The Japan Metagame Diaries: Going Dark
Darkness has been slowly spreading throughout the land. Little by little it has crept into every facet of the metagame and begun to shape it. Without a big tournament to shape the metagame, it’s been largely left up to players to do it themselves these past few weeks. With the most recent Grand Prix being either modern or limited affairs, there is very little data to work with when it comes to standard. Lots of people are still in an uproar about the Eldrazi menace in Modern which leaves standard players to fend for themselves. Sure there have been a few semi-large events in the USA (SCG Opens, TCG Player 5Ks, etc), but in Japan the only thing people can do to get an inkling as to what decks are popular in standard is to check out Hareruya’s daily Tweets about what’s being played at their tournaments.
This can be a misnomer however, as the Tokyo metagame is usually vastly different from everywhere else in Japan. Just one look at Hareruya’s 3-0 Tweets shows that the metagame in that area is all over the place. While Nagoya has a lot less competitive players than Tokyo (about 10% of Tokyo’s), its acts as sort of a microcosm of Magic the Gathering in Japan. The players here are in touch with what’s happening in both Tokyo and Osaka, and events like PPTQs are attended rather heavily. Large events usually draw anywhere from 50-70 players consistently, and all with high caliber players. Today I’ll be focusing on what’s been happening in the Nagoya region over the past few weeks and how I expect the metagame will shape up going into GP Houston in the states this weekend.
Recently, decks such as Mardu Green, BR Flyers, and Grixis Control have been showing up in larger numbers the farther away we get from the release of Oath of the Gatewatch. Sure, Abzan Aggro and Dark Jeskai are still there, but those other decks are out in a much larger force. Rally decks have also put up some good numbers, but due to the large number of decks playing black, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet has been able to keep the deck in check for the moment being.
After the Grand Prix
The last time I talked about the standard metagame here, it was just after GP Nagoya where I had gone 5-2 for 21st place in a 100+ person Super Sunday Standard event with my original GR Elemental Landfall Stompy deck. I had managed to go 2-1 at a tournament the day after to increase my overall record with it to a promising 7-3, but soon after that I ran into some problems with the deck.
The deck has been absolutely amazing against aggro, ramp, and tempo decks such as Abzan aggro, GR Eldrazi ramp, Atarka Red, and UR Prowess, but has struggled against black based, removal heavy decks such as Mardu, Abzan midrange, and Grixis control. In the next tournament I played in, I went 1-2, losing to 2 Mardu decks in a row before beating a Esper control deck. Dark Jeskai also became a problem, especially when it switched into all in control mode. Crackling Doom, Murderous Cut, and hand disruption such as Transgress the Mind have all played havoc on the deck, causing me to rethink how to play the deck (as well as if I should continue to use it in this current metagame). I also had some problems with Rally, since my solely GR build wasn’t able to interact with their board state at all outside of Chandra.
A few days later I took part in a much larger 27 person tournament that was only 3 rounds and finished 2-1 which restored some confidence in the deck. I lost to a BW Tokens round 1 due to mana problems (was only playing 24 at the time), but ended up beating a GR Eldrazi Ramp deck and a BG Elf/Company deck to make my overall record with the deck 10-6. The following week I decided to experiment with the deck a little bit more and tried out both a splash of blue one time and a splash of white. Blue used Lumbering Falls and cards like Negate in the sideboard but overall didn’t give me that much of an advantage over straight GR Elementals. White was a bit more interesting. It allowed me to add in more fetches which were great at giving me extra landfall triggers, and I was also able to play Hallowed Moonlight in the sideboard to slow down Rally decks a little. My current build looks something like this:
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Cinder Glade
3 Windswept Heath
3 Wooded Foothills
2 Blighted Woodland
1 Canopy Vista
|4 Nissa’s Pilgrimage
3 Crater’s Claws
2 Explosive Vegetation
9 other spells
15 sideboard cards
The deck still struggles with black based decks such as Mardu and Abzan Midrange, but it’s still solid. The added landfall triggers from more fetches has led to more explosive attacks with Embodiment of Fury in play, and having Hallowed Moonlight in the sideboard has won me a few games against Rally in practice. I decided to cut some Explosive Vegetation in order to fit in Den Protector, but in their place I have Blighted Woodland so I feel like I’ll still be able to get the cards I need when I need it (or more importantly, the landfall triggers). The style of play hasn’t changed much. You still want to play your Undergrowth Champions and Grove Rumblers early and save your Embodiment of Fury for when you can create 1-2 landfall triggers to get good value out of him.
The only card I’m not sold on in this build is Whisperwood Elemental. While I like the card advantage and an ability that makes your opponent think twice about wiping your board, it simply doesn’t do what I want it to do. I’m considering playing Outpost Siege in that spot instead, at least for the moment to see how it does. This deck wants to keep the pressure on your opponent and can easily run out of cards if you’re not careful. The only draw back is board wipes, which Whisperwood is better against. I’m willing to give the deck a few more chances, but I don’t know if it will be able to do as well as it did during the Super Sunday tournament where the metagame really favored me. I’ve heard on Twitter that a few people are trying this deck out, so I hope that you can give me some feedback after you’d played a few hands. If the metagame suddenly changes to more aggro, I think it can do really well.
Zero Dark 60
At this point I wanted to switch back to my Eldrazi ramp deck, but I was ill-prepared to play it in this new meta. I had zero Kozilek’s Return, 2 World Breakers, zero Reality Smashers, and zero Thought-Knot Seers. I had requested them on Puca Trade and a few people trade them to me, but I had a while to wait before they would arrive. Therefore, I opted to try a mono green version with what I had available. The first outing of this mono green Eldrazi deck was at a 19 person Game Day on Saturday the 13th where I went 2-2 with it. I started off 2-0 by beating W/b midrange and an Abzan Displacer/Company deck thanks to both Ugin and Ulamog taking care of all threats, but lost my next two matches to Grixis Control and Dark Temur. Against Grixis my hand was torn apart, and anything I was able to cast was either destroyed or countered. I could have made top 8 with a win in round 4, but the pressure of Sylvan Advocate, Savage Knuckleblade, Woodland Wanderer (as a 6/6), and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker was too much. I lacked a board wipe or instant speed removal to slow down my opponent’s assault and a well timed counterspell took care of my Ugin and ended my day then and there. I wasn’t able to rely only on Ulamog and Ugin to get the job done. I had played multiple Walker of the Wastes and Whisperwood Elemental to give me some more creatures to battle with, but it wasn’t enough. I really needed the full playset of World Breakers and Thought-Knot Seer to make the deck competitive.
Fortunately, another Game Day was happening later that day across town and I was able to take part in it after making a few changes to my deck. I had luckily received a package that afternoon of 2 more Reality Smashers and the other World Breakers I needed to complete my full playset and went into this tournament with a slightly more streamlined build. There were only 10 players, but a lot of people that had made the top 8 at the other store but didn’t win had made their way there as well. It wasn’t going to be a cake walk.
I won my first match against Grixis Control by smashing his reality and ramping into an early Ugin, but lost against Dark Jeskai in round 2 without any answers to double Mantis Riders. In round 3 I had to play against another Dark Jeskai deck, but managed to win this one thanks to Ugin wiping his board at key times during the match. In round 4 I actually lost to the Abzan Displacer/Company deck I had beaten early in the day (due to mulligans and not drawing any ramp cards) and thought my day was over. With only 10 people, only the best 4 would make it to the finals, but thanks to my tie breakers I lucked out and just snuck in as the 4th seed.
The top 4 consisted of myself (Mono green Eldrazi ramp), the Dark Jeskai deck I had lost to in round 2, a GR Eldrazi ramp deck, and the Abzan Displacer/Company deck I had lost to in round 4. I had my work cut out for me, but I knew that if I drew well I could beat both of those decks. My first match was against Dark Jeskai. I played threat after threat against my opponent and fought through countless counterspells before landing Ugin in both of my wins that catapulted me into the finals where I would face the Abzan Displacer/Company deck that had been giving me problems all day.
For those of you that haven’t seen the deck before, the deck is mostly an Abzan with a splash of blue for Reflector Mage. It uses Eldrazi Displacer to blink multiple cards such as Reflector Mage, Siege Rhino, and Wall of Resurgence and uses Collected Company to gain card advantage or. The deck plays well both on offense and defense and can be a proper pain in the ass if you don’t have a plan on how to deal with it. My plan was Ugin, Ugin, and Ugin. Unlike my first match up against this opponent a few hours earlier, I drew much better and was able to ramp up to Ugin early in both games giving him little chance to come back. World Breaker also fared well in this game and kept my opponent off the colors he needed and I won the match (and the day) with a final record of 4-2.
As you can see, I had to get a little creative with the sideboard without any access to Thought Knots and since I wasn’t playing red I didn’t have a way to wipe boards other than Ugin, the Spirit Dragon (hence the 4 total between the main and sideboard). I was rather surprised I was able to go all the way with a 80% complete deck, but as it is with ramp of any form, when the deck works it REALLY works. When you get those good draws and your opponent doesn’t disrupt your hand you can go all out and win big.
I tried to repeat my success the following day at another Game Day against 17 people, but luck clearly wasn’t on my side. I lost to an Abzan Aggro deck that exiled all my threats and stole Ugin from my hand, and then in round 2 I lost to a Jund deck that was equally as brutal with hand destruction as Grixis Control was the other day. I didn’t get my first win until round 3 against a UB Eldrazi deck, and in round 4 I went to time against a 4 Color Rally deck due to my opponent’s un-ending triggers (I probably could have won with more time). The most important thing I learned from this tournament was to carefully announce your phases, especially after casting a World Breaker/Ulamog and wanting to use Ugin’s ability. Had I done so and forced my opponent to use their Collected Company/Rally the Ancestors before my battle phase, I could have wiped their board with Ugin and probably have won the game. Well . . . lessson learned.
I played the Mono green Eldrazi ramp deck 2 more times after game day, adding in cards I got from Puca Trade to make it incrementally more powerful, but my frustration with the deck came to a head when I went 0-2 drop at a 62 person PPTQ the past weekend. While it was true that the lack of Thought Knot Seers put me in bad situations rather often, I came to the realization that mono green ramp simply wasn’t where this deck wants to be in the current metagame. This last week I finally followed my gut and went dark.
I built a GB Eldrazi ramp deck.
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
4 Hissing Quagmire
3 Evolving Wilds
|4 Explosive Vegetation
2 Map the Wastes
2 Nissa’s Pilgrimage
2 Hedron Archive
2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
12 other spells
15 sideboard cards
Lots of players think that GR Eldrazi is the way to go, and quite a few of them believe the potent combo of Kozilek’s Return and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are enough to deal with most threats in the metagame, but they’d be wrong. While it’s true that these are two of the best removal effects currently in standard, there are some glaring weaknesses. For Ugin, it’s the increasing number of players using Thought Knot Seer, Reality Smasher, Matter Reshaper, and Hangarback Walker. Mono black Eldrazi aggro, BR Flyers, and a few others will smile at you and smash into you relentlessly as you try to pick them off one at a time. For Kozilek’s Return, the problem is consistency. You’ll have no problem playing the card as an instant to deal with aggro decks, but if you bring it in against Abzan Aggro or Mardu and your opponent Infinitely Obliterates your World Breakers, how are you able to play it again with only 2-3 Ulamogs in your deck and few ways to tutor for it with Sanctum of Ugin? Heaven forbid your opponents play a card like Goblin Dark Dwellers and re-cast Obliteration to get rid of Ulamog as well.
Nope, green/red Eldrazi isn’t for me. I’m sold on green/black for a number of reasons. First off, it’s not your traditional, all in ramp deck. While you ultimately want to ramp quickly into an Ugin, Ulamog, or World Breaker, this deck also has a midrange game and other powerful effects that your opponent’s must deal with. The best addition to the main board of this deck has to be Thought-Knot Seer. The card is stupidly strong in this format. There’s never a bad time to play it. Eldrazi ramp is all about playing your big finishers to end the game, and TKS lets you make sure the coast is clear before contributing too much the field. The card draw they get from killing it is a small price to pay for getting rid of your opponent’s best card and seeing their hand.
Playing black also gives you access to Hissing Quagmire, which in my opinion gives you the best value out of all of the new man-lands. Your opponent can’t attack into it if you have open mana, and blocking it is even more dangerous. Sylvan Advocate has been a strong card in ramp decks due to their ability to get to 6 mana early, but alongside Hissing Quagmire if gets even better. The only other addition that black gives us in the main board is Catacomb Sifter. From what I’ve seen from it so far, I’m rather satisfied with it’s ability. Two creatures, ramp from 3 mana to 5 mana on turn 4 for a Reality Smasher, and the ability to filter your draws a little bit is also good. The 2/3 body is a pretty good blocker as well.
The Land and Ramp package
When you want to realistically have access to black mana by turn 3 or 4, changes to the mana base have to be made. Luckily, Llanowar Wastes is perfect in this deck as it makes both colorless and the other colors we need. Hissing Quagmire is also pretty strong in this deck (as I said above), and Evolving Wilds grabs you whatever land you’re lacking, but Sanctum of Ugin doesn’t make the cut. Sure you can grab any number of the colorless creatures in this deck if you play it, but you run the risk of not being able to cast a removal spell when you need it. In my opinion, protecting your finishers or living long enough to play them is more important than being able to grab an extra Ulamog or World Breaker. If you’re dead on the table it won’t matter. Shrine of the Forsaken Gods is also still in the mix as it ramps you into a number of powerful cards early.
As for the basic lands, I decided to go with 7 Forests, 2 Swamps, and 1 Wastes. This set up is largely why the ramp package is like it is. With only 7 Forests, 2 Nissa’s Pilgrimage and 4 Explosive Vegetation is more than enough. When one spell can grab 3 of your forests, you don’t need too many of them. This deck needs to grab its non green colors rather consistently for a number of spells, which is why I decided to split the ramp package 2-2 with Map the Wastes. You need to have a way to cast a double black spell on turn 4 or grab a colorless source for Thought-Knot/Reality Smasher.
Best Laid (Sideboard) Plans
Come on, you can’t think that those would be the only reasons to play black in this deck, right?
4 Color Rally is the boogeyman that everybody is afraid of. They say that the deck has ways to play around Kalitas, and that might be the case if there wasn’t a Worldbreaker following 2 turns later or an Ulamog after that. Rally decks build up slowly, which are usually enough time to get out an Ugin and wipe an opponent’s board, but the problem is your opponent sacrificing all of their creatures to Nantuko Husk to render your effort moot. Throw a turn 3 Kalitas into the mix and your opponent is going to be absolutely screwed. He’ll give you all the time in the world to take out their white sources. I also have 2 Flaying Tendrils in the SB for this match up, but I think it might be overkill. Those cards also aren’t bad choices to have in against aggro decks either.
Transgress the Mind is a good card to have against a lot of decks too. Playing this on top of 4 Thought Knot Seers can absolutely cripple an Abzan, Mardu, or Grixis deck before they can put up any kind of fight. It also works well in the mirror match. Murderous Cut is much needed instant speed removal to deal with cards like Kolaghan or other hard to deal with creatures.
I’d like to thank Hackworth for the suggestion of Deathbreak Regent. Right now a lot of you are probably think “get this garbage out of your deck”, but hear me out. This deck has a strong match up against Abzan and Jeskai decks for the most part, but struggles against mostly colorless Eldrazi and BR flyer decks. Deathbreak is kind of a compromise between a boardwipe like Crux of Fate/Languish and 2 more Ugin. Two more Ugin would give me a great sideboard game against color heavy decks, but would leave me vulnerable to Eldrazi themed decks. Adding in Crux of Fate leaves me with no creatures on the board and the possibility of having to deal with Kolaghan/Thunderbreak Regent, and Languish doesn’t kill Rhino, Tasigur, or anything else with more than 5 toughness. I see Deathbreak as my 3rd and 4th Ugin. I’d side it in against Mardu Green/Abzan Red deck as well as BR flyers. She resets the board and gives you the time you need to build up the board in your favor. I haven’t play with her too much, but she seems promising.
The last card in my sideboard is Warden of the First Tree, and this is in direct response to the metagame. Usually this card would be Jaddi Offshoot, but with Atarka Red and UR Prowess almost non-existent in the metagame at this time, I listened to one of my Cardboard Samurai and tried out Warden instead. Jaddi can usually be played early and forgotten about, but if you don’t draw it early it becomes a horrible top deck later on. Yes, you need the life gain which is why you side it in, but I was convinced that being progressive is much better. A turn 1 Warden must be dealt with early or it can get out of control. This ramp deck can easily turn it into a 3/3 lifelink trampler, and if they do take it out early, you still have Sylvan Advocate and Thought Knot Seer to play those first few turns. I say play it, make your opponent take care of it early, and use that extra time he buys you to get out your finisher to stabilize and take over the game. I would side it in against Dark Jeskai, Atarka Red, and mono black Eldrazi. The card is untested so far, but the theory seems sound.
So Far So Good
This week was the first time I was able to take the deck for a spin, and I’ve been pretty happy with the results so far. I went 2-1 at a small 8 man event on Monday, beating a UB Awaken/Demonic Pact control deck and a Mardu Green deck before losing to the 4 Color Displacer/Company deck that I had played against before. Thought Knot Seer was really good at this tournament, and I have to admit that the only reason I lost against the Displacer/Company deck was because I didn’t have enough black mana sources at the time or the Map the Wastes to grab them. The winner of this event was Jeskai Aggro.
The following day I went 2-1 at another 8 man event. I had a bye round one, but beat a Mardu green deck before losing to Mardu Midrange. The combination of Sylvan Advocate into Thought Knot Seer into World Breaker was really hard for the Mardu Green deck to deal with, but Mardu midrange managed to whittle me down with Thopters while picking apart my hand with Duress, Kolaghan’s Command, and Transgress the Mind (of course they were the winner of the event).
My most recent tournament was on Wednesday this week and at another small event (9 people this time), but by now I was feeling very comfortable with the deck list and had made some small tweaks to optimize it. I beat a GR Omnath/Elemental ramp deck round 1 (thanks to Ugin), Grixis Control round 2 (Worldbreaker and Ugin locked him down), and Mardu Green round 3.
7-2 after 3 small tournaments is a good start, but I’m still lacking a lot of experience against a number of decks. I believe that the deck will do well against the likes of Rally and Jeskai, but it’s too soon to tell. This weekend I’m attending another PPTQ, and I believe this time I’ll be ready. I expect there to be a lot of strong players with very competitive decks, but I think this well-balanced GB Eldrazi midrange/ramp deck will catch a lot of players off guard. Hopefully I’ll have good news and a better view of the metagame here in the Tokai area of Japan. Until then, thanks for reading and let me know what you think of the deck! Good luck to any of you heading to GP Houston or any other big tournament this weekend as well!