Given that this year's Japan Nationals were scheduled after German, French, Dutch and other major Nationals, most players expected a variety of decks would be played, as everyone would choose strong proven performers from other events. That opinion appears to have been proven true, as most players were seen playing decks that made appearances in Germany, France, and around the world. Still, the lack of a clear favorite—such as Psychatog, which was THE deck of last year's Nationals—there is room for personal style and preference. For example, both Masayuki Higashino and Ken'ichi Fujita are both playing mono-black, their trademark color.
Let's take a look at the actual decks being played.
2003 Japan Nationals Standard Metagame Analysis
17: Mirari's Wake
17: Astral Slide
17: Black Beatdown
8: Mono-black Control
5: Blue-white Control
3: White-black Clerics
2: Green-black Braids, Cabal Minion
1: Red-white Land Destruction
1: Red-green Land Destruction
• STEROID 33 players
The most popular deck this year turned out to be good old-fashioned Green-red beatdown. This deck was also seen in high numbers at the Open Qualifiers on Thursday.
The basic strategy here is simple: attack with efficient creatures like Wild Mongrel and elephants (courtesy of Call of the Herd) to quickly soften up the opponent, then finish him off with direct damage. The burn also doubles as creature control, with Grim Lavamancer pinging away Birds and Elves, using Violent Eruption and Volcanic Hammer for the big boys.
The reasons behind Steroid's popularity are easy to see: it's a solid deck that will perform well against any opponent. It doesn't really have any weaknesses, as both colors can deal with artifacts, and green has access to enchantment removal that doubles as beats in the form of Nantuko Vigilante. Overall, it's a tried-and-true archtype that we should expect to see rise to the top this weekend.
• PSYCHATOG 25 players
The next most popular deck this weekend is everyone's favorite toothy monstrosity. It appears no matter how hard we try, we'll never be rid of the Psychatog
(at least until Mirrodin
The basic pattern for this deck remains much the same from when it first appeared: use card like Deep Analysis, Concentrate, and Compulsion to gain card advantage, then go for a quick win with Upheaval followed by a Psychatog. Since this deck is also consistent, it's likely we'll see at least one in the Top 8.
• MIRARI'S WAKE 18 players
This deck has slowly been gaining in popularity, showing up at both Dutch and French Nationals in the hands of several pros.
The Mirari's Wake deck uses cards like Wrath of God and Moment's Peace to buy time during the early game, then plays the Wake and the Mirari, the combination of which allows the deck to produce an arbitrarily large number of Elephants for the win, after pulling Elephant Ambush from the sideboard using Cunning Wish and copying it using the Mirari. But that's not the only way this deck works; as often as not it wins with an early Exalted Angel.
The only drawback to this deck is that as an old-style control deck, it can take time to set up the win, which increases the chances of a draw, especially in a mirror match.
• ASTRAL SLIDE 17 players
A new deck type enabled by the Onslaught block, a Slide deck sets up by playing Lightning Rift and Astral Slide, then using cards like Slice and Dice and Renewed Faith to deal with its opponent's creatures, or to protect its own as needed. The deck typically uses Exalted Angel to swing for the win.
While Slide is strong against any creature-based deck, it is at a disadvantage against decks like Wake and Psychatog, which have almost or no creatures at all. Normally, Slide decks are built as straight red-white, or splash green for Krosan Tusker and other utility cards, but Kazuya Hirabayashi is fielding one using black for strong cards like Undead Gladiator and Duress.
• MONOBLACK BEATDOWN 17 players
This deck showed up in force at French Nationals, taking the title. There are many variations on this deck, with no standard build yet becoming established.
The big selling point for this deck is the synergy between Rotlung Reanimator, Withered Wretch, and Graveborn Muse, powerful cards from the Onslaught block. While it is a good match-up against Psychatog, it has trouble against Steroid or indeed any deck that can support Compost.
• MADNESS 15 players
While this deck seems to be popular overseas, it is not a particularly well-represented archtype in Japan. The deck uses Wild Mongrel as an enabler for Arrogant Wurm and Roar of the Wurm, seeking to overrun the opponent quickly with large green unhousebroken things that are hard to deal with, especially once they take to the air courtesy of Wonder.
The Madness deck's strength is that once it gets going, it will almost always win, because the madness mechanic allows it to plays spells more efficiently, and all the parts of the deck have synergy with each other. On the other hand, since the deck is built using opposing colors, it can often find itself sitting with a handful of cards of the wrong color and not a Forest or Island in sight. Lacking Yavimaya Coasts, many players are using City of Brass to try to smooth out this problem.
• BEASTS 12 players
The Beast deck seeks to overwhelm its opponent with mongo creatures like Wild Mongrel, Anurid Brushhopper, Ravenous Baloth, and Exalted Angels, using Contested Cliffs to deal with opposing creatures.
There are many variations on this deck, but most use a green-white base. Some add red for Firebolt, while others are using blue for Quiet Speculation.
• MONOBLACK CONTROL 8 players
This deck, which basically dominated Odyssey Block Constructed, uses Chainer's Edict and Mutilate to keep the opponent creatureless, while gaining control over the game by using cards like Haunting Echoes and Mind Sludge fueled by large amounts of mana from Cabal Coffers.
The deck performs well against most others in the field, but like any deck, it has a hard time dealing with the card advantage green players gain with Compost.
• REANIMATOR 4 players
The deck was first popularized on Magic Online, and has since made the leap to the analog world, gaining notice when it did well at German Nationals. However, there are only 4 Japanese players using this weekend, all from the Osaka area.
This deck uses Buried Alive to fill the graveyard with powerful creatures like Arcanis the Omnipotent, Visara the Dreadful, and Phantom Nishoba, then fishes them out with Doomed Necromancer.
While this is a powerful combo, like all combo decks it has trouble overcoming a bad draw and often mulligans. It is also inherently more luck-based than a deck like Steroid, causing many people to avoid it. Finally, it is easy to sideboard against. All these reasons have likely contributed to its under-representation here.
• ROGUE DECKS
Finally, here are two rogue decks that showed up.