The Japan Metagame Diaries: Back to My Roots
It all started with standard.
My competitive Magic career began all the way back during New Phyrexia/M12. I can even remember the first mythic rare I pulled out of a pack (it was Hero of Bladehold). I started from nothing, from scratch. I got my ass kicked a lot those first few months and then I finally started winning once the previous Zendikar block rotated out. I still lost a lot during Innistrad block, but it wasn’t as bad as before, and when Scars of Mirrodin block left the game I was doing pretty well. It wasn’t until the end of the Return to Ravnica and the start of Theros that I found myself to have become what I would call a “good” Magic player. I still make mistakes and bad choices from time to time, but my deck building and consistency has improved exponentially.
Of course there was a time last year when I finally got into Modern and Legacy and for a while I played that. I poured my resources and effort into those formats, but for some reason they felt wrong. I mean, I’m a capable Legacy and Modern player, but standard is where it has always been for me. I love brewing new decks, I love the restrictions of power that force you to be creative and innovative with the cards you are allowed. I also enjoy the amount of games you can participate in compared to the other formats, and the large number of attendees. Now is a great time to go back to my roots. With the metagame in flux due to the rotation, I can start anew and go back to what I love doing the most.
The Element(als) of Surprise
Going into the first weekend of a new format before decks have been established (especially after rotation) can be tough. You don’t know what decks to expect, which cards to put in your sideboard, and which type of decks will be most popular. Will we see a lot of homebrews as people try to break the new cards? Will we see a lot of old favorites such as Abzan aggro/Midrange and Jeskai Tempo? It’s too early to tell, and with the Pro Tour still 2 weeks away, we are only going to have tournaments like SCG Opens to get a feel for the new metagame.
Last weekend in Indianapolis, those strong enough to brave the waters of Battle for Zendikar standard went to the SCG Open. The tournament ended up being won by a brutal R/g Atarka aggro deck. Esper Dragons also made it back to the top tables again with very little being changed from its previous incarnation aside from a counter spell here and there and some lands. The biggest surprise in the new metagame is probably how well 5 Color Bring to Light decks did, as well as 4 Color “Jeskai” decks.
As for me, I’m all about getting the jump on people and trying something totally new. I’ve done it before in past standard seasons, and I’ll probably be doing it again. Today I have 3 decks for your playing consideration, and the first one I’d like to share is my take on GR Ramp.
During the first weekend of standard here in Nagoya, there were quite a few Jeskai and Abzan decks being played, and you would have thought that with Elvish Mystic and Xenagos the Reveler gone players would have been off of the GR ramp idea, but there are still a few around and they’ve updated their deck to reflect the new pool of cards. I faced a GR Omnath Ramp deck at my first outing and lost pretty badly to them when he removed my non-basics with Crumble to Dust, played and Omnath, and then an Oblvion Sower the following turn to not only ramp with the 3 land he had exiled on turn 4 but also to put in a crazy amount of 5/5 Elemental tokens that I had no hope of getting rid of.
Now you might have remembered my GR Lands/Dragons deck from a few months ago after Origins came out, and this is the natural evolution of the deck. The big difference between that old deck and this one is that I can finally go all out with the Elemental theme of the deck as I had originally planned. Once I saw Omnath, Locus of Rage spoiled I knew it was my destiny to build this deck. I’m a Timmy at heart that loves playing giant monsters and smashing things, and what’s better than doing that than with an army of 5/5 Elementals?
While the deck lacks Elvish Mystics from M15 to really explode on turn 3, it makes up for it in the mid game. I chose both Rattleclaw Mystic and Beastmaster Savant as my ramp for this deck. After a season of Atarka Ramp we all now how crazy Mystic is, but why go with Savant? The haste. I mean, there are lots of 2 casting cost mana creatures now, but between Whisperer of the Wilds and the 2/1 Elf from Origins, the ability to attack or use mana the turn it comes into play (any color mana for creature spells) sealed the deal for me. He could have been a Sylvan Scrying, but he has more synergy with cards like Whisperwood Elemental’s manifest I think. Speaking of which, Whisperwood and Nissa, Vastwood Seer are nothing new and don’t really need any introduction. The card that really brings this deck together is Omnath, Locus of Rage.
The return of Landfall makes Omnath, Locus of Rage a very dangerous card if left unchecked. Like Thunderbreak Regent in the last standard season, you’re not getting rid of Omnath without getting hurt. If you want to kill him, even with a Crackling Doom, you’re going to take 3 damage. In order to push his landfall ability to its limit, first I’m going with my trusty Sword of the Animist. The sword ended up testing rather well in my previous GR ramp build and had great synergy with Courser of Kruphix. Not only does it let you ramp into Omnath a few turns early, but the Sword is a constant Elemental generator once he’s in play.
But what if he gets taken out before you have a chance to play a land? Well, that’s why we are going with the theme of elementals in this deck so an opponent is going to be in for a world of hurt if they mess with Omnath’s family. Underground Champion works great alongside the Sword (and doesn’t mind carrying it either), Whisperwood Elemental refills your board if your opponent wipes out your creatures (and can be sacrificed to activate 3 damage any time to a creature or player with Omnath in play), Grove Rumbler is just a big ole beater that gets bigger and angrier the more land you play, and Greenwarden of Murasa lets you procure any piece of the deck that might have been lost to the graveyard at any time. All these cards have great synergy together if Omnath is in play, but without the big boss on the table you’re going to need to push their landfall abilities even harder.
Blighted Woodland drops 2 lands at once giving you 2 triggers, and Nissa grabs you a forest to drop into play, but what really drops the bomb on players is the combo I mentioned happened to me during release weekend: an early Crumble to Dust on their tap in land/pain land, playing an Omnath, then putting a Oblivion Sower into the battlefield.
ANY lands owned in exile can be put into play, so if you exiled 4 Llanowar Wastes with Crumble to Dust and hit 2 more land with Oblivion Sower, you can play 6 land at once. Talk about overkill: Six 5/5 Elementals, six counters on Underwood Champion, +12/+12 for Grove Rumbler, and easily flipping Nissa. If you didn’t have a dominant board position before playing him, you definitely will with any one of those cards in play.
I’m not entirely sure what cards will make the final cut of this deck but I think the first build is decent. Here’s my reasoning behind each one.
- Jaddi Offshoot – early blocker against aggro decks, gains you life until you stabilize
- Roast – for killing Rhinos, Tasigurs, and anything else where more removal is needed.
- Zendikar’s Roil – good against control decks, adds to Omnath’s potency.
- Outpost Siege – card advantage is always good against control decks.
- Radiant Flames – good against aggro decks while leaving your non-mana creatures alive.
- Greenwarden of Murasa – I’m not sure how useful he’ll be in the mainboard, but knowing what removal you’ll have to deal with against control or decks like Mardu, having extras in the SB is being well prepared
- Windstorm – for taking out Esper, Mardu, and any other dragon decks.
Rise of the Eldrazi
My next deck idea is loosely based on the modern deck Tron. Well, basically the idea is to ramp into Ugin or big Eldrazi and take over the game with them. It will never hold a light to the original Tron deck, but its power level is nothing to be scoffed at nonetheless.
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Jungle Hollow
4 Llanowar Wastes
2 Blighted Fen
2 Mage-Ring Network
2 Tomb of the Spirit Dragon
2 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
|4 Sylvan Scrying
3 Titan’s Presence
2 Hedron Archive
2 Complete Disregard
2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
2 From Beyond
15 other spells
15 sideboard cards
Yeah yeah. It’s just another ramp deck, but this deck pulls out none of the stops. Rattleclaw is there, so is Nissa, but just like Modern Tron the deck also sports a full playset of Sylvan Scrying to get your wide variety of lands. Need removal? Get a Blighted Fen. Need life? Grab a Tomb of the Spirit Dragon. Need that extra big of mana to play your Ugin or Ulamog? Grab a Shrine of the Forsaken Gods or a Mage-Ring Network early. While it’s not ramp, it still grabs you mana and gives you some versatility. Ramp usually doesn’t start until turn 4 anyways. Playing a turn 3 Hedron Archive or From Beyond is a good way to go from 4 mana on turn 3 to possibly 6 on turn 4. From Beyond also acts as an Eldrazi tutor which is great when you have the mana to play it, and it has good synergy with Titan’s Presence. Find an Ulamog to put in your hand, then exile anything you want to. Six is the key number in this deck. Six mana lets you play Oblivion Sower to ramp into a bigger turn 7 play, but it also lets you play Conduit of Ruin.
I find Conduit of Ruin rather interesting. It’s an extra Eldrazi tutor effect in this deck, but what makes it interesting is that it lets you play your first creature spell each turn cheaply. It could be as simple as adding another counter to a Hangarback Walker, but it could also mean that you play your Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on turn 8 (or earlier if you have the ramp). If Ulamog hits and your battlefield is stabilized, your opponent is done in 2 turns no matter what. I’ve also decided that a one off of Void Winnower is worth a spot as well since it stops cards like Siege Rhino, Ugin, and a number of other even numbered spells. I don’t think Conduit is really going to shine until we get more Eldrazi in the next set, but at the moment I think it will pull its weight in this deck. Speaking of Ugin, with all of the Eldrazi in this deck you can easily win a game with a minus 7 to wipe your opponent’s board then an all out attack with your Eldrazi since they are colorless. I mean, it wouldn’t be Ugin Tron without Ugin, right?
The only problem I see this deck having is with removal. I originally wanted to use blue but I felt that the deck would absolutely get destroyed by aggro decks such as Atarka Red and Abzan Aggro. That’s why I switched to GB instead of GU. Blue would have been nice since you can add in Kiora as extra ramp and Lumbering Falls, but this deck needs black to survive. The main deck removal is Titan’s Presence and Complete Disregard. The Eldrazi are big boys and can handle themselves pretty well one on one, but cards like Deathmist Raptor and early Anafenza can cause problems. Some people say that Titan’s Presence is a trap, but I think that it’s okay with 9 LARGE colorless sources that can exile just about any creature, and for the other small creatures Complete Disregard should be fine.
Playing black also gives me access to Languish in the sideboard which should really help in those Abzan aggro match ups, and Transgress the Mind can put a stop to midrange decks before they play their win condition as well. It hits everything in control decks that you need to worry about, as well as cards like Ugin, Atarka, and other Ulamogs. This deck will need some testing, but I feel like it should be more than capable of handling itself at Friday Night Magic until it gets playtested more.
Skeletons in the Closet
There’s been some interest in resurrecting Aristocrats in Battle For Zendikar thanks to Zulaport Cutthroat, but I’ve been less than impressed with the efforts put out so far. In my opinion, Josh Silvestri’s rough draft comes ass too defensive. If I’m playing with Aristocrats, I’m in it to win it quickly before my opponent knows what hit them.
|Come Sweet Death|
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Windswept Heath
4 Canopy Vista
4 Llanowar Wastes
|4 Abzan Charm
3 Rally the Ancestors
4 Gather the Pack
2 Abzan Ascendancy
11 other spells
15 sideboard cards
I’ve decided to go full on Abzan for my Aristocrats (which hails back to the Junk version with Varolz, the Scar Striped during Dragon’s Maze standard). I do so to maximize the number of creatures I can sacrifice at one time while I have Zulaport Cutthroat in play. Having to protect both the Cutthroat and Husk in order to combo off is no easy feat, so I think it’s better that the deck has the redundancy of Rally the Ancestors for a late game combo win.
One way to improve the strength of this combo is to add in more creatures to sacrifice. Blisterpod gives you 2 creatures (plus lets you ramp into a Rally the Ancestors more easily), Catacomb Sifter gives you 2 bodies plus lets you scry to your win condition, Sultai Emissary manifests a second creature when it dies, and multiple Abzan Ascendancies can be downright brutal if your opponent can’t deal with the Cutthroat/Husk combo.
Abzan Ascendancy gives your creatures a +1/+1 counter which is nice and all, but what makes it better is being able to sacrifice your creatures to get a spirit token, sacrifice the token to deal double the damage via Cutthroat, then to do it all again with a Rally the Ancestors. However, I don’t think it’s possible to pull off that kind of crazy damage with Rally unless you have a way to fill up that graveyard early. This means playing Gather the Pack. The previous Rally builds had Satyr Wayfinder to fill their graveyard (and grab land), and you’re going to need a similar effect.
The curve is low enough to run 23 lands I think, and there are enough Scion tokens going around to fuel a rather deep Rally after a few turns later. Den Protector and Liliana, Heretic Healer give you double redundancy for grabbing your combo pieces from the graveyard if you need it (Nantuko Husk/Zulaport Cutthroat), and Abzan Charm gives you the ever effect removal/card advantage combination. Speaking of which, make sure you have removal for Anafenza, the Foremost because she will absolutely WRECK your strategy if she’s in play. Abzan decks will be your biggest foe, which is why I have a card like Infinite Obliteration in the sideboard to preempt your opponent playing her. If you need more removal in this deck, hopefully Ruinous Path and Fleshbag Marauder will be enough time to get off a huge Rally/Cutthroat/Husk combo.
Heading into the Pro Tour
Most players are still holding on to the tried and true decks of Origins standard, but I expect that to change after the Pro Tour in two weeks. While I don’t think the decks I introduced up above are refined enough to go 8-9 rounds in a large tournament, I think they will be a lot of fun to play at your next Friday Night Magic or casual tournament. If you sleeve them up and try them out, let me know what you think! Since my time playing standard is limited at the moment I can use as many people giving me feedback and suggestions as possible.
I’d also like to thank all of the Cardboard Samurai that helped me revise and improve my initial deck ideas (thanks Ben, Steve, Kal, Rajib, Beau, and anybody else that gave me feedback!). Too all of you out there, good luck in the new standard metagame developing out there and make sure that even if you lose at first, keep trying to have fun! Be sure to back back soon for new Japan Hobbyist articles!