The Japan Metagame Diaries: The Shaolin Masters
Dragons may rule the skies, but on the ground, nobody messes with Kung Fu masters. If you know where to hit, you can bring the most massive of monsters crashing down to the earth.
The Nagoya metagame has been proving that the power of monks is nothing to be trifled with. Jeskai decks (aggro and tokens) took down quite a few FNMs and local events around town in April, but recently Jeskai Dragons (featuring Dragonlord Ojutai, Thunderbreak Regent, and Stormbreath Dragon) has been flexing it’s muscles.
I’ve had the chance to attend 2 PPTQs since my last metagame update and was quite surprised at the top 8s. On April 25th at a 41 person PPTQ, the Top 8 was made up of BR Midrange, Abzan Aggro, Temur Monsters, UB control, Abzan Midrange, 5 Color Chromanticore, Sidisi Whip, and GR Atarka midrange. The winner was Abzan Midrange. In a smaller, but no less competitive 27 person PPTQ on a holiday last Wednesday (4/29), the Top 8 was made up of: Mono Red aggro (Atarka’s Command), GR midrange, Bant Dragons, Abzan midrange, BUG Dragons, UB control, Abzan Aggro, Jeskai Tokens. UB Control powered through a sky full of terrifying dragons to take home the RPTQ invite.
There is no clear cut deck dominating the metagame at the moment, and these results show that I think. However, outside the top 8, I think many events have a large number of green decks being played. Many players in Nagoya are using a green deck of some sort, mostly GR or Abzan, but GW and Temur has also been putting up good numbers.
I expect green to continue to see a lot of play, which is the reason why I am adamant about sticking with my Mardu colors. I had a great falling out with Mardu Token Midrange after my last metagame article. I found it very difficult to keep up with fast decks like mono red, and against similar decks in the mirror I found myself on the wrong end of more consistent removal and more powerful threats such as Stormbreath Dragon. I was about ready to give up playing Mardu and pick up GR myself, but luckily one of the people who follow me on Twitter put me in the direction of a new Mardu build: Mardu Control.
WillieG’s deck attacked from a totally different angle: Kill everything your opponent has, destroy their hand, and finish them of with a large Myth Realized. I really liked the idea and decided to build it myself. The first few play tests last week were promising, but I didn’t quite have a great deck yet. I had problems against decks like Jeskai Dragons when I couldn’t draw my removal, and against BW warrior decks that puked their hand onto the battlefield and overwhelmed the removal. I lost a lot playing this deck last week, but quite a few of them were close matches that went to a game 3. I also realized that I needed stronger finishers in order to finish a game out before an opponent could get back in the game. Today I have a much more streamlined version of WillieG’s Mardu control, that has much of what the first version had but with some important new cards in it.
|Shaolin Masters (Mardu Control)|
|Test Deck, by Ryan Schwenk
|4 Nomad Outpost
2 Temple of Malice
2 Battlefield Forge
2 Temple of Silence
2 Temple of Triumph
3 Caves of Koilos
1 Mana Confluence
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
|4 Myth Realized
4 Lightning Strike
4 Crackling Doom
4 Secure the Wastes
3 Mardu Charm
2 Hero’s Downfall
2 Ultimate Price
2 Outpost Siege
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
27 other spells
15 sideboard cards
Crackling Doom, Mardu Charm, Outpost Siege, and Myth Realized are all still part of the core of this deck, but this deck tries to put more pressure on its rivals in a variety of ways.
First off is the creature package. WillieG’s deck was full of instant speed tokens such as the warriors from Mardu Charm and Raise the Alarm. While I liked Alarm for a while, I thought that it wasn’t really the card I wanted to be playing on turn 2. In his deck, WillieG uses Seeker of the Way as his only creature, but I find this to be easily killed without getting any value out of it. I decided to go with 4 Soulfire Grand Master instead. It isn’t able to catch players off guard with combat tricks, but it has the important role of keeping you alive against fast aggro decks. It also works great at as a late game draw against midrange and control decks with it’s 4 mana ability.
With 27 spells, I went with Monastery Mentor as my second creature choice. With Grand Master supplying me with a steady stream of life, I’d much rather be getting value from each spell I cast by creating a monk token. I originally had 2, but I think 3 is a good number. I don’t want them in my opening hand, but I’d like one by turn 5 if possible so I can kill a creature and get a token from it. My most recent choice for a finisher is Ojutai Exemplars. They haven’t had as much testing as the other 2 creatures, but they seem like a good fit in this deck. Aside from Stormbreath Dragon, most 4 toughness creatures will have a hard time blocking it. One of its triggered abilities is first strike and life link, so you could realistically kill a creature, then have him first strike an opponent. Against removal heavy decks, his ability to “blink” away until the end of the turn will cause your opponent to waste a lot of their kill spells trying to get rid of him. The most interesting ability of them all is his tap ability. I’ve had problems where I simply couldn’t block a creature (Dragonlord Atarka, I’m looking at you), but if I could Lighting Strike you for 3 then tap your creature during your attack phase, I can survive another turn and gain the advantage. Later on in the game with an Outpost Siege in the game, you can can easily 2 for one an opponent and push your advantage. Ojutai Exemplars is an exciting addition to say the least.
You won’t get much value out of these creatures if you don’t have the proper spells to compliment them. The first card I decided to go with was Lightning Strike. I like this over Magma Jet or other 2 mana burn spell because of it’s wide range of targets. It takes out Mantis Rider, a Goblin Rabblemaster (that has been pumped by Atarka’s Command), and even fellow Prowess creatures such as Seeker of the Way. Crackling Doom is absolutely amazing in this current metagame against dragons such as Dragonlord Ojutai, Stormbreath Dragon, and Thunderbreak Regent. It’s one of the main reason I don’t want to switch from Mardu. The card is incredibly powerful and gets around all sorts of problem cards.
Mardu Charm is another underplayed card in my opinion. Its 4 damage mode hits creatures that Lighting Strike can’t hit such as Brimaz, King of Oreskos and the new Surrak, and the first striking warrior tokens can be quite a tempo shift early in a game. While it’s not as powerful as other cards at a comparable cost, the fact that it will never be a dead card against any match up is important. Even the Duress ability will put control decks like Esper or UB in a tough spot. Lots of people think I should be playing Stoke the Flames in this deck, but the thing is there aren’t enough red sources to play it effectively. The biggest reason I’m not playing it is because there aren’t any red tokens in this deck. Even if I was playing Rabblemaster, I think I would still find it difficult to drop Mardu Charm. I’ve found it to be pretty clutch in most of my match ups.
WillieG is playing Raise the Alarm in his control deck, and so was I initially, but the card just ended up being underwhelming (especially later on in the game). I ended up switching them all out for Secure the Wastes and have never looked back. It’s a high cost Raise the Alarm on turn 3, but after that the card just gets better and better. Being able to flash in a battalion of Warriors at the end of a turn then play a card like Sorin, Solemn Visitor the next turn can totally turn a game around. Not to mention how good the card is against swarming decks and aggro decks without trample. The 2/2 split between Ultimate Price and Hero’s Downfall is a nod to both the midrange decks playing planewalkers and the the faster GR aggro and ramp decks with a majority of mono colored creatures. Price can easily take out any turn 2 or turn 3 place, and its low cost makes it worth playing along side a Monastery Mentor or Ojutai Exemplar for value.
The last 2 cards, Sorin and Outpost Siege, are in there for the long game. This deck will absolutely take over any game that goes long thanks to Outpost Siege and the immense amount of removal it’s playing, but it has to be able to survive that long. Sorin assures you get some life back while providing your opponent with a target they must take out before it reaches 6 loyalty. Outpost Siege is just like Underworld Connections was in the mono black deck last year. It’s incremental card advantage becomes insurmountable the longer it goes unchecked, especially in a deck like Mardu control that has answers for just about every deck out there.
Don’t think I’ve forgotten about this guy now. Myth Realized has been a huge success in this deck so far and continues to surprise both myself and my opponents. An early play followed by a hand full of removal leads to an absolute beating after a few turns. It’s a great card against control, but also can be big trouble for non-black decks in general. If your opponent doesn’t have a Hero’s Downfall or Ultimate Price handy, this card will just keep growing. It is also a great card to do combat tricks with. Think of it as a permanent Prowess ability. You attack/block, and when blockers are declared you kill the biggest threat then pump him up to survive the attacker/blocker. I’ve seen Myth Realized showing up a lot more in Jeskai control decks around town, but I believe his true place is in Mardu Control. I can’t recommend this card enough in the current metagame. You have to try it out.
A strong deck needs a strong sideboard as well. For the most part I would say this sideboard is pretty fine tuned.
- Kolaghan’s Command – great against control decks. It gets rid of their card advantage, and more importantly brings a creature back to your hand if they’ve killed it. The artifact clause destroys Perilous Vault which is a plus, and the 2 damage is also applicable. Works great alongside Mardu Charm.
- Glare of Heresy – Originally this was an Erase, but that card rarely if ever saw play. Erase was too narrow a subject, and its main target (Virulent Plague) rarely mattered since my deck had ways to win outside of an overwhelming number of tokens. This hits Abzan Aggro hard (Anafenza, Fleecemane, Siege Rhino), but it also does well against any other white heavy decks such as Naya midrange or GW aggro.
- Anger of the Gods – I like this better than the other spells that do 2 damage to all creatures, just because it wipes a board even if an opponent uses Atarka’s Command. Great against BW warriors and Mono red aggro.
- Chandra, Pyromaster – I felt that Chandra was much better against control than a 3rd Outpost Siege. What I like about her in those match ups is that her -7 Ability can absolutely wreck a control deck. Being able to play 3 Kolghan Commands and choose 3 discard, 6 damage is a dream of mine ^_^.
- Self-Inflicted Wound – I’ve found this to be a great card against Abzan Aggro and Abzan midrange decks almost any time I’ve drawn it. It’s also been good against decks using Ojutai as well (but Crackling Doom is usually enough). Being able to take out a monstrous Fleecemane Lion or a Rakshasa Deathdealer without a fight is a definitely plus in my book.
- Thoughtseize – some people play it against GR ramp to take away an opponent’s Stormbreath Dragon or Atarka before it sees any play, but it’s best against control. This card is downright amazing and a sideboard must in any deck playing black.
- End Hostilities – Sometimes spot removal isn’t enough. Sometimes your opponent has a hexproof creature that can’t be touched, or an army of manifest creatures. In those instances, End Hostilities will save the day. I usually side this in against green decks to clear their board and it works pretty well.
- Dictate of Heliod – This is pretty much a free spot that you can put whatever you want there, but I like to have a Dictate of Heliod in this space. When opponents see that you’re playing tokens, they usually side in Virulent Plague, Drown in Sorrow, or Anger of the Gods to deal with the swarm, but Dictate will totally ruin those plans. It’s also great against control decks since it can make even a lowly Grand Master into a formidable 4/4 beater. I also like it against slower midrange decks or mirror matches.
I Know Kung Fu
Before I leave you, let me give you a quick run down of how the deck plays.
- Turn 1: Usually you’ll play a scry land, but if you have a Myth Realized and a white source play it. There isn’t much to do on your first turn.
- Turn 2: If you played a Myth Realized first turn, you should have enough mana open now to Lighting Strike a mana creature or kill an early threat. Ultimate Price is another possiblity to take out early threats with, and if there is no pressure on you this turn, putting in a 2nd Myth and another scry land can also be really good.
- Turn 3: By turn 3, you should be able to do a lot. Crackling Doom and Hero’s Downfall are good choices, but I would also consider playing a Secure the Wastes at the end of the turn if you have a Sorin, Solemn Visitor waiting in your hand for turn 4. Basically, you’ll want to be cleaning up their board with removal around turn 3. Against control, Mardu Charm at the end of their turn using it’s Duress function is pretty powerful.
- Turn 4: In turn 4, you have a few different avenues of attack. You could throw down a Grand Master and bolt a creature, kill their last remaining creature with removal and attack with a decently sized Myth, or even play a Ojutai Exemplars. If your opponent has absolutely no pressure on you at this point, I would probably play an Outpost Siege if you have it. As for Sorin, I would consider playing him if you have blockers. Maybe you played a Mentor last turn. If so, playing him creates a token and then buffs him up.
- Turn 5 and after: By turn 5, hopefully your removal has cleared your opponent’s board or put them on the defensive. This is when I’d play a Monastery Mentor if I had one, as it would be easy to get some value out of him if your opponent were to remove it at the end of your turn. Secure the Wastes for 5 mana is also a pretty good turn 5. You can block at the end of their turn and then attack big the next one. Ojutai Exemplars can be pretty strong turn 5 attackers as well. Tapping their big blocker or saving him to block himself and kill a creature with first strike is pretty clever. Hopefully by this point you can start putting pressure on your opponents and slowly overwhelming him with a growing army of warrior and monk tokens.
If you’re looking for something different in standard and tired of all the GR Monsters, Esper Dragons, and Goblin Rabblemasters, then look no further. The Mardu colors are extremely versatile and have answers to just about any threat in the current metagame. In my opinion, this is a great home for both Myth Realized and Ojutai Exemplars. In fact, most of these cards are rather cheap from not seeing any play at the moment. Exemplars are $5, Mentor is $16, and Soulfire is only $12. I can not thing of a better investment for when Theros rotates than this deck right now.
I’ll be keeping you updated with the results of this deck over the next week or two, and with another PPTQ coming up this weekend in Nagoya, I think I finally have a chance to make it back to the top 8. We’ll see! Thanks for reading, and look for my next article, the latest information on Puca Trade, on Wednesday!