Decks are submitted for the Magic: The Gathering Mythic Invitational, and at the time of writing this I’m just a few days away from battling against fan favorite Reid Duke in round 1 of group C, a.k.a. “The Group of Death.”
I can honestly say I played and prepared a well for this tournament, and while obviously I wish I played even more than I did, I’m happy with my testing process for this event and I’m reasonably confident going into it.
I learned a few important things about the format. First and foremost, the decks I’ve chosen to play in this event are Mono-Red and Esper Control. I believe this duo for Duo Standard has few leaks that leave me weak to any combination of decks, and gives me a fighting chance anywhere. Here are my final deck lists:
19 Mountain 4 Goblin Chainwhirler 4 Runaway Steam-Kin 4 Viashino Pyromancer 4 Ghitu Lavarunner 4 Fanatical Firebrand 4 Lightning Strike 4 Light Up the Stage 2 Skewer the Critics 4 Shock 3 Wizard's Lightning 4 Experimental Frenzy
4 Drowned Catacomb 4 Glacial Fortress 4 Watery Grave 1 Swamp 4 Isolated Chapel 4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Godless Shrine 2 Mastermind's Acquisition 4 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria 4 Thought Erasure 4 Kaya's Wrath 2 Cry of the Carnarium 2 Mortify 4 Absorb 3 Chemister's Insight 1 Vraska's Contempt 2 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin 2 Negate 2 Cast Down 2 Moment of Craving 1 Ixalan's Binding Sideboard 1 Invoke the Divine 1 Ethereal Absolution 1 Demystify 1 Sanguine Sacrament 1 Sky Tether 1 Lyra Dawnbringer 1 Clear the Mind 1 The Mirari Conjecture 1 Sorcerous Spyglass 1 Unmoored Ego 1 Settle the Wreckage 1 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper 1 Nezahal, Primal Tide 1 Healing Grace 1 Cleansing Nova
Why Did I Choose These Two Decks?
The bottom line is that I wasn’t able to find a deck that beat both Mono-Red and Esper, leading me to believe that for Duo Standard, playing both was a good way not to expose myself to any decks that shared a bad matchup.
One avenue I might not have explored enough to beat both decks was to focus on Arguel’s Blood Fast as a way to gain life against red decks and act as card advantage against Esper. The deck I had in mind had access to creatures like Lyra Dawnbringer, Basilica Bell-Haunt, and some Seraph of the Scales at the top end. It would use Mortify as a removal spell that’s not dead against Esper to keep them from flipping Search for Azcanta, and maybe have some main deck Duress to go with this plan. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the early threats I could play out of the B/W color pair. Knights are too vulnerable, and Tithe Taker is solid but unspectacular. If I had to work on something that could beat both decks, however, this is the place I’d start. Both Red and Esper are incredibly popular on the ladder, so it may be worth investing some time to find a B/W Midrange Blood Fast deck. While I suspect it will take a solid amount of work, there might be something there.
Mono-Red is the best linear deck in the format by a substantial amount. The deck is so powerful and consistent with some help from the hand fixing algorithm, and to beat it, you really need to try. In doing so, you leave yourself vulnerable in other matchups, which is a poor strategy in a tournament setting. That’s not to say playing a deck that beats Red is a bad idea. I’m just saying that if it costs you equity in a ton of other matchups, you’re going to find yourself out of the tournament early. In an open format with even a little deck diversity like this, play the deck to beat, don’t play to beat it. Overloading on Moment of Cravings? You’re going to die to Gruul Spellbreaker. Packing a lot of cards like Lyra Dawnbringer and Basilica Bell-Haunt? Well, you’ll likely be weak to a control player.
Even when Mono-Red does have a bad matchup, it can bail itself out with Experimental Frenzy. I suspect you’ll see players at the Invitational adapt by adding more enchantment removal like Thrashing Brontodon to green decks.
Esper Control has this built-in advantage of blanking opponents’ removal, leaving it on the opposite side of the spectrum to Mono-Red. The big innovation here is Mastermind’s Acquisition. Esper Control could often run into problems in finding a way to win the game, but also having an otherwise do-nothing card like Chromium, the Mutable. Yes, you could assume full control and draw a bunch of answers, but the deck runs out of countermagic at some point and if the opponent is capable of keeping you from ultimating Teferi with some Shocks and other burn, you can actually run out of cards before you are able to ultimate, and one Shock in hand can remove a Teferi before it’s able to tuck itself.
Mastermind’s Acquisition plugs this hole by allowing you to get a Clear the Mind, or a true win condition like Lyra Dawnbringer when they can’t kill it. At the time of writing, deck lists aren’t public, but my assumption is that most Esper lists will have Mastermind’s Acquisition in them. It solves a lot of the problems the deck has with being able to use its win condition as a more flexible card that can also help the deck stabilize.
I’ve found Mastermind’s Acquisition to be one of the more important cards in best-of-one because of the huge advantage of accessing sideboard cards, without the cost of having to water down your actual sideboard. While Mastermind’s Acquisition is slow, it often makes up for that with its utility. After testing this format a lot, I was surprised at the importance of sideboards in this BO1 format. I love how Mastermind’s Acquisition alone has given us an opportunity to exploit this sideboard space, and grants a ton of deck-building decisions.
If you look at my sideboard for Esper Control, you see a lot of cheap cards like Healing Grace, Sky Tether, and Demystify. While you often won’t get the Sky Tether, you may have a situation where you need a 1-mana answer to a creature, and that covers all your bases. Sure, you could have a Fungal Infection or Dead Weight, but what if you’re getting beat up by a Goblin Chainwhirler, Rekindling Phoenix, or Hydroid Krasis?
Finding the best sideboard comes down to playing a lot of games, coming up with scenarios, however rare, and covering them. You see both Demystify and Invoke the Divine, which may look redundant. Against an Experimental Frenzy out of Red it sure is nice to gain 4 life when removing it, but sometimes you don’t have the luxury of 3 mana, in which case the more cost efficient answer is necessary. Giving your opponent a full turn untapped with Frenzy could lead to an explosive turn, and potentially another Frenzy off the top.
While there’s plenty of cards in the Esper sideboard to close out the game in specific scenarios, some of the cards may be unnecessary outside the Mythic Invitational. The Invitational itself is double-elimination, with no draws, and the rule to prevent a draw is that whomever has the highest life total in an undecided game. For that reason we have Sanguine Sacrament, in case we’re in a long game 3 with full control, but actually can’t deck the opponent or kill them with another threat fast enough. Simply tutor for the Sacrament to gain a bunch of life. This is a card you may not need outside of that rule, but will sometimes be a good target against Mono-Red when you have time, and against a deck that picked up some popularity during testing, Temur Krasis.
Martin Juza was the first to receive this deck and after testing it for a bit we concluded it was much stronger than it appeared to the naked eye, and it quickly became a contender. Against this deck the games with Esper are very long, and the Esper player runs the risk of decking themselves if they’re using Teferi and Search for Azcanta a bunch, with Temur able to restock on cards with Treasure Map and Hydroid Krasis. Having access to Mastermind’s Acquisition turned this matchup from close to quite favorable for Esper. You can get Sacrament to loop so you don’t deck yourself while also getting yourself out of Banefire range.
Here’s a look at our version of Temur Krasis:
8 Mountain 4 Stomping Ground 4 Steam Vents 4 Rootbound Crag 4 Sulfur Falls 1 Arch of Orazca 4 Hydroid Krasis 4 Dire Fleet Daredevil 4 Rekindling Phoenix 4 Goblin Chainwhirler 2 Siege-Gang Commander 4 Treasure Map/Treasure Cove 4 Shock 4 Lightning Strike 2 Karn, Scion of Urza 3 Banefire Sideboard 1 Negate 1 The Mirari Conjecture 1 Sylvan Awakening 1 Ral, Izzet Viceroy 1 Carnage Tyrant 1 Expansion/Explosion 1 Cindervines 1 Sorcerous Spyglass 1 The Immortal Sun 1 Unmoored Ego 1 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin 1 Clear the Mind 1 In Bolas's Clutches 1 Vivien Reid 1 Silent Gravestone
Why does this deck have an extensive sideboard? Well, this one is less fine tuned since we didn’t end up playing this deck, but it is actually really important. Dire Fleet Daredevil is an important card against decks that play Mastermind’s Acquisition. In general, games against decks with Acquisition go much longer, so that interaction comes up often. This is not being cute: it happens regularly. While the Esper sideboard with Mastermind’s Acquisition has a broad reach of cards to cover a lot of matchups, your sideboard with Dire Fleet Daredevil decks needs to assume it’s playing against a deck with Mastermind’s Acquisition, which are almost always control decks. For this reason, almost all of the targets here are for control decks.
I found in testing against Esper Dovin’s Acuity that we’d play a long game where I could keep them at a life total in the high teens or low 20s, and I’d frequently be able to close the game out by using Dire Fleet Daredevil on Acquisition and sacrificing my Treasures to cast a Sylvan Awakening. With Treasure Maps flipped you have even more lands in play. I could often deal 20-30 damage by the end of the game with the single card, and it would deal almost twice as much damage as a Banefire.
We don’t have lands to cast Unmoored Ego, but we do have Treasures to sacrifice, and the times you’ll want an Ego may result in a free win simply by eliminating all of your opponent’s win conditions. You’ll be able to coast to victory from there. This opens up a lot of options for Treasures, so you may want to find even more off-color cards to get with Acquisition.
While I think Thief of Sanity is a poorly positioned card in best-of-one Standard at the moment, if you have it in your deck, you’ll also likely want to create a decent sideboard strategy for the times you end up casting Mastermind’s Acquisition.
My takeaways from testing left me very confident that I chose the right decks for the tournament. We tried and failed to find configurations we liked better, and if I was playing to win on the ladder right now I’d simply play Mono-Red. I think it’s incredibly powerful, yes, but it also gives you a lot of games quick, increasing your ability to climb the ladder and hit more win streaks. Yes, you’ll occasionally play against decks built to beat Red but because of Experimental Frenzy, you’re live against virtually everything.
I’m excited to finally play in this tournament, so close to home, with my family watching. I’m confident, and I hope next week I’m writing about how I won the tournament. Make sure you tune in for the event! It may be the most exciting event in Magic history.