The Japan Metagame Diaries: The Cat is Out of the Bag
It’s no secret that Hour of Devastation standard is shaping up to be one of the best seasons to play the format in recent memory. Cards like Hour of Devasation, Abrade, and Supreme Will have given rise to a handful of powerful control decks, but have also let previously unplayable decks gain a foothold against past meta behemoths like Mardu Vehicles and BG Energy. The Star City Games Open more than a week ago showcased an incredibly diverse Top 8, and crazy brews have been showing up on MTGO, along with some old favorites like mono red aggro and ramp. So what will we most likely see at Pro Tour Kyoto this weekend? Well before we jump into that, I’d like to share what I’ll probably be playing for most of the remaining time before rotation in September.
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Fortified Village
3 Canopy Vista
2 Scattered Groves
2 Westvale Abbey
|4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 Declaration in Stone
3 Oketra’s Monument
3 Prepare // Fight
2 Cast Out
17 other spells
I originally wanted to build this deck for my wife so that she would want to play some games of MTG with me from time to time, but after testing it out and putting it together, I realized that I could enjoy it too. I started off with Craig Wescoe’s list on TCG player, but after a few games I realized I wanted to make some changes to it to fit my playing style. The first was to lose Attune with Aether and Longtusk Cub from KLD. In initial testing I thought that most of the time the cub was just a 2/2 vanilla creature, and didn’t really provide the pressure I wanted it to. I very rarely was able to use energy to pump it up or to hit my opponent to get more energy.
Instead, I ended up going with a Traverse the Ulvenwald/delirium theme to allow me to search for power cats later in the game when I wanted to (usually Regal Caracal). Playing Traverse requires that you have the ability to activate delirium, which is why I further changed Wescoe’s list by dropping Stasis Snare for Cast Out (cycle it to add to delirium) and added in Oketra’s Monument. Not only does the monument help with delirium thanks to its legendary status, but it’s also a good card to have against control.
I was a little wary of Prepare/Fight when I started to use this deck, but with Traverse the Ulvenwald it actually becomes quite necessary. It has both instant and sorcery on it, which means that all you need is a dead Metallic Mimic in the graveyard to turn on delirium for Traverse. The deck tends to be aggressive and has plenty of life gain already, but Prepare has proven to be a great combat trick in this deck. Fight isn’t needed all the time, but being able to clear out a blocker with a full board on your side is pretty useful and can put your opponent in a bad position.
The results from my first weekend haven’t been great (2-2 at an 18 person event and 2-2 at another 11 person one), but they ARE promising and show potential. I was able to beat a GR Energy and Abzan landfall deck at the first event, but lost to UR and Grixis control. In the second event I lost to UW Flash and Grixis control, but beat BW Tokens and another Grixis control deck. GW Cats seem to be strong against aggro and beatdown decks, but struggles against removal heavy decks like control. I’ve only just started planning my SB to anticipate a larger control presence in the metagame, but I think the changes I’ve made to it after this weekend are good.
While Prowling Serpopard are good against counterspell heavy decks like UR, it isn’t as good against Grixis, which relies on sweepers like Hour of Devastation to wipe your board. That’s why I’ve decided to use Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, and Gideon’s Intervention.
Gideon’s Intervention is an incredibly underrated sideboard card. I had played it in the past to handle combo decks, but it has also proven to be great against control decks. Name their finisher, be it Torrential Gearhulk or Chandra, Flamecaller, and watch your opponent scramble to draw anything relevant the first of the game. Nicol Bolas is a pain in the ass in Grixis, but not unbeatable. If you come up against Eldrazi like Ulamog, this is another reason to play this card. It gives you an out if you can’t draw your exile spells and really screws up those all in decks. Aside from Gideon’s Intervention, I think the triple threat of Oketra’s Monument, Gideon, and Nissa will be more than enough to get an advantage against your control opponents.
|GR Eldrazi Ramp
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
|4 Sheltered Thicket
4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
4 Hashep Oasis
4 Ramunap Ruins
1 Sanctum of Ugin
1 Scavenger Grounds
1 Evolving Wilds
4 Walking Ballista
|4 Hour of Promise
4 Beneath the Sands
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
2 Chandra, Flamecaller
3 Sweltering Suns
2 Hour of Devastation
1 Kozilek’s Return
23 other spells
2 World Breaker
3 Tireless Tracker
3 Magma Spray
3 Reality Smasher
2 Chandra’s Defeat
This deck is a trip down memory lane for me. I gotta give thanks to my fellow Cardboard Samurai Kalim for directing me toward the initial list from which I then tweaked a little bit. Back during Battle for Zendikar block standard, I was a huge fan of GR Eldrazi ramp. Then Aetherworks Marvel came along and totally ruined the whole point of ramp. Why try to get to 10 mana quickly if you can get to 4 and accomplish the same thing much faster and with greater consistency? Well, the banning cleared the way for the archetype to make a comeback, but whether or not it will be able to clear the Tier 2 or Tier 3 range is yet to be seen.
Thankfully the metagame seems to be slower in HOU, and this helps out ramp considerably. It allows you to play a few board wipes like Sweltering Suns and the expansion named Hour of Devastation to keep most beatdown and aggro decks under control, but one of the most important cards in this deck is Abrade.
Aside from giving you an early answer to fast decks, it also gives you a main deck answer to Heart of Kiran which is huge. Without this card, I don’t think this deck could exist. It would simply fold to Mardu Vehicles early on and have lots of problem against monument decks as well. Walking Ballista also supplies you with some incidental removal, and a huge finisher later on in the game as well.
Gone are the days of a turn 1 mana creature into a turn 2 ramp spell that lets you cast a turn 3 ramp spell like Explosive Vegetation for 8 mana on turn 4, but Hour of Promise is unique among ramp spells in that it provides you some defense while grabbing you mana for a big spell the following turn. In this deck, you’ll most likely be ramping into this on turn 4 after casting Beneath the Sands turn 3, which will then give you 8 mana on turn 5, but with 2 zombie tokens if you’re lucky with your mana. Both Hashep Oasis and Ramunap Ruins are important to this deck due to their special land typing that make Hour of Promise not a liability. It also lets the deck turn into an Eldrazi beatdown deck rather quickly (as you can see from the Reality Smashers in the sideboard and main deck Thought Knot Seers).
While this ramp deck has the traditional finishers of Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger and Chandra, Flamecaller, I thought I’d try out this newcomer instead of playing a bigger hitter like World Breaker in the main. He can be played faster than the 5/7 eldrazi, which is a plus, but his ability to ramp you from 6 mana to 10 mana turn 5 if he’s unblocked (or 9 if he is) is a game changer. I should note that you can also search up 2 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods with Hour of Promise to give you 10 mana on turn 5, but if you’re facing an aggressive deck and need the bodies on top of the mana sometimes getting the deserts are better for the zombie trigger. Whatever the case, Neheb is like Hour of Promise 5 and 6. He adds a little bit more consistency to the deck while also surviving cards such as Hour of Devastation. FYI, both of the Deserts combo very nicely with him. Extra damage = tons of mana!
In the sideboard, I think World Breaker is a great card against control to deal with Gearhulks and other problematic enchantments/artifacts, while Struggle/Survive and Magma Spray are great against dredge/emerge decks and/or zombies. Heaven/Earth is a special nod to UW Flash/monument decks, while Chandra’s Defeat is for RUG energy and mono red aggro (which I believe to show up in the near future). I think it’s a great way to deal with Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer as well.
What I Expect from Pro Tour Kyoto
In all likeliness, we probably won’t see any cats or Eldrazi at the top tables of the event, but I’m sure some pros will play them just for fun (I’m looking at you Craig Wescoe). My picks for break out decks are going to be UR and Grixis Control, UW Flash, and Mono red aggro.
Control decks finally have all of the tools they need to lock down a variety of decks, which could open up the metagame for ramp decks in a few weeks, but not for this weekend. UW Flash/Monument has a lot of tools for dealing with various decks as well, but is also able to put pressure on opponents be going over their heads. With the overall speed of the meta slowing down, I think mono red will do well day 1 but falter in day 2 due to better prepared players. Thanks to cards like Earthshaker Khenra and Glorybringer, red has a lot of tools to keep pressure on opponents at all points of the game.
I believe that UB/Grixis Emerge decks should prove to be a pain for a lot of people as well during the Pro Tour, but like red I think better prepared players will down a lot of the pilots of this deck in day 2. Whatever happens this weekend at Kyoto though, it’s bound to be exciting. I’m planning on showing up for a few hours to live tweet the early rounds of standard on Saturday, so be sure to follow me on Twitter @yoschwenky if you’re interested! Until then, be sure to check back for my picks on cards to invest in for HOU standard over the next few days!