Standard at Mythic Championship I

Posted in Competitive Gaming on February 21, 2019

By Simon Görtzen

Simon Görtzen ist begeisterter Magicspieler, wobei sein größter Erfolg der Sieg bei der Pro Tour San Diego 2010 ist. Neben eigenen Projekten ist er seit 2012 fester Bestandteil der offiziellen Magic-Berichterstattung in Europa.

2019 Tabletop Magic Mythic Championship I takes place February 22–24 as part of MagicFest Cleveland. For everything related to storylines and players to watch, Rich Hagon has you covered in his article. My job today, as for Pro Tours in the past, is to assess the state of Standard and to make a few predictions about the metagame we can expect at the MC.

If you want to take a deep dive into Ravnica Allegiance Standard, there is no lack of data. events in Indianapolis and Baltimore took place at the end of January and beginning of February, respectively. On Magic Online, Competitive Standard Leagues and Premier Events give us a good idea of what players are championing. And there is the ranked ladder on MTG Arena, in which players can compete for #1 Mythic rank in best-of-one and best-of-three Standard. The latter (ladder?) doesn't have an official decklist source, but with the retweets of @arenadecklists and my own adventures in the Mythic ranks, I have at least anecdotal evidence of what's hot on MTG Arena.

About now you might be wondering, "But Simon, what about the Standard Grand Prix at MagicFest Memphis?" Good question. It is quite rare to see a Grand Prix in the same Constructed format just one week before a Mythic Championship. Unfortunately, I am writing this article before GP Memphis, so you'll have to check out the successful decklists yourself. Two big questions for me are a) how much the pros in attendance are willing to reveal about their preparation, and b) how much the results coming out of Memphis will influence last-minute adaptions of testing teams.

All right, let's talk Standard, and let's start with the giant Jellyfish Hydra Beast in the room. Hydroid Krasis is without a doubt the most impactful mythic rare from Ravnica Allegiance. It fit so perfectly into pre-RNA Golgari Explore decks that virtually all of them are now splashing blue. The resulting Sultai Midrange lists started off very light on blue cards in the main deck. Anthony Devarti won the SCG Open Indianapolis with 3 Hydroid Krasis (see the decklist here), shortly after Alex Hon won the SCG Classic Baltimore with 2 Hostage Takers accompanying the Krasis playset.

Alex Hon's Sultai Midrange

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These two winning lists are very similar—both including the full explore package, for example—but there is an interesting trend developing for Sultai Midrange. Players are steadily increasing the number of blue cards in their 75. Staples like Wildgrowth Walker and Carnage Tyrant are making room for cheaper and/or more interactive blue cards. Magic Pro League competitor Martin Jůza, who is streaming his MC preparation on Twitch, went as far as cutting the explore package for Thought Erasure and Thief of Sanity, reaching Mythic tier with this variant:

Martin Jůza's Sultai Midrange

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This wasn't meant to be an article about how good Thief of Sanity is right now, but the new-found popularity of the Guilds of Ravnica rare reveals a lot about the state of Standard. There is the blatantly obvious reason that casting your opponent's Hydroid Krasis is probably the most elegant way to protect yourself from it. But apart from mirror match applications, there are two slow but powerful archetypes against which a hit with Thief of Sanity is often close to game-winning. I am of course talking about Bant Nexus featuring Wilderness Reclamation and Esper Control.

Magic Online user Luckesh won the Standard Finals on February 3 with Bant Nexus:

Luckesh's Bant Nexus

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For those who have never seen this deck in action, Wilderness Reclamation is used to multiply your mana in your own end step, which is used to dig for and cast Nexus of Fate. Once you are taking all the turns, this particular list can win with Depose // Deploy Thopters, but if you have a lot of free time, you can also ultimate Teferi, reduce your opponent to zero permanents, and slowly run them out of cards.

Raja Sulaiman won the SCG Standard Classic Indianapolis with Esper Control:

Raja Sulaiman's Esper Control

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While some archetypes have the higher profile inclusions from Ravnica Allegiance, Esper Control gets the most new tools thanks to Azorius and Orzhov cards entering Standard. Hallowed Fountain, Godless Shrine, Absorb, Mortify, and Kaya's Wrath might not be as splashy as Hydroid Krasis, but they offer exactly the consistency and versatility control players are looking for.

While there are Esper Midrange decks with creatures in the main deck, Esper Control is usually played creatureless or with a single Chromium, the Mutable to close out the game. Raja opted for Karn, Scion of Urza as his non-Teferi win condition, but so far there doesn't seem to be a consensus about which finisher to play, or if it's really necessary at all (note that you can't win Game 1 against Nexus of Fate if you don't run a damage source).

Sultai Midrange, Bant Nexus, and Esper Control cover the popular slower decks of the Standard metagame, although I should mention that there are other decks in that space, mostly non-Bant and Gate-based Wilderness Reclamation variants. However, there are a healthy number of aggro decks and tempo decks as well. If I were forced to abandon Teferi, my first choice would be a Pteramander deck, another high-impact uncommon from Ravnica Allegiance. The two decks that got a boost from this cute Salamander Drake are Mono-Blue Aggro and Izzet Drakes.

MPL competitor Alexander Hayne climbed to Mythic #1 with Mono-Blue early on in the season and has been holding his spot there for a while.

Alexander Hayne's Mono-Blue Aggro

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The most impressive victories of this deck are when an unhandled Curious Obsession allows Mono-Blue to run away with the game. However, those who reduce Mono-Blue to "Obsession or bust" are not giving enough credit to the intricate long games that this deck can and must play against even the most late-game-oriented decks in the format, such as Esper Control.

Remember the Magic Online Standard Finals that Luckesh won with Bant Nexus? Turns out that places 2, 3, 4, and 5 were all claimed by players on Izzet Drakes. User toiro was the runner-up with this list, opting to go with all 12 Drakes:

toiro's Izzet Drakes

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I'm sure the one main deck Maximize Velocity caught a few opponents by surprise! If you are wondering about the single Blood Crypt in toiro's blue-red deck, there are rare cases in which you want to cast the second half of Discovery // Dispersal, and this flexibility is worth an occasional 2 life.

Of course, classical aggro strategies are still a part of Standard next to these Pteramander tempo decks. White Weenie decks with various splashes were hugely successful at the last Pro Tour, and the newest trend is to splash blue for Deputy of Detention rather than red for Heroic Reinforcements.

Max Magnuson came in 3rd at the SCG Open Indianapolis with Azorius Aggro:

Max Magnuson's Azorius Aggro

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One Ravnica Allegiance card to have an eye out for is Unbreakable Formation. Max played only a single copy, but I've seen recent lists play two or more Formations. While clearly back-breaking against control in response to Kaya's Wrath, its addendum mode means it has high utility independent of the matchup.

The final decklist I want to share is Mono-Red. It feels wrong to mention this deck so far down the list, but the current best-of-three metagame seems quite hostile for Mono-Red. Sultai Midrange with the explore package is a nightmare to play against, and almost all decks have powerful sideboard options to counteract a burn-heavy game plan.

I've mentioned various cards from Ravnica Allegiance and their impact on the Standard metagame. There is an argument to be made that Light up the Stage is the most powerful of them in a vacuum. The ability to cast what is essentially Divination with a minor downside for a single mana is pretty absurd.

The Magic Online list of LackMemory maximizes on all the most powerful cards available to red mages in Standard:

LackMemory's Mono-Red Aggro

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What I like about this list is that it's extremely straightforward in Game 1, but has quite a few sideboarding plans available, including the ability to go over the top of unassuming opponents with Rekindling Phoenix and Treasure Map.

To sum things up, I'm certain that midrange and control strategies will be popular at Mythic Championship I in Cleveland. I'm a bit less convinced of Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate strategies. While obviously powerful, your matchups can be quite polarized (i.e., very good or very bad) and you can't hope to surprise anybody with your deck choice. If anything, I expect the MC metagame to be overprepared for Wilderness Reclamation.

If tempo is your thing and the idea of battling through a field of Hydroid Krasis and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria fills you with joy, either of the Pteramander decks is a fine choice, especially because both can be tuned—adapted even—to the expected metagame.

The big unknown for me is how much white and red aggro to expect. While Azorius Aggro arguably has the sideboard tools to compete with Sultai and Esper, this doesn't quite seem to be the case for Mono-Red. On MTG Arena, Mono-Red is the number-one deck in best-of-one Standard, but rarely encountered in the higher tiers of best-of-three play. But we might be committing a costly logical fallacy if we assume Mono-Red is nothing to worry about. Just because there is an apparent preference to play best-of-one does not tell us much about how Mono-Red would be performing if players didn't have this alternative.

Next time you'll see me, I'll be commentating from Cleveland trying to answer this question and many more during our three-day video coverage of the inaugural Mythic Championship. You don't want to miss it!

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