The Japan Metagame Diaries: Fight for your Rites
You gotta fight, for your Growing Rites (of Itlimoc), to paaaarrrrttyyy
Ever since energy decks made a name for themselves in this current standard environment, I’ve made it my mission to build a deck that can compete against them. Due to the type of player I am, I simply won’t play a deck just because it’s the best one in the format. I play archetypes that I like, as well as decks that are fun. I’m not playing Magic to grind out points or to be the best. Now that’s not to say I don’t enjoy winning, it’s just that I want to win in my own way and have fun while doing it. Magic is a game, not a job, and you shouldn’t feel like it’s a chore to play matches. I have a real job, and MTG is an escape and a way to relax. If you find yourself growing to despise the game, you’re doing it wrong. Sure metagames can warp a format for a while, but that’s when you migrate to another one that you enjoy playing. The beauty of MTG is how deep it’s become. If you don’t like standard, play Modern. If you don’t like competitive Magic, play EDH or Pauper. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s there.
That being said, it’s been a long, arduous, uphill battle, but I can say that my Growing Rites of Itlimoc deck has finally made it in standard. I’ve been working on it tirelessly over the last month or two, losing more times than I’d like to admit, but I’ve slowly been reversing that trend. This weekend are the Store Championships (formerly Game Days), and I’m ready to give Ixalan standard a sayonara to remember.
|Dead to Rites
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
|4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Scattered Groves
4 Shefet Dunes
1 Scavenger Grounds
1 Field of Ruin
|4 Legion’s Landing
4 Servo Exhibition
4 Sram’s Expertise
3 Growing Rites of Itlimoc
2 Cast Out
2 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Settle the Wreckage
2 Thopter Arrest
23 other spells
The last time I talked about the deck was way back at the start of November. I had only started to use the deck in testing after my GW Cats deck started to struggle against 4C Energy decks with The Scarab God. Quite a lot has changed with the deck since then. I had originally built the deck to combat Scarab God decks and was playing 4 Deathgorge Scavenger in the main. As most of those energy decks got plenty of value without Scarab god and also had good removal, the Scavenger usually died more often than not without doing anything. Another card I was using was Verdurous Gearhulk, thinking it would be worth it to put counters on my tokens or Ballista, but what ended up happening was that the Gearhulk would get Abraded, or my Ballista would be Fatal Pushed before I could use the counters on it. I eventually came around to trying out the Bellowing Aegisaur/Walking Ballista combo and haven’t looked back since.
When Ixalan standard first started up, people were really excited about this guy, but soon forgot about it as they realized the deck couldn’t keep up with the likes of Ramunap Red and Sultai energy. My tokens deck is able to get around those shortcomings by flooding the board often and early until you can get an Aegisaur into play. Once it does, your opponent will cease attacking for a few turns as they don’t want to make all of your tokens bigger. With a Ballista in play, you’re looking to give your creatures 4 +1/+1 counters a turn. Most of the time just one turn with 4 counters is enough to finish an opponent though. I can’t recommend this enough in a token deck.
Another card that I wasn’t sure of at first but has paid off incredibly is Master Trinketeer. This deck plays 8 different servo spells that can make a total of 20 Servos, and seeing as you’ll have lots of extra mana floating around anyways from a flipped Growing Rites of Itlimoc, it also becomes a great mana sink. Against slower decks, 1 or 2 of these with a few Servos can finish the game quickly. He can’t be Pushed easily, but is still susceptible to Lighting Strikes and Harnessed Lightnings. If your opponent can’t take care of him early though, he can run away with a game by himself.
And with that my creature choices were complete. My next challenge was finding spells to supplant the deck without losing the synergy or getting too greedy. After a few weeks of losing again and again by a the width of a hair, I realized I needed more removal. Ajani was just too slow. I also wanted speed. Settle the Wreckage stayed in there, and Cast Out made a return instead of Ixalan’s Binding, but the most surprising change was adding in Thopter Arrest.
Getting rid of Gods AND Vehicles all in one? I’ll take it. I had totally forgotten about this card, but after just barely losing against mono red and 4C control at the HUGE 230+ person God of Standard event at Hareruya, I made a leap of faith and started to use it in my deck. One of the players at the event had been watching me play and was deeply intrigued with it so we talked about how it works and he suggested Thopter Arrest. I haven’t been let down by it so far! You just have to draw it . . .
The other big change I made was to add Aethersphere Harvester to the main. If I was going to be up against Glorybringers and Thopters alike, I wanted something that could block them and live. The life gain has also proven to be useful in a number of situations. While these revisions changed the look and feel of the deck, the core remained the same. I could still flip a Legion’s Landing on turn 3 if I got a turn 2 Servo Exhibition out, and playing a free Growing Rites of Itlimoc with Sram’s Expertise and then flipping it was still happening with relative ease to allow big plays the following turn with either Rhonas the Indomitable or Oketra the True.
My first few tournaments in Yokohama went roughly as I struggled with previous builds of the Rites list you see above. I went 1-1-1, and 1-2-1 in my first two weekends of tournaments, but started getting some traction around the middle of November. I went 2-1 at a 19 person Hareruya event, and went 2-0-1 at a decent sized FNM in Yokohama, but I found the deck see-sawing back and forth as I continued to struggle with 4C energy and some Approach of the Second Sun control decks. I felt confident enough to take the Growing Rites deck to a PPTQ in town, but after 5 rounds and a lot of energy decks, I ended up 2-2-1 at the 32 person event (It should be no surprise that the top 8 was 1 mono black aggro deck and 7 various energy builds).
Sultai energy also seemed to be a problem for me when I couldn’t take out my opponent’s Walking Ballistas, and during the last week of November and first week of December I found myself struggling in those match ups as I tried to work out an effective sideboard plan.
After the first week of December, it was another 2 weeks before I even found myself at a standard tournament again. I didn’t want to give up on my GW Rites deck, but I had reached the point where I just wanted to troll people with the deck instead of actively seek out wins. It had performed well enough against mono red, Temur energy, and 4C Energy decks to lead me to choose it for the God of Standard tournament at Hareruya on December 17th.
I started off very strongly in the tournament, beating GB Energy in round 1 (Harvester and Trinketeer did a lot of work in this game), GW Cats round 2 (Aegisaur + Ballista combo helped me to overpower him), Esper Cycling Control in round 3, and mono red in round 4 (Wrecked opponent with Settle the Wreckage game 1, then won the next game with Aethersphere’s and Oketra on the back of my removal package to keep Rampaging Ferocidon and Hazoret in check). I was sitting at 4-0 and at the top of the rankings at the end of 4 rounds, and was shocked at how well my draws were. I felt very confident that I could do the distance with the deck at this point, but I was brought back down to earth in rounds 5 and 6 when I lost to 4C Energy and Ramunap Red.
The 4C Energy match up was pretty much given to my opponent when I was forced to keep slow hands and my opponent ran away with the game using his Longtusk Cubs and Whirler Virtuosos. Against the Ramunap red deck, I got deck checked and realized after a few hands that I probably could have shuffled a bit more because I drew nothing but my 3 and 4 drops for a few turns and was run over with very little board presence. The 2nd game went slightly better, but I had trouble blocking due to my opponent playing Invigorate Rampage to make my tokens worthless.
At 4-2, I still felt like I had a chance at top 8, but I’d have to win out the rest of my games. I won against mono black in round 7 to raise my record to 5-2, but lost against Ramunap Red and 4C energy once more 1-2 in rounds 8 and 9. I had a chance up until I mana flooded against Ramunap red and couldn’t find answers for his creatures, and against the 4C energy deck I wasn’t really prepared for the more controlling version running Torrential Gearhulks. I ran into a lot of removal and counterspells and had no idea it was even 4C until game 3 when his Scarab God hit the table. I ended up in the top 64 surprisingly enough thanks to my breakers, but it was disappointing to say the least after such a good start. Thankfully, I got some new fans at the event who watched me playing Growing Rites of Itlimoc again and again and flipping it turn 3 or 4 for quite a few shenanigans. We chatted afterwards which helped lead me to the current list you see above now.
The changes didn’t seem to work in my first tournament after the Hareruya one as I lost to Sultai Energy, Jeskai Approach, and a 5C jank deck, but I concluded that each one was due to variance and drawing very poorly the entire tournament. I say this because on 12/23 I took the deck to a pre-store championship tournament in Yokohama with 22 people and went 3-1-1 in swiss before reaching the finals and falling to Ramunap red (yet again). That match up really depends on me either drawing enough creature spells to block until I can play some removal, or drawing my removal early and making my opponent run out of cards. I in fact BEAT Ramunap Red in the first round of the tournament, then beat a UB Pirate deck before losing to 4C Energy in round 3 (mulligan to 4 in game 3). But a round 4 win against another 4C energy deck pretty much locked me for top 8, so I intentionally drew and finished swiss feeling good.
The top 8 of this tournament was:
- GW Growing Rites (me)
- UB Pirate Beatdown
- Ramunap Red X4
- 4C Energy x2
I was once again matched up against the UB Pirate deck in my quarterfinals match, and once again I beat my opponent. I overwhelmed his creatures and removal in both games and had superior creatures like Oketra, Rhonas, and Harvester to propel me to victory.
In the semifinals I faced one of the Ramunap red decks, and being on the play I went all out from the get go, disregarding my opponent’s Kari Zev as I flipped my Legion’s Landing turn 3 and then pushed out an early Bellowing Aegisaur a few turns later along with some Ballistas to make all of my creatures 5/5s or bigger which my opponent couldn’t deal with. Game 2 I managed to get out tons of my servo tokens then play double Master Trinketeers that the other player didn’t have removal for. Was easy to overpower and block favorably with them in play. In the finals I ran into another Ramunap Red, but I wasn’t so lucky with my removal this game, and an early Harsh Mentor was punishing considering I had to pay 2 life whenever I wanted to make a Vampire tokens with Adanto, crew an Aethersphere Harvester, or make tokens with Oketra. I lost in 3, and ended up with a 5-2-1 record which is nothing to scoff at.
That next weekend I went to a 37 person Store Championship at Tokyo MTG and ran hot again, winning against mono red in round 1, a Jund Gods deck in round 3, and an UW Approach control deck in round 4 (Gideon emblem for the win!). I lost to Sultai energy in round 2, which is starting to be hard for me to deal with if I don’t stop Ballista early on. However, a 3-1 record put in me in 5th place and I believed I could draw into the top 8 again, but sadly I had to play down and my opponent couldn’t ID so we ended up playing. Lo and behold, he was also on Sultai energy, my worst match up. Vraska’s Contempt dealt with my gods and I ended up losing in 3 games when I couldn’t draw any removal to wipe my opponent’s board. The heartbreaking loss dropped me to 10th place with a 3-2 record. So close. The top 8 ended up being 4C Energy x6, Sultai Energy, and Ramunap red.
At my next tournament I went 2-1, but at my local 32 person Store Championship a few days later, I seemed to lose my gas and ended the year with a 2-3 record. The total tally with the deck this season was 31-27-6, which is above .500, but not where I was hoping it would be. Granted this is from various versions of the deck and not the fine turned one I used in the last few weeks, but overall I know it can do better. This deck could easily be a 40-20 deck with some tighter play and better decisions on my part.
The Impact of Rivals of Ixalan
One of the cards I’m most interested in playing is Golden Guardian. Not only does this guy give me something to do with all of my extra Itlimoc mana, it also acts as a decent removal spell when Walking Ballista doesn’t cut it. I’m not sure how much I’ll use it yet, but I do think it would be a nice fit for me theme.
Huatli, Radiant Champion has been panned by most players since there really isn’t a deck to run her in standard, but I think my Growing Rites deck would welcome her with open arms. If I get off my normal combo, I could ultimate her as soon as turn 5. Turn 1 Legion’s Landing with Vampire token, Turn 2 Servo Exhibition, Turn 3 attack and flip Legion’s Landing into Adanto, then cast Sram’s Expertise into Growing Rites of Itlimoc. It flips and gives you possible 6 creatures and 11 mana on turn 4. You can cast Huatli, +1 her for 6 (or most likely 4), which will give you more than enough loyalty counters to ultimate her on turn 5. One of GW Tokens weak points is card advantage, but Ultimating Huatli would be bonkers in a tokwns deck. I’d draw my whole deck in no time!
Quite a bit harder to cast, but very powerful. I would probably drop Bellowing Aegisaur for this, but I’m not sure it would be better. Besides being harder to play, if anything where to happen to my Walking Ballista, it would prove to be a huge target for removal that exiles or destroys. Not quite sold on him yet.
Just like Huatli, Ghalta could be pretty sweet to cast in this deck and with all the tokens and mana, he should be no problem. Six tokens on turn 4 means he costs 6 mana, and with a flipped Itlimoc he could come down that turn. Turn 5 would be incredibly likely, but the sheer chance of getting a turn 4 12/12 into play puts a smile on my face.
The other possible choice for this deck is Tendershoot Dryad. You’ll have two Saprolings if he survives until his next turn, but at a 2/2 he’s incredibly easy to take out. If your opponent lets him be he’ll snowball into a game winner in no time, especially with City’s Blessing. It feels a little slow and under powered in my current build, but if I were to go more midrange I’d consider it.
The end of Ixalan
The full Rivals of Ixlan spoiler has been released, and that means we are both done with Ixalan standard and also a week away from the pre-release. While it doesn’t look like the energy decks got any weaker, it does seem like the power level of other decks such as merfolk, vampires, and dinosaurs has risen considerably. Hopefully they can start taking shares of metagame away from energy and we can find ourselves once again in an enjoyable standard environment. That’s going to do it for standard this time around, but be sure to join me over the next few days as I go over the RIX spoiler and talk about which cards I’ll be playing at the pre-release! See you then!