The Japan Metagame Diaries: Aether Revolt Game Day

For those of you that follow me on Twitter, I made a bold prediction last week after taking down 28 person tournament in Nagoya. I said I would make 3 top 8s at Aether Revolt Game Day with my RW Tokens deck and get a playmat as champion. Well, to all of you naysayers, you were right.

But you don’t know how close you came to being wrong.

Sram Dunk
60 cards, 15 sideboard
7 Plains
5 Mountain
4 Inspiring Vantage
4 Needle Spires
2 Hanweir Battlements
2 Westvale Abbey

24 lands

4 Thraben Inspector
4 Hanweir Garrison
3 Reckless Bushwhacker
3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar

16 creatures

4 Servo Exhibition
4 Sram’s Expertise
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 Declaration in Stone
2 Stasis Snare
2 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

20 other spells

2 Collective Effort
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
1 Cataclysmic Gearhulk
2 Pia Nalaar
2 Authority of the Consuls
2 Fragmentize
2 Shock
2 Skywhaler’s Shot
1 Release the Gremlins


I’ve made a few changes from my past list, and they’ve made all the difference. The first one is moving Pia Nalaar to the sideboard and replacing it with Aethersphere Harvester.


Aethersphere Harvester has single-handedly improved my win percentage against almost every deck outside of Saheeli combo. It blocks Heart of Kiran, gets around Grasp of Darkness, and gains you life when you need it the most. The flying has also led me to get in a lot of damage when the board is stalled. It’s also a great card to have against control decks when they wipe your board, and can be played for free when you cast a Sram’s Expertise. In the current metagame, it’s the perfect answer to so many threats.

The other changes to the deck were mostly in the sideboard. Pia Nalaar now finds her home here (for the moment). I feel like she’s still useful to have in some match ups where you need to push through damage with her ability, and also to sacrifice a servo token before it can get hit with Declaration in Stone and pseudo wipe your board. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship is another card I think could be good in this deck when you come up against control decks. It’s especially good against planeswalker heavy decks. I felt it was better than having something like Quarantine Field. The other new card in this sideboard is Release the Gremlins.


Sure you still want Fragmentize early on in those Vehicle match ups to stop Heart of Kiran, but later on in the game Release the Gremlins is a huge tempo swing against any artifact heavy deck. Killing 2-3 of their best vehicles and getting 2/2 gremlins from each artifact destroyed is value. This is also a great card to have when you run into non tier 1 decks like UB Colossus, Grixis Improvise, or any other artifact heavy deck.

The Sideboard

I promised a sideboard plan in my last article after I had a chance to feel out the metagame a bit and I think I’ve covered most of my bases with this set up.

  • GB Delirium/Beatdown: +2 Collective Effort, +2 Skywhaler’s Shot, +1 Cataclysmic Gearhulk / -1 Reckless Bushwhacker, -2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar, -2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

In the GB match ups, your biggest threats are going to be big creatures hitting you fast and hard. Once you run out of creatures to block with, you’re dead. To play against them, you need to get rid of their creatures as fast as possible with removal and try not to take to much damage. Walking Ballista is definitely a problem you have to deal with quickly, but if you don’t have removal for it like Declaration in Stone, what you need to do is make a Gideon Emblem as quickly as possible. One toughness creatures are really easy to ping off, but 2 toughness creatures make it incredibly hard for the Ballista to deal with. If you can Emblem quickly or use a Collective Effort to put counters on your creatures (which also kills their 4 power+ creature), you can effectively negate Ballista’s advantage. The Gearhulk is for emergency situations when you need to clear the board to make it more manageable. Going wide with tokens and Bushwhacker is a good way to win with this deck, and it can be faster than GB most of the time as well.

  • Mardu Vehicles: +2 Fragmentize, +1 Cataclysmic Gearhulk, +2 Shock, +1 Release the Gremlins / -3 Reckless Bushwhacker, -1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar -2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Fragmentize deals with a Heart of Kiran early on for you, as well as any other threatening vehicle in the deck like Aethersphere Harvester. Release the Gremlins is pretty much the same, but is a game winner if you survive to the late game and semi-wipe their board. Gearhulk does a somewhat similar job of making your opponent’s board manageable, while Shock can take out an early Toolcraft Exemplar of Veteran Motorist.

As for the cards you’re taking out, your opponent will kill you much faster than you can kill them with a Gideon emblem and Bushwhacker surge, so they aren’t really worth having in there. Chandra’s sorcery timing activation also makes her weaker against every vehicle in the deck, and there’s no way to protect her either.

Your strategy in this match up is to block aggressively and to take out their creatures whenever they are played. After a few turns the vehicles will “run out of gas” so to speak which will let you take over the game with a Kari Zev, Hanwier Garrison, or other aggressive creature. You have the bodies to do it, but drawing your removal on time is important.


  • Jeskai/4 Color Saheeli Combo: +2 Authority of the Consuls, +2 Shock / -1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, -1 Declaration in Stone, -2 Chandra


This is one of the tougher match ups. You side in Authority of the Consuls so you have redundancy if Thalia is taken out to stop the combo, but at the same time you have to worry about other threats such as Verdurous Gearhulk, Whirler Virtuoso, and whatever else your opponent throws at you. The deck can whittle you down if you’re not fast enough to take them down. They can’t really get the combo started until turn 4 at the earliest, and that’s only if your opponent is ballsy enough to cast Saheeli turn 3. No, if you’re opponent is careful, they’ll cast a Virtuoso, maybe follow it up with a Sovereign, and then use a Gearhulk before trying for the kill.

All I can say about beating this deck is to hit it hard and hit it fast while saving instant speed removal or having a combo breaker on the board. Take out those Thopters so Gearhulk can’t pump them up. Shock can also stop Saheeli if you need it to. This is probably one of my weaker match ups, but it’s not unwinnable.


  • Jeskai/Grixis/UB Control: +2 Pia Nalaar, +1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, +2 Collective Effort / -3 Declaration in Stone, -2 Stasis Snare

This is where Pia Nalaar can shine. I bring her in to not only give me an extra body, but also to save my tokens from getting hit by a Declaration in Stone. She also is able to give your vehicles some extra oomph which are some of the best cards you can play against this match up. Aethersphere Harvester is already out of Harnessed Lightning range, but also survives a Grasp of Darkness. Skysovereign is almost the same, except it gives you a way to continuously attack their planeswalkers or other creatures, and it tough to kill and out of range of Fatal Push. Collective Effort, on the other hand, gives you an out against a Goblin Dark Dwellers or Torrential Gearhulk, but also pumps up your creatures so it’s not dead most of the time like Stasis Snare.

You basically want to play this match up like you’d play against any control deck. Hit it hard and fast and try to out run their removal, but don’t over commit and lose everything to board wipe.


I think these cover the decks you’ll see the most, but if you can think of some other decks that need a sideboard plan, please leave a comment down below and I’ll tell you what I would side in for those match ups.


Getting Results


If you read my last article on RW Tokens, then you’d know that my initial list had done rather well for itself. The deck was at 12-5 after 4 tournaments, with some significant victories against GB beatdown, Saheeli Combo, and Mardu Vehicles.

Things started off a little shaky at a 10 person late night FNM on February 3rd. I won my first round against a Temur Eldrazi/Emerge deck due to my deck’s speed, but lost my next two against 2 Sultai Beatdown decks. Not only did I not draw enough removal in these match ups, but I also ran into Unsubstantiate which really messed me up when it bounced an Ormendahl back to my hand. Needless to say, after a 1-2 finish I rethought my sideboard plans to the current ones you see above. The winner was a Sultai Beatdown deck of course.

Record: 13-7

I struggled a little more at an 18 person tournament on February 4th, but made some gains nonetheless. I lost the first round against Mardu Siege vehicles when I couldn’t find removal for his 10/11 Dreadnaughts in games 1 and 3, but bounced back with a win against a Bant midrange deck in round two thanks largely in part to Sram’s Expertise giving me tons of value and helping me to overwhelm my opponent. Collective Effort was also pretty good against this opponents big creatures.

I ended up winning round 3 against UB control thanks to my vehicles and speed, but I was tripped up again in round 4 against BW midrange. His life gain from Aetherborn Rogue and other sources helped him to stabilize, and most of my removal was for bigger creatures which had me blocking unfavorably a lot. I finished 2-2 and the winner of this event was 4 Color Saheeli combo.

Record: 15-9

I was barely hanging on to that winning record going into Sunday the week before Game Day, so I finally configured my deck into the list you see up above and boy did it work out well. I went 4-0 at a 28 person tournament at Big Magic in Nagoya, one of the toughest places in town to do so.

The decks I faced were no pushovers either. They were 4 Color Saheeli combo, Temur Saheeli Emerge, Mardu Vehicles, and GB Beatdown.

I beat the 4 Color Saheeli combo deck by playing as fast as I could to race them to their combo piece. If they had it they might have won, but I was able to put a lot of pressure on them and used an early Gideon emblem one game to make it impossible for him to combo out by turn 7.

Against the Temur Saheeli deck, I was hurt pretty bad game 1 by a Kozilek’s Return, but followed it up with a Gideon emblem into a Hanweir Garrison with haste and made short work of his deck. I won game 2 by going wide and when threatening lethal I forced him to tap out for an Elder Deep Fiend which let me sacrifice the creatures he was tapping down to flip Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl.

In the Mardu vehicle match up, I was able to out aggro my opponent by casting double Reckless Bushwhackers after a Sram’s Expertise/Servo Exhibition play in game 1, and in game 3 it was Kari Zev supported by Aethersphere Harvester that won it for me after a Sram’s Expertise played Declaration in Stone clearing his board of both Veteran Motorists. Game 2 was a loss when I couldn’t draw any red mana after keeping a plains heavy hand for my white cards.

Things didn’t start out hot in the final round against GB Beatdown when I lost to my opponent’s Walking Ballista, but my sideboard really came through for me in the next 2 games and let me hang on for the win. Collective Effort did some work, while Gideon emblems kept my tokens alive against Ballista. Speed was also key in this match up.

Record: 19-9.

After the 4-0 win, I made my prediction about Aether Revolt Game Day, and maybe you can see why. My deck felt like it was firing on all cylinders and was configured very well for the metagame. I was able to handle GB, Vehicles, and even Saheeli combo decks. I’m not one to make empty boasts, so I went into Game Day confident, but focused.

My first event was at midnight last Friday at a 22 person event at Prinny Club Kanayama. In round one I faced the same opponent that had beaten me the weekend before with Sultai Beatdown, and although I lost game 1, I wasn’t going to give up. I fought back in the next 2 games to seal the win, stealing a win with speed game 2 at 5 life, and lucking out by having my opponent mana flood in game 3. In round 2 I beat Mardu Vehicles again, hitting him harder and faster with Bushwhackers in game 1, then taking advantage of his more removal based build game 3 to develop the board and overwhelm him.

I lost to a 4 Color Saheeli deck in round 3 when I over commited and had my board wiped by a Radiant Flames, but in round 4 I beat Mardu vehicles once more thanks to aggressively blocking until I could stabilize and flip an Ormendahl over. I ended up drawing a lot of removal in game 2 which let me slow him down and take over the board, eventually flipping my Hanwier Garrison/Battlements into the Writhing Township for the win. At 3-1, I was able to intentionally draw to finish the swiss rounds at 3-1-1 and make top 8.

The top 8 was:

  • RW Tokens (me)
  • 4 Color Saheeli
  • BUG beatdown
  • Mardu Vehicles x2
  • Jund Beatdown
  • Jeskai Control
  • RW Humans

I lost laughably fast to Mardu Vehicles and Heart of Kiran in the first round of the top 8 when I couldn’t draw any removal for it. I actually had the speed to win on the next turn, but I couldn’t hit him fast enough on that type of clock. I got stuck on 2 land game 2 and that was that. 

Record: 22-11-1

My next Game Day was a few hours later after I got some sleep at home. There were 28 players at Amenity Dream, and even on 5 hours of sleep, I was able to go undefeated in 3 rounds to double ID into the top 8 as the 3rd ranked player. I was on a roll.

In round 1 I beat a 4 color midrange deck using cards like Woodland Wanderer, Heart of Kiran, and Liliana, but I was able to go very wide without any board wipes and finish him off with a Bushwhacker. Hanweir Garrison won it for me in game 2. I beat a Sultai control deck in round 2, but not before losing in game 1 to tons of counter and kill spells. I managed to land a Chandra, Torch of Defiance and ultimate her in game 2 though, and the speed was again too much for him in game 3. I was able to play around Yaheeni’s Expertise and hurt him a lot. My other win in swiss came at the expense of Jund midrange. He was playing Goblin Dark Dwellers and Tireless Tracker to keep pressure on me while using Flaying Tendrils to wipe my board, but I won game 1 and 3 thanks to speed and an unanswered Gideon. My swiss record was 3-0-2.

The top 8 was:

  • RW Tokens (me)
  • Mardu Vehicles x2
  • Grixis Control
  • 4 Color Saheeli Aetherworks
  • 4 Color Saheeli Combo
  • GB Beatdown
  • Jeskai Control


Once again, I wasn’t able to convert this top 8 appearance. I lost to 4 color Saheeli Combo, but not with a lack of trying. I won game 1 quickly by going wide and hitting with Bushwacker, but mulliganed to 5 game 2 and missed my first few land drops. I came really close to winning game 3, but opponent got his combo off. Probably should have played Shock from the sideboard this game. I believe Mardu Vehicles was the winner of this tournament. My final record was 3-1-2.

Record: 25-12-3

My final chance for a Game Day playmat came at a 34 person tournament once again at Big Magic. It was a veritable who’s who of pro/semi pro players at this tournament. There were no less than 20 players who’ve made top 8 of some Grand Prix, been to the Pro Tour, and have won multiple PPTQs. It wasn’t going to be easy to get that playmat, but it would be a good way to raise my game.

Things didn’t start off that well with a loss to GB beatdown when I mana flooded game 2 and drew poorly game 3 after an early advantage. I bounced back with a win against UR Control game 2 by playing around his Kozilek’s Return, but lost in round 3 to a blazing fast RW humans deck 1-2. It’s not unwinnable, but there are specific hands you need to keep for this match up. I should have dropped all planeswalkers and sided in my Collective Effort to take out my opponent’s Always Watching, but I forgot about it.

At 1-2, it seemed unlikely that I would make top 8, and I considered dropping and going to another Game Day at 4pm a few blocks away, but I decided against that and instead kept on playing for the experience. I managed to rattle off 3 more wins after my 2nd loss, beating Grixis Improvise, UB Colossus, and GB Beatdown to finish 4-2. Best play out of all of those last 3 was when I used a Release the Gremlins against my UB Colossus opponent for 7 mana to hit 3 targets. Not only was it a huge flavor win for me, but I also took out his Colossus, his Haunted Cloak, and a Hedron Archive for a huge tempo swing. Gideon + Bushwhacker sealed the deal the turn after.

At 4-2 I had the outside chance of making it, especially after my 1st match opponent lost and my 3 round opponent won, but in the end I finished just short for 11th place.

The top 8 was:

  • BW Midrange
  • 4 Color Saheeli Combo
  • Jund midrange
  • GB Beatdown x5


Record: 29-14-3


Looking Forward

I was so close on Game Day weekend, but the final record is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, I feel emboldened. I hope all of this data puts to rest some of the naysayers of this deck’s strategy. I’ve been able to put up great results against GB and Mardu vehicles, and the combo match up isn’t a complete loss either. Not only is it powerful, but RW tokens is lots of fun to play and original. There are lots of different lines of play, it has a great sideboard plan, and it can changes modes easily depending on your opponent.

I have a PPTQ coming up next weekend, and about 4-5 more after that before Grand Prix Shizuoka in March which I’ll be taking part in. I feel extremely confident in this deck and barring some huge metagame shift I’ll probably be using this exact same 75 come March. I implore you to give the deck a chance and to try it out against your store’s metagame. If you’re tired of seeing GB beatdown and Vehicles on top all of the time, run the length of the court and Sram Dunk on your opponents.