The Japan Metagame Diaries: GP Shizuoka – A Dream Deferred

For some reason, as I searched for a title to this article, the first line of Langston Hughes poem “Harlem” came to mind. I originally wanted to use his poem to start off this article, but it didn’t really seem to fit the overall atmosphere of the article, and its true meaning about the plight of African Americans whom have to constantly fight against the pressures of American society and institutions working against them doesn’t really work with what I’m trying to say. (If you want to read it, you can do so here).

 
There was a line that really had a big impact on me though. It is the first question he poses to the reader:

What happens to a dream deferred?

 

The imagery Hughes uses to describe how some of us feel when our dreams go unrealized is powerful. I’m sure some people think this way when our dreams have to take a backseat to real life and sometimes never come to fruition. Maybe it’s starting a business, or a family, or as simple as trying to be the best person we can be. For some people, that chance never comes and we have to learn to live on the path we are on and make our way through life as best we can. Yes, some of those dreams can fester inside of us and leave us with regret if unrealized, while others tend to disappear in a flash when we come to accept reality. Does that mean we cease having dreams though?

With a game like Magic, I’m sure many of us have dreams of becoming a pro player and making it to the Pro Tour or making it to the top 8 of a Grand Prix, but at one point in your Magic career you will suddenly realize that this dream is unattainable. However, we can still strive to be the best players we can be, we can be leaders in our communities, or we can set more realistic goals for ourselves so that the weight of our unrealized dreams don’t “fester like a sore” or “explode” like Langston Hughes says in his poem.
 
I feel like at Grand Prix Shizuoka, I’ve finally come to terms with my place in the order of things in the world of Magic. Constantly putting pressure on yourself to perform at a high level can be toxic and end up destroying any kind of joy you can find from being with your friends and being part of a greater community. I’m not saying it’s impossible that it might not one day happen, but to accept there is still so much more potential inside of you and that the end of one dream doesn’t mean the end of you is much more important. Now that I know my limits, I plan on making the best of them.
 
 

Grand Prix Shizuoka Tournament Report

With Amonkhet spoilers starting you can expect this to probably be my last metagame diary entry for the Aether Revolt standard season. I’ve had my ups and downs, and I’ve been able succeed where others have failed, but at this point in standard I’m just extremely burned out and can’t push myself any further. There are actually some PPTQs next week that finish up the season for PT Kyoto, but I don’t know if I’ll even feel like doing those to tell the truth.

Well, there is good news and bad news that came out of GP Shizuoka. I can confidently say that my deck was put together well and that it can compete at a high level of Magic. With a few months before the BFZ and SOI blocks rotate, it’s safe to say that I’ll have this deck as one of my choices for the next two standard seasons. If Vehicle or Saheeli decks are nerfed somehow by new removal spells in the Amonkhet block, RW tokens just might be able to raise itself to tier 1. Until then, it will be fighting the good fight against a 2 deck metagame. I’d also like to say that my new sideboarding plans have turned my previously worst match up against Saheeli combo into one of my better ones. The deck also performs well against Aetherwork Marvel decks (barring a turn 4 Ulamog without removal in your hand), and still has a very good match up against traditional Vehicle decks.

The bad news is that the deck still struggles against Walking Ballista, which means that it’s weak to one of the most popular decks in the format right now (Mardu Ballista), and is also struggling against GB Beatdown (which is previously did alright against). I could be that I just need to play against these decks a little more to figure out how to correctly sideboard against them, or it could be left up to variance. I still haven’t figured out what the reason is for the poor match ups. Anyways, here’s the deck I used at GP Shizuoka and made day 2 with.

Sram Dunk
60 cards, 15 sideboard
8 Plains
4 Mountain
4 Needle Spires
4 Inspiring Vantage
1 Hanweir Battlements


21 lands

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


20 creatures

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

1 Cataclysmic Gearhulk
2 Shock
3 Authority of the Consuls
2 Skywhaler’s Shot
2 Release the Gremlins
2 Aethersphere Harvester
1 Fumigate
2 Fragmentize


Sideboard

It’s the same list from my previous metagame post on March 15th, but as promised today I’ll be going over what my sideboard plan was for the various decks in the format. You already know how the deck works for the most part, but if you do have any questions about synergies or reasons for cards, let me know afterwards.

Mardu Vehicles: +2 Fragmentize, +2 Release the Gremlins, +2 Shock, +2 Aethersphere Harvester / -3 Reckless Bushwhacker, -2 Declaration in Stone, -2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, -1 Sram’s Expertise

The traditional lists are pretty easy to beat once you have some practice against them. You drop your speed for removal, especially those that affect artifacts. Fragmentize takes out an early Heart of Kiran or Scrapheap Scrounger, while Release the Gremlins helps you out late game against anything and everything, and can also be used on your own Servo tokens to beef up your defenses/offenses. Shock is necessary to hit an early Toolcraft Exemplar, but has other uses too. As for the Harvester, it blocks Heart of Kiran Well, and also helps to reverse the loss of life.

Saheeli combo: +3 Authority of Consuls, +2 Shock, +1 Cataclysmic Gearhulk / -2 Gideon, -3 Stasis Snare, -1 Sram’s Expertise

Consuls is a no brainer. You set it down and then hit them as hard as you can. They usually bring in 2 pieces of enchantment removal for it, hence why I put in 3. Shock is your back up plan in case you need to kill Saheeli mid-combo. The Gearhulk is a recent addition, and it came out of the necessity to deal with their beatdown package of Thopter tokens and Whirler Virtuosos. The deck can sometimes overwhelm you without the combo, so it’s good to have an out just in case, especially if you’re on the losing end.

Temur Aetherworks/Tower: +2 Gremlins, +2 Fragmentize / -2 Thalia, -1 Gideon, -1 Stasis Snare

Yeah, I’m scared enough of a turn 4 Ulamog that I’m going to try and kill that Marvel as soon as it hits the board. If they miss an Ulamog turn 4 and you can destroy the Marvel, the game will swing heavily into your favor. Otherwise you better hope you have a Declaration or Stasis Snare in response to the eldrazi.

GB Beatdown: +2 Skywhaler’s Shot, +1 Fumigate, +2 Harvester, +1 Gearhulk /  -2 Thalia, -1 Gideon, -1 Sram’s, -1 Snare, -1 Bushwhacker

Mardu/BW Ballista: +2 Harvester, +2 Gremlins, +1 Fumigate, +1 Gearhulk, +2 Shock / -3 Bushwhacker, -2 Declaration in Stone, -2 Chandra, -1 Sram’s Expertise

This deck has been an absolute pain in the ass for me. I know that I need cards like Gearhulk and Fumigate to deal with the pressure they can put on me,  but I also need to worry about Avacyn at the same time. Mardu Ballista is the worst, because it can single-handedly wipe out my army of tokens if I can’t use a Gideon emblem quickly enough. I tried taking out my Gideon before and leaving in Chandra’s, but I feel like that left me too open to Ballista. I want to have enough removal to stop them, but also enough power to push through them and their late game (which is good). The only thing I’m scared of is lack of card advantage, but I guess that this deck has it too.

 

GP Shizuoka Results

 

Before Shizuoka, I had a chance to play in 2 small tournaments during the week in Nagoya to see how effective the changes to my deck were. Both were small 8 person affairs, but I managed to get a 2-1 record out of each event. I beat a BW Ballista and Temur Aetherworks/Tower deck in one tournament, and a UR Burn/Permission and Mardu Humans deck in the other. The two decks I lost to were another Temur Aetherworks deck (4th turn Ulamog) and a BW Midrange (he use Anguished Unmaking on my Orhmendahl to seal the win). The deck felt solid and I felt confident going into the big event that weekend.

Due to work, I sadly wasn’t able to make it to the GP on Friday night to playtest some more. Due to the problem of affordable hotels being totally sold out 3-4 months before the event, I ended up taking a bullet train in the morning from Nagoya and walked to Twin Messe Shizuoka event hall from the station. I came into the Grand Prix with 2 byes thanks to my planeswalker points from the last season, so I didn’t have to stress too hard. Sure I had to be there early to turn in my deck list (wasn’t going to pay and extra $20 for 2 hours of sleep), but my magic number for day 2 was 4 wins. Out of 2700+ players at GP Shizuoka, I only had to win 4 times.

  • ROUND 1: (1-0) BYE
  • ROUND 2: (2-0) BYE
  • ROUND 3: Bant Aetherworks (Lost 1-2) – I had seen some Bant Aetherwork decks in Nagoya and knew what to expect for the most part, but that does me no good when I mulligan to 5 on the draw. I lost my first game, then win the second one to my opponent’s poor draws, and while I had the advantage in game 3 with my opponent down to single digits, he managed to hit 3 Fumigates off of his Aetherworks Marvel to wipe my board each and every time I threatened with lethal. Would have been a different story had I drawn my Selfless Spirits.  (2-1)
  • ROUND 4: 4C Saheeli (won 2-0) – Saheeli combo decks used to be a very bad match up for me, but since I reworked my strategy against them to hit them as hard as possible as fast as possible, I’ve had much more success against the deck. I went wide with tokens and a Gideon emblem game 1, and in game 2 I landed an early Authority of the Consuls and built up my board until I could flip an Ormendahl. (3-1)
  • ROUND 5: Temur Aetherworks (won 2-1) – I had plenty of practice against this deck in the week leading up to the GP, but I misread on the deck after a quick win in game 1 led me to think it was a Saheeli strategy and caused me to SB incorrectly. Fixed that problem in game 3 and won with early pressure from Hanweir Garrison + Selfless Spirit. (4-1)
  • ROUND 6: Jeskai Saheeli Control (lost 0-2) – I was feeling good at 4-1 and thought I would have an easy time of beating this Saheeli deck, but made some bad decisions which ended up costing me the match. I was threatening for lethal the next turn and my opponent combo’d out in game 1 with me tapped out and stuck with a Stasis Snare in hand to stop it. In game 2 I tried to build up my board and whittle down my opponent’s life, but again I got too greedy and went for a kill with Westvale Abbey but had its ability countered with a Disallow which let my opponent then kill and counter everything afterwards. (4-2)
  • ROUND 7: 4C Saheeli (won 2-1) – My opponent combo’d out in game 2, but I managed to hit him incredibly fast by hitting my curve in games 1 and 3. He also got mana screwed game 3 which helped out a lot. (5-2)
  • ROUND 8: 4C Saheeli (lost 0-2) – This was another round that could have gone much differently if I had made better choices. I decided to play a turn 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar to stop his Saheeli Rai instead of keeping the mana open for a Stasis Snare in my hand. This let my opponent play Felidar and blink land, kill her with a Shock then go off with the combo. The second game went longer, but I couldn’t draw any removal or any of my answers to stop the combo. (5-3)
  • ROUND 9: 4C Saheeli (won 2-0) – I managed to take out both of my opponent’s Felidar Sovereigns with Stasis Snares game 1 and wore my opponent down with tokens, and in game 2 I played an early Consuls which let me not have to worry about the combo. I played a Hanweir Garrison and used a Gideon for his emblem and made short work of my opponent. It went down to the wire but I made day 2 by the skin of my teeth. (6-3)

 

My win percentage against Saheeli Combo decks used to be a lot less, so I was rather surprised I did as well as I did against them. The 2 losses to the Saheeli decks could have gone in a totally different direction had I been a little more disciplined with my decisions, and I could have been looking at 8-1 record instead of 6-3, but I’d take what I could get. This was the 2nd time in a row I made a standard GP day 2, and with 2 rogue decks no less!

 

GP Shizuoka Day 2

 

There were so many players at this event that day 2 was more than 800 players. This was almost as much as the main event of the other Grand Prix happening that same weekend in Porto Alegre. The pressure was off in day 2 since I wasn’t trying to qualify for anything, but I still would have liked to do well. My goal was to finish in the top 100 if possible and I believe I had a good enough deck to do so if I drew well, but that just wasn’t in the cards.

 

  • ROUND 10: Jund Beatdown (lost 0-2) – I usually do pretty good against these types of decks, but I mulliganed to 5 in both of my losses and simply couldn’t draw any removal for my opponent’s threats I was doomed to a quick death. (6-4)
  • ROUND 11: Mardu Ballista (won 2-1) – The metagame was full of Ballista decks day 1, but this was the first time I faced a deck all weekend. It was tough to beat the Toolcraft/Heart of Kiran combo game 1, but when he switched to a more controlling build for games 2 and 3, it left him wide open for me to exploit his weaknesses. (7-4)
  • ROUND 12: 4C Saheeli Delirium (won 2-0) – My opponent in round 12 was a fellow player from Nagoya I knew by the name of Kenji. We had tested after the player meeting on day 1 and had both made it to day 2. I managed to play an early Thalia in game 1 which totally locked him out of his combo when he couldn’t find removal for her, and a fast hand that curved out into a top deck Gideon for me in game 2 was all I needed to finish him. (8-4)
  • ROUND 13: Mardu Ballista (lost 1-2) – I managed to get one win in with Ormendahl  game 1, but lost my next 2 when I couldn’t draw a board wipe to get rid of his army and couldn’t deal with Gideon and Chandra. Release the Gremlins under performed, but still is needed in this match up I think. (8-5)
  • ROUND 14: Mardu Ballista (lost 0-2) – If day 1 was nothing but Saheeli, it felt like day 2 was nothing but Ballista decks. I got my opponent low in life game 1 but couldn’t finish him off without a Gideon emblem to protect my tokens, and ended up mana flooding game 2. My opponent also slowed me down a lot with Authority of the Consuls. I think my biggest problem was siding out 2 of the 4 Gideons I was playing. This left me open to Walking Ballista’s attacks and let him kill me at his will. I’ll definitely try out more Gideons in the future. (8-6)
  • ROUND 15: GB Energy (lost 0-2) – Mana flooded in game 1, mulliganed to 5 game 2 and couldn’t keep up the removal and defense to keep his creatures off of me. (8-7)

 

I was really hoping to end this Grand Prix with a better record than GP Tokyo (9-6), but I came up short due to some costly decisions I made that lost me matches.  It also seemed like I had a lot more mulligans and mana problems than I have before. This could perhaps be a shuffling issue or variance. Maybe 24 land is too much? Or maybe I just was out drawn by cards like Tireless Tracker or Rogue Refiners? I definitely need to try out a few more things to see if I can further maximize the deck. I could also try playing 4 Selfless Spirits to make my threats less susceptible to cards like Fumigate and Walking Ballista.

 

First Thoughts on Amonkhet

 

We’ve only gotten a glimpse of Amonkhet so far, but I can say I’m both worried and excited. The ’embalming’ effect could bring my deck some much needed reach in late games and also make it more difficult for cards like Walking Ballista to become oppressive. I’m not too worried about the new wrath effect that hits all creatures of 3 power or more since most of my creatures have 2, but I am worried about possible -1/-1 counter effects like the ones Archfiend of Ifnir makes. That could wreck a token themed deck pretty easily. My only hope is that those type of decks don’t take off. We’re still about 2 weeks off until the full spoiler is released, but I’m holding out hope that there will be some very useful cards for RW tokens, or possibly something that will hose Mardu Ballista and Felidar Sovereign. Once the spoiler is posted and I go through my picks for AKH limited, I’ll have an update for RW tokens, as well as my thoughts on what we can expect to see in the next standard season.

The deck’s current record stands at 60-45-4. Still a winning percentage overall, but my goal for the next standard season is to hit 100 wins with it before I hit 60 losses. A lofty goal worthy of the Amonkhet gods, but not impossible! My dream of making it back to the pro circuit might be deferred, but I’m not ready to give up on it yet. I’ll just focus on the things I have more control over until I’m ready to dream big again. Thanks for reading my tournament update, and be sure to check back in a few more days for more content on thejapanhobbyist.com!

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