The Japan Pioneer Metagame Diaries: April 2022

Not going to lie, it’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to write anything about Magic the Gathering. The recent organized play announcement about the return to competitive play has stoked a fire in me. As many of you might know, I’m a member of the Pioneer podcast The First Pioneers and I’ve been keeping that going with my co-host through thick and thin. It was fun to get hyped about cool cards, interview good MTGO players and people responsible for designing the game like Gavin Verhey, but not actually playing with the cards in a format that I love had an affect on me. Over the last 2 years or so I can count on one hand how many Magic the Gathering tournaments I’ve been to. I tried to go out a few times but something always came up, or Covid cases were spiking in Tokyo right before a big event and since I wasn’t fully vaccinated/boosted at that time I decided against going into a metropolitan area of 20+ million people. But now I can say I’m ready to jump back in.

I’ve been boosted, my wife’s been boosted, and the stores I’ve visited have been following Covid protocols such has having open windows, ample supplies of hand sanitizer, and mask rules. Nothing is going to be 100% safe but I feel that the risk has been reduced enough to ease my mind. That being said, I jumped back into Pioneer last weekend with BR midrange to test the waters before the God of Pioneer on April 16th in Tokyo at the Hareruya Tournament center.

Why Rakdos Midrange?

I’ve been a fan of the Rakdos guild for quite some time. One of my first Frontier decks (the precursor to Pioneer) was actually Mardu tokens, which relied heavily on black and red cards, and before the pandemic hit you could usually find me having fun with my Rakdos Waste Not brew. In the past, Rakdos was pretty much only one deck: BR Arcanist. It was a Lurrus deck that played a lot of 1 mana spells and 2 mana creatures, namely Dreadhorde Arcanist. I liked the deck, but felt like there was very little room for error so I left it to those players like EkerossMTG who is much better at making decisions and understanding complex game states than me.

But then Kamigawa Neon Dynasty came out and suddenly new life was breathed into the archetype. Well I should say it was resurrected since BR Arcanist was basically killed by the Lurrus banning. Rakdos Anvil became very popular in the final days of Lurrus, and it still remains relevant to this deck in the format as a possible metagame choice. But in the last few weeks all of our sadist friends in the Rakdos guild also got a present in the form of BR Midrange.

Rakdos Midrange has been compared to Jund in Modern, and while most black midrange decks usually get this moniker slapped on them, I believe this archetype has earned it. At their cores, both decks are full of removal spells, disruption, and a handful of powerful creatures that can overpower their opponents. The planeswalker element of the Pioneer deck might not be as strong as the modern one, but the deck definitely gives you a lot of options and has a wide range of answers to most of the format. And just as Jund is described in Modern, I think Rakdos midrange also could be described as a good deck, but not a great deck that has a decent match ups against most of the field.

School of Hard Knocks

It’s been difficult to shift back into paper events from playing Magic mostly online over the last few years, and bereft of any actual platform where I can play the decks I want to play, my skills have suffered. I should also say there is the added difficulty of learning dozens of new words and mechanics in Japanese, as well as having to check the rulings of cards I’ve never played against and having judges constantly translating cards to English for me at the two events I’ve done recently. In the past I would be able to learn one sets worth of mechanics and have time to absorb them and understand how they are used, but since this is pretty much the first time playing a Paper event since Ikoria came out, that effect has been multiplied ten fold. It will take a lot of focus and concentration over the next few weeks to get back to where I was before in terms of total knowledge of the Pioneer format. But every journey starts out with one step taken forward right?

In my first foray into Pioneer in paper, I went to Hareruya in Yokohama and attended a casual “Let’s Pioneer” event. This was a day after the organized play announcement so I didn’t expect it to be too big. It was only 6 players, but 5 rounds and the person who went 5-0 would get 5000 in store credit. I ended up going 4-1 with BR Midrange and making 3000 in credit. Not bad for a 1000 yen entry.

  • Round 1 = W 2-0 Vs Mono Green aggro. Removal did a great job and I was able to slowly take over both games.
  • Round 2 = W 2-1 Vs BW humans. Again, fast removal like Fatal Push and Bloodchief’s Thirst helped to turn the tide in my favor and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet took over the game.
  • Round 3 = W 2-0 Vs Mardu Greasefang. Player wiffed on Greasefangs a few times and Go Blank destroyed their graveyard before they could get the engine going.
  • Round 4 = W 2-1 Vs UR Phoenix
  • Round 5 = L 1-2 Vs Mono green aggro. Lost to the hexproof from black green creature and Rhonas/Vivien combo. Couldn’t stop the trample. Board wipes & a few black exile effects might be good.

I wasn’t under illusions that I had faced hard decks, in fact I would say outside of the Phoenix win most of those match ups probably would have had me as the favorite. But still, it was a nice confidence boost going into this last weekend’s tournament on 4/10 that would serve as a warm up for the big one next week in Tokyo. I made a few changes to the previous build, dropping the Bloodchief’s Thirsts and Kolaghan Commands from the main, removing Feed the Swarms from the sideboard, and also adding Fable of the Mirror Breaker in to the deck.

Everybody has been very high on this card lately and I can definitely see the merits of having a few in your deck. I would think that most red decks, especially aggro ones, would want it as part of their 75. I’m just not totally sold on it being necessary for black/red midrange. The token was nice and helped with casting some stuff, the 2nd mode letting you loot 2 cards away was fine as well (I usually got rid of only one card), but the last mode felt a little slow and more win more. Depending on your build of Rakdos Midrange, I would say that a full playset aren’t necessary. You could definitely get away with just having 3, or even 2 if you needed to cut something.

It could have been these new cards or all these changes, but something was off and I went from feeling confident of my deck choice the previous week to feeling dubious about it. This weekend’s event was a 30 person “Pioneer Rumble” at Hareruya Yokohama with the winner getting The Meathook Massacre as a prize (currently about an $80 card in Japan). I managed a horrible 1-4 record, and I found myself wanting a lot of those cards that I had cut going into the tournament.

  • Round 1 = Mardu Greasefang (lost 1-2). Fast Parhelion beat me game 2, but Weathered Runestone locked him out game 2 and removal did a good job. Game 3 I didn’t have any answers for yard and he eventually landed a Greasefang thru removal. Necromentia needed for this match up maybe?
  • Round 2 = Naya Winota (lost 1-2). This is one Match up where Kolaghan’s Command would have shined if I hadn’t dropped it. Might want to replace one Fable with it and perhaps change the By Force to another K cmd. Also not sure if I like Legions End in this meta so adding another Extinction Event might be good for this match up as well. Needed more instant speed interaction.
  • Round 3 = UB Control ( won 2-0). Recurring threats, hand disruption, and planeswalkers were just too much for this player and it didn’t help that he flooded Game 2 for a few turns.
  • Round 4 = Enigmatic Fires (lost 0-2). Feed the Swarm should be back in the sideboard 100% for this match up. Weathered Runestone was really good tho. Should have kept more removal in hand. Also might have made the mistake to take Enigmatic game 2 instead of white creature that puts card on top. Runestone would have negated it’s ability since I had it in play.
  • Round 5 = 5C Niv (lost 1-2. Overwhelmed opponent on curve game 1 with creatures and disruption but sided in poorly game 2 with Runestone which cost me playing my own Kroxa. Couldn’t draw any removal for Omnath game 3 and fell behind.

What I’ve learned

I’m not a good mental magic person. I could read tips and advice and primers all day long about how to play a deck but I’m not going to “get it” unless I sit down and play with the cards myself and make mistakes and poor choices. I felt that I did that this weekend and now I have a better understanding of my deck’s weak points and how to play with it against others. I expect to face similar threats in next week’s big Tokyo tournament and this was good practice. I’ve made changes again to the deck, as well as returning some key cards I was missing during this most recent event.

Apologies for the screen shot, I’ve still not figured out how to embed things like decklists into my articles without having to pay money for a pro service and plugins so you’ll have to bear with me. The big changes for this deck are adding the Kolaghan’s Command back into the main board. I did this mainly to help against the Greasefang and Winota decks, especially since it can kill an Esika’s Chariot as well as a creature that could crew it. I’ve also foregone using Kroxa in the deck because I felt like it was helping out graveyard decks too much, was being bounced or exiled a lot, and it also faired poorly against fast aggro decks. Valki, God of Lies seems fine early on against aggro or even just to get info against an opponent and is an amazing late game draw. The Fable tokens also can help to speed it out a few turns sooner. I also dropped the Bloodchief’s Thirsts for Baleful Mastery so I had instant speed removal. In the sideboard I added 2 Ray of Enfeeblement for Winota match ups, Feed the Swarm for Enigmatic decks or other problem enchantments, and Extinction Event for go wide or go big aggro strategies. It might not be optimized yet but we’re definitely on the right track.

What’s Next?

The God of Pioneer is going to be the first large paper Pioneer event since the organized play announcement two weeks back and I expect there to be quite the turnout. There should be a large number of meta decks like Phoenix, Lotus, Control, and Winota so my first step should be developing a sideboard plan for each and to make sure I understand how to play against each. There have also been a number of other large tournaments at other Hareruya stores this weekend leading up to the God of Pioneer, so studying those will also help to get a pulse. I’m expecting close to 200 people for this event, and about 9 rounds of Pioneer. It’s going to be tiring but also exciting and I can’t wait. If I could go 5-4 I would be fine with that, but I will be playing to win. I’m not going to be in top form by next weekend but this will be a major stepping stone for me in getting back into competitive MTG.

Hopefully I’ll have better results in the near future, but I thank you for reading through my struggles as well. If you’re interested in chatting or talking more about Pioneer or MTG in Japan feel free to follow me on Twitter @yojapanhobbyist, join me on my Discord. I will also be starting up my Code of the Cardboard Samurai podcast in the near future as well so if you’re interested in Magic in Japan be sure to give it a listen or follow! Thanks for reading and see you next time!