It's a huge week in the MPL as players fight for position atop each division as we hurtle toward the end of the Spark Split. So let's get to it.
The Big Match
Not tough to call this week: it's the Emerald Division clash of friends, teammates, and Standard standouts Brad Nelson and Seth Manfield, both sitting on top at 4-0, with the winner well on track to claim the Division title and a free pass through to Day Two of Mythic Championship III in Las Vegas next month.
The two players have taken contrasting routes to their perfect records. Manfield has stuck with Mono-Red Aggro throughout, while Nelson has sleeved up Azorius Aggro, Bant Nexus, and Selesnya Tokens. Once the top of the table clash is done, Nelson will go up against Alexander Hayne (2-2) while Seth's double-match week ends with Matthew Nass at 0-4. So, what are their weapons of choice for Week 4? I grabbed a little time with Nelson before his big match to talk Standard.
Rich: You and Seth both have huge metagaming skills. So far, Seth has stuck with Mono-Red Aggro every week. Do you expect him to stick with it this week, and how does that factor into your plans?
Brad: I was almost certain Seth would play red, so it did factor into my deck choice as I wouldn't have registered a deck with a terrible matchup against red. Sadly, even though my deck has a lot of red hate, I still don't think my matchup is that great since red has such polarizing draws.
Rich: You've played something different every week. Are you deliberately presenting a "moving target" each week, or is that a side benefit of simply going for "the best deck" each week and not limiting yourself to a particular range of archetypes?
Brad: You want to know the truth? You really want to know my mastermind process for the first MPL Weekly League? I've been doing things randomly without rhyme or reason. I have no idea what's going on in Standard, and each week I selected a deck last minute. Sure, there was "metagaming" involved, but there was no master plan that led me to my conclusions.
Rich: And finally—you're in contention to be among the first-ever division winners in the MPL. How big a deal is that prize of advancement straight to Day Two in Las Vegas next month at MCIII?
Brad: It means more than I thought it would, and more than I wish it did. I really want this thing and can feel myself getting too emotionally attached to the idea of advancement in the tournament.
And with the decks in, we can say that Seth is indeed on Mono-Red Aggro, while Brad continues his "tour of Standard" with Esper Midrange, running a singleton Command the Dreadhorde in the main and more in the sideboard.
Weekly Metagame Shuffle
Players faced a different sort of metagame decision for Week 4 because of the rule that this week's decks will also be their Week 5 decks. This is done to ensure players aren't metagaming directly against their opponent (up until Week 5, players had to submit decklists before they knew who they were facing). Players swung back toward Mono-Red Aggro in a big way this week—eleven players opted for the known commodity.
Gruul Midrange and Esper Midrange checked in with four decks apiece, and three are playing versions of the Command the Dreadhorde deck that debuted in Week 3. The rest of the field is spread across a range of decks, most of which we've seen in earlier weeks. And then there's Andrew Cuneo, who we'll get to in a bit
Ruby at Full Strength with Estephan and Savjz
We're guaranteed some great matches in the Ruby Division this week, because there's so many of them! This week sees the introduction to MPL play for Australia's Jessica Estephan and Janne "Savjz"' Mikkonen of Finland. Both were seen in successful fashion at the Mythic Invitational, where Estephan got out of a tough group to reach the Top 16, and Savjz made it as far as the final day, finishing third and taking home $70,000.
Deck choice for both is going to be huge because they're locked in for these decks for all their Week 4 and Week 5 matches. Make the correct metagame read, and either could catapult themselves into division-winning contention—Savjz plays four times this week, and Estephan a full five. Get that metagame call wrong, however, and it's all over. When Ruby's ten-match slate is done this week, will Ken Yukuhiro (currently at 3-1) continue to pace the division?
Convoluted Sporting Analogies, Vol. VII
In American football (US readers: football), there's a phenomenon called the "shutdown corner." This is a defender who, over several seasons, has demonstrated that they're head and shoulders above the opposing players they're trying to stop. So much so, that their side of the field becomes something of a no-go area for the opposing quarterback. The ball can't realistically be thrown in that direction, because the superstar defender will frequently either stop the plan or do something even better, like intercept the ball, which is a huge deal.
One facet of the shutdown-corner phenomenon is that their actual stats start to fall away. They don't get to make as many incredible plays because their reputation alone ensures fewer opportunities to demonstrate their outstanding abilities.
Okay, football lesson over, mind-blowing Magic lesson just around the, er, corner:
Goblin Chainwhirler is Standard's shutdown corner.
This card has been a massive deal in Standard since it first appeared. To start with, it destroyed huge quantities of 1-toughness creatures and dominated battlefields repeatedly, making the watercooler highlight reel every week. But these days, the opposition isn't "throwing" to the shutdown corner.
Looking through the Week 3 MPL decklists, we find Snubhorn Sentry with 3 toughness. Merfolk Branchwalker has a 1 in the bottom corner, but it's often 2 toughness before Chainwhirler appears. There are big, splashy planeswalkers everywhere, grinding out the hard yards in the middle of the field. There are team-pumpers like Benalish Marshal and Trostani Discordant. Perhaps the most vulnerable are the mana-producers like Llanowar Elves and Paradise Druid. But even there, the window for Chainwhirler to be outstanding is small. Increasingly, the game plan of "opposing coaches," i.e. the metagame, is making Goblin Chainwhirler look not quite as shiny and awesome on-camera as it actually is—it's just that it's so good at what it does, that part of the battlefield has been left mostly barren, courtesy of Magic's shutdown corner.
A Bold Choice for Cuneo
This time last week, Andrew Cuneo was tied for the Pearl Division lead at 3-0 alongside Eric Froehlich. Now, after a disappointing Week 3 that saw him lose twice, he faces the 4-1 Froehlich this week. It's not surprising that Cuneo is off the Bant Midrange deck that suffered those two defeats. What he's replaced it with, well, that's more of a surprise:
Yep, that's an Izzet Wizards deck
Cuneo still has a shot at winning the division, so it will be interesting to see if this new concoction can keep him in contention. The co-leader of the division is Brian Braun-Duin, who has resolutely stayed behind Esper Midrange en route to his 4-1 record, which he puts to the test against Lee Shi Tian (2-3). Lee has veered between Azorius Aggro, Gruul Aggro, and then back to Azorius Aggro, looking for a consistent deck that he's so far failed to find. This week, it's Simic Mass Manipulation. I have high hopes for that match!
Over in the Sapphire Division, there's a three-way tie for the lead. Rei Sato of Japan is there, in part thanks to his debut Golgari Midrange last week. Piotr Głogowski is there, following his Mythic Invitational Final berth with a solid showing in the Spark Split. But if you're looking for expected value, it's hard to look past Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. In particular, PV has accumulated his 3-1 record whilst not giving the MPL his usual attention to detail.
For the last few weeks, he's been touring Italy, squeezing in matches where he can. Now he's back home, he's streaming once again, and he's still in joint first place in the division. If anyone asks you who's going to win any tournament, backing PV is rarely a poor move.
The Stench of Old People
My bad, The Elderspell. Right, hearing not what it was. Anyhoo, The Elderspell harks back to the 20th-century days when sideboard cards actually made you question your life choices. Karma, Chill, Boil . . . these were lessons you learned early, and learned hard. The cool thing about The Elderspell is that sometimes it can appear at least vaguely innocuous. We've seen it on-air destroying a single planeswalker on low loyalty, at sorcery speed, and doing nothing else. Yes, it still costs only two mana, and that's an okay exchange in any case. But sometimes, as last week in the match between Brian Braun-Duin and John Rolf, we've seen it kill three planeswalkers, and send a Teferi, Time Raveler to 10 loyalty. Yikes.
So, we're all set for another week of awesome action, which we'll conveniently package up for you. Make sure you join us for Week 4 of the MPL on twitch.tv/magic at 12 p.m. PT/3 p.m. ET/7 p.m. UTC this Saturday, and I'll see you all here again seven days from now.