Constructed Magic is at its finest when deck selection ahead of the event and playing well during the event both determine success to some degree. If you watched the coverage of the first Mythic Championship, you’ve already seen what a large factor the latter proved to be.
It was amazing how well Autumn Burchett navigated their Top 8 games in general and the final match specifically. The matchup between their Mono-Blue Tempo and Yoshihiko Ikawa’s Esper Control may have been favorable in best-of-three. But the finals was two games without sideboards, which Ikawa was lucky to tie, followed by three post-sideboard games that looked to be about even, maybe even positive for Esper.
Burchett won anyway, for a number of reasons and because of two plays in particular: In game number 4, they refused to be tricked into using Essence Capture when Ikawa cast Lyra Dawnbringer to clear a path for Thief of Sanity. (Ikawa knew about Disdainful Stroke and Essence Capture in Burchett’s hand from an earlier Thought Erasure, whereas Burchett, in turn, only relied on Ikawa’s knowledge of their hand to sniff out the Thief.) Then, in game number 5, they waited patiently until turn 4 to deploy Curious Obsession when an earlier move would have resulted in losing the enchantment and, likely, the match.
Different choices at either of these points would have led to different outcomes, and neither was the obvious play. Several notable pros admitted that they would have taken other lines and that theirs would have been worse. Not to mention Burchett’s unorthodox decision to board out Tempest Djinn, not to play around Kaya’s Wrath to take game 4, to hold back the second Curious Obsession in the fifth game, and finally not to expend a counter on the Cry of the Carnarium and the Thief of Sanity that Ikawa used—partly but not exclusively—as bait. All of these choices could have mattered just as much as the two big ones above. The term “next-level play” doesn’t do this justice. It was play two stories up.
So one shouldn’t misconstrue the storyline of Standard at this tournament as Mono-Blue coasting to easy victories on the back of excellent matchups against slow midrange and control decks. I wanted to preface this article with such a disclaimer, because the following is in fact all about matchups.
Composition and Conversion
I don’t want to dwell on the metagame shares and the Day 2 conversion rates of the various archetypes. Failing to reach the second day at a tabletop Mythic Championship is almost always the result of a bad Limited record, even more so than the split of three Draft rounds and five Standard rounds suggests. After all, those who dropped at 0-5 and 1-5 didn’t even play more of one than the other.
The starting field composition is of course meaningful to the extent that it tells us what the best players in the world considered to be the best archetypes. But comparing that with actual results is what counts, so we might as well look at those…
Actual Results Based on Data for 60% of the Field
Coverage posted the deck lists of the 142 most successful Standard players. 142 of 499 is too little to provide relevant insight, so I took to social media to get more information. The response was amazing. I used to think that “friends” may not be the most accurate label for all the folks on my contact list, but now I’m less sure because so many of them were so friendly to help out. A big thank you to all!
Now I know what decks 300 of the 499 players played in Standard—a little more than 60%—and I was able to cross-reference this information with the published match results to figure out actual win rates. I’m also listing overall numbers according to the official metagame breakdown below for reference. Note that the latter misidentified some Izzet Phoenix decks as Izzet Drakes. Please note too that this doesn’t mean anyone did a bad job. It’s just that I spent more than a week on a task that the event’s coverage team had to perform in something like an hour.
Let me draw attention to the last line, which shows that the pilots of the known 300 decks won 55.68% of their matches. We should evaluate the other records accordingly. In this context, a win rate of 53.97% isn’t above average. It’s below. In fact, only four archetypes managed to perform better than average: White Aggro marginally so, Mono-Blue Tempo and Nexus decks appreciably better, and Esper Control by far the best.
These four decks were the real winners in Standard at the Mythic Championship. The Top 8 of the event painted a pretty similar picture this time around, but that’s sheer coincidence. The Limited portion is a big deal at such mixed-format tournaments, especially as the top-ranked players often don’t have to play until the very end. For example, none of Cleveland’s Top 8 competitors actually competed in ten rounds of Standard. All eight took an intentional draw in the final round of Swiss, and two of them drew the round before as well.
The above is a solid estimation, but it isn’t a complete data set. We have to allow for the possibility that the full picture looks different. Maybe the 25 Esper players who made it into the sample only did so because they ran into very few Mono-Blue decks. That’s why I didn’t just work out the records of the most popular archetypes but also the records between them…
Sultai Midrange’s matchup spread is painfully simple. Because the most popular deck also generated the biggest samples, we don’t have to doubt any of these results either. It goes like this: Sultai beats up, more or less severely, all of the non-blue beatdown decks. Unfortunately it loses, to just about the same degree, to all of the blue decks.
It is mildly surprising that these 45 Nexus players won more matches against Mono-Blue Tempo than they lost. But 35 isn’t a huge sample and if two of those matches had gone differently, we’d be looking at an even record. Though we should entertain the possibility that the matchup is in fact way more even than commonly thought.
I don’t believe that White Weenie’s matchup against Tempest Djinn is worse than its matchup against Goblin Chainwhirler. But these results make me believe that both matchups are much closer than my best-of-one play on MTG Arena suggests.
Surprises over surprises! Several of these results should be taken with a grain of salt the size of an adapted Pteramander. This applies particularly to all of the pairings that came up less than ten times. For example, I can’t imagine that Mono-Blue wins 75% of its matches against Red Aggro with regularity.
But Mono-Blue’s losing record versus Esper should raise eyebrows. And questions. Like: Didn’t everyone say that the tempo deck was heavily favored against the control deck, even during the event’s broadcast itself? Is a 12-5 record in Esper’s favor statistically significant? How many percentages of either deck’s players’ results is this based on again? Did Esper win mostly on the strength of its post-sideboard game?
To answer some of these questions: this is based on the results generated by two-thirds of the Mono-Blue players and 56% of the Esper players. It is possible that the rest of them played matches with wildly different outcomes, though I wouldn’t bet on it. And no, nine of Esper Control’s 12 wins here were clean 2-0 sweeps. It’s hard to believe that Esper is Mono-Blue’s worst matchup. I don’t believe it. But I find my original assumption—that it’s a favorable matchup at all—severely challenged. And that’s about the best that can come out of an exercise like this.
You may wonder, where are Esper’s bad matchups? I wondered too, and then I wandered into the uncharted territory of fringe decks. Dimir? No, Esper went 2-1 in matches against Dimir. Mardu then? Nope, Esper beat Mardu 2-1 as well. Aha, there we go—according to the available data, Jeskai Control won 100% of its matches against Esper Control. Unfortunately, in this case, 100% means one match. So, yeah, Mono-Blue Tempo won the tournament, but Esper Control appears to have won the Standard portion.
Except for Sultai Midrange, none of Izzet Drakes’ results look convincing, either because of a low sample size or because of their negativity. Let’s compare this to Izzet Phoenix:
This looks better in a couple of matchups, about the same in most, and appreciably worse only against Red Aggro. That’s the price you’ll pay when you trade in some 4-toughness creatures for Phoenixes, but it seems to have been quite the reasonable fee, at least at the Mythic Championship.
If we consider Mono-Blue Tempo’s winning record above an outlier, and if we assume that fewer people will play Sultai after its disappointing performance in Cleveland while more people will play Phoenixes instead of Drakes, then Red Aggro sounds like a defensible deck choice going forward.
You are likely to meet more Red Aggro in future events anyway, irrespective of such considerations, because the deck is generally more popular at lower levels of play. (Note that it doesn’t get higher than the Mythic Championship.)
The tables above already cover all the matchups except those between Rakdos Midrange, Selesnya Tokens, Gruul, and Temur Reclamation. Some of these decks didn’t meet each other at all, and the pairings that did happen didn’t happen often enough to yield actionable intelligence. There were a lot of 1-0, 1-1, or 2-1 results in this area. Most notably, Temur Reclamation beat Selesnya Tokens 3-0, although this doesn’t prove anything either.
I have to admit: relying on data of 60% of a Grand Prix field for analysis works much better because there are more players who play more rounds all in the same format. This is exactly what I’m going to do again next week when I focus on data from GP Los Angeles. If you’d like to see a more complete picture then, and if you have missing info about who played what, send me a message on social media. You can even find me on Twitter now: @TobiHenke