The Japan Metagame Diaries – Playing at a Disadvantage
I really wanted to write something over these past few weeks but I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and do it. I wanted to have good news to share, or have some breakthrough with my deck but I found myself again and again stuck in a disappointing situation. I’ll talk about what the metagame has been like since GP Tokyo a little bit later, but I’d like to spend the first part of today’s article going over what I believe to be the underlying focus of Shadows Over Innistrad standard: Card Advantage.
Of course card advantage has always been key. Control decks used to have the best draw spells out of all of the archetypes, but since Khans of Tarkir block came our way, the balance suddenly shifted away from control having the best card advantage. Gone are the days where control decks could use Sphinx’s Revelation to draw 5 cards and gain 5 life or use Dig Through Time to get exactly what you need at almost zero cost.
Once rotation hit, suddenly cards that you would have never thought would see standard play were mainstays: Read the Bones, Magmatic Insight, Ob Nixilis, and even Tormenting Voice were showing up more and more. Of course black always had some form of “pain” card advantage that they got from paying life for it, but in Shadows over Innistrad, suddenly card advantage is available to everybody.
Clues are pretty useful in SOI limited, especially with any kind of clue maker. The more we play standard however, the more powerful this little token becomes.
Tireless Tracker proved herself early on to be a great source of card advantage in standard, showing up in various GW builds and since then has gone on to become the premier 3 drop creature in green midrange decks. The possibilities are endless: Sultai, Jund, GB, Bant Human Company, Naya Planeswalkers, and heck even Eldrazi ramp decks are using it (in their sideboards). Letting green have this type of card advantage gives the color and its archetypes a huge advantage. Suddenly green midrange decks are able to go head to head with control and heavy removal decks like Mardu Midrange.
If Sylvan Advocate was the defining deck staple in Oath of the Gatewatch, then Tireless Tracker is probably going to end up being the defining staple of Shadows Over Innistrad. Worst case scenario it’s basically a 3 mana card that gives you a 3/2 creature that cantrips once. It’s gotten me thinking though, just how far can we take clue generators in standard in order to get card advantage against our opponents? Thraben Inspector is a great card in both white human and GW token decks, and I think it’s safe to say that this card could fit into a lot of other white decks in the future thanks to this ability.
These are only 2 of the clue makers in SOI though. While their might be a few more clue makers in the next set, what about what we have now? Here are some other clue making cards that I could see getting some play in future metas and what they need to push them into playability.
- Bygone Bishop – probably the clue maker with the best chance, what Bygone Bishop needs to be good is a white/x deck with a lot of 3 mana cost or less creatures. Tracker seems to be good enough already for green, so I think this is something that could show up in a UW flyer or RW beatdown deck in the future.
- Daring Sleuth – if we get some kind of equipment or enchantment that gives the Sleuth flying or other type evasion, it would make him a good source of clues once he flips. His power level is a little low though so his playability will really hinge on cards like Gryff’s Boon.
- Ongoing Investigation – Not sure if it’s playable but it works really well with flyers and Tireless Tracker. Gives you tons of clues and incidental life gain. In a good tempo/evasion deck it would work really well.
- Briarbridge Patrol – I think this card might see some play in a future standard environment. If you can focus on clues with Tracker and other cards like Inspector, the Patrol can let you put in some very powerful cards late game. It would most likely show up in a midrange deck that has some killer finishers. A little too slow for the current metagame though.
- Ulvenwald Mysteries – Out of all of the clue making cards not seeing play, I think Mysteries has the most potential. It seems like a great sideboard card against control decks that gives you card advantage plus a creature.
A lot of these cards are just on the edge of playability. With another helpful card or two from the next set Eldritch Moon, we just might see these cards showing up in standard. Harnessing card advantage and exploiting it is going to be key over the next few months of standard. If you focus too much on card advantage and not enough on how to finish the game you’ll be in trouble, and vice versa if you go all in on killing your opponent but don’t have a way to get card advantage and keep the pressure on them. Here’s a deck I threw together using the strategy that I outlined above.
|Let Bygones Be Bishops|
|4 Crumbling Vestige
4 Prairie Stream
4 Port Town
2 Shivan Reef
2 Battlefield Forge
|4 Declaration in Stone
3 Stasis Snare
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
10 other spells
15 sideboard cards
The deck is basically the UW flyers deck that you’ve probably seen here and there, but this deck focuses more on the incremental card advantage of Bygone Bishop’s ability while also giving you a few neat tricks such as blinking creatures with Displacer to give you more enter the battlefield effects, or to give you more reach with cards like Gideon (as opposed to always watching). Instead of playing the main deck with the purpose of curving out into a Ojutai or Avacyn, it instead focuses on that magic number 3 to take full of advantage of Bishop’s ability while still giving you a way to beat your opponent (flying over their heads and dealing damage). I haven’t tested it out yet other than goldfishing, but strategy is sound I think and the cards seem to have good synergy.
The Japan Metagame Diaries
It’s been almost a month since I last talked about standard on my blog and there is a lot to go through. As you know, I went 7-2 on day 1 of GP Tokyo with my RW tokens deck (and went 9-6 overall after a tough day 2). I had missed a few key components from the deck, namely Declaration in Stone, and not having those components held me back from doing better I think.
I have continued to use the deck since then and have been doing rather well with it. As of late though, I’ve run into a few problems as the metagame has shifted. In my first week after the GP I didn’t play much but did get in a few small events. I won an 8 man against GB Delirium, GW Tokens, and 5C Beatdown, but at the start of the second week a few misplays and misunderstanding how to play against new decks such as Sultai Midrange and 4C beatdown hurt me. The sideboard needed adjusting for these two new types of decks, and luckily in my next tournament on May 20th I managed to go undefeated at a 15 person FNM (although my match ups were against decks like GR Werewolves and GB Seasons past).
On 5/21, just under 2 weeks since the end of GP Tokyo, I took part in a 49 person PPTQ. This was my first real test for the deck since the Grand Prix and it didn’t disappoint. I beat a BW Aristocrat and Sultai midrange deck in my first two rounds by overwhelming my opponents with a swarm of creatures that was simply too much for their removal. My first loss came against Bant Human Coco due to a double mulligan and missing my land drops, and it was followed soon after with a 2nd loss to GW tokens in a close match that I could have won if I had played more aggressively and attacked with Ormendahl early and went all in with Chandra in another game. It didn’t help my opponent drew 3 Avacyns in a row either. I won my last two match ups against GB Aristocrats and BW Eldrazi thanks to good draws and quick attacks that allowed me to wide and outflank their creatures.
I finished 11th, which was a heart break as I was so close to making top 8 for the first time in a long time. The Top 8 was made up of Bant Humans Company, Bant Coco, GW tokens, UW Humans, Esper Dragons, BW Aristocrats, Sultai Midrange, and Sultai Beatdown. Esper dragons met Sultai Beatdown in the finals and Sultai Beatdown was victorious. You can see the list in the tweet below.
The deck was an interesting mash up of Sultai Midrange and green aggro cards like Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor. It had answers for just about everything and was able to get some great card advantage against Esper Dragons thanks to Tireless Tracker and Nissa, Vastwood Seer.
For the next week or so I went back and forth with my deck but for the most part I was putting up solid numbers. I finished 2-1 at all of my 3 round events during the week, but periodic mistakes were keeping me from doing better. Changing my mainboard and sideboard here and there during the week to see if a card would perform better also lead to a few misplays. By the time the last weekend of May, these mistakes and unfamiliarity of a changing metagame would take its toll.
On May 28th I attended a 35 person PPTQ and lost straight away to one of my weakest match ups, UW humans. I then won my next two, including a win against Sultai Midrange, but another simliar deck took me out of contention of the top 8 in round 4. I bounced back by beating Eldrazi Ramp in round 5, but missing land drops and mulliganing to 5 in my final round against GW tokens left me at 3-3 and 14th place.
The top 8 of this event showcased quite a few midrange decks. Sultai Midrange, Naya Tokens, Naya Planeswalkers, Abzan Midrange, and 2 GW Tokens decks took out BW Aristocrats and UW Humans. The finals pitted Naya Tokens against Sultai Midrange, but again Sultai triumphed over all just as it had the week prior. This time around it was midrange though.
While similar, this deck focused more on an increasingly powerful late game with cards like Silumgar, Kalitas, and Tireless Tracker while also getting a lot of card advantage from Oath of Nissa, Tracker, and Ob Nixilis. Very tight list with a few ways to win.
The following day I attended yet another PPTQ, this time a 39 player event, but it was around this time that the wheels started to fall off on my run with RW tokens. I switched a card or two around in this event but the choices I made hurt the deck in the long run and messed with the deck’s consistency. I stuck it out until the 5th round but went 1-4 drop after horrible draws and lack of card advantage.
The event was won by Bant Human Company, but an interesting UW Always Watching deck that was a mix between UW Flyers and UW Humans made the top 4.
With all of the Sultai, Bant Company, and GW Tokens running around it was nice to see a fresh deck list win it all. Reflector Mage has been a core card in many winning decks lately, be it Bant Humans or even 4C Rites or 4C beatdown. Flyers are especially powerful in the current metagame, and this UW deck was able to capitalize on it.
As June began, I found myself giving RW Tokens one last chance but it let me down again on June 4th at 34 person PPTQ. I Was able to beat Aristocrats and GW tokens, 2 decks I previously had problems with, but I found myself losing the war of attrition against both Naya Planeswalkers and Esper dragons. Naya planeswalkers had a lot of big beaters that were hard to fight through, and Esper dragons was played superbly and knew exactly how to dismantle my strategy. I went 2-3-1 and at that point I was tired of playing RW Tokens.
The top 8 of this PPTQ consisted of 2 Naya Planeswalkers decks, Sultai Midrange, 4 C Eldrazi Rites, BW Control, GW Tokens, BG Midrange, and a Jund midrange deck. Ever since this event Midrange seems to be king. Sultai decks have been all over the place, and green has been in almost every top 8 deck. BW control ended up taking down the event and the list wasn’t much different from Seth Manfield’s recent build that won him a GP.
I tried my hand at a new deck this last weekend, GR Tokens, and it did alright at FNM and a Thursday night casual going 2-1 both nights, but variance again kicked my ass again at the PPTQs this last weekend. I went 1-4 drop on Saturday the 11th, and 2-4 at Sunday’s tournament. A mix of mana screw, bad draws, and a few bad opening hands spelled my doom. The problem is that I didn’t have enough experience with the deck and wasn’t prepared for quite a few match ups. Without knowing how to sideboard against a number of decks, I was finding myself making small mistakes that cost me board advantage or a game here and there, and I also came to the realization that red’s removal just isn’t that good against a large variety of decks in the current metagame.
I’m not saying that the deck was a bad idea, in fact far from it. Another player was playing almost the same deck as I was, but it was far more streamlined and he seemed to have a lot more experience with it. Both him and the winner of the event, who played Sultai Midrange, refused to share their deck lists online since they were planning on using them in other big events in the future. I can, however, do my best guess the list the GR Token player was using.
|2nd Place, 6/11/16 Nagoya PPTQ
4 Game Trail
4 Cinder Glade
2 Timber Gorge
2 Westvale Abbey
4 Hangarback Walker
|4 Atarka’s Command
4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
4 Oath of Nissa
2 Arlinn Kord
1 Evolutionary Leap
20 other spells
15 sideboard cards
The player finished 3rd in swiss, which I would guess means he was either 5-0-1 or 4-1-1 so the deck must have done very well for him. The Player would play an early Hangarback Walker or Sylvan Advocate, then follow them up with a Nissa or Thopter Engineer. Once it had a good amount of tokens in play, the deck could then swing in with an army of Thopters that have +1/+1 counters on them and a bonus from Atarka’s Command to quickly finish an opponent off. Arlinn Kord provides extra tokens as well as another anthem effect on top of Nissa -2 and Atarka’s Command which can pack one heck of a wallop.
I tried out a deck similar to this June 12th but used Goblin Bushwhacker instead of 4 Atarka’s Command in the main. Truthfully, I didn’t like having the Hangarback Walker in the main deck, even with the combo of Nissa’s counters with the Nalaar’s ability to sacrifice him for more counters. It was simply too slow, and I wanted to focus more on finishing my opponent by turn 5 with a massive attack with a large amount of tokens instead.
I also didn’t see any Dragon Fodder in this deck, which I thought was strange especially if you’re trying to reach critical mass quickly and trying to attack with as many creatures as possible or build up your numbers towards a Westvale Abbey activation. I was surprised to see Malevolent Whispers in the sideboard, but it does make sense. Red has a very hard time killing any creature with toughness more than 4, and even 5 is hard. Whispers steals that pain in the ass creature, be it an Eldrazi or a Dragonlord Silumgar and gives your opponent a taste of their own medicine. I’m not sure how well it worked, but it was clever.
The GR Tokens deck ended up losing to Sultai Midrange in the finals, which leads me to believe it struggles against cards like Kalitas, Virulent Plague, and Languish. Still, it was a good idea and I was happy to see this player do well. I had the right idea, just bad execution at this weekend.
What the Future Holds
Standard PPTQ season is pretty much done for me at this point. I’ve lost my ability to compete at a high level. I simply don’t have the time to test sufficiently and I lack the discipline and focus needed to play at a high level. Learning the metagame is one thing, but learning all the different lines of play of a deck and all of the interactions you might possibly run into is mindbreaking for me at the moment. I want to play more and learn those interactions in and out, but until I can get a new computer to run MTGO on, you’ll probably see me going to a lot less big tournaments. Even modern season this fall is probably not going to happen. I would much rather spend $25-$30 on MTGO cards than on a PPTQ that I don’t feel comfortable competing in. I don’t want that pressure any more.
I’ll also be focusing a lot more on limited once Eldritch Moon comes out in preparation for GP Kyoto in September. With Eternal Masters out now, we can expect spoilers from the new set soon, and I can’t wait to see what it brings. I look forward to revising my standard decks as well as playing a lot of sealed and draft. As for the blog, sorry it too so long to post an update. As I said before, I’m always looking for writers so if you’re interested in producing some content during my busy time you can contact me via Twitter or the Japan Hobbyist Facebook page. I have some ideas for new articles so hopefully the next update won’t take so long. Thanks for reading and hope to catch you later.