The Japan Metagame Diaries: Waging a Holy War

The angels of Innistrad are not ones to go silently into the night. With spirits quelling, grim humans flaying, and mechanical abominations coming to life, they aren’t just going to stand around and do nothing as those abandoning hope are left to their own devices. Oh no, they’ll be there when you need them the most, and they’ll rule the skies in your name.

 

Angels In The Outfield
75 cards, 15 sideboard
6 Forest
6 Plains
4 Evolving Wilds
4 Canopy Vista
2 Fortified Village
2 Blighted Woodland


24 lands

4 Deathcap Cultivator
4 Tireless Tracker
2 Gisela, the Broken Blade
2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
2 Emrakul, the Promised End
1 Sigarda, Heron’s Grace
1 Archangel Avacyn
1 Bruna, the Fading Light


17 creatures

4 Grapple with the Past
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 Traverse the Ulvenwald
2 Vessel of Nascency
2 Declaration in Stone
2 Blessed Alliance
2 Stasis Snare


19 other spells

Sideboard
2 Immolating Glare
2 Nissa, Vital Force
3 Appetite for the Unnatural
1 Linvala, the Preserver
2 Cataclysmic Gearhulk
2 Quarantine Field
2 Skywhaler’s Shot
1 Emeria Shepherd


15 sideboard cards

 

I know I wrote about Devils in my last metagame update a few weeks ago, but I’ve turned over a new leaf, I swear. With winter coming onto us soon, I wrapped  myself in the warmth of these angel’s holy light to fight the forces of evil. The idea came to me as I talked about making a deck build around Emeria Shepherd and bringing lands back into the field with Splendid Reclamation. The idea was to toss stuff in the graveyard through the various Delirium enablers, then bring back all of the permanents at one time with the Shepherd’s ability and Reclamation.

While the original idea didn’t pan out, the shell remained and I decided to go with a GW version of the Delirium decks currently being played in standard. I had a number of spots left after cutting the Shepherds and Reclamations, so I started to look at powerful white cards cards that could fill in the spots. The red version of the deck gives you a lot of card advantage (Sin Prodder) and fun ways to kill people (Prodder and Combustible Gearhulk), the black deck gives you some good removal (Noxious Gearhulk) and highly synergistic cards (Grim Flayer, Liliana), but what does white have? I talked about both Bruna, the Fading Light and Gisela, the Broken Blade in my last article when I talked about my RW Angel control deck, but what I like best about this deck is the little played and lesser known sister, Sigarda, Heron’s Grace.

 

sigarda-herons-grace

Besides being another flyer that is great against UW Flash decks, one of her most important abilities is the one that gives you a huge advantage in the GB Delirium pseudo-mirror match. By giving you hexproof, she protects you from Emrakul, the Promised End’s ability to take over your turn. She also protects all of your humans against your opponent’s removal. That means all tokens, Deathcap Cultivator, and even your steadily growing Tireless Tracker will be safe from threats like Liliana’s -2/-1 effects or being burnt out by a Harnessed Lightning. Along with Ishkanah, Grafwidow she can help push a long game in your favor with a huge army of token creatures. Why is this good?

 

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Well, if you have a handful of spiders and a small army of human soldiers, a -4 ultimate activation from Gideon, Ally of Zendikar will quickly finish an opponent or make it impossible to slow them all down. I initially didn’t want to play him because I figured he’d be going into the graveyard often and I wouldn’t get much use out of him, but then I remembered that’s the whole point. Heck, his -4 effect makes him one of the best ways to instantly activate delirium and also leave your board presence stronger than before. Not to mention he’s REALLY good against slower decks like GB delirium if you can play him early. He’s the only planeswalker in standard right now that you can instantly ultimate which makes him incredibly efficient in this deck. I still believe the Vessel/Traverse split is best, but I could see how playing 4 Vessels of Nascency might work better at getting him into play quickly. I just don’t want to lose the ability to grab a card like Sigarda or Gisela when I need them!

 

The Removal

With Gideon, Emrakul, and Archangel Avacyn all over the metagame, I felt like moving towards exiling effects instead of burn in my GR Delirium and RW Control deck was better. Stasis Snare does a great job of handling all of the previously mentioned cards, while Declaration in Stone works well against spider, construct/servo, and even gigantic Verdurous Gearhulks. The other removal I have in the deck is Blessed Alliance, which is a tip of the hat to GR energy decks going all in on one attacker. This also is good against Gideons and Emrakul’s attacking by themselves as well. While the mainboard is limited to just 6 pieces of removal, it strikes a good balance of card types and allows me to hit my delirium rather easily (6 Instant, 4 Enchant, 5 Sorcery, 4 Planeswalker, plus tons of land and creatures). This forces you to block rather aggressively against faster decks, but thankfully you can get back key cards you need with Grapple with the Past afterwards.

 

The Sideboard

 

The sideboard still needs a little bit of work, but it’s been performing pretty well over the last few tournaments. I’ve been satisfied with its work against UW Flash decks as well as Mardu/RW vehicles.

RW/Mardu Vehicles – Being able to draw your removal early against vehicles is important, as well as playing them at instant speed. in those match ups I usually use this strategy:

  • +2 Immolating Glare, +3 Appetite for the Unnatural,  +2 Cataclysmic Gearhulk, +1 Linvala / – 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, -2 Emrakul, the Promised End, -2 Vessel of Nascency

Glare and Appetite slow down your opponent early on in the game alongside Declaration in Stone and Blessed Alliance, leaving you to time to stabilize and play a Gearhulk to make the board more manageable. Linvala helps gain you life while also giving you a very capable blocker. Gideon becomes harder to keep alive in these match ups which is why I side him out, and Emrakul usually never gets to see the light of day due to vehicles speed. If you can control their board, Linvala, Gisela, and Bruna should be more than enough to finish them off.

GB Delirium – Gotta be in for the long game against them, as well as ways to take care of their threats like Emrakul. Besides Emrakul, Liliana is probably your next biggest threat in this match up.

  • + 2 Nissa, Vital Force, +1 Linvala, the Preserver, +2 Quarantine Field / -2 Alliance, -1 Archangel Avacyn, -1 Tireless Tracker, -1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

I’m not totally sure if this is the correct way to side in against delirium, but I feel like you can bear to lose a Gideon and Tracker if you can just bring the other copies back with a Nissa -3 activation. Quarantine is absolutely necessary to deal with Liliana and Emrakul I think, and Linvala gives you more air superiority.

UW Flash – The amount of flyers you have in this deck or those able to block flyers (such as Ishkanah) will be a great resource in this match up, and having a large amount of cards that cost more than 4 mana are also good ways to get around Spell Queller.

  • +1 Linvala, +2 Immolating Glare, +2 Gearhulk / -2 Gideon, -2 Vessel, -1 Tracker

The reasoning behind Gearhulk is that your opponent will use a lot of Stasis Snares and Spell Quellers, and when Cataclysmic Gearhulk comes into play, they’re going to be stuck in a difficult situation which will end up giving you a lot of value on the board. While Gideon is nice, I think it becomes harder to protect him in this match up due to the sheer number of flyers this deck has (especially if it’s the spirits version).

Aetherworks Marvel – their biggest asset is the namesake of the deck, Aetherworks Marvel. Get rid of that, and you can take over the game easily.

  • +2 Quarantine Field, +3 Appetite for the Unnatural / -1 Avacyn, -2 Blessed Alliance, -2 Vessel

Like I said, destroying their Aetherworks Marvel is a big deal, but sometimes they are able to get off an early Emrakul and practically kill you. That’s why it’s important for effects like Declaration in Stone, Quarantine Field, and Stasis Snare. Just watch out for players using World Breaker or Appetite to break out of these prisons.

Dredge – no matter what you do, killing their threats will only delay the inevitable.

+2 Quarantine Field, +1 Linvala, +2 Gearhulk / -2 Blessed Alliance, -2 Vessel, -1 Gideon

You basically want to build up a large board state that will be able to block all of their creatures until you can play a finisher like Emrakul or meld a Brisela. To do that, boardwipes like Gearhulk are sometimes necessary, and exiling effects like Quarantine Field and Declaration in stone are important.

 

The Recent Metagame

 

Since my last metagame update, I’ve played a couple PPTQs to various results. My first one was a 36 person event on November 12th and I used my previous GR Delirium deck. I tried out a different version with 24 land instead of 25 and had a big problem with mulligans that led to a 2-4 record. I struggled against GB delirium and Mardu decks and drew very poorly. The top 8 of this event was:

  • GB Delirium
  • GB Delirium Aggro
  • Mardu Vehicles
  • 4C Vehicles
  • RW Aggro
  • BR Madness x2
  • BUG Control

Aggro decks were out in full force and totally obliterated the Aetherworks Marvel and UW Flash decks. The winner of the event was Mardu vehicles which you can see here. It beat one of the BR Madness decks to win it all.

 

The following day on November 13th was another PPTQ. This time only 28 players showed up but it was still a decent amount. I decided to try out my RW Angel Control deck for this tournament after a disappointing outing with the GR Delirium deck, and I actually did alright with it. I lost my first match up against UR Spells because I couldn’t deal with Metallurgic Summonings when my Nahiri’s were countered, but I won my next 2 rounds against GB Delirium and Grixis control. My planeswalkers were key in both of these match ups as Gideon, Nahiri, and Chandra were incredibly hard for my opponents to deal with. In both games I was able to grab my win conditions with Nahiri and shut my opponent down. I had trouble drawing the right removal against 4C vehicles in round 4 which led to a loss and no chance of the top 8, but I won my final game by default when my opponent dropped. I finished in 11th place, but the deck still needs a little bit of optimizing before I can say it’s ready for the metagame. The top 8 of this PPTQ was:

  • UW Flash x2
  • 4C Vehicles
  • GB delirium aggro x2
  • Jund Aetherworks
  • GR Aetherworks
  • UB Summonings Control

 

 

The winner was 4C vehicles, which was the same deck that I lost to in round 4. The blue splash in the sideboard was for counterspells.

 

While I liked the RW control deck, I felt like I didn’t have the patience to play with it so I decided to go back to delirium but this time I started to use my recently brewed GW variant. I took it to a 19 person standard event on 11/19 and finished 3-2 which was pretty respectable. I made a mistake sideboarding against a RW Vehicles deck by not anticipating a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and using my appetites to early against other cards that were more mangable and lost that first round, but beat a GW Midrange and Mardu Vehicles deck in the next 2 rounds. My removal was great against both of those decks and the sideboarding also worked out well. Cataclysmic Gearhulk was especially good against Mardu vehicles. In round 4 I found myself matched up against a GR energy deck, but luckily it was more of a midrange deck instead of the “infect” kind that goes all in on an instant kill. Thanks to this deck’s speed, I was able to stabilize easily in both games and use my removal to stop threats before playing my win cons like Brisela. In my final match up I was on the verge of taking the victory from my opponent’s hand but ran into 3 Archangel Avacyn’s in a row which was too much for me to handle. I was very satisfied with how the deck handled itself as well as how the cards matched up against the metagame. The winner of this event was UG Aetherworks.

 

On November 20th I attended another 28 person PPTQ, and this was the first big test for my GW Delirium deck. I beat a UW Flash deck in round one thanks to some well timed removal and my Gideons, but lost to a similar deck in round 2 that had A LOT more exiling and counterspell effects than I could handle. An Esper midrange deck similar to the UW Midrange ones threw me for a loop in round 3 as I found myself fighting a losing battle against Skysovereign again and being unable to hand both it and Gideon. I made a few mistakes such as going for the win instead of playing for a better board presence, but I’ve since learned from them. In round 4 I beat a UB Summonings deck thanks to my Appetite for the Unnatural, and in the final round I beat Mardu vehicles thanks to Ishkanah, Grafwidow and a well timed Archangel Avacyn. Once you wipe their board, it’s incredibly hard for vehicle decks to build it up again. Block aggressively and get rid of their sources of damage.

I ended up in 10th place, just outside of the top 8 which was:

  • Esper Midrange (what I lost to)
  • UW flash (another deck I lost to)
  • BW Control
  • GB Delirium x2
  • Mardu Vehicles
  • Jeskai Midrange
  • RW Vehicles

The Jeskai midrange deck was interesting in that it had a good mixture of both UW flash (Spell Queller, Reflector Mage) and RW aggro (Veteran Motorist, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar) decks. I believe the winner was mardu vehicles, but I couldn’t be 100% sure because I left to check out Frontier Tournament across town after I was unable to make top 8.  In another small event the following day I went 2-1 with the GW Delirium which makes my current record with it 8-5. Not amazing, but I’m building up more and more steam with the deck and now one of my fellow MTG players in town as picked up the deck and is also playing it. With both of us playing it I’m sure we’ll be able to optimize the deck in no time and make it a lot more consistent.

On November 23rd there was a holiday PPTQ in Yokkaichi, Mie with 37 people, and Mardu vehicles once again won the event.

At the moment it seems like there is a 3 way lock for the most popular decks in Nagoya: UW Flash, Mardu Vehicles, and GB Delirium. They all make up about the same percentage of the metagame (about 20% each), but Mardu vehicles seems to be the most consistent at winning. Overseas in the USA it seems like everybody is focusing on how dominant UW flash and GB Delirium are, but it’s very dangerous to underestimate Mardu Vehicles in this current metagame.  Aetherwork Marvel decks seem to be making a comeback as of late though, and aren’t too far behind. One deck that has almost disappeared over the last few weeks has been Dredge. It’s almost nowhere to be seen, especially at the PPTQ tournament level. I feel like my GW Delirium deck is well positioned against these decks though, as it has already shown to win consistently against vehicle and UW Flash decks, and have a slight edge against GB Delirium decks (though it’s a toss up depend on how fast they play Emrakul).

Across Japan in Tokyo, a quick look at Hareruya’s website shows that UW Aggro and GB Delirium aggro are getting a lot of wins. It’s not even UW Flash that’s winning, it’s an even split between a UW Vehicles version using Toolcraft Exemplar and Jeskai aggro decks that use a mix between both Flash and Vehicles. Aggro has always been popular in Tokyo though, so it’s no surprise to see such results there.

 

Looking Forward

 

I could see myself trying out my RW Control a little more in the future, but for now I think I’m feeling pretty comfortable with my GW Delirium deck. Starting this weekend we have WoTC’s Standard showdown tournaments starting, which is a slight reprieve from the PPTQ schedule which picks up again at the start of December. It’s going to be tough to get enough practice in before the second half of the PPTQ season, but I’m confident I’ll put up some top 8 finishes with the deck before the end of the year. We’re still quite a ways off from our next set in January, but don’t think that the metagame can’t change up again as players seek to find a way to beat delirium, UW Flash, and Vehicles. Thanks for reading and be sure to check back in another week or so for more articles on standard, frontier, and Puca Trade. See you then.