The Japan Metagame Diaries: A Lead up to GP Shizuoka
I know I know. It’s been a very long time since I’ve made an update. I’ve been playing quite a lot of PPTQs and other big events since my last post and have been saving all the data for one big article to help out any of my readers that might be going to Grand Prix Shizuoka this upcoming weekend. The tournament is going to be standard and it seems like the event has already capped at about 2750 players total. Whether or not that many people will show up is yet to be seen, but you can be sure it will be a grueling 9 rounds and that there will be a mass of humanity inside the Twin Messe event hall.
The Evolution of the Metagame
The metagame in Japan doesn’t always follow that of the USA. Sometimes it moves slower, sometimes not at all, and sometimes we get a chance to see new decks for the first time performing very well at high level events. I’ve continued to use my RW tokens deck since Game Day back in February, but it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows. I was pretty confident with the deck and its 29-14-3 record, but that was with the old metagame. It would soon change and leave me scrambling to compensate for weaknesses that suddenly became apparent.
If you’re interested in what decks were popular in the Tokai region of Japan (Aichi, Gifu, Shizuoka), you can find all the details down below. If you’re looking for an assessment of what Grand Prix Shizuoka will be like on March 18th, you can skip to the last part after my deck list.
February 18th: I went 2-1-1 at this 30 person, regular standard event in town. I beat a 4 color Saheeli Aetherworks deck, a 4 color midrange deck, then tied against an Esper Midrange deck that was using Gideon and Avacyn and was similar to past UW Flash decks. His deck was good at stalling and I couldn’t kill him fast enough. I lost to one of the early versions of the 4 color Saheeli Aetherworks decks with energy that played Whirler Virtuoso and ended up losing to them in a long, grinding game. They ended up being the winner.
RW Tokens Record: 31-15-4
February 19th: A huge 7 round, 66 person PPTQ followed the next day in Nagoya and this is where I started to notice some very bad luck with draws and mulligans. I thought it was originally variance, but now I realize that my mana wasn’t correct. This variance hurt me bad in game 1 against a GB deck where I mulliganed to 5 one game and was mana flooded in game 2. I won my next 2 games against a 4C Midrange deck and a Jeskai Saheeli combo deck thanks to my speed and cards like Reckless Bushwhacker.
In round 4, I got really unlucky by facing another Jeskai Saheeli deck that went off on the combo on turn 4 in game 1, and then in game 3 I wasn’t able to draw any of my sideboard cards. I bounced back with a win against GB Energy beatdown in round 5, again thanks to the speed allowed me by Bushwhacker early in the game, but lost any chance of the top 8 with a round 6 loss to Mardu vehicles. They went more midrangey with Fumigate and Skysovereign and whittled my forces down when I didn’t draw removal for it. I managed to win my last game against a 4 color Saheeli combo deck which was a morale lifting victory since it has been my weakest match up for a while.
This was still my old list without any changes, so I ended up 4-3. The old list was starting to show some weaknesses. As for the top 8 of this event, it was:
- 4C Saheeli
- Mardu Vehicles
- GB Beatdown x5
- Jund Beatdown
This was before the big metagame shift that came with the optimizing of Vehicles and Saheeli combo, so GB beatdown was still able to put up some good numbers. It was also the eventual winner of the event.
February 26th: My next event didn’t come until a week later, so I didn’t really have time to make any changes or to update my deck that much. I participated in a 54 person PPTQ on this deck with RW Tokens again, but I had problems with the deck from the get go. I lost to Mardu Vehicles round 1 due to mana screw and mulligans, couldn’t deal with planeswalkers in a RW Midrange deck, and couldn’t draw any removal against GB beatdown in round 4. The only round I won was against a UR control deck (which are easy to beat thanks to my speed). I dropped at 1-3 and ended up getting some food until the top 8 started.
I didn’t make it back to the event until the top 4 was underway, and it was made up of:
- 4C Saheeli Combo x2
- Mardu Vehicles
- GB Energy Beatdown
I’m not quite sure who the winner was, but I think it was either Combo or Vehicles. At this point in the metagame, Saheeli combo decks were starting to become a little more prevalent and GB beatdown was starting to become less popular.
March 3rd-5th: I made a few changes to my RW tokens deck and thought I had fixed its problems with a 2-1 finish at at 16 person FNM (beat GR Energy and Mono black Eldrazi, lost to 4C Saheeli combo which was the winner). However, it doesn’t seem like that was the case.
On March 4th I stumbled again at a 58 person PPTQ in Nagoya. I lost my opening match against 4 Color Saheeli’s nut draw and a turn 4 combo, drew poorly and lost to GB beatdown in round 2, and ran into too much counter magic against Temur Dynavolt Tower in round 3.
I ended up dropping at 0-3, then playing in a rebound GPT with 16 players at the same event. I went 2-3 at this event, beating 4C Saheeli Combo and Mardu Vehicles, but losing to GB beatdown, another Mardu Vehicles, and another 4C Saheeli deck. I was kind of in shock considering how good my GB beatdown and Vehicle match ups had been before. My deck was largely unchanged from before, but it seemed like my sideboard plan was in dire need of revision as most of these decks had changed a few cards and updated their sideboard strategies. I also had a problem with finishing games, as I was able to get my opponents to less than 4 life but wasn’t able to end the game before they could stabilize.
The top 8 of the PPTQ going on in the same room ended up being:
- Mardu Vehicles x2
- GB beatdown x2
- RUG Dynavolt Tower
- Jund Energy
- 4 Color Saheeli
- Bant Angel/Aetherworks
This was actually a pretty awesome top 8 considering the number of Saheeli, GB beatdown, and Vehicle decks being played by the 58 players of the tournament. What is even more surprising is the Bant Aetherworks deck ended up winning it all. You can see a picture of the deck down below.
On March 5th there was a 65 person PPTQ going on in Nagoya that I attended. I wasn’t really in the mood to spend more money on entering a PPTQ this day, but I didn’t have any other choices considering the only other places that did standard on Sundays were holding other format events. I begrudgingly entered and end up doing marginally better than the day before.
I started off with 2 wins against Jeskai Saheeli Control and GB beatdown, then lost 3 straight to RUG Dynavolt (counterspells), RUG Aetherworks (turn 4 Ulamog and no removal), and 4C Saheeli Superfriends Combo. Each of those losses were 1-2 and could have gone either way, but I simply couldn’t finish off my opponents when their life was in the redzone. I won my final match of the day against Jeskai Tower/Control. I obviously hadn’t found the right revised build for my RW tokens deck yet and finished 3-4.
The top 8 of this 65 person PPTQ was:
- RUG Dynavolt x2
- Mardu Vehicles x3
- GB Beatdown x3
GB Beatdown seemed to make a resurgence during this tournament in response to the number of Saheeli decks the day before, but Mardu Vehicles was even more popular and becoming even more so every tournament. The eventual winner was GB beatdown, but that was probably the last gasp for the strategy. In another tournament outside of town in a 25 person GPT, Mardu Vehicles was the winner.
That overall record was starting to look worse and worse and I was starting to doubt if it was going to be able to compete at a high level with it at the Grand Prix. I was making changes to it after almost every tournament, but wasn’t gaining any traction. I had to think of something soon or I might have to resign myself to not making day 2 of the Grand Prix.
That’s when I heard my fellow Cardboard Samurai Gary Pritt say he had won a PPTQ with the list back in the USA and had been doing really well with it. I got some confidence back and a few days later I was contacted by another person using it on Twitter and began a discussion with them about how to fix the problems with the deck. After countless hours and theorizing, we came up with what we believe to be the most optimal build of RW tokens.
Sram Dunk: Fast Break
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Needle Spires
4 Inspiring Vantage
3 Westvale Abbey
1 Hanweir Battlements
|4 Servo Exhibition
4 Sram’s Expertise
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 Stasis Snare
2 Declaration in Stone
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
19 other spells
The new build addresses a number of issues the old build was having. First off, the mana base has been changed. A mountain has been dropped and a plains added, and the same was done with a Hanweir Battlements and Westvale Abbey. The plains was in response to the number of double white spells we were playing, while the Westvale Abbey change was in response to the metagame. Mardu vehicles and GB Beatdown simply can’t get rid of an Ormendahl once Abbey is flipped, and 90% of the time you win the game against them. Sram Dunk makes lots of tokens, so it consistently is able to make the 5 creatures needed to flip Westvale Abbey on turn 6. While fun, Battlements doesn’t have such a high impact on the battlefield.
The next change I made was adding in Selfless Spirit. I had tried out Veteran Motorist instead of Kari Zev but was underwhelmed by its fragility, so I decided it was time to try out the Spirit. This has been a great addition so far, as it not only gives me evasion and allow me to attack in the air, but it also gives me a way to block an early Heart of Kiran, and to protect my Hanweir Garrisons or tokens from mass removal like Fumigate or Kozilek’s Return. I’ve noticed quite a few opponents struggling to use their removal because of this card which gives me the time I need to capitalize on their hesitation and swarm them. It’s also a great card to have against Walking Ballista.
Another change I did was to switch the number of Declaration in Stone and Stasis Snare. Instant speed is always better, but I was also giving my opponents too much card advantage with Stone, and they are also cautious by not putting the same type of cards into play at the same time. I’ve also decided to move Aethersphere Harvester to the sideboard since GB Beatdown isn’t as big of a threat as it was before. One of the slots went to the 2nd Selfless Spirit, and the other went to a 4th Gideon. I always thought that 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was too much since we were playing Reckless Bushwhacker as well, but his emblem is incredibly important for RW tokens against Mardu Vehicles and GB decks. Once you make an emblem, Ballista suddenly becomes garbage against you.
The sideboard saw the most change since my last article. Gone is Skysovereign, Pia Nalaar, and Collective Effort, and instead now we have more consistency. A 3rd Authority Of the Consuls makes it tougher for Saheeli to combo out early against you and gives you a chance to go wide and beat them. The 2nd Release the Goblins helps you out against Mardu Vehicles and the RUG Dynavolt deck, and the Aethersphere Harvesters are in there for aggro match ups like against Vehicles or any other deck that threatens your life total. I’m currently working on revising the sideboard plan, so if you’re interested in it you can check back after the Grand Prix to see a more in depth strategy.
March 10th-12th: I saw any almost immediate turn around in the deck after I made these changes. I played a small tournament during the week and finished 2-1, and at a 11 person FNM I played for more testing, I finished 2-1 again. I beat a RW Depala Vehicle deck, RUG Aetherworks, and BW midrange deck in these two small tournaments, and lost to a Mardu Vehicles and 4C Saheeli deck. I didn’t feel overpowered in any of those losses though, and the deck felt like it was the strongest it had been since the Game Day tournaments where I made multiple top 8s.
This last weekend I took it to a 54 person PPTQ in the northern part of Nagoya city, and came out with guns blazing. I won my first 3 matches against GB beatdown and 2 Mardu Vehicle decks. I had always prayed on them before, and finally the deck was doing like it had done before. Chandra was great against GB, the Harvesters did their jobs against the Mardu vehicle decks, and I won more than a few games thanks to transforming Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl.
Variance hit me in round 4 against another Mardu Vehicle player, as I mana flooded and didn’t draw any of my removal, but I fought back and beat yet ANOTHER Mardu vehicles deck in round 5 thanks to an early Thalia letting me keep the pressure up on him turn after turn and locking him out of his vehicles. However, in round 6 my inexperience against the new Mardu Ballista build ended up being my undoing. I wasn’t prepared to deal with Avacyn and all of his creatures, and found myself with a lot of unnecessary cards in my hand while he ran over me.
I finished 4-2 and thought there was a slim chance I could make it to the top 8 due to all of my opponents winning their 6th rounds, but I ended up in 12th out of 54 players. It was frustrating to say the least, and I was a little sick of all the vehicle decks that showed up at this tournament, but I was also happy to have gone 3 for 5 against them. The top 8 of this tournament was:
- Mardu Vehicles x3
- Mardu Ballista x2
- RUG Dynavolt Tower
- 4C Saheeli Combo
- BW Midrange
The winner was one of the Mardu vehicle decks, specifically the person I lost to in round 4. The player, Maruyama Yuichiro played masterfully and made all the right choices against me. He was a very worthy opponent.
On Sunday, I wasn’t really in the mood for another PPTQ and had been feeling kind of burned out, especially at almost $30 a tournament, so I went to a slightly cheaper invitational qualifier event at Big Magic on March 12th. 21 players showed up for the IQ while 48 players took part in the PPTQ a few blocks away.
I managed to get the first round bye which was lucky, but I lost a very very close game to RUG Dynavolt in round 2. I got a little too greedy and ran into a Kozilek’s Return which wiped my board and allowed him to stabilize. I won my next two rounds against 4C Saheeli Combo and that Bant Angel/Aetherworks deck that had won the PPTQ from a week ago, but had some horrible draws against 4 Color Saheeli in round 5 and a double mulligan to lose what I thought was a win and in round. I could have easily ID’d in round 5 into the top 8, but my opponent had to play so it was rather unlucky.
I had felt cheated to come so close to 2 top 8s, and was about to head home when I found out I made it to the top 8 in 8th place. Lucky! However, I had similar luck with my draws against another 4 Color Saheeli combo opponent and didn’t get any of my sideboard cards which let him combo out on me. I finished with a 3-3 record in this tournament. The top 8 of the IQ was:
- RW Tokens (me)
- 4C Saheeli Combo x3
- RUG Dynavolt Tower
- Mardu Ballista x2
- GR Energy Beatdown
The event was eventually won by the RUG Dynavolt player who I had lost to in round 2. It was played by Goto Yuusei, one of the best players in the region and also multiple Pro Tour particpant and Top 8 GP finisher. I don’t know if the deck is better than Vehicles and Saheeli combo, but he sure made it seem like it was at this tournament. Very good play.
As for the other 48 person PPTQ going on a few blocks away, I managed to stop by on my way home from the other tournament and saw the top 8. It was:
- Mardu Vehicles
- Mardu Ballista
- 4C Saheeli Combo x3
- Jund Delirium
- RUG Dynavolt x2
One of the 4 Color Saheeli combo decks ended up being the winner of this tournament.
Record: 48-36-4 (I have some breathing room now, but need to put some more distance between the wins and losses again.)
But What does it all mean?
This brings me to the last part of my report: What you can expect to see at the Grand Prix in the hands of most Japanese players. While you can be certain that there will be 4 Color Saheeli and Mardu Vehicles/Mardu Ballista making up at least 50% of the total metagame at GP Shizuoka next weekend, there are a number of other strategies you should be prepared for.
Dynavolt Tower decks have been slowly getting more popular, especially with control players and I think they will have a presence at the GP. I wouldn’t put the number at more than 7-10%, but out of 2700 players, that’s still about 250 players using it. From the Nagoya area I think you can expect some BW decks as well playing Aetherborn Rogue and playsets of Fatal Push, but looking at what decks have been popular up in Tokyo at Harerurya, I think BR aggro decks could also show up in large enough numbers to affect the metagame. I expect GB beatdown or Energy players to be slightly more than Dynavolt decks at about 12% of the meta, and I think that some Aetherwork Marvel decks could show up too, but probably around 5% of the players. I expect Tokyo will be making the biggest impact on the metagame with more than 50% of the players coming from that area, so checking out some of the big events that have been recorded in Hareruya’s deck list archive would be very helpful.
That’s going to do it for today’s metagame update, but I hope this data dump proves helpful to you in preparing for the event. If you’re participating, I’d like to wish you good luck and I hope to see you there. If you’re going to be following the event from home, feel free to check out my Twitter @yoschwenky for live updates on my progress as well as updates from the floor of GP Shizuoka outside of the feature match area. I’ll be walking around the top tables when I can and reporting on the tournament, and if you have any requests for coverage, I’d be more than happy to help you when possible. Thanks for reading and for being patient, and hopefully I’ll have some new content out soon!