Eldraine Split Sapphire Division Top 4 Preview

Posted in Competitive Gaming on October 3, 2019

By Rich Hagon

Rich Hagon combines a deep knowledge of the players of the Pro Tour with a passionate love of the game. He's a regular commentator for Pro Tour and Grand Prix live video coverage, and is the official Pro Tour Statistician. He has been covering Magic events since 2006.

Welcome to week one of our MPL Eldraine Split, and the Sapphire Division is serving up a quality quartet for our weekend broadcast. Congratulations to Rei Sato, Jessica Estephan, Reid Duke, and Piotr Głogowski who make up our playoffs lineup, competing for that important bye into Day Two of Mythic Championship VII at the end of the year. It was a tight set of round robin matches, with everyone winning at least two, so those missing out—John Rolf (3-4), and Martin Jůza, Lucas Esper Berthoud, and Alexander Hayne (all 2-5)—at least have something to show for their efforts.

Here's how the Top 4 made it in:

Rei Sato – Japan (6-1)

While the MPL has more than its share of all-time greats it's also a showcase for newer talent, and Sato is certainly that. Playing Bant Golos, Sato dominated proceedings. He stepped out to a 3-0 start before taking what would be his only loss to the Golgari Adventure deck of John Rolf. Significantly, that means he's already beaten all three of his weekend rivals. Anyone surprised by this hasn't been paying attention: Sato entered the Split with a Division win in the Spark Split, and a Top 4 last time around in the Core Split. The job isn't yet done but he comes into the Saturday showdown as a favorite to become the first repeat division winner. Japan could do with a new Magic hero. Maybe Sato is that man.

Jessica Estephan – Australia (5-2)

The MPL is still in its infancy, but the upward trajectory for Estephan is noticeable. After a compressed opening bout that saw her collect two wins in the Spark Split, and a serviceable 3-4 record in Core Split, this 5-2 record is our first chance to see her in the playoffs. After claiming wins over Głogowski, Hayne, Jůza, Rolf, and Berthoud with her Bant Food deck, Estephan can build on her mid-season momentum with a division win here.

On Twitter, she noted that both her two losses—Sato and Duke—are other opponents in the Top 4 playoff, but you'd have to be loco to underestimate Oko.

Reid Duke – USA (4-3)

While green was everywhere this week, one thing Selesnya gives you that playing Golgari or Simic doesn't is friends access to March of the Multitudes. There is only one Reid Duke—good news for potential opponents—but it was the Multitudes that propelled the Hall of Fame-elect to success this week. Spells that scale are always powerful, and Duke showcased its power with multiple Multitudes in double digits. While Duke always has huge support whenever he plays, I think we can safely assume the patron saint of Selesnya players everywhere, Craig Wescoe, will be cheering him on this weekend.

Piotr Głogowski – Poland (4-3)

It's hard to pick an MVP from Głogowski's Golgari Adventure deck. Questing Beast won him games this week. So did Rankle, Master of Pranks. Edgewall Innkeeper kept cards flowing, and Lovestruck Beast was a 5/5 for three mana. Murderous Rider brought many creatures to a swift end, and Legion's End sometimes lived up to its name. Once Upon a Time was a good Magic card.

And maybe that's the problem. Although Golgari, this deck played like a "fair" Jund deck. Yes it has good cards, but not a lot of utter brutality as reflected in a topsy-turvy week that ended with a minimum positive record at 4-3. Worse news: Głogowski's three losses are all ready to face him again in the Top 4. If forced to guess, this isn't an adventure you would choose.

The Road to Worlds

Reid Duke leads the field, breaking through the 100 Mythic Point barrier with his 8 points this week. Of the Top 10 right now, Rei Sato has the fewest points from Mythic Championships and by far the most from the MPL season, bolstered by his 6-1 record this week. Piotr Głogowski is 5th in standings right now, but with three divisions still to play that translates to 10th to 12th by the end of Eldraine Split. Of the rest, Hayne missed an opportunity to get into the mix: his 12 total points across three Splits has him needing major Mythic Championship performances down the stretch.

Metagame Then and Now

For Eldraine Split, players in the Top 4 must stick with the decks that got them into the playoffs. There were six decks on display during the Round Robin phase—two Bant Golos, two Golgari Adventure, and one each of Bant Food, Selesnya Adventure, Simic Food, and Jeskai Fires. Green is the theme into the Top 4.

Rei Sato - Bant Golos - Eldraine Sapphire Top 4

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Jessica Estephan - Bant Food - Eldraine Sapphire Top 4

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Reid Duke - Selesnya Adventure - Eldraine Sapphire Top 4

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Piotr Głogowski - Golgari Adventure - Eldraine Sapphire Top 4

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Here's Paul Cheon with his thoughts on the decks:

In the previous two splits, the majority of MPL players submitted "safe" proactive decks for the first week. This is generally the correct thing to do as many people are still experimenting and trying to understand the format. Aggressive decks are great at punishing the slower, less refined decks. This was most definitely not the case this split. Players fully embraced the wide array of powerful build-arounds from Throne of Eldraine.

Jessica Estephan submitted a deck based around food. The powerful one-two punch of Gilded Goose and Oko, Thief of Crowns propelled Jessica Estephan into a 5-2 record and a Top 4 berth. With 12 planeswalkers and a wide variety of value creatures, this deck is very difficult to attack and nearly impossible to grind out. The deck has a similar package to what we've seen in Bant Ramp decks in the past, but it looks like the food package put the deck over the top. Oko is looking like he's the real deal.

Another breakout deck is the various adventure decks that were submitted. Piotr Głogowski submitted Golgari Adventure decks, while Reid Duke submitted a creative Selesnya variant. The key card in these decks is the inclusion of Edgewall Innkeeper. All three of these decks have no shortage of adventures that can trigger the powerful one drop. Players can quickly get buried in card advantage as every adventure creature effectively replaces themselves as long as the Innkeeper is in play.

Duke chose to go a unique direction with adventures by using the shell of the classic Selesnya Tokens deck. By replacing the early drops with Edgewall Innkeeper and a variety of cheap adventures, Duke's deck now has the capability to grind well into the late game. It was a problem for the deck in the past, but this innovative approach to Selesnya Tokens locked in another division Top 4 for Duke. He continues to pad his Mythic Championship points and is positioning himself very well for a possible World Championship invite along with entry into the MPL for 2020.

Field of the Dead decks are still alive and kicking despite the fact that Scapeshift is no longer in Standard. It turns out that Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is still good enough for people to stretch their mana base to its limits using the powerful land. Once Upon a Time is the big new addition to the deck as it provides the deck even more consistency in finding Field of the Dead. The ability to find creatures is also impactful as it allows the deck to find valuable creatures at all points in the game. It can even find a sweeper as you can reveal a Realm-Cloaked Giant! Rei Sato continues to impress as one of the relative newcomers to professional magic: He crushed the field with a 6-1 record and lock up the No. 1 seed going into the playoffs.

In the upper bracket, we have Sato on Bant Golos going up against Estephan's Bant Food deck. Both decks have a wide variety of ramp options but the slight edge will likely go to Rei Sato's deck as the games will go long and Estephan does not have a great way to deal with all the Zombies that Sato will generate with Field of the Dead. The key for Jessica will be to get off to a quick start with her planeswalkers and try to end the game before Rei gets multiple copies of Field of the Dead onto the battlefield.

For the lower bracket, it's a battle of the adventure decks with Reid Duke on the Selesnya variant while Głogowski has gone with the more traditional Golgari deck. Duke's deck is the far more aggressive deck between the two, and can have some explosive starts. Duke needs a fast start and March of the Multitudes will be one of the key cards that he will be looking for. Głogowski will have to play the role of the control deck here and the most important cards for him will be his sweepers in Massacre Girl and two copies of Find // Finality in his deck. He also has the added benefit of having removal in his deck, which should give him the edge in the Innkeeper war. Overall the matchup should be close and comes down to which player draws their key card in the matchup.

Overall, Sato seems to be the small favorite to win the division. Not only is he in the upper bracket, but his deck is also well-positioned against everyone else in the Top 4.

A Really New Standard

Wow does Standard ever look different. Here are four quick hits to watch out for:

  1. 1/1 creatures are everywhere. The battlefield was littered with Edgewall Innkeeper, Faerie Guidemother, March of the Multitude, and Emmara, Soul of the Accord tokens—and that's just Reid Duke. Only Rei Sato's Bant Golos deck doesn't look to get 1/1s onto the battlefield.
  2. Where are the planeswalkers? In Core Split, we saw five or more planeswalkers on the battlefield simultaneously. Now that part is virtually empty. Although Sato has four copies of Teferi, Time Raveler, it's only Estephan (with twelve in her deck) keeping the planeswalker flag flying.
  3. Wrath of God—the iconic battlefield wiping spell—may not be available but creatures are dying in all sorts on numbers, and in all sorts of interesting ways. Legion's End, Time Wipe, Massacre Girl, and Cast Off are just four of the ways to reset the board. Bonus: That Giant's hand animation is really sweet.
  4. Gameplay is smooth. Last time around, games often ended in topdeck wars. Here, games are ending with a dozen cards in hands between the two players. Adventures are a huge part of this of course, unpacking two cards in one, but players are drawing cards much more often than the draw step. More cards means more decisions which also means more good games. This paragraph has been brought to you by the best three words in Magic: "Draw a card."

The Saturday Showdown

In the Upper Finals, it's a faceoff between flavors of Bant, with Rei Sato and Bant Golos against Bant Food for Jessica Estephan. The winner heads straight to the Grand Finals, while the loser drops to the Lower Finals where they'll meet the winner of the Adventure matchup between Reid Duke (Selesnya) and Piotr Głogowski (Golgari). Now is a good time to remind you of our new Top 4 wrinkle: The Grand Finals is a best two-out-of-three matches, with each match being a regular best-of-three. Now either player in the Grand Finals has to win two matches to claim the division title.

Join our fabulous casting crew for the live show on Saturday at twitch.tv/Magic at 12p.m. PT, and we'll see you again in three weeks for the next edition of MPL Weekly.

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