The Japan Metagame Diaries: Aggro-vated Assault – a lead up to The Last Sun
The sun has set on the era of Pro Tour Qualifiers, and has rose on the era of PPTQs (Preliminary Pro Tour Qualfiers) and RPTQs (Regional). The LAST regular PTQ in Nagoya happened on December 14th, 2014. One hundred and thirty-three people showed up, which by no means was a record in Nagoya (we’ve had close to 200 in the past), but it is a solid number nonetheless. From here on out PPTQs will happen with a much smaller crowd. We’ve had 2 of the smaller events already and they have drawn close to about 40-50 people each. This should be a lot easier on the judges and give more people a chance at playing around town, but I can’t help but miss those massive events with 8 rounds and a top 8.
Leading up to the PTQ, decks like Naya Aggro, 4 Color Control, Temur Midrange, GB reanimator, and UW Heroic won were doing well around town. 4 Color control took down 3 30+ player events, and I thought we might see it at the PTQ. However, the results from the World Magic Cup and Player’s Championship influenced players a great deal in Nagoya. Yuuya Watanabe’s Jeskai Tokens, which had some early adopters in the weeks leading up to the WMC, came out of the gates quickly. More than half the players around town were playing the deck at various events, but by the end of the week, Abzan midrange and Abzan aggro had asserted their dominance. Abzan was everywhere the weekend after the world championships, but as we got closer and closer to the PTQ, there was a shift in the Nagoya metagame towards GB Constellation/GBW reanimator. The deck had no problem dealing with all the Jeskai around town and has been putting up very good results.
I’m actually rather surprised that Sidisi Whip hasn’t made that big of a splash over here in Japan. With all these midrange decks around town, it was only a matter of time before aggro would try to go up, over, and through them as quickly as possible. There were still a large amount of Abzan decks (midrange, reanimator, and aggro), and due to their sheer numbers they performed well at the top tables. Jeskai and Mardu also showed up, but not in as great of number as Abzan. I was also rather surprised to see some GR and Naya decks doing well too.
I had been using a Naya aggro deck over the past few weeks around town, but had been getting mixed results with it. I won a few events like FNMs and 20ish people standard casuals, but the deck struggled with consistency at larger events with 40+ people and 5+ rounds. I wanted something that was a little more consistent so I went with a RW Token deck that I had put together with a little bit of inspiration from Sam Black’s Plymouth Roc deck. I went 4-4 at the PTQ, beating Mardu Midrange, GB Constellation/Whip, 5 Color Jeskai Ascendancy combo, and Temur midrange, but losing to Abzan reanimator, UB control, Abzan Midrange, and Mardu midrange.
What I learned about the deck was that token strategies were really good against non-black decks that didn’t have access to Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow. I handled Temur with ease since it didn’t have evasion, and the speed and numbers helped me to take care of Ascendancy. As for GB Whip, Anger of the Gods is great against it, and nothing beats a triple Goblin Rabblemaster hand. What really hurt was Siege Rhino, Whip or Erebos, and black removal such as Drown in Sorrow. I really enjoyed playing with Purphoros in the Main deck though, but I don’t think that this was a good build for it.
After 8 rounds, the top 8 was Abzan aggro, RW soldier aggro, Jeskai tokens, GR midrange, mono red aggro, GBW reanimator, mono white aggro, and Mardu midrange. 5 of the top 8 decks were incredibly aggressive aggro decks, and the other ones such as GR and Mardu midrange has big creature, a lot of burn, and lots of way to end a game. After the first round of the playoffs, GR midrange, Abzan aggro, RW aggro, and Jeskai tokens survived to get into the playoffs. The top 4 pitted Abzan Aggro against GR midrange, and Jeskai Tokens against RW aggro. In the end, it was Muraoka Hideaki’s Abzan aggro getting the final regular PTQ invite. Shoji Tatsuro’s RW soldier aggro just couldn’t deal with Siege Rhino, Sorin, Solemn Visitor, and Wingmate Roc. You can see the top 8 deck lists from the PTQ here.
One of the decks that really jumped out at me was GR midrange. It was refreshing to see a non-Jeskai, non-Abzan deck make it all the way to the semifinals. The deck was piloted by Ito Masahiro, a player I often play against at my local game store down the street. One of the reasons I like it is that two colors is incredibly consistent, especially when you have the mana fixing of Sylvan Carytid AND Rattleclaw Mystic. The deck ramps into Polukranos, World Eater, Stormbreath Dragon, and Polis Crusher. Yes, you heard that right.
Ito-san said that the card performed really well all day long against Whip and Ascendancy decks. He didn’t have that many Banishing Lights to worry about, but playing it turn 3 then using its monstrosity the following turn on turn 4 takes out Whip of Erebos and Jeskai Ascendancy. It is also extremely effective against the GB Constellation Reanimator deck that was popular in Nagoya this last week. I also liked the inclusion of Arc Lightning in the main board. He said it was great against token strategies using Hordeling Outburst (Mardu midrange, Jeskai Ascendancy, etc). He also had potentially 6 Stormbreath Dragons thanks to 2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. Bow of the Nylea was also a good addition to the main, dealing with opposing cards like Hornet Queen and Ashcloud Phoenix. This deck proved the old adage “Go Big or Go Home”.
The Last Sun
Every year, Hareruya (Saito Tomoharu’s store) sponsors the Last Sun tournament. It’s one of the biggest non-Grand Prix events in Japan. The tournament is invite only, meaning you have participate and make the top 8 of a qualifier to earn an invitation. Well, that’s not entirely true. Pro Players such as Yuuya Watanabe, World Cup Qualifier Winners, PTQ winners, and anybody else that’s the best of the best will be there. Not everybody will show up, but you can be sure that the competition will be tough and that any small mistake could lead to your doom. If you’re interested in seeing who is qualified, you can check out this link. I was lucky to finish 4th in the Nagoya qualifier in standard, while my friend Kurt won the modern portion the day before (with RUG Twin minus Splinter Twin even!).
It’s a 2 day event, with day one being composed of 4 rounds of standard and 4 rounds of modern while day two is 3 rounds of standard and 3 rounds of modern followed by a top 8 single elimination round. The winner takes home 300,000 yen (about $2600 at the current rate), the runner up gets 100,000 yen, and there is prize support all the way up to 32nd place. At the moment is looks like it’s going to be around a 200 person event.
A quick look at the Modern decks that have been seeing play in in Tokyo at Hareruya through Happymtg.com’s website doesn’t really help you go get a feel for the metagame I think. The metagame looks like it’s still wide open and anybody’s game at the moment. Jeskai Ascendancy has proven itself, while Junk and Birthing Pod have also put up good numbers. I believe that UR Delver will also show up often this weekend, and the oldies but goodies such as Affinity and UWR control will also have a lot of players. It’s still been only about 7 months since I started playing modern, so I’m sticking with what I know the best: Affinity.
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
|4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
|4 Galvanic Blast
3 Ghostfire Blade
4 Mox Opal
4 Cranial Plating
4 Springleaf Drum
21 other spells
15 sideboard cards
It’s been testing really well against a variety of decks at casual events around town. Ghostfire Blade makes it really hard to take out your threats, and it can be played on turn 1 about 50% of the time, letting you protect your Memnite or Ornithopter from a burn spell before your opponent can even drop a land. It also makes your man lands like Inkmoth Nexus that much more formiddable. I dropped a land to go to 16 and also cut my Etched Champions from the main in favor or Steel Overseer. I want the deck to hit fast, hard, and often. I think this is the best way to do it.
In the sideboard I have Etched Champion for when targeted removal gets sided in against your artifacts, Hurkyl’s Recall against the mirror for a huge tempo swing, Thoughtseize to steal opponent’s removal like Shatterstorm, and even a Tomb of the Spirit Dragon to give me a way to race against burn decks. I’ve also considered adding in an Ethersworn Canonist to deal with Jeskai Ascendancy decks, but I have no idea how much of that I will see there. I know how to play the deck very well now, and I don’t think I will have any problems in the modern portion.
Standard is a whole nother animal though.
|GR Bee Bombers|
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
|2 Radiant Fountain
2 Rugged Highlands
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Temple of Abandon
|2 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames
3 Chord of Calling
2 Crater’s Claws
4 Hordeling Outburst
2 Xenagos, the Reveler
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
18 other spells
15 sideboard cards
I’ve been working a lot in November and December and haven’t achieved the level of standard mastery that I would have liked to. Therefore, I’m extremely hesitant to play a deck like Abzan aggro/midrange/whip or other highly played deck because I wouldn’t be confident I could win the mirror matches at all due to my current skill level with them. At an event with so many high level players, I doubt I could go head to head with them and win. Therefore I’m taking a chance and trying something totally different.
I’ve heard of Chord of Calling decks before that used the card to tutor for a Hornet Nest or other card to put into play, but I never really tried it out until now. After some testing against Abzan strategies, I think I might have something that can stand up to it. GR Bee Bombers doesn’t sound that cool (my friend considered calling it Wickerman), I know, but I really like what it has to offer. By playing Chord of Calling, I can easily find the card I need for any match up. Reclamation Sage is great against Whip and Ascendancy decks, Hornet Queen is great against cards like Wingmate Roc and Stormbreath Dragon, Ashcloud Phoenix is good against Mardu, and Hornets Nest is NOT something your opponent’s Savage Knuckleblade wants to run into.
The basic strategy of the deck is burn your opponent out. Stoke the Flames, Lightning Strike, and Crater’s Claws are your main sources of burn. Stoke the Flames works very well in a token based deck such as this due to the convoke ability. I decided to go with the 2/2 split of Strike and Claws to allow the deck to deal with cards like Seeker of the Way and Goblin Rabblemaster, while still allowing me to burn out my opponent or target my own Hornet’s Nest with Purphoros, God of the Forge in play for double damage.
Speaking of Purphoros, God of the Forge, I really like him in this deck as a win condition. There are times when you have to throw every blocker you have in front of an overwhelming force just to survive, but Purphoros lets you get value out of them before they die. As with Reclamation Sage, you can tutor for him with Chord of Calling around turn 4 or 5 and then start pinging away at your opponent. He’s also a great way to pump up all those tokens (especially the 1/1 insects with deathtouch). Ashcloud Phoenix lets you hit your opponent for 2 with Purphoros in play, once when you play it and when it returns from the graveyard face-down in the morph position. I also like Xenagos, the Reveler in this deck. You’ll be using his +1 ability almost as often as his 0 ability, which means you can quickly get up to his ultimate. Playing Puprhoros, Hornet Queen, Hornet Queen is a great way to end the game. The deck is largely defensive, waiting for the big finish with Chandra or Xenagos, but it also has the chance to get those killer hands with multiple Goblin Rabblemasters which can end the game very quickly against a slower deck.
As for how to play it, I’ll go through a magical Christmas land scenario. Turn one would be a scry or other tap in land, followed by a turn two Sylvan Caryatid. On turn 3 we play our 3rd land, giving us 4 mana. I’d really like to play a Hordeling Outburst on this turn if possible, but I would consider a Purphoros if the other player had a slower deck. What I like about the 3 goblin tokens is that on turn 3 your Stoke the Flames are already activated. If your Mardu opponent played first, you can let them sacrifice their goblins to their Butcher of the Horde and take it out.
Turn 4 is where I like playing Xenagos, but would also be happy with a Hornet’s Nest or Ashcloud Phoenix as well. With a Xenagos in play, you can add 4 mana to your mana pool thanks to all those goblins, and get an extra mana from Caryatid if you want as well. He basically lets you play another 4 drop for free (such as Purphoros). I personally would play a Hornet’s Nest with the extra mana so I could pop it with a Stoke the Flames before the next turn and get some surprise blockers. Now in this Magical Christmas land, on turn 5 we could still possibly have those 3 goblins, 4 Hornets, the Caryatid, and about 4+ mana in play with Xenagos. With the creatures alone we could Chord for a 5 mana creature, add the land and you have the ability to get a Hornet Queen. If Puprhoros is in play already, your opponent is going to be hurting, and thanks to the Hornet Queen they might be on the verge of death. If not, we can then +1 Xenagos and get 13 mana to hit them for a massive Crater’s Claw or to Chord of Calling for another Hornet Queen to end the game.
That’s turn 5.
Abzan, Jeskai, Mardu, and Temur have nothing to deal with all these tokens in game one, but after sideboarding you can be sure there will be some Anger of the Gods or Drown in Sorrow waiting for you. Well, that’s fine because you’ll have a few tricks of your own as well. We start off with Nylea’s Disciple for UW aggro, burn, and other decks that push pressure on your life total. This comes in play alongside Bow of Nylea, letting you gain life while also shooting down any flying threats they might have thanks to Stratus Walk. I’d also consider bow against GR midrange or any other deck playing Hornet Queen. It just might help you win that match up against Reanimator, while also turning your otherwise impotent 1/1 goblins into explosive sticks of dynamite.
I find adding Reclamation Sage against Jeskai Tokens/Ascendancy decks a great help. It puts down a body and also takes out their win con. It’s also a good call against Whip strategies, especially GB Constellation which is pretty much ALL enchantments. There will be times when you and your opponent will be at a stalemate and that’s when it will be good to play Setessan Tactics. I’d only play this if you are playing Xenagos, the Reveler though, because that’s the only way you’ll be able to create the mana needed to give everybody a boost. The most realistic target for it would be Hornet’s Nest, but even turning a solitary 1/1 Hornet into a 2 mana kill spell is worth it I think. I would play it against midrange decks where your tokens would otherwise be totally outclassed and nothing more than road blocks.
Sarkhan, The Dragonspeaker is your go to guy against Mardu midrange, control decks, and killing Wingmate Roc. Your Stoke the Flames are going to be stretched thin in those match ups, so having the ability to fly in and take out a Sorin, Solemn Visitor or zap a Stormbreath Dragon is going to be pretty useful. With all the tokens you’re playing, you should be able to protect him pretty easily. You can also target your own Hornet’s Nest to get some more insect tokens into play. Destructive Revelry is a must have against whip decks and against Jeskai Ascendancy, the 2nd Chandra is good against Mardu midrange and control for that extra card advantage. Anger of the Gods is a must have against mono red, white, and RW soldier aggro. If you can play it on turn 3 you can really hurt those decks, but the card is also really good against Sidisi and GB whip that rely heavily on Hornet Queens, Sylvan Cayratids, and Zombies. Plus, it gives you 3 hornets if your Hornet Nest is in play!
Riding Into the Sunset
Is this the right call? I don’t know. I’m taking my RW aggro deck just in case, but I have a good feeling about the GR Token deck. I’m leaving for Tokyo on Friday and will be testing the deck out at Hareruya to see how it handles. I’m a bit nervous, but excited that I’ll have the chance to take part in the event. I hope this article finds you well before GP Manila or other big event coming up, and that the decks treat you well at your next tournament. Thanks for reading, and look for my next Modern Masters 2 article and Last Sun tournament report after the weekend sometime. Thanks for reading!