There was a time, not long ago, when Japan was the most dominant country on the Pro Tour.
In the early years of the Pro Tour, Japanese players were considered easy targets. The first Japanese player to even reach the Top 8 of a Pro Tour was in 2001, over five years from the onset of the Pro Tour. By the time I reached the Pro Tour for the first time, PT Philadelphia in 2005, the story had changed. Kenji Tsumura made Top 8 of that tournament, and later went on to win the Player of the Year title; he was the first Japanese player in history to ever earn that title. The following year, Shouta Yasooka earned the Player of the Year title. In 2007, the title was won by Tomoharu Saito. Shuhei Nakamura took the title in 2008. The title was captured by Yuuya Watanabe in 2009, and he reclaimed the title in 2012. It's amazing how a country with a relatively small Magic population dominated the game for five straight years, while the United States and the entirety of Europe could not stop them. Community Collaboration
The success of Japan was and still is based off of teamwork and community. Their secret to success is collaboration. Rather than being splintered into cells and rival factions, Japanese players qualified for the Pro Tour together, worked together, travelled together, and won together. Top Japanese players were a "super-team" without an official name or title. Success begets more success, and once a Japanese player qualified, they often stayed qualified. By maintaining a stable roster of sage pros, they created the perfect conditions for cultivating new talent, many of whom would join the Growing Ranks of Japanese player on the Pro Tour. For example, Yuuya Watanabe was a newcomer before learning the finer elements of the game from the established Japanese Pros like Kenji Tsumura and Shuhei Nakamura. He went on to win Rookie of the Year in 2007 and snowballed his success into his later Player of the Year titles. Standard Technology
There was a period of time when I would constantly scour various websites for the latest decklists from Japan. Japan has a thriving card shop culture, and in particular Standard is incredibly popular. One can find a Standard event at a shop on any day of the week. In addition, there are large Standard tournament series events. My searches would often yield new and innovative lists, and sometimes I would find tech long before it was popularized abroad.
Tomoharu Saito has helped to Revive the golden age of Japanese Magic with the opening of his own card shop in Tokyo. He holds tournaments nearly every day of the week, naturally leading to strong players and a well-developed Standard metagame. Over the last year and a half Saito has been sharing his own Standard brews on Twitter, some of which have gone on to be major players in the metagame, such as his Boros Reckoner red deck after the release of Gatecrash. Saito has long been known as a master deck-builder, so his tweets always catch attention.God of Standard
Last weekend the Saito shop held a 269 player, nine round "God of Standard" tournament that drew out some major talent. Reaching Top 8 were two former Player of the Year, Shouta Yasooka and Yuuya Watanabe. Needless to say, I'm interested in the decklists. I've done the work of translating and transposing these decklists for my article today, and I'll dig into them looking for any insights they may hold.
The eventual God of Standard was Kihara Atsuki with his Esper Control deck. Notable about his list is a land count of 27, including all 12 Esper-colored scry lands. This deck plays a full four Mutavault, which is unique compared to the usual Sphinx's Revelation control decks seen in Standard, which typically play a pair or less. Mutavault is incredibly powerful, and it's particularly useful as an alternate win-condition in a dedicated control deck like this one. Once the deck establishes control, Mutavault puts the opponent away, and with a full playset, winning with the manland becomes a reliable plan. Mutavault also has the upside of pressuring opposing planeswalkers, particularly Jace, Architect of Thought and its -2 ability; four Mutavault gives this deck a clear edge in the UWx control mirror.
This list also plays three Last Breath, ideal for removing the ever-popular Courser of Kruphix, and Pack Rat. Neither of these creatures needs to attack immediately, which is part of the reason the deck plays zero Azorius Charm, a card that has become decreasingly popular over the past months. Another aspect of this decline is due to scry lands, which reduce the necessity for early card drawing and fixing, along with the enters-the-battlefield-tapped land manabase making cycling extra clunky.
The sideboard here is no-frills, including a full set of Nyx-Fleece Ram to put the brakes on aggressive decks. A full set of Blood Baron of Vizkopa is a nod to the bogeyman Black Devotion, which holds as much popularity in Japan as it does in the United States.
Yasooka had long been known as one of the premier deckbuilders in Japan long before his Player of the Year title, and he has continued to flex his genius throughout his career. Last weekend's event was no different than usual, as he reached the finals with a unique take on Boros Burn. Yasooka is well-regarded as a control player, and his version of Boros Burn is positioned to assume the control role against creature-heavy opponents when applicable, while it maintains the ability to operate as a traditional burn deck.
The first thing of note is the set of Young Pyromancer. Compared to the traditional Ash Zealot, Young Pyromancer is less aggressive but comes with tremendous upside. If unanswered, Young Pyromancer will consistently generate tokens with 25 maindeck enablers. These tokens are quite strong in nearly every matchup, whether they be mounting an offense or sitting back on defense.
One copy of Mizzium Mortars in the maindeck is a tip-off to the control-lean of this deck compared to the average Boros Burn deck, supplementing a full set of Chained to the Rocks as dedicated creature removal.
Yasooka's sideboard is the true genius of his build. Where traditional Boros Burn decks may sideboard aggressive creatures like Firedrinker Satyr, Yasooka sideboards into a more convincing control deck. Headlining his build is a set of Boros Reckoner. This card clogs up the ground and crushes aggressive decks, a role it has taken in the past. By sideboarding in Boros Reckoner, Yasooka gains access to a powerful and reliable ground creature that effectively shuts down much of the opposing offense. Opponents will be unlikely to expect this sideboard swap and will be light on creature removal, which makes them particularly vulnerable to this sideboard transformation.
Yasooka also has access to Prophetic Flamespeaker from the sideboard. This card reminds me of a red Shadowmage Infiltrator, a card capable of generating a stream of card advantage and burying the opponent. Again, this plan is excellent because creature removal is typically quite weak against the Boros Burn deck, and many opponents will be left defenseless.
The rest of the sideboard supplements the control plan. Two Chandra, Pyromaster is another red source of repeatable card advantage, and one that doubles as a win-condition and source of creature removal. The card has applications across the format, and it also synergizes with Chandra's Phoenix by ensuring it never sits in the graveyard for long.
Banishing Light is a catch-all removal spell against the format, giving Yasooka's post-sideboard control configuration an additional disruptive element.
Reprisal is a unique innovation that solves the problem burn has against large creatures. Huge, cheap threats like Desecration Demon are typically a nightmare for burn, because they race quickly and must be answered. They will require upwards of three burn spells to be removed, a terrible exchange for the burn player. Reprisal answers the problem cleanly and efficiently.
Finally, a couple copies of Wear // Tear are a final control element dedicated to destroying artifacts and enchantments.
Shouta Yasooka's deck is a work of art compared to the typical Boros Burn decks I've been accustomed to seeing, and one I'd be interested in trying myself. If you are a burn player, I'd recommend giving his sideboard plan a try.
Never one to disappoint, Yuuya Watanabe finished first in the swiss standings before falling in the semifinals to Yasooka. He has opted for the green splash and, compared to the typical list, has cut a Golgari Guildgate for a basic Forest, which reduces the strain of enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands. He's also went with a full set of Lifebane Zombie in lieu of Nightveil Specter. Bile Blight has been removed in favor of removal spells with more relaxed colored mana requirements.
Yuuya's most notable addition is two Scavenging Ooze in the maindeck, with a third copy in the sideboard. Black Devotion is filled with creature removal spells, and it plays a healthy number of creatures itself, so Scavenging Ooze is an excellent fit into the strategy. Scavenging Ooze is quite powerful against aggressive decks, where it can serve as an excellent blocker that dominates the board before going on the offensive. The deck is also quite hungry for life points, so the value of life gained by Scavenging Ooze can't be understated.
Yuuya's deck pushes the green splash to the extreme and carries a heavier green mana requirement than the typical BG Devotion list, but it also pushes the power to the extreme. The combination of Lifebane Zombie and Scavenging Ooze reminds me of the same package used in Standard Jund last summer, and it was devastating against the format. I'd be interested in using the combination again, and Yuuya has proved it's viable. I am still a bit hesitant about splashing, which I discussed last week but it's hard to argue with a two-time Player of the Year and World Champion.
This decklist is very similar to the build I last shared, featuring a clean monocolored manabase. Pharika's Cure is excellent against rush aggressive decks and doubles as a lifegain spell against Boros Burn. While Staff of the Death Magus is more directly powerful against burn, Pharika's Cure is more balanced against the metagame and is a more efficient tempo play than the artifact. Two Dark Betrayal is a concession to the popularity of Black Devotion decks. It's also a way to punish Desecration Demon, which has become increasingly more popular in the Black Devotion mirror match after sideboard, particularly because it's not removed by Abrupt Decay and can win games very quickly.
For more about the Monoblack Version, check my article from last week.
The innovation here is Hall of Triumph, which once in play removes the downside of Master of Masters. Typically removing the Master of Waves removes all of its Elemental Tokens, but with the artifact anthem naming Blue in play, the tokens remain. This synergy is incredibly powerful against removal like Chained to the Rocks and Hero's Downfall, and it puts an immense pressure on the opponent. Those not familiar with battling against the Hall of Triumph version of Monoblue Devotion will be in for a treat. Hall of Triumph is also quite good with the general rush-aggro strategy the deck employs.
For a deeper look into the strategy, check Will Sokolowski's article.
White Weenie has been on the fringes of Standard throughout the season, but it continues to put up the occasional big finish. This version is Monowhite, favoring consistency over any splash. This version includes a full set of the powerful Mutavault, and lacks Precinct Captain that would make the mana more inconsistent. The deck abuses Mutavault with a variety of cards, including Boros Elite, which is optimal paired with more attackers, and Loyal Pegasus, which requires an attacking teammate. Cavalry Pegasus is useful for pushing creatures through; nearly all the creatures here are humans, including Mutavault. Frontline Medic is another creature that pushes through attackers. A set of Brave the Elements can push through attackers or counter removal, while three Ajani's Presence supplements the spell package.
For more about White Weenie strategies in general, let Craig Wescoe be your guide.
Gruul Monsters, which evolved into Jund Monsters, has been putting up consistent results all season. The deck combines mana acceleration, very powerful threats, and efficient removal to form the perfect package. It's the archetypal Standard deck and seemingly a fine choice for any event; it's a deck that can ignore most metagame concerns. The large creatures and removal package are excellent for combating aggressive decks, while acceleration and must-answer threats make it deadly against control. I don't have much else to say about this build, which is relatively stock in configuration, but it does seem well tuned.
Rounding out the Top 8 is this BW Devotion deck. This differs from the typical BW Control deck, which carries a heavy white splash for cards like Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Obzedat, Ghost Council and eschews devotion cards like Gray Merchant of Asphodel. This deck features a light splash for a pair of Blood Baron of Vizkopa and a Banishing Light, along with a pair of Sin Collector and a singleton Deicide in the sideboard. This is comparable to the green splash, which gives up some consistency in favor of greater power. Much like the green splash, it is intended to provide an edge in the mirror and against control decks, while the splash hurts against the most aggressive opponents. From Local to Global Metagame
Japanese players continue to innovate and impress. These decklists provide a snapshot of the Standard metagame from a different place in the world. They are playing the same game as everyone else, in the same Standard format, but their decklists provide a unique take on attacking the Standard metagame. Their lessons apply to metagames across the globe. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on these decks and learning about your own experiences. I'd also like to hear about any other tournament results from around the country and the globe, so please share in the comments.