The Japan Metagame Diaries: Nos morituri te salutamus
Nos morituri te salutamus – We who are about to die salute you
There can be no greater honor in Magic the Gathering than a creature giving its life to protect the player. Sometimes they die in glorious battle on the offensive so you can push through the last few points of damage for a win. Other times they sacrifice themselves selflessly, laying down their bodies to protect your life force. Life is precious, especially that of your creatures in MTG because without them you’ll find it very hard to win a game. Learning how to efficiently use your creatures for maximum damage, reading the situation on the battlefield, and knowing when to strike is the difference between winning an losing.
Like the movie, in these new decks the player becomes the emperor who decides the fate of each gladiator that finds his way into the coliseum. Will they die with honor and secure victory for his or her fellow fighters? Or will they serve no better purpose but to be fodder so that the masses can gorge themselves on violence? That will all be up to you.
After a very depressing outing with RW Tokens at the Big Magic Open in Yokohama during Golden Week, I finally realized that I needed to rethink my battle strategies. There is simply no way a linear aggro deck can win in this new Amonkhet Metagame. Control had made a comeback and midrange decks can use sweeping effects at will such as Sweltering Suns and then create dangerous threats that linear decks will have an incredibly hard time dealing with. One deck that gave me a particularly bad headache was the Approach of the Second Sun control deck. Between board wipes such as a Fumigate and fog effects that stop damage, it’s impossible to win with speed alone. I basically ended up being outmatched in every match up. Green/Black constrictor, Mardu Ballista, and even control decks were simply too much for me to deal with.
|GR Bustion Beatdown Buddies|
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Evolving Wilds
4 Game Trail
4 Cinder Glade
2 Sheltered Thicket
|4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
4 Incendiary Flow
4 Kari Zev’s Expertise
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
17 other spells
Creatures are going to die in this format, and if you want to control HOW they die, then you need to think a little differently. When building this deck, I basically wanted to get the most bang for my buck out of each creature. How could I get value from a creature that was destined to die?
It all started off as a Fling.
I didn’t mean for it to get serious, I just wanted to make a deck that would troll the decks with huge threats such as GB Constrictor and mess with the resources of those like Mardu Ballista. You wanna kill my guy? Well you’re going to feel his pain! From this starting point I bridged off and experimented a little bit with other synergies. I initially wanted it to be a GR delirium deck using Ishikanah and Combustible Gearhulk like the one I used back before Emrakul was banned (my previous deck was called “Devils in the Details“), but it just seemed too slow and somewhat inconsistent.
I dropped things like Grapple with the Past and Sin Prodder, and went a more value route. Walking Ballista to help with Delirium for Traverse the Ulvenwald, Tireless Tracker to get card advantage from playing lands like Evolving Wilds, and Verdurous Gearhulk to make some dangerous threats for your opponent. Ballista is known to deal good amounts of damage, and with Fling in play, I could make my creatures huge with Gearhulk and by cracking clues then throw them at my opponents for huge amounts of damage. I also decided to settle on 3 Heart-Piercer Manticore to give me a few more Fling effects as well as some reach in the late game.
The danger of using cards like Fling is that you’re screwed if you don’t have a creature to throw. This is where Kari Zev’s Expertise comes into play.
I originally had 3 in the sideboard of the deck, but after a little testing and some discussion with my fellow cardboard Samurai, we decided to just put it in the main deck. Now we had an effect that could steal an opponent’s creature and give us just what we need to fuel our Fling happy strategy. Heck, you can even steal a creature and Fling it right away for free at your opponent or their creature. What’s that saying? The bigger they are the harder they fall? In this case, I guess it would the the harder they fall on their own buddies.
In order to better take advantage of Kari Zev’s “know how”, somebody suggested playing Channeler Initiate. I originally had Lambholt Pacifist in this spot, but when I realized you could steal a creature, play Initiate for free, then put those -3/-3 counters on the stolen creature to kill/weaken it I was sold. As for removal, some people said I should be running Magma Spray or Shock, but since this deck is looking to deal as much damage as possible, having a card that doesn’t hit a player or one that only does 3 damage isn’t going to be enough. Incendiary Flow is great to have against Dredge match ups and stops Scrapheap Scrounger in a variety of decks, but at the same time it can also hit a planeswalker or your opponent directly.
With only a few spots left at this point, I had to make the hard decision to only play one Glorybringer so as not to disrupt the Fling synergy I had worked on. It’s a good card, and perhaps 2 is the right number, but for now I’m trying out one. The final 2 spots went to Chandra which not only keeps the damage coming, but becomes incredibly dangerous against slower midrange decks. Once she gets off her ultimate, it’s over.
For the sideboard I tried to keep it simple.
- 3 Sweltering Suns – for aggro match ups like tokens or humans
- 2 Insult // Injury – for slower midrange and control decks. Huge with Fling effects.
- 1 Glorious End – to stop Approach of the Second sun from straight out beating me
- 2 Arlinn Kord – for control to give speed and more power to fling effects
- 2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow – against fliers or as another way to cause loss of life
- 3 Manglehorn – to stop vehicle decks or destroy Aetherworks Marvel
- 2 Prowling Serpopard – for control match ups cause counterspells are a pain
I’ve only played a few hands with the deck so far but it’s quite enjoyable to play. The hardest part of it is deciding when to Fling something of yours and when to just let it die. I’ve been holding cards back instead of playing them and need to learn which lines of play work best against the various decks in the metagame. I think the strategy can do well against a large variety of the decks in Amonkhet standard, but it’s going to take some practice and more data before I can say how well. It should be a lot of fun to play at casual matches or FNM, but I wouldn’t take it to a Grand Prix or other competitive tournament just yet. Get a feel for it and enjoy!
Increasing the Body Count
You think by now all of the blood on my hands from the GR Fling deck would have satiated my thirst for lives, but like a vampire, my thirst is unquenchable. Last week I posted 4 different token decks in my first AKH standard article, and if you remember there was a Black/White one. It had some good ideas and the synergy was nice, but I felt that the power level was a little weak and that the synergy could be pushed a little further.
|Lambs to the Slaughter|
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Shambling Vent
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Evolving Wilds
2 Westvale Abbey
|4 Fatal Push
4 Start // Finish
4 Sram’s Expertise
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 Blessed Alliance
2 Cast Out
2 Sorin, Grim Nemesis
22 other spells
I ended up dropping my “pet” cards such as Anointed Procession and Hidden Stockpile, and instead went more all in the Bontu the Glorfied and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim angle. The biggest addition has been Lone Rider instead of Anointer Priest.
The priest was going to gain me life, which would help to turn on Ayli’s abilities faster, but it wouldn’t have blocked well or really let me attack. I’ve always wanted to use this card in a deck. the problem was what kind of deck to use it in. If you devoted a deck too much to life gain, you end up losing out in overall power level or to decks that had better creatures. I think it works really well alongside Ayli, Bontu, and Blessed Alliance. The removal in this deck is really good (Fatal Push, Start/Finish, Cast Out), so a lot of the time you’ll be able to use Blessed Alliance for the life gain at the end of a turn to transform it. You’ll have more than enough tokens to block or to sacrifice to Bontu/Voldaren Pariah, so let Lone Rider do the hard work of pumping up your life total for Ayli, the Eternal Pilgrim and putting pressure on your opponent.
The other change I made in the deck was to drop Anguished Unmaking and add Sorin, Grim Nemesis. While the 3 mana was nice to play off a Sram’s Expertise, not losing life and being able to cycle if unused makes Cast Out more playable. They both do basically the same thing, so why lose the life? It seemed counter productive.
As for Sorin, I felt like this deck was moving more towards the midrange deck and away from more aggressive token builds I’ve used before like RW or GW. There is a lot of removal available to you in this BW Tokens deck, as well as bodies that can protect him. Besides being another sources of life gain to help Ayli and Lone Rider activate when he kills a creature or planeswalker, Sorin also becomes a great source of card advantage. If the metagame switches to more control and midrange decks, I think you’ll agree that he’s better in the mainboard than Voldaren Pariah was before. With the rules change on split cards, he can do LOTS of damage as well with a Never//Return (7 pts of life) or a Start//Finish (6 pts of life).
The sideboard has also undergone a few changes over the last few days. I showed the deck to some Japanese friends I play light night with from time to time, and got some good feedback after discussing the goals of the deck.
- 3 Forsake the Worldly – Originally Fragmentize/Collective Defiance, Forsake seems better overall against Vehicles, Dyanvolt Tower, and Aetherwork Marvel decks. Being able to EXILE instead of destroy a Scrapheap Scrounger is definitely good, and its cycling is better when you play against Tower/Gearhulk control decks.
- 2 Dusk // Dawn – Good against big midrange decks like GB, but also does good work against RW humans and GR energy because they end up having a lot of 3 power creatures. On the flipside, all of your creature cards other than Bontu and Pariah come back into play.
- 2 Lost Legacy – Great against combo and decks like Aetherworks. Hard for them to win without an Ulamog.
- 2 Selfless Spirit – Helps out with Revolt and can activate Bontu at will, also good against control.
- 2 Never // Return – Stops Planeswalker heavy decks like Mardu Walkers, also good against Delirium since it exiles things from the graveyard.
- 2 Voldaren Pariah – sometimes things get too hairy and you can’t deal with the pressure. Pariah helps you to even the odds and activates Bontu when doing so.
- 2 Transgress the Mind – Love it against control and any other heavy spell deck.
I’ve only been testing out the GR deck since Thursday so it’s still too early to tell how effective it’s going to be. I’ve played some matches in between rounds and it seems to do rather well against slower midrange decks like GB and BW, but I haven’t had a chance to really play against any of the other top decks yet with it. I did manage to come close to beating a friend’s Mardu Ballista deck with it. I forced him to use up his Walk Ballistas early and was able to steal his Heart of Kiran’s with Kari Zev’s Expertise to then Crew and kill his own Gideon with it. It really messed with his resources and I would have had the chance with a few better plays.
As for the BW midrange deck, I haven’t really had a chance to play with this new build that much. I went 3-1 at a 13 player Saturday Standard Showdown (1 Bye, UW Control 2-1, UR Burn 2-0, Temur Tower Control 0-2), but then made tons of mistakes with the deck at a Sunday Standard Showdown with 22 players and went 2-3.
The deck was only using 24 land at this event which ended up being a big mistake. I missed my land drops in both round 1 and 2 against a Grixis tempo and Naya Planeswalker deck, and wasn’t able to finish off my opponent in time. Both were close and I lost each 1-2. In my next match up against Temur Aetherworks I won the first game easily, but then for some reason I didn’t flip my Ormendahl to attack with my opponent at 8 life and he was able to stablize and fight back the next turn. My final two matches were against 5C Approach of the Second Sun combo and Grixis control and I was able to beat both of them rather easily. If I was able to redo these match ups with the 25 land build and a clearer head not congested with head cold, I’m confident I could have finished 4-1 at this event as well.
Due to the activation costs of Ayli, the filtering of Evolving Wilds, and the addition of Sorin to the mainboard, 25 land is definitely needed for this deck going forward. I plan on testing it out at next weekend’s Standard showdowns, and I expect that by then I’ll have all the kinks ironed out and can put up much better numbers. Don’t let these early results turn you off though. A better player with a more level head should be able to put up some really good results with both of them, so give them a chance at your next FNM or casual tournament. I think you’ll enjoy holding so many lives in your hands.