I’ve criticised the Japanese metagame before. I’ve called it inbred. I’ve called it insular. I’ve called it uninspired. I will not retract any of these statements, because I see no need to, and because I’m about to justify everything I say.
To be honest, I don’t think Japanese players are bad. I don’t think they consciously make bad choices in deckbuilding. Many of their choices are based on what has been winning in their region, just as with pretty much every cardgame, and you can hardly criticize a community for emulating successful strategies. However, on a macroscopic level, their deck choices are extremely different to those made by players in more or less any Western country. If you ever look at Japanese tier lists, there will be an enormous difference between those and the ones you’ll find littered on the Foreign or Global communities. So, instead of being counterproductive like I usually am, I think it’s a wise idea to examine why there’s such a gulf in deck choices, and why I think that both Japan and the West have reasons behind their deck choices.
Before I actually dissect any of that, I need to provide context, and I will do that with two widely-played decks. The first is Re:Zero and the second is Persona 5, both of which are used in Japan as a sort of foil to GochiUsa.
Re: Zero Builds
Re:Zero in Japan focuses on walling up with Puck and creating a wall of likely 7ks, shielded by 2k Reinhardt counters. This is exemplified by the fact they choose to run 4 of the 1/0 Puck, often without the associated Emilia ‘restander’. Additionally, a key piece of the puzzle is the Emilia brainstorm, which is, in a vacuum, a far inferior card to the Ram brainstorm that most decks initially run (and still do, in the West). The hope is to keep these Pucks alive on at least two lanes and using the Emilia combo as a source of free mill. The midgame plan is to land a Rem Level 3, hopefully compressing somewhat, and then lasting until they can end the game with a staple 4-of in Japan: the Level 3 Ram. Examples of this can be seen in the 3rd place B-block and 1st place Trio decks from BCF Tokyo.
Re:Zero in the West is primarily Yellow/Blue. It runs the straight-up best cards in Re:Zero without significant regard for the metagame, and leverages the potential double advance summon of Level 3 Rem and Level 3 Felt. Most decks are unable to deal with the two in tandem, and if that continues, it will often snowball into an insurmountable compression advantage. Other features of this deck are a heavy emphasis on the 2/1 Emilia support (which is often omitted entirely from Japan’s lists), greater accessibility of the 2/1 antichange bomb (via brainstorm bonding), and the inclusion of 3/3 Reinhardt, a card which completely destroys some decks if you are in a good position.
- Japan attempts to dominate Level 1 with 7ks that discourage side attacks
- Japan runs gates and the best burst damage Level 3
- The West attempts to dominate Level 2 with huge advance summons
- The West runs a freefresh > advance summon that aims to snowball
The key difference here is the Level 1 lineup. The Japanese deck should aim to get at least two Pucks up and at least one Emilia brainstorm. At this point the goal is to keep these Pucks alive through any means necessary. Counters, luring opponents to reverse dorks in the other lanes, and playing other supports – this is the primary source of card advantage for the Japanese deck. It is doubly effective because the Pucks cannot be side attacked advantageously, so the opponent will often have to run cards in to deal damage.
The Western deck, on the other hand, cannot do this with quite as much consistency. Not only is their key brainstorm not an Emilia, but the supports they play are all Rems. Yes, you can sometimes field multiple 7k Pucks at Level 1, but it is unlikely it will happen every game, and if it does happen, you are usually stuck with a vulnerable 5.5k in the frontrow. Instead, the deck is built with the climax combo in mind, and will generally try to get that off at least two or three times per game, setting up a Level 2 turn where you can drop some fatties and hope that they stick.
Persona 5 Builds
Once again, the Japanese build is focused on walling up. The deck effectively runs 8 copies of 1/0 7ks and a 1/0 event to mill the requisite cards into the waiting room. This event also lets the player bounce back any offending costless walls, which gives the Persona 5 player free direct attacks and a defensive 7k bulwark on the swingback. Another inclusion is the PANTHER bomb, run primarily because it mills 2 cards and can be run in to get rid of reverse targets on off-lanes. The deck will optionally run THE SHOW’S OVER in order to leverage further advantage, which is fine because the 2/1 is still a 7k base. The midgame will involve the MONA and/or FOX advance summons, both of which heal in some way, and finishes the opponent by attrition. Because this deck is often completely costless up until Level 2, it can attempt to compress itself to victory.
The Western build is far more involved and leans heavily on the Ryuji pseudo-Azusa, a card which isn’t valued nearly as highly in Japan. It will often mill through its whole deck by the middle of Level 1 as a result. The other key midgame card is these decks is the 2/1 Protagonist climax combo, which, while occasionally featured in the Japanese builds, is a veritable centerpiece in Western builds. The ideal is to keep just one of these 2/1 Protagonists alive via counters, and then follow this up with a FOX advance summon. The endgame is significantly different – if the Western build could be defined by one card, it would be NAVI. Stock is generally spent on the NAVI 3/2 immediately, giving the deck access to some of the cheapest antidamage effects ever printed. A notable omission is the MONA advance summon, which makes playing and activating lategame NAVIs and JOKERs more awkward.
- Japan focuses on 7.5k walls, ideally costless.
- Japan has a heal-based lategame and relies on compression in the lategame.
- Western builds are more focused on abusing the yellow Calling Card for tempo plays.
- Western builds rely on Navi to antidamage things in the lategame.
Japan really likes their 7ks, what can I say? I honestly believe they may have the right of it here, because I don’t think Persona’s endgame is particularly powerful, and antidamage is made several times more potent if you have strong, consistent finishing pushes. Persona 5 doesn’t really have that unless you force in Green for QUEEN clock kicks, and at that point you’re probably being a bit too cute. I’m really not convinced that you should omit Navi, and I’m definitely not convinced you should ever play the pants without Navi (as seen in one of the trio decks here – this is a very abnormal build, for what it’s worth), but the midgame is certainly a lot more comfortable when you have a wall to lean on.
The best decks in Japan will all have a few things in common:
- Costless discard outlets, preferably at least 6 or more
- Costless milling effects
- Level 2 advance summons that preferably heal
This is the baseline. If you take these three and cross-reference them with the decks that are doing well right now, you’ll find that almost every deck will have at least two of these, and usually all three. This trifecta is a huge part of why Japan adores running back Triad Primus, despite the deck’s thoroughly lackluster Level 1 game and dwindling set of utility. Now, taking all this into account, you’ll find Japan has a very defined metagame right now: GochiUsa <Rabbit House> decks and decks that prey on GU’s Level 1 game. GochiUsa is an extremely powerful deck in the lategame, and will be played regardless of what faces it, simply because its lategame is that strong. You can reasonably expect 50-70% of all Trio Cup teams to have a GochiUsa on the team, and for 20-30% of any Neo-Standard field to be GU. Therefore, if you aren’t playing GU, you are either attempting to counter it or not playing seriously.
There aren’t exactly true counters in WS. When I say counter, I mean that they attack one of GU’s limiting factors. While the deck certainly has ways to gain advantage, these methods are either luck-based or involve mediocre selection. The only costless, non-variance method of advantage the deck has is its Level 1 combo, and this combo is also how the deck snowballs into a extremely potent mid- and lategame. Therefore, the aim of these counter decks is to wall off GU at Level 1. GochiUsa is a deck that attacks weak lanes with on-reverse climax combos and uses Level 1 bombs to take down the other lanes. A wall-based Level 1, as you see in Japanese Persona 5 and Re:Zero builds, quite literally stonewalls these GU decks from getting their on-reverse combos. This is the goal of these builds. It just so happens that making 7k walls is a reasonably successful strategy in any metagame, provided the metagame is not entirely focused on beating this strategy. Of course, these counter decks must also satisfy the trifecta of requirements I mentioned further up, and it happens that both P5 and RZ do that just fine.
In a vacuum, the Persona 5 and Re:Zero decks of Japan are far less powerful than the deck builds touted by the west. In Japan, Persona 5 decks are able to sit on their 7ks and brainstorm every single turn, accruing incremental advantage and eventually comfortably advance summoning at Level 2. The typical Level 2+ lineup of a Japanese Persona 5 deck is almost entirely an attempt at contesting GochiUsa’s advance summon play, which is generally a 12k on defence.
The assumption here is that, in dealing with both the Level 1 and Level 2 plays of GochiUsa, the Persona 5 build will also be able to fight any other deck quite viably. I say this because Japan consistently rates Persona 5 as a top tier deck, and the 7k Jokers lineup is the only build that has ever seen consistent success. This is true to some extent, but there are decks which can quite easily beat over these walls, and some of them don’t even need to do it on multiple lanes. A very salient example is the typical Western YB Persona 5 deck, which doesn’t bother walling more than one or two lanes, and instead uses the ShimaKai profile liberally do take straight plusses on reverse. To Love-Ru, a deck the West rates highly, can quite easily take a reverse anyway, and if they’re happy trading lanes, can sometimes even take two.
Due to the fact the metagame is so scattered and there are a few particularly influential voices in the community, the default western build is Yellow/Blue, with a particular focus on the Level 3 Navi pants climax combo. This, in conjunction with a set of heals, provides a reasonably strong defensive endgame, and is the strongest Persona 5 deck in a vacuum. In fact, this deck actually boasts a reasonable matchup against the 7k wall decks, simply because it relies on getting a single reverse for what is generally multiple plusses, AND it even has the playset of Calling Card (as opposed to Japan’s almost-universal 3-of) to bounce difficult Level 1 cards away. However, this build is naturally weaker to GochiUsa and similar decks, such as Vivid Strike and Symphogear. This is simply a true statement, as it will almost never end up with a field of only 7.5ks in the frontrow. Even if you’re running multiple lanes in, that implies you’re giving GochiUsa their plusses anyway, so that’s not a great alternative. If your goal is purely to deny the reverses of GochiUsa, as it might be in the Japanese metagame, then it is very reasonable to eschew this build for one without Navi.
So, why is GochiUsa so prevalent anyway? While many people will give many different answers, I think there’s a rather biased reason behind it all. The core of this all is quite simple. Japan really, really likes healing advance summons. They really enjoy stabilising at Level 2, and have been pushing their metagame towards that as much as they can. Fielding multiple healing Level 3s is one of the ways to push that strategy, and if the card is strong enough, such as with Rewrite’s Kotori, Japan will even play a deck that lacks the vaunted Azusa archetype (I am referring to Rewrite Guardian). It is that important to them, and is the lynchpin of their metagame.
While the best advance summon conditions are usually 2> climaxes or 4+ other <Trait>, you can look at it from another standpoint. These advance summons are easily contested by the many 2/1 advance summon killers and opposing Level 3s, and as such are usually fielded with a support in order to keep them alive. With this in mind, GochiUsa’s Rize is one of the easiest to play early. This, in conjunction with the deck’s access to the Rize on-reverse pseudo-Azusa, mean that the deck can stabilise and hopefully sit at Level 2 for quite some time.
This mentality runs in stark contrast with the GochiUsa builds that the West favour – rather than maxing out on Rize and hoping to drop her multiple times in a game, Western builds are far more aggressive, maxing the Chino/Cocoa finisher and sacrificing field presence to hopefully launch a triple Level 3 finisher salvo. While I certainly agree more with this sentiment, I can’t really fault people for wanting some semblance of stability in this game that we play. I’m just going to assume it’s a mentality left over from unbanned Triad Primus’ reign of Level 2 terror.
It is impossible for an entire community to be completely retarded and yet be extremely consistent. That is just not realistic, and you have to start giving Japan some amount of credit for targeting their own defined metagame. However, their continuing lack of innovation is something you can very easily criticise. Japan happily plays Emilia but has never so much as blinked at Maguro. They have the gall to play 2/1 Lucias in Rewrite builds that will never have her above 10k. They continue to play the stupid 2/2 Hanekawa. The reason <Magic> KonoSuba decks haven’t done anything isn’t because the deck is bad – it’s because a very prominent player topped with a <Goddess> list, and not even a good <Goddess> list. At least they’re trying to splash Darkness, I guess.
The other issue here is that people in undefined Western metagames take Japanese decks without incorporating their own biases into the deckbuilding process. People will literally netdeck and not modify the decks for their own metagames, and pretend that is correct. That is never correct for any cardgame, any metagame, or for any given playgroup. It is even wrong to do so in Japan, in the very same metagame that produced these topping lists to begin with. You should be adapting to the metagame heavily.
As long as GochiUsa is the primary targeted deck in Japan, their deck choices are defensible. However, if your meta is not specifically competitive Trios or Neo in Japan, you have every right to sacrifice those 7ks and play for a higher ceiling. There is no defined foreign meta, partially because there aren’t enough players anywhere for a large central meta to form, and because when small metas do form, they differ vastly from city to city.
Sometimes both sides can be right, and this is one of those occasions. I am very willing to concede that Japan’s decks may be suitably tuned for their own metagame, but these fixed builds and principles do not apply outside of Japan’s competitive environment.