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PV’s Playhouse – Analyzing GP Kitakyushu

Hello!

Today we’re going to analyze the Top 8 decks from GP Kitakyushu. Normally the Japanese metagame is slightly different than elsewhere (it’s more control-based), but we can generally find a lot of good innovations regardless. We’re going to start with a UW deck, though it’s actually Delver and not UW control:

Yuuta Takahashi

[deck]Main Deck
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
8 Island
2 Moorland Haunt
1 Plains
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Azorius Charm
3 Dissipate
4 Essence Scatter
2 Quicken
2 Runechanter’s Pike
2 Think Twice
4 Thought Scour
4 Unsummon
Sideboard
2 Detention Sphere
1 Dissipate
2 Erase
3 Ratchet Bomb
2 Righteous Blow
2 Supreme Verdict
2 Tidebinder Mage[/deck]

When I first read about this deck in the coverage, I became super excited. It’s the kind of deck I really like to play and I know Yuuta Takahashi is pretty good with them, since he was a known Faeries player back then. When I actually looked at it, though, it didn’t seem that great to me.

The biggest, most glaring issue with this deck is the land count—19. I cannot comprehend how this deck functions on 19 lands, even with 12 (counting [card]Azorius Charm[/card]s) cantrips. Assuming you have one cantrip, the chance to get your fourth land on turn four, on the play, is under 50%. If you have two cantrips, which means you haven’t cast much else, it’s 57%. Without a cantrip, you’ll hit your turn three land drop 59% of the time on the play—with a cantrip, 68% of the time.

That means that even if you do have a cantrip, around a third of the time that you’re on the play you’ll be unable to play a turn three [card geist of saint traft]Geist[/card] or [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] targeting something. This is not acceptable. The problem here is not that you won’t find enough lands to play in the late game (though this is an issue), it’s that you will simply not have enough time to cast your cantrips before you have to make your land drops. You can’t spend your third turn having to look for a land. What if you need to [card]Essence Scatter[/card] on turn two? There is a high chance that means you just have to skip your turn three!

The first order of business for me would be to cut down the [card]Quicken[/card]s or the [card]Think Twice[/card]s, which I think become better as just lands. The deck has no sorceries in it, so Quicken is just U – Draw a card, though costing 1 does fill a very important role, as there is basically nothing you want to do with one mana. But at two mana, [card]Think Twice[/card] actually competes with spells like [card]Azorius Charm[/card], [card]Essence Scatter[/card], and to a lesser extent Snapcaster. My instinct is to cut out the Think Twices, since the deck feels like it’s given up on winning via attrition anyway. It’s also possible to cut out one of each.

What does this do for us? Well, for starters, it raises our percentages to:

On the play:

Turn 4 land drop with one cantrip: 48% —> 59%
Turn 4 land drop with two cantrips: 57% —> 68%
Turn 3 land drop without a cantrip: 59% —> 68%
Turn 3 land drop with one cantrip: 68% —> 76%
Turn 3 land drop with two cantrips: 75% —> 83%

And what happens to our Delvers? Right now, the deck has 23 spells. That means it’s roughly going to flip:

In 1 turn: 39% —> 35.5% with 21 spells.
In 2 turns: 63% —> 59%
In 3 turns: 78% —> 74%

This is also a difference, but it’s less significant, and there’s one important distinction—this only applies in games where you draw Delver, and, if this fails, your Delver doesn’t flip. If playing your third land fails, you lose the game.

Of course, the land count doesn’t matter only for lands and Delvers. It also matters that you don’t flood out in the late game. We can’t really quantify that, but I don’t think it matters much how much the late game is impacted by this as 19 lands seems to be highly unplayable in the early game. My conclusion is that there simply aren’t enough cantrips for this deck to maintain a high early game land ratio coupled with a good Delver flipping ratio and a non-flooding ratio, and the benefits for taking such a risk aren’t there. I would stay away from it, as much as it pains me.

One interesting thing it does offer is four [card]Essence Scatter[/card]s and three [card]Dissipate[/card]s—no doubt a reflection of the scarcity of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] (there were only two in the GP Top 8, one in Bant and one in Naya). Creatures nowadays are very powerful and some are very hard to stop ([card]Thragtusk[/card], [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]), and [card]Essence Scatter[/card] gets rid of them, no questions asked. Even though I think the deck isn’t good, I think this four [card]Essence Scatter[/card] approach can be absorbed into other decks, such as UW, UB, and UWR.

Bant Hexproof

There is no deck I loathe more than Hexproof, but I think this time around it is—again—well positioned. Red wasn’t a great matchup and it was very [card]Unflinching Courage[/card] dependant, but now you have access to a creature that has both lifelink and effectively hexproof in the matchups you want it. A turn 2-3 [card]Fiendslayer Paladin[/card] with a couple enchantments can win games that the Hexproof guys never would. You would think that the fact that Junk Reanimator is not as popular would make it worse, since it was a very good matchup, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

There were two Hexproof decks in the Top 8:

Raymond Tan

[deck]Main Deck
4 Breeding Pool
1 Cavern of Souls
3 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Hinterland Harbor
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
3 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
3 Fiendslayer Paladin
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Rancor
3 Simic Charm
4 Spectral Flight
4 Unflinching Courage
1 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Sideboard
2 Celestial Flare
1 Detention Sphere
2 Feeling of Dread
2 Fog
3 Mending Touch
2 Negate
2 Ray of Revelation
1 Spell Rupture[/deck]

Tzu-Ching Kuo

[deck]Main Deck
4 Breeding Pool
1 Forest
2 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Hinterland Harbor
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
3 Fiendslayer Paladin
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Gladecover Scout
2 Invisible Stalker
3 Voice of Resurgence
4 Ethereal Armor
2 Increasing Savagery
4 Rancor
4 Spectral Flight
4 Unflinching Courage
Sideboard
1 Fiendslayer Paladin
3 Fog
3 Mending Touch
2 Nearheath Pilgrim
1 Negate
1 Ray of Revelation
3 Spell Rupture
1 Voice of Resurgence[/deck]

The decks are similar, but with some key differences. They both agree on four Scouts, four Geists, and three Paladins, but eventual winner Raymond Tam played only three [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card]s, whereas Tsu-Ching Kuo played two [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]s, four Pilgrims, and three [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]s.

For starters, I’m a fan of four Pilgrims. I have played three in the deck before, but now you have a 3-drop that is more white-heavy and more important to play early on. Loxodon Smiter was a good defensive creature, as in it stopped the attacks the turn you played him, whereas the Paladin is the most effective when it attacks the next turn, so you can really use the speed when you have him.

I’m also quite a fan of [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]. I think there are many instances in which you want to attack but can’t risk a block or double-block, and [card]Ethereal Armor[/card]/[card]Spectral Flight[/card] are not enough to guarantee that this won’t happen. If you had a ton of other evasive enchantments I’d feel better about it, but you can hardly count trample in this case—the goal is not to get one hit in but to make sure your guy doesn’t die, and the other enchantments don’t do that. I’d risk saying that [card]Invisible Stalker[/card] is a better card in the deck than [card]Gladecover Scout[/card].

I’m also not a fan of [card]Simic Charm[/card]— I never have been. The important guys in the deck are hard to target anyway, that’s the whole point of the deck. That said, it has gotten better because of Fiendslayer Paladin—both your own and those of your opponent. I think three Simic Charm is excessive, but I can get behind two.

[card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] is a great card, but it is metagame dependant. It’s awesome against Liliana and things like that, and good versus UWR, but nowadays it doesn’t actually trade with many of the attackers people play, so it’s more of a buying-time tool than an attrition tool (which is not a problem per se, but it would certainly be better if they were actually afraid of attacking into it, and RG decks these days are not). Finally, I think [card]Increasing Savagery[/card] is better than [card ajani, caller of the pride]Ajani[/card] because it actually does something meaningful when you aren’t already winning.

This is the list I’d play:

[deck]22 Lands
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
3 Fiendslayer Paladin
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Ethereal Armor
2 Increasing Savagery
4 Rancor
4 Spectral Flight
4 Unflinching Courage
1 Simic Charm[/deck]

As far as sideboarding goes, they both opted for [card]Mending Touch[/card], which is an interesting choice. I’m not sure if it’s better than the [card]Rootborn Defenses[/card] I played at the GP, since I felt like Rootborn Defenses and [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] really added another dimension against control decks (though you also need [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] for that). Regardless of which one you choose, I think you need those slots to be something against Wrath.

You should also note the respect for the mirror match. I think this deck is very good and it’s definitely tier 1, and the mirror is notoriously luck-based, and since you don’t have a whole lot of good cards in your sideboard anyway, you might as well use them for this kind of trump.

Naya

Ryosuke Nomura

[deck]Main Deck
1 Cavern of Souls
3 Clifftop Retreat
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Stomping Ground
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
4 Boros Reckoner
1 Fiendslayer Paladin
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thragtusk
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Voice of Resurgence
1 Reverberate
4 Searing Spear
2 Selesnya Charm
4 Warleader’s Helix
Sideboard
2 Electrickery
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Pillar of Flame
3 Ray of Revelation
2 Reverberate
1 Selesnya Charm
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
2 Witchbane Orb[/deck]

This deck is very weird and I admit I don’t understand what’s going on with it. It’s supposed to be a control deck, but then what are its advantages over other control decks? I believe that it beats RG, but then so does normal Naya. Why is this better? This deck seems like it goes too much to the “control” side of the spectrum and has no early plays, and its late game is not good enough to justify that. While you have [card]Thragtusk[/card], other people will have [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card].

Nomura cited [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card] as his MVP, but I can’t imagine how that card is at all playable. What does it kill that other stuff doesn’t? [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card], I suppose, but is there anything else? How is it worth to pay four mana for a spell that doesn’t kill [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]? Sure, it kills them, and it gains life, but I have a hard time believing that this is worth it, especially as a 4-of. He also runs a random [card]Fiendslayer Paladin[/card] with only two [card]Selesnya Charm[/card]s to pump it, and a [card]Reverberate[/card], of all things. It’s basically a Naya deck but instead of one of the best cards ([card]Domri Rade[/card] and [card avacyn’s pilgrim]Pilgrim[/card]), it runs cards that I don’t think I would even like to run, let alone at that cost.

Maybe there is some sort of method behind this madness, but I surely can’t comprehend it. I might be wrong and this might be the best deck in the format, but I would recommend staying away from it.

R/G

Kibler’s RG hasn’t seen many alterations since it was created, and the two instances of it in the Top 8 are very similar. It remains a solid contender and the most common aggro deck you’re likely to face by a significant amount. Its important traits are the possibility to sideboard [card]Burning Earth[/card], the big number of haste guys, and the fact that the creatures are reasonably big (so they won’t all die to a [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]).

Kouichi Kudo

[deck]Main Deck
10 Forest
6 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Arbor Elf
2 Elvish Mystic
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Hellrider
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Strangleroot Geist
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Domri Rade
Sideboard
2 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Burning Earth
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Elvish Mystic
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
2 Searing Spear
2 Wolfir Silverheart[/deck]

Hiroaki Taniguchi

[deck]Main Deck
8 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
6 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Arbor Elf
2 Elvish Mystic
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Hellrider
3 Scavenging Ooze
3 Strangleroot Geist
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
2 Mizzium Mortars
3 Volcanic Strength
4 Domri Rade
Sideboard
2 Bonfire of the Damned
3 Burning Earth
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Clinging Mists
2 Pillar of Flame
2 Wolfir Silverheart
2 Zealous Conscripts[/deck]

Taniguchi cut a land, a [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card], and a [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] for three [card]Volcanic Strength[/card]s. I wouldn’t advise cutting a land, especially if you’re going to play a [card kessig wolf run]Wolf Run[/card] (which I do like), but more than that I just don’t think [card]Volcanic Strength[/card] is really maindeckable at this point. It’s a very all-in card—good against Naya, RG, and some versions of Jund/UWR (as well as the mono-red deck that won the SCG event), and mediocre against everyone else. I do think it’s a pretty good sideboard card, though, and I would like to run two or three of them.

B/G

Next we have a BG deck, no red:

Kentarou Yamamoto

[deck]Main Deck
2 Evolving Wilds
1 Forest
3 Mutavault
4 Overgrown Tomb
12 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Desecration Demon
2 Disciple of Bolas
3 Lifebane Zombie
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thragtusk
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Doom Blade
4 Mutilate
2 Putrefy
2 Tragic Slip
1 Ultimate Price
2 Underworld Connections
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Vraska the Unseen
Sideboard
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Demonic Rising
1 Doom Blade
4 Duress
1 Golgari Charm
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Scavenging Ooze
3 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Vraska the Unseen[/deck]

I think this deck is overall a little worse than Jund but can beat Burning Earth much more easily. It’s a control deck – it runs four Mutilates and two Underworld Connections – though it’s also capable of some aggressive, Lifebane Zombie draws (though Yamamoto chose to pass on the Geralf’s Messenger that he can easily play with a 22 Swamps manabase). Though I still imagine they aren’t great matchups, this is a control deck that I can actually see beating a UW deck in a long game with Liliana and Underworld Connections, which is different than the Naya deck we saw a while ago. More importantly, you get Duress and Demonic Rising after sideboard, both of which are amazing cards versus them, whereas the Naya deck only gets two Garruks.

I’m a fan of this build in general, and I’d give it a try if I were you. I do think Vraska is very bad though, and I’d replace it with a random black or green card from your collection. If you’re very risk averse, then I think you’ll be fine with a maindeck Demonic Rising, another Doom Blade or even a Garruk Relentless.

GWb Tokens

Our last deck is a spicy one. It’s a deck I tried a long time ago (if you remember one of the Constructed videos that I did, Bant Tokens—around that time I also tried GWb versions), but it hasn’t really made any waves competitively:

Takashi Naitou

[deck]Main Deck
1 Forest
1 Gavony Township
4 Godless Shrine
3 Isolated Chapel
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
1 Vault of the Archangel
3 Woodland Cemetery
3 Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
4 Voice of Resurgence
4 Advent of the Wurm
4 Call of the Conclave
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Lingering Souls
1 Rootborn Defenses
4 Selesnya Charm
3 Tragic Slip
1 Garruk Relentless
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Sideboard
3 Abrupt Decay
3 Duress
2 Ray of Revelation
1 Rootborn Defenses
2 Scavenging Ooze
1 Tidebinder Mage
1 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
3 Unflinching Courage[/deck]

This deck is potentially very powerful. You have the ability to overwhelm other midrange decks with your creatures that are both more plentiful and bigger. It is a little slow and clunky, though. You need the metagame to be one in which playing a 2/2 on turn 2 and two 1/1s on turn 3 is not going to leave you too far behind.

Normally, this kind of deck has one big problem—[card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. It has few ways to stop it, and when it comes into play it kills half your board (or renders it unable to block if you have a Virtue), and then eventually kills you. Naitou tried to fix this with 4 copies of [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] (which is about standard for this deck) and three copies of [card]Tragic Slip[/card], which is not the most common. At least now if they get your token you get their Dragon as well. The real issue here is not that you’re going to lose every game to Hellkite—you won’t—but that even your supposedly good matchups can just randomly draw a Hellkite and in half the games that card is going to be enough to kill you single-handedly. Bant Hexproof doesn’t look like it’d be your greatest matchup either—Naitou almost managed to beat Kuo, but looking at the game descriptions they don’t necessarily seem very typical and I’d imagine the matchup goes Bant’s way more often than not.

If you do want to play it, I’d recommend at least a second [card]Rootborn Defenses[/card] in the main deck. It’s good against the cards that are best against you (mass removal) and at the same time it’s still going to be good even if they don’t have it, sort of like [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] in the BWr builds. In fact, I would be happy with three Rootborn Defenses; I’d likely cut a planeswalker and something else. [card]Scion of Vitu-Ghazi[/card] looks like it’s the next weakest card, but Naitou said it was his best card, so maybe I’m wrong (though people do tend to name their “different cards” as best card more often than should, because saying “Thragtusk is my best card” is not very exciting).

I would also definitely play more [card trostani, selesnya’s voice]Trostanis[/card] in the board, probably up to three. They’re impossible for RG to kill and take over the game very quickly. I’d probably cut the uncastable [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card], I don’t think it comes in very often.

All in all, I don’t think the benefits are there for this deck to be a great contender. It is most definitely a real deck and I encourage you to experiment with it, but if I had a tournament now, I wouldn’t play it.

The Verdict

So, what would I play today? Two choices: Bant Hexproof or Naya (though a normal Naya deck). I think the format has adapted enough to [card]Burning Earth[/card] that playing it is not that big an incentive anymore (since Jund is now often GB and UWR turned into UW), and that was basically the biggest drawing toward RG. Naya is going to have similar matchups across the board, but it beats the “mirror,” and since that is one of the most popular decks in the format the advantage is pretty big. You have a worse matchup game one against Hexproof, since you’re a bit slower ([card]Restoration Angel[/card] over [card]Hellrider[/card] and all that), but you can side in [card]Ray of Revelation[/card] and even [card]Paraselene[/card], whereas RG has basically no good sideboard for that matchup. If you do choose to play Naya, I recommend some slots dedicated specifically for Hexproof, and also a bunch of [card]Unflinching Courage[/card]s in your sideboard. For reference, this is Willy Edel’s Naya deck from the World Championship:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Clifftop Retreat
1 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Stomping Ground
3 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
1 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Boros Reckoner
2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
1 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Loxodon Smiter
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Voice of Resurgence
3 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Selesnya Charm
4 Domri Rade
Sideboard
2 Boros Charm
2 Burning Earth
1 Celestial Flare
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Pillar of Flame
1 Ray of Revelation
1 Rest in Peace
2 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
2 Unflinching Courage[/deck]

I hope you’ve enjoyed this, see you next week!

PV

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