The Japan Metagame Diaries: Clan Warfare

You can’t remain on the sidelines forever. Eventually you have to choose sides. When you do, you’re bound to make enemies. In the world of standard Magic, the Clans of Tarkir are at war with each other. Fate Reforged strengthened some, weakened a few others, but overall the blood thirst and brutality hasn’t been assuaged.

The Jeskai Clan drew first blood during the first week of the war in standard, their Ascendancy couldn’t be denied due to all of the soldiers, goblins, and monks on their side. It wasn’t until the following week in Nagoya that the Abzan Clan fought back, sending their stampeding Siege Rhinos and flocks of Wingmate Rocs to crush all resistance. They would often sap the strength of their opponents before utterly destroying them.

It was in the seeds of this battle the the war would be taken to the next level. In the third week of the campaign for Tarkir, Dark Necromancers from Jund (GBR) used the power of the graveyard to amplify Tasigur, the Golden Fang’s strength and buried their opponents’ forces with catastrophic Crux of Fates. Any that survived were Murderously Cut down. The power of the Crux would not end there though. Fully a month into the war, Dimir (UB) could finally show them how much control they had over everybody. Thanks to the deftness of their blue mages and their black mages ruthlessness, Dimir was able to obliterate all comers until their mighty blue Leviathan from the Pearl Lake could finish them off.


The Current Japan Metagame


Chaos. Simply choatic. That’s the only word I can use to describe what the metagame is like over here in Japan at the moment.

If you could follow up above what the first few weeks of the metagame were like here in Nagoya, great. But if you didn’t, the first week was won by Jeskai Token, followed by Abzan Midrange, followed by GBR midrange, and finally UB control. These were the results of the biggest events in town, usually with an average of about 30 players. Not one deck could put a stranglehold on the metagame. If you look up in the Kanto area by Chiba, Tokyo, and Saitama, you’d see that many of the events up there have been dominated by Abzan (both the aggro and midrange variety). A few RW and Mardu decks have snuck in decent results, as well as UB control, but for the most part Abzan is king.

Sidisi Whip and Jeskai decks seem to be falling out of favor as new clan boundaries are drawn up. As some shrink, others grow. The Mardu horde has been fighting back hard against the Abzan forces recently. The deck was heavily represented at a PTQ last week in Osaka, and it pretty much dominated the last few PPTQs in Nagoya (for a list of the top 8 from Osaka, click here.)The PPTQ season here in Nagoya just got underway the other week, and on average we’ve had a turn out of about 50 people for each event. I took part in 2 of them so far.

As you might know if you’ve read recent articles on my blog, I’m currently running an experiment in this current standard season. Instead of jumping around to the best deck every week, I’ve decided to stay within one of the clans’ colors. My choice for Fate Reforged standard was Mardu. I built a Mardu Tokens Midrange deck, a Mardu Warrior Aggro deck, and a Mardu Dragon Control deck. I had been doing alright at local events such as FNMs, and that had helped me to fine tune the token and aggro decks.

My first big challenge was at the PPTQ on February 1st. I went 3-3 with Mardu tokens at this 44 person event. I won my first game against UB control (2-1), but lost my next two matches again Abzan midrange (1-2) and GB Whip (0-2)to fall out of contention. I’ll admit my sideboard wasn’t ready for those match ups. A board wipe like Crux of Fate would have been great against them, and against the Reanimator deck I should have kept better hands that had some removal in them. I decided to stay in the tournament to collect more data and experience for the dec, and ended up winning my next game against BUG control (2-1). The deck didn’t seem to have any problems against control, but I needed better cards against the other match ups. In round 5 I faced a RW Midrange (0-2) deck and the only reason my opponent beat me was because he was able to get a Chandra, Pyromaster out and grind me out through card advantage. In my final match up of the day I faced another BUG deck, but this time it was Sultai Ramp. His goal was to play mana creatures and get out planeswalker like Garruk, Apex Predator and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. I was able to flood the board with goblin tokens thanks to a triple Goblin Rabblemaster hand in game one, and in game 2 he got mana screwed and couldn’t get past 3 land.


The Top 8 of this event was:

  • RW Midrange
  • Abzan Midrange
  • GR Monsters
  • 4 Color Midrange (no red)
  • UB control
  • Temur Monsters
  • Abzan Midrange
  • Abzan Midrange

As you can see, Abzan was still dominating at this point of the metagame, though GR/RUG put up some surprisingly good results on the back of Shaman of the Great Hunt. RW Midrange, one of the Abzan midrange, UB control, and Temur monsters were the only ones to survive and make it to the top 4. During the top 4, Abzan was able to put UB control in its place and RW midrange used all the removal at its disposal (Chained to the Rocks, Stoke the Flames, and Anger of the Gods) to grind out the Temur deck and make it to the finals. I wasn’t able to stay to see who won the finals between Abzan Midrange and RW midrange, but the results should be up sometime in the future or on one of these days as the information is released.

With middling results, I went back to my original list and reworked it. I got a lot of good feedback and suggestions from my fellow Cardboard Samurai and was ready to give Mardu Tokens another chance. The deck felt powerful, I just needed a clear plan and a good sideboard. After a week of planning I came up with this.


Butcher’s Feast (Mardu Tokens)
75 cards, 15 sideboard
3 Battlefield Forge
4 Plains
1 Caves of Koilos
4 Mountain
4 Nomad Outpost
1 Mana Confluence
4 Bloodstained Mire
3 Swamp

24 lands

2 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Butcher of the Horde
2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
2 Brutal Hordechief
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
1 Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury

15 creatures

2 Magma Jet
3 Crackling Doom
3 Hordeling Outburst
3 Valorous Stance
4 Raise the Alarm
4 Stoke the Flames
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

21 other spells

2 Crux of Fate
2 Outpost Siege
2 Anger of the Gods
3 Thoughtseize
3 Erase
2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

15 sideboard cards


(If you’re interested in the previous list you can find it here)

I made some key changes from my rough draft of the deck and it’s made all the difference in the world. Instead of a more midrangey token creator build, I decided to go all in on tokens. Seeker of the Way and Mardu Strike Leader were dropped in favor of Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst. This kept my curve the same, but gave me a lot more bodies on the ground to work with. This in turn made playing Stoke the Flames much better, as well as Butcher of the Horde. The Thoughtseizes moved to the main board, and Lightning Strikes were cut too. In their place I added in 2 Magma Jet (to help with smoothing out my draws), and 3 Valorous Stance. Valorous Stance has been an absolute boon for the deck. It’s done a great job of saving Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Goblin Rabblemaster from time to time, but most of the time it’s been blowing up Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino on turns 2 and 3 to clear the way for my tokens. The removal package is pretty solid now I think. The mana also changed a little bit to reflect more red mana symbols in the build, hence the 3 Battlefield Forges.

The sideboard was a complete mess last time, but I feel like the deck can handle anything now. The key additions are Crux of Fate to deal with GR/Temur/Abzan midrange decks, Anger of the Gods to deal with Sidisi/GB Whip decks and aggro, and Outpost Siege for decks high in removal. Outpost Siege has been a great card advantage engine for me, and also gives me an out against any board wipes my opponents would play. Being able to deal 5+ damage when my creatures are removed from play.




So how did the deck do at this past weekend’s 50 person PPTQ? 5-1 in 6 rounds to finish 3rd in the rankings! I had great hands all weekend and did a great job of sideboarding against all of my opponents.

  1. Round 1 – Abzan Aggro (won 2-1): I had trouble with Fleecemane Lion in game one, but I played really fast hands the next few games and well timed removal such as Crackling Doom and Stoke the Flames cleared the way for my Goblin Rabblemasters and Stormbreath Dragons.
  2. Round 2 – Abzan Midrange (won 2-1): I played another fast game one, curving out well with Raise the Alarm, into Rabblemaster, into Sorin, Solemn Visitor to win, but lost to End Hostilities and Drown in Sorrows game 2. I managed to play quick again in game 3 and drew two Valorous Stances to take out both his Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino in the following turns before overwhelming him with a Sorin backed army of tokens in turn 7.
  3. Round 3 – Mardu Midrange (won 2-1): This deck was fast but I was able to race him in game one with double Rabblemasters and burn to steal the first game while he was tapped out. Very important because I was at 3 life when I won. He got me with heavy removal in game 2, but Brimaz, King of Oreskos go around his Anger of the Gods and other burn spells in game 3 to seal the deal.
  4. Round 4 – Mardu Aggro (lost 0-2). My first lost came at the hands of a player I have never beaten while living in Nagoya. He had tons of removal and fast creatures and seemed to have an answer for everything I threw at him.
  5. Round 5 – RW Midrange (won 2-1): Another fast deck that I barely survived. I was almost dead game 1 while my opponent was at 21 life, but I swung in on the last possible turn with Brutal Hordechief, Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury, and 2 Soldier tokens to get him to 4 life (drain for 4 life, creatures for 13), then burned him with Stoke the Flames for the win. Chandra, Pyromaster locked me down in game 2, but a double mulligan for my opponent in game 3 secured my spot in the top 10 going into round 6.
  6. Round 6 – Sidisi Whip (won 2-0): My opponent kept a one land hand in game 1 then mana flooded in game 2. Not even a contest.


Sideboard Plans

  •  Mardu/Abzan midrange = +1 Elspeth, +2 Crux of Fate, +2 Outpost Siege, +2 Sarkhan / -2 Magma Jet, -1 Brutal Hordechief, -1 Brimaz, -1 Butcher, -1 Stoke the Flames, -1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Both decks are full of removal, which means you want to turn into a more controling deck. Elspeth and Sarkhan can act as removal, while Crux clears the board of Rhinos and Butcher of the Hordes. Outpost gives you card advantage and makes opponents think twice about board wipes.
  • UB/BUG Control = +1 Elspeth, +3 Thoughtseize, +2 Sarkhan, +2 Outpost Siege / -3 Crackling Doom, -3 Valorous Stance, -2 Brimaz. Crackling Doom will be worthless most of the time, and Brimaz isn’t that good against board wipes. With the other creatures you get some kind of value when they come into play such as haste or tokens. The only time I’d play Doom is if your opponent has Silumgar, the Drifting Death and Stance isn’t really needed since you can’t protect Stormbreath Dragon with it.  Outpost Siege is awesome against their board wipes, and Thoughtseize downright cripples them.
  • Sidisi/ GB Whip = +3 Erase, +2 Anger of the Gods, +2 Outpost Siege / -2 Stormbreath Dragon, -1 Kolaghan, -2 Magma Jet, -2 Stoke the Flames. You don’t really need burn here, especially if you call dragons mode on your siege and they play multiple Doomwake Giants. Erase is a must, Anger stops mana creatures and Hornet Queen.
  • RW/Mardu/BW Aggro = +2 Anger of the Gods, +2 Crux of Fate / -3 Valorous Stance, -1 Kolaghan.
  • Abzan Aggro = +2 Crux of Fate, +1 Sarkhan / -2 Magma Jet, -1 Kolghan. The two above aggro decks are almost the same as you want board wipes, but Anger doesn’t do much against Abzan. Stance is much better against Abzan’s big creatures, while Jet is better against reds smaller ones.
  • GR/Temur monsters, GR Midrange/Green devotion = +2 Crux of Fate, +1 Elspeth, +2 Sarkhan / -2 Magma Jet, -1 Kolaghan, -2 Stormbreath Dragon. Big creatures need a big board wipe like Crux. Elspeth is your back up, and can block non-trampling creatures all day with her soldiers.
  • RW Midrange = +2 Sarkhan, +2 Anger of the Gods, +2 Outpost Siege / -2 Butcher of the Horde, -3 Valorous Stance, -1 Crackling Doom. I find these match ups to be rather grindy. You need resources for this match up which is why I have Outpost Siege in there instead of Chandra. You can get 2 cards a turn if you want, and Anger of the Gods is great against their Seeker of the Way and Goblin Rabblemasters.

Top 8:

  • Mardu Tokens (me)
  • Mardu Citadel Midrange
  • UB control
  • Mardu Midrange
  • Abzan Aggro
  • Abzan Aggro
  • RW midrange
  • Abzan Planeswalkers

In my first match, I played against the Mardu Citadel Midrange player. He played a janky Mardu Tokens deck with Citadel Siege, Mardu Charm, Brimaz, and tons of removal and I wasn’t able to deal with it. He transformed the deck in a traditional Mardu Midrange deck in game 2, dropping the Sieges in favor of Butcher of the Horde and Dragons and took me out with dead cards in my hand. In retrospect, I should have played more board wipes against him. It also didn’t help that I mulliganed to 4 in game 1.

I ended up 5-2, and I’m a little disappointed that I couldn’t hold on to make it to the finals, but that happens with variance sometimes. In the top 4, UB control faced off against Mardu Citadel Midrange, and Mardu Midrange battled Abzan Planeswalkers. I had to head off to an office get together so I wasn’t able to stay the whole night to see how it ended, but I did learn via twitter that the Abzan Planeswalkers deck got the invitation to the Regional PTQ.


Game Day – Mardu or Die


Next week will be a break from the PPTQ schedule for Fate Reforged Game Day. I’m looking forward to working on my Mardu Aggro deck that I’ve been testing here and there around town. It hit some rough patches the first weekend out, but it did alright at Friday Night Magic the other week.


Aleshacrats (Mardu Aggro)
75 cards, 15 sideboard
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Battlefield Forge
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Mountain
2 Nomad Outpost
1 Mana Confluence
2 Plains
4 Caves of Koilos
3 Swamp

23 lands

4 Mardu Woe-Reaper
4 Bloodsoaked Champion
4 Battle Brawler
4 Chief of the Edge
2 Athreos, God of Passage
2 Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
3 Butcher of the Horde

27 creatures

4 Valorous Stance
3 Harsh Sustenance
2 Outpost Siege
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

10 other spells

2 Crackling Doom
2 Hushwing Gryff
2 Mardu Ascendancy
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
2 Hero’s Downfall
3 Thoughtseize
3 Erase

15 sideboard cards


This deck previously suffered from the same problems that my midrange deck did. The sideboard was all over the place and the deck lacked any real overall strategy. I ended up dumping most of the Burn from the deck and instead went with Valorous Stance. It will kill anything my creatures can’t, and at the same time rescue them from death if need be. With this new build, I focused on optimizing the synergy between the cards. Most of the creatures are still there (aside from Tymaret, the Murder King), and I’ve decided to add in a little bit more raw power with Butcher of the Horde. I’ve also added in Battle Brawler to up the power level a little more. Most of the time he’ll be a 3/2 first striker, but as you play more Chief of the Edges he could very easily block a Siege Rhino.

Athreos, God of PassageAthreos, God of the Passage and Alesha, Who Smiles at Death are a match made in heaven. I think this is the first deck I’ve ever tried with him where Athreos actually works. Athreos puts your opponents in difficult situations as soon as he hits the battlefield, and even if they pay the 3 life to keep the card there, Alesha can bring the card back during your next attack phase while not really having to worry about dying herself. Thanks to all of these ways to return creatures to the battlefield, I thought Harsh Sustenance would be a good card to play (I also was recommended it by other Mardu players in Nagoya who were also playing Mardu Aggro). Thanks to the high concentration of creatures, you can attack quickly and drain your opponent for lethal before they know it.

The sideboard gives you some outs against the UB Dragon in control decks (Crackling Doom), a way to get around Anger of the Gods (Mardu Ascendancy), and a way to stop Doomwake Giant from ruining your party (Hushwing Gryff). Purphoros, God of the Forge is a good against control decks or those playing a lot of planeswalkers, and Hero’s Downfall gives you removal when you need it for any situation. I took it a 17 person FNM and went 2-1 with it, beating Mardu Heroic and UR Ensoul Artifact aggro, but mis-sided against Junk reanimator for my only loss.


Until Next time


I like keeping my opponents guessing, so I’ll be switching to this deck for Game Day before going back to Mardu Tokens in 2 weeks for the PPTQs in town. Overall I’m happy with my decision to stick with Mardu and I think it will do well until Dragons of Tarkir come out in spring. I feel like the metagame in Nagoya is rather healthy, with no deck being the clear winner. Mardu, Abzan, and UB control have had their fair share of victories since Fate Reforged was released, and as the format matures we should see other decks getting some glory too.  Recent reports from Malaysia and Singapore seem to point to Red based aggro decks are doing very well, and that both Abzan and Mardu are out of the picture.

It’s amazing how different the metagames can be in various countries, so don’t let other people tell you a deck is good or bad. I believe there is an incredible amount of freedom in standard at the moment, and that if you play well and know your metagame, you can win with just about anything. If you have any questions about the deck or metagame in Japan or other parts of Asia, I’d be more than happy to get some information from my growing network of Cardboard Samurai for you! I still have a lot of MTG stores to talk about as well as some cool places in Nagoya I’d like to share with you, so I’ll see you again in a few days with a new post. Good luck preparing for Game Day in the mean time!