A New Kethis Combo Deck Broke Standard at the MTG Arena Qualifier

Last weekend, the second-ever Mythic Championship Qualifier Weekend (MCQW) took place on MTG Arena. After a grueling qualification process, 128 players advanced to Day 2, which featured huge prizes. The Top 16 got an invitation to Mythic Championship V, corresponding to an expected prize of over $10,000.

To lock up Day 2, competitors had to go 7-2 on Day 1 (or 6-2 with excellent tiebreaks) in a field populated by the Top 1000 Mythic Constructed & Limited players from May, June, and July. In other words, the Day 2 competitors were some of the best in the world. Indeed, the MCQW was how Mythic Championship III winner Matias Leveratto qualified.

Metagame and win rates

Decklists (Part 1, Part 2) were made public, and live updates of results and standings could also be tracked down. However, the result page listed different usernames and was not in a format conducive for analysis. After massaging the format into a usable format, I could finally generate the following overview.

Deck archetype Players (% Field) Record (win rate ± confidence)
Vampires 30 (23.4%) 57-47 (55% +/- 10%)
Bant Scapeshift 20 (15.6%) 50-38 (57% +/- 10%)
Mono-Red 15 (11.7%) 25-38 (40% +/- 12%)
Bant Ramp 9 (7.0%) 11-24 (31% +/- 15%)
Boros Feather 8 (6.3%) 26-10 (72% +/- 15%)
Esper Control 7 (5.5%) 19-18 (51% +/- 16%)
Esper Hero 5 (3.9%) 10-14 (42% +/- 20%)
4C Kethis 4 (3.1%) 16-6 (73% +/- 19%)
Grixis Bolas 3 (2.3%) 10-9 (53%)
Naya Feather 3 (2.3%) 3-9 (25%)
Bant Field 3 (2.3%) 8-7 (53%)
Sultai Midrange 2 (1.6%) 3-5 (38%)
B/R Aggro 2 (1.6%) 0-6 (0%)
Jund Dinosaurs 2 (1.6%) 3-6 (33%)
Steel Leaf Stompy 1 (0.8%) 5-0 (100%)
Quasi-Sultai 1 (0.8%) 1-3 (25%)
Sultai Nexus 1 (0.8%) 2-3 (40%)
Gruul Midrange 1 (0.8%) 1-3 (25%)
Sultai Field 1 (0.8%) 4-2 (67%)
Izzet Wizards 1 (0.8%) 0-3 (0%)
Jeskai Planeswalkers 1 (0.8%) 3-3 (50%)
Quasi-Nexus 1 (0.8%) 0-3 (0%)
U/B Control 1 (0.8%) Did not participate
R/G Dinosaurs 1 (0.8%) 3-3 (50%)
W/U Skies 1 (0.8%) Did not participate
Simic Nexus 1 (0.8%) 2-3 (40%)
Golgari Midrange 1 (0.8%) 2-3 (40%)
Simic Ramp 1 (0.8%) 4-3 (57%)
Mardu Angels 1 (0.8%) 4-3 (57%)

In this table, each deck name hyperlinks to the best-performing list of that archetype. To download decks from the WotC website in MTG Arena format, you could use this Chrome extension by Ben Brescka.

Decks that strongly underperformed: Mono-Red and Bant Ramp. It is possible that these decks are poor choices for the current metagame. Or at least everyone was ready for them.

Decks that strongly overperformed: Boros Feather and 4C Kethis. Boros Feather should be an excellent choice for upcoming Standard events because it has a good matchup against Vampires and 4C Kethis. Casting Reckless Rage when you control Feather is a beating. More on 4C Kethis later.

Note on confidence: The confidence intervals provided, based on a confidence level of 95%, are determined under the normal approximation to the binomial distribution and a corresponding sea of assumptions. In simpler terms, the way to interpret them is that, loosely speaking, there is a 95% confidence that the true match win rate of Vampires lies between 45% and 65%. For archetypes with fewer than 20 matches, I didn’t provide a confidence interval because the normal approximation would fail and the sample size is far too small to draw strong conclusions.

Note on participation: Even though all 128 Day 2 players submitted a decklist, only 119 players checked in on the third-party ESL tournament page to play on Sunday. This is why the record for certain archetypes is “Did not participate.” I find it remarkable that as many as 9/128 players missed when the expected value of playing Day 2 was more than $1,000. I can only speculate about the reasons, but technical issues with the ESL integration may be partly responsible. For example, Tulio Jaudy claimed on the MCQW Discord that despite checking in, the ESL platform did not add him to the tournament. In any case, reliance on a third-party platform is inelegant and risky, and the MTG Arena client could benefit from the addition of an adequate tournament mode. I hope this is on the to-do list for the developers.

Stráský and Cifka crushed it with 4-color Kethis Combo

Kethis, the Hidden Hand

The biggest story coming out of the MCQW was how 4C Kethis Combo broke the format. Only a handful of players played this novel deck, but both Ondřej Stráský and Stanislav Cifka went 5-1 on Day 2, earning an invitation to Mythic Championship V.

These Czech superstars, along with Pro Tour champion Ivan Floch, are living together in a house in Prague, and they regularly break the Standard format with spicy brews. While Cifka and Floch are the deckbuilding masterminds, Stráský stream pioneered decks like 4-Color Command the Dreadhorde and Bant Scapeshift in the past. All in all, their qualifications are well-deserved, and I’m really happy for them that they qualified.

4-color Kethis Combo

Ondrej Stráský, MCQW Top 16

1 Drowned Catacomb
1 Godless Shrine
1 Temple of Mystery
2 Temple Garden
3 Glacial Fortress
3 Hallowed Fountain
3 Temple of Malady
3 Temple of Silence
4 Breeding Pool
4 Watery Grave
4 Diligent Excavator
4 Fblthp, the Lost
4 Kethis, the Hidden Hand
4 Lazav, the Multifarious
2 Ashiok, Dream Render
3 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
2 Urza's Ruinous Blast
4 Mox Amber
4 Oath of Kaya

2 Cerulean Drake
2 Legion's End
2 Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle
2 Unmoored Ego
1 The Elderspell
1 Ashiok, Dream Render
1 Urza's Ruinous Blast
1 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
1 Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves
1 The Immortal Sun

Note that at the MCQW, Stráský’s sideboard had 2 The Elderspell and 0 The Immortal Sun, but the build shown above is the correct one that he should have played.

Before its breakout weekend, several players had been experimenting with various Kethis builds recently. One of them, for example, was Elvencloud, who streamed with this list a week ago. Stanislav Cifka, however, told me that he was inspired when he played against yet another list (with Kamahl’s Druidic Vow) on the ladder about 10 days ago. He felt it was powerful, so he tried to build the deck himself, tuned it, and the rest is history.

How does this deck win?

Kethis, the Hidden HandDiligent ExcavatorMox Amber

Basically, you mill yourself with Diligent Excavator, activate Kethis to recast legends from your graveyard, and trigger Diligent Excavator to mill yourself further.

To keep going, Mox Amber fuels your mana production. You can’t go literally infinite: every time Mox Amber hits the graveyard due to the legend rule, it’s treated as a new object. This means that you can’t cast it from the graveyard until you exile two legends to activate Kethis again. However, once you find 2 Excavators and/or 3 Moxen, you can usually stack enough triggers and activations to mill your entire deck.

With most of your deck in your graveyard, you now have the capability to activate Kethis a large number of times, enabling you to loop heaps of Mox Ambers. These convert into enough Diligent Excavator triggers to mill out your opponent and/or enough white and black mana so you can burn out your opponent by recasting Oath of Kaya.

The combo requires a lot of setup, but since most pieces can be either drawn or milled, Tamiyo, Ashiok, and Lazav provide velocity, consistency, and inevitability. Diligent Excavator is the only combo piece that is not a legend, but you can copy it with Lazav or name it with Tamiyo. What’s more, Teferi and Fblthp effectively cost only one mana once you have Kethis in play and can bounce a Mox, allowing you to draw cards and trigger Diligent Excavator cheaply.

The deck is difficult to play well, but it’s the real deal.


Besides Ondrej “Honey” Stráský and Stanislav “StanCifka” Cifka, 14 more players qualified. Congratulations to all of them! Their Arena account names are:

  • Kavartech
  • Vearato
  • Swifth
  • John1111
  • kbzx
  • EasyMac
  • Coraiola
  • PDG
  • Enoo
  • InqulsltoR
  • MTGIncomitatus
  • DarkMonaldson
  • Sebastianpozzo
  • Edmvyrus

The best-known players from this group are the 2015–16 Constructed Master Oliver “EasyMac” Tiu and the 2016–17 Constructed Master Sebastian “Sebastianpozzo” Pozzo.

Mythic Championship V will take place on October 18-20. I’ll be watching and cheering for my Czech friends. The weekend after, on October 26-27, everyone who finishes with a high enough Mythic rank in August and September can participate in the Mythic Championship VII Qualifier Weekend. I’m already looking forward to it.

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