The Japan Metagame Diaries – GP Tokyo: Brew Brothers – Day 1
I couldn’t be prouder to be a Cardboard Samurai right now. Only 4 of us went to Grand Prix Tokyo this past weekend, but all 4 of us made day 2. From left to right is Kalim, Aryabhima, Stephen, and myself. Kalim and Arya are no strangers to day 2, but for Stephen and I it was our first time not having to pay extra money for another tournament on Sunday. At the end of day 1 Kal finished 7-2, Arya finished 7-2, Stephen just got in at 6-3, and I got in at 7-2. It was a roller coaster of emotions as we supported each other through the rounds to keep our spirits up. Most of us didn’t clinch day two until round 7 or 8, so it got pretty stressful towards the end.
For the event, Arya had chosen GB Aristocrats while Stephen chose to stay with his mono white human deck that got him into the top 8 of Hareruya’S PPTQ the week before, but the real story was Kal and I’s unique brews that did so well and got us into day 2. Today I’ll be talking about one these new deck ideas and in the second part of the article I’ll talk about day 2 and the other deck. But before that I’m going to briefly talk about what the metagame was like around Japan leading up to the Grand Prix and how that affected my deck choice.
Pre-Grand Prix metagame
After a disappointing PPTQ on 4/17, I wasn’t really sure what deck I was going to run at Shadows Over Innistrad Game Day, let alone Grand Prix Tokyo so I was at an impasse. I wasn’t really sure if I was going to focus on a deck that had lots of cards that were effective against the metagame, or if I wanted to play a deck that had great synergy and consistency.
I started off small the week following up to Game Day, continuing with my RW tokens deck but making some small changes here and there. I managed to go 2-1 at a small 11 person event beating Bant Company and BW midrange but losing to Abzan midrange. This build had Nahiri in the main mainboard along with Pia and Kiran Nalaar but was a little slow and had trouble getting mana when I needed it. The tournament was won by a UG Midrange deck that used tempo and big green creatures to beat their opponent.
My next tournament wasn’t until Friday at midnight for my first Game Day. I switched back to GB Eldrazi ramp for this tournament (which had 18 players show up) and went 2-2. I won my first two games against Jund Company and GB Elf company, which was enough to get my into the top 8 on breakers, but I lost my last two matches of this Game Day to UR goggles and Bant Company. Languish was very good in the mainboard for these matches, but got unlucky against Goggles when I didn’t draw any removal like Ruinous Path or Ulamog for Chandra. I had some mana problems in the final game against Bant company when I had to mulligan to 5 in game 2, but also had 2 Languishes countered at key points during the match.
I tried out GB Eldrazi ramp again at the next day’s afternoon 30 person Game Day, but I had similar luck at that event as well. I went 2-2 and dropped after losing to GW Tokens and BW control (beating UB control and Jund Midrange) because I felt like the deck wasn’t able to consistently cast cards. This was due to an incorrect manabase (which I have since fixed) that didn’t allow me to play double black cards in a timely manner.
I was pretty frustrated so I went over to a late afternoon Game Day a few minutes away and switched back to my newly revamped RW tokens deck. There were only 11 players at this Game Day due to a smaller location, but it would serve to be a good testing ground for the changes I made. I had problems with mana in the past so I switched out Hanweir Militia Captain for Knight of the White Orchid. The Nalaar’s had proven to be pretty underwhelming so I put in Archangel of the Tithes in their position instead. I also switched the removal around a bit, adding in Stasis Snares and Fiery Tempers.
My first match up was against a UB Demonic Pact/Tentacles deck that I easily won 2-0 due to my unrelenting pressure from tokens that chipped away at his life until he ran out of removal for them. In the second round I beat BR midrange pretty much the same way. Once I took out his Goblin Dark Dwellers and Kalitas, I was able to swarm him and overwhelm his removal. My first loss came in round 3 against Bant Company when I was unable to push through the final 4 damage to kill him in game 1 and I got stuck on 4 mana game 2 making me unable to cast my board wipes like Tragic Arrogance or Chandra, Flamecaller. I was lucky to win round 4 against BW control thanks to my planeswalkers taking over the game. It was hard for my opponent to deal with both Chandra and Gideon as well as the army of tokens I was making. When you have 20+ problem non-creature cards, it makes 3-4 Duress and Transgress the woefully insufficient.
A 3-1 record was more than enough to get my into the top 4 for the semifinals where I ran into Grixis Dragons. I managed to get a lot of card advantage from Chandra and Nahiri and my opponent’s lack of counterspells or mass removal for tokens made it easier than it should have been. In the finals I ran into the BR Midrange deck that I faced in round 2 and lost a close one due to a bone headed mistake. Ahead at 38 life to 9 with a Ormendahl transformed, I blocked when I didn’t have to leaving just one other token on the board. The token was taken out by Fiery Impulse, then the next turn my opponent played a Blighted Fen and forced me to sacrifice the Ormendahl. Over the next 10 turns I got him down to 5 but was unable to push the final damage through. I came in second place, but it was valuable experience on what to do and not to do with Westvale Abbey.
I played in one more Game Day on Sunday with RW tokens, hoping to replicate my top 8 feat, but a loss against mono white humans in round 1 made that impossible. My tokens deck had problems against hyper aggressive decks like humans and I would have to rethink how I approached them in order to handle them in the future. I beat my next two opponents (UB control and Jund midrange) rather easily but had problems against Kozilek’s Return and Chandra when I faced GR eldrazi in the final round. At 2-2, It seems like I still had some changes to make to the deck.
Run Up To the Grand Prix
Being Golden Week in Japan (where 4 holidays happen very close together and give many of the full time workers a long vacation, I was able to play A LOT of Magic after the Game Day weekend. I was back at the tables again on Monday following my final Game Day, and did pretty well for myself with RW tokens. I took out BW Eldrazi 2-1 and BW Control 2-0 at a small 9 person tournament near my house, but lost again to Bant Company (which seems to consistently give me headaches). I did some testing with friends that Tuesday against Mardu Dragons, UR Goggles, and BW Eldrazi, and t this point I was leaning heavily towards RW tokens as my deck of choice for the Grand Prix, even though I had mixed results thus far. The reason being was that the deck had shown that it did consistently well against all control decks such as BW and Grixis, and it was also very good against almost all of the midrange decks out there. It had problems against Tokens, Goggles, humans, Aristocrats, and Company, but I believe most of those problems stemmed from not having a proper strategy against them or the experience in playing them.
On Wednesday I partook in a 39 player PPTQ just outside of Nagoya, hoping to get some high level practice out of the deck one more time before leaving for Tokyo on Friday. I lost my first round against Bant Company (again) by not being able to get any board presence against them, but I beat Grixis control in round 2. GB Aristocrats, the other deck that I had problems with beat me in round 3, but I rattled off 2 more wins in rounds 4 and 5 against Mono red Eldrazi and BW Eldrazi midrange. My final match was against GW tokens in round 6 and it was a very close one. I won game 1 very easily thanks to my speed and curve, but lost to double Dromoka Commands on Avacyn game 2. In round 3 I played a little too conservatively with Westvale Abbey, choosing to swing with seven Warrior tokens and a pair of Kors with a Gideon emblem activated instead of creating Ormendahl which my opponent blocked with his own Secure the Wastes then proceeding to cast his own Ormendahl for the win the following turn.
The top 8 of that PPTQ was Bant Company, BW Eldrazi, Jeskai Eldrazi Midrange, Esper Dragons x2, Esper control, BW Midrange, and GW Tokens. The amount of Esper control/dragons was kind of a shock, but otherwise it was pretty much what I had expected from the metagame. I knew there was going to be a lot of BW decks (midrange and Eldrazi), Bant Company, and Tokens. I didn’t think GP Tokyo would be that different so after a 3-3 result at the PPTQ I focused on improving my play making decisions, my sideboard plans, as well as practice against my weak match ups of GB Aristocrats and Mono white humans. By the time Friday rolled around, I had ended up with this deck list:
|AKA Wastes Makes Haste/Minions of Gideons
4 Battlefield Forge
4 Needle Spires
3 Westvale Abbey
2 Stone Quarry
|4 Dragon Fodder
4 Secure the Wastes
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 Stasis Snare
3 Fiery Temper
3 Oath of Gideon
3 Chandra, Flamecaller
2 Lightning Axe
26 other spells
15 sideboard cards
Let me first start off by explaining why I didn’t go with GW Tokens.
I don’t want to pay $240 for a playset of Avacyns.
I mean, I wanted to play it but when her price kept going up and up here in Japan (she reached 6500 yen in Nagoya the week before) there was absolutely no way I was going to pay that when I was already dropping close to $500 for the weekend in Tokyo (hotel $140, $200 for transportation, $30 for food, etc).
That started me down the path of looking for other token based decks. There was BW Tokens which seemed pretty strong, but cards like Sorin and (again) Avacyn seemed like they would be necessary for the deck and I had neither. I did however have a playset of Chandra Flamecaller and Nahiri, the Harbinger so I worked them in to the deck. The core is pretty much the same (Gideon, Westvale Abbey, Secure the Wastes), but I dropped a lot of the other cards you’d find in tokens like Hangarback Walker and Declaration in Stone in favor of speed.
This is the card that really got me thinking that this deck could work. What does red offer aside from Chandra that could make this deck work? Dragon Fodder gives you two early creatures that work well on both offense and defense. If I was going to go for speed, I’d need something I can cast as fast as possible so I can reach critical mass quickly for either an early Gideon emblem or so that I can transform a Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl as consistently as possible. With reaching critical mass in mind, I then added in Oath of Gideon.
Not only does this give me 4 creatures on turn 3, but Oath of Gideon plays a key role with both Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Chandra, Flamecaller. By letting both come into play with an extra loyalty counter you create huge threats. Embelming Gideon doesn’t kill him on turn 4 and leaves him in as a must kill target during your opponent’s next phase while letting you be aggressive with those 4 creatures you have on the board, and with Chandra coming in with 5 loyalty is incredibly important in Bant Company match ups. Avacyn is a pain in the ass, but without her a 5 point of damage wall of fire will kill just about anything on the table including all of Bant Company’s company. Ticking her or Gideon up also makes them very hard to kill without devoting a lot of resources to both. I also like that it makes Dromoka’s Command less effective because it gives you a choice on sacrificing this or Stasis Snare.
The card that sets this apart from anything else you’ll see in standard and that has become one of the highest impact cards in the deck is Reckless Bushwhacker. I have to give credit to my fellow Cardboard Samurai and fellow Nagoya player Chris Schiber for suggesting it. Once I added him into the mix, the wins came a lot easier and gave me an advantage against a number of previously troublesome decks (like Goggles). One thing this deck has in spades that GW tokens doesn’t have is speed. It plays lots of creatures early and swings for a lot of damage as soon as turn 4. I don’t know how many times I’ve played a turn 2 Fodder into turn 3 Oath, into turn 4 Fodder + Bushwhacker for 14 damage. It puts your opponent in a very bad situation after you play it, and works great alongside removal against midrange decks if you just played a Secure the Wastes a turn before. I’ve also won a few games after turn 6 by playing a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, ticking him up to 5 and making him a creature, then giving him haste with Bushwhacker to kill my opponent with 8 damage. It’s a great follow up after your opponent Languishes or wraths your board turn 4 or 5. I can’t tell you how powerful this card is in this deck, you’ll just have to see it to believe it.
As for the other cards in the deck, they all have their roles to play. Knight of the White Orchid is rather important and should never be sided out because this deck needs to hit 4+ mana consistently. Getting stuck on two or three isn’t good. Being able to play him on turn 3 along with a Bushwhacker on turn 3 for 5 damage can be good too. Archangel of Tithes is my answer to aggro decks, but it’s also pretty darn good on offense too. It makes it hard for decks like Collected Company to play their namesake card at the end of your turn or flash in Avacyn if it means that they won’t be able to block your swarm or creatures attacking underneath it. It also blocks Avacyn which is good against a number of decks that play her. I’m considering going up to 3 seeing as hyper aggro decks still give me problems.
The reason why I’m running a removal package of Lightning Axe, Fiery Temper, and Stasis Snare in the mainboard also comes back to my initial theme of the deck: speed. Declaration in Stone is a superior card to these choices, but it can’t kill man lands, creatures that entered play with a Collected Company at the end of a turn, or a planeswalker like Gideon that turns into a creature only on your opponent’s turn. Stasis Snare is incredibly good against Ormendahl by the way. Having the burn is also a good way of finishing a game if you get in a 12+ damage swing with Reckless Bushwhacker, and is hilarious to pay at its madness cost if your opponent tries to Duress of Kolaghan Command you. I’ll talk about the sideboard in depth in a little bit, but first I want to talk about the big event.
Grand Prix Tokyo
I arrived at Tokyo Big Sight in the middle of afternoon on Friday and checked out the place. It was an impressive location I’ll say. Probably one of the best places I’ve ever played a Grand Prix at. It had tons of food choices, convenience stores, a lot of bathrooms, and was located close to a train station (Kokusaijijo on the Rinkai line or Kokusaijijoseimon on the mono rail Yurikakome line). I met up with some of my friends and got a few more games of practice in and took part in the Foiled Again FNM promo tournament as a warm up for the main event.
There were around 120 players for the event and I managed to go 2-1. I took down a very good GW tokens player round 1 with some creative sideboarding, and in round 2 I destroyed Abzan midrange 2-0 by flooding the board with tokens and go wide with Goblin Bushwhacker. In the final round I was matched up against BR Vampire Madness deck and was surprised by both the speed and evasion the deck had. I lost game one but won game 2 by drawing removal in a timely manner. However, I wasn’t able to stop an Olivia and Drana with haste in game 3 in time and lost with a next turn board wipe in hand. It seemed to have a lot of potential and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it show up in the future more often at FNMs and casual tournaments.
The Main Event
I came in Grand Prix Tokyo with 2 byes from Planeswalker Points and didn’t face my moment of truth until round 3 at around 12pm. After a straight week of playing MTG every day I was more than prepared for this event. I’d go as far as to say that this was the most training I’ve ever done for a Magic event.
Thankfully it all paid off.
- Round 3: GW Tokens (Won 2-1) – My opponent overwhelmed me with tokens and planeswalkers in game 1, but I was able to turn the tides in the next two games thanks to Impact Tremors and a lucky draw of double Tragic Arrogance to keep my Ormendahl in play while making him sacrifice his in game 3.
- Round 4: BR Goggles (Lost 1-2) – I have never won my first round before, so starting off at 3-0 was a pretty good feeling. I really shouldn’t have lost this match up, but I made a questionable call by keeping a land heavy hand with double Needle Spires in game 2 that ended up not being enough. I had a good hand game 3 and managed to get my opponent (Goto Yuusei of Nagoya, one of the best players in the area) down to 3 life while I sat comfortably at 20 in game 3 but couldn’t finish him off in time. He killed me in one turn before I could do so by attacking with a Kalitas and Dark Dwellers for 7 damage, Goggling an Exquisite Firecraft for 8 damage, then playing a second Goggles and doubling a Fiery Temper for 6 damage for a total of 21 damage in one turn. Absolutely heartbreaking way to lose when you had your opponent on the next turn.
- Round 5: Mardu Control (Won 2-1) – My initial hand had 3 Knight of the White Orchid, a mountain, and a Battlefield Forge with two other 3 drop cards in game one but I never drew that second white source to get back in the game. Luckily I curved out in my next two games and flooded the board with tokens to whittle my opponent down while he desperately dug through his deck with Read the Bones to find a Languish (which he never did).
- Round 6: Grixis Control (Won 2-1) – I took game 1 with speed but lost the second game when my opponent stole my Gideon and my momentum with Silumgar. I managed to get my opponent down to 5 life in game 3 before he wiped my board with Chandra. He was poised to win the game the following turn, but I drew a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar with a Reckless Bushwhacker in hand and was able to play the planeswalker, take him up to 5 loyalty and make him a creature, then give him haste with Bushwhacker and attack for lethal.
- Round 7: GR Eldrazi Ramp (won 2-1) – I was sitting at 5-1 after round 6 and felt like my chances at making day 2 were pretty good but I was still pretty nervous. In round 7 I faced local Tokyo player Emil Hoffman who I had chatted with earlier in the day. We had talked a little about our decks so going into the match we knew about what the other person was playing. I was able to curve out in game 1 and attack him constantly while he kept playing ramp cards, but he evened the score at 1-1 by playing 4 World Breakers in succession and getting rid of all of my land. With the advantage of playing first back in my favor, I was able to ramp out quickly again game 3 and play a Gideon which was able to whittle away his life in no time.
- Round 8: GB Aristocrats (lost 0-2) – At 6-1 I was a lock for day 2, but I wasn’t going to give up just yet. With such a record I found myself near the top tables and facing some very tough match ups. GB Aristocrats was not one of my strong match ups and I had to play against one of the Big Magic team members. I managed to go big and wide in game 1 with a swarm of tokens and Reckless Bushwhacker but my opponent ended up hitting a 2nd Zulaport Cutthroat with his Collected Company and was able to hold me off until the next turn when he could finish me. I wasn’t able to draw the removal I needed in game 2 and ended up ceding the match to him.
- Round 9: GW Tokens (won 2-1) – Both my opponent and I seemed relieved to have locked in day 2 at 6-2 apiece, but we both wanted that last win to improve our win percentage for the next day. As always, I lost a tough game in match 1 but my opponent’s lack of life gain outside of Westvale Abbey and my ability to hit wide and fast made him an easy target for Impact Tremors in matches 2 and 3. I was able to snipe away his Nissa and Gideon then easily take care of his tokens with Declaration in Stone and Tragic Arrogance.
At the end of day 1 I stood at 7-2 and was in 291st place out of 3335 players. It felt so good to finally make day 2 of a Grand Prix, especially doing it the old fashioned way of going 7-2. Looking at my match ups from the day, it seemed to me that my deck was heavily favored against slower midrange decks and control. I was also rather surprised that my new sideboarding plan worked so well against GW tokens as I beat them twice (3 times if you count the Friday night tournament). Speaking of which, before I end today’s article (and pick up day 2 in the next one), I’d like to leave you with my sideboarding plan.
Sideboarding and How to play the deck
The sideboard for this deck is pretty impressive. It deals with a number of weaknesses the deck has and gives you overwhelming advantage against others. There are a lot of viable decks in the current standard metagame, but I’ve broken it down to the biggest one.
- Bant Company = +2 Hallowed Moonlight, +2 Declaration in Stone, +2 Tragic Arrogance / -3 Reckless Bushwhacker, -3 Fiery Temper
Moonlight handles CoCo while Declaration takes out their big threats like Sylvan Advocate or Avacyn. Tragic Arrogance is for when things get out of control.
- Humans = +2 Rending Volley, +2 Tragic Arrogance, +2 Linvala, the Preserver, +2 Declaration in Stone / -3 Reckless Bushwhacker, – 3 Oath of Gideon, -2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Rending Volley could realistically be Silkwrap, but I thought having 4 one mana burn spells at instant would be more efficient. Linvala is needed to stabilize after you’ve burned most of their threats away, and Tragic Arrogance gets rid of multiple Always Watching as well as most of their creatures.
- GW Tokens = +2 Declaration in Stone, +2 Tragic Arrogance, +2 Impact Tremors / -2 Lightning Axe, -3 Fiery Temper, – 1 Reckless Bushwhacker
GW Tokens is going to have the bigger creatures thanks to Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Dromoka’s Command, but you can win this match up by playing control and using Impact Tremors to snipe their planeswalkers and whittle down their life total until you can go wide with tokens and finish them off with a Gideon emblem or Reckless Bushwhacker attack. Use those Stasis Snares for Ormendahl and Avacyn, and hold onto those Declaration in Stones until they have lots of plants or knights in play.
- GR Eldrazi Ramp = +2 Declaration in Stone, +1 Descend Upon the Sinful, +2 Nahiri, the Harbinger / -2 Lightning Axe, -3 Fiery Temper
Kozilek’s Return can be a pain in the butt, however Declaration in Stone is an easy to cast removal spell against multiple World Breakers and Descend Upon the Sinful gets rid of Ulamog as well as any other hard to beat threat. Nahiri is added exiling redundancy for any of the above mentioned threats, but also grabs you a card like Reckless Bushwhacker to let you cast it again the following turn for a big anthem effect on all of your creatures.
- GB Rites/Aristocrats = +2 Hallowed Moonlight, +1 Descend Upon the Sinful, +2 Declaration in Stone, +2 Linvala, the Preserver / -2 Lightning Axe, -3 Fiery Temper, -2 Archangel of Tithes
This is going to be a hard match up no matter what you do. Drawing exiling removal is going to be important and using it before they can get critical mass to kill you is important. I drop all of the kill effects for exiling ones, but I’m not sure if that’s the right call. Perhaps I should leave in the Tempers so that I can kill a card more consistently before it can combo off and kill me.
- BW Eldrazi/Various Midrange decks = +2 Nahiri, the Harbinger, +2 Declaration in Stone, +2 Linvala, the Preserver / -3 Fiery Temper, -2 Archangel of Tithes, -1 Lightning Axe
You already have numbers over these decks and the advantage, but Nahiri and Linvala make it even more difficult for your opponent to deal with you. Most midrange decks only have a few big beaters to attack you with which make them highly susceptible to cards like Nahiri and Declaration in Stone. Attack them fast, hit them hard, and use your removal to clear a path for your swarming army.
- Esper Dragons/ BW, Esper, and various Control = +2 Linvala, the Preserver, +2 Nahiri, the Harbinger, +2 Impact Tremors / -2 Lightning Axe, -2 Archangel of Tithes, – 1 Fiery Temper, -1 Reckless Bushwhacker
Control decks don’t play life gain these days outside of Kalitas or Shambling vents in BW, so if you can keep the pressure on them and use your instant speed Stasis Snares to take out their life gain cards you can easily put them in a very dangerous situation where a few creatures or a burn spell can kill them. Impact Tremors is a great clock that can’t be dealt with easily.
- UR/GR/RW Goggles = +2 Impact Tremors, +2 Linvala, the Preserver, +2 Nahiri, the Harbinger / -2 Lightning Axe, -2 Archangel of Tithes, -1 Archangel of Tithes, -1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Nahiri is pretty important in this match up as she can exile your opponent’s Pyromancer Goggles, but Linvala is also key. These decks will try to burn you out which means keeping your life high is paramount. Use those Linvalas and Ormendahls early to stay out of burn range. Impact tremors continues to do a lot of hard work in this match up as it lets your tokens deal damage even if they continuously board wipe you or bounce them with Thing in The Ice.
I’m going to let you guys take a little breather from this article and digest the data for a while before continuing on with my report of day 2. I’ll be posting what happened on May 8th in my next article and also talking about Kalim’s UG Crush of Tentacle/Ramp deck, so be sure to to check back in a day or two for the conclusion to Grand Prix Tokyo for the Cardboard Samurai.
In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the RW tokens deck? Do you have any questions or comments on the build, or suggestions on how to improve the match ups against humans, bant company, and aristocrats? If so, I’d like to hear what you have to say in the comment section down below.
I feel like RW tokens is a viable Tier 1 deck going forward as it beats a large portion of the meta and has both the speed and depth to attack from various angles with multiple strong lines of play. I recommend that you readers put it the deck together and try it out at your next FNM or casual 8-man standard tournament online. I think you’ll be satisfied with the results and would really appreciate any input you have as the current PPTQ season continues! Thanks for reading and see you again soon for Day 2 at GP Tokyo!