The Japan Metagame Diaries: Marching Forward
The end of February nears and with it the end of the current PPTQ season here in Nagoya. The metagame in Nagoya was turbulent switching from UB control to Mardu to RW to GR and Abzan, but now I feel like it’s finally stabilized. I don’t expect too many changes before Dragons of Tarkir is released, but with how deep standard is I wouldn’t be surprised to see tier 2 decks pushing 1.5 or even 1 given the right conditions. Heck, a mono black Waste Not deck even put on one hell of a show at GP Memphis by winning a huge side event.
Last weekend was the last chance I had of making a regional PTQ, and after finishing second at a 28 person Game Day and top 8 the week before at another PPTQ, I was feeling really good at my chances. Just how solid was my list and how much had it improved since I started using it at the start of February?
Saturday PPTQ – 54 Players
|Butcher’s Feast (Mardu Tokens)|
|2/22 Amenity Dream PPTQ – Top 8 (4-1-1)
|3 Battlefield Forge
1 Caves of Koilos
4 Nomad Outpost
1 Mana Confluence
4 Bloodstained Mire
|2 Wild Slash
4 Hordeling Outburst
3 Crackling Doom
2 Valorous Stance
4 Raise the Alarm
4 Stoke the Flames
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
21 other spells
15 sideboard cards
I’ve made some slight changes from my previous list. I dropped the Murderous Cut for Wild Slash on the suggestion of some of my friends, and it was much better than the 5 mana delve spell. Having a turn 1 spell to zap a mana creature or kill a Seeker of the Way with on turn 2 came in pretty handy. I don’t know if it will stay in the deck in the future, but for now it has a spot until I find something better. I also dropped a Valorous Stance for a 3rd Crackling Doom. I find Doom better in the Abzan Aggro match ups to deal with Fleecemane Lion and Rakshasa Deathdealer, and I was always happy to draw it or have it in my hand.
In Saturday’s event, there were a lot of RW aggro and GR midrange decks. Many players were either trying to burn our their opponents and go over their heads with Ashcloud Phoenix, or they were trying to overpower them with Shaman of the Great Hunt and Polukranos, World Eater. I was also surprised to see a few UB and Esper control decks in attendance. Green and Red decks were slightly more popular the week before during Game Day, but if I had to say which deck was represented the most, I would say it was RW aggro.
- Temur Monsters (won 2-0) – Great removal in my hand game 1 to slow my opponent down just enough. Played Brimaz into a Sorin to win game 1, and in game 2 a well timed Crux of Fate wiped his board and let me take over the match.
- RW Midrange (won 2-0) – Brimaz flexed his muscle again in game 1, his 4 toughness putting him out of range of just about all of my opponent’s removal. Uncontested, he ran away with the game. In game 2 an overwhelming number of tokens followed up with Sorin, Solemn Visitor and a Stormbreath Dragon proved to be too much for my opponent.
- Naya Midrange (won 2-0) – Yikes, this deck was on fire now. A creature light hand fell prey to my removal in game 1, and he sided in more removal in the second game instead of putting pressure on me which allowed me to build up an impressive board. I eventually finished him with 2 Butcher of the Horde and a Sarkhan.
- Jeskai Tempo (won 2-0) – I felt pretty invincible at this point. The deck was currently 8-0 on the day and I felt like it was destiny to make the top 8 again. Brutal Hordechief again proved his usefulness in this deck, letting me get around his blockers and steal the game in game 1. He missed his 3rd land drop in game 2 and I curved out for an easy win.
- GR monsters (lost 0-2) – My first roadblock of the day came in the form of GR Monsters. I kept a somewhat heavy hand in the first game with only 1 Stoke the Flames as removal and was obliterated by his hard hitting green and red creatures. I stumbled on my land in game 2 and lost 2 straight.
- INTENTIONAL DRAW
TOP 8: Mardu Tokens (me), Naya Midrange, GR Monsters, Abzan Aggro, Abzan Aggro, Abzan midrange, Jeskai Tempo, Mardu Aggro
Quarterfinals: Mardu Tokens Vs. GR Monsters
For the 3rd weekend in a row I had made the top 8, but I was unluckily matched up in the quarterfinals against the only deck that had beaten me all day. I went 0-2 again. I did much better this time around, but I ran out of removal and was beaten by his Phoenix and Polukranos. I think the match up is winnable, as I have beaten more midrange-y GR builds and Temur monsters, but I’ll need more practice against it and perhaps add in a 3rd Anger of the Gods to the sideboard.
TOP 4: Naya midrange, Jeskai tempo, GR monsters, Mardu aggro.
The Naya midrange deck that I had beaten in round 3 put the smack down on my previous opponent, GR monsters in the semifinals. He matched him creature for creature and was able to stick around longer thanks to Fleecemane Lion and Wingmate Roc.
The other match up pitted a Jeskai Tempo deck (which have been starting to show up more and more recently thanks to Soulfire Grandmaster) against a Mardu aggro deck. The Mardu deck was a typical aggro deck from the previous season but added in Battle Brawler to give it more power early on, and was also sporting Chained to the Rocks as powerful removal against decks like Abzan and GR. Pretty ballsy move with so few mountains, but it seemed to work for him. Mardu won to set up the final match.
FINALS: Mardu Aggro Vs. Naya Midrange
If the Naya deck had problems against my Mardu tokens deck, then he would surely have problems against a more refined aggro build with similar removal spells and power level. The Horde struck him down once more and won the PPTQ. WINNER Mardu Aggro.
Sunday PPTQ – 47 Players
I was debating whether or not to play in this event or not as I was pretty exhausted from the previous day, but I was confident enough in my deck that it was worth a shot. I changed the sideboard a little bit, dropping an Erase for a 3rd Anger of the Gods, but otherwise it was completely the same as the day before.
- Green Devotion (won 2-1) – Talk about unlucky. I had to play against the player that had beaten me TWICE the day before, so I was a little worried. I knew how to play against him, but still wasn’t sure of the match up. Luckily, he had switched to a Green Devotion deck with Whisperwood Elemental which was a much more favorable match up for me. He played mana creatures into a Polukranos turn 3 which I easily took out with Valorous Stance, then I followed up with double Goblin Rabblemasters which finish him pretty quickly. He managed to get out tons of big creatures game 2 before I could put any kind of pressure on him, but in game 3 Outpost Siege gave me great card advantage and allowed me to slowly take out his creatures until I could attack with a Brutal Hordechief to win the match.
- UG Yisan Combo (won 2-0) – This was winner of the 38 person Game Day the previous week I had attended, but Yisan, the Wanderer Bard and Prophet of Kruphix didn’t have any chance to do their magic. I had tons of removal game 1, and a timely Anger of the Gods wiped his board to allow me to fight back from the brink of death with Sorin and soldier tokens in game 2.
- RW Midrange (lost 1-2) – Well, the ride couldn’t last forever. I kept a somewhat slow hand game 1 and he had tons of burn, and in game 3 I missed my 4th land to allow me to play a Butcher of the Horde and capitalize on a board full of tokens. Lost to burn out.
- Jeskai Tempo (lost 1-2) – This match was against my friend who I had tested against the day before. I had beaten him easily in testing but missed my land drop in game 1 to lose the game, and I wasn’t able to take out Brimaz in game 3 and was eventually overrun.
- Abzan Aggro (won 2-1) – I was considering giving up and going home at this point, but since I had been #1 going into round 3 and my 3rd round opponent was undefeated, I thought I’d hope against hope to make yet another top 8. I lost game 1 due to my opponent curving out with Deathdealer, Anafenza, and Sorin, but this deck has quite the fighting spirit. Even when down 0-1, I’ve repeatedly fought back to win 2 straight games a number of times thanks to a strong sideboard. I won game 2 with double Butchers and a Stormbreath Dragon, and in game 3 I wiped his board with Crux of Fate and proceeded to take over the game afterwards.
- Abzan Aggro (won 2-1) – Some of my readers say that I need to improve game 1 against Abzan aggro by adding in Outpost Siege, and they might be right. I lost again in game 1 to my opponent curving out fast and early, but great removal and two Sarkhans on conecutive turns won me game 2. In game 3 my opponent missed his 3rd mana and I easily beat him.
TOP 8: RW Midrange, Abzan aggro, Mono red aggro, GR Devotion, UB control, Abzan aggro, Mardu Midrange, Abzan midrange
I had thought there was a slim chance of making the top 8 if both players I lost to won their games, but as it turned out the closest I could have made it was 10th place if that happened. Still, it was one hell of a run for Mardu Tokens in February. There’s no denying that Mardu Tokens is a Tier 1 competitive deck and that it can run with the big boys. In major events, the deck went 18-7-2 (20-8-2 if you include the FNMs I went to). Three of those losses came in the top 8, and I had 10 games where I went 2-0 to win the match. I faced off against 3 Game Day champion decks and also went 3 for 3 against them as well (Temur Midrange, UG Yisan Combo, Abzan Aggro).
Joining the Horde
I’ve gotten some feedback from my readers that have tried it out and I realize that I haven’t really gone over how the deck plays yet. I want those of you that try it to get the same type of results that I do, so I’ll walk you through the synergies as well as the lines of play.
- Turn 1: Turn one usually when you want to play your Nomad Outpost if you have it. Otherwise, it’s good to lead with a Mountain if you have a Wild Slash. Being able to kill a 1 drop on the play can really put the game in your hands quickly.
- Turn 2: On turn 2 you have a few more options. The best card to be playing on this turn is Raise the Alarm. It gives you pressure on the board early, and it’s especially good if your opponent played scry lands those first two turns. Valorous Stance is another option on turn 2, and it tends to be really good against ramp decks that play a Courser of Kruphix. Anafenza is another good target if you’re on the draw and your opponent is threatening you early with Abzan aggro.
- Turn 3: This is when things really start to heat up. You have a number of options from this point. The metagame has had quite a lot of slower midrange decks which means you can exponentially increase the pressure on them with the right card. I personally like Hordeling Outburst because it gives me the option of playing a Stoke the Flames if I played soldiers on turn 2, but they are also good blockers. If you’re facing a Monsters deck or Abzan aggro, Crackling Doom should be what you want to play. You want to make them use all of their cards as quickly as possible so you can beat them with numbers. Goblin Rabblemaster is great to play if your opponent is playing a slow deck and you want to put pressure on them. It’s also a good lead in if you have Butcher of the Horde in your hand for turn 4. You won’t always be casting Brimaz, but he tends to be really good against RW and other aggro decks, and he’s nearly impossible to get rid of outside of black decks. Burn can’t touch him.
- Turn 4: This turn is the turning point. A turn 4 Sorin, Solemn Visitor with 5 tokens in play with your opponent tapped out puts them in a VERY bad situation. Butcher of the Horde lets you keep your tiny defenders on the ground while it swings in the air for 5 points of damage, and Brutal Hordechief lets you do double damage if your tokens are unblocked. It assures that your goblin tokens won’t go to waste with Rabblemaster in play, and if your opponent can’t take it out by turn 5 you could possibly end the game by activating his ability to choose blockers. Stoke the Flames can be played without mana pretty easily in this deck, but it’s also possible to take out their Courser and swing with your tokens.
- Turn 5 and after: If you’ve curved out and hit both land drops, you should have an oppressive looking board by turn 5. This isn’t always the case, but sometimes the game is over by turn 5. Playing a Stormbreath Dragon at the heels of a Butcher of the Horde on turn 4 can be devastating, and Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury can create a huge tempo swing if you have 5 tokens and a Brutal Hordechief in play (I’ve dealt 21 damage in 1 turn to win a game that way). Other things you could be doing on turn 5 are using Hordechief’s ability and pushing through large amounts of damage while protecting your own life total.
Hopefully these notes will give you a head start on learning the deck, but you’re still not ready to play it at a big event yet. Make sure you know the sideboarding plans and the reasons for each card before you sleeve up.
- Mardu/Abzan Midrange: +1 Elspeth, +2 Crux, +1 Oupost, +2 Sarkhan / -2 Wildslash, -2 Brimaz, -1 Butcher of the Horde, -1 Hordechief. The idea for the sideboard is to become a slightly more controlling deck. You use your tokens as speed bumps until you can wipe the board, then you take over the game with your finishers and planeswalkers. These decks will be sucking up all of your removal and killing your creatures, so Outpost’s card advantage is important.
- UB/BUG Control: +1 Elspeth, +3 Thoughtseize, +2 Sarkhan, +2 Outpost / -3 Crackling Doom, -2 Brimaz, -2 Wild Slash, -1 Butcher of the Horde. Similar to the previous midrange decks, planeswalkers are really powerful in this match up and Thoughtseize can cripple them by taking their only counterspell or boardwipe. Outpost is a must.
- Sidisi/BG Whip/Constellation: +3 Erase, +2 Anger of the Gods, +1 Sarkhan, +2 Outpost / -2 Wildslash, -2 Stormbreath Dragon, -1 Kolaghan, -1 Crackling Doom, -2 Valorous Stance. Erase hits just about everything in these decks, and Anger of the Gods makes sure they don’t reanimate their Hornet Queen. I added Outpost in there as a countermeasure to Doomwake Giant. Setting one to Khans and one to dragon lets you take out their creatures or deal the damage directly to their face, while at the same time refilling your hand with answers.
- RW/Mardu/BW aggro/Jeskai Tempo: +2 Anger of the Gods, +2 Crux of Fate / -2 Stormbreath, -2 Valorous Stance. Stance is pretty much a dead card in these match ups, and board wipes of any kind pretty much equal a win for you, especially if their hand is empty by turn 3 or 4.
- Abzan Aggro: +2 Crux of Fate, +2 Sarkhan, +1 Outpost / -2 Wild Slash, -1 Kolaghan, -1 Butcher of the Horde, -1 Hordeling Outburst. Similar package to Abzan midrange, but sides out different creatures. Those heavier creatures never see the light of day if your opponent curves out, and extra removal like Sarkhan’s minus ability can be critical.
- GR/Temur Monsters/ GR Midrange: +2 Crux of Fate, +1 Elspeth, +2 Sarkhan / -2 Wild Slash, -1 Kolaghan, -2 Stormbreath Dragon. Just like with the other midrange decks, you want to wipe their board and block early with your tokens. Once they use up the cards in their hand the game is yours.
- RW Midrange: +2 Sarkhan, +2 Anger of the Gods, +2 Outpost Siege / -2 Valorous Stance, -2 Goblin Rabblemaster, -1 Butcher of the Horde, -1 Kolaghan. This deck uses a lot of burn and also plays Chandra usually. Most of the time it comes down to a battle of resources, and 2 Outpost can give you an edge over 1 of Chandra. They also let you trade back and forth with your opponent’s creatures while still dealing damage.
- Green Devotion: +2 Crux, +1 Elspeth, +2 Anger of the Gods, +1 Outpost / -2 Wild Slash, -1 Kolaghan, -2 Rabblemaster, -1 Butcher of the Horde. Anger is great against all of their mana creatures, and Crux takes care of any big creatures that might sneak out. Crackling Doom is especially good againt this match up.
What the Future Holds
This is probably the last standard metagame report from me for a few weeks. I don’t expect the deck list to change too much, but I’ll be experimenting with cards like Monastery Mentor and see how they work out. Other people have recommended using the Outpost in the mainboard, and that’s not a bad idea either. Whatever I end up doing I’ll let you know down the road. I’ll be focusing more on my Mardu aggro and Mardu control in the following weeks so I can raise them to the same level as the token deck. I want them to be ready by the time Dragon’s of Tarkir comes out at the end of March.
GP Kyoto is also coming up in a month and a half here in Japan. The event is legacy, and while my legacy experience is next to nil, I DO have a deck and will be taking part in a few games here and there in Nagoya so I can get a feel for what the metagame will be like for the tournament. I also feel like picking up modern again for a few weekends to try out my pet deck, R/g devotion.
Spoilers will start for the next set next week (crazy, right?), but I’m still a ways off from writing anything related to it. I have some interesting ideas for articles currently in the work and I should have something for you by the weekend. I’m having a blast with Puca Trade and can’t wait to talk more about it. I’m also sitting on a massive amount of pictures of card stores in Osaka from my last visit there. I can’t wait to share those with you as well. I hope this article was insightful for you and if you use my deck or ARE using it right now, good luck and let me know if you can improve it even more! Thanks for reading.