Today I was going to talk a bit more about Gruul and then the various Knights strategies as anti-Golos decks. However, on my way to this topic I ran into a bit of a problem–I kept running into a flurry of anti-aggro strategies. This made it much harder to judge the deck’s worth against Golos as, to quote a true scholar, I was the ************* trying to ice skate uphill.
Let me make two statements to open this article up. One I think is more or less agreed upon and the other is a bit controversial.
- Some flavor of Golos is the best deck in the format and it isn’t particularly close at the moment.
- Well-constructed aggro decks have respectable matches against Golos strategies.
Therefore, the metagame should consist of Golos and aggro strategies built to defeat Golos. Whether those be adventure-based, Mono-Red, Gruul, Embercleave or what have you, that’s the baseline starting point. The Golos decks then must shift to start to prep more against them while some Golos players roll the dice and use all their slots for the mirror. Eventually the meta slides open a bit and suddenly niche decks have a good reason to exist and it may actually be the correct choice to run something non-aggro or non-Golos.
What we have right now though is a metagame where I seemingly see a bunch of anti-aggro black/Rakdos decks and Simic Midrange strategies. Decks that, put kindly, get largely stomped by good Golos draws and have to play real Magic with the slow ones. The sheer number of these decks, though, punishes anyone trying to stop Golos, leaving Golos with a weird metagame share and matchup triangle.
The percentages will be exaggerated a bit just to drive the point home.
Golos: Red 40%, Simic 70%, Mirror 50%
Red: Golos 60%, Simic 40%, Mirror 50%
Simic Midrange: Golos 30%, Red 60%, Mirror 50%
Looking at this, we have a case where we have the best deck with the most meta share playing a very favorable match, a unfavored match (that is quite play/draw dependent) and the mirror, which can be teched to shift percentages. Why in the world do we have a metagame where the Simic players seemingly generate the 2nd or 3rd most popular deck in the format when they lose to the best deck? Not just lose either, but to lose badly!
We have this very odd metagame skew where people are actively preying on the aggro decks trying to correct the meta, but they aren’t actually enough aggro decks in the winners metagame to justify this. In a world with like a 50-40-10 split on matchups I could see that working, but Simic (and similar anti-aggro) outnumber the aggro decks at the moment! So then comes the obvious–Golos is the best deck. The metagame isn’t self-correcting and is in fact reinforcing this very point. It reminds me of the first month of CawBlade, except we’ve already seen multiple formats like this one! At the rate we’re going, the Golos decks won’t even have to adapt to the field by the time bannings happen.
With the announcement of the banlist update moving up to a few weeks from now, it feels like the inevitable conclusion–a ban will have to happen to shift the format.
Back to making an accepted statement and a controversial statement.
Field of the Dead should be banned
Field of the Dead produces an inevitability that cannot be reasonably be interacted with and single-handedly nullifies an entire subsection of archetypes. It is also the type of card that only gets better with more released sets, barring something very targeted being printed to stop it.
However, I think there’s another route that’s only slightly less devastating to the current metagame.
Oko, Thief of Crowns should be banned
If you remove these Simic Midrange decks and their ilk, aggro flourishes and can punish Golos. You know what I can beat with some consistency? A single sweeper on turn three/four into Golos into some Zombies. You know what I can only beat with sheer luck? Oko, Thief of Crowns into Wicked Wolf. On turn two off Gilded Goose? I don’t even think scooping is an unreasonable decision.
“Wahhh, stop whining, you trash aggro player.”
Quick sanity check. Oko generates a horrific play pattern where you’re punished for playing creatures. Trying to leverage cards for life points? Make a Food every turn. Trying to win with bigger/evasive creatures? Enjoy your Elks. Ignore Oko altogether and you deal with all the above and your creatures are getting stolen. Not only is Oko just obscenely powerful on its face due to the high starting loyalty and +1 providing removal to a color combination with very little, it just does everything.
Even if you remove Field of the Dead from the format, you instantly make Simic Midrange tier 1 and every deck plays Oko because one of the best things to counter an Oko is one of your own. Aggro and non-Simic Midrange decks still get punished, Simic Midrange loses its worst matchup and the format boogeyman shifts to Fires of Invention. Sure the ‘bigger’ deck gets more interesting to play against and control gets a new lease on life, but what if the control decks just can’t handle the value plays every turn? Or something like the Temur Planeswalkers deck just better because it generates value from nearly every card? Is that really a better format?
Heck, if you want to go with a safe route and not upset people who bought Oko, then at least make the play you made with Mono-Red Aggro the last time it was tier one and ban Wicked Wolf (the classic ‘We won’t ban Hazoret’ play). That would also open up so much space for creatures to maneuver when your 3/4 drop isn’t instantly killed off as part of a 0-for-1. This is why I think in an ideal world where you can’t just edit the card to be a bit less busted, you ban Field and Oko.
Being realistic though, there’s almost no chance they wipe out a freshly minted planeswalker. So Field of the Dead is almost certainly going to bite it, in no small part because aggro won’t have a big enough presence and Oko decks are going to keep them even more constrained. This is also awkward because the solution to Oko is to go way over the top without relying entirely on the board. Which means the natural predator of Oko is… Golos finding Field of the Dead, something Oko can’t effectively fight against (Even if it does turn off Golos immediately). Fires of Invention is the other obvious solution since you simply get to leverage far more mana or your wish board for a clean answer to Oko ala Casualties of War or Nicol Bolas.
The other solution is simply playing a deck that doesn’t care about the board and seeks to heavily manipulate it. This is really why Field of the Dead should still be banned even in a world where Oko wasn’t printed. Control decks need to at least have a chance to shine and not be negated because a deck runs a playset of a land. If there’s a takeaway for you, it would be that you shouldn’t be playing these Simic decks unless you firmly believe you actually have an even or better matchup against Golos decks.
While initially I thought Simic Flash was the solution, even teching it with Questing Beast and Oko to have some real threats and trying the one that T4’d the SCG Classic, I have yet to find one where that’s the case. At best, you’re slightly favored in game one and then things quickly get much harder where you need good draws to beat the average Golos draw. Simic Midrange is in the same boat–game one feels like a joke unless the Golos player stumbles badly or Simic curves especially well. Post-board, when you can strategically stall with a counter or two, things tend to even out, but even then Deputy of Detention is a clean solution to many of your best threats.
As for aggro players, I still believe Embercleave and Gruul has a good Golos matchup until they shift their sideboards to actually stop me. Maybe at the MPL/Mythic Championship level then those players are still rocking even or favorable win rates against them, but for us mortals I’m still okay with aggro. My main question is how many Skarrgan Hellkite are correct and if Paradise Druid is worth the slots. Once Upon a Time also started getting cut from a number of lists, but frankly I’ve been punished by my mana so many times in the 24-25 land builds I’m back on it for now. I will say that when I wasn’t getting extremely awkward 3x Forest, 1x Mountain draws, VTCLA’s Gruul list was the only one besides my own that I really liked.
9 Mountain (343) 10 Forest (347) 2 Fabled Passage 4 Stomping Ground 4 Pelt Collector 4 Wildborn Preserver 3 Zhur-Taa Goblin 4 Gruul Spellbreaker 4 Boncerusher Giant 4 Questing Beast 4 Skarrgan Hellkite 3 Domri’s Ambush 2 Collision/Colossus 1 Domri, Anarch of Bolas 2 Embercleave Sideboard 3 Lava Coil 3 Sarkhan the Masterless 3 Thrashing Brontodon 3 Veil of Summer 1 Domri, Chaos Bringer 2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas
If I was going to give up my Once Upon a Time, then I’d go with something similar to this.
As for Knights? I’ll continue to play around with the tribe. Right now I think Boros and Rakdos Knights are way to go, though Mardu and just accepting the loss of percentage points in aggro mirrors may be worthwhile for the power bump. My main takeaways from 23 Best-of-3 matches are that you need 12 one-drops, Venerated Loxodon or not, Worthy Knight is the best 2-drop and your sideboard options suck outside of Drill Bit. Embercleave is still the best expensive finisher and far better than a Glorious Anthem against Golos or Simic Midrange, so I’d keep 3 of those and shave any other big spells first. The deck is also surprisingly mana-hungry, especially if you sideboard more 3-cost cards, so I wouldn’t drop under 21 lands (I run 22).
7 Mountain (343) 6 Plains (331) 4 Sacred Foundry 1 Temple of Triumph 4 Tournament Grounds 4 Fervent Champion 4 Venerable Knight 4 Weaselback Redcap 4 Inspiring Veteran 4 Rimrock Knight/Boulder Rush 4 Worthy Knight 4 Acclaimed Contender 3 Bonecrusher Giant/Stomp 4 Venerated Loxodon 3 Embercleave Sideboard 1 Plains (331) 2 Devout Decree 2 Glass Casket 3 Unchained Berserker 3 Gideon Blackblade 1 Unbreakable Formation 3 Tectonic Rift
One final note, Skyknight Vanguard performed poorly for me in the majority of games and was generally too low-impact. For every game where it let me Embercleave a fool out a turn early, it only cracked in for one in the air or couldn’t attack at all because the 1/1 would just get blocked by Murderous Rider. Also please do not trust the auto tapper on MTG Arena if you run any adventure cards, especially in the three-color builds–Tournament Grounds has a very high preference to stay untapped if you have multiple colors of castables in hand.
Next time we’ll be back to the usual suspects with a breakdown of Golos Fires.
Shortly after I finished this article, I finished my grind to Mythic this season with Golos Fires playing zero Golos mirrors and beating up Mono-Black Aggro, Mono-Red, 2x Simic Midrange, Temur Planeswalkers, 2x Simic Midrange, Dimir Control and UB Mill while losing two games to GW Smash Mouth (AKA: GW Artifacts with All That Glitters). At least as far as the Arena metagame goes, I just don’t get it.
So I initially wrote this article on the 11th. It is now the 16th and we’re seeing some signs of diversity in the metagame. My main issue is more or less this is exactly what we saw with CawBlade and Temur Aetherworks before they were fully refined. Then, once they had been fully established and everyone stopped playing worse builds to trump the mirror, they simply dominated their respective formats.
I love Kanister’s GB Adventures list he submitted for the MC and it may even beat the normal builds of Golos while doing well vs the field! However, I can also build a version of Golos Fires that doesn’t maindeck mirror cards and opens up 4-5 slots to just go back to hammering on aggro. Still, I’d love to be wrong here and hope Juza and Kanister are correct that the format is a lot more open than it’s felt.