The Japan Metagame Diaries: Sram Dunk
You might be wondering how today’s Magic article relates to one of the most popular Japanese manga of all time. It all starts with this card:
If you ask me, Sram’s Expertise is the best of the cycle. It gives you an automatic board presence with 3 tokens, and lets you follow it up with anything you want for 3 mana or less. It’s easier to cost than Rishkar’s, does more than Kari Zev’s, and has more options to put into play than Baral’s. I had already planned to use this in my BW token frontier deck, but I wasn’t sure how to take advantage of it in standard until this last weekend. Green/White tokens was the defacto consensus as the best build, but I knew better from when GW tokens was dominant before back in SOI standard. I know how to beat it, and I remember what did well against Languish when it was in standard, which isn’t to far from Yaheeni’s Expertise. If you remember my deck from then, you’ll be happy to see it back and better than ever.
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Inspiring Vantage
4 Needle Spires
2 Hanweir Battlements
2 Westvale Abbey
|4 Servo Exhibition
4 Sram’s Expertise
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 Declaration in Stone
2 Stasis Snare
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
18 other spells
There was actually another player that posted another Sram’s Expertise deck called Sram Dunk, but it’s totally wrong. It’s a combo deck and isn’t red and white, which are Shohoku’s colors (the Slam Dunk manga team’s other jersey color). It also lacks all of the characters which make up the Shohoku team, which this deck has in spades and whom I will introduce to you as I talk about the deck.
“Gori”, or Akagi Takenori, is the captain of the Shohoku basketball team so it’s only fitting that we call Gideon, Ally of Zendikar the captain of our RW tokens team. They both have a demanding presence and are hard to stop when pressing in on offense. You could even equate Akagi’s special move the “Gorilla Dunk” to Gideon’s -4 ultimate. Both are great ways to pump up your team and to turn the tide in your favor.
Miyagi Ryota is the point guard that sets everything up. He’s not too powerful but he’s fast and works in conjunction with his team. Servo Exhibition is pretty much the same way. They can get some points early for you with their speed but can be blocked by “taller” creatures later on in the game. They can still get pumped up by Gideon’s emblem however and get in more points of damage, and they also have synergy with Pia Nalaar’s abilities. This deck simply wouldn’t be a tokens deck without them.
Ayako, or “Aya-chan” as Miyagi refers to her, is the strict team manager of Shohoku. She hits hard with her “harisen” (giant paper fan) and keeps the team in line. She is every bit a leader as Gori, except that she doesn’t play. She knows the other players’ strengths well and can motivate them to the best of their ability. Thalia is pretty much the same. She is strict and can break down the strengths of the other team with her ability to give you the edge. Against unbeatable odds like the Saheeli/Felidar Sovereign combo, she can see it coming and help you to shut it down.
Hisashi Mitsui was a star player at one time before being sidelined by an injury. It’s taken him sometime to get back at top form, but once he does he’ll be unstoppable. He’s an amazing 3 point shooter. He can easily put you back in the lead with a couple of key shots, and if you don’t block him you’ll be sorry. Hanweir Garrison is pretty much the same way. If your opponent lets you attack freely with it they’ll find themselves in trouble very quickly. It’s a “triple threat” in that it puts 2 creatures on the battle field when attacking to make a total of 3, has 3 toughness, and also has another form that is a game ender if your opponent can’t take care of it. I love having Garrison as an alternate threat, and it can be amazing on an empty board. Underestimate it at your own peril.
Akagi Haruko is the younger sister of Akagi “Gori” Takenori, and a good judge of character. She has a strong spirit and is somewhat of an assistant team manager alongside Ayako. When the players are struggling, Haruko is there to get them back on track and give them that boost of strength they need to win. Pia Nalaar is almost the same. She can give your artifact creatures that extra boost when they need it the most, and she can also assist your creatures by making it impossible to block them. Like Haruko, Pia always brings a friend with her to the game. I really like Pia against midrange decks that are slow but powerful. She lets you go around their defenses and add up the points of damage quickly. She also saves your team of Servo tokens from being devastated by sacrificing one instead of letting it be exiled by a Declaration in Stone.
Kaede Rukawa is a basketball genius that can do almost anything and give you 120% while doing it. His shooting skills match Mitsui’s, his speed matches Ryota, his dribbling is second to none, and his experience and strategy are even better than Akagi’s, the team captain. He can single handedly turn the game around for you, even while all of your other players are stuck in a slump. Sram’s Expertise is the same. You might feel like you’re falling behind but when you cast it you can suddenly pull even with your opponent and get the tempo back in your court. Playing a Stasis Snare, Declaration in Stone, or any of the other 3 or less cards to follow up 3 tokens is huge. The card seems to have limitless potential in this type of deck.
Basketman Sakuragi, aka Sakuragi “Secret Weapon” Hanamichi. At first he’s nothing special and sometimes embarassing, but by focusing on his strengths and helping him to hone his skills he becomes one of the best players on the team. Sakuragi’s impact can totally change the course of the game. He makes mistakes and doesn’t always listen to the suggestions of others, but when he works together with the rest of the team they are unstoppable. Reckless Bushwhacker is also a secret weapon for this deck. It not only compliments each and every card in this deck, but it also makes it more powerful. When the team wants to give up, Bushwhacker gives you that push to get everybody back in the game. When he brings the team together you’re unstoppable. He’ll create such a lead for your team that your opponent will have no other choice but to play defense and pray for a miracle. A huge tempo player.
- 3 Fleetwheel Cruiser (for Control match ups. Aethersphere Harvester is probably better)
- 2 Collective Effort (good against GB beatdown and other midrange decks. Also takes out enchantments if needed)
- 1 Cataclysmic Gearhulk (for aggro and heavy artifact match ups like Vehicles)
- 2 Skywhaler’s Shot (good against GB beatdown and Midrange decks)
- 2 Authority of the Consuls (extra combo stoppage against Saheeli Combo)
- 2 Shock (for aggro and also to stop Saheeli)
- 3 Fragmentize (great against vehicle or artifact heavy decks)
The sideboard probably needs to be optimized a little further, but this is a good start. I haven’t finalized my sideboard plan yet, but once I do I’ll post an updated list with the information.
Building Your Experience
I started playing Aether Revolt standard with my GW delirium deck from Kaladesh standard, minus the Emrakul, but it simply wasn’t the same. I got destroyed by GB Beatdown and GW tokens and decided that deck’s time was done. I didn’t get a good chance to play my RW tokens deck until January 22nd at a 20 person tournament in town. I wasn’t sure how the deck would perform but having played a similar version back when Dragon’s of Tarkir was legal, I knew it had potential.
My first test came against a GW tokens deck. I won 2-1 in no small part thanks to my speed. When GW tokens was popular before, this deck did pretty well against it because it could hit so hard so fast while they were saving up for a massive strike from a Nissa -2 ability and a Gideon emblem. Kari Zev, Skyship Raider managed to sneak in a lot of damage for me in this match. I beat a UB Summonings/Control deck in round 2. I ran into Yaheeni’s Expertise and a lot of counterspells, but I managed to keep the pressure on and end him with a Sram’s Expertise followed by a Reckless Bushwhacker’s Surge. I lost to Saheeli Panharmonicon Combo in round 3, but finished strong with my 3rd win against a RW Siege/Vehicle deck in round 4. Fragmentize absolutely crushed him. Saheeli combo ended up winning the tournament.
I didn’t get my next chance to play MTG until January 27th at a late night FNM with 10 players. I faced a UW Colossus deck round 1 and beat it easily by going wide while I blocked his big guys with chump tokens. In round 2 I played against a Grixis Vechicles deck, losing in game 1 to a Siege Modified Consulate Dreadnought before fighting back with triple Fragmentize and Kari Zev in the next 2 matches. Had to race him but managed to deal more damage quicker. My final match was against a Jeskai combo control deck, and while I was scared of Saheeli going off, I managed to play around this player’s board wipes well and overwhelm his spot removal. Both Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Hanweir Garrison were key in this match up. Finished in 1st place!
My first big challenge came last weekend on 1/29 in Nagoya at a 74 person PPTQ. Being only 2000 yen entry, and no other store doing standard that weekend due to other tournament formats, a lot of people cramped into a store that only had space for 48 players at first. I want to give a special thank you to Sawada Ken, a level 2 judge from just outside of Nagoya (and GP Top 8 competitor), for accommodating everyone that arrived. Instead of turning people away, he ran double tournaments for the first 2 rounds and the store gave incentives to those that dropped after round 2. While it was busy, things got underway rather smoothly after round 3.
I started off the day with tough, but winnable loss to GB Beatdown. I kept a mainly red hand with only red mana game one and then drew nothing but white cards afterwards. I managed to flood the board quickly with tokens in game 2 and transform a Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl for the win. In game 3, it came down to my opponent wiping my board with Yaheeni’s Expertise and then locking me down with Liliana. In round 2 I faced an Esper control deck and was on the brink of elimination when I lost game 1 to a misplay by blocking with my Needle Spires to leave me without double white. However, I fought back with Gideon and played around board wipes to win the next 2 and stave off elimination.
I then rattled off 2 more wins against GB beatdown (early Gideon emblem and lots of tokens overwhelmed Ballista) and 4 Color Vehicles (his flyers were tough to deal with, but drew my removal on time and Fragmentize crippled him). I felt like I had a chance to make top 8 with 3 wins in a row, but then ended up losing a GW tokens round 5 by losing to a double Avacyn attack (flipped and unflipped). I lost my round 6 as well to Saheeli Combo/Control by being out drawn, but managed to finish with a win against GB beatdown again in round 7 thanks to Pia Nalaar using my army of servo tokens to clear the way on my opponent’s sparsely populate board.
The top 8 of this tournament was:
- 4 Color Saheeli
- 4 Color Saheeli
- Jeskai Saheeli
- Jeskai Saheeli
- GB beatdown
- GB Delirium
- BW Midrange
- Mardu Vehicles
The eventual winner was the GB delirium, which was able to recur threats with Grapple with the Past against the BW midrange deck in the finals to win the game. My final record was 4-3, or 21st place out of 74 players.
I was lucky to be able to take part in a small tournament near my apartment on 1/30 as well to get a little more practice with the deck, and I ended up going 2-1. I lost to a 4 Color Saheeli/Aetherworks combo deck in round 1 due to sideboarding incorrectly (thought it was just regular combo), but then ended up beating BR Vampire aggro and GB Beatdown in the next 2 rounds.
What I’ve Learned
The deck is much faster than GW tokens but still has a comparable power level when you add in the Gideons, Bushwhackers, and Collective Efforts. It struggles against various Saheeli builds and will need some more cards in the SB to deal with it, but it’s been surprisingly consistent against GB beatdown decks thanks to its removal and ability to go wide for damage will still leaving blockers back. I also think the deck isn’t as weak to Yaheeni’s Expertise as I originally thought. Getting a Gideon emblem early can hurt your opponent, but more importantly it also saves Kari Zev and Hanweir Garrison from dying to a -3/-3 board wipe. This deck has a lot of potential and is also a lot of fun to play. I recommend sleeving it up and taking it for a spin at your next local tournament or Open.
If you have any suggestions or questions about the deck or today’s article, please feel free to post down below. Thanks for reading and be sure to check back before the Pro Tour for the rest of my investment picks for the AER standard season!
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