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Author Shuhei Nakamura

Feature Article – Earthquake or Not

Hello everyone. Please excuse the delayed release of today’s article. It is going to be a discussion of the deck tuning I have been doing for Grand Prix Kobe, which had been drawing near until it was recently rescheduled. Before that, though, I think I would like to say a few things regarding myself and Japan. On Friday March 11th, my furniture had finally arrived at my new home in Tokyo and it was still being unpacked. After finishing up the construction of the chairs and tables I was relaxing on the couch.

Earthquakes

One thing I would like you to understand beforehand is that large earthquakes are not uncommon here. At least in Japan, it is typically recognized that a magnitude six earthquake is an incident that is within the realm of possibility, and there is one every ten years or so somewhere in the nation. For that very reason, in Japan, children are raised hearing that “when Mount Fuji erupts, there will be a terrible earthquake.” On a more personal level, fifteen years ago there was a devastating earthquake in Kobe thirty miles from my hometown of Osaka. That earthquake, which was named “the Great Osaka-Kobe earthquake,” was the worst in the region in one hundred years up to that point with more than 5,000 people killed. Even today, scars from this event remain in Kobe. Having personally experienced the recent earthquake in Tokyo, I recognized that it might have been around the level of the Kobe earthquake if it impacted the Tokyo region moderately.

If you are looking for something positive in all this, so far all of my friends who play Magic are safe. However, in reality there are many more who have not been accounted for.

The damage to the area two hundred to four hundred miles north of Tokyo in the northern part of the Kantou region as well as the northeastern part where the epicenter was located was devastating. First of all there was the earthquake itself, and then afterwards the region was battered by the flood of a tsunami that easily exceeded 30 feet in some places. In a short period, the area sustained incredible damage two times. Afterwards from watching images of the tsunami on television I was shocked to learn that the tournament hall where Brian Kibler was victorious at last year’s Grand Prix Sendai was also briefly submerged. The number of casualties and the extent of the damage is great, and presently it is impossible to accurately measure them. There was even a report that in one town 50% of the residents, about 8,000 people, were still unaccounted for. As I am writing this article, the state of affairs is such that the goal of reconstructing, not to mention reestablishing essential utilities, is out of reach.

There was almost no direct damage in Tokyo, Japan’s capital city where most of the population is concentrated and where I currently reside. But minimal physical damage still meant that city facilities took a blow. First of all, immediately following the earthquake all major public transportation was stopped including trains and subways, and as a result people turned to their cars meaning that Tokyo’s means of transportation were completely overloaded. Moreover, the fact that the system for distributing food and other products was paralyzed led to a reaction of quiet panic which left no food in convenience stores. Up to this point these have been temporary problems, and if you compare them to the serious damage sustained by the center of the disaster they are still not minor. Currently though, Tokyo’s specific problems are less severe than those of other places.

In Tokyo the amount of electric power is still insufficient, and the situation is such that for an approximately two month period each region of the city will periodically take a turn having a power outage. This is because Tokyo’s essential electric power is provided by a group of power plants far from the city, meaning that this effect of the earthquake comes not from Tokyo itself but from damage sustained farther away.

The worst story among all this is that one hundred fifty miles north of Tokyo, workers lost control of Fukushima’s nuclear power plant. This could lead to a meltdown simply because there is not enough electric power. Furthermore, this news itself has complicated things as everyone is full of fear and doubt.

Perhaps the reality of the situation is that right now the struggle to prevent the worst is at its height. At this time, there is nothing else I can say regarding these problems and I can’t say whether to completely believe the news or not. For some, responsibility is attributable to a certain party while others question whether someone concealed information in looking for a place to put the blame, but the great majority of Tokyo residents wish for the best for those fighting one hundred fifty miles away as they live out their everyday lives.

And in conclusion, I will now turn back to my hometown of Osaka. Regarding the plans to hold a Grand Prix in Kobe this past week, the truth is I intended to tune my deck there and scheduled a quick one week trip home to Osaka. I was astonished that almost nothing had changed there: it seemed like geography and disaster protection elements played a part in keeping the city safe.

The thing I’d like you to understand is that this earthquake caused massive damage in Japan that it is experiencing not only now, but also will be for a long time in the future.

However, this does not mean that all of Japan was damaged by the earthquake. Kobe is currently unharmed. The same is true for Nagoya. It is said that the region west of Nagoya was also unaffected by the earthquake. I cannot go so far as to assert that Japan is a safe country, but I hope you now know something about the several areas I have discussed today.

Now, let’s turn the subject to Magic.

Previously Grand Prix Kobe was scheduled in mid-March, and I was setting up my new home and tuning my Extended decks. In Tokyo where I currently live there are Grand Prix Trials that are held every weekend on Saturday. Thanks to these events, I began by learning the format with Faeries, and when I heard of the existence of a different Doran, the Siege Tower deck, I wanted to test it out right away. My first week served to enhance my understanding of the Extended environment as a whole. Of course, I could also do this sort of testing on Magic Online, but I think that paper Magic and online Magic have only false similarities in some ways, and my preferred arena is paper Magic. As a result, I go to tournaments as much as possible.

Sword of Feast and Famine has an effect on Faeries, but the same is true for the other decks in Extended, in particular the updated version of Blue/White Caw-Go which has exploded in popularity on the tournament scene. However, this deck is not a so-called “winning deck.” In this environment, faster decks like pure speed non-combo elves and other high synergy decks are more important relatively speaking. The development speed of these decks is so fast that it is a common sight that their opponent is dead before they can cast a fourth turn Day of Judgment.

After the first week, my understanding of the relationship between each deck was a scheme that involved high-speed beatdown decks, midrange decks that incorporated counterspells like Faeries and Caw-Go and the format’s strongest combo deck, Valakut.

After this, naturally there was the pressing task of searching for the two or perhaps three strongest winning decks, but I discovered a promising list just before the next Grand Prix Trial. I found this deck list on Magic Online, and have made a few changes to the original. This is the version I brought to the Grand Prix Trial:

As you can see, it’s Boros.

At first everyone was completely unaware that this was actually a strong deck versus beatdown decks that contained burn spell countermeasures intended to combat Elves. Although I thought Mono-Red would be the best deck, Boros is right there with Mono-Red in terms of power. When playing versus Mono-Red, Boros has many advantages, and it didn’t take long for me to recognize that it was the stronger of the two. One time at three o’clock in the morning, I awoke and constructed this deck. Although it was hasty, my results at the Grand Prix Trial were four consecutive wins followed by two consecutive losses. And, because I played a 4-1-1 player in the final round I resigned myself to defeat. It was unfortunate that I didn’t make Top 8, but in the matches I lost if I had drawn more of the many lands in my deck that are required for Boros to function I could have won games that I ended up dropping. And, twice in a row after mulliganing I started the game by keeping risky hands color-wise and ended up dropping both. Under the circumstances it was enough, and I wanted to continue using the deck.

Because I had tested all the cards I had come up with for the sideboard and there were some things I didn’t like, I omitted these and made two major changes to the main deck from the original list.

I used Stoneforge Mystic, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Sword of Body and Mind.

Right before the Grand Prix Trial, I decided to play these based on Yuuya Watanabe’s advice, and his conclusion was that not playing the Stoneforge Mystic and one sword system would be foolish. It is incredibly strong.

In contrast with Standard, I played three copies of Stoneforge Mystic. This allowed mana for Figure of Destiny to be available at any time. Additionally, in Extended a Stoneforge Mystic that can’t fetch up equipment can be fatal, and this reduces that risk. For example, if you play four copies of Mystic, you could try adding a third equipment like Mortarpod, but I noticed that every time I returned to a 3/1/1 frame. I think that this may be the optimal plan.

I also used Earthquake.

Nowadays I cannot smile at this card’s name, but when it was once again dug up as a possibility to meet the demands of the format I was delighted. It is a board sweeper, it has good synergy with landfall, and it deals a flexible X damage.

I hurriedly added Stoneforge to my deck and removed one copy from my sideboard, but from the start this Grand Prix Trial served partly to test whether or not Earthquake would perform as expected. I think the results were “not bad.” The chance of drawing them was relatively low because I had only two copies in the main deck, but if I had Earthquake in hand there were many situations in which I could win at any time. Additionally because you can trigger landfall with a fetch land to increase the size of your creatures, Earthquake has more than enough power to decide the game. Consider a game state against a hypothetical Elves opponent who is on the draw and has one lord in play. Shooting the lord down with X=3 has become standard practice for me and works well. The Boros mirror is a matchup where this works more effectively. Even if a sword is played, generally speaking the mirror match consists of a creature-heavy board because the chances of drawing a one-mana spell are high. That is not to say that Earthquake is weak here, because many one-sided exchanges can still be made. Of course, there are also matchups where this is ineffective, but I’ll discuss these a bit later.

The parts of the original list that went unchanged include Goblin Bushwhacker, which was a card I originally thought was a necessity. Surely in certain situations it is incredibly strong, but when it is weak it is truly useless. It is generally poor at the start of the game, and I got the impression that it was an awkward card due to the extra turn required to search it up with Ranger of Eos. Ranger of Eos is also a difficult card.

Certainly in a long drawn out battles two copies of Figure of Destiny have the power to decide the game, and after sideboarding searching up Burrenton Forge-Tender is excellent. However, I’ve encountered the idea that cards that require five or more turns to affect the game have merit in Boros. I tried Antoine Ruel’s alternative framework that includes Hero of Bladehold and Linvala, Keeper of Silence and uses four copies of Ranger of Eos along with Spikeshot Elder as an additional one-mana creature. Thinking back now two or three days after the trial, perhaps I strayed a bit in my deck construction. I tried adding the Cunning Sparkmage/Basilisk Collar package to the main deck, and with White/Red Weenie in mind I played a version of Boros with Spectral Procession, two Mountains and zero Goblin Guides. I would make extreme changes to the sideboard were I to play it again.

And at last, this is the latest version of the Boros deck I would use looking ahead to the Grand Prix:

Main Deck:

I switched Ranger of Eos in the sideboard and replaced it with Mirran Crusader and Elspeth, Knight-Errant in the maindeck. When playing Boros, your opponent’s Mirran Crusader will generally do nothing and get sent to the graveyard, but this card is very strong when you play it at a critical juncture. It has a low mana cost, great synergy with equipment, and its protection abilities prevent it from dying to black removal and let it slip past green blockers. And Elspeth, Knight-Errant is outstanding. It is a simple ten damage combo, and Elspeth can apply pressure even without creatures. Using Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede you can deal ten points of damage, and Elspeth can directly ensure the remaining ten in such a way that by turn four your opponent’s life is reduced to zero. This allows for the creation of a simple but incredibly powerful game plan. Among this deck’s strong points is its ideal curve. However, I think that ending the game on turn four is not the fastest kill in the format, as that honor goes to the non-combo Elves deck.

That is not to say that I am completely satisfied with this list, as there is more to discuss. Around the time when I heard that the Grand Prix was going to be postponed, I removed Earthquake because of its poor synergy with Mirran Crusader and added the Crusader and Elspeth package, all the while considering whether or not I could somehow make space for other cards. I included eight one mana removal spells, and if I could I wanted to add additional removal. However, my dilemma was that I didn’t want to remove any more creatures because of the amount of equipment I was playing. Besides, because I had cut Cunning Sparkmage I had not put together an adequate strategy for coping with genuine White Weenie decks with numerous fliers. Naturally, the reason for cutting Sparkmage was that I all too often saw Qasali Pridemage, Linvala, Keeper of Silence and the currently popular Mortarpod used very effectively against it.

Currently, I have two empty spots in my sideboard where I have yet to discover a card that really fits. I am looking for an effective card against Faeries, Naya, and White Weenie but at this time I have not made a decision. I think that from this week onward finding these cards will be my task. And, after having used this deck in these circumstances I will take this opportunity to write a little bit about its game and sideboard plans.

Versus Blue/White Stoneforge Mystic:

Basically, this matchup favors you. Your creatures are faster and by turn two your board is already developed. This is generally not a hard matchup because among your opponent’s creatures the only real problem is the possibility of Kitchen Finks or Mirran Crusader breaking through with a sword. I think that generally your opponent will be able to win if they have both a sword and removal with which to destroy your creatures.

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Versus Valakut:

Regarding game one, the only question is at which point this deck will deal twenty points of damage. If there is still a safe margin from being killed by the burn spells in their main deck, Lightning Bolt or Volcanic Fallout, you do not need to be particularly worried about anything except an instant kill from an unexpected Valakut. After sideboarding the problem is that they will put in numerous Pyroclasm effects that deal two or three points of damage, and there is really no way of predicting how often you will get hit. At one point I was boarding in Mark of Asylum and Tunnel Ignus from my sideboard as a way of dealing with this, but because of the match up dynamics, there wasn’t any room in the main deck to swap in these cards and my deck took on its current form. It is a “surprise attack” sideboard. The strategy is to exhaust your opponent’s supply of mountains by sticking Leyline of Sanctity. Usually at first you side out Path to Exile, but because it is absolutely necessary to kill Primeval Titan, you leave it in against Valakut. Additionally, you take out all four Lightning Bolts because the strategy is not based on killing your opponent quickly with direct damage.

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Versus Faeries:

When compared with Blue/White, Faeries has Sower of Temptation as “spot removal” and Spellstutter Sprite to counter early spells, making this a much more difficult matchup for Boros. At this time I am using almost the same sideboard plan as against Blue/White, but I think that devoting some sideboard cards to combat Faeries might be necessary.

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Versus Boros:

An important part of staying in the lead in this matchup is developing a game state where you are dealing huge amounts of damage via landfall. Being the first to attack also gives you an overwhelming edge. In a tough situation where you have nine life remaining and can attack on the following turn with two landfall creatures does this limit you to being aggressive? It is good for you if your opponent is in this position. Because both you and your opponent will augment your removal spells after sideboarding, you proactively add cards that will interfere with your opponent’s plan.

Regarding the careful use of Arc Trail, I think that a good strategy is to control the speed of the game rather than defeating your opponent with a swift attack. This is the matchup where I find myself wanting Earthquake a bit.

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Versus Mono-Red:
Here both decks are high speed, but I think that in this matchup it is essential to be keenly aware of your role as the Boros player. Your opponent aims to end the game quickly with burn spells, but if you continuously control your life total through the use of white cards and the Stoneforge Mystic/Sword system this alone will increase your chance of winning. Early creatures will die in combat or to removal, depending on who draws what. A four mana card, sword, or a surviving Figure of Destiny can lead you to victory. My current sideboard plan is very defensive. Oftentimes I even choose to be on the draw. As for why I keep Goblin Guide in after sideboarding, it is only because it is a more efficient blocker than Steppe Lynx, as it is more likely to survive. If you cannot equip a sword and your opponent is not at a low life total you generally do not want to attack.

Siding in four copies of Leyline of Sanctity is too much, but how many copies would be best? If I were to put them in, I might take out Elspeth, Knight-Errant or Arc Trail.

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Versus Bant:

The swords and Mirran Crusader often determine the outcome of these games because many of their creatures are green. However as far as the swords are concerned, do not place too much faith in them as Qasali Pridemage and Bant Charm are used as countermeasures, and they are joined by the dangerous Path to Exile. Elspeth, Knight-Errant is also an important card in this matchup.

Regarding Knight of the Reliquary, I am often concerned about Sejiri Steppe and think that killing it with Path to Exile before it loses summoning sickness is a good idea. Although I did not really think it over in depth, it might be a good idea to include Sejiri Steppe in my next list since it is not in the most recent one. At any rate, in this matchup there are two choices for Stoneforge Mystic, and tutoring up Sword of Body and Mind means that one of your creatures cannot be blocked by Celestial Colonnade and creates an additional blocker for an enormous Knight, which if possible to remove should still be top priority.

After sideboarding, with the exception of Arc Trail, I continue with the strategy of using spells that target large creatures like Knight of the Reliquary, removing all of the Lightning Bolts. If you include permanent removal like Cunning Sparkmage this is somewhat different, but I think that devoting your resources to the removal of mana creatures stalls your early development and focusing on only removing their large creatures is less likely to run you out of gas. This is because that way you can also develop your creatures early game and apply just as much pressure, thereby giving you a superior position. Obviously, Lightning Bolt is pretty unsatisfactory at killing large creatures.

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Versus Elves:

Combo Elves plays cards like Heritage Druid that cause an explosion in mana. With Beatdown Elves if you carefully kill all of their lords, it is not a very hard matchup. When Mirran Crusader hits the board, they have no blockers and you can reliably attack their life total for four or more damage each turn.

Sooner or later coping with this deck only via spot removal becomes impossible because you have fewer answers than they have threats, and you must always be cautious when you switch over to attacking. Usually this is the matchup in which Earthquake really shines, and while it is true that I did not include it, it does not necessarily mean that I am at a disadvantage. After sideboarding, as much removal as possible should be added in order to deal with their threats. However, don’t overly rely on burn spells, and be careful about Leyline of Vitality, which could cause an unfortunate turn of events.

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Versus Mono-White Aggro and Naya:

The game plans here are completely different, but for Boros these are very difficult matchups. Aside from simply having large creatures, this matchup becomes an uphill battle for Boros when Naya reaches four mana. Mono-White has plenty of fliers, so there the plan is to prevent damage from getting through. The reason I removed Earthquake from the main deck has a lot to do with these two decks. Naya has things like Woolly Thoctar which alone make Earthquake look poor, and Mono-White has fliers like Squadron Hawk and Spectral Procession against which it is ineffective, and doesn’t make sense. It is essential that the two undecided sideboard cards are answers to these decks. Otherwise it might be best if I added even more countermeasures to the main deck. Among the cards I have tested the most effective is Baneslayer Angel, but it is a little on the expensive side, mana-wise.

So far I have introduced the decks, but please fill in the blanks as you see fit.

Lastly, I understand the decision to postpone the Grand Prix, but for me this is a very sad conclusion.

There are a great many people whose lives have been severely damaged. Thinking about the Kobe example from fifteen years ago, I think it will take at least ten years until things are restored to their former state. But it is not Kobe’s story now. Your sympathy is appreciated because we were the victims. But at the same time, as the victims, and for myself as a resident of Japan, the perception that Japan is dangerous makes me truly sad.

If you have been playing for an invite to Pro Tour Nagoya and due to the apparent danger in Japan and the uncertain future of the tournament have stopped attending qualifiers, your reconsideration of that choice would make me happy. The same goes for if you are already qualified and are thinking about suspending your travel plans due to the earthquake.

I, and everyone in Japan, would welcome you to Nagoya from the bottom of our hearts, and I eagerly await the opportunity to play Magic there.

Thank you for reading,
Shuhei Nakamura

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