The Japan Metagame Diaries – The World is a Vampire
Standard sucks for me. It’s no lie that I haven’t been enjoying myself as much this current standard season as I have in the recent past. One of those reasons is all of the bannings. I never used those decks that had cards banned from them, but what made those formats better than the current one (in my opinion) is that you weren’t restricted from using anything. You were free to brew with whatever cards you wanted to. I don’t like being told what I HAVE to play by people, and I like being shown what I “can” play from Wizards of the Coast even less.
My current thoughts about standard are that while there are tons of decks that are now viable, most of these strategies are decks that were previous made but now have a chance. It doesn’t feel like there is anything to “discover” in standard anymore. You have all these choices, but it feels like you have ONLY these choices. It’s like the format is solved from day 1 because people are afraid to try new strategies. In Rivals of Ixalan standard people basically resurrected decks from the past few seasons instead of making anything new. With the compact set development of the last few expansions, we have a lot more decks already “pre-built” using all of those block’s cards, and not a lot of cards that overlap. Energy was self contained, Vehicles was self contained, Gift decks were pretty much self contained . . . there are very few cards that lend themselves to multiple strategies outside of their block. Smashing Pumpkin’s Bullet with Butterfly Wings sums up these feelings perfectly.
Despite All My Rage I’m still Just a Rat in a Cage
It’s been almost 2 months since I last wrote anything about standard. I tried to make my GW Growing Rites of Itlimoc tokens deck work in Rivals of Ixalan standard, but from the middle of January to the middle of February I had almost as many 1-2 finishes as I did 2-1 finishes. It wasn’t worth it to continue playing the deck so I went back to a deck I played before, BW tokens. This time it was with a touch of cats such as Regal Caracal at the top end. I had a 3-0 finish with this deck in February and some 2-1s at some local events, but the deck simply couldn’t deal with trample creatures like dinosaurs or flyers that I was seeing a lot of at the time so I decided to stop playing it. Removal in the metagame had switched over to more exiling effects like Magma Spray to deal with recurring cards in decks like God Pharaoh’s Gift, so many of the other cats I was using like Sacred Cat and Adorned Pouncer ended up being rather worthless.
I was about to give up on standard for this season, but then one of my new friends who just moved from the USA recommended that I try BW vampires. Since I wasn’t about to drop $40+ to buy Jadelight Rangers, Scarab Gods, Rekindling Phoenix, or Hazorets, my options were rather limited. It’s a very budget oriented deck, coming in at just around $100, and since I had most of the pieces already I thought I’d give it a try.
I started off pretty rough at a 47 PPTQ on March 3rd as I went 2-4. It started off promising enough as I beat a 4 Color Constrictor deck and Jund Monsters thanks to my speed, but then I ended up losing 4 straight. The first loss came against GR monsters due to horrible draws and mulligans, the 2nd loss came against Grixis energy because I couldn’t deal with The Scarab God and Rekindling Phoenix, the 3rd loss was against another GR monsters deck because I mana flooded one game and wasn’t able to draw any creatures, and the 4th and final embarrassing lost came against a Jund Planeswalker deck. I simply wasn’t able to get enough of a board presence as they played walker after walker like Vraska and Chandra and it didn’t help that I also mulliganed to 5 one game. Needless to say I wasn’t really feeling the deck’s initial build from Grand Prix Memphis (that finished 11-4), so I decided to make some of my own changes.
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
|4 Concealed Courtyard
2 Ifnir Deadlands
4 Shefet Dunes
2 Scavenger Grounds
2 Field of Ruin
|4 Legion’s Landing
2 Ixalan’s Binding
2 Fatal Push
4 Radiant Destiny
2 Thopter Arrest
4 Call to the Feast
4 Queen’s Commision
22 other spells
First off was dropping the Crested Sunmare from the top end. It was strong, but the switch to Champion of Dusk added to both the synergy and helped keep the deck going in those long games against control or midrange. Against anything other than mono red it’s proven to be a god send. I’ve been losing about 4-5 life on average and refilling my hand each time I cast him which is great for a beatdown deck like BW vampires.
I also added in Field of Ruin and Scavenger Grounds into the main to deal with graveyard strategies and hard to deal with cards like Wings of Orazca in Sultai counter decks. Scavenger Grounds can also be used as an extra Shefet Dunes or Ifnir Deadlands, so it’s quite versatile. Field of Ruin is also a good card against possible Approach of the Second Sun decks, and helps you to filter your deck a little as well. Going up to 4 Legion’s Landing in the main deck also proved to be the right call since flipping it early gives you a great long game, especially if you have multiple anthems in play and can keep making a 2, 3, or 4 power vampire each turn.
By far the biggest change came in my sideboard plans, and I can’t take all of the credit for this. I was helped out by Leonalightmyfire on Discord who is doing the Standard Untap Open league with me. They helped me cut some things and work on a sideboard plan which ended up doing A LOT of work in recent events. Going up to a full playset of Ixalan’s Binding after a sideboard makes it hard for slower decks like Grixis or GR monsters to get any footing, especially when you take out their Phoenix and Glorybringers. Aethersphere Harvester also did a lot of work, both against aggro decks and Sultai Counter decks since they didn’t have a lot of things to deal with flyers other than Vraska’s Contempt. This sideboard plan gives you a lot more options than the other lists that have been going around on the MTG websites.
- Profane Procession – Stops control decks from winning with any of their win cons other than walkers, good against slower midrange decks like GR monsters too.
- Immortal Sun – for decks that rely heavily on walkers like Grixis, also good against control.
- Ixalan’s Binding – good against all those slower midrange decks out there.
- Aethersphere Harvester – sided in against mono red, Grixis, Sultai Counters, and GR monsters. Quite the workhorse.
- Fragmentize – There are quite a few Ixlan’s Binding going around, as well as Thopter Arrest and Baffling End. Good card to have against decks using a lot of enchantments.
- Arguel’s Blood Fast – great card for control match ups, especially after it flips so you can stop them from using Vraska’s Contempt to gain life.
- Vraska’s Contempt – Another all start that comes in against a lot of match ups. Almost all of them actually.
- Duress – Mostly for control match ups.
- Fatal Push – great to have a full playset against Sultai Counter decks, as well as against mono red. Not too good against other strategies though.
Current Standard is a Vampire, Sent to Draaaaaain
Making changes is only part of the what you need to become successful with a deck. After the previous PPTQ at the start of March, I needed to practice quite a lot with it. I went to a 16 person event in town and went 2-1, beating the mirror and UW cycling but lost to BR aggro thanks to mulligans and not drawing creatures, but then followed it up with a 2-2 outing the following day. Sultai counters was tough to deal with, as was UW Gift, but I managed to get two games against GB Constrictor and a UB Scarab Reanimator deck thanks tokens going wide and getting buffed my Radiant Destiny.
I tried changing things up for a bit by using Aetherborn Rogues instead of Dusk Legion Zealots and went 2-1 at a Hareruya evening event with 12 people, but not being able to dig to more threats hurt a lot. I won against UR Prowess and Grixis midrange at that event, but lost to mono red because I only drew painful deserts and my opponent seemed to be prepared for the match up and kept all of my tokens off the board before he took the game over with Hazoret. A 1-2 finish at a 13 person event with the Rogue build led me to switch the deck list back, as BR control punished me for not having more card draw and Sultai Counters smashed me with Wings of Orazca + Bristling Hydra.
There have been a lot of Sultai counters and GR monster decks of all types in the standard meta here in Tokyo/Yokohama for the last few weeks, so I knew what I had to do to beat them, I just wasn’t sure this was the deck to beat them with. With my friends Bobby and Eli I went to a 60 person PPTQ in Yokohama on March 18th with the list you see above. I wasn’t super psyched to be playing but seeing as I hadn’t played any other Magic recently I thought it would be a good way to kill time. I didn’t expect much to happen, but I thought the deck was solid enough to get me some prizes and maybe a top 16 finish.
- Round 1: GR Monsters – Won 2-0. My opponent hit my hard game 1 with some big creatures, but with enough tokens and a pair of Legion’s Lieutenants coming down the same turn, I was able to steal it. In game 2 Ixalan’s Binding kept his dangerous threats off the board and I was able to go wide with tokens and Radiant Destiny. Profane Procession also locked him down.
- Round 2: Sultai Counters – Won 2-1. Usually my worst match up but thanks to drawing my Radiant Destiny’s early I was able to protect all of my tokens from Walking Ballista in game 1 and just went wide. A mulligan to 5 assured my opponent’s game 2 win, but my opponent switching to more of a controlling strategy game 3 let me develop my board and chip away at his life and made my removal that much more effective.
- Round 3: Temur Monsters – Lost 1-2. My first lost came against Temur mostly because of this deck’s unorthodox card choices and me not sure how to play against them. Samut, Voice of Decent was hard to get rid of, but what really crippled me were various well timed Negates and other counterspells when I tried to get rid of my opponent’s threats with Ixalan’s Binding. The tempo game was much better against me than I thought it would be.
- Round 4: Grixis Control – Won 2-0. Lots of spot removal game 1 but nothing to deal with tokens so they were able to run away with it rather easily in the long game. Duress ended up taking away my opponent’s troublesome removal spells in game 2, which sealed my victory in round 4.
- Round 5: GR Monsters – Won 2-0. I was within striking range of the top 8 with one more win, and luckily I faced a deck I had prepared for and practice against many times in the weeks since the last PPTQ. Much easier of a match up than the Temur version for sure. An early Thopter Arrest took care of my opponent’s Rhonas the Indomitable, which made it really easy for my tokens to block his attackers until I could go on the offensive.
- Round 6: Mono Red – I was in 10th place with a 4-1 record at the end of round 5, so I had to play this round out. If I was going to make top 8, they were going to make me work for it. Right off the bat though I felt like I was favored in this match up. As long as I could match my opponent’s speed I’d be alright. I blocked early and often game 1 and played tons of multi token effects with Queen’s Commission and Call to the Feast and stayed alive until I could cast a Radiant Destiny and negate all of his damage with my lifelinkers. My added removal ended up doing well in game 2, with Fatal Push taking care of early threats until I could play double Anthem effects with multiple Martyr of Dusks in play to run away with game 2. I Won 2-0.
I made it into the top 8 in 3rd place. While I wasn’t able to see every deck playing in the top 8, my rough list was:
- BW Vampires (me)
- Sultai Counters x2
- GW beatdown
- Grixis Control x2
- Mono red aggro
Quarterfinals: BW Vampires (3rd) Vs. Sultai Counters (6th)
Radiant Destiny did some work again in this match up. Sure enough my opponent was counting on Walking Ballista to take over the game, but when I had at least 1 Destiny in play it made it hard for my opponent to deal with them. Even when he eventually got his Walking Ballista up to 12 counters, I had 3 Anthem effects in play and forced him to kill two out of my 6 tokens when I drew a push to kill it. Removal was definitely key in this match up in clearing away blockers and making my tokens more dangerous. It also helped that I played first
Semifinals: BW Vampires (3rd) Vs. Grixis Control (7th)
Game 1 went rather quickly as I played my cards on curve and landed an early Radiant Blessing which he couldn’t deal with. I’m guessing he did have some type of counterspells, but they were probably for creatures and not spells which let me run over him. Also the lack of board wipes main led him to concede I think. Game 2 saw him playing some cards such as Hour of Devastation and Yahenni’s Expertise, but I was able to play around them by using a flipped Legion’s Landing to pump out threat after threat and tax his removal. It didn’t take long for him to exhaust the cards in hand, and a well timed Duress hitting his Glimmer of Genius assured he wouldn’t be able to find an answer in time for my onslaught.
Finals: BW Vampires (3rd) Vs. Sultai Counters (4th)
Well lucky me. I was the high seed in each of my games which let me go first. Even with people knowing what deck I was on, everybody was seeming to sweat it. It was definitely a good call. A good balance of removal and hitting my curve with creatures let me put pressure on my opponent game 1, and eventually I overwhelmed him with Radiant Blessings and multiple Call to the Feasts. In game 2 I saw my opponent struggle with mana while I hit my curve again and I knew I had it in the bag. He tried to hold out as long as he could, but again Radiant Blessing made his early Ballista almost worthless, and he couldn’t draw his 3rd mana early enough to play his Rishkars and Jadelight Rangers to put up any kind of defense. Another 2-0 win for a perfect 6-0 in the top 8.
So What’s Next?
I probably should have been ecstatic after winning and while I’m happy with the results I kinda feel dirty. While I didn’t netdeck in the truest sense of the word, I felt like I did. I changed and updated the list I was originally given, but it doesn’t feel like my deck. Winning a big tournament with your own deck is a much better feeling than using a ‘known’ one. For me, Magic is all about discovery (which is probably why I like the Frontier format so much. It feels like new things are happening all of the time). I’m always looking for the next card to try and break, and I’ll always be on the outside of the format trying to out meta everybody else. These results have at least given me another card to try and break, Radiant Destiny, so I’ll be working on that over the next few weeks until I can play in PPTQs again after April 15th. Dominara can’t come soon enough.
Thanks for reading and if you have any comments or questions about the deck feel free to leave them below. Be sure to check back from time to time for updates about MTG in Japan!