The God of Pioneer 7 (Live Coverage)
As you can see from the title, this is not the first time Hareruya has done a large event for Pioneer, and it won’t be the last. Hareruya was literally the “Pioneer” of Pioneer with its original Frontier format back in 2017, and while that format never caught on to the greater MTG community, it did create a lot of loyal players at their tournaments. A good number of the people you’ll find at the God of Pioneer 7 this weekend are holdovers from that era, myself included. As I stated in my previous article, I will be doing a lot more live coverage of Magic the Gathering events from Japan in the future. The God of Pioneer 7 is just the first of many hopefully.
What is the God of Pioneer?
The God of Pioneer is a seasonal tournament held by Hareruya, one of the biggest Magic the Gathering stores in in Japan, at their tournament center in Tokyo. It’s part of their “God” series of events, which seek to attract the best players of every format from around Japan. Grinders, pros, and casual players alike take part in the tournament, which usually goes all day long, ending in a new “God”. The following day, the old God is challenged by the new one, and the winner not only gets a prize, but also their picture added to the wall of “gods” who won before them. While it depends on the format, most of these types of events attract about 150+ players, but it’s not strange to sometimes see a number north of 200.
What you can expect
There are a number of things I’ll be looking to do during the tournament, but here is a list of what I’d like to achieve with his coverage.
- A “general” metagame breakdown
- Making a list of pro/popular Japanese players attending the tournament as well as what they are playing
- Interesting decks/strategies at the tournament
- If time, how my deck is doing (BR Midrange)
If I’m not able update between rounds, check my Twitter @yojapanhobbyist for updates. If time is short, I’ll try to post things on there and then expand on it more on this website. The matches will be starting from 10 am Saturday in Japan/8pm Friday EST time , but live video coverage probably won’t be starting until the end of swiss or the top 8 at Hareruya’s website: https://youtube.com/channel/UC1l7GtlvAmCOXRlxjImbWvw
Live Updates (Coming soon!)
Heading into Round 1
There is an air of excitement in the room as many Japanese players get there first first taste of a large competitive event since the organized play announcement. 206 Pioneer plays converged on the Tokyo tournament center to prove their worth in the Pioneer format. The initial look at the meta game showed many players favoring blue decks, but as the first round commenced it actually seemed like aggro had a larger presence in the room. Winota decks seem to be the aggro deck of choice, but there are a few mono red aggro and spirits players as well. You also don’t have to look far to see a UR Phoenix player filling their graveyard.
Strangely enough, there aren’t as many combo or control decks as I thought there would be, but the later rounds will tell if they can still perform well or not. More details to come as the rounds continue. Also it seems as though we have some pro players in attendance today, namely World Champion Yuuta Takahashi! More on this later.
My round 1 opponent was a Bant Spirits deck. Some Japanese players seem to like this deck, even it isn’t well positioned in the meta. Playing BR midrange, my removal and hand disruption seemed well positioned against him. After ripping apart his hand, I was able to pick up off his other creatures and take the match 2-0. As for the rest of the round, we should see a basic meta developing around round 4.
Round 2 got really interesting against my Yorion Fires opponent. While we were both playing slower decks, my hand disruption managed to hit a lot of his key cards and I slowly built a board state with a few creatures and an early Chandra, Torch of Defiance. This led me into casting a Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor and slowly taking over the game by stealing his planes walkers over the next few turns. I overwhelmed him eventually and he concede. The 2nd game went pretty much the same and I landed another Tibalt, which led me to stealing many of his prime cards and answers to my deck. A surprising 2-0 finish.
I was feeling pretty good sitting at 2 wins but I knew I’d be facing harder competition from here on out. My round 3 opponent was Naya Winota. I haven’t had a lot of practice against many of the decks I’d be facing today to be honest but I figured it would be good practice for the PPTQ season. In game one I stole a few of his creatures with Thoughtseize and then kept his mana dorks off the table with Fatal Pushes. My Cemetery Tresspasser was able to eat up his yard and put a lot of pressure on hi when Winota didn’t appear. Chandra and Kalitas came down not soon after and I took game 1. In game 2, my opponent took advantage of being on the play and absolutely blazed past me with the 6/6 Huntmaster. This forced a game 3 but when my Fatal Pushes took out his elves and he couldn’t get a 3rd land he scooped. I was now 3-0.
In round 4 I found myself at the top tables for the first time in a long time. My opponent was Shun Furugawa, a Rakdos Anvil player. I had initially considered running BR Anvil myself, but with everybody saying it wasn’t as good since Lurrus was banned I was a little hesitant. Shun proved me wrong. As a Rakdos Midrange player my removal matched up rather poorly against him. I was able to kill some of his key creatures like Mayhem Devil, but his own removal seemingly matched mine. The difference between his deck in mine was that while I was playing powerful creatures about once a turn, he was laying into me with mutliple attackers each turn, drawing a lot of cards, and pinging away at me each turn. I had to carefully choose where to use my removal but he could freely destroy my things with Mayhem Devil triggers. The games went long but after 3 games I lost 1-2.
I did have some time to check out the other 3-0 decks during round 4 though and was quite surprised at what I saw. UW Ensoul, another deck people said wasn’t good enough seemed to be doing rather well for itself, taking down Jund food at the other top table to go 4-0. I saw a lot of mono red, Winota, and other Rakdos decks at the top which lead me to believe that aggro was having a good day. Another surprising deck that caught my eye during this round was a Gyruda, Doom of Depths/ Spark Clone deck. I really hoped something that spicy would do well at this event but it would definitely be a struggle with 206 other people vying for first place.
At 3-1 I basically had to win out the rest of my matches if I wanted a chance of making top 8, but sadly my Bant Spirits opponent wasn’t going to let that happen. I managed to beat him on the play once thanks to my removal, but when he was on the play he was able to simply out tempo me with counters, Collected Company, Spell Quellers, and Rattlechains. What I really needed against him was a board wipe like Shadow’s Verdict or Extinction Event but with only one in my sideboard it became really hard to 2 for one him. My burn based removal was woefully inadequate against his high toughness creatures, and actually the more I played through the day the more I regretted playing cards like Kolaghan’s Command and Stomp. They simply couldn’t stop anything other than Winota. I lost the match and dropped to 3-2.
But round 5 wasn’t a total wash. Sitting next to me during this round was MTG World Champion Yuuta Takahashi who I had said hello to earlier and he was kind enough to answer 3 of my Pioneer related. questions.
3 Questions with World Champ Yuuta Takahashi
I should probably tell you that Takahashi-san and I have a little bit of a history together. Back when I was just getting into writing content on my website, I was also writing select articles for Star City Games. About 10 years ago, there was a World Cup qualifier in Nagoya that I had participated in and Yuuta ended up winning the qualifier to become part of team Japan that year. From there on out I said hello whenever our paths crossed during other events like Grand Prix, and one year I actually got him to take part in my Tempest Block cube with some other friends (which he ended up winning).
It’s been a while since I could attend any events so I felt a little awkward approaching him in person after all this time but he still recognized me and was kind enough to accept my request for a short interview about the Pioneer format.
The Japan Hobbyist: So what do you think about Wizards of the Coast choosing Pioneer as the intial Pro Tour format?
Yuuta Takahashi: It makes me feel nostalgic, like what Modern was like before the Modern Horizon sets. The format at that time was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it then.
TJH: I’ve seen some of your streams from time to time on Twitch. From what you’ve played on MTGO and the results you’ve seen from recent paper events in the USA, is there a difference between them and the Japanese metagame?
YT: I think the Pioneer format hasn’t evolved enough to be very different from the other metagames like those in the USA and on MTGO.
TJH: Ok, so maybe well see diverging metagames in the future. One last question, a good amount of past and current MTG pros have been hesitant to pick up and play the Pioneer format. What would you say to those players who are on the fence.
YT: They should play cause it’s the only format where you can still play Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise XD XD.
Thanks again to Takahashi-san and I hope we can talk more about Pioneer in the future during this years PT qualifier tournaments!
At 3-2, I knew I was out of contention for a top 8 appearance, but I was hoping against hope that I could win out and finish in the top 16. As I saw my opponent play elves on turn one I thought I would have a good match, especially when I Fatal Pushed it the next turn and then proceeded to take game 1 by using well timed removal and Thoughtseizes. However in the 2nd and 3rd games, he simply overwhelmed me with planeswalkers, and to add insult to injury my opponent used Vivien, Arkbow Ranger’s -5 ability to bring an Emrakul, the Promised End from his sideboard to end me. Having only 2 Dreadbore and no other way to straight out kill a planeswalker, I was doomed to lose this match. Green aggro would have been no problem, but Planeswalker Devotion was too much for me to handle with my configuration.
I might have said it up above already, but there were a handful of other mono green planeswalker devotion decks at the X-2 tables this round. They seemed to put up decent results at this tournament but probably couldn’t handle explosive decks like Winota or Phoenix with so little (if any) interaction.
It wasn’t even a matter of pride at this point. By round 7 I was merely in the tournament to kill time until the top 8 came around and to get some experience with my deck since again, it was my first time playing in a large paper tournament in about 2 years. I came up against a Mono Blue spirits deck and thought that my removal would match up rather well against it but numerous Rattlechain effects and Geistlight Snares protected my opponent’s creatures rather well and due to their evasion and low mana cost, I struggled to keep up.
Some kind of board wipe probably would have helped a lot in this match up. It was at around this point when I dropped to 3-4 that I realized I hadn’t touched almost half of my sideboard. I had over prepared for control and combo decks and was overconfident in my removal.
In contrast of my poor results, other Rakdos decks like Anvil seemed to be doing a lot better than I. While I was relying on my creatures to finish off my opponents, Anvil was able to play the same removal and disruption but could slow down the tempo of the game in their favor and grind opponents out.
I was hoping to finish out even at 4-4, but my final opponent was a mono red burn deck and I simply wasn’t equipped to take so much damage. Having to rely on my Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and my Cemetery Trespassers as my sole source of lifegain made it hard. I know I dropped Sorin the Mirthless for good reason, and I don’t think he would have helped much in this match up. My opponent was simply drawing too many cards off of Chandra, Dressed to Kill, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Light up the Stage and my removal/disruption couldn’t keep up. Just as before, not having enough removal for planeswalkers ended up being my downfall. I almost wonder if it would have been better to lose the instant speed of my 2 Heartless Act for 2 more Dreadbore at sorcery speed.
At a final 3-5 finish, I knew a lot of testing would be ahead. My final thoughts on BR Midrange is that the “defacto” lists out there are still under optimized. I found good success with Valki, God of Lies in Kroxa’s spot, not playing Sorin ended up being fine, and while Fable of the Mirror Breaker is a strong card and perfect in decks like Mardu Greasefang or Winota, it didn’t seem to synergize well with Rakdos midrange. Lack of copy targets, making the curve clunky, and being a HUGE target of removal felt like it was being forced more often or not. Going forward, I do not think Rakdos midrange will be playing it. I would have much rather have had something like Murderous Rider in that slot or maybe Sorin the Mirthless for more card draw.
The Top 8
The win and in tables leading up to the top 8 were quite diverse, in fact the Gyruda, Doom of Depths deck was still alive for a top 8 appearance at this point, but in the end it fell a little short. Yuuta Takahashi playing UR Phoenix and previous God of Pioneer and Lotus master Ishiwata Kouichi also were kept out of the top 8, finishing in 13th and 15th respectively.
The 9 to 16th place decks were:
- Mono Green Planeswalkers
- UW Ensoul
- Naya Winota
- Rakdos Midrange
- UR Phoenix
- UW Control
- Lotus Combo
- Naya Winota
You can find these lists on Hareruya’s website if you’re interested.
After tough competition through 8 rounds of Pioneer, the decks that made the top 8 were:
- Mono Red Aggro
- Bant Spirits
- Mardu Greasefang
- Izzet Control
- Mono Blue Spirits
- Naya Winota
- Rakdos Anvil
While an argument could be made that 2 spirit decks made the top 8, it also wouldn’t be a lie to say that 8 difference decks made the top 8. We’ve seen a lot of smaller events that are half mono red, Winota, or Phoenix, so I can proudly say that the Pioneer metagame in Japan (or Tokyo at least) is very healthy. Having so many different decks made watching the top 8 very exciting. It was literally anybody’s game to win going into the finals. And while I couldn’t convert any wins, my round 4 opponent who was on Rakdos Anvil could and I was happy to support him in the finals.
The quarterfinals pitted Rakdos Anvil Vs Mono red at one table, mono blue spirits Vs Izzet Control at the second, Winota Vs. Mardu Greasefang at a third, and UW Spirits Vs. Vampires at the final table. I was able to sneak back and forth between each of the matches, but it was hard to keep track of what was happening all at once. I saw Vampires developing quite the board state against UW spirits and getting them in quite the pinch thanks to multiple Knight of Ebon Legions, and through all the life gain and removal Vampires was the first to make it the semi finals.
Mono blue spirits was the next to fall to Izzet control as the deck’s burn, counterspells, and Thing in the Ice proved to too hard to interact with from the spirits side. While the mono red deck was fast, the incremental life gain from Anvil, the access to The Meathook Massacre, and the damage from Mayhem Devil proved to be too much. The final deck to qualify for the semi-finals was Mardu Greasefang, which was able to fend off multiple Winota triggers for the win.
The semi-finals saw Rakdos Anvil Vs Izzet Narset and Mardu Greasefang Vs. Vampires. If I had more time to test my own deck, I might have done better, but seeing two Rakdos based decks in the top 4 gave me confidence that I had made the right choice of colors this weekend, but not the right archetype.
Mardu Greasefang was able to fight through the discard and removal of Vampires to send its battleship and angels through the sky on multiple occasions and was the first to make it to the finals. I was in about as much shock at the raw power and also the synergy of the Parhelion II based deck as the Vampire was who sat back in disbelief after his loss.
By the time I made it over to the other game, Rakdos Anvil had evened it up at 1 game apiece against Izzet Control, but as the game progressed, it was obvious that Izzet was struggling to deal with non creature based cards and after a few turns the Rakdos player was able to whittle down his opponent to nothing with Oni Anvils, Witch’s Ovens, and a variety of other effects.
The finals were set: Rakdos Anvil Vs Mardu Greasefang. As a fellow Rakdos player I was ecstatic at this result. Having been at the event since 10 am in the morning and closing in on 9pm though, I felt I should go on my way home. However, as I sat on the train for the next hour on the way back to my apartment, I watched earnestly as the finals unfolded online. I thought it would be an easy win for the Greasefang deck, but Rakdos Anvil gave him a run for his money. After some amazing draws it seemed like the Anvil player Shun Furukawa might be able to pull off a win, but in the end it was Yusuke Matsubara’s Mardu Greasefang deck that won it all!
Congrats to Mr. Matsubara and also a big thanks to everybody that showed up at the God of Pioneer 7! I can’t wait to go to the next event here in Japan and report on it! Thanks for reading!