The Japan Metagame Diaries – Pre-Avacyn Chaos

American Magic player Ryan Schwenk gives you another look at the Standard metagame he’s a part of in Japan before Avacyn Restored was released. If you like control, he recommends trying White Artifact Control at your next Standard tournament.

By the time you read this, the Avacyn Restored release will have come and gone, and you will have no doubt added in a lot of juicy new cards to your current deck (by the way, did anybody pull a Time Walk—I mean Temporal Mastery?). But before you opened up those booster packs, were you already planning what kind of deck you would be using at the first post-Avacyn Friday Night Magic? Were you using the week leading up to the launch as kind of a dry run to see what direction the metagame was heading?

Well, I wasn’t. I felt comfortable using my U/R Aggro-Control deck that has been solid for me (but has not won tournaments consistently). I made some mental missteps that cost me a few games, but otherwise I was happy with my performance. However, the same can’t be said of a lot of the players in Nagoya, Japan this past week.

The metagame was a mess over here with no clear dominant deck. Many players seemed to be trying anything and everything to win. Ok, strike that. U/W Delver did make a comeback, as well as U/W Humans, but there was no clear-cut deck that was more popular than the others. It’s really too bad that there aren’t events like the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Japan, which would allow us to get a more in-depth look at the metagame of top players as a whole.

This week was different from the previous week as work took me to Hamamatsu city in Shizuoka prefecture. I worked early in the morning, and in the evening I went to the only shop in the area that holds weekly Magic events. Even though the city isn’t that big (800,000 people is the official tally, but in reality only about 400,000 live near downtown in the metro area), I was able to get some good information about what players outside of the major cities are using.

I can only comment on the decks I played against (which are italicized), but if you’re interested in some of the combinations, I can look into it in the future. Most of the decks I saw only in passing or asked the players about once their matches were done.

Friday Night Magic, 4/20: Mono Red x2, Frites, Mono-Green Aggro, U/R Control Burn, U/W Delver, G/B/W Myr Steel, W/B/R Tokens, G/R Werewolves, U/G Hexproof Aggro, Naya Pod, Junk Aggro, Mono-Black Hand Destruction Control, W/B Tokens

FNM in Hamamatsu City was radically different from Nagoya. I went in there thinking that people would be using the same popular decks that players in Nagoya were using, such as Birthing Pod and G/R Aggro, but I was wrong and paid the price for it with a 1-1-1 record.

The Mono Red deck was just plain nasty. Turn 1 Goblin Fireslinger / Stromkirk Noble / Grim Lavamancer. Turn 2 Goblin Fireslinger / Stromkirk Noble, Grim Lavamancer. Turn 3 Goblin Fireslinger / Stromkirk Noble / Grim Lavamancer. Turn 4 Hellrider and all in with the team. This deck was really aggressive. I lost both of those games pretty quickly when I wasn’t able draw any kill spells.

Saturday, 4/21: G/R Aggro x2, U/W Delver x3 (one of which was the winner), Esper-Blade, W/U Human, Frites, Heartless Pod, B/U Zombies, G/B/R/W Aggro, G/W/B Tokens, W/G Humans, B/U Zombies, W/B Tempered Steel Tokens, Esper Frites

Saturday had a lot of interesting deck combinations. When I’m talking about chaos in the metagame in Japan, I’m talking about days like this. W/B Tempered Steel Tokens (with Shrines of Loyal Legions and Myr Turbine)??? Heartless Summoning Pod? What?!?!

There were a lot of other interesting combinations in Saturday’s matches, on top of the popular decks like U/W Delver and G/R Aggro. The Esper Frites deck is also worth mentioning. Although it lacked the Faithless Looting, it made up for it with Forbidden Alchemy, which is a good substitution since it lets you put more cards in the graveyard than a Faithless Looting does.

Sunday, 4/22: B/U Zombies, U/B Heartless Summoning,W/U Humans, G/R Aggro, G/B Glissa Control, Heartless Pod, G/R Aggro, B/U Zombies, W/U Humans (winner), Esper Venser, U/G Self-Mill

Sunday was a lot of the same old, same old. I actually played against the Heartless Pod deck from Saturday at this tournament. Interesting idea, but it relied too heavily on the Pod. It ran four Phantasmal Images instead of Phyrexian Metamorphs, a Sun Titan, and an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, but once you use Surgical Extraction to take out those Images it loses a lot of power. Once I Mana Leaked his Elesh Norn on turn 7, it was game over.

Monday, 4/23: R/G Werewolves, U/W Delver x2, Mono-Black Zombies x2, Esper Control, G/R Aggro

Hmm, Zombies again? Are they really rising from the dead and making a comeback or are people using them before Avacyn Restored because they know that the other colors will become more powerful?? Hmm, I’ll wait and see what happens to the metagame next week before making any assumptions. I actually couldn’t attend Monday’s tournament, so this report was given to me by a friend of mine who attended it.

Friday Night Magic, 4/27: G/B Pod, W/U Humans, G/R Aggro, Naya Pod (winner), White Artifact Control

When people say W/U Humans and U/W Delver are too hard to beat, they obviously haven’t played against them with an opening hand of three mana (red, blue, and a Sulfur Falls), one Mana Leak, two Galvanic Blasts, and a Whipflare. U/R Aggro-Control is only going to get stronger after Avacyn Restored with cards like Thunderous Wrath and Temporal Mastery. Take away their early game, and they got nothing. (Got a Japanese Gravecrawler promo too! Score!)

Compared to last time, this time we have a lot more decks to look at. When we break down all of these variants into their main deck type, this is what was popular in Nagoya leading up to the release Avacyn Restored.

– UW Delver x 6
– G/R Aggro x 6
– Zombies x 6
– Humans x 5
– Frites x 3
– W/B Tokens x 4
Birthing Pod x 4
– Esper Control x 3

I think it’s great that people are willing to try different decks and that you don’t go into every tournament facing only three types of decks. Standard play in Nagoya really keeps you on your toes, and you have to make every play count.

So why did Birthing Pod decks fall out of favor? Well, I did notice a shift to more aggressive beatdown decks like W/U Humans and U/W Delver this week, as well as more people using control. When you have to block a 3/2 Delver on your second turn, it doesn’t leave you with a lot of sacrifice options for your third turn Birthing Pod.

Zombies are also a problem for Pod decks. If you’re playing a G/W Pod deck with some Fiend Hunters you might have a chance of slowing it down, but usually Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, and Strangleroot Geists aren’t enough to stop a Gravecrawler, Diregraf Ghoul, and a third turn Geralf’s Messenger. With all of these beatdown decks going around, I’m surprised nobody is using more red burn spells. I occasionally see a Slagstorm in the G/R Aggro decks (especially sided in), but other than that the games here are usually a fistfight with each opponent trading blows until somebody falls down.

There has to be a better way of doing things! There has to be some deck ideas somebody hasn’t tried yet that will turn the metagame on its head and shake things up. Well, usually there are. In big tournaments or the SCG Open Series, there is always that black sheep that is running a Tempered Steel or Infect deck while everybody else is using the flavor of the week (W/U Humans, U/W Delver, G/R Aggro, Pod, etc.). These types of decks might not win the tournament, but they can finish in a decent position because nobody was expecting it. I’m going to be on the lookout for these types of decks in Japan and feature them here.

The first deck that I want to promote is a control deck. Now, when you think of control decks, what colors do you think of first? White and blue, right? Or maybe black and blue? But there is also Esper Control. Hmm, there are a lot of options, but how about White Artifact Control? Is it possible? Is it effective?

Well, you can try it out and let me know. I met a player who was running this White Artifact Control deck and thought I would share it. You’ll definitely need to do some play testing with it against some of the popular decks in the metagame in order to know how to react to each one, but once you get that down this deck can be really effective.

I’ve had the chance to play against this deck a few times, and it can be a real pain. It is part Solar Flare, part U/W Control, and part Junk Walkers. The early game relies on cards like Tumble Magnet, Oblivion Ring, and Blade Splicer to keep the board clean. The Contagion Clasp can be put out early to deal with creatures or put out later when counters on the Tumble Magnets are running low. Cards like Ratchet Bomb deal with token decks easily, and Day of Judgment will take out any pesky creatures like Thrun, The Last Troll or any creature that can’t be targeted due to hexproof (Invisible Stalker).

Once the early game is locked down, the player can start gaining life with Pristine Talismans and Elspeth Tirel can help to rebuild your army. Once Gideon Jura comes out, the strategy becomes similar to a Junk Walkers deck, where you just beat down your enemy with him and your Elspeth Soldiers.

The Contagion Clasp comes into play again later in the game as well. Not only will it continue to keep your Tumble Magnets full, but it will also help you to build up loyalty counters on your planeswalkers. Venser the Sojourner’s + 2 ability will help you to reset any cards that are low on counters, and with your opponent locked down and your Contagion Clasp proliferating every turn, he can reach his ultimate very quickly and start to exile things left and right.

If your Blade Splicers, Oblivion Rings, or Ratchet Bombs were taken out earlier, by the middle of the game the Sun Titan will help you to get them back onto the battlefield. The Phyrexian Metamorphs actually perform double duty in this game. Depending on what you’re looking for at the moment, they can become another Tumble Magnet to lock down your opponent, another Ratchet Bomb to take out an army of tokens breathing down your neck, or a Sun Titan to bring back more artifacts or Oblivion Rings from your graveyard.

You’re probably thinking, "Why that choice of lands?" The use of four Buried Ruins will ensure that any Shattered or Naturalized artifacts will be brought back into play, and the Phyrexian Cores are good ways to quickly sacrifice an artifact that might otherwise be removed from the game with a Revoke Existence. I’m sure that the Batterskull and Wurmcoil Engine would be the main targets for that type of spell.

The sideboard could probably use some work (depending on which type of metagame you’re going up against), but Surgical Extractions, an extra Ratchet Bomb, and another Oblivion Ring make control for this deck even easier.

Mitsuo said that this deck performs very well against beatdown decks, which have proliferated in the current metagame in Nagoya, but it can sometimes struggle against control decks. For that reason, he sided in two Elixir of Immortality to deal with decks that use Nephalia Drownyard or other similar milling cards. If you’re tired of the same old decks and want to try out something new at Friday Night Magic next week, give this deck a try.

That’s it for this week’s Japan Metagame Diaries. Next time I will focus on which colors, which cards, and which types of decks players in Japan are thinking of using during their first tournament with legal Avacyn Restored cards. I hope to get some insight as to how Avacyn Restored will change the metagame and what kind of unique combos will come out of Japan.

I look forward to sharing more interesting deck ideas from Japan with you in the future. Thanks for reading!