The Japan Standard Metagame Diaries – Beating Down The Door

Ryan Schwenk is an American Magic player who currently lives in Nagoya, Japan. Being actively involved in the Standard Magic scene there, today he shares with you the current Standard metagame as he sees it in Nagoya.

Hello and welcome to my first article here on StarCityGames.com. I’m looking forward to offering some insight and a peek at the metagame in Nagoya, Japan. Since space is limited in Japan, you won’t find gaming shops with 5000 feet of floor space and Friday Night Magic with over 50 players, but you will find a lot of players who have honed their skills and have become some of the best in the region.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself first. My first sealed deck tournament was Ice Age when I was in elementary school, but after quitting Magic around Tempest, I didn’t get involved again until Shards of Alara. I lived in Japan from 2005-2008, and I recently moved back to Japan in 2010.

I have been actively involved in the Standard Magic scene around Nagoya, Japan since M12 was released. I’m by no means an all-star Magic player, but I hope to share some insight into the Japanese gaming scene as well as what the best players are thinking of when they make their decks. I think that as an American, playing matches entirely in Japanese is my biggest Magic accomplishment to date.

But enough about me, let’s get on to the metagame! It was a harrowing weekend in Nagoya. After five days of matches, my W/G/B Token deck finished with a middling seven wins and eleven losses.

It started well enough on Friday. I came in second place at Friday Night Magic, going 2-1, and got a (Japanese) Dismember promo card. But that’s when the real challenge started.

Saturday at a store near Nagoya station yielded a 2-3 record. Bad card draws and poor sideboard decisions hurt me a lot. Sunday, at yet another store in Sakae, Nagoya, I left with another 2-3 record.

On day four, Monday Night Magic at my local shop, I finally beat a G/R Aggro variant that had beaten me three weeks in a row. However, I lost the next two matches I played against for a 1-2 record.

The last time I played was on Tuesday. It was a beautiful day, but in the evening I was utterly devastated by Solar Flare and a U/B Heartless Summoning deck to finish 0-2.

The final tally was seven wins and eleven losses.

But enough about me! What you’re really interested in if you’re reading this article is what Magic players in Japan are playing. While Nagoya isn’t Tokyo (where about 14 million people live) or Osaka (2.6 million), it does have 2.2 million people living in the city and a metro area of about 8.8 million people. It brings in a lot of Magic players from the surrounding areas on the weekend and gives you a nice sample of various decks that are used in the metagame.

Here’s a breakdown of what people were playing that weekend in Nagoya, Japan:

4/13 — B/G Pod, G/R Werewolves, U/B Control, U/W Delver, Grixis Control, two U/B Zombies, G/R Aggro, White Artifact Control, Junk Walkers, Goblins, B/G/W Tokens

4/14 — Wolf Run Ramp, RUG Burning Vengeance, G/R Werewolves, Jund Pod/Metalcraft, W/G Humans, B/G Aggro, Mono Red, Mono-Black Zombies, Mono-Green Aggro

4/15 — Solar Flare, Wolf Run Ramp with Lingering Souls, W/B Tokens, W/U Humans, W/U/R Humans, Esper Control, G/W Pod

4/16 — Wolf Run Ramp, W/G Pod, Wolf Run Werewolves, Mono-Black Zombies

4/17 — Solar Flare, U/B Heartless Summoning

Of course these weren’t all the decks that were played, but merely the ones I played against or that other players I knew played against. Truth be told, there were a lot of tournaments going on over the weekend and I couldn’t attend all of them.

But let’s use this sampling to get a bigger picture of the whole. If you put the variants together, these were the most popular decks in the metagame in Nagoya, Japan that weekend:

5 Wolf Run Ramp / G/R Aggro variants
4 Birthing Pod variants
4 Zombies variants
3 Humans variants
2 G/R Wolves
2 B/W Tokens variants
2 Solar Flare
1 U/W Delver
1 Esper Control
1 Grixis Control
1 U/B Control
1 Junk Walkers
1 Goblins
1 U/B Heartless Summoning
1 RUG Burning Vengeance
1 White Artifact Control
1 B/G Aggro
1 Mono Red
1 Mono-Green Aggro

The Top 3:

  1. Wolf Run Ramp / G/R Aggro variants (with 5 decks)
  2. Birthing Pod variants (with 4 decks)
  3. Zombies (with 4 decks; kind of a surprise actually)

During the last few weeks of local tournaments in Nagoya, Wolf Run Ramp variants have solidified their place in the metagame. There’s little that can stop them. It’s changed a little from the Magic World Championship days, with additions like Huntmaster of the Fells, but it’s still just as deadly. While it might not win 100% of the time, compared to the other decks in the metagame at the moment it’s by far the most efficient.

G/R Aggro or a variant has finished in the Top 5 of most events in the Nagoya area over the past few weeks. Some people are running white in it, some people are running black in it, but the main components remain the same. Esper Spirits was big in February and Birthing Pod decks were hot in March in Japan, but April is definitely the month of G/R Aggro.

G/R Aggro

So why is G/R Aggro dominating so much in Japan? Speed and power. Unlike U/W Delver, which relies on your Delver of Secrets to flip that second turn, G/R aggro will throw down a first turn forest and Birds of Paradise / Llanowar Elves. By the second turn it’ll have a Sword of War and Peace in play. By the third turn there’s a flying 2/3 Bird or rampaging Elf that’s going to most likely deal that two or three damage to you, plus around four damage for those cards in your hand, and then gain about three life.


I’m surprised that Zombies has made a comeback in Japan. It’s definitely aggressive and a Mortarpod is a nice way to get rid of that Birds of Paradise on the second turn, but the lack of blockers due to Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger coming into play tapped puts the player into dangerous territory very quickly against aggressive decks like G/R Aggro. This type of deck will gain a lot of power with soulbond cards in Avacyn Restored I think.

If you play B/U Zombies, first turn Gravecrawler, second turn Wingcrafter, and voila! You now have a flying 2/1 Zombie each turn that becomes increasing difficult to block (a Zombie with wings is pretty terrifying, isn’t it?). I think Demonic Taskmaster and Killing Wave will really beef up this deck too. Sacrifice your Gravecrawler then bring it back at the end of the turn while your opponent either takes the damage or sacrifices everything leaving him defenseless is pretty powerful.

Birthing Pod

I also think that Birthing Pod decks will be around in Japan until New Phyrexia cycles out of Standard play in the fall. Undying creatures from Dark Ascension like Geralf’s Messenger, Strangleroot Geist, and Vorapede just love being sacrificed. Who wouldn’t want two for the price of one?

To end today’s report, here’s a sample deck that has done remarkably well over the past few weeks and has consistently finished well in the metagame over here in Nagoya. It’s a very deadly version of G/R Aggro.

While it’s similar to some G/R Aggro and Wolf Run decks in the StarCityGames.com deck database, it’s not exactly the same. This deck hits hard and fast. As long as you start out with one Llanowar Elf or Birds of Paradise in your opening hand, you’ll be in great shape. Turn 2 could land a Daybreak Ranger or a Sword of War and Peace. By turn 3 you could have a Huntmaster of the Fells in play, and by turn 4 you could have a Vorapede in play.

This deck is relentless and quickly overpowers decks like U/W Delver and Humans. The sideboard accounts for cards such as Grafdigger’s Cage (which would shut down your undying creatures and your Green Sun’s Zenith) with Ancient Grudges and Naturalizes, and the Surgical Extractions work well going against control decks where you have to worry about multiple counterspells or Oblivion Rings. Once they use a Mana Leak take them out of the game, or destroy an Oblivion Ring then take them out of the game.

In my opinion, until somebody can come up with a deck that consistently beats Wolf Run Ramp / G/R Aggro variants that’s also effective against the other popular decks like Birthing Pod, Zombies, and Humans, it will remain on top of the metagame here in Nagoya, Japan. (At least until the second week in May when Avacyn Restored decks start showing up and really shake things up.)

In future reports, I hope to conduct a few interviews of the top local players in Nagoya and discuss their card choices, strategies, and why they choose to use a certain deck over another. With Grand Prix Nagoya still about eight months away (December 8-9, 2012), I hope you’ll continue to take a look at the Japanese metagame with me and maybe even think of flying over and participating! Thanks for reading.