Duo Standard and the Mythic Invitational

Posted in Competitive Gaming on March 26, 2019

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

I was chatting with one of the Magic Pro League players about the Mythic Invitational, and as I searched for words to describe the magnitude of the event, I had a realization.

This is the biggest, highest-value Magic tournament ever.

I've watched or been in the booth for many huge events, including Pro Tours, Grands Prix, World Magic Cups, Magic Online Championship Series, Team Series Finals, Player of the Year Playoffs, and the World Championship.

The Mythic Invitational is bigger than any of those.

The factor that looms biggest is of course the freakin' $1 million total prize pool. If you get last place at the Mythic Invitational, you get $7,500. I'm laughing typing this just because of how incredible that is, and when you scale up the ladder to first place, it's $250,000. And while that's not "you never have to work again" money, in many places it's "okay now you have a house" money.

It's also worth considering that Pro Tours and Mythic Championships have traditionally had about 400 competitors, give or take.

The Mythic Invitational has 64.

No matter who you are or how you got there, you have a shot at the big prize up top. And I mean that in the math-based way, not the "you-got-this-shoot-for-your-dreams-you're-gonna-be-a-star" kind of way.

The last big factor is that this tournament ushers in the new era of esports for Magic. This is the first wave of the new way; this is the first huge stage for the world to see the best players and personalities playing the game we all love, and on MTG Arena.

Every Magic fan, every future Magic fan, and certainly everyone at Wizards of the Coast will have their eyes on this tournament as it marks the beginning of a new era for the game and its place in esports.

It's, as we say in the business, kind of a big deal.

Duo Standard for the First Time

As part of the rollout, there is a brand-new Constructed format for this tournament called Duo Standard. This is a major change from previous iterations of Magic tournaments, and the competitors face a major strategic challenge when it comes to preparing for the event.

Instead of a 60-card Standard deck and a 15-card sideboard, the players will submit two 60-card Standard decks. While the decks technically can have a 15-card sideboard for cards like Mastermind's Acquisition, the players will not be doing any actual sideboarding during the event!

For the two 60-card Standard decks, they can do whatever they want. They can submit the same exact lists, they can submit two totally different lists, or they can even submit two similar lists but with some key cards swapped in for certain matchups.

This poses an absolutely fascinating game-theory question that takes rock, paper, scissors to the limit.

Once they are in the tournament, players will be paired up with an opponent. Which player goes first is decided at random. Additionally, which deck they are playing in the first game is also chosen randomly.

For Game 2, the players will be forced to play with the deck they didn't get in the first game. Also, the player who went first in Game 1 will go second for Game 2.

If there's a Game 3, the players get to choose which of their two decks to play with, but who goes first will once again be chosen at random.

Strategically speaking, a few truths emerge pretty quickly.

The biggest thing is that with no sideboarding, midrange decks will suffer.

At one time in this Standard environment, Sultai Midrange set the pace. It had a powerful mix of value creatures, planeswalkers, and the newly found Hydroid Krasis to power it in the late game.

The thing that you don't fully realize until it's gone, though, is that much of its power was pulled from its fantastic sideboard options. Once you take that away, the deck floats hopelessly in the middle, getting trounced by aggressive monocolor decks yet also losing to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria from the Esper control deck.

Not where you want to be.

The end result is that you're incentivized to choose linear archetypes that are very one-minded and really punish the opponent for floundering in the midrange.

I've spoken to many of the Mythic Invitational competitors about their strategic approach to choosing the archetypes and lists that they chose, and I'll tell you, there isn't a consensus on what is optimal quite yet.

Most of them said that picking the same narrow deck twice is a mistake; if you run into an opponent holding a deck that's a nightmare matchup for you, you are guaranteed to face it twice in a match and you have no strategic recourse against it.

One plan is to take a linear archetype, and then have your second deck be the same archetype but with cards brought in for your nightmare matchup. The downside of this, of course, is that you will be forced to play the lesser version of your deck at least once per match, regardless of whether you are facing that bad matchup.

Another approach is to go with two completely different archetypes. Say, one super-aggressive deck and one super-controlling deck. This can be a pretty swingy approach, but it does offer the most flexibility for Game 3, when that happens. It also adds testing time as you have to get used to playing both ends of the spectrum.

We'll see patterns emerge for how the players tackled this problem, but the answers are not obvious.

Predicted Metagame

So, what are the actual decks that people may be bringing to the event?

Let's start with two decks you probably won't see much of at the tournament: Sultai Midrange and Mono-Blue Tempo. These decks had a big presence at the first Mythic Championship in Cleveland, but in Duo Standard, they fall short. Interestingly, they do so for different reasons.

Mono-Blue actually does have many of the characteristics you'd want in a Duo Standard list. It's assertive, consistent, and has a repeatable game plan. The problem is that its best matchup—midrange decks—aren't very popular in Duo Standard, so instead, you have to face off against a bunch of quicker, more aggressive decks.

Sultai Midrange simply leans too hard on its sideboard to be effective in a format that excludes them.

Now, for the decks you will see.

First up is Mono-Red. Mono-Red is the default archetype in this format. Why? Remember when we said that we wanted linear, aggressive archetypes? This is the most linear, most aggressive one. It's primary game plan of a super-low curve plus difficult-to-interact-with burn spells to finish off the opponent makes it the frontrunner.

The interesting part about red is that it's also the easiest to "pre-board" against; that is, put cards in the main deck that hedge your matchup percentage in your favor.

This is the deck many players will start their search on and also the deck they'll have in mind when picking their other deck.

Mono-Red Aggro

Working our way all the way to the far other side of the spectrum is Esper Control. This deck has a comprehensive array of answers to the aggressive decks it's likely to face. Plus, it doesn't have to worry about those pesky sideboarded games against cards like Duress and Negate.

A key advantage this deck gets is that it leverages the sideboard in an interesting way; it plays Mastermind's Acquisition to grab a win condition or key card regardless of the matchup. If they have stabilized against Mono-Red, they can grab Lyra Dawnbringer. Against the mirror? Get an Unmoored Ego or a Nezahal, Primal Tide.

Esper also benefits from the flexibility of being built toward a predicted metagame. There is a lot of wiggle room with these Esper decks, everything from all-out control with essentially no win conditions outside of Teferi, up to Dovin's Acuity–based builds that look to gain a ton of life and trend toward the midrange.

For players looking to flex their love of control decks, this is the clear choice.

Esper Control

Next is the other super-aggressive deck in the format, Mono-White Aggro.

It's a little easier to interact with the threats from this deck compared to the red deck, as they are essentially all creatures, but they are a potent mix of cheap and powerful. The deck is also remarkably resilient for a small creature strategy. Cards like Legion's Landing and History of Benalia defy one-for-one removal while putting on significant pressure when curving out.

There really isn't a deck in the format that can beat the dream curve from this deck if it's on the play, which culminates with a Venerated Loxodon pumping up a bunch of creatures to set up a lethal attack the following turn.

If the players decide that red is public enemy number one, they may defer to Mono-White as their aggressive deck of choice.

Mono-White Aggro

The last type of deck we may see are some stabs at sideboardless midrange decks. You can build a midrange deck that is effective in Duo Standard if you know what you are up against as far as the metagame goes. Since the players have been playing a ton on MTG Arena leading up to the event, they may try out a midrange deck that is great against the metagame they anticipate.

This will likely take the form of some combination of either Temur decks that use Wilderness Reclamation and the associated combos to beat the control decks or a black-green based midrange strategy designed to beat the aggressive decks.

This will take some confidence on behalf of the player submitting the deck, because if their metagame prediction proves wrong, it will be a disaster.

Takeaways

The players are reacting to the set of incentives they were given, and the natural reaction is to push the boundaries of the format out as far as possible, while mostly ignoring the middle part.

Consistency in game plan is crucial, as two of the highlighted decks are monocolored and often feature a three-drop which costs three of that color of mana.

These decks feature extremely assertive, consistent strategies that are usually fairly easy to knock off axis once the sideboards come in. Hence their desirability when there are no sideboards.

One other factor that will likely play a bigger role than normal is being on the play versus being on the draw. This will be split for the first two games regardless of the outcome of the first game, but Game 3 will be random again, and whoever gets to go first will have a big advantage given the types of decks we are seeing here.

Overall, the players vary a lot in terms of play skill, competitive Magic resumes, and approaches to the game. Everyone will be excited to take part in this tournament, and the double-elimination nature of group play is something I'm personally excited for as it creates big dramatic moments numerous times each day of the competition.

But if there is one thing besides competitive spirit and love of the game that can draw people together, it's one million dollars.

See you there!

@Marshall_LR

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