The Japan Metagame Diaries: Sayonara Nagoya

It didn’t really start to kick in until about 10 days ago when I was taking the 30 minute train ride to my last class for work. The thought of never again working in the Tokai area of Japan, home to Aichi, Gifu, and Mie prefectures, was still somewhat surreal to me. I have been living in Nagoya since around September, 2011, and it’s become the longest time I’ve ever lived in one place (outside of my hometown of course). I worked and lived in Shizuoka for 3 years initially back from 2005-2008, but then went back to the USA for 2 years before returning once more in 2010 for a short stint in Tokyo then moving back to Hamamatsu for a 4th year. While it will always be my first home in Japan and where I met my wife, it will never make me as happy as Nagoya has.

Nagoya gets a bad rap sometimes out of all the other big cities in Japan. It doesn’t have the scale that Yokohama and Tokyo has, the history of Kyoto, and the food pales in comparison to Osaka, but what it does have over all of those places is livability. The city area of Nagoya has about 2.3 million people, and after WW2 the mostly destroyed city was rebuilt with this in mind. Large streets, planned blocks of the downtown area . . . it’s incredibly easy to go shopping in Sakae and you can walk around the entirety of the downtown area in one day. It has just enough things to do, places to see, and people to meet to feel big but not overwhelming like Osaka or Tokyo. It’s a great place to live and while I’m sure I’ll enjoy living in Yokohama, no place will ever be as comfortable as Nagoya was for me.

Magic In Nagoya

I started playing Magic the Gathering here the first two weeks after I arrived. There was a shop right down the street from my apartment named Card Brunch, and while it wasn’t one of the more popular MTG places in town, I met lots of good people there and made some friends almost immediately. It didn’t take long for me to start branching out and heading off to other Magic stores in town, namely in the Osu Kannon area (just a 5 minute bike ride up the street from my apartment). There my group of Magic friends continued to grow. Sure I had my usual group of foreigner friends, some students going to college in Nagoya but we also had a decent group of Japanese friends as well.

I would grow as a Magic player thanks to their advice and suggestions, and as 2011 turned to 2012, I found myself exploring more and more of Nagoya and the MTG community. I started getting involved more in competitive Magic for the first time, getting my ass handed to me for the first few months at Big Magic where some of the best players in Nagoya play, but all that helped to season me for what would come in the future. Thanks to my continued play at Card Brunch, I would meet a few more foreign friends there whom lived in the southern part of town, and by summer time we had found out that there was another group of foreigners that had started a Facebook group for players living in Nagoya. Suddenly our rag tag playgroup from Card Brunch more than doubled in size as we met people from east Aichi, Gifu, and Mie. What started as about 15-20 people in 2012 has now grown to more than 70. Thanks to an incredibly active group of players (and my blog, which has brought in its fair share of new members to the Nagoya group), we have a great community of Magic players now from all walks of life and and players of all formats.

Nobody has been as active in the Japanese Magic community as me however, and that’s largely because I have lived near the downtown area for so long. It’s hard to walk through the Osu or Nagoya shop areas without seeing somebody I know and greeting them. Most of the long time staff at Big Magic, Amenity Dream, and Hobby Station know my name well, and I know the competitive, casual, standard, modern, and EDH Magic groups too. I started to play a lot during Return to Ravnica and Theros block, and my knowledge of the metagame in the area as well as my skill level reached the point where I was able to spike a PTQ early in 2014 and beat Tomoharu Saito for an invitation to Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. This would prove to be my defining moment in Nagoya as a Magic player.

After the pro tour, I continued to do well at Game Days, pre-releases, and at the start of the PPTQ system, but I never quite got back to that high level of play. I’ve been working on my consistency a lot since then, but going from working part time and having tons of free time to play to working full time and only playing on the weekends set me back in terms of skill level. I still work with a lot of brews as well, which are fun to play but not always successful, but I’ve gotten much better at the competitive level in Japan which has shown that my experience has not gone to waste.

It’s So hard to say goodbye to Yesterday

I attended my last tournament in Nagoya last weekend. It was a small 24 person affair at Big Magic, and the format was standard. Over the last few weeks I’ve been telling players I know that I’m leaving, and while it was hard at first, by the time this last tournament fired I felt I was ready to accept the move. I’ll miss the familiar faces every weekend for sure, as well as the laughter of some of the crazy guys who like to bring brews as much as I do and do crazy things. I’m sure I’ll see them at future events, so this it wasn’t so much good-bye as it was see you later.

Since my last article on October 10th, I’ve been jumping back and forth between my GW Cats deck and the GW Rites deck I brewed up last time. I took GW Rites for a spin at an 11 person FNM and went 1-2, with my only win coming from a bye and the two losses were WB tokens and GB Constrictor. I didn’t really like Anointed Priest in my build and would switch it out for Sunscourge Champion afterwards, and my sideboard was also pretty weak at this tournament.

I made some changes and went 2-1 at a small tournament in the evening, beating Grixis Control and GR/w dinosaurs but losing to Ramunap red. My token based threats were hard for Grixis to deal with without a board wipe like Fumigate, and against GR Dinos I was able to ultimate Ajani to swing for 84 damage one game while a quick Growing Rites of Itlimoc helped power out an Oketra the next turn and keep my battlefield full of tokens until I could go wide and win. Mana flood hurt me more than anything else in my loss.

I gave the deck one more chance at a 16 person FNM on October 20th, but went 0-3 with a loss to Temur energy, UW Approach Control, and Ramunap Red. Deck was lacking consistency but counterspells against the blue decks were the real killer. They stopped my win cons dead in their tracks, so I’d have to rethink how to win in those match ups.

By that following Sunday at a 24 person PPTQ, I was back on GW Cats. I lost to Temur energy round 1, but bounced back with a win against Ramunap red and 4C Energy. Regal Caracals absolutely destroyed my opponents in both of those games. At 2-1 I could win out and make the finals, but mana screw against Temur energy in games 1 and 3 of round 4 ruined those dreams, and then facing UB control and Scarab god in round 5 ended my day and chance of prizes. Getting them to 3-4 life then losing to my own Caracal was rough . . .

The top 8 of this PPTQ was:

  • Temur Energy
  • Temur Energy
  • Temur Energy
  • Temur Energy
  • Temur Energy
  • Ramunap Red
  • BW Tokens
  • UB control

That following week, GW cats got a lot of love on the major websites like Channel Fireball, so I got some really good feedback and managed to update my cats list.

Neko Punch
60 cards, 15 sideboard
4 Sunpetal Grove
6 Plains
4 Forest
4 Scattered Groves
2 Hashep Oasis
2 Shefet Dunes
2 Scavenger Grounds
1 Hostile Desert


25 lands

4 Sacred Cat
2 Walking Ballista
4 Metallic Mimic
4 Adorned Pouncer
4 Pride Sovereign
4 Regal Caracal
3 Prowling Serpopard


25 creatures

2 Ixalan’s Binding
2 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Settle the Wreckage
2 Heroic Intervention
2 Shapers’ Sanctuary


10 other spells

2 Sorcerous Spyglass
2 Cast Out
2 Gideon of the Trials
2 Ajani Unyielding
2 Fumigate
2 Skywhaler’s Shot
2 Vanquisher’s Banner
1 Lifecrafter’s Bestiary


Sideboard

The addition of Shapers’ Sanctuary to the main was just the kind of card advantage this deck needed against control and midrange. It kept me on the attack more often the not while my opponent had to consider when to use their removal instead of using it whenever they wanted to. Moving Heroic Intervention also helped tremendously as it not only saved my Regal Caracals from death, but also gave me a great combat trick from time to time on offense or defense. Ixlan’s Binding in the main has also ended up being much more effective than Cast Out ever was. Being able to stop a Glorybringer, Scarab God, or Hazoret from being deployed again and again was huge.

The new list started off rather well. I went 3-0 at a 14 person FNM by beating Temur Miracle Grow, Ramunap Red, and Esper Cycling. I was feeling good about the list so I played it at a 29 person WPN qualifier for “The Finals” as well, but couldn’t get the same type of results. I beat Mardu Vehicles round 1, but lost to BR aggro deck that switched over to control with Hazoret and Yahenni and removal. Bontu’s Last Reckoning was painful. I managed to beat GB Constrictor in round 3, but mana flooded against Temur energy round 4 to drop to 2-2. In my final match of the day, I played against an unexpected Grixis Saheeli deck that would double up their Glorybringers and Earthshaker Khenra’s which made it incredibly hard to stay ahead. I ended up folding when I couldn’t draw my removal. My draws were overall bad during that event, with either flooding or mana screw leading to my losses. A lack of a strong sideboard plan also hurt.

The Top 8 of this event was:

  • UB Control
  • UB control
  • UB control
  • UB Control
  • Grixis Control
  • Ramunap Red
  • Temur Energy
  • Temur Energy

There was a lot of pushback against Temur Energy this weekend and control was out in full force.

I ended up taking cats out a few more times before this last weekend. I went 3-0 at a small Monday tournament, beating Jund Energy, Abzan Tokens, and Mardu Vehicles (thanks largely in part to Sorcerous Spyglass which has been a great SB card), and at an 18 person Wednesday night Standard Showdown I finished 2-1 by beating GB Energy and Temur energy before losing to a 4C Energy deck (damn Scarab God). Still not a bad result.

I had some bad variance at FNM last week, losing to Ramunap Red and Temur energy but managing to get a win against RW Sunbird’s Invocation to go 1-2. I also had a middling 2-2 result for a 14 person Saturday tournament where I lost to 4C Energy (again) and an UG Explore Energy deck, but beat a Grixis beatdown and Jund Graveyard based deck.

I don’t feel bad about the GW cat deck’s 13-8 results over a few weeks of games, but until a card gets printed to handle Temur energy a little bit better, I don’t think I’ll be playing it that much. It’s great against Ramunap Red, Mardu Vehicles, and even alright against GB Constrictor, but there is simply too much value in the form of removal, card advantage, and card power in Temur energy for a fair deck like GW cats to consistently beat it. In a more balanced metagame, it could be tier 2 though, but right now I expect it to stay on the fringes. Speaking of Fringe . . .

Dead to Rites
60 cards, 15 sideboard
4 Sunpetal Grove
6 Plains
4 Forest
4 Scattered Groves
4 Shefet Dunes
2 Scavenger Grounds


24 lands

4 Deathgorge Scavenger
4 Walking Ballista
3 Verdurous Gearhulk
2 Rhonas the Indomitable
2 Oketra the True


15 creatures

4 Legion’s Landing
4 Servo Exhibition
4 Sram’s Expertise
3 Growing Rites of Itlimoc
2 Settle the Wreckage
2 Ixalan’s Binding
2 Ajani Unyielding


21 other spells

1 Approach of the Second Sun
2 Sorcerous Spyglass
2 Cast Out
2 Sunscourge Champion
2 Nissa, Vital Force
2 Fumigate
2 Appetite for the Unnatural
2 Gideon’s Intervention


Sideboard

 

I finally got around to revising my Dead to Rites deck, after working on the consistency issues. It had initially wanted to be a tokens deck, but I felt it didn’t really go as wide or as big as Abzan tokens could go, so instead I decided to focus more on the big mana win condition. I wanted to focus more on Walking Ballista and Oketra, but this time I added in Verdurous Gearhulk to not only help make those tokens of your bigger, but also to buff up Oketra so she could attack with her buddy Rhonas. Being able to attack with Oketra with Rhonas in play is brutal, since blocks will do almost nothing against a trampling double -striker and removal other than exiling effects do nothing.

The deck can still make tons of tokens, but I don’t waste my time with Anointed Procession because unlike WB token decks with Hidden Stockpile, there isn’t a way to consistently make tokens. This deck also has a built in feature to stop God Pharaoh’s Gift and Scarab decks: Deathgorge Scavenger. I liked Sunscourge Champion in the main before, but it wasn’t really doing much for me other than gaining me that 2 life to start. Scavenger preys on graveyard decks, and keeps yours relatively clean in case they’d want to steal a Gearhulk or Ballista. I think this build strikes a good balance between midrange and  tokens and can take advantage of either direction.

I took it out for a spin at my final tournament in Nagoya last Sunday, and finished 2-3, but not without trying hard to get that winning record. I lost an incredibly close round 1 against Esper tokens which went to time after a 47 minute game 1, and I had the advantage against Temur energy but couldn’t draw removal for his Aethersphere Harvester in game 3. I then had to face an Abzan Cycling synergy deck using the Sarcophagus which I lost to cause I didn’t draw removal for his -1/-1 counter making demon and couldn’t destroy his win con. However, I finished strong against Mardu Vehicles and  Esper Gift thanks to quick Itlimoc plays that gained me tons of mana very quickly and helped me to flood the board with tokens.

The build didn’t feel as helpless as the first one did, but it will need more testing. Untap testing has been promising as I haven’t lost a match yet but I haven’t been playing many tier 1 decks yet. I have high hopes for it though!

 

The Long and Winding Road

 

I’ve made day 2 of the last 3 standard constructed events I’ve played in, and this last year I saw myself come within striking distance of a money finish at Japan Nationals where I finished in 78th out of more than 600 people. Moving to Yokohama should raise the bar for me once again, as I’ll be able to compete in many more WPN qualifiers and take part in large tournaments at places like Hareruya. Using the Untap software I talked about in my previous Frontier article will also help me to keep my skills fresh.

I will rebuild the community in Yokohama that I’ve grown to love in Nagoya. Thanks to my Cardboard Samurai Facebook group, I’ve been able to make contact with people all over Japan and I won’t be starting from scratch after my move. I can’t wait to become part of their community and help it to grow even more. This is another turning point in my life, and I will use it to the best of my advantage. The Nagoya Cardboard Samurai might be dead, but the Yokohama Cardboard Samurai is just getting started.

Thanks for reading, and if you’re ever in the Tokyo/Yokohama area look me up!

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