A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Okay, okay, so it wasn’t that long ago, it was two weekends ago. Alright, it wasn’t that far away either, only half a world (from here in America). We're talking, of course, about Grand Prix Kobe.
Sometimes if a Grand Prix isn’t close to you, it does seem like it's in a galaxy far, far away. Other countries have different metas and bring out different aspects of every format. Occasionally, there will be some players behind the pace, while others will be forging ahead.
We frequently see the Japanese metagame pushing the envelope at every opportunity, and GP Kobe was no different.
Dissecting the Top 8 and looking at some other results, we see the metagame moving in an interesting direction. Players are starting to work with Temur, tokens and giant Eldrazi.
Standard is interesting right now, with many archetypes available and still more territory to explore. Let’s look at a snapshot of the meta from Japan and discuss what to expect moving forward.
First up, we have Dark Temur, or Temur Black. This deck fills the same role as the slower Abzan decks but it utilizes completely different cards to achieve its goals.
Wizards frequently gives us recursive threats like Bloodsoaked Champion or Bloodghast that can't block. Less common are the Deathmist Raptors of the multiverse, which is why these cards have traditionally appeared in aggressive decks.
For a control deck to utilize this kind of card, it needs to be able to block to help stabilize. Deathmist blocks and does a damn fine job at that, killing almost everything it tussles with. It's the ultimate control card because it generates card advantage while dragging the game out.
I also like how Temur can enable the combo with Rattleclaw Mystic. As Standard’s premier mana accelerator, Mystic has been adopted a lot less than I expected. Not only does it ramp you to four mana a turn early, it also helps with all the crazy multi-color shenanigans players are getting into these days.
In addition to the clear-cut power of the megamorphs, this deck also gains two underappreciated planeswalkers. Both Kiora, Master of the Depths and Sarkhan Unbroken are very powerful cards in the abstract, but they haven't found much of a home yet.
In my set review for Battle for Zendikar (BFZ), I wrote about the specific combination of Rattleclaw Mystic and Kiora, and how similar it was to Garruk Wildspeaker. This deck showcases the power of that sequence. There are only a couple cheap spells you can play after untapping two mana sources like that, but it will cast most of the creature base.
Sarkhan is also super powerful if you can cast him. Between making threats and drawing extra cards, there are few situations he won't be useful.
This archetype is relatively unexplored and there is still room for more innovation. Being able to play so many colors opens up your deck to lots of possibilities.
Bring to Light comes to mind as a possible area of exploration. That card seems perfectly suited for this deck. The only setback is that it competes with the other five-mana spells.
Another strategy players are exploring is ramp. We haven’t seen a good ramp strategy in a while, but when giant monsters with epic powers like the Eldrazi get printed, players will try to harness that power.
Here's the latest example of a player finding success with this strategy.
If this deck looks familiar that's because it’s based on a deck from a couple years ago called Turbo Land. Many times, we think of blue and green as a tempo combination, but the other way it can play out is in a ramp strategy such as this.
The most unique contribution by blue is Part the Waterveil, which is particularly well suited to the strategy. It's not hard to get to nine mana in a dedicated ramp deck, which lets you awaken a 6/6 to go along with your extra turn.
The killer top end of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger plus Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a potent end game to ramp to. Compared to the R/G version, this one is more capable of "going off," by chaining a few extra turns while you have planeswalkers active or Ulamog gobbling up the opponent's library.
The major card missing from this build is Hangarback Walker. Many other ramp players are using the infamous artifact creature to full effect, but it appears Matousek chose to cut it for other options.
To a certain extent, the Standard meta is warped around Hangarback. And if it weren't for Silkwrap (an uncommon pushing $3), this effect could be much more pronounced. If you don’t have your Hangarbacks yet, I recommend getting them soon because its power level isn’t going down anytime soon and it's good in other formats as well.
Look out for this deck at your next event. As with most ramp decks, when the pieces come together in the right order it's tough to beat. The adage goes, if you build it, they will come. Likewise, if you print an Eldrazi, players will play it.
The most common way to beat a ramp deck is to end the game before they get a chance to cast their huge, expensive spells. Luckily, GP Kobe has you covered on that angle as well with B/W Warriors.
As an aggro enthusiast, I was excited to see this deck perform well. There are so many Savannah Lions in Standard and I feel someone should be taking the opportunity to beat down with them.
Warriors have the huge benefit of a two-mana lord. Most lords cost three and provide additional abilities, but in Constructed mana efficiency will usually be more relevant. We’ve seen this with Lord of Atlantis in Modern and Legacy.
Chief of the Edge is not as powerful as the merfolk lord, but it does pair great with other aggressive creatures. The sequence of any one-drop into Chief allows you to start attacking for three on turn two. Instead, if you curve a one-drop into two more on turn two, a follow-up Chief will let you attack for nine damage! This deck can consistently present lethal damage on turn four or five with lines like these.
The removal suite is also great. Valorous Stance, Silkwrap and Stasis Snare are all premium removal spells, and the deck also makes full use of the powerful Wasteland Strangler. That card is pretty insane when turned on, and explains the inclusion of Stasis Snare over Ruinous Path, which I otherwise prefer.
Our next deck chooses many of the same cards, but is built with a more midrange strategy in mind.
Esper Tokens is another deck based off of an older strategy. B/W Tokens was a huge part of the Lorwyn Standard metagame, and stampeded through tournaments shortly after it was first created.
That deck used Bitterblossom to build up an advantage over the course of the game. Today we don't have the luxury of such a ridiculous card advantage and tempo engine, but Esper Tokens can put together multiple cards to get the job done.
The goal is to fetch up an extra land with Knight of the White Orchid, make the opponent spend extra resources to deal with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and finish off with a two-for-one special in a raided Wingmate Roc. All this incidental card advantage means Esper Tokens can grind with the best of them.
Since it’s in the same colors as the Warrior deck, it also has access to the same amazing removal spells. In many games you can do a solid Abzan Control impression and kill all their stuff.
Combining Tokens & Warriors
My own angle of attack on the current meta is a pinch of warriors combined with a dash of tokens. Take a look.
This deck has been great for me so far this season. It combines the aggressive lines of the Warrior strategy with the midrange power of Esper Tokens, making for a tough ship to destroy. Sticking to the Star Wars analogy, this deck is like the Millennium Falcon. It’s extremely maneuverable and can get you out of almost every situation. Just don’t get caught in Silumgar, the Drifting Death’s tractor beam and you’ll be okay.
There's one card in my list that's absent from the others. Drana, Liberator of Malakir has gone unnoticed for some time but she packs a huge punch.
The reason she didn’t see play initially is because Mantis Rider was all over the format. With a wide-open meta of late, players are exploring lots of new strategies and Jeskai Black has taken a back seat. Obviously Drana still matches up poorly against Mantis Rider and you're bound to run up against it eventually, but that's what removal spells are for.
Even connecting once with Drana and pumping your team can be enough to sway the game in your favor. If she sticks around for multiple turns, your likelihood to win rises dramatically. In addition, she makes for an epic pairing with Hangarback Walker.
The idea behind this deck was initially to make the best Hangarback deck. I aimed to do that with Drana but also Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. These two cards add additional counters to your Walker with little effort. Additionally, I have Gideon, Ally of Zendikar’s emblem to pump a swarm of thopter tokens and swing in for the kill.
The deck works well, but so do all of the other decks mentioned here today. GP Kobe has shown us some of the possibilities in Standard but space is vast and there are still more areas to explore.
Everything is awesome. I love my deck, Standard is super fun, and we’re getting a new Star Wars movie in a few short weeks.
I also have the opportunity to attend the TCG Player Maxpoint Championship this weekend in Wisconsin. If you’re at the event, come say hello. Otherwise, tune in next week when I'll report how I did in the tournament.
Unleash the B/W Aggro Force!
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