The Japan Metagame Diaries: It’s a Hard Knock Life

As much as you might want to say otherwise, when it comes down to it Magic is all about luck and variance. Sometimes you run hot, sometimes you don’t. We have to learn to roll with the punches and not become too discouraged. We also have to live with the hand we’re dealt, both literally and metaphorically. Last week Aetherworks Marvel was banned in hopes that it would shake up the standard format, and that ban goes into effect on Monday, June 19th.

There were quite a few people that saw it as the best deck going forward into Hour of Devastation, and I know more than a handful of players that ended up buying Aetherworks Marvel over the last few weeks only to have it banned. Well, if you were one of those players hopefully you’ll consider playing the deck in Frontier (which should be awesome with Ugin AND Nicol Bolas as choices, as well as Atarka, Ulamog, and Emrakul).

I had high hopes for my BW Aristocrats/Tokens deck after some successful Game Day finishes, but it was anything but a smooth ride over the last month. My biggest problem was with sideboarding, especially against decks I didn’t have much or any experience against. I also had some rotten luck with variance which I’ll go into detail in the results below. I’ll be posting a running total of my record after each summary so you can keep track of how the deck performed. Up until this point I had a 12-9-2 record with my Black/white deck.

The Recent Nagoya Metagame

In the first weekend after Game Day I had some pretty good results. I started off a little bumpy with a 1-2 record at a 10 person FNM (beat Mardu Control, then lost to another Mardu Control and Grixis Control). The second Mardu deck ended up being the FNM winner. I could have side-boarded better, and mana flooding against Grixis control when I had him on the ropes was a heart breaker. I followed up this poor performance with a 3-0 record at a small 7 person Standard Showdown on Saturday, and on Sunday I went 3-1 at a 24 person standard event at Big Magic. I beat a GB Hapatra/Counters, Temur Aetherworks, and Temur Tower deck at the May 27th event, and then beat Mono black zombies, RW humans, and Bant Flash on May 28th before losing to a Temur energy deck which was the eventual winner. Glorybringer was a beating in that last game, and I started to notice that I have a weakness to flyers.

(Record: 19-12-2)

I was feeling good about the deck and attributed most of the losses I made to poor choices, and thought I had enough practice with it to take on a PPTQ the following weekend on June 2nd. I had to skip Magic all week due to work and errands, so I was a bit rust at the 25 person tournament.

I managed to beat Temur Aetherworks in round 1, but lost to another version in round 2. I was still in it thanks to a win against GB Snake/Energy in round 3, but played against a funky GW midrange deck that got an early Thalia against me and used cards like Stitcher’s Graft and handily beat me when I couldn’t get rid of their threat. I simply couldn’t draw my removal against him and he ran over me with cards like Gisela and Glory-Bound Initiate. I had a similar problem of bad draws against Mardu Ballista in round 5 that dropped me to 2-3 overall and made sure I wasn’t going to make the top 8 (but two of my opponents did).

TOP 8:

  • GW Midrange (what I lost to in round 4)
  • GB Energy
  • Mardu Ballista x3
  • Temur Aetherworks x2 (one which I lost to in round 2)
  • 4 Color Vehicles

Ballista decks had a strong showing at this event, and the eventual winner was actually a 4 Color Vehicles deck that was splashing blue for Spell Queller and Metallic Rebuke.

I bounced back again at a smaller, 16 person tournament the day after (which was small due to another PPTQ going in a few towns away). I finished 3-1 by beating Mono red aggro, 4 Color Superfriends, and GB Snake/Delirium. My only loss was against UW Approach of the Second Sun control in round 2. I had dropped Lost Legacy from my sideboard for that weekend and it turned out to be a bad call. I wasn’t able to disrupt his hand fast enough and lost in 3 games. I finished in 5th place, and the winner of this event was Mardu Ballista.

(Record: 24-16-2)

I didn’t have a chance to play again until FNM the following weekend on June 9th, but easily took down a small 11 person event 3-0 by beating Grixis Control twice, and Jeskai Vehicles in the finals. The removal of the Vehicles deck was a lot weaker than the Mardu version, and it was relatively easy to set up my board and take over the game.

I was 6-1 in my last two tournaments so I was feeling pretty good about my chances going into a 33 person PPTQ on Sunday, June 11th. Of course I know that a FNM and a small 16 person event don’t have the same level of competition that PPTQs do, but I thought I had played enough to know my deck in an out, but after a 2-4 finish I obviously didn’t. My performance was marred by double and triple mulligans throughout the day, and there were than a few occasions where I chose the wrong line of play against my opponent which ended up being the death of me a few turns later.

I was too aggressive against Mardu Ballista in round 1 and lost, beat Temur Aetherworks round 2 when my opponent missed Ulamog 4 times, then lost to UW flash round 3 when I couldn’t deal with Skysovereign in games 2 and 3. I went into a spiral after round 3 and lost the next round to GB Snake (mulligans and mana flood) and round 5 to 4 Color Planeswalker control (Chandra). I was able to get at least one more win against Naya Humans in the final round at least. The winner of this event ended up being the GB Snake deck that I lost to in round 1.

(Record: 29-20-2)

With the Banned and Restricted announcement just a few days prior, this last weekend of standard started to show some changes in the metagame finally. There were some players trying to squeeze out a few more wins with Temur Aetherworks, but most had begun to adapt already.

I started out on June 16th with Friday Night Magic at Amenity Dream like I always do (since it’s close to where my wife works), and we managed to hit 10 players again which was decent but not like the 18-20 we used to get. I won the first game against a BR Eldrazi beatdown deck thanks to my board wipes, but tied a BW Control deck when the board stalled and neither of us could get a win through the other’s tokens and Ormendahls. I was matched up against Mardu Ballista in round 3 but had the horrible luck of mana flooding and not drawing any of my removal both games after Heart of Kiran came down on turn 2. I finished 1-1-1.

I hit up another FNM late at night across town at 11pm where 16 people showed up to play. I lost to Aetherworks due to mana flood and triple Ulamog in round 1, then drew equally as bad against GB Energy in round 2 with mana screw this time. The final match against Bant Midrange was a piece of cake though as I hit my curve and drew removal when I needed it. Marvel and GR Beatdown were the winners of this event, but I finished at 1-2.

I wasn’t sure what to do after the 11pm tournament, but when I saw that it was going to fire I decided to try out the 8 person 2am Standard Showdown that finished at 5:30 am. I ended up going 2-1 though which was nice, beating 2 GR Energy decks (one more of a traditional beatdown deck and the other more of a GR God version with Hazoret and Rhonas). I lost in the finals to a BW zombies deck that managed to get the jump on me when I mana flooded one game and miscalculated another where I had him dead on board the next turn. Still, 2-1 was good.

My last two tournaments of the weekend were on Sunday, June 18th: a 14 person event at Big Magic, and a small 5 person showdown event at Hobby Station Osu in the evening. Unbeknownst to me, there was a PPTQ on Sunday in the morning at 10:30 am (which I didn’t learn about until I had started playing at Big Magic). 27 players showed up for the PPTQ, which explained why nobody was at my tournament. Rotten variance did a number on me again in the first tournament as I lost to Aetherworks due to a mulligan to 4 in round 1, but luckily I was able to beat a Grixis Superfriends deck in round 2 before tying a Temur Energy beatdown deck in round 3. I faced that opponent’s friend with a similar deck in round 4, but wasn’t able to deal with his Skysovereign in games 2 and 3 which became the end of me. I finished at 1-2-1, and my first round opponent with Temur Aetherworks ended up being the winner.

Meanwhile,at the PPTQ a few blocks away, the Top 8 was shaping up like this:

27 person PPTQ Top 8:

  • Mardu Ballista
  • Mardu Midrange
  • Mono black Zombies x2
  • GB Constrictor x2
  • Temur Aetherworks
  • UW Flash

The metagame certainly looked healthy from my point of view with a variety of decks doing well, but there definitely were a lot of GB Constrictor and Temur Aetherwork decks at this event when I stopped by during the regular rounds. In the small Standard Showdown at 5pm, I went 2-1 by beating GB Constrictor and a BR Improvise deck, but lost in round 3 to Temur Aetherworks.

(Record: 36-27-3)

My Observations

It seems like Temur Energy is still going to be a good deck after the Aetherworks banning goes into effect, so don’t toss all your cards just yet. The deck will be a lot more fair now, but still has a relatively high power level thanks to cards like Glory Bringer and Bristling Hydra. I expect more GR Energy decks to be popping up as well in the next few weeks as well that are similar to the Temur version. GB Constrictor decks also seem well positioned here, and while Mardu Ballista should still be a good deck, I think most people will be playing GB instead. Zombies should see a resurgence as well but it might take a few weeks for the strategy to gain a large foothold in the metagame like it had before.

So what does this all mean for me? Well, I was hoping that my record would have been closer to 43-20 than 36-27, but I’m still hopeful that I can turn my luck around in the lead up to the Hour of Devastation release. With 66 matches completed, I’m going to shoot for 100 with BW Aristocrats before making my final decision to switch or not. I should be able to hit that just before the pre-release I think, and a PPTQ next weekend will be help me to give my newest build a test run.

Secret Stash
60 cards, 15 sideboard
6 Plains
5 Swamp
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Evolving Wilds
3 Shambling Vent
2 Westvale Abbey


24 lands

4 Thraben Inspector
4 Zulaport Cutthroat
4 Doomed Dissenter
2 Yahenni, Undying Partisan
2 Bontu the Glorified


16 creatures

4 Fatal Push
4 Hidden Stockpile
4 Start // Finish
2 Grasp of Darkness
2 Anointed Procession
2 Dusk // Dawn
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar


20 other spells

2 Gideon’s Intervention
2 Never // Return
2 Declaration in Stone
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Anguished Unmaking
2 Transgress the Mind
1 Fumigate
2 Voldaren Pariah


Sideboard

The biggest difference between this version and the last version is the lack of Sram’s Expertise. My love affair with the card is finally over as I branch out and look for higher impact cards to fill its spot. I’ve finally reached the point where I’m ready to try out Anointed Procession. Sure Sram’s Expertise is a good way to play lots of cards at once, but my deck has been having some problems with long term games and refilling the battlefield after a board wipe. Anointed Procession aims to fix that, as even a solitary Hidden Stockpile can quickly create an army, and even Thraben Inspector gives you double clues which is awesome for both card advantage and to help your Revolt effects.

 

Dusk::Dawn

The card that I think will have the biggest impact in this new build is Dusk/Dawn. As I stated up above, I believe that GB Constrictor, GR energy, and Zombies are going to show up a lot in the new metagame which means there will be tons of creatures with 3 power or more on the battlefield. Dusk to Dawn is perfectly safe for my deck since I don’t have any cards that can be affected by it, but it can be back breaking against a number of decks in the format.

The card also does a great job of returning my threats like Zulaport Cutthroat to my hand so I can play them again late game and keep the pressure on my opponents. Coupled with Anointed Procession, this build is in it for the long game and also prepared to go super wide very quickly to either overwhelm an opponent or to give you more than enough fodder to drain an opponent’s life from them.

Without Sram’s Expertise holding me down with the 3 mana synergy, I decided to switch up some of the sideboard cards. Instead of Ruinous Path I’m now playing Never/Return which should be good against zombies as well as delirium based decks. Voldaren Pariah makes its way back into the deck after a long absence (it was in my first build of the deck when AKH was first released) in hopes that it will shore up my weakness to flyers as well as come in against midrange decks that play many value cards like Bristling Hydra or Glorybringer. 

 

Gideon's Intervention

My last choice in the sideboard is probably questionable to say the least. With Aetherworks Marvel and Ulamog out of the picture for the moment, it seems like I don’t need cards like Disposses or Lost Legacy for the time being. That being said, I still want a way to deal with control or other quirky decks that I can’t really interact with. Gideon’s Intervention stops cards like Approach of the Second Sun, while also protecting my creatures from wrath effects like Chandra Flamecaller’s. I could even play it against Walking Ballista if I wanted to to make it worthless and to protect all of my tokens from it. Even if the card is already in play, I can play this and stop all future damage from it. I think it’s worth a shot and will be trying it out for the next few weeks. Lay Bare the Heart might be another card worth trying, but for now I’m going to use Gideon’s Intervention.

 

Bonus Deck Idea!

 

With Aetherworks out of the picture, it’s safe to say that if you want to play any big creatures now, you’ll need to do it the old fashion way: with ramp!

 

Luxarious Eldrazi
60 cards, 15 sideboard
8 Forest
5 Island
4 Lumbering Falls
4 Evolving Wilds
4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods


25 lands

4 Sylvan Advocate
4 Channeler Initiate
4 World Breaker
3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 Shefet Monitor


17 creatures

4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
4 Censor
4 Spring // Mind
2 Nissa, Steward of Elements
2 Bounty of the Luxa
2 Crush of Tentacles


18 other spells

3 Thing in the Ice
2 Baral’s Expertise
2 Ulvenwald Hydra
2 Essence Scatter
2 Manglehorn
2 Negate
2 Void Shatter


Sideboard

 

I’m not sure if it will be able to compete in any PPTQs, but it’s definitely worthy of some FNMs. Of course it tops out at Ulamog and World Breaker like the old ramp decks did back during Battle for Zendikar block standard, but how it gets there is vastly different. With Nissa’s Pilgrimage and Explosive Vegetation gone, we have to get a little creative.

 

Spring:Mind

Spring to Mind is one of those cards. It ramps us from 3 mana to 5 the next turn, but also gives us some sweet card draw at instant speed later in the game.

 

Shefet Monitor

Shefet Monitor isn’t really as Explosive as its previous counterpart in this deck, but being able to draw a card and ramp on your opponents turn, or to use it as a beater late in the game when you don’t need the mana is also useful.

 

Bounty of the Luxa

I find Bounty of the Luxa to be an intriguing card. You could say that this takes over the Hedron Archive spot from past builds, but it’s so much better. Besides ramping you up from 4 mana to 7 (possibly 8) on the next turn, it ends up giving you a lot more card advantage in the long run. The ramp isn’t as consistent as having an Archive of course, but if you get two in play, you could easily hit 10 mana on turn 6 and hard cast your Ulamog.

Nissa, Steward of Elements also seems like a good fit in here since she’s great card advantage but also a good finisher and can also semi-ramp you. Playing her late game and then putting one of your Eldrazi into play for free is pretty cool too. If you don’t have any Nissa, Kiora might be a good stand in until you can get some to take over her spot.

 

Crush of Tentacles

The biggest problem ramp decks has is dealing with beatdown or aggro decks, and having Vehicles or Planeswalkers like Gideon to deal with doesn’t make it any easier. Even with Sylvan Advocate as an early blocker and Censor to counter early threats, you’re going to find unwinnable moments from time to time. Crush of Tentacles is here to snatch victory from defeat, and it can be played as soon as turn 4 if you have a Channeler Initiate in play and ramped with Spring/Mind or used a Shefet Monitor cycle the turn before. If you want the Surge bonus, cast a Traverse the Ulvenwald before to get the 8/8 octopus.

Focus on ramping into your Eldrazi as soon as possible, and you should be able to win. But if not, you can turn the deck into a pseudo-control deck and double down with Thing in the Ice and counterspells to stop an onslaught of aggressive creatures.

 

Tomorrow, Tomorrow . . . It’s only a day away

 

I haven’t really been enjoying standard too much recently due to decks like Aetherworks (even though I’ve had good results against it), but hopefully this is the turning point. I feel like dealing with a beatdown or aggro type metagame is going to be a lot easier to deal with than a clock against Aetherworks finding an Ulamog. I feel good about the changes to my aristocrat build, and I just might take the Eldrai ramp deck for a spin as well to see how it does. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll bear with me while the Japanese MTG scene in Nagoya is in the doldrums. I have another post I can make before Hour of Devasation spoilers hit, so be on the look out for something next week at the earliest.

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