Lessons from the Magic Online Championship

Posted in Top Decks on March 28, 2013

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Hello and welcome to Perilous Research, DailyMTG.com's exclusive Magic Online column. Last weekend, sixteen of Magic Online's best and brightest gathered at PAX East for the Magic Online Championship. Today, I'm going to take a look at the top-performing Standard decks from that event and discuss these decks' positions in the current Magic Online metagame.

The Magic Online Championship is an opportunity for the best players on Magic Online to show off their talent for huge prizes and even larger bragging rights. Brian David-Marshall, Rich Hagon, Marshall Sutcliffe, Rashad Miller, and Steve Sadin did an excellent job providing insightful coverage of the whole event. You should check it out here if you didn't have a chance to follow along with the action.

Dmitriy Butakov may have won the Magic Online Championship, but I'm going to be looking at the top-performing decks from the Standard portion of the event. Let's start by taking a look at the decks that managed 3–1 records on the final day of competition.

Junk Rites

Malte Holm's (Malteko) Junk Rites

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Jan Van Der Vegt's (Dzy) Junk Rites

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Junk Unburial Rites strategies similar to those played by Dzy and Malteko have been dominating Magic Online Standard Premier Events for the last week. The deck uses fast mana acceleration to ramp into things like Angel of Serenity and Craterhoof Behemoth. Sometimes the deck is able to Mulch or Grisly Salvage its way into VERY fast wins on the back of Craterhoof Behemoth. The deck can play like a midrange creature deck, but it's top end is far superior to the rest of the format. This makes the deck extremely well positioned in a midrange format. I'd expect to see a lot of this in the coming weeks. The deck struggles with board sweepers, but it's ability to play from so many angles means that no matchup is unwinnable. The popularity of Junk Rites and its presumed continued success in the coming week could prompt players to start including some number of Curse of Death's Hold in their sideboards or even main decks. Curse of Death's Hold is probably the best card available against Junk Rites. Keeping your opponent's Lingering Souls in check is one of the harder angles to deal with and a single curse significantly decreases the decks' ability to alpha strike for lethal out of nowhere with Craterhoof Behemoth.

Curse of Death's Hold
Unburial Rites

Jorge Pinazo's (painas) Naya Humans

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Painas chose to go the aggressive route at the Magic Online Championships. Naya Blitz strategies have solidified themselves as the best aggressive decks in the current Standard format. The deck can be weak against midrange green-white strategies including Junk Rites, especially on the draw. As a result, I expect to see a lot less of these hyper-aggressive strategies going forward. Last week, the most aggressive decks were outperforming the rest of the field by a good margin. The Magic Online metagame reacts quickly and the most aggressive decks are usually pretty easy to counter if you try hard enough. Naya Blitz can overcome the hate, though.

Ghor-Clan Rampager
Rest in Peace

Opposing strategies won't be as streamlined to beat the deck in the coming weeks. Naya Blitz is dangerously fast and the deck will be ready to jump back into tier-one territory the moment opposing decks stop including enough cheap spot removal and lifegain. Even in the midst of all the hate, Naya Blitz is still one of the most dangerous matchups for any deck. One only needs to look back to Reid Duke's semifinal match against Nico Christiansen at Grand Prix Quebec City; Reid's deck was well equipped to handle any type of early creature onslaught, but Nico Christiansen got to play first and his draws were just too fast for Reid's Jund deck to handle.

Samuel Pardee's (Smdster) Aristocrats

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Similarly to Junk Rites, Smdster's Aristocrats deck seems well informed and well positioned for a midrange format. The deck takes advantage of the midrange metagame with cards like Skirsdag High Priest and Zealous Conscripts in conjunction with an Aristocrat of any variety. Aristocrats performs well against aggressive decks, too—cards like Orzhov Charm, Tragic Slip, Lingering Souls, and inexpensive creatures help hold off the most aggressive decks until the Aristocrats deck can get one of its strong interactions online. Naya Blitz can be too fast for the Aristocrats deck, but I think it's the only deck that goes low enough to be a problem. Decks like Junk Rites also offer a unique set of problems for Aristocrats. The matchup is difficult because the Aristocrats deck needs to play as aggressively as it can with removal spells, but it may often find itself dead to Angel of Serenity or Craterhoof Behemoth regardless.

Skirsdag High Priest
Zealous Conscripts

I suspect the format will remain in the midrange realm for at least another few weeks. The Junk Rites deck could get pushed out of favor by the prevalence of graveyard hate. Some players, including Reid Duke, have been adding Ground Seal to their main decks. The success of Aristocrats relies heavily on the popularity of Unburial Rites going forward. Unburial Rites decks are extremely popular at the moment, but Aristocrats could be a big thing again if people stop caring about their graveyards.

Reid Duke's (reiderrabbit) Jund

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Finally, we get to Reid Duke's 4–0 Jund list. This deck is a thing of beauty that I would strongly recommend to anyone who's looking to build a single deck to stick with throughout the coming Standard PTQ season. There's enough cheap spot removal here to deal with aggressive starts or midgame monsters. Cards like Rakdos's Return and Garruk, Primal Hunter shine when the deck is being played to its fullest potential.

Rakdos's Return
Ground Seal

Ground Seal occasionally pops up in a main deck, and Reid chose a good time to sport the green enchantment. Ground Seal completely turns off Unburial Rites, the most powerful card in the most popular archetype, at little cost. Ground Seal also shuts down Snapcaster Mage, which isn't quite as relevant, but it gives the card additional splash damage and upgrades it from a cantrip in several non-Unburial Rites matchups. Two copies of Arbor Elf are another nice addition that let the deck pull off some seriously impressive starts like turn-three Garruk, Primal Hunter. The deck doesn't go all in on any of its strategies, it's just a very good deck with good removal and well-positioned card-advantage engines. Jund midrange will likely continue to be one of the better decks in Standard.

The midrange nature of the format means that Aristocrats, Jund, and Junk Rites are the new top dogs in Standard Magic Online events. However, there is another route that players have been taking in an effort to attack the current state of Standard.

_Mandarin's Bant

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The Bant Midrange decks that have been popping up are extremely well positioned for the format. They can struggle with Junk Rites in Game 1, but the matchup gets significantly better after they bring in extra Detention Spheres, Supreme Verdicts, and Rest in Peaces. The deck demolishes Jund in a way that never really seemed possible. Loxodon Smiter with Arbor Elf and Avacyn's Pilgrim makes a big board presence early enough to deal with the most aggressive decks like Naya Blitz. Unfortunately, the deck doesn't always get to ramp into a Loxodon Smiter, so the deck can often finds itself on the receiving end of a beating from aggro strategies in the first game. Nonetheless, the deck still ramps into Thragtusks and bring Rhox Faithmenders into the fray for Games 2 and 3. I expect this deck to gain a reasonable amount of popularity among the most competitive crowd before it has to deal with something like Esper Control.

Rhox Faithmender

Be sure to check out the coverage of the Magic Online Championship for all the Standard decklists from the event. Next week, I'll be bringing you an early April Standard Deck Compendium before we start getting into Dragon's Maze previews!

Knowledge is power!

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