The Japan Metagame Diaries: Dead to Rites
It’s been almost a month since I last wrote about the standard format. It was before the rotation, and I had just finished the Japan Nationals tournament. I went 8-4, with a 4-2 finish in draft, and a 4-2 finish in standard. What was surprising was that I did remarkably well in that portion of the 2 day tournament with GW Cats. I had really grown to love the deck over Hour of Devastation standard season, and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to continue using it after rotation.
The deck lost lots of powerful cards, namely Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, and Westvale Abbey. When you’re playing aggro, you want to hit as hard as possible and from various directions so your opponents can’t protect themselves from the barrage. Without those cards above, it’s gotten much more difficult to finish games. Rotation has left me scrambling to fill the void left by those cards, and after some trial and error, I think I finally have a good list. I’m just worried it might be good for the current metagame. Take a look for yourself.
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
|4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Scattered Groves
2 Hashep Oasis
2 Shefet Dunes
2 Scavenger Grounds
1 Hostile Desert
|3 Cast Out
2 Gideon of the Trials
2 Settle the Wreckage
7 other spells
Before this build, I struggled against UW control, Temur energy, and any big midrange deck. I went 0-3 at my first event Ixalan was legal before I realized that I needed to change it up. My first change was to add Gideon of the Trials to the main. The main reason for this was to have a main deck out against Approach of the Second Sun. All you need to do is a create a Gideon emblem and you can’t lose. Then it becomes the burden of the UW control player to draw a Cast Out to get rid of him or they die to your cats.
Another change I made to the deck was to add Settle the Wreckage. Without Declaration in Stone or Stasis Snare, this deck was in dire need of some removal. Settle the Wreckage is amazing against aggressive decks like Ramunap Red, and does a pretty good job against Temur energy as well. Unless your opponent wants to lose their Bristling Hydra or Glorybringer, you can build up your army of cats until you’re ready to overwhelm you opponent. Another change I made was to use Longtusk Cub. I had tried out Prowling Serpopard, but this strategy really wants to be as aggressive as possible, and overload on creatures.
After those first few changes, I managed to go 4-0 at a small event. I beat Grixis Pirates, RB Ramunap, and UW Control (after a first round bye). Gideon of the Trials did a great job of slowing down both aggro decks, and also helped me beat UW control thanks to emblem. Regal Caracal was also integral in both wins, as the bodies it made and life gain I got from attacking with cats kept me more than alive against aggro. I continued my streak to last week’s FNM and went 2-1 there, beating UG Energy ‘Infect’ and Temur Energy before losing to bad draws and slow hands against RB Ramunap Red.
I had one more chance to test it out last Saturday, and went 1-1-1 at another small event. I struggled against BR Ramunap again when I drew only removal and none of my creatures early enough to block and trade with my opponent’s creatures, then I tied an Abzan tokens deck round 2 when I couldn’t push through his superior numbers. In the final round of this tournament, I beat Grixis pirates again, easily curving out and punishing my opponent with early Longtusk Cubs and Pride Sovereigns. After the problem with tokens and the BR Ramunap decks, I added in Aethersphere Harvester to go over their head and to gain me life.
While the old build was 0-3, this new build showed a lot of promise and was 7-3-1 going into its first big tournament: a qualifier for the end of the year “The Finals” tournament taking place in Tokyo. There were 31 players and the metagame was chock full of decks from the World Championships that were taking place at the same time. Temur Energy was popular, as well Ramunap red decks, but I didn’t expect there to be so many UB control decks as well. Still, I thought I had a chance.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My greatest assets turned out to be my undoing. I tied a Temur energy deck round 1, somehow staying alive against triple Glorybringers, but I was brought down low by UB Control and The Scarab God. I came so close to killing my opponent each game in round 2, but he would stabilize with the god, steal my cats, and then end up destroying me with them. My Scavenger Grounds and 5 other deserts weren’t enough to take away his advantage and I died with him at less than 5 life. In round 3, I met the viciousness of Rampaging Ferocidon against Ramunap red, and I ended up dying to it when I couldn’t draw any removal.
I managed to pull out a win in round 4 against Temur energy, but in my final match against UB control I again had my opponent close to death but couldn’t finish them off before they they stole cards like Regal Caracal from my graveyard and put the hurt on me while gaining their life back.
The Top 8 of the tournament ended up being:
- Ramunap Red x2
- BW Tokens
- BUG Energy
- RUG Energy x2
- UB Control
- UW Control
(The winner of it all was BUG Energy for anybody interested.)
I realized 2 things after this disappointing 1-3-1 finish:
- I need more removal. Previously I played Walking Ballista but dropped it in favor of cards like Prepare//Fight and an Okerta/Rhonas split. BIG MISTAKE. Without it, I’ve been unable to finish opponents on stalled boards like against control, and I’ve also realized how vulnerable I am against ramunap decks without it in there to take out Earthshaker Khenras or taking out a Ferocidon.
- The Scarab God is crazy good against my deck. With 24 total creatures in the Sunday build of my deck, UB control has their pick of the choicest, most delicious morsels from my graveyard.
So yeah, I definitely added Walking Ballista to the deck afterwards, and my deck became what you currently see above. I haven’t tested it out against those match ups I struggled against yet, but I think I’m on the right path. The addition should add a few win percentage points against UB control and Ramunap red, but I wonder if it’s the correct deck to play in this metagame. Control is definitely a thing now, especially UB, and I don’t want to leave myself vulnerable to it. So it got me thinking, how can I still gain enough life to stay alive against aggro decks, keep my removal against bigger midrange decks, and be less vulnerable to The Scarab God?
The Rite Stuff
The idea all started from seeing WB Token decks appear online last week after the SCG Open in Dallas. While it wasn’t at the main, 586 person event, a WB token deck did end up making 9th place at the SCG Classic out of 78 people. Lee Livingston’s WB Token deck does a good job of going wide and overwhelming opponents, but it can stumble which became apparent to me after seeing it lose in the top 8 of the FINALS tournament last weekend when a very capable Japanese local fell short with it. While the removal package and the ability of Hidden Stockpile to keep you in the tokens while scrying to your win conditions is good, the deck lacks a way to finish quickly. When you’re on a clock, you don’t want to go to time, and I’ve seen that happening more and more often.
This last weekend Abzan tokens made its appearance online, and Ari Lax even made a video about it on SCG’s website, but after thinking about it long and hard, why even play black at all if you’re just trying to go as wide as possible to finish your opponents? Sure you lose cards like Vraska, Relic Seeker, but most of the deck is incredibly slow. Hidden Stockpile, Anointed Procession, Renegade Map, and Legion’s Landing need a lot of set up and in the mean time you straight out lose to decks like Ramunap Red and give control a lot of time to counter your key cards. No, that’s now how I would go about building a tokens deck at all. I would go big, VERY BIG.
|Dead to Rites|
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Shefet Dunes
4 Scattered Groves
4 Sunpetal Grove
2 Scavenger Grounds
|4 Rhonas’s Last Stand
4 Servo Exhibition
3 Sram’s Expertise
3 Anointed Procession
3 Legion’s Landing
2 Growing Rites of Itlimoc
2 Settle the Wreckage
2 Gideon, Martial Paragon
1 Dusk // Dawn
22 other spells
I initially started on Abzan tokens as well, but when I looked at how big of an impact the black cards had on the board state and how much they contributed to your win condition, I was really disappointed. I wasn’t going to worry about playing the perfect mana base to be able to play my Vraska’s Contempt or Vraska, Relic Seeker when I needed to. No, I wanted to go wide, but I also wanted to go big. Both of the other decks showed us that going wide is not a problem. Play Anointed Procession and some token makers and you can grind out your opponents over time. But how can we go bigger? Well, the loss of both Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar made that rather hard to do. There are no real anthem decks in standard. In fact, if you want to go big, you have to look at the supplemental Planeswalker decks that Wizards released during Amonkhet.
Not only is Gideon, Martial Paragon playable in standard, but he’s also a great, reusable anthem effect. His +2 Ability gives all of your creatures +1/+1, and also starts him off with an impressive 7 loyalty. He can not only survive Hour of Devastation, which was the the previous version’s bane, but he can also take a hit from Glorybringer and then tick up another turn to 5 to take yet another hit from the dragon. He’s going to stick around unless your opponent uses a Cast Out or Vraska’s Contempt, and he’ll bring the beats when he needs to as well.
Okay, so we have a Gideon to help us gain some advantage against other token decks and to finish games quickly, but that’s not it. No, we need to go even bigger.
Why the other decks aren’t playing 4 of these is beyond me. Okay, so maybe it’s a little hard for Abzan to do it because of the mana base, but WB definitely should. Being able to sacrifice a Scavenger Ground to it as well to give you even more +1/+1 effects makes it even better.
Both of these effects come into play on turn 5, which means you have to create a rather impressive board between turns 1-4. Well, I would start off with a turn 1 Legion’s Landing to give you one token. Then, I’d play a turn 2 Servo Exhibition to give me 3 creatures total. On turn 3, If I still had my 3 tokens (unless your opponent wastes a Magma Spray or Fatal Push on them, you probably will), I’d attack and flip the enchantment over into Adanto, the First Fort.
You now have 4 mana on turn 3, and can do a number of things. You could cast an Oketra the True, leave mana open for a Settle the Wreckage on your opponents turn, heck, you could even cast a Master Trinketeer to pump up those servos from Servo Exhibition.
Nah, you don’t want to play it safe. You like living dangerously and want to go big as quickly as you can. During your second main phase on turn 3, you’re going to cast Sram’s Expertise with your now 4 mana, and play a Growing Rites of Itlimoc for free along with 3 Servo tokens.
You’ll check 4 cards from the top of your library and probably miss getting a creature, but lets say you do grab something, say a Walking Ballista. At the end of your turn, You could have as many as 6 creatures in play, but realistically let’s say you’ll have the minimum of 4. Growing Rites flips into Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun at the end of your turn. Your opponent takes their 4th turn (if you’re on the draw) and they pass the turn since they don’t yet have enough mana for a Fumigate, and spending mana on a 2 removal spell like Harnessed Lightning doesn’t seem worth it.
It’s now your 4th turn, and you have a total of 5 lands in play, 6 if you count the one you just played on this turn with the ability to roughly make anywhere from 9 to 11 mana thanks to the flipped Cradle. What do we do with all this mana? Casting a Gideon, Martial Paragon would be a piece of cake, as would casting Anointed Procession followed by another Sram’s Expertise into something fun like a Master Trinkteer to pump all of your servos up. Maybe you need some clutch removal? Well, cast an 8 or 10 mana Walking Ballista and take out your opponent’s creatures to clear the board for your army of tokens, or just shoot them in the face if you’re feeling saucy. The bottom line is that by this point, you’re in control of the game and can easily take it over. You don’t need Vraska 2 turns from now, or 20 tokens in 10 turns, no, you want some scary ass tokens to slam their way through your opponent before they realize what’s hit them.
Sounds good, right? But I’m guessing you’re wondering about some of the card choices. Like why is Rhonas’s Last Stand in the deck at all?
You’re not always going to have that god hand combo that lets you make absurd amounts of mana early on. Sometimes all you’ll have is a turn 2 snake with 5 power and 4 toughness. Aside from a Fatal Push, are there many ways for an opponent to kill this before it gets in 5-10 points of damage? Sure you lose your third turn unless you can play a Legion’s Landing with a free plains, but you will be able to put decks like Temur energy and UW control in a bad bad place very quickly, especially if you’re on the play. Until I’m proven otherwise, it’s going to stay in here. Even later in the game with an Anointed Procession in play, I’m perfectly fine getting two 5/4s for 2 mana.
This deck is all about making absurd amounts of mana, thanks to the transforming enchantments, so it’s no mystery why some of the card choices in the sideboard are a bit . . . bulky.
- Ajani Unyielding – probably comes in against control, letting you grab your planeswalkers and enchantments more easily while building up to a scary end game that turns your token army into rampaging beasts.
- Sandwurm Convergence – another good card against control, but also something I might bring in against Temur energy to stop Thopters and Glorybringers from attacking me through the air (which is one of my weak points.)
- Sorcerous Spyglass – This is mainly for match ups playing Walking Ballista, as an early one will straight up wreck us, especially if your opponent is playing BUG or BG energy with Snake and Verdurous Gearhulk.
- Fumigate – Extra removal against ramunap red, energy, and dinosaur decks. Probably good against tokens as well.
- Approach of the Second Sun – your control opponents probably won’t expect it, but also a great card to have against those long drawn out games such as tokens where both of you are gaining tons of life and can’t push through enough damage to kill the other.
- Rhonas the Indomitable – probably something I’d bring in against control to make every token a dangerous threat due to your ability to pump it up, or BUG to block their big guys after being pumped up.
- Gideon of the Trials – I’d bring this in against Approach of the Second sun decks, but also seems like it would be good against Walking Ballista or Rampaging Ferocidon (which will hurt this deck a lot).
- Nissa, Vital Force – another planeswalker for the control match ups. She attacks well, but also brings back your threats like Rhonas, Oketra, and Gideon.
- Ixalan’s Binding – Great for energy match ups to stop cards like Verdurous Gearhulk or Glorybringer from being played, but I’d play it against Ramunap red decks to stop Ferocidon and Chandra as well if they are playing them.
I’ve only been able to test it out against Temur Energy, UW control, and BG Constrictor so far, but early results are promising. I was able to overwhelm my control and Temur opponents rather quickly and give them more than they could handle, but the main deck of BG Constrictor was really hard to handle without having a way to stop Ballista from pinging all of my tokens away.
I think the deck has a lot of potential and I look forward to testing it out a bit more at FNM next week as well as other events in Nagoya. I wholeheartedly recommend it if you’re looking to beat the Scarab God menace and also want a way to stymie mono red from pushing critical damage through. Feel free to tweak the list a little, and if you find a build that can take advantage of the core even more, please share it! Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll be back in a few more days for my next article.