent’s removal I think.

The other additions from Khans that I made to this deck was adding in a Tomb of the Spirit Dragon against burn decks and the mirror match to give you an edge. It’s easy to drop a Blinkmoth Nexus or Inkmoth Nexus in exchange for it, and the benefits easily outweigh the loss of one man land in those match ups. Drawing it in your opening hand and gaining 4-5 life a turn can be back breaking to a burn deck that counts on you dying by turn 4. Another card I’m toying around with is Tempered Steel. This is in response to decks like Junk which play effects that give all creatures -1/-1 such as Golgari Charm, but it also is a great way to get an edge against players using Anger of the Gods or in the mirror. I’m still not sure if it will stay in the sideboard, but for right now I like it. This is also the reason I’m playing 4 Glimmervoids and a Mana Confluence instead of using any basic lands.


Looking Forward


We are still about 2-3 weeks off before Fate Reforged spoilers start to trickle out from Wizards of the Coast, so I don’t expect to be too busy with my posting schedule until then. The World Magic Cup will be in two weeks and I will definitely be routing for team Japan. The weekend following that, Nagoya has its final PTQ before the new Pro Tour Qualifier system starts up. I’ll be posting some metagame updates from around the Tokai area for anybody thinking of playing as well as how recent Grand Prix and Hareruya results will be influencing it. It doesn’t stop there though. Hareruya’s The Last Sun tournament will also be taking place on December 20th and 21st, which is made up of both Modern and Standard events. I’ll be talking about modern in the coming weeks as well, and what I expect to see up in Tokyo.

My work schedule is much better now, so I’m looking forward to getting back into a normal posting schedule, which means at least 1 article a week. Before I end today’s article, I just want to thank the Cardboard Samurai and Cardboard Ronin for their continued support and feedback on building my decks. Having a team to bounce ideas off of saves me a lot of time and makes testing a lot more efficient. Thanks for reading today and be sure to follow The Japan Hobbyist by email so you can get updates when I post. See you next time.