Neon Dynasty Championship Day One Highlights

Posted in NEWS on March 12, 2022

By Corbin Hosler

Rarely does Magic debut a new competitive format, and the times it does become history. From Extended to Modern to Pioneer to Historic and now to Alchemy, the game continues to evolve as the highest level of competitive play evolves along with it.

That set the stage as Friday opened for the Neon Dynasty Championship, with 229 players competing on Day One over seven rounds. The first three featuring Alchemy, the digital-only format with rebalanced cards and MTG Arena-only card drops. The brand-new format we witnessed looked a lot like classic Magic of old: Mono-White Aggro feasted on the format, leading the way as the most-played deck as well as the most-successful of the major archetypes.

Depraz and Davis Lead the Way

After the four rounds of Historic that followed Alchemy, we were left with two undefeated players atop the standings: Jim Davis and Jean-Emmanuel Depraz.

Jim Davis and Jean-Emmanuel Depraz

(Click to Watch)

Davis prepared with the large team organized by champions Andrea Mengucci and Eli Loveman dubbed "Andrea Mengucci and Eli Loveman's School for Gifted Magicians" that was open to anyone who wanted to join. The big-tent approach paid dividends as the team put in more games than almost anyone else in the new format, setting up Davis for a 7-0 finish and a prime opportunity to chase down the first Top Finish of his career.

"I'm feeling happy to be playing some high-stakes Magic, honestly," he reflected after picking up his seventh win. "I worked with Andrea Mengucci's team and it was a lot of fun, as even with the short timeframe I had to test I feel like we did a good job with having a feel for both metagames. I went my own way in Historic with a deck I like a lot and had played a lot, and went with a slightly different version of the team's Grixis deck in Alchemy. I'm looking forward to getting to play more tomorrow, it's nice sort of just playing for myself after so many hours on camera doing content."

For Depraz, it was another highlight of a stellar run that has stretched for years now—and he's picking up right where he left off at the World Championship back in October, where he finished with a heartbreaking runner-up to Yuta Takahashi. The French superstar has four career Top Finishes and is again finding himself a step ahead of the rest of the field, especially with his Historic Blue-White Affinity brew.

Jean-Emmanuel Depraz - Azorius Affinity

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(Click to Watch)

"The main appeal of the deck is being able to play Esper Sentinel, Portable Hole and Soul-Guide Lantern main deck, since those are all cards that disrupt Izzet Phoenix very well," Depraz explained. "Since you're an artifact deck, you're making great use of them and can find them with Ingenious Smith. It's also a deck that is surprisingly resilient to interaction, between Thought Monitor, Ingenious Smith and Karn all generating card advantage."

With so many unknowns in this field, the duo's bold choices carried them to a perfect finish, and they'll look to stay atop a stacked field when play kicks off on Saturday.

Kai Budde, Piotr Głogowski, Greg Orange, and Aaron Gertler

[player photos, captioned Kai Budde, Piotr Głogowski, Greg Orange, and Aaron Gertler]

Lurking just behind at 6-1 is a group that includes Pro Tour champions Kai Budde, Piotr Głogowski, and Greg Orange as well as young stars like Nathan Steuer and Aaron Gertler.

The Advent of Alchemy

Few things in Magic can match the excitement of the pro debut of a new format, and events like Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011—iconic as the premier of the massively popular Modern format—are etched in Magic lore.

More recently, we've seen the twists and turns of Historic over the last two years as decks have taken their time in the spotlight, wacky combo decks have come and gone (as has Brainstorm and Memory Lapse), and all along some players have just continued to feed their Cauldron Familiar to a Witch's Oven like many did at the Neon Dynasty Championship.

Alchemy gives rebalanced cards a chance to shine in new homes, and that's exactly what we saw on Friday.

A diverse metagame that leaned heavy on white cards, it was the Naya Runes deck of reigning world champion Yuta Takahashi that stole the headlines.

Yuta Takahashi - Naya Runes

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Utilizing Runeforge Champion alongside the suite of Runes (discounted by Jukai Naturalist), the brew features a sticky card advantage engine that seemed to match up well against what many expected to show up at the Championship. And for Takahashi and teammate Toru Saito, the deck seemed performed as they hoped—Saito went undefeated while Takashi picked up two wins in Alchemy.

But as the rounds played out it become clear the Runes deck played a distant second fiddle to Mono-White Aggro, which leaned on a familiar formula of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Skyclave Apparition and Elite Spellbinder. The tax effects baked into the white creatures allowed the deck to get and stay ahead of slower decks, and it was good enough that even a legend deviated from his normal routine to pick up the deck.

Of course, for former World champ Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, it helped that he could cast... himself.

(Click to Watch)

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa - Mono-White Aggro

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Planeswalker (2)
2 The Wandering Emperor
Artifact (2)
2 Portable Hole
Other (15)
4 Inquisitor Captain 3 A-Luminarch Aspirant 4 Sigardian Evangel 4 A-Faceless Haven
60 Cards

"We chose Mono-White because we thought it was very good against Runes: you have Archon, Thalia, Skyclave Apparition, etc., and we expected Runes to be the most-played deck by a lot," he explained. "It turns out we were wrong on that, as was pretty much everyone else, but I still think the deck is fine - it's a powerful proactive deck so you can steal a lot of wins even in matchups that are theoretically bad."

Outside of the most popular decks, there was plenty of success to be found by players going in their own direction, exploring an unknown format with practically no previous data to draw from.

Take the Grixis Midrange deck piloted to an undefeated finish by Davis. It pulled together a string of powerful creatures across three colors and brought it together with Table of the Mirror-Breaker, which in the late game can spit out token copies of Town-Razer Tyrant to close out games quickly.

Jim Davis - Grixis Midrange

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Planeswalker (5)
1 Sorin the Mirthless 4 Kaito Shizuki
Sorcery (2)
2 Duress
Enchantment (4)
4 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
Other (9)
4 Citystalker Connoisseur 2 Town-Razer Tyrant 3 Rahilda, Wanted Cutthroat
60 Cards

Another deck brought by a big team—Luis Scott-Vargas and company's Orzhov Venture—earned 3-0's in range of its overall metagame share. Midrange decks—such as Jim Davis's Grixis Midrange—and aggro decks and control decks all stayed relatively proportional to how the day started, which makes the marked difference between Mono-White Aggro (obviously aggressive) and Naya Runes (definitely aggressive) all the more compelling to consider.

The three rounds of Alchemy wais just the start—four more await to start Day Two tomorrow. It was our first chance to see what's performing and what's not. Here's how the 3-0 metagame looked after play on Friday.

Archetype Count % 3-0 Records
Mono-White Aggro 9 31.0%
Mardu Midrange 4 13.8%
Naya Runes 3 10.3%
Orzhov Venture 2 6.9%
Rakdos Sacrifice 2 6.9%
Esper Clerics 1 3.4%
Golgari Midrange 1 3.4%
Grixis Midrange 1 3.4%
Gruul Werewolves 1 3.4%
Izzet Calamity 1 3.4%
Izzet Mill 1 3.4%
Jeskai Hinata 1 3.4%
Mardu Sacrifice 1 3.4%
Rakdos Midrange 1 3.4%

Looking Ahead

With seven rounds and some memorable games in a brand-new format behind us, all eyes now turn to the top of the tables as players battle for their chance at Sunday's Top 8 and an invite to Magic World Championship XXIII.

Just over 100 players will be back on Saturday, and eight rounds of play—four more of Alchemy, followed by four of Historic—are all that stand between us and the Top 8 of the Neon Dynasty Championship.