Last weekend featured the very first Arena Mythic Championship, held in Las Vegas. I enjoyed watching the live coverage at home, and there were several memorable, tense matches such as the Day 2 match between Kai Budde and Shota Yasooka and the finals between Brad Nelson and Matias Leveratto. These matches featured legends of the game, masterful play, and dramatic topdecks, so they’re well worth watching.
In addition, several useful Standard lessons can be drawn from the event.
Takeaways from Mythic Championship III
1. Bant Ramp underperformed
Let’s start by running the numbers. By combining the Standard decklists with the results, I was able to derive the following. (Note that the decklists on the Wizards website still lack an “Export to Arena” button, but there is an excellent Chrome extension by Ben Brescka that adds this functionality.)
|Simic Nexus||20-11 (64.5%)|
|Simic Ramp||6-4 (60.0%)|
|Gruul Midrange||14-10 (58.3%)|
|Esper Control||72-59 (55.0%)|
|Mono-Red Aggro||21-21 (50.0%)|
|Esper Hero||33-31 (51.6%)|
|White Aggro||24-23 (51.1%)|
|Sultai Dreadhorde||7-7 (50.0%)|
|Izzet Phoenix||28-36 (43.8%)|
|Bant Midrange||3-4 (42.9%)|
|Boros Aggro||11-15 (42.3%)|
|Grixis Amass||5-8 (38.5%)|
|Bant Ramp||16-29 (35.6%)|
|Jund Warriors||2-4 (33.3%)|
|Selesnya Tokens||1-4 (20.0%)|
While these numbers are interesting to see, the only result that I would call statistically significant (given the small sample sizes) is that Bant Ramp underperformed. If its real matchup against the field would have been 50-50, then there would have only been a 3.6% probability to observe 16 or fewer wins among 45 matches, which suggests that its real matchup is worse.
This came as a surprise to me because Bant Ramp recently had the best performance at Grand Prix Taipei. But it makes sense. In Taipei, Gruul Midrange—Bant Ramp’s best matchup—was the most popular deck in Day 2. At MC III, Gruul Midrange was only a small part of the field.
Additionally, MC III competitors likely had far more experience playing against Bant Ramp than the players in Taipei, where the deck was still relatively new. The result is a bad performance, and I wouldn’t recommend Bant Ramp at this point.
2. Simic Nexus overperformed
Although its performance is not as statistically significant as for Bant Ramp, it’s unlikely that the 20-11 record of Simic Nexus happened purely by chance.
Simic Nexus seems to have been a great metagame choice. This may sound weird, as Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils were the most-played cards among all MC III decklists, and those planeswalkers are great at weakening Wilderness Reclamation and Chemister’s Insight. But all Simic Nexus players had five main deck answers to those planeswalkers (between Callous Dismissal, Blink of an Eye, and Blast Zone).
Moreover, there were few Dovin’s Veto or Cindervines around, and the popular decks weren’t interacting on a relevant axis. Esper Control had little pressure, and Izzet Phoenix and Bant Ramp don’t have the right tools to stop Simic Nexus from doing its thing.
There are enough cards and strategies in the format to beat Simic Nexus. And you’d better add a fast damage clock along with Dovin’s Veto and/or Cindervines to your deck. But if everyone forgets that the deck exists and doesn’t respect it anymore, then it can easily win an important tournament.
Matias Leveratto, 1st place at MC III
3 Memorial to Genius 5 Island (335) 4 Breeding Pool 4 Hinterland Harbor 5 Forest (347) 3 Blast Zone 1 Mobilized District 1 Simic Guildgate 3 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales 1 Nissa, Who Shakes the World 2 Narset, Parter of Veils 1 Callous Dismissal 4 Panoptic Mirror 1 Blink of an Eye 4 Growth Spiral 3 Chemister's Insight 4 Nexus of Fate - Foil - Buy-a-Box Promo 4 Root Snare 3 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin 4 Wilderness Reclamation Sideboard 4 Paradise Druid 3 Biogenic Ooze 3 Negate 2 Crushing Canopy 2 Bond of Flourishing 1 Nissa, Who Shakes the World
Matias Leveratto played his fair share of competitive Magic many years ago, but it was MTG Arena that pulled the Argentinian back in. He qualified by grinding on the Mythic ladder and finishing in the Top 16 of the extremely tough MCQW. Then, after testing his mettle against several legends of the game, he took the trophy in Las Vegas. It’s an amazing, well-deserved victory. Congratulations to Matias Leveratto!
3. Mono-Red is still around
Mono-Red Aggro was the most-played deck across the entire MPL Spark split and the MCQW, but its popularity sharply declined in recent weeks because people had adapted with cards like Basilica Bell-Haunt, Lyra Dawnbringer, and Ripjaw Raptor.
At MC III, Mono-Red wasn’t dominating anymore; there were only five Mono-Red Aggro players at MC III, and its match win rate was average. But it’s still the type of deck that you can never forget about. The deck put two-time World Champion and zero-time Pro Tour/Mythic Championship Top 8 competitor Shahar Shenhar in the Top 4, further cementing his legacy as a player who always does well in small-field tournaments.
Shahar Shenhar, Top 4 at MC III
20 Mountain 3 Fanatical Firebrand 4 Ghitu Lavarunner 4 Runaway Steam-Kin 4 Viashino Pyromancer 4 Goblin Chainwhirler 4 Light Up the Stage 4 Shock 4 Lightning Strike 3 Wizard's Lightning 2 Chandra, Fire Artisan 4 Experimental Frenzy Sideboard 4 Lava Coil 3 Legion Warboss 3 Dire Fleet Daredevil 2 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator 2 Fight with Fire 1 Chandra, Fire Artisan
There are two sideboard evolutions that I want to point out. First, Fight with Fire is an excellent way to combat Basilica Bell-Haunt, Lyra Dawnbringer, and Ripjaw Raptor.
Second, even though Shenhar might have finished higher, I’d recommend the list of Raphaël Lévy because it has Treasure Map over Tibalt, Rakish Instigator. The artifact supercharges Experimental Frenzy and helps kick Fight with Fire, and I think this plan is more powerful in most post-board matches.
4. Esper Hero put two copies in the Top 4
Even though Esper Control was the more popular archetype with a better match win rate overall, the two Esper decks in the Top 4 were Hero variants, played by teammates Kai Budde and Brad Nelson. They opted for Elite Guardmage and Hostage Taker over Basilica Bell-Haunt, and their lists were only one card apart: Kai played Ugin, the Ineffable where Brad had a singleton Mortify.
Brad Nelson, Top 4 at MC III
4 Glacial Fortress 4 Godless Shrine 4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Isolated Chapel 4 Watery Grave 4 Drowned Catacomb 1 Swamp (339) 1 Island (335) 4 Hero of Precinct One 3 Elite Guardmage 2 Hostage Taker 4 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria 4 Teferi, Time Raveler 3 Narset, Parter of Veils 4 Thought Erasure 1 Command the Dreadhorde 3 Tyrant's Scorn 2 Despark 1 Mortify 3 Oath of Kaya Sideboard 1 Despark 1 Command the Dreadhorde 2 The Elderspell 2 Duress 1 Arguel's Blood Fast/Temple of Aclazotz 2 Enter the God-Eternals 2 Kaya's Wrath 2 Cry of the Carnarium 2 Dovin's Veto
It was exciting to see both players in the Top 4. Brad Nelson cemented his legacy as a Standard master with an undefeated streak in the MPL followed by an amazing run at the Mythic Championship. And Kai Budde, the German Juggernaut, the owner of a mind-boggling 7 Pro Tour trophies, the player who almost never loses on Sundays, is simply a living legend.
Yet Brad was confirmed as Kai’s kryptonite. The last time Kai was at the Sunday stage was at Pro Tour Amsterdam in 2010, where he fell to Brad Nelson. Last Sunday, Brad beat Kai twice. In total, Kai’s Sunday record is now 20-5, and three of those losses are to Brad. Insane.
Their Esper Hero list, built together with Brian Braun-Duin, is great against green creature-based matchups but loses the arms race against Esper Control. As I explored in more detail in my Metagame Breakdown article, Esper Control generally has Command the Dreadhorde, Search for Azcanta, and The Elderspell; and it’s tough for Esper Hero to keep up with those.
Given that two nearly identical Esper Hero versions made the Top 4, you can expect an uptick in that particular build. As a result, an Esper Control list with more haymakers to go over the top may be well-positioned.
Ultimately, once the metagame drifts back towards removal-light green decks, I expect that Esper Hero will become the better and more well-rounded choice. Hero of Precinct One is great at pressuring opposing planeswalkers, protecting your own, and offering a multi-dimensional game plan. I’d surely rather hold Hero of Precinct One rather than Kaya’s Wrath in my opening hand when more players are trying to loop Nexus of Fate.
5. Activate your planeswalkers before they get bounced!
I’ve seen it happen all too often in Modern. A Tron player starts the turn with Karn Liberated on the battlefield, but the first thing they do is tapping out for Wurmcoil Engine. Then their face drops as their opponent uses Cryptic Command to counter Wurmcoil Engine and bounce Karn Liberated.
Simon Görtzen did not fall into that trap—he made sure to activate his planeswalker before tapping out and giving his opponent a chance to respond.
It’s a small thing, but it holds a relevant lesson that transcends formats.
6. Arena still has priority issues
One of the nice things about Arena is that it is snappy, fast, and seamless. The game engine autopasses when you don’t have a legal play and it doesn’t linger in your opponent’s main phases, which saves clicks.
But when your opponent plays Legion Warboss or Wilderness Reclamation and you don’t have a legal play in response, you may never get a chance to set a stop before they trigger. Even if you had lightning reflexes, the game engine auto-advances so you may never have an opportunity to cast that Moment of Craving or Despark in time.
One way around this is to use full control, but that is disallowed at these events because it would drag the game down to the point of becoming unwatchable. Instead, there is a tournament rule that you need to announce that you’re casting a card like Legion Warboss or Wilderness Reclamation to give your opponent an opportunity to set a stop. The problem with this rule is that you could easily forget to announce, and then what?
And that led to problems. The ruling was that Espinoza couldn’t use the 1/1 on the next turn but got to attack with that free creature in the next turns. Also, no extra time was granted to Carvalho despite roping out during the ruling. Although it didn’t end up mattering—Carvalho won that game in the end—the solution is not satisfactory. There should be a “pause” mode for tournament matches, and the ruling should be that the token can never attack or block. Alternatively, get rid of the announcement rule and accept that everyone will set main phase stops just in case.
The Arena devs are aware of this issue. My solution to this problem would be to give a player priority something whenever their opponent passes on an empty stack while with a card or ability that will trigger at the start of the next phase. I don’t know how difficult this would be to implement because I don’t know how their code is constructed. But I hope that this incident will spur them to fix this issue, as it can warp a game and reflect poorly on MTG Arena as a program for competitive play.
7. Core Set 2020 will shake things up
Even though War of the Spark Standard is still in flux and Modern Horizons was just released, Core Set 2020 will be released in two weeks. There was even a preview during coverage. From the looks of it, the new set contains a lot of sweet cards.
But as a mana base connoisseur, the most exciting additions are the scry lands.
These lands were originally underrated when they first appeared in Theros, but they turned out far better than they looked. Scry lands reduce the likelihood of both mana screw and mana flood, and they allow you to keep a broader range of opening hands. These percentages add up.
That said, they are probably worse than the combination of shocklands and checklands, so it seems unlikely that three-color decks will adopt lots of scry lands. But two-color decks with restrictive mana costs can benefit from the added consistency. Indeed, there have been plenty of successful enemy-color decks that have played Guildgates before. There are examples in Golgari, Simic, Boros, Izzet, and Orzhov. Especially when you rely on cards like Frilled Mystic or Crackling Drake, the scry lands are a big upgrade.
And with 12 good duals, you can now put Tomik, Distinguished Advokist and Rekindling Phoenix in the same deck. This will open up new possibilities, if only for a few months, and I’m looking forward to fire up my brewing engines.