Japanese Deck-Testing – From the Other Side of the Table

With RGD Sealed entering its dying days, Josh turns his eye to the decks from the Japanese Nationals. His article research led him into duel after duel with Mike Flores, throwing the Top 8 decks against the strong 8StoneRain.dec. While Mike makes some bold claims for the metagame, Josh’s agreement isn’t absolute. Read on to find out how the matches progressed…

At a time when all I cared about was playing Coldsnap drafts to see just how often I could get the deck I liked; I checked in with Craig to see what my options were like for this week’s article. I already knew – nay, dreaded – the answer. Luckily, we had Japanese Nationals to provide us with more than just speculation. After all, I really couldn’t write about RGD Sealed anymore.

So to me, after an enormous winning streak (11-1,) which is something considering both the format and my recent waning desire to actually play the game, I had to stop. I had to research. First order of business was picking a deck I liked, or found interesting, at the very least. Katsuhiro Mori went 10-0 in matches, but I don’t hold him in very high regard as a person — take that to mean what you will. Still, 10-0; three matches on stage. I’ll give it a try.

I borrowed a Counterbalance and was off to the races. This deck, while potentially strong, clearly had holes. In game 1 you have zero answers to resolved creatures, save three Condemns. Furthermore, because of your creatures (Dark Confidant, mostly) opposing Jittes are an actual problem for you, despite being a control deck. You theoretically have a lot of Jittes, if not the same amount (four), and Sensei’s Divining Top to dig and so forth. However, things don’t come together and your mana is more valuable to you than theirs is to them… you can easily lose to a Jitte.

There’s a lot of finesse to this deck, it seems. You really have to fight and duke in each game you play, from turn 1. For example, should you pay two life to, say, go with four untapped mana including a White, you might have a Condemn (they might know this), or you might not have a Condemn (they might not know that); tricky, tricky.

I played my first queue and the deck felt okay. Solid, I guess. I don’t recall what I played against, and I don’t have my notes unfortunately — nice research indeed — but I know I lost in the finals to Black/White aggro. I knew what that meant, if nothing else — if there’s a lot Black/White in the tournament you’re playing this deck is probably not a good idea. I didn’t lose to anything special; he had a typical deck. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. The next queue I joined, on the tail of my moderate success, I played against Black/White again. This time my opponent had Okiba-Gang Shinobi; Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni; and maindeck Phyrexian Arena. These games weren’t even close. I decided that if this were the way the queues were going to go, this was not the deck to play. I don’t think the deck is bad – I’m sure it’s good against decks that aren’t Black/White – but I didn’t play enough games with it to know for sure.

The next deck I tried, briefly, was Tomohiro Saito’s Blue/Green/Red Sea Stompy. This deck appealed to me, as all aggressive decks do.

Ohran Viper makes a notable appearance. A nice looking deck, but it didn’t play that way. I played a queue, my last for the night, but not nearly the end of my research for the week. My opponent was obviously playing Black/White aggro… and not very well, I might add. He didn’t understand how my Vipers interacted with his Husks. Despite all of that, I lost.

I lost because the deck ate itself. Three games of mana trouble, mulligans, garbage draws, 100th turn Birds of Paradise, and opening hands full of three-, four-, and five-drops. Garbage. As close as I came to winning game 3, I couldn’t take another match with this deck. I packed it in and went to sleep.

In the corner of my mind, I knew the next deck I needed to play was a deck that could at least go blow-for-blow against Black/White. I asked some hardcore pipe-swinging gamers, the likes of which I can find no matter what time it might be in their native country — 4am or 4pm, it matters not. A kind soul answered my question with “surely that control deck must be good, with Zombify and Wrath.” I said, “what? Oh, right, right.”

Oh, that control deck. Well, it’s not exactly the same as Paul Cheon deck from U.S. Nationals, and it’s not the same as Gerry Thompson and Mike Krumb’s, but the idea is fairly similar. Yosei, the Morning Star is absent; Adarkar Valkyrie takes its place. I’m not sure if this is good, but the thought of getting back Kokusho and Angel of Despair is at least mildly attractive, I’d say around a 6 on the standard 1-10 scale.

This deck is much nearer to the original deck, the one posted from Japanese Regionals in native Japanese. You had to click on every card to decipher the decklist, because at least the pictures popped up, even though the cards were in Japanese there too. It had the remnants of the Clutch of the Undercity engine, which I like, only because I like Sift. Nonetheless, this was the deck I played next.

One queue, I lost in the finals to another Top 8 deck, Black/Red snow-burn, although I think the snow-covered lands are just because, well, “mise.” The matchup seemed good enough. After board I had life gaining Descendents but in game 3, when I actually drew one, he hadn’t made an early play and so despite having just two lands in play (Chancery, Caves of Koilos) it died to a pre-land-drop Volcanic Hammer. I followed up with a Persecute Red, and easily lost to the Dark Confidant he topdecked, which fed him Genju of the Spires among other gas, my hand was lands at that point an I didn’t come close to getting there.

At this point, I took a break. I decided to talk to Mike Flores before going to the post office. We chatted a bit, and I told him about Standard, then he told me about Standard. I told him about this and that, he did the same. He said he was going to the Dinosaur BBQ. I wish I had gone. He offered up an arrangement to battle in the evening as sufficient research for this article and his own, similar article. I said it sounded good.

9pm rolled around (“I’ll be home around 6:30”), and both finally and magically, he appeared.

We battled.

First, I played the Solar Flare variant or progenitor, he played, as we’ve come to call it, 8StoneRain.dec.

The games were fast and brutal. At first, Adarkar Valkyrie sealed the first two games, then a combination of never-ending-string-of-Stone Rains-and-Remands kept me down. Way down. I was angry. This was bullsh**. Finally I won game 8, because Mike is Mike, and as good a read he might have had on my hand, I had just as good a read on his.

I, of course, lost the last two games too. Alternating play or draw, I ended up going 3-7, which is very disappointing. It’s hard to see mistakes in games like these, especially mistakes your opponent is making. They destroy your lands, and you can’t make plays, and at that point they should be trying to close the deal as fast as possible. This deck has literally no defense save Wrath of God and fast Angel of Despair draws. This deck relies on artifacts for mana acceleration, yet 8StoneRain.dec also has Trygon Predator for disruption, making things all but impossible. If you read Mike’s article, and you probably will, he writes this as Flores 7 Ravitz 3, and while I am astonished that I lost so many games to him, I am not at all surprised*.

We discussed the merits of playing more games, deciding ultimately to switch at least half of the equation. I regretfully told Mike to play 8StoneRain.dec again, which he was more than happy to do. I played Katsuhiro’s disaster for two games. I made a minor error, but Mike claimed he had the Remand to spare, and I had no chance; typical, classic, typical classics; classic typicals, or for those in the know, classic classics.

Two games were more than enough. I claimed he’d win ten, and I don’t think I was far off. I was in no mood to have my lands destroyed for eight more games. I actually thought I was winning the first game, then my Bob killed me. See above about classic typicals.

No more, I said. No more. He let me have some fun for the next and final set, 8StoneRain.dec was mine. He picked up Asahara’s deck, which appealed to him because, I guess, Asahara built it.

Reasonable enough.

Here’s 8StoneRain.dec, if you’re interested.

Rasmus Sibast of Dragonstorm fame – you can ask him about that – asked me if I had a whole deck to lend him. I said no without knowing what deck he wanted to borrow. I persisted, and he told me Kenji told him to look at the aforementioned 8StoneRain.dec. Then I went about changing the format all by myself – or, well, with Mike’s help.

Same thing, alternating play or draw; at the end of the set, Mike claimed he was more than a little tired, and when he made his worst plays he was already falling asleep.

6-4 after ten games, but I think it was at least 70% in my favor, accurately. The games I won were generally not too close. He let me win one game I shouldn’t have, by playing a second Cryoclasm target while he was Idealing out Form of the Dragon and Zur’s Weirding, and he almost let me win another game by attacking with a Trygon Predator, giving me three more outs instead of just the original three I had going into the final turn.

He claims fatigue. I’ll allow it.

We called it a night, presumably with him going to sleep. My plan was to play a few 8-man Constructed queues, and get to writing with my newfound results. Indeed, my plan came to fruition as I played three queues before delving in. My results were favorable, but by the time the third queue rolled around I could already sense the change occurring. That’s how fast things change online: seven rounds. Less than five hours.

In the first queue, I played against a U/B snow-control deck (not unlike the one from the Top 8 of Japanese Nationals). I defeated him, then I beat a four-color Zoo deck. In the finals, I dispatched mono-Red-snow-burn. In the next queue, I beat Tron and a semi-mirror (he had weird Giant Growth effects and probably not as many — if any — four-mana creatures. In the finals I defeated Solar Flare with ease, as our testing showed I would. 6-0 matches across a wide spectrum of opposing decks. I felt pretty good, and there were seven in the queue, so I hopped in. I lost 1-2 to Tomohiro Saito’s deck (aforementioned). I got a bit unlucky, since he always had both mana and Jitte advantage, but I’m not sure if the matchup is favorable. The decks are fairly similar. He has eight reactive counterspells, and I had eight offensive land destruction spells, but despite stealing game 1 from under a Jitte with two Cryoclasms, I don’t know. It felt even at best.

End of research.

The deck performed very well. The only sideboard cards that stink are Thoughts of Ruin, which are just overkill any way you slice it. Everything else is good, and I felt it had its place. I’d recommend you change the two Thoughts of Ruins to Seal of Fires – more versatile and good in the mirror. It’s possible, actually, that you want all four Seals. In that case, you probably want to cut two Savage Twisters for them, as they are a bit narrow, despite their broad effect.

The end result of all of this is that Cryoclasm might very well be a format-defining card. It allows an overload of three mana land destruction that can be played off Birds and Elves. This hasn’t been available for some time, and when it was, it wasn’t that good in the format. This is just one card out of Coldsnap; there are others, arguably better or certainly more powerful, like Scrying Sheets and so forth. This seems like the tip of the iceberg, considering how young Coldsnap is and the interactions that are likely to abound.

Next week, who knows? Tune in to find out!

I’m off to Arizona for the Grand Prix. Wish me luck.

Josh Ravitz