The Japan Metagame Diaries: The Last Sun – A Tale of Two Kings
On December 20th and 21st, players from all around Japan who were qualified headed to the Hareruya game center in Tokyo, Japan. All in all, 173 players who made the top 8 of a qualifier, won other events like PTQs, and even honorary guests with more than 100 pro-points or other previous MTG accomplishments showed up. Hareruya’s team of Kenji Tsumura and Kentaro Yamamoto were participating, Hall of Famer Makito Mihara showed, up, and even Pro Tour competitor Yuuki Ichikawa was in attendance. There were strong players all around, and players were in for a struggle if they were going to reach the finals for a chance for close to $3000 (300,000 yen).
For those of you that haven’t read about The Last Sun before, it’s an end of the tournament held at the Hareruya tournament center and run by Tomoharu Saito. The event is composed of 2 days of Magic. The first day is 4 rounds of standard followed by 4 rounds of modern, and the next day is the same but followed by 3 rounds each instead of 4. For those that make the finals, the higher seeded player gets to choose the format for each battle. They get to look at their opponent’s deck lists, then choose either modern or standard. The usually choose whichever is their better match up.
Happymtg.com has just posted a full break down of the standard metagame on their website and if you are interested in seeing what decks were popular (as well as to get a feel for what the metagame in Asia will be for the next few weeks), then by all means check it out. Otherwise, I can paraphrase the information here.
Abzan was by far the most popular color choice of the event, but that includes Reanimator, Midranage, and Aggro. Out of those 3, I thought the Reanimator version was the most prevalent. This was true in Nagoya at the PTQ and in the metagame there the week before, and seemed to carry through to The Last Sun. The life gain and overwhelming numbers were good against aggro decks like Jeskai Tokens and also were great against removal heavy decks like Mardu Midrange.
As for Jeskai, the token version was all over the place the week before in Japan, and Yuuya Watanabe’s build continued to be popular with the Tokyo crowd. Jeskai Ascendancy Combo also put up good numbers, but only 1 deck managed to make it to the top 8.
Mardu Midrange has been on the rise lately in Japan, and there were quite a few players at The Last Sun playing it. Tokens into a Butcher of the Horde into a Stormbreath Dragon are hard for a lot of players to beat, especially if their forces are mainly on the ground. Sure you have to worry about Hornet Queen in the air with her army, but most Mardu players were using Arc Lightning to get around that. I’ve noticed a sudden increase in Mardu players in PPTQ level events in Nagoya, and I think it’s mostly due to the match up against Whip decks.
The last deck I saw a lot of was Sidisi Whip. The deck isn’t nearly as popular over here in Japan as compared to the USA. Japanese players tend to stick with Siege Rhino or the constellation build with Doomwake Giant to deal with aggro decks and tokens.
HappyMTG has a list of the modern decks that made the Top 8, but they don’t have a metagame list of what everybody was playing in English(at the moment). If you want to, you can check out their Japanese coverage of the modern metagame breakdown, but some things might be hard to discern. For that reason, I’ll give you my input on the information they collected since I was there.
On the link, you can see that Burn was the most played modern deck at The Last Sun. I think the reason for this is that many players normally only played standard or other format, and when they found out they had to play modern at this event as well, many people put together a deck that was probably relatively easy to build, as well as somewhat cheap. This could also be the reason why there were so few burn decks left when day 2 came around. The players simply couldn’t beat all the UR Delver and RUG Twin going around.
The next biggest group of decks was Junk (mostly a variant of GB “The Rock”). The deck matches up well against a variety of decks thanks to cards like Abrupt Decay and Tarmogoyf, but the deck only had middling success throughout the weekend. Only one deck made the top 8, and the others just missed the final cut with 4-3 records.
Birthing Pod actually did pretty well for itself as the 3rd most represented deck. I faced 2 of them myself, beating one piloted by Arita Ryuichi (past multiple Pro Tour Top 8 player) due to him not being able to find Birthing Pod in time and my Affinity being too fast, and the other I lost to at the end of day 1 for my only loss that day. I feel like Birthing Pod is poised rather well against UR/RUG Delver decks since it can combo off rather quickly if your opponent doesn’t have the right cards, and that’s why so many of the decks had good match ups against them. Two Pod decks made the top 8.
The numbers of the metagame breakdown can be deceiving though. If you put together both RUG and UR Delver, you get more of that deck than anything else there. About 80% of the pros were using the deck, including Yuuki Ichikawa (who made the top 8), Makito Mihara, and Kentaro Yamamoto (not to mention the champion Hayashi Takamoto used it as well). This deck was all over the top tables and really goes to show you how strong a card like Treasure Cruise as become at high level of gaming. The Burn deck that made the top 8 splashed blue for it, Ichikawa’s deck had it in his Delver deck, and of course Hayashi was using it too. It’s become similar to Tarmogoyf. You can squeeze it in to almost any deck and get a lot of value from it.
For the rest of the metagame, I think you can browse through the link I gave you above and see what they are by the pictures. Affinity, Merfolk, Scapeshift, Twin, etc . . . The metagame was rather well spread out I thought, but the decks that performed the best were definitely blue based ones that had access to Treasure Cruise.
A Tale of Two Kings
King of the Hole
I took a risk by playing a deck that wasn’t fully tuned. My initial GR Token/Chord of Calling list was a bit too top heavy and too slow for most of the metagame game. Plus I didn’t have too much practice with it prior to the event. Well, I didn’t have much practice with just about everything in the current metagame. I had tried out Abzan and did really well the first few weeks of the Khans of Tarkir metagame, but was easily outclassed in mirror matches afterwards. I tried out a few blue decks and blue just didn’t match my play style. I wasn’t patient enough nor did I have key cards like Dig Through Time to make those decks work. My previous Naya aggro deck suffered from consistency issues, so instead of playing something I knew I was going to do poorly with, I took a gamble.
I went 2-1 at Hareruya’s Friday Night Magic, and thought I could pull off a few wins with it, but I was wrong. I went 0-4 on day 1 in standard, losing to Abzan midrange 0-2, Sidisi Whip 1-2, UB Control 1-2, and RW Aggro 1-2. I was stuck in 172nd place out of 173 at the end of standard. Well, “thems the breaks” as they say. I knew my strong point was going to be in Modern.
For modern, I was using my Real Steel Affinity deck.
|Ryan Schwenk, The Last Sun Day 1: 3-1, Day 2: 2-1|
|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
I really like the addition of Ghostfire Blade in this deck instead of Etched Champion in the main board. It made the deck a lot faster and my creatures harder to kill. I was able to play a lot of my hand on turn 1, sometimes even equipping the Blade on a Memnite or Ornithopter. Having Ghostfire Blade lets you put mounting pressure on an opponent as they hold removal for your Cranial Plating. It also works really well if you only have an Inkmoth Nexus or Blinkmoth Nexus available.
I might have been king of the hole after standard, but I fought my way back on day one at the Last Sun with my modern deck. I started off with a 2-0 win against Birthing Pod, continued with my blazing fast attacks against UWR Control 2-0, beat Jund 2-0 thanks to Dark Confidant pushing his life down for me, and it wasn’t until I played against a Junk aggro/Birthing Pod hybrid in the 8th round of day 1 that I got my first loss in modern.
Going into Day 2 I was 3-5. We started with 3 rounds of standard and I won my first game by default due to a no show (there were quite a few people that decided not to show up Day 2), then continued to struggle with my draws in game 2 against a Naya Planeswalker control deck. In my final standard game, I had problems with mana against RW Soldiers and was overwhelmed in no time. While the records don’t show it, continued to play against these decks after the slips were handed in and proxied up some changes. The GR Chord of Calling deck performed much better afterwards, and I got some great suggestions on how to fix it going into the new year.
As for Day 2 of Modern, in round 4 I found my Affinity deck going up against a Slippery Boggle enchantment deck. I kill him with my Inkmoth Nexus in both games, totally disregarding any life he gained from his enchantments. In round 5, I played against Merfolk and burned him out with Galvanic Blast game 1 for a win, then played a turn 1 Ghostfire Blade and went over his head quickly and frequently in game 2 for the match. In my final match, I played against UB Tezzeret for the first time ever and made a lot of mistakes (like not attacking Tezzeret at 4 counters). Needless to say, I’ll have to practice that match up in the future. I finished my tournament at 6-8. Really wish I could have done better in the standard portion, but that’s why you need to practice often. My final standing was 82/173.
King of the Hill
Take a good look at who is number 1 in that picture above. Austin Hatfield. There were only 3 foreigners in total at the event (including me), and Mr. Hatfield was able to beat all the odds to remain at number 1 after two days of grueling MTG games.
|Jeskai Combo By Austin Hatfield|
|4th Place, The Last Sun 2014
|4 Mana Confluence
1 Shivan Reef
4 Frontier Bivouac
1 Yavimaya Coast
4 Windswept Heath
3 Temple of Mystery
1 Flooded Strand
|4 Retraction Helix
1 Swan Song
4 Taigam’s Scheming
4 Dig Through Time
4 Jeskai Ascendancy
1 Altar of the Brood
2 Treasure Cruise
3 Commune with the Gods
4 Briber’s Purse
27 other spells
15 sideboard cards
For standard, Austin chose Jeskai Ascendancy Combo. At first glance it’s a pretty stock list. The deck has evolved from it’s earliest forms into this very sleek and sexy one. One of the big changes I see is Satyr Wayfinder to the main deck instead of a card like Voyaging Satyr. He said Wayfinder is much better than Voyaging Satyr because it not only helps you to get the mana you need, but also enables you to delve with both Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time much, much faster. Taigam’s Scheming is another card that is seeing more play in Combo decks over here in Japan. Scheming lets you do 2 things. The first is to set up your draws. If you have a Jeskai Ascendancy in play, you can find your combo piece, return it as your next card, then drop a Briber’s Purse, untap, draw that card and combo off for the win. If they are all lands, you can toss them in the graveyard then use a Dig Through Time or Treasure Cruise to get to what you need. It works very well I think.
As for the sideboard, the card he wanted to point out to me was the the Dragon’s Eye Savants. Since your deck is already playing morph creatures, your opponent will more than likely use removal on it such as a Lightning Strike. The joke is on them when you flip the card by showing a blue card you have, and letting it absorb the blast. Not only does it make them waste removal, but it also allows you to check their hands and know what to expect. Do they have enchantment removal? Can they stop your combo? Austin was tricking people all day long and playing this card greatly improved his chances of comboing off without any disruption. Pretty ingenious. It was the first time I had ever seen anything like that.
Austin finished 6-1 in standard at the end of 2 days, but he was actually 8-0 at the end of day 1 along with his modern results. Speaking of modern, lets take a look at his deck list from the event.
|RW soul Sisters By Austin Hatfield|
|4th Place, The Last Sun 2014|
|4 Cavern of Souls
2 Flooded Strand
1 Marsh Flats
1 Windswept Heath
4 Arid Mesa
4 Sacred Foundry
|4 Lightning Bolt
4 Genesis Chamber
3 Path to Exile
2 Return to the Ranks
13 other spells
15 sideboard cards
He had a near perfect record with his Norin the Wary/Soul Sisters deck on day 1, and didn’t get a loss with it until after round 11 against UR Delver. He finished 11-2-1, losing to Sidisi Whip in standard in round ten, and the tie coming from the intentional draw to get into the top 8. Austin had been dominating with his RW Soul Sisters deck on MTGO lately as well, so it was no fluke that he dominated his match ups. Nobody was prepared for the deck at this event. When your opponents are trying to burn you out and attack you with countless numbers of tokens, just get rid of all of that advantage with life gain. Auriok Champion performed really well against a majority of the burn based decks at the tournament, Legion Loyalist was able to get around all those Elemental and Spirit tokens, and the Norin the Wary/Champion of the Parish combo lets you beat down your opponent quickly.
In another great decision, Austin played 2 Return to the Ranks in his main board. If for some reason his opponent had wiped his board or dealt with all of his creatures, playing Return to the Ranks brought them all back into play for a huge tempo swing. If Purphoros, God of the Forge was in play, this was pretty much a game ender. In his sideboard, he said that Mark of Asylum was great at protecting his creatures from all sorts of burn spells and really allowed him to win the battle of attrition against his competitors.
Being the number 1 seed, Austin was able to choose the format to play for the top 8 matches. In the first knock out round he played against GR midrange in a standard battle of epic proportions. He squeaked out a win in game 3 to go up 2-1, but a fast start by his opponent in game 4 tied it up at 2 wins apiece. It all came down to the final game. Austin had his first Jeskai Ascendancy destroyed by his opponent and started to mana flood over the next few turns. Having just used a Dragon’s Eye Savant to see what his opponent had, he bided his time and clung to life, building up his hand for the win. In what can only be described as poetry in motion, Austin played a Jeskai Ascendancy, played another one, and when his opponent cast a Back to Nature he countered it with Swan Song, forcing his opponent to use his Destructive Revelry on the 2nd Jeskai Ascendancy. One was all he needed though, and with a Retraction Helix in hand, he comboed off to win his first match.
Austin played his Nemesis Hayashi Takatomo in the semifinals. Hayashi-san was his own loss of day 2 in modern, and he ended up having to play him again. Since Austin was the undeniable first seed, he got to choose the format once again. After looking at Hayashi’s deck lists, he decided to try his luck against UR Delver again. In game 1, Hayashi played every burn spell he could get his hands on and managed to clear Austin’s board of creatures while keeping pressure on him for the win. In game 2, early Monastery Swiftspears and burn chipped away at Austin’s life before he could get any type of board presence. Cards like Electrickery took out his army of cards before they could get any stronger, and in a very technical move, Hayashi cast an Electrickery after Austin left the Swiftspear unblocked, then countered it with his own Mana Leak to get his opponent for lethal. Things weren’t looking good going into game 3 for Hatfield. Hayashi contiued to put the pressure on him, using cards like Izzet Staticaster to remove his threats 1 by 1, and before he knew it it was over.
It was a great run and I had a chance to talk with Austin after the semifinals to get some more information about his decks, his card choices, as well as the player himself.
The Japan Hobbyist: Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been playing Magic? Where you from? What are your favorite formats, etc?
I started around Mirrodin block in 2004 or so, but mostly casually with friends. I played a lot of EDH those first few years and used that format to get better. I’d say EDH (Commander) influences my play style a lot as well. I only really got serious with drafting about 2 years ago, and with standard and modern I only started being competitive about a year ago. I’m currently in the military and living in Japan, but I’m originally from California. While there, I played a lot at Channel Fireball.
The Japan Hobbyist: Tell us a little bit more about the decks you used for The Last Sun. How do they play, what are the key cards, and why did you choose it for this tournament? Are your lists stock from a website somewhere, or did you work on them yourself?
In standard I played with 4 Color Jeskai Ascendancy combo. The original list was from the Pro Tour not too long ago. The big changes I made to it were adding in Satyr Wayfinder to help smooth out my land and speed up my ability to Delve, and Taigam’s Scheming. Taigam’s Scheming just makes the deck that much faster since you can quickly dig to your win condition. The reason why I chose this deck was because it runs over midrange decks like Abzan.
For Modern, I played RW Soul Sisters. The deck has been around for a while, but I ran Auriok Champion in the main board, as well as Return to the Ranks. Return to the Ranks was a good way to suddenly shift the tempo of the game into your favor, and Auriok Champion acted like another Soul Sister but with protection cards like Lightning Bolt. I’ve been playing this deck for quite some time and it fits my play style. I’ve gotten quite good with it, and it negates all of the damage people are doing in the current metagame.
The Japan Hobbyist: Speaking of your decks, how were your match ups during The Last Sun? What were good/bad match ups? What kind of hands were the best to keep and when did you throw them back?
For standard, midrange was a really good match up for me. Jeskai Tempo, mono red aggro, and Mardu Midrange are somewhat worse match up due to their speed and the amount of damage they can do. The best hands are withSylvan Caryatid + the combo pieces. This often led to a lot of turn 4 wins. If your hand is full of mana creatures and only dig cards though, you might be in trouble.
In Modern, I went 2-0 in most of my games. The reason I think was because people weren’t prepared for the deck. Keeping hands with good synergy were key. Norin the Wary + Genesis Champer, Ajani’s Pridemage + the Soul Sisters . . . the toughest match ups for the deck are the Birthing Pod that combos into an infinite power flying angel and GR tron since they can exile everything. The great thing about the deck is that most of the cards can be cast with only one mana. I kept quite a few one land hands and was able to put a lot of pressure on my opponents before they could put up any kind of defense.
The Japan Hobbyist: How long have you lived in Japan now? How long do you plan on living here? Do you have any MTG plans for the future?
I’ve been here for just over a year now, and will probably be here for another 2 years until my assignment is done. I’m definitely gonna try to do more and more competitive events until I head back to the states. I plan on doing every tournament in Japan (aside from next month’s GP Shizuoka). I really want to improve my game.
The Japan Hobbyist: Looking at your sideboard, how do you approach each of the big match ups in standard and modern? Why were these cards important?
In Modern, Mark of Asylum really came through for me. By taking out my opponent’s ability to burn my creatures, I had a much easier time of taking them out. I used it against UR Delver, and RUG Twin to name a few. Electrickery was also a nice card to have, specifically if you want to deal with Affinity quckily.
For standard, Dragon’s Eye Savants over performed all day long. It sucked up removal, gave you tempo, and let you decide when to play your combo pieces so they didn’t get destroyed. Swan Songs were good against removal, and Monastery Swiftspear was good against slower decks too.
The Japan Hobbyist: You were 1 of only 3 total foreigners participating in a mostly Japanese tournament. How did it feel?Did you have any problems? Would you say that playing MTG in Japan has changed you at all? Would you like to see more foreigners playing Magic in the future?
There were a few things. For starters, you get a lot more attention, especially at the top tables. People gather around, there’s a video, it’s hectic. I did have a few misunderstandings when I couldn’t explain a process to somebody. Japan has really pushed me into competitive Magic due to the lack of options in other formats, especially at smaller stores. It would also be nice to have more foreigners to talk with, if only so that you can bounce ideas off of each other.
The Japan Hobbyist: Have you played competitively back home? How would you compare Japan to the USA? Is this your best finish? When you do well, what do you attribute it to?
As I said before, I didn’t really play competitively other than EDH (I was really good in my area, one of the best). I did a lot of Friday Night Magics, but no big tournaments. Japan is different in that you can’t just sit down and play. You have to play one of the major formats, or you simply won’t be able to do anything while living in Japan. The USA tends to be a lot more open and casual, and an easy way to meet friends. This is definitely my best finish ever. I’ve won a rather large GPT, made Top 8 in others, but this is the first time I finished in the money. I can attribute some of my success to luck, but knowing your deck well, staying healthy, and doing things like mitigating tilt can go a long way at helping you to improve.
The Japan Hobbyist: One last question. You said you played EDH a lot. What’s your favorite deck?
I built a Anax and Cymede deck and absolutely loved it. It was very synergistic and chock full of heroic enablers.
4th place is nothing to be ashamed about. You fought hard and did a great job Austin!
Well, I’d like to thank Austin Hatfield again for letting me interview him and using his decks too in my article. I wish him the best of luck in the future and hope to see him at other big events. I’d also like to wish all of my readers happy holidays and hope that this can tide you over until after the weekend! We’ll be starting Fate Reforged spoilers in a matter of weeks, so be sure to visit again sometime! If you have any other questions about the decks or tournament itself, I’d be glad to help. Please leave any comments or suggestions below!