The Latest Standard Developments Before the Arena MCQ

Since the release of War of the Spark, Standard has rapidly undergone massive changes. The first major War of the Spark Standard tournament, SCG Richmond, was dominated by Simic Nexus and Mono-Red Aggro. In the next weekend, the debut of MPL divisional play saw Azorius Aggro and Esper Control as the most popular choices.

That brings us to last weekend, where we had three major sources of Standard deck lists:

  • The 26 lists submitted for week 2 of the MPL. There were fewer than 32 because matches with replaced members had to be rescheduled. I used all 26 lists in my aggregate metagame breakdown.
  • The Standard decks in the MOCS finals. In my aggregate metagame breakdown, I included all 16 decks that went 2-2 or better in Standard, excluding all 0-4 and 1-3 decks.
  • The Day 2 decklists at SCG Syracuse. I only included the 29 decks that went 10-4-1 or better.

Using these three sources to construct an aggregate metagame breakdown, I got the following overview.

Deck Archetype MPL Week 2 MOCS SCG Syracuse Total
Mono-Red Aggro 7 2 5 14
Bant Midrange 6 2 8
Esper Hero 3 3 2 8
Izzet Phoenix 1 3 4 8
Esper Control 4 1 1 6
Jeskai Superfriends 1 2 3 6
Azorius Aggro 1 1 3 5
4-Color Dreadhorde 4 4
Esper Superfriends 1 2 3
Bant Nexus 1 1 2
Jeskai Control 2 2
Gruul Midrange 1 1
Mono Blue Tempo 1 1
Mono-White Aggro 1 1
Sultai Midrange 1 1
Selesnya Tokens 1 1

So 20% of the players in this sample were on Mono-Red Aggro. But that deck has been around since forever. Let’s instead focus on more recent developments.

Teferi, Time Raveler is the Most-Played Nonland Card in Standard

Teferi, Time Raveler

For the second week in a row, Teferi, Time Raveler was the most-played nonland card among all MPL deck lists. Not just from War of the Spark—from the entirety of Standard.

In week 1 of the MPL, Teferi mainly saw play in Azorius Aggro. In week 2, Azorius Aggro was on the downturn as there were hardly any Nexus of Fate decks to prey on, but Teferi still kept his number one spot. He saw play in everything ranging from Bant Midrange to Esper Hero to Jeskai Superfriends—all decks that gained enormously from War of the Spark.

Decks whose instant-speed cards are nullified by Teferi, Time Raveler are being pushed out of the metagame. Even though Simic Nexus, Mono-Blue Tempo, and Esper Control were top-tier just a few months ago, War of the Spark has shaken things up.

Looking at Esper specifically, we see a trend where Esper Hero is on the rise while Esper Control is on a downturn. And comparing the MPL Esper Control deck lists from week 1 to week 2, we see that players are shaving Absorb and Dovin’s Veto while upping the numbers on Teferi, Time Raveler and The Eldest Reborn. So counterspells are not where you want to be right now—instead, more Teferis, answers to Teferi, and returning Teferis is where it’s at.

Izzet Phoenix Rising From the Ashes Once Again

Arclight Phoenix

Izzet Phoenix was nowhere to be seen at the start of War of the Spark Standard, but it has recently won MCQs online, and it was a popular choice last weekend.

I can think of several reasons for this. First of all, Izzet Phoenix has a traditionally poor matchup against Simic Nexus because it has little to no relevant interaction against them. Given that Simic Nexus got enormous upgrades from War of the Spark in Blast Zone and Tamiyo, Collector of Tales, it made sense to stay away from Izzet Phoenix in week 1. But now that Teferi, Time Raveler is pushing Simic Nexus out of the metagame, we’ve got a resurgence of Izzet Phoenix decks.

With many players latching onto the archetype, the War of the Spark upgrades were found to be substantial. The most notable is Finale of Promise. It’s a consistent 2-for-1 that can return Arclight Phoenix all by itself, therefore improving the deck’s late-game staying power. Two other War of the Spark cards, Augur of Bolas and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, are sometimes included as well.

While the rise of Izzet Phoenix is something to keep an eye on, I don’t expect it will dominate anytime soon. After all, War of the Spark introduced two good answers to the strategy in Despark and Narset, Parter of Veils. Speaking of Narset…

Planeswalker Decks are Coming Out in Force

Narset, Parter of Veils

The top tables last weekend were dominated by players who put their faith in playing and protecting planeswalkers.

Jeskai Superfriends

Zan Syed, 1st place at SCG Syracuse

3 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Steam Vents
4 Sacred Foundry
2 Mobilized District
4 Interplanar Beacon
3 Sulfur Falls
1 Clifftop Retreat
2 Mox Amber
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
4 Sarkhan the Masterless
3 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
4 Narset, Parter of Veils
1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
2 Karn, Scion of Urza
4 Shock
3 Deafening Clarion
1 Lightning Strike
3 Spell Pierce
4 Opt

3 Prison Realm
3 Dovin's Veto
2 Lava Coil
1 Deafening Clarion
4 Legion Warboss
2 Lyra Dawnbringer

The first successful War of the Spark Standard deck I saw with 13+ planeswalkers was Zac Elsik’s U/W list. Then John Rolf added Sarkhan the Masterless, which can turn the corner very quickly when you have several 1-loyalty planeswalkers lying around. The list John Rolf shared on Twitter is very close to what he submitted for week 2 of the MPL. Even though the broadcast was on Saturday, May 18th, lists had to be submitted on Saturday, May 11th because the matches are prerecorded.

Between the deck submission date and the week 2 MPL broadcast, development didn’t stand still. Savjz added Deafening Clarion, and John Rolf shared an updated list that got him to Mythic #1 on Arena. It was great to follow the evolution of the deck on Twitter. We then got to watch half a game with an outdated Jeskai Superfriends list in the MPL Weekly broadcast.

More interestingly, SCG Syracuse was taken down by Zan Syed, and we got to watch a few of his matches. His Jeskai Planeswalkers list, shown above, added Karn, Scion of Urza and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer (and accordingly, Opt instead of Fblthp) for massive Construct tokens. Zan Syed’s Lotus Box teammate Abe Corrigan finished in 3rd place with the same 75, showing that their build of the deck is for real.

But we’re also seeing Esper versions. They look structurally similar to the Jeskai version, with the main changes being Teferi, Hero of Dominaria instead of Sarkhan the Masterless, Kaya’s Wrath instead of Deafening Clarion, and Thought Erasure instead of Shock.

And the planeswalker theme can be stretched even further.

4-Color Dreadhorde

Ivan Floch and Stanislav Cifka, high Mythic

3 Breeding Pool
4 Interplanar Beacon
4 Woodland Cemetery
1 Isolated Chapel
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Temple Garden
1 Godless Shrine
3 Hinterland Harbor
2 Watery Grave
1 Drowned Catacomb
1 Sunpetal Grove
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
4 Wildgrowth Walker
4 Jadelight Ranger
2 Paradise Druid
2 Massacre Girl
3 Vraska, Golgari Queen
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
4 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
4 Command the Dreadhorde

2 The Elderspell
2 Ritual of Soot
2 Cast Down
2 Narset, Parter of Veils
3 Duress
2 Thrashing Brontodon
2 Kraul Harpooner

This concoction, built by Ivan Floch and Stanislav Cifka, is brought to you by Interplanar Beacon. The land single-handedly casts all your gold planeswalkers and gains life to fuel Command the Dreadhorde. Additional life can be gained by the Wildgrowth Walker package, allowing you to return loads of permanents with a single Command the Dreadhorde.

Raphaël Lévy was having success with his build, but Floch and Cifka recognized the power of Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and ran four copies. Tamiyo finds Command the Dreadhorde, fills the graveyard, and eventually loops Command the Dreadhorde every single turn.

Ondřej Stráský had been streaming the deck and posted a rough sideboard guide on Twitter. But the deck, like everything in Standard, is undergoing changes every day, so be sure to follow him for updates.

You Need to Answer or Attack Planeswalkers

To succeed in Standard right now, you need to be unaffected by the static abilities on cards like Narset and Teferi, and you have to be able to answer or pressure planeswalkers.

Two examples of decks that don’t seem well-positioned right now are Sultai Midrange and Esper Control. These decks are weak to the static planeswalker abilities, lack early aggression to pressure planeswalkers, and are focused too heavily on answering creatures.

To attack planeswalkers, it’s arguably best to rely on cheap, haste creatures. A turn-3 Arclight Phoenix can pressure planeswalkers quite well, which is another reason for Izzet Phoenix’s resurgence. But there many other options at CMC 3 or less. To give some examples:

Fanatical FirebrandGhitu LavarunnerDreadhorde ButcherTenth District LegionnaireLegion WarbossGruul SpellbreakerAdeliz, the Cinder WindTajic, Legion's Edge

I’ll certainly be brewing with all the gold haste creatures in upcoming weeks, but a single-color haste creature stands out to me right now: Legion Warboss.

Comparing the week 1 MPL decks to the week 2 MPL decks, most Mono-Red Aggro sideboards featured more Legion Warboss and fewer Risk Factors. And almost every other red deck, from Izzet Phoenix to Jeskai Planeswalkers, is also running multiple copies of Legion Warboss in their sideboard right now. When planeswalkers are running amok, you need board presence that is sticky, hasty, and snowbally—Legion Warboss ticks all those boxes.

Oath of KayaDeputy of DetentionNicol Bolas, Dragon-God

If you’re not attacking planeswalkers with creatures, then you need to answer them in some other way. When comparing the week 1 MPL decks to the week 2 MP decks, I found it telling that Seraph of the Scales was getting cut in favor of Oath of Kaya, which can burn opposing planeswalkers immediately.

Equally telling was that the only Nexus of Fate deck in the MPL was a Bant version. If you want to deal with those annoying passives on Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils, you need access to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Deputy of Detention. Even then, Wilderness Reclamation and Chemister’s Insight are probably still not well positioned when those 3-mana planeswalkers are dominating.

Going beyond top deck choices from last weekend, Grixis Control is also a valid Standard option. Destroying opposing planeswalkers directly with Angrath’s Rampage, Bedevil, and/or Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God isn’t bad. According to Arne Huschenbeth, his Grixis list along with his sideboard plan “crushes all the […] planeswalker decks handily”.

The Immortal SunThe Elderspell

These are the safety valves that were put in the format in case of a planeswalker emergency. Most black decks are running 2-3 copies of The Elderspell in their 75 nowadays, but The Immortal Sun seemingly hasn’t found a good home yet. I expect that to change. Standard master Brad Nelson was already streaming with the card in Selesnya Tokens.

Mass Manipulation

You know what’s even better than destroying or nullifying all opposing planeswalkers? Gaining control of them! Especially in a deck that is capable of casting Mass Manipulation for x=5 on turn 4. Aaron Gertler sat on the #1 Mythic spot for several days with his take on Simic Mass Manipulation  and several top-Mythic streamers were recently trying their tweaked versions as well.

The typical Simic Mass Manipulation deck features Hydroid Krasis and Finale of Revelation. These X-spells are sweet, especially when fueled by Nissa, Who Shakes the World, but they can be a liability against Narset. That’s an issue that needs solving, but the power of Mass Manipulation is there, and I expect that the card will rise in popularity.

I Intend to Play Mono-Red at the MCQW

This weekend, I will be playing the MQW, which stands for Mythic Qualifier Weekend. Or perhaps it’s the MCQW, which stands for Mythic Championship Qualifier Weekend. I don’t know what the right abbreviation is, as both have been used by WotC. In any case, it’s basically a huge MCQ on MTG Arena.

The Standard deck I intend to register is Mono-Red. My reasoning for this choice is that I expect most players to try and answer the various planeswalker decks in two possible ways: Go over them (with Mass Manipulation or The Immortal Sun) or go under them (with 1-drops, haste creatures, and burn spells). Since the “going under” decks prey on the “going over” decks, I anticipate that aggro decks will be well positioned in next weekend’s metagame. And when it comes to aggro decks, Mono-Red has been most successful lately.

Martin Juza has recently been holding the #1 Mythic spot on Arena with Mono-Red, despite attempts by Brian Braun-Duin to take his spot. Martin will shared his list and sideboard guide on ChannelFireball.com this week, so check it out!

I Have to Get Some MCQW-Related Frustration Off My Chest

On February 20, it was announced that the top 1,000 mythic-ranked players in March and April would qualify for a to-be-scheduled MCQW and that the Top 16 of this MCQW would qualify for Mythic Championship III. At that point, Mythic Championship III was announced to have 52 players with a prize pool of $750,000. Assuming a level playing field, that’s $14,423 per player. This huge payout encouraged me to try to qualify for the MCQW, and I succeeded. At rank #468 with 5 hours to spare, I let my rank decay to #817 as the March season ended.

Since then, three things have changed:

  • On April 28, it was announced that top performers in each of the four MPL divisions would earn a guaranteed slot in Day 2 of Mythic Championship III. This put MCQW qualifiers at a relative disadvantage, reducing their equity.
  • On May 13, in the article that announced the addition of Savjz to the MPL (despite an earlier claim that “qualification for the Magic Pro League will be based on performance in the Mythic Championship events over this next year”), it was announced that sixteen discretionary slots would be added to each of the MTG Arena Mythic Championships. Yet the total prize pool didn’t change. By my calculation, the expected prize winnings are now $10,313 for any player who qualifies through the MCQW. This represents a 28.5% reduction compared to what it was originally.
  • On May 16, it was announced that the first tiebreaker used to determine Day 2 advancement during the MCQW will be the highest Mythic rank a player achieved during the qualifying seasons. A fine choice, except that this was announced long after the qualifying seasons were over. Given that I let my rank decay in the belief that it wouldn’t matter, this tiebreaker greatly reduces my chances of making Day 2 compared to a level playing field. The specific reduction depends on the total number of entrants, but 25% would be my educated guess given the highest rank I achieved. What stings is that we’re not told how things work in time to make decisions based on that information. This starkly contrasts with Elaine Chase’s promise that “over the course of this year, you’ll get information […] early enough that you’ll know what you need to do to compete before it’s time to do it.”

Overall, my equity in the MCQW has been slashed by nearly half. I understand that things can change, but it feels bad when the implicit promises that spurred me to spend substantial time and effort to qualify were broken. It’s like attending a Grand Prix that you have already booked and paid for, only to be told when you arrive that the prize payout has been reduced and that one of your byes got removed. This timing is simply unacceptable. Not to mention that the date of the MCQW wasn’t announced until May 1st, just a few weeks before the event, and even then the start time wasn’t announced.

None of this is an incident. It’s emblematic of the lack of Organized Play communication, consistency, and transparency over the last year. You could already see this in the original esports announcement, which canceled two confirmed Pro Tours and contained an untruthful statement. (It stated that the “$10 million prize pool up for grabs in 2019 […] is more than double 2018” when the actual 2018 prize pool, excluding flight awards and platinum appearance fees, was more than $5 million.)

And things haven’t gotten better. In a recent article, SaffronOlive gave a good summary on “the mess of Organized Play and the Magic Pro League.” For me, all the unfulfilled promises, false statements, and last-minute changes have completely eroded my trust.

Rebuilding that trust will take time and careful management. Wizards needs to stick to announcements. They need to provide clear and timely communication. They need to restore confidence and explain what we are playing for. They need to stop flying by the seat of their pants. If the Organized Play department doesn’t know the answers because they are understaffed, then they need extra resources.

I’m still looking forward to playing the MCQW because Standard is great right now. But all the recent Organized Play announcements have left a sour taste in my mouth.

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