The Japan Metagame Diaries: Amonkhet Game Day – Secret Stash
There are some people that like to cry about the problems of standard and about how unbalanced they think it is, and there are others that see a problem and rise to the challenge. I prefer to think of myself as the latter. The disappearance of combo has been a blessing and the space for brewing in this standard has opened up exponentially. I definitely believe that control is starting to find its place, and that the threats of GB Constrictor and Mardu Vehicles have been greatly reduced. Zombies has proven to be easy to hate out when everybody is ready for it, and while a turn 4 Ulamog continues to be a problem when you’re matched up against Aetherwork Marvel decks, as control finds its footing that deck should also be kept in check.
Today I’d like to talk about my Amonkhet Game Day experiences. I managed to hit up 3 different events this weekend and made the playoffs in each and every one with my fine tuned BW Token artistocrats deck.
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Shambling Vent
4 Concealed Courtyard
2 Evolving Wilds
|4 Fatal Push
4 Hidden Stockpile
4 Servo Exhibition
4 Start // Finish
4 Sram’s Expertise
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 Grasp of Darkness
24 other spells
I had posted the 2nd iteration of my BW tokens deck at the beginning of May after some initial tournaments. The deck had some good ideas and was on the right track but ended up not having the reach to last in a long game, and wasn’t able to keep the pressure on an opponent during the match. Thanks to my Nagoya buddy Nanoripe giving me a swift slap to the face with his mono-black zombies deck before the Pro Tour, I was able to get on the right track and eventually settle on this combination of 75 cards.
One of the problems with the previous deck was having too much removal and not enough aggressive cards. the previous choices I had with Anointer Priest, Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim, and Voldaren Pariah were both too weak and too fragile. The sideboard also needed some revision after the Pro Tour had settled the format a little, and the changes seemed to really help out the deck’s problem match ups.
I found a good balance with the removal first, then I added in the token effects, and finally I looked at various strategies that could deal with both aggressive decks and control and settled on an Aristocrats one built around Zulaport Cutthroat.
We all remember this vagrant, right? During Shadows Over Innistrad block standard, Zulaport Cutthroat was a huge part of the metagame in GB Cryptolith Rites/Collected Company decks. Thanks to him, you could end the game quickly on a stalled battlefield, while also staying alive versus aggressive decks. Once Kaladesh standard block started this strategy was tossed to the wayside, but I can’t see of a better time than now to resurrect it.
Due to control finding a niche in standard once again, as well as turbo fog strategies like the Approach of the 2nd Sun decks, straight up aggro decks are going to find themselves struggling to close out a lot of games. This is what I learned from playing RW Tokens at the Big Magic Open back in the first week of May. Therefore I wanted a way that I could be aggressive against slower decks, but also be able to play defense when I needed to or to use my cards efficiently when attacking wasn’t an option.
Zulaport Cutthroat was already going to be included in this deck, as well as Bontu the Glorified as a holdover from the previous build, so all that was left was to fill the deck to the brim with creatures to sacrifice to them. Start/Finish and Sram’s Expertise made the cut of course and were carried over from my last revision, but at that point things start to diverge. Servo Exhibition provides early blockers and some early aggression against slower decks, and of course we’re going to want Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in this deck for when we want to strike for lethal damage or put pressure on control decks, but by far the best card of this entire deck is Hidden Stockpile.
I had initially used 2 in my previous build, but after hearing about how well it did in Sam Black’s Abzan tokens deck during the Pro Tour, I was willing to give it a chance as 4 of (while I liked Sam’s deck, I thought that it lacked varied win conditions when attacking wasn’t an option such as in 2nd Sun match ups). This ended up being the best decision I ever made. Hidden Stockpile not only discourages opponents from using removal during your turn, but it also gives you a great source of pseudo-card advantage by being able to set up your next turn for 1 mana during your second main phase with an extra token you have laying around that you’ll get back during your end step. On your opponent’s turn, it lets you get some value out of a blocking creature, and also protects tokens from Declaration in Stone effects.
What impressed me the most about this card though was stacking the effects to get multiple tokens at the end of the turn. I could trigger a Zulaport effect, then get back double or triple my initial cost at the end of the turn. This effect has allowed me to easily out pace and out maneuver my opponents and has caused huge headaches for my opponents since I started playing it.
While not as important as Nantuko Husk was in the GB Cryptolite Rites deck, Yahenni still serves an important role. It survives any damage based or destroy removal, and also permanently gets bigger whenever any of your opponent’s creatures die (including tokens). Sometimes you’ll have Hidden Stockpile as your sacrifice outlet, sometimes Bontu, but if you want to fully take advantage of Zulaport Cutthroat’s ability, then you’ll want Yahenni in play so you can sacrifice your whole team in a flash and drain all of your opponent’s life.
Instead of giving you a list of what I use my sideboard for, I confident enough in this sideboard to give you a full run down on how to use it and which cards to play depending on your match ups.
- Mono black/BW Zombies: +2 Kalitas, +1 Fumigate, +2 Declaration in Stone, +2 Anguished Unmaking / -2 Yahenni, -1 Stockpile, -2 Gideon, -2 Grasp of Darkness
This plan focuses of getting rid of the undead menace for good, exiling them whenever you can. Kalitas runs into the problem of getting hit by cards like Fatal Push, but if you can land one then use some removal you’ll be in good shape. Fumigate keeps you alive and resets the board.
- Aetherworks Marvel: +2 Declaration in Stone, +2 Anguished Unmaking, +1 Dispossess, +1 Lost Legacy / -2 Stockpile, -4 Fatal Push
If your opponent lands a turn 4 Ulamog you could be screwed, unless you have a way to exile the blind eternity with Declaration in Stone or Unmaking. The Dispossess/Lost Legacy split helps you to take out both of their major threats (Marvel and Ulamog) and can make taking out Chandra by herself a lot easier. It’s still a challenging deck, but good draws can put you in a good position and let you prepare easier.
- UB/UR/UW Control: +2 Transgress the Mind, +1 Ob Nixilis, +1 Dispossess, +2 Anguished Unmaking / -4 Fatal Push, -2 Grasp of Darkness
Your removal is worthless, but hand/card disruption is not. Dispossess takes out one of their main win conditions (Torrential Gearhulk), while Transgress gives you information and hits other win conditions like Approach of the 2nd Sun or Chandra Flamecaller. If you can land an Ob Nixilis, his ultimate is devastating against control players, while Anquished Unmaking is a better catch all against both planeswalkers and Gearhulks.
- GR/Jund Energy/GB Contrictor: +1 Fumigate, +1 Dusk/Dawn, +2 Ruinous Path, +2 Kalitas / -2 Gideon, -2 Stockpile, -2 Yahenni
This set up gets rid of slower cards like Gideon and Stockpile and instead focuses on board wipes. You’ll be fine wiping the boards with a Zulaport Cutthroat in play, and once your opponent runs out of cards you should be able to start out putting pressure on them with your tokens. Walking Ballista can still be a bitch to play against though. Take it out quickly.
- Mardu/4C Vehicles: +2 Transgress the Mind, +2 Ruinous Path, +2 Anguished Unmaking / -2 Yahenni, -2 Start/Finish, -2 Hidden Stockpile
The biggest problems with Mardu vehicles are Archangel Avacyn and Gideon. Therefore I’ve decided that I want to target those if I can with Transgress the Mind, and if I can’t then I have Path and Unmaking as a back up. This is on top of already having Fatal Push (which should handle Heart of Kiran), and Grasp of Darkness (which does well against Avacyn). If you can get rid of these two cards, it should become a lot easier for you to gain the upper-hand against Vehicles.
My first two builds of this deck weren’t as optimized as they are now, and back on May 12th and May 13th I ended up going 1-2 and 1-3 at an 8 person FNM and a 15 person standard showdown. The FNM losses were to a Temur Rise from the Tides control and Grixis control deck (both games had mulligans and I missed a few triggers which were my bad). As for the standard showdown that weekend, I beat BW zombies in my first match, but then lost to GB Constrictor (couldn’t draw any of my removal), Mardu Ballista (again couldn’t get to my removal and drew poorly), and a 4 color Gods deck (again, bad draws). I still had suboptimal cards still like Sorin in my sideboard and Lone Rider in the main, so it was lacking the synergy that this newest build has.
After some changes, I took it to a 22 player standard showdown on May 14th and was able to go 3-1, winning convincingly against UW control, Bant Midrange (using cards such as Gisela and Gideon), and a mono black cycling/control deck. My only loss came against a UW Approach of the 2nd Sun control deck because he was able to cast his game winning spell the turn right after he drew it one game, and the other time he managed to draw all 4 of his Fumigates to keep the board clean and his life barely above danger levels. My deck performed wonderfully that Sunday, keeping pressure on slower opponents, curving out well, having removal when I needed it, and casting double Zulaport Cutthroats with a Yahenni on the battlefield helped to end games quickly.
I had a trip up at last weekend’s FNM on May 19th, going 1-2 at a 12 person event due to multiple mulligans. I lost to a Grixis control deck (that ended up winning everything that night) and a GR energy beat down deck because I couldn’t draw any of my 14 pieces of removal. The only game I won that night was against a GB Hapatra -1/-1 counter tokens deck where Hidden Stockpile and Bontu the Glorified really shined.
Thankfully by the time the midnight Game Day tournament started, my deck had seemed to smooth out its problems. I started off with some decisive wins against both BW and BR zombies thanks to drawing my removal early and landing tons of tokens to both block and abuse Gontu and Zulaports ability with. In round 3 Yahenni ended up being the all-star against Grixis control since my opponent couldn’t kill it, but in round 4 I lost again to another GR Beatdown deck like I had earlier in the night at FNM. An un-killable Glorybringer ended me due to me playing my removal wrong earlier in the match.
I was able to draw intentionally draw my round 5 and made it into the top 8 in 5th place. The top 8 was:
- BW Tokens/Aristocrats (me)
- BR Zombies
- GR Beatdown
- Aetherworks Marvel x3
- Mardu Vehicles x2
Not a bad selection of decks, but of course Aetherworks and Vehicles are going to show up there. I faced off against an Aetherworks deck in the quarterfinals, with my opponent on the play. I ended p not drawing any of my black mana in both games and lost the match quickly. It was frustrating considering how many Fatal Pushes I had in hand game 1 to take out his mana creatures and not being able to cast a Lost Legacy game 2 when my opponent wiffed twice on his Marvel and I was stuck on 1 swamp. I ended up 3-1-2.
With around 5 Game Days or more going on last Saturday around Nagoya, I stayed close to home and took part in a smaller 10 person event about 10 minutes from my apartment. I lost to Temur Tower Control in round one after thinking it was an Aetherworks deck and sideboarding incorrectly, and was about to pack it in to head to another event across town later in the day, but I ended up winning my next two matches against UR Control and a GR Human beatdown deck which put me into the top 4 and into the semi-finals. Hidden Stockpile and Bontu did most of the heavy lifting against the control deck, but it was a Kalitas from the board against GR humans that stopped my opponent from continuing to deliver crushing blows with his Hanweir Garrisons. His pause in attack allowed me to follow up in with countless tokens and to start picking away at his removal until the game swung in my favor.
At 2-1, finished in 4th place and again had a chance to play for the Game Day playmat, but again the gods deemed me unworthy. The top 4 was Mardu Vehicles, Temur Energy Control, Aetherworks Marvel, and BW Tokens (me). I was pitted against Mardu Vehicles and was on the draw which already put me at a disadvantage, but when I couldn’t draw any of my removal and mana flooded my opponent was able to put me away easily. I did better game 2 when I landed a Bontu, but then wasn’t able to land any creatures afterwards to block his attackers and to drain him of life.
Going into my 3rd and final Game Day on May 21st I was a man on a mission. I was driven. I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. I knew I had a good deck and with 22 people at Big Magic this was a good place to prove myself. I faced a 5 Color 2nd Sun deck and won easily in round one after a mulligan to 5. My opponent had no way of stopping my life drain and it did him easily both games. I lost a tough game to UR control match 2 off of a double mulligan in both games. He was easily able to counter everything I had and I never landed anything. I played down in my next two matches against a mono black control player and a UW Flash player, which didn’t really feel fair if you ask me. My deck seemed to be much more tuned than either deck and worked flawlessly against both. I easily overwhelmed the spot removal heavy black deck and double Hidden Stockpile + Zulaport was a beating against the UW Flash deck in round 4. He got close, but I was able to go from 1 life after using Anguished Unmaking against his Spell Queller to 18 life by sacrificing all of my tokens in play to Yahenni then getting one more trigger from Stockpile at the end of the turn.
At 3-1, I was able to ID in the last round to make my 3rd Top 8 that weekend. I finished in 7th place in Swiss. The top 8 was:
- BW tokens/Aristocrats (me)
- 4 Color Vehicles
- Mardu Vehicles
- UR Control x2
- GB Constrictor
- Esper Flash
- UR Improvise
A remarkably diverse top 8, and control was definitely flexing its muscle that day. Not a single Aetherworks Marvel deck to be seen. I had the horrible luck of being matched up against a Vehicles deck again, the 4 Color one, and would have beaten him if it was the Mardu variety without counter spells. A few of my key removal spells and token effects were countered, which gave my opponent just enough breathing space to finish me off before I could drain him to death. I had him to 3 life but just couldn’t finish him. My final record was 3-2-1.
Things are Looking Up
It’s been a little bumpy, but with a 12-9-2 record so far with my newest build, I’m willing to give it a few more chances. The play with Aristocrats can be very technical, and as I said up above, quite a few of my losses were from making play mistakes or forgetting triggers. Now that I feel more comfortable with the deck and how it operates, I think I should be able to widen the gap between wins and losses over the next few weeks. With Grand Prix Kobe next weekend, I expect there to be a lull in standard Magic the Gathering games in Nagoya, but by the time the PPTQ season starts up again I’m going to be ready for them. I firmly believe that this deck can take on all comers. It is better than straight up token strategies looking to win through damage, and not as slow as other midrange decks that look to control the game’s tempo. BW Tokens/Aristocrats is a potent combination, and I think it will become a force to be reckoned with this summer. Look for it to become a Tier 1.5 deck. If you’re looking for a challenging deck that has a lot of answers for many of the format’s threats, look no further.