The Japan Metagame Diaries: Ramping up for GP Kobe

It’s been over a month since my last metagame update from around Japan and quite a lot has changed since early October. In my previous TJMGD article, Battle for Zendikar had just been released and we had just moved into a new standard. Atarka Red had just shown that it was a deck to be reckoned with. Both Abzan red and Dark Jeskai had also started showing up prior to the Pro Tour. I also put together a very rough version of the currently popular Eldrazi ramp decks weeks before it even came out.

Disappointingly, I haven’t had such a smooth ride in Battle for Zendikar standard so far. I’ve struggled a lot to find a deck I like, as well as to learn how to play it and how to deal with the myriad of playable decks currently in standard. I started out with Mardu tokens/Dragons that I had been playing prior to rotation with a few changes, and I did alright. Here’s my current version of it.

 

Mardu Drokens
75 cards, 15 sideboard
4 Smoldering Marsh
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Nomad Outpost
2 Mountain
2 Swamp
2 Shambling Vent
2 Plains
2 Battlefield Forge
2 Caves of Koilos


24 lands

4 Seeker of the Way
4 Hangarback Walker
4 Thunderbreak Regent
2 Soulfire Grand Master
2 Wingmate Roc
2 Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury


18 creatures

4 Draconic Roar
4 Crackling Doom
3 Secure the Wastes
2 Ruinous Path
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited


18 other spells

Sideboard
2 Outpost Siege
2 Radiant Flames
2 Complete Disregard
2 Transgress the Mind
3 Arashin Cleric
2 Utter End
2 Duress


15 sideboard cards

 

Crackling Doom was great and I found myself doing well against the 5 color Bring to Light decks, but lost to control decks like UW Awaken control because my deck simple wasn’t explosive enough. Control decks simply grinded me out through counterspells and card advantage. I made a lot of changes to the deck such as going with a Dragon theme with Regent, Kolaghan, and Draconic Roar instead of Fiery Impulse and Hordeling Outbursts. The token theme is still there however, thanks in large part to Secure the Wastes and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

I went 2-1 at a 22 person FNM at the end of the first week of October, 3-2 at a 32 person weekend tournament a few days later, and 3-3 at a 43 person PPTQ in the middle of October. As I said above, I did well against decks like Abzan and Jeskai, but had bad match ups against control decks. In the first few weeks, I saw a lot of Dark Jeskai decks and they won quite a few tournaments in Nagoya. GB Aristocrat decks starting showing up at the beginning of the second week of October here, but it was Abzan red decks that saw a boost in popularity at that time.

It was in the following week of October that I finally came around to trying out my previously built Eldrazi ramp deck. I went 3-0 with my GB build at a 20 person tournament thanks to Ugin wiping boards and my black board wipes keeping me safe, but I couldn’t maintain my consistency and went 1-4 a few days later at a slightly larger 31 person weekend tournament. During the middle of October, lots of 4 color decks started showing up around town and started dominating the metagame. We also had some of the RG Landfall decks sneak in some wins, but for the most part people were either playing Dark Jeskai or Burning Abzan.

The Top 8 of the PPTQ in the middle of the month I went to was Esper Control, 4 Color Sidisi Megamorph, GW Megamorph, GB Aristocrats, Temur Midrange, Abzan midrange, 5 color Bring to Light, and Mardu tokens. (Esper control was the eventual winner).

I continued on with my Eldrazi ramp deck in the 3rd week of the month, this time using a UG build that focused more on tempo cards than removal since my removal seemed to be overwhelmed so easily. I did alright with it going 2-1 at a 20 person weekday event in Nagoya, but I quickly switched back to my Mardu Dragon/Tokens deck when I saw the metagame shifting. Temur was starting to show up more and more, as did Aristocrat and Jeskai decks. I liked the deck, but had problems with mulligans and decided to retire the deck for a short time after a 2-3 and 2-2 Game Days result.  It was during this weekend that Abzan Red, Dark Jeskai, and GB/x Aristocrat decks really started to flood the field at tournaments. Abzan Aggro decks were also pretty oppressive during this period.

I struggled through the next few tournaments with my Eldrazi ramp builds, using UG Eldrazi but having trouble finishing games. I also tried RUG builds but just couldn’t get my brews with cards like Herald of Kozilek to move. It wasn’t until Jake Mondello’s success with GR Eldrazi Ramp at GP Quebec did I FINALLY see what was wrong with my deck. I had the right idea with Ugins and Ulamogs, but my ramp was all wrong and I didn’t have defensive cards like Jaddi Offshoot to stem the loss of life from decks like Atarka Red.

I went 2-1 at my first tournament with GR Ramp, doing well against slower midrange decks as well as control. I went 1-2 at the next tournament, and 3-0 at the tournament after that with GR Eldrazi. Finding a good build to fit the metagame was hard, and I also found myself having a lot of problems with mulligans as well while trying to find the right combination of cards. Abzan Aggro won a lot of events in Nagoya during this time, and GR Eldrazi ramp decks also started to show up a lot after GP Quebec as well. Dark Jeskai was still hanging around, but Abzan decks were slowly but surely pushing it out of the meta. My first big test with the deck came at a 32 player PPTQ at the start of November. Using a build similar to the GP Quebec top 8 deck, I went 2-3, losing almost entirely to fast decks like BR Warriors and Abzan aggro. I didn’t have problems against Megamorph or Temur decks, but I simply couldn’t deal with quick decks using Mondello’s build. I mulliganed to 5 cards A LOT and sometimes found myself stuck on 5-6 mana with no way of getting up to 7 for Atarka or higher for a Ugin or Ulamog.

I was beyond frustrated with myself. The deck is strong. Heck, it’s bonkers in a multicolor field like what most people are experiencing in their metagames at the moment, but the deck is going to need a lot of fine tuning.

The top 8 of the PPTQ was Abzan aggro x2, Abzan Red x2, BR aggro, Dark Jeskai, GR Eldrazi Ramp, and GW Megamorph. The metagame was definitely shifting towards Abzan last week, and my worst fears came true this weekend at a 50 person PPTQ where the top 8 was made up almost entirely of Abzan aggro decks. There were 6 overall, with one 5 Color Bring to Light deck and another Bant Megamorph deck taking the last 2 spots.

This is out of control now and its time GR Eldrazi decks come out in force in order to deal with them swiftly and harshly. My new build seeks to do just that while at the same time addressing the issue it has with fast aggro decks like Atarka Red.

 

GR Eldrazitron
75 cards, 15 sideboard
13 Forest
4 Sanctum of Ugin
4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
2 Mountain
1 Blighted Woodland
1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon


25 lands

4 Jaddi Offshoot
4 Rattleclaw Mystic
4 Hangarback Walker
4 Oblivion Sower
3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 Dragonlord Atarka


21 creatures

4 Nissa’s Pilgrimage
4 Explosive Vegetation
3 Hedron Archive
3 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon


14 other spells

Sideboard
1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
2 Seismic Rupture
2 Roast
2 Feed the Clan
2 Gaea’s Revenge
2 Winds of Qal Sisma
2 Void Winnower


15 sideboard cards

 

The core of the deck is still the same:

  • Nissa’s Pilgrimage, Explosive Vegetation, and Hedron Archive for ramp
  • Hangarback and Jaddi Offshoot for early blockers and life gain
  • Ulamog, Atarka, and Ugin for finishers.

The mana is also still the same for the most part, except I added a 2nd mountain to improve my ability to play a red spell early. The big changes are adding Rattleclaw Mystic and Oblivion Sower to the main. Rattleclaw takes over from Sylvan Scrying which, while great for getting you a combo piece like Sanctum of Ugin when you need it, doesn’t ramp. With Abzan decks spreading like a virus all over tournaments city wide, it means that there aren’t as many Fiery Impulses or Draconic Roars to stop you from getting value out of the Mystic on turn 3. Being able to play a turn 3 Hedron Archive or Vegetation is absolutely HUGE. It sets you up for a possible turn 4 Atarka, which could then put all of your other threats into play one turn earlier than usual (turn 5 Ugin, turn 6 Ulamog if you have Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, etc). In the mirror where the first person to land a Ulamog is usually the winner, this is very important. I believe it gives you an advantage in that match up if your opponent is using only sorcery speed spells.

Playing an early Mystic also means you can drop a Oblivion Sower on turn 4. What I noticed while playing the deck over the last few weeks is that it has both unstoppable hands (when you ramp out and play a threat) and horrible ones that screw you over (mulligans to 4 or 5, no color lands, no ramp cards). There is a huge gap between your early spells and playing you finishers, and it made the deck incredibly top heavy. I chose to add Oblivion Sower to make a more natural curve, and remarkably it has been doing pretty well. All I had to do was move my Nissas to the sideboard with a Ulamog, and drop my 3rd Hedron. It’s been a great help against aggressive decks,  especially if I’m playing against Abzan aggro or Atarka red and have an Offshoot in play. It lets me ramp a little and play a body that will stop attacks cold if your opponent doesn’t have removal for Sower. It also is great against control decks that like to lean on Dig Thru Time a lot. While not always effective, it can also sometimes take away GB Aristocrats’ combo pieces and hitting a 4-5 color decks only sources of one color can be crippling as well.

In the sideboard, I decided to forego cards like Rending Volley in favor of more well rounded arsenal.

  • Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger – the 4th Ulamog comes in against any deck that’s midrange or that starts around turn 3-4. It helps me keep the average mana cost low in the main as well.
  • Nissa, Vastwood Seer – she was getting burned out or targeted with Dromoka’s Command all of the time, so I think she’s better suited coming in against control type decks that don’t kill her early.
  • Seismic Rupture – Realized I probably need something I can play early to stop Atarka Red’s onslaught. Turn 3 Rupture is better than a turn 5 Ugin.
  • Roast – I’ve found this to be a good card against Abzan Aggro decks. Stops early Anafenzas, level upped Wardens, and even Tasigurs.
  • Feed the Clan – good against Atarka Red, but also necessary against Aristocrat decks too I think.
  • Gaea’s Revenge – great against control, but also not bad against the mirror when your opponent plays a Void Winnower.
  • Winds of Qal Sisma – a good stall tactic against aggro decks, and not bad against Dark Jeskai or Dragon decks as well. Just need time to play that Ugin for a board wipe!
  • Void Winnower – absolutely necessary again the mirror. Stops opponents from playing Ulamog, Ugins, and a lot of their ramp. The first person to play one will probably win.

 

I have high hopes for this build and there is a good chance I’ll be using it at GP Kobe in 2 weeks. I went 2-1 at a casual event last week with it, and 2-1 again at a medium sized 16 person FNM. I lost to the mirror (kept a slow hand and he played Ulamog first) and a BUG Aristocrats deck (he found his combo early). I played at a 50 PPTQ with it as well and started out strong 2-0 against RUG and Jeskai Dragons, but lost the next 3 to mistakes and being too aggressive. I sided incorrectly against 5 Color Bring to Light thinking it was Abzan aggro (only saw Den protector and Rhino), didn’t play defensively enough against Atarka Red (won a game, but lost the 3rd match to a double striking Swiftspear with Trample for more than 20 damage after tapping out for ramp with Winds of Qal Sisma in hand), and played too aggressively against Mardu midrange and missed my Sanctum of Ugin trigger. I managed a 3-3 record for 21st place, but I still have confidence that I can improve my match ups with more practice.

 

News from Around Japan

 

I’m not the only Cardboard Samurai sleeving it up every week in Japan. My fellow group members in Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kyushu have also been playing a lot. They’ve had much better results with their decks. Two of them have been using Jeskai decks (Dark Jeskai and regular Jeskai), and one person has been using Temur with a splash of white. They’ve all been putting up good numbers and have been doing rather well for themselves against Abzan and various aggro decks such as BR and GR Landfall aggro.

Tokyo for the most part tends to have a lot of aggro compared to other places, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a resurgence of Dark or other Jeskai decks, as well as more Atarka Red builds. Players from Nagoya seem to be settling on Abzan Aggro, and GR Ramp decks have also been seeing a lot more play lately. By the time GP Kobe arrives, I think about 40% of the field will be various Abzan builds, 15% will be Eldrazi Ramp decks, 20% will be Jeskai based decks, 10% will be Atarka Red or similar aggro decks, and the remaining 15% will be decks like Temur Dragons/Midrange, Mardu Midrange/tokens, and GB Aristocrats.

 

GP Kobe details

 

The general info about the Grand Prix can be found on Wizard’s website but for those of you that haven’t been to the site before I can give you some advice about it since I played in last years GP Kobe. In order to get to the event hall, you need to go to Sannomiya station and take the Port Liner to the event hall. It’s not that far from Sannomiya, perhaps 10-15 minutes from station to door. There isn’t much around the event hall in terms of food and restaurants (though vendors should be on site), so I would grab something from around the downtown area before heading there if you think you’ll be hungry. I believe there is a Don Quixote and a few convenience stores near the station, so if you get there early on Friday be sure to stock up before heading to the event hall. If there is anything else I can help you out with prior to the Grand Prix let me know and I’ll do my best to help you out. I hope that the information I’ve supplied you with helps and that you’re well prepared in two weeks when the Grand Prix starts. I’m getting excited, but I’m also nervous that I won’t be playing at the top of my game by then. Time to shake out the cobwebs! Good luck and I hope to see some of you there!

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