What We Learned at the World Championship

Posted in Top Decks on October 12, 2017

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

What did we learn from the World Championship?

  • William Jensen is great.
  • Staying open is critical in Ixalan Draft.
  • The Draft format is very aggressive.
  • Auras and one-mana combat tricks are excellent.
  • Search for Azcanta is an awesome card.
  • Temur Energy is still the default best deck.
  • Ramunap Red underperformed.

Well, there's not a ton to say about the first point. William "Huey" Jensen is our World Champion for a reason, and he played exceedingly well throughout the course of the weekend. As impressive as that is, there's no takeaway there. Let's get to the useful parts of what we learned, starting with Ixalan Draft.

Staying Open Is Key

  • Anointed Deacon
  • River Heralds' Boon
  • Pterodon Knight
  • Siren's Ruse

Ixalan Draft is a heavily tribal format, and the Worlds competitors didn't ignore that. Many of them identified staying open as the most important strategy coming in, as finding the right lane is crucial in ending up with a good deck. What that means is they were willing to abandon early picks if it seemed apparent a tribe was open, which we saw in William Jensen's draft on Day Two. He took powerful white cards first and second pick, but soon read the signals and moved into black-red Pirates, and was rewarded with a 3-0. It's more important that your tribe be open than your colors, and drafting green-blue Merfolk next to blue-black Pirates is not a bad place to be. Don't get too attached to your first couple picks, and be ready to jump ship when you identify the tribe your seat is supposed to be (especially if it's Pirates, because then the joke really works).

Aggression Is the Name of the Game

Once again, the Worlds competitors seemed to agree—Ixalan is a fast format. Cheap creatures, curving out, and pressing your advantage are all key. The consensus best common is Territorial Hammerskull, a creature made purely for attacking, and we saw players respect the speed of the format time and time again. Be ready for some beatdowns.

Combat Tricks and Auras Overperformed

  • Dive Down
  • Skulduggery
  • Swashbuckling
  • One with the Wind
  • Vampire's Zeal
  • Sure Strike
  • River Heralds' Boon

This next point is directly tied to the speed of the format, along with how poorly the removal tends to stack up. If a game is going to last five to seven turns, one of the easiest ways to get an edge is to cast two spells on one of those critical turns—most often turn four or five—and put the opponent too far behind to catch up. Cards that we saw picked highly were one- and two-mana combat tricks, which then swung games quite well.

The Pro Tour Team Series finals were decided in large part by Skulduggery and Dive Down, and that wrapped up a weekend of efficient combat tricks dominating. You should be picking these higher than you do now, I can guarantee it.

Another category that gained traction was Auras. After going 3-0 in his first draft with four copies of Swashbuckling, Christian Calcano was a featured drafter on Day Two and he went right into blue-black Auras then as well.

We saw plenty of play involving Auras, and the players touted their game-ending power and the relative lack of removal that made them a much safer bet than usual.

Cheap tricks and Auras at the World Championship—what a world we live in.

Desperately Seeking Azcanta

The breakout Ixalan card of the weekend has to have been Search for Azcanta, and it almost single-handedly drove the most exciting new archetype, Blue-Black Control. Two copies made the Top 4, piloted by Josh Utter-Leyton and Kelvin Chew, though they were both dispatched in the semifinals.

Josh Utter-Leyton's Blue-Black Control

The key to this deck really is Search for Azcanta, as it is what lets the deck trade one-for-one and absolutely dominate the late game. Field of Ruin is critical in killing opposing copies of Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, as the control matchup revolves around the card. Cycling cards and cheap counters and removal fill the graveyard so Search flips early, and keeps the deck alive so it can leverage multiple activations of Azcanta.

This deck did poorly against Mono-Red, as Javier Dominguez showed when he beat Josh in both the Swiss and the Top 4, but Blue-Black Control is still one of the decks to beat coming out of Worlds.

Take My Energy

The default best deck going into Worlds was Temur Energy, and that certainly hasn't changed. Temur has all the tools necessary to remain competitive, and is flexible enough to do so even as the metagame changes. The list played by the Peach Garden Oath (William Jensen, Owen Turtenwald, and Reid Duke) looked like the best to me, and performed quite well.

William Jensen's Temur Energy

This deck revolves around energy, obviously enough, but past that it is highly customizable. The core of energy producers and energy sinks is well-established, but what the PGO did well is identify that the black splash for The Scarab God wasn't needed, and their flex slots of Essence Scatter, Confiscation Coup, and Commit // Memory did a lot of work.

Moving forward, you can certainly tinker with those slots, but Essence Scatter in particular looked very good to me.

Red's Dead, Baby

The title is a bit of an exaggeration, since Ramunap Red isn't going anywhere, but it didn't do very well at Worlds. Temur Energy was well-prepared for red decks, and despite a good blue-black matchup, it was not a good tournament to be a red mage (unless your name was Javier Dominguez).

The takeaway here is that unless the metagame shifts dramatically toward blue-black, figuring out a way to beat Temur Energy is a must for anyone looking to send a message with Bomat Courier.

Worlds was an awesome tournament, as it always is, and there was a lot to learn from it. This is a start, and I'm sure we will see plenty of ripples from all the Magic that got played in Boston last weekend.

LSV

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