To summarize the metagame a single sentence, Esper Dragons, White-Black Control and White-Green Tokens were the top contenders at Grand Prix Toronto last week, while Bant Company and Black-Green Aristocrats were among the most popular choices yesterday at the Grand Prix Trials.
The quad of Chester Swords, Huang Hao Shan, Zen Takahashi and Jason Chung (unpictured because he was enjoying his Sleep-In Special) have developed a tool that they're confident is well-positioned for this weekend.
With over 3,300 players at the biggest Standard Japanese Grand Prix ever, they'd better have a good product if they want to make it to the elimination rounds! More importantly, since Jason Chung and Huang Haoshan have already locked up Gold for the upcoming season, both have made the trip in a bid to achieve Platinum.
Chester Swords, Huang Hao Shan, and Zen Takahashi
The Japanese community's reputation for their affinity for a "certain style" of decks was not something that the four players were about to disregard. Two-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor as well as the "lead innovator" of this juicy brew, Zen Takahashi shares fervently.
"We find that the Japanese players simply adore their midrange and control decks, in general. We started off by analyzing all the decklists that we've seen so far, in particular from Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad and Grand Prix Toronto. Sam Black's Ramp deck caught our eye and we thought it was a good shell to combat the metagame with."
They wanted something to be able to capitalize on slower openings, and to eventually go over the top. Because of that, they surmised that Shaman of Forgotten Ways seemed perfect. The reasoning is as such. While mana dorks are less reliable, than say Hedron Archive, due to the fact that they can be easily removed, a lot of the midrange decks in Standard right now have a pivotal turn 4.
Takahashi continues, "Turn 4 is a big turn in Standard right now. By playing Shaman of Forgotten Ways during this crucial juncture, you're essentially "bottlenecking" their turn 4, forcing them to react with it immediately or risk Dragonlord Dromoka or something worse hitting the board."
Dragonlord Dromoka? Yes, you read it right.
They've tweaked the classic Red-Green Ramp deck in order to adopt a third color for the sole purpose of housing this game breaker. The Selesnya Dragonlord was last seen in the sideboards of Jon Stern's White-Green Tokens deck, as well as Michael Sheng's Naya Tokens deck.
This was a great way to go over the top during a standstill and, in the Ramp player's case, rebuff your life total if it has slipped away while you were casting Nissa's Pilgrimage and Explosive Vegetation. Throw in the fact that you're meddling with countermagic and other instants while presenting a great solution to Archangel Avacyn and you've got a winner.
Archangel Avacyn has seen a steep rise in popularity lately, thanks to Steven Rubin for winning Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad with the full playset, but Ulvenwald Hydra will also halt her in her tracks. Even Ormendahl, Profane Prince will be rendered an ineffective attacker. Sure, its controller will gain a lot of life, but a timely activation from Shaman of the Forgotten Ways will assist in dealing the killing blow.
Aside from being the biggest beat stick in Standard which scales decently well as the game progresses, Ulvenwald Hydra also opens up options that have yet to be explored by any other team.
Platinum pro Jason Chung, digitally weighs in.
"Since we have Ulvenwald Hydra, we are granted access to a bunch of utility lands that you'd otherwise prefer not to play. Most importantly, Crumbling Vestige allows you to set up your turn where you can drop Ulvenwald Hydra and cast another spell on the same turn. This is particularly crucial when you have Rending Volley, Draconic Roar and Radiant Flames, because the turn that you tap out for Ulvenwald Hydra is usually when you're the weakest."
Another line of play (once you have access to a source of colorless mana) is to use your very first Ulvenwald Hydra to fetch Mirrorpool. You'll then be able to duplicate the Hydra, which gives you another enormous body while fetching up Rogue's Passage, a card that singlehandedly breaks any stalemate. By running with a single copy of Mirrorpool, you're essentially able to build (or rebuild) a formidable board simply with a single Ulvenwald Hydra.
Mirrorpool can also be used to duplicate Dragonlord Atarka. You won't get a second copy of the Dragon, but you'll get to sweep their board again.
Chester Swords was a Top 8 competitor at Grand Prix Sydney 2015 and explains that the changes to the deck arose because they didn't like the usual Ulamog package.
"Playing with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger forces us to run Sanctum of Ugin and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. While powerful, you sometimes do not have that kind of luxury of time."
Cutting away some of these lands in favor of Haven of the Spirit Dragon helps splash Dragonlord Dromoka while providing some gas in the late game. The Mountains (1 in the maindeck and another in the side), will also enable them a three-point Radiant Flames out of the sideboard they run into token strategies or the Human-based White Weenie decks.
Against control decks, Shaman of the Forgotten Ways isn't spectacular, since they have so much removal to kill it or the creature that you ramp into. In situations like this, the Shamans exit, making way for Nissa, Vastwood Seer as well as the third and fourth Tireless Tracker. The singleton Needle Spires also provides a threat that Ulvenwald Hydra can tutor out.
Six-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor, Huang Hao Shan rounded it up, "Essentially, it is a Red-Green Ramp deck at heart and all we did was to modify some threats. These additions are but metagaming moves. We only hope that it will pay off."
Stay tuned to follow these players' progress in their quest for the Top 8, and check back after Round 15 to see the complete decklist!