Metagame Mentor: 2022 Magic Online Six-Format Deck Extravaganza

Posted in News on September 1, 2022

By Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, the weekly column in which I highlight the decks to beat in Constructed on the path to the Pro Tour.

Last week, I highlighted the MTG Arena path to the Pro Tour. This week, I'll highlight the Magic Online path. To celebrate the variety of Constructed formats available on that platform, I will briefly summarize the metagames in Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, Pauper, and Standard. Along the way, I'll also highlight some of the Dominaria United cards that have stood out to me so far.

An analysis of six different formats is a rare treat. In future columns, expect in-depth analyses of one format per week. But Standard rotation happens only once per year, so this week seemed like the perfect time to post a broad 2022 metagame snapshot.

The Magic Online Path to the Pro Tour

The Magic Online Premier Play program, for which I made a handy flowchart—please allow me some graphic design liberties—offers two paths to the Pro Tour.

The first path is to place high enough at one of the many Qualifiers or Super Qualifiers. In September, five such events are scheduled, and they provide invitations to an upcoming tabletop Regional Championship. At these Regional Championships, top finishers will qualify for the Pro Tour. The first set of Regional Championships will be held in late November or early December, depending on your region, and they feed the first Pro Tour at Charlotte, NC, USA in February 2023.

The second path to the Pro Tour is via the set of Magic Online Champions Showcase (MOCS) tournaments. Three times per year, they culminate in the eight-player Champions Showcase with a prize pool of $70,000. Players who qualify for this event (by winning an invite-only Showcase Qualifier, winning a Limited Showcase Open, or earning one of the two at-large spots from the Leaderboard) also earn invitations to the Pro Tour.

The Premier Event calendar has more details on upcoming premier events from either of these paths. In September, Constructed formats for these premier events include Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, Pauper, and Standard. So let's tour their competitive metagames.

Pioneer Metagame Snapshot

Pioneer is a nonrotating format based on expansion sets and core sets from Return to Ravnica forward.

To provide a metagame snapshot, I used all Magic Online decklists from Pioneer Preliminary, Challenge, and Super Qualifier events held between August 16 and August 29. In addition, I used top decklists from several large Regional Championship Qualifier (RCQ) tournaments: the RCQ at Batoroco Takadanobaba, the RCQ at Hareruya TC Tokyo, the RCQ at the Big Magic Open, and the RCQ at SCG CON Baltimore.

By assigning to each deck a number of points equal to its number of match wins minus its number of match losses, I derived the following record-weighted metagame breakdown. It may be interpreted as a winner's metagame that you can expect to see at the top tables. Archetype names hyperlink to a well-performing decklist closest to the aggregate of the archetype.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Rakdos Midrange 12.4%
2. Mono-Green Devotion 11.9%
3. Abzan Greasefang 9.5%
4. Azorius Control 9.0%
5. Mono-White Humans 7.3%
6. Bant Spirits 5.7%
7. Rakdos Sacrifice 5.6%
8. Izzet Phoenix 5.0%
9. Mono-Red Aggro 4.5%
10. Jund Sacrifice 4.4%
11. Boros Heroic 3.6%
12. Mono-Blue Spirits 2.7%
13. Lotus Field 2.7%
14. Bant Humans 2.5%
15. Vraska Green Devotion 2.3%
Other 10.9%

The biggest metagame developments since the last time I looked at Pioneer are the rise of Abzan Greasefang, the fall of Izzet Phoenix, and the rise of Green Devotion variants with Vraska, Golgari Queen.

Abzan Greasefang was novel a few weeks ago, and it's risen from ninth place to third place since then. Many players have tuned their lists, cutting Stitcher's Supplier to make room for more Darkbore Pathway and Duress. This has made the deck more streamlined and more resilient.

Hence, if you're going to a Pioneer tournament right now, then you should be ready to stop Greasefang. For example, add Rending Volley, Unlicensed Hearse, or Leyline of the Void to your sideboard. Leyline of the Void dodges their Witherbloom Command, Abrupt Decay, and discard spells, so it's particularly well-positioned against Abzan Greasefang.

Next, let's take a look at the most-played Pioneer cards. That is, the cards other than basic lands with the largest sum of copies across all main decks and sideboards from considered Pioneer lists.

  • Fatal Push
  • Thoughtseize
  • Portable Hole
  • Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
  • 503870
  • 555447
  • Blood Crypt

The most-played Pioneer cards are Fatal Push, Thoughtseize, Portable Hole, and several other cards that reinforce the status of Rakdos Midrange as the deck to beat.

Aggregate Rakdos Midrange

Download Arena Decklist

Compared to the aggregate decklist from three weeks ago, there are no substantive changes, other than the removal of Duress from the sideboard.

Yet things may change after the release of Dominaria United, which contains many awesome tools for existing and new archetypes. The set becomes legal on September 1 online and on September 9. After looking over the Card Image Gallery, 15 cards stand out to me for Pioneer:

That's already lot of ideas, and I've largely glossed over new interactive spells. I'm excited to see how Pioneer will look like in a few weeks from now!

Modern Metagame Snapshot

Modern is a nonrotating format based on expansion sets, core sets, and Modern Horizons sets from Eight Edition forward.

To provide a metagame snapshot, I used all Magic Online decklists from Modern Preliminary and Challenge events held between August 16 and August 29. In addition, I used top decklists from the FTF Tour Stop Saskatoon, FTF Tour Stop Grande Prairie, $10K RCQ at Card Monster Con Chattanooga, Grand Open Qualifier Copenhagen, $5K RCQ at SCG CON Baltimore, and $5K RCQ at NRG Series St. Louis.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Izzet Murktide 15.7%
2. Hammer Time 13.4%
3. Four-Color Omnath 10.8%
4. Indomitable Creativity 7.2%
5. Living End 6.4%
6. Yawgmoth 5.7%
7. Rakdos Undying 4.7%
8. Burn 4.2%
9. Amulet Titan 3.6%
10. Azorius Control 2.7%
11. Glimpse Elementals 2.3%
12. Grixis Shadow 2.2%
13. Mono-Green Tron 2.2%
14. Grinding Breach 1.2%
15. Valakut Creativity 1.0%
Other 16.7%

It's just two weeks since I last looked at Modern, but the metagame is changing rapidly. The most important developments are:

  • 571450
  • Misty Rainforest
  • 522214
  • Scalding Tarn
  • Expressive Iteration
  • Unholy Heat
  • Mishra's Bauble

The most-played Modern cards are Lightning Bolt, Misty Rainforest, and another set of cards that reinforce the status of Izzet Murktide as the deck to beat.

Aggregate Izzet Murktide

Download Arena Decklist

Compared to the aggregate decklist from two weeks ago, the only substantive change is the return of Dragon's Rage Channeler in the maindeck. Players are still figuring out the optimal mix and amount of threats in the deck, but the overarching strategy is always the same: Combine cheap cantrips, efficient interactive spells, and the best one- or two-mana threats in the Izzet colors to quickly overpower everyone.

Once Dominaria United releases, Modern may be in for another shake-up. Many of the cards I mentioned for Pioneer, such as the tribal lords, may also revitalize archetypes in Modern. Leyline Binding seems particularly great as well because of how it fits into the Modern cascade decks: You can cast it on turn two as cheap interaction, but it doesn't count as a two-mana spell when you're cascading. Glimpse Elementals is the main archetype that comes to mind, but even four-color Rhinos is an option.

There are two additional cards that look promising to me for Modern. The first is Temporary Lockdown, which can hit the entire battlefield of an opposing Hammer Time player. Given the rise of that archetype, it'll be an important sideboard card to gain access to. The second is Inscribed Tablet, which could enable non-green decks such as Prison Tron or Eldrazi Tron to assemble Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower more consistently.

Legacy Metagame Snapshot

Legacy is a nonrotating format that allows cards to be played from all Magic sets. Except for cards on the banned list, of course. There's a Legacy Super Qualifier on Magic Online this weekend, which will send four players to their Regional Championship.

To provide a metagame snapshot, I used all Magic Online decklists from Legacy Preliminary and Challenge events held between August 16 and August 29, and I added top decklists from the Legacy $5k at SCG Con Baltimore and the Legacy event at the BIG Magic Open. These tournaments did not award Regional Championship qualifications, but they act as useful barometers of the format.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Izzet Murktide 16.9%
2. Jeskai Control 6.5%
3. Five-Color Zenith 6.3%
4. Elves 6.1%
5. Reanimator 6.1%
6. Painter 6.1%
7. Selesnya Depths 5.4%
8. Mono-Red Prison 4.5%
9. Death and Taxes 4.1%
10. Jeskai Murktide 3.2%
11. Sneak and Show 3.2%
12. 8-Cast 2.7%
13. The Riddler 2.5%
14. Dimir Shadow 2.0%
15. Lands 1.6%
Other 22.8%

The last time I poured over Legacy decklists was when I was doing text coverage at the last Legacy Grand Prix back in 2019. This was before Modern Horizons 2 added Murktide Regent, Dragon's Rage Channeler, Prismatic Ending, Endurance, and Urza's Saga to the format. Back then, the Top 8 featured multiple Delver decks: a time-honored Legacy archetype that pressures opponents with Delver of Secrets while disrupting them with Daze and Wasteland.

By now, however, Murktide Regent has supplanted Delver of Secrets in a non-negligible number of "Delver" lists. Since Delver of Secrets is no longer a universal inclusion, I made the contentious decision to rename the archetype as Izzet Murktide. This name is based on a card that is included in every single list, and it reinforces that both Modern and Legacy are dominated by the same style of deck.

When it comes to metagame developments, Legacy tends to change slowly. After all, any newly released card has to compete with 30 years of history. Nevertheless, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty "recently" added several important cards to the format. The legendary lands like Boseiju, Who Endures are easily inclusions, but there are two other standouts. Firstly, Containment Construct. Alongside Lion's Eye Diamond, Echo of Eons, and Riddlesmith, it now drives an artifact-based storm deck known as The Riddler.

Secondly, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. It's already a Standard, Pioneer, and Modern all-star, but it also found its way into Legacy. Especially in Painter and Mono-Red Prison, it provides valuable card draw, a steady stream of artifacts, and multiple powerful bodies. The Saga is seeing more and more play, but that still doesn't mean it comes close to making the list of seven most-played cards in the Legacy format.

  • 489724
  • Brainstorm
  • Ponder
  • Pyroblast
  • Wasteland
  • Swords to Plowshares
  • Volcanic Island

The most-played Legacy cards overall are Force of Will and Brainstorm. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. Along with the original dual lands, they characterize Legacy for me: hyper-efficient interaction, great mana, and the best card selection spells. Note that none of the seven most-played Legacy cards shown above are legal in Modern, so Legacy truly has its own identity.

To add to the differences, several cards are legal in Modern but banned in Legacy, including Dreadhorde Arcanist; Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer; Underworld Breach; Wrenn and Six; and Zirda, the Dawnwaker. These bans make sense in the context of Legacy, where Brainstorm, Force of Will, Wasteland, and Grim Monolith are legal. Yet despite the differences in card legality, the number one archetype is the same as in Modern.

Aggregate Izzet Murktide

Download Arena Decklist

Whether you call it Delver or Murktide, this archetype remains Legacy's gatekeeper. I don't see that changing anytime soon.

When it comes to new set releases, it's important to realize that Commander sets are also legal in Vintage. For example, Dominaria United Commander will become available on Magic Online this Thursday, and it features exciting combo enablers like Emperor Mihail II. You could exile cards from the top of your deck with Thought Lash until you see Thassa's Oracle on top, cast it via Emperor Mihail II, and then exile the rest of your deck with the trigger from Thassa's Oracle on the stack. We'll have to see whether this is good enough for competitive Legacy, but at least all combo pieces can be pitched to Force of Will.

In related news, Tuesday's Dominaria United: Magic Online Edition article announced that important cards from recent Commander sets are going into Magic Online. This includes Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes and Maddening Hex, both of which I already spotted in paper Legacy decklists in my dataset. They might even make an impact on Vintage.

Vintage Metagame Snapshot

Vintage is a nonrotating format that allows almost every card in the history of the game. In addition to a banned list, which includes cards that feature ante or manual dexterity, Vintage also has a restricted list. Cards on the restricted list are limited to a single copy per deck. The restricted list include some of the most powerful cards from Magic's history, including Black Lotus. There's a Vintage Super Qualifier on Magic Online this weekend, which will send four players to their Regional Championship.

To provide a metagame snapshot, I used all Magic Online decklists from Vintage Preliminary and Challenge events held between August 10 and August 29.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Tinker Saga 21.8%
2. Oops, All Spells 9.1%
3. Hogaak 8.2%
4. Tinker Breach 8.2%
5. Paradoxical Outcome 7.9%
6. Jeskai Control 7.9%
7. Sultai Midrange 7.6%
8. Doomsday 6.1%
9. Oath of Druids 4.8%
10. Aggro Shops 3.6%
11. Dredge 3.0%
12. Squee HollowVine 3.0%
13. Prison Shops 2.7%
14. Temur Midrange 2.1%
15. Archon & Taxes 1.5%
Other 2.5%

Magic doesn't get more high-powered than Vintage. Games can be over quickly, and turn-2 kills are common. Even turn-1 kills are possible. For example, you might ritual out Balustrade Spy on turn one, say "Oops, All Spells," mill your entire deck, and finally sacrifice three Narcomoeba to flash back Dread Return on Thassa's Oracle.

As a result, the seven most-played cards in Vintage feature several ways to interact with such powerful combos.

  • 489724
  • Leyline of the Void
  • Wasteland
  • Flusterstorm
  • Urza's Saga
  • Force of Negation
  • Misty Rainforest

In the most powerful format in Magic, you need answers to prevent your opponent from winning on turn 1 or turn 2. That's where Force of Will and Leyline of the Void come in, although the latter is mostly found in sideboards.

Because this list of most-played cards is based on sheer quantities, it doesn't include restricted cards like Black Lotus or Brainstorm, nor does it feature deck-defining lands such as Mishra's Workshop or Bazaar of Baghdad. But make no mistake: These cards are all pillars of the format as well. Yet the most-played archetype is centered in blue.

Aggregate Tinker Saga

Download Arena Decklist

Based on a combination of popularity and performance, an archetype that I called Tinker Saga is king. It has two main paths to victory. The first is to tutor for Tinker, then turn a spare artifact into Bolas's Citadel. Given the low land count and low average mana value of spells, a Bolas's Citadel on the battlefield will immediately overwhelm your opponent with sheer card advantage. The second path to victory is to assemble the infinite-turn combo of Time Vault and Manifold Key, the latter of which can be fetched with Urza's Saga.

The Tinker Breach and Paradoxical Outcome archetypes are extremely similar, but they fit in even more game-winning combos. In Tinker Breach, Underworld Breach plus Brain Freeze allows you to recast Black Lotus multiple times and mill out your opponent. Hullbreacher plus Timetwister is also game over most of the time. In Paradoxical Outcome, the titular card could return five Moxen and Mana Vault, effectively turning into a double Ancestral Recall plus a Black Lotus. Vintage is not a fair format.

It's even more difficult for cards to break into Vintage decks than in Legacy, but perhaps Cut Down could replace Fatal Push as a more reliable answer to Hullbreacher or Archon of Emeria, for example in Doomsday's sideboard. I also wonder if Gerrard's Hourglass Pendant from Dominaria United Commander could prove useful as a way to stop the Time Vault combo.

Pauper Metagame Snapshot

Pauper is an accessible format in which only common cards are allowed. If a common version of a particular card was ever printed in any paper or digital set, then any version of that card is legal in this format.

To provide a metagame snapshot, I used all Magic Online decklists from Pauper Preliminary and Challenge events held between August 10 and August 29.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Affinity 25.2%
2. Madness Burn 10.2%
3. Boros Screech 9.7%
4. Mono-Red Prowess 9.0%
5. Caw-Go 7.6%
6. Boros Skyfisher 7.2%
7. Gruul Cascade 6.4%
8. Bogles 4.9%
9. Mardu Skyfisher 4.6%
10. Familiars 4.6%
11. Izzet Faeries 3.2%
12. Turbo Fog 1.6%
13. Cycle Storm 1.2%
14. Izzet Prowess 1.2%
15. Inside Out 0.9%
Other 2.5%

As the Professor from Tolarian Community College explained to me at a 300-player tabletop pauper event in 2018: "Pauper is Legacy light. You get to play some of the best cards from Magic's history: Lightning Bolt, Counterspell, Daze. And there's a deck for every play style!"

Although the blue spells have fallen out of favor in the competitive metagame and Daze got banned, his summary remains true. A card being common doesn't mean that it lacks power, and there's a wide diversity of archetypes possible from "just" commons.

The biggest change to Pauper in recent times was this summer's release of Double Masters 2022. In that set, Pioneer and Modern all-star Monastery Swiftspear was printed at common for the first time. As a result, it entered the Pauper format, where it quickly made friends with Kiln Fiend. I've named this archetype as Mono-Red Prowess In honor of this rarity downshift.

Besides the introduction of Monastery Swiftspear, another relatively recent innovation (at least in terms of a format spanning 30 years of cards) is Madness Burn. It's based on the Blood mechanic from Innistrad: Crimson Vow, released less than a year ago. Vampire's Kiss and Voldaren Epicure progress your direct damage plan, while their Blood tokens enable madness on Fiery Temper, Alms of the Vein, and Kitchen Imp. It's a powerful, synergistic package.

The only downside to such a two-color aggro deck is that every playable common dual land enters the battlefield tapped. This means that in Pauper, you basically have to make a choice: Do you want to consistently cast your one-drops on turn one, or do you want consistent access to your second color in the mid-game? It's difficult to accomplish both, and Pauper decks have to be built with that in mind.

  • Galvanic Blast
  • 571450
  • Gorilla Shaman
  • Ichor Wellspring
  • Red Elemental Blast
  • Great Furnace
  • Deadly Dispute

The most-played cards in Pauper show that metagame is aggressive and low to the ground. To win in this format right now, it seems that you want to be red, you want to be aggressive, and you want to exploit or answer artifact synergies.

Aggregate Affinity

Download Arena Decklist

Back in 2004-2005, the days of the original Mirrodin block, the deck to beat was Affinity, in pretty much every format. It crushed Block Constructed, it dominated Standard, and I even took Myr Enforcer and Frogmite to a Top 32 finish in a Legacy Grand Prix in 2005. Basically, when your artifact lands effectively contribute two mana towards each of your affinity spells, that's a broken mechanic. Affinity led to bans in multiple formats, but all key commons have remained legal in Pauper.

New expansions can sometimes shake up the format, as we saw with the Blood mechanic from Crimson Vow. In Dominaria United, the card that I'm most excited about in is Tolarian Terror. To Izzet Prowess players in Pauper, it could very well become known as "Murktide at home".

Additionally, as announced in Tuesday's Dominaria United: Magic Online Edition article article, initiative cards from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate, such as Aarakocra Sneak, are going into Magic Online as well.

Standard Metagame Snapshot

The sixth and final format on today's docket is Standard, which rotates every fall. At the time of writing, Standard consists of eight sets: Zendikar Rising, Kaldheim, Strixhaven, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Innistrad: Crimson Vow, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Streets of New Capenna. However, with the release of Dominaria United—September 1 online and September 9 in paper—the oldest four sets rotate out.

On a side note, with the depart of Zendikar Rising, Kaldheim, Strixhaven, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, for the first time since January 2017, there will be no cards banned in Standard anymore!

I'll dive into post-rotation Standard next week. Today, to record a Standard metagame snapshot for posterity's sake—Hello, future historians!—I used all Magic Online decklists from Standard Challenge events held between August 16 and August 29. I added decklists with positive win-loss records from all MTGMelee tournaments in that time period as well. This includes the Indonesia Open, which qualified eight players for the Regional Championship in the Southeast Asia region last weekend.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Mono-Green Aggro 24.0%
2. Jeskai Hinata 21.9%
3. Grixis Vampires 6.2%
4. Rakdos Sacrifice 5.8%
5. Esper Midrange 5.3%
6. Boros Aggro 5.3%
7. Orzhov Midrange 4.4%
8. Naya Runes 4.1%
9. Temur Control 3.7%
10. Rakdos Aggro 3.5%
11. Azorius Control 2.8%
12. Mono-White Aggro 2.5%
13. Orzhov Angels 2.1%
14. Jund Midrange 1.4%
15. Jeskai Storm 1.2%
Other 5.8%

The two decks that we'll remember the most from this era of Standard are Mono-Green Aggro and Jeskai Hinata. Neither will survive the rotation, at least not without incurring massive losses. Mono-Green Aggro loses Werewolf Pack Leader, Old-Growth Troll, and Esika's Chariot; Jeskai Hinata loses Goldspan Dragon, Magma Opus, and Expressive Iteration. The Standard environment will look completely different after the release of Dominaria United.

  • Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
  • 491921
  • Reckoner Bankbuster
  • Expressive Iteration
  • Voltage Surge
  • 503751
  • Jwari Disruption

The most-played non-basic card in pre-rotation Standard was Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Given that this card has made it all the way to Legacy, that should not come as a surprise. Since it survives the rotation, along with Reckoner Bankbuster and Voltage Surge, it will act as an early pillar for post-rotation Standard.

Aggregate Mono-Green Aggro

Download Arena Decklist

Mono-Green Aggro's perfect mana allowed it to exploit the power of Werewolf Pack Leader and Old-Growth Troll. The archetype narrowly edged out Jeskai Hinata in the breakdown for this final week of Standard, and it has been a format fixture for a full year. Mono-Green Aggro was even a big part of Magic World Championship XXVII nearly one year ago.

Moving to Dominaria United, the most impactful cards in the set for Standard are, from my point of view, the pain lands. The mana base is the foundation of every Magic deck, and they dictate the competitive viability of various archetypes. This becomes apparent if you contrast the formats I covered today. In Pioneer, we have shock lands and the enemy fast lands to enable solid two-color or three-color mana bases. In Modern, we have fetch lands to facilitate four-color decks and delve strategies. In Legacy and Vintage, we have the original dual lands for pain-free fixing, which makes Burn strategies less viable. In Pauper, we're limited to tapped lands, which restrict options for aggro decks. Different lands, different possibilities.

  • Adarkar Wastes
  • Caves of Koilos
  • Karplusan Forest
  • Shivan Reef
  • Sulfurous Springs
  • Yavimaya Coast

Without the pain lands to replace the rotating Pathways in Standard, multicolor aggro decks would have had trouble casting their spells consistency on curve. Control players were fine with tapped lands, but aggro players were not. The existence of pain lands unlocks a world of possibilities, at least for six of the color pairs supported. Even other newly introduced lands, such as Thran Portal and Plaza of Heroes, have my brewing gears turning. Not to mention the already-existing tribal land: Secluded Courtyard. Jodah, the Unifier, here I come!

When approaching a new format, first check what the mana allows you to do, and only then analyze the spells. And when analyzing spells for competitive formats, look at the mana cost first and the text second. This way of thinking has never led me astray.

I'll be back next week with a first look at post-rotation Standard, but I want to conclude with the main takeaway from this article: There are many ways to play Magic, and on Magic Online you can earn an invitation to a Regional Championship or Pro Tour via almost every format, including Legacy, Pauper, and Vintage!

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