Week in Review – Grand Prix Kobe

Another week, another Day 2 full of Abzan, and another diverse Top 8. There were even flash-in-the-pan finishes by an interesting GU take on Eldrazi Ramp and BW Warriors. Atarka Red proved it can still push through the metagame when given a chance.

GP Kobe

For those who missed it, the Top 8 was:

  • 2 Esper Dragons (Akio Chiba and Shuhei Nakamura)
  • 2 Esper Tokens (Akihiro Ookawa and Shota Takao)
  • GU Ramp (Pavel Matousek)
  • Abzan Aggro (Shunsuke Takahira)
  • Atarka Red (Takuma Morofuji)
  • BW Warriors (Joe Soh)

Esper decks of multiple varieties have been putting up good results as of late, while Jeskai was a no-show in another major tournament and Abzan kept in check despite an overwhelming Day 2 presence. Right now Esper and Abzan should be the top two considerations for your metagame unless your area has a heavy bias toward something different. Dark Jeskai hasn’t completely fallen off, but it has essentially been eclipsed as the blue deck of choice by Esper Control.

Esper Tokens, on the other hand, has waxed and waned in popularity, much like the Rally surge we saw last week. It’s not a deck I’d expect to be a major player on any given weekend, but the deck has a strong game plan against attrition decks and enough spot removal to stay in front of Atarka Red.

But in the end, Atarka Red snagged the trophy for Takuma Morofuji.

Atarka Red

By Takuma Morofuji, 1st Place at GP Kobe

Not much has changed for the deck itself, though this iteration plays a lot more cheap spot removal than I remember. 5 shocks isn’t common in red and Fiery Impulse feels more like a Jeskai card. But when you look at the deck, it’s clear that it’s trying to focus on getting damage through on the ground. You run enough spells to turn on spell mastery, and getting a hit in with a prowess creature is more important than just doming for 2. The reaction to Arashin Cleric being “bad” means token swarms get better and playing around Ultimate Price goes up in value.

Maxing out on Rending Volley and Roast isn’t unheard of, but it’s nice to see the straightforwardness. Many red players hedge at 2- and 3-ofs while Morofuji just jammed 4 of each to draw as many as he could. While you usually want to slow the deck down for post-board games, Morofuji aimed for 4-6 card swaps instead of siding in an entirely new game plan. This makes sense because red has very limited sideboard options, and you typically make the deck worse when you do a full transformation.

UG Eldrazi Ramp

By Pavel Matousek, GP Kobe Top 8

Pavel Matousek had the most interesting deck of the Top 8. Slamming an Ulamog gives you an edge, but what if you take an extra turn and effectively one-shot them? Part the Waterveil makes flipping a Nissa go from being a strong play to one that gives you a massive advantage. Chaining Part the Waterveils doesn’t seem like a common play, but if you pull it off with the awaken cost, you can easily win the game—and your opponent had no idea they were even in danger. I had a UW Control deck built around taking advantage of awaken and Part the Waterveil, but this is living the dream with this much ramp and Dig Through Time to make it happen.

Putting aside the sweet plays, the biggest difference between this and other ramp strategies is access to deck manipulation. Two Digs aren’t nearly as many as I’d like to see, but it does give the deck some much needed filtering. You lose out on cheap removal by not picking red or white as a splash, but the format has moved away from the traditional threats we saw early on so this may be the right move. Taking advantage of slower decks is what these types of decks are best at, especially with the added blue cards. Dispel protecting an Ugin or Eldrazi is just brutal.

I’d really like to see this further explored because it seems like a natural direction for the Ramp deck to take. If you aren’t worried about getting overwhelmed early, then going all-in on ramp and jamming Waterveil and Dig seems great.

Where We Are

It does feel a bit awkward to see a metagame reminiscent of the past 6 months, every deck changed in one way or another and the exact power of cards has definitely shifted. The dramatic shift in Mantis Rider‘s strength post-rotation and it’s drop-off now is a good example. Token and Rally decks’ place in the metagame is one of spice—it’s exciting when they come out of the shadows and do well. Meanwhile Anafenza and Siege Rhino just keep chugging along.

What we’re seeing is a format that’s almost self-perpetuating the myth of midrange being the best. Aggro and control are still good and perform well, but the redundancy and abundance of Abzan decks over all these months mean that’s the narrative, regardless of this tournament. Abzan is Blightning-era Jund—if anyone didn’t enjoy that year of Magic, this is the equivalent.

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