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Arena Diaries #5 – Tumbling Sands

The sands have shifted again.

Agent of Treachery and Fires of Invention are out of Standard. Companions have been powered down. It’s a whole new world. 

I’m itching to get started with this new metagame and see what works, particularly with the May Arena season ending and dropping me back down to Platinum from the rarefied air of Mythic.

This month, I’m getting there; and getting a number.

The path starts with an old favourite, Mardu Sacrifice. Little has changed since the ban, the deck really only losing Lurrus in the companion slot, so it should still be good. Six straight wins in best-of-one later and I’m up to Platinum three. This is going to be easy. 

It’s funny how deceptive the sands can be. Those wins were a mirage. A beautiful oasis of crystal-clear water. I take a long sip to enjoy my victory and suddenly the sand is caking in my mouth and the water is dust. 

It takes about 20 minutes to unravel an hour of progress. Once the losses start, they don’t let up. Mono-Red Aggro, Temur Reclamation and various control decks send me rocketing back down to the bottom of Platinum four and from there I can’t drop any lower.

It’s fine, I tell myself, this is the time to test things. It’s a brand new metagame, everyone is trying new decks, revisiting old ones. No-one knows how this will all shake out. Remember the weekend of Gyruda last standard? Life moves pretty fast on the ladder. 

There’s no point trying to reinvent the wheel, so I revisit it in Rakdos Sacrifice. Still fast, still resilient, still packing Mayhem Devil. I missed the little maniac. 

Standard Rakdos Sacrifice Deck List - James Keating

Rakdos does no better than Mardu, worse maybe. Mayhem Devil is somehow a liability, only being played to eat a removal spell or worse – be stolen by a Claim the Firstborn, used against me and cooked. My opponent plays two of their own and I watch in horror as they sacrifice the roast devil, my roast devil, and take me from nine life to zero in seconds. 

I’m reasonably convinced Sacrifice decks are still good, they were good before and they hardly stopped being good. The Jund version seems the one to beat on the ladder and I must profess a personal dislike of that build. 

I don’t know why, but there’s something deeply unsatisfying about Bolas’s Citadel wins. It’s not a sacrifice deck, it’s pure combo and the combo is to have a lot of things. How dull.

I pass on Jund Sacrifice and move on to another deck that worked both before and after companions, Temur Elementals.

There is, once again, no reason this shouldn’t work, I tell myself, as a bizarre Abzan brew destroys my board and outclasses my every play. Temur might have been right, Elementals was not.

Reclamation never changes. It’s been with us for months and improved once Ikoria arrived. Predictably, it goes well. I find myself finally able to win games, until the Teferi decks come out to play.

Maybe the three-mana menace is the answer.

Esperyone is Andrea Mengucci’s weapon of choice in the brave new world, and while this kind of slow control is hardly my style of deck, when a player as good as Mengu says it’s good, it’s good. 

Standard EsperYone Deck List - Andrea Mengucci

It’s not good.

Not for me. The deck is, bizarrely, very fun to play. I’m terrible with it. I sequence my plays horribly and the punishment is severe. Worse, everyone is playing Bant all of a sudden. The ECD Wars have erupted once again and this Esper deck feels firmly on the wrong side of the fight.

Loyalty is nothing on Arena. You can try so many decks so quickly that it’s easy to just cycle through until you find one that nets a few wins and assume that’s the one to play. I’m starting to see this as a fallacy. 

I go up, I go down. It’s all luck and there’s no skill involved. I play Bant, I get lucky with ramping and hit an early Nissa. I win. I get unlucky and don’t draw lands. I lose. Up. Down. Up. Down. 

Change decks. Cycling. Lose. Must be bad now. Move on. 

Try Flash, win one, good, lose one, quit.

It’s a negative feedback loop. I’m not learning anymore, I’m taking the losses with the assumption there’s a deck that somehow beats the meta and I just need to find it.

Sometimes taking a step back is necessary, but I don’t. I’m impatient now, I just want to win and win fast. Time spent not at Mythic is time lost. When did I develop that attitude? Doesn’t matter. Mono-Red is fast.

For the first time I properly give Mono-Red a shot. It’s hard to sequence but win or lose, it’s over quick. I just need to get better and I’ll be back to Mythic in no time.

Standard Mono-Red Deck List - James Keating

I win. I lose. I get angry. 

I had been trying to stay positive about playing competitively but getting to Mythic and being dumped back down, having to get there all over again, has affected my mental game badly. I forget a few crucial facts about the game.

Other players are just as good as I am, probably better. I need to actually learn a deck to win with it. I have to slow down and think to earn victories.

I’m not even thinking about my plays. Fervent Champion go. I said go. Your land is tapped, why are you thinking?!

Clearly, it’s time to stop and re-evaluate my approach. I’m still at the bottom of Platinum four. 

What have I learned?

Mono-Red is good, but it’s far harder to play than people admit. Bant is the deck to beat right now. Most importantly, attitude is everything. I had fun playing when I made Mythic the first time. I need to get back to that.

I can see the oasis again. This time, I hope it’s not a mirage. 

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