The 2017 Magic: The Gathering World Championship acted as the debut event for Ixalan Standard, essentially taking the role that belonged to Pro Tours in the past, and the competitors had all the reasons to choose the perfect deck for the expected metagame. With a first-place prize of $100,000, immortal glory, and the trophy for the most prestigious tournament of the year on the line, there was a lot to play for.
All 24 Standard lists can be found here, but let's go beyond mere decklists and let's learn a bit more about the reasoning behind the various players' deck and card choices.
Ramunap Red (37.5%)
Nine out of 24 players chose Ramunap Red. Although the deck lost Falkenrath Gorger and Incendiary Flow in the rotation, the overall game plan stayed intact: Get on board with small creatures, make the opponent unable to block, attack with Hazoret the Fervent, and finish off with Ramunap Ruins.
Left to Right: Javier Dominguez, Lee Shi Tian, Marcio Carvalho, Christian Calcano
The first four players who had registered Ramunap Red were Javier Dominguez, Christian Calcano, Márcio Carvalho, and Lee Shi Tian. The multinational group had a great time preparing together, and they chose Ramunap Red in the hope of going under greedier midrange or control strategies, which they hoped would be built to address the mirror match.
Another reason for their deck choice, stated by Javier Dominguez and Lee Shi Tian in particular, was that they wanted to play a deck that fit their skill set. "If I have to play midrange mirrors or control mirrors, I feel like I'm going to be disadvantaged," Javier Dominguez said. As always, playing to your strengths is important. If you're better with aggro decks, you don't want to give up that edge.
Their version was fairly standard, with eight one-drops and twelve burn spells. One new addition from Ixalan was Rampaging Ferocidon, of which they put four copies in their sideboard. As Lee Shi Tian explained, that card is good against Abzan token decks with Anointed Procession and Anointer Priest. "It's good against Temur Energy because they try to make a lot of blockers through Whirler Virtuoso, and the menace is huge, especially since it stacks up well with Kari Zev, Skyship Raider."
Left to Right: Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Eric Froehlich, Samuel Pardee
The group of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Eric Froehlich, and Sam Pardee also settled on Ramunap Red. They played online, shared information, and got together in Boston the week before the tournament. Since Damo Da Rosa had won Pro Tour Hour of Devastation with Ramunap Red only two months ago, their deck choice was not a surprise to me. Even Damo Da Rosa's mom agreed!
Msged my mom saying I won this round, she goes "I love this Red deck!!"— Paulo Vitor (@PVDDR) October 6, 2017
Me too, mom, me too #mtgchamp
Another one of the group's reasons for choosing Ramunap Red was that Hazoret is really good right now because nothing fills the hole left by the rotation of Grasp of Darkness. Moreover, as Sam Pardee told me, most of his losses during testing were to the mirror, so the deck just felt really good to him.
A surprise inclusion was two Harsh Mentor in their main deck. "It's not a great card," Pardee admitted, "but it's good against the energy decks and really good against God-Pharaoh's Gift decks. It's also good against Aethersphere Harvester—they take 4 if they want to crew and lifelink, and it's a serviceable creature, which we wanted more of. We were worried that you'd sometimes draw too many spells now that you have Shock, Abrade, and Lightning Strike, so we wanted more creatures."
Left to Right: Martin Jůza and Lucas Esper Berthoud
Lucas Esper Berthoud and Martin Jůza were not working together, but both of them ultimately felt most comfortable with Ramunap Red than with the deck choice of their respective teammates. What Berthoud and Jůza had in common was that both of them added Rigging Runner to their deck: Berthoud had two; Jůza had four.
When asking them about that card choice, their answer was reminiscent of Pardee's: It's not a good card, but you need enough early creatures. Hands where you draw too many spells are not aggressive enough. They wanted a one-drop because, as Berthoud said, "if you're playing an aggro deck, you need one drops." They also help to empty your hand more quickly for Hazoret the Fervent and to leverage the no-blocking triggers of Earthshaker Khenra and Ahn-Crop Crasher.
Both Berthoud and Jůza tested Inventor's Apprentice with Scrapheap Scrounger, but neither was able to get it to work, so Rigging Runner it was. As Jůza pointed out, "a 1/1 first striker is good in the mirror, as there are a bunch of 2/1 and 1/1 creatures."
Temur Energy (25%)
The second-most popular deck archetype was Temur Energy, chosen by six players in total. This strategy combines all the best energy cards from the Temur colors alongside efficient interactive cards.
Left to Right: Reid Duke, William Jensen, and Owen Turtenwald
Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald, and William "Huey" Jensen are known collectively as the Peach Garden Oath, and they had dedicated more time than anyone else for this event. "Huey in particular worked harder for this tournament than I've ever seen any player work for any tournament," Duke told me. At the time of writing, Huey was 10-0 in the tournament, with his closest competitor at 7-3, so it was great to see that level of dedication pay off.
"We worked remotely, and then Owen and Huey met in the suburbs of Boston, where Huey's dad has a house," Duke said. "They were there together for about three weeks; I came for 11 days before Grand Prix Providence. Our goal was to have Standard as well figured out as possible when the set was released on Magic Online."
Why did they end up in Temur Energy? "The energy mechanic is the strongest linear thing that exists in Standard. It's the mechanic that has the most strong cards all drawing you towards the same archetype. Specifically, we expected mono-red to be really popular, and Temur was one of the only decks we could get to feel favored against mono-red."
Several Ramunap Red players told me that the Temur matchup is really close, so Temur can't be hugely favored in the matchup, but in a tournament like Worlds, any small edge matters.
Peach Garden Oath's version had some unusual choices compared to stock versions of the archetype, some of which apparently came from Hall of Famer Ben Rubin. First, I asked Duke about the Confiscation Coup, Commit // Memory, and Essence Scatter in the main deck. "Commit // Memory was a catch-all card that could help you beat The Scarab God," he answered. "Confiscation Coup and Essence Scatter are fairly clearly good in the Temur Energy mirror because it revolves around the bomb 4-5 mana creatures, but I was very surprised at how good those cards also proved to be against mono-red. That deck wins so many games with Hazoret the Fervent, which the Temur colors can't really answer otherwise. Once we figured that those cards were going to be strong against the top two decks in the field, it was sort of a no-brainer to build them in."
The instants also work with the Torrential Gearhulk plan in the sideboard, which was an example of good deck building. "The most basic use of Torrential Gearhulk is in a midrange mirror match: flashing back Harnessed Lightning, you play it as a six-mana Nekrataal. It's a powerful card to go over the top," Duke said. "It also lets you operate at instant speed against control, and it gives you additional copies of your silver-bullet type cards. We played two copies of Appetite for the Unnatural in the sideboard, which didn't wind up as a great card for the field at Worlds, but we thought that if people were trying to beat Temur with cards like Anointed Procession or God-Pharaoh's Gift, then having two Disenchant effects and two Gearhulks was a way to cheat extra copies of that effect into your deck."
Left to Right: Yuuya Watanabe and Ken Yukuhiro
Musashi teammates Ken Yukuhiro and Yuuya Watanabe prepared together, and ultimately settled on Temur Energy as well. I was surprised when I saw that, as Ken Yukuhiro in particular is well-known for showing up with funky brews.
As he explained to me, he did indeed build a lot of different decks for this event, but was unable to get them to beat both Ramunap Red and Temur Energy. He tried multiple variations of Pirates, a Primal Amulet deck, and various other things, but he felt that none of them could beat Glorybringer or Abrade.
So then it came down to a choice between Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, and they felt that Temur was the superior choice. They added Aethersphere Harvester to their main deck in order to improve against Ramunap Red.
The last player on Temur Energy was Argentinian mainstay Sebastian Pozzo, coming off a breakout season. His Standard record at Pro Tours this year was better than anyone else, which he attributed in part to his strength in knowing how to sideboard with aggressive strategies. But he humbly added that his resulting qualification for the World Championship was all new for him, as he didn't expect to clinch the Standard Master invite; he felt like it's a gift.
In terms of Standard deck choice, why did he end up with a different deck than his testing partner Lucas Esper Berthoud? "He betrayed me at the last minute," Pozzo smiled, but Pozzo felt that Temur Energy was slightly ahead against Ramunap Red, and given that it was also his deck at Argentinian Nationals, he saw no reason to switch.
Pozzo adjusted his deck considerably based on the addition of Hostage Taker to the format, adding extra copies of Glorybringer, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Abrade to his deck as well as Jace's Defeat in the sideboard. But that did not work out, as Hostage Taker was notably absent from the field completely. Other absentees were Approach of the Second Sun, Walking Ballista, Legion's Landing, and God-Pharaoh's Gift. This doesn't mean that these cards are unplayable—with a small field of only 24 players, most of which grouped together into testing teams, a relative lack of diversity is to be expected—but this tournament did indicate that Ramunap Red, Temur Energy, and Blue-Black Control are the current pillars of Standard. Hostage Taker, strong as it may be, doesn't fit in any of them.
Four-Color Energy (12.5%)
Four-Color Energy is essentially Temur Energy with two copies of The Scarab God. Splashing is not difficult when you have Aether Hub, Servant of the Conduit, and Attune with Aether, and The Scarab God is a powerful late-game threat that can single-handedly win the game.
Left to Right: Martin Müller, Brad Nelson, and Seth Manfield
Genesis teammates Brad Nelson, Martin Müller, and Seth Manfield all ended up with Four-Color Energy. They had a ton of resources with the number of people working on decks, as they received help from their other three Genesis teammates as well as from 2016 World Champion Brian Braun-Duin. Brad Nelson thanked Brian Braun-Duin in particular in a heartfelt Facebook post.
So how did they arrive at their deck choice? "The metagame has one to two more control decks than we expected, but other than that, it's the metagame we thought was coming," Nelson said. For this metagame, he felt that an energy deck was the best choice. "I believe that energy is a broken mechanic. I'm under the impression it's the best deck, and it's the best deck for me to play."
A new addition to the sideboard from Ixalan was Deathgorge Scavenger. "Its main jobs are to fight God-Pharaoh's Gift and it's good against mono-red," Nelson explained. "It can come down, gain some life, and they have to spend their turn killing it and not playing Hazoret or Ahn-Crop Crasher, so it gives you good positions in the mid-game."
So now the big question: is it worth splashing black for The Scarab God? "We found that breaking serve with The Scarab God in the mirror was really tough, so it's really important to have it in your deck when you're on the play," Nelson answered. "But the metagame warped around to where I should've been three-color."
"The Gods aren't needed against control or the aggressive decks, and Peach Garden Oath came with a very teched-out version that is good against God with Essence Scatter, Commit // Memory, Gearhulk, and Confiscation Coup. They have the highest density of answers to The Scarab God that are also applicable in the Temur mirror, which is genius. I think it's really well thought-out for this tournament. They came with the deck."
That's high praise from someone who has been consistently lauded as one of the best Standard players in the game.
Blue-Black Control (16.7%)
Four players opted to go the two-color control route. This archetype contains a large collection of efficient answers that aims to stop whatever the opponent is doing, a card selection/mana ramp/card advantage engine in Search for Azcanta, and some of the most powerful five-mana and six-mana creatures in Standard.
Left to Right: Samuel Black, Josh Utter-Leyton, and Gerry Thompson
The trio of Josh Utter-Leyton, Sam Black, and Gerry Thompson prepared together, and they all settled on this powerful new archetype. You can read more about their testing process and the rationale behind their deck and card choices in this deck tech.
Kelvin Chew was the fourth player on blue-black control, thereby deviating from the choice of the rest of his playtest group. Although Carvalho, Dominguez, Calcano, and Lee all stuck with Ramunap Red, Chew feared that the other World Championship competitors would be prepared for Ramunap Red.
He was testing Blue-Black Reanimator at first, but he found that the removal from Ramunap Red and Temur Energy was too good against that deck. He switched to Blue-Black Control to make their removal useless against him. "The Scarab God is the best card in Standard," he said.
Grixis Control (4.2%)
Grixis Control is essentially Blue-Black Control with a small splash for red burn spells.
Shota Yasooka was the only player who registered the Grixis colors. He deduced that Ramunap Red was not a good matchup for Blue-Black Control, and he tried to solve that by adding Abrade and Harnessed Lightning to deal with their early rush. His sideboard also contained Magma Spray to improve further against Ramunap Red.
Treasure Red (4.2%)
Treasure Red is arguably one of the most innovative decks in the field. It may look like Ramunap Red at first glance, but it features Wily Goblin and Captain Lannery Storm alongside a much higher curve.
So there you have it: The complete 2017 World Championship metagame. As you see, a lot of thought and preparation went into the competitors' deck and card choices, and I can't wait to see who will triumph over all the other as the Top 4 will play out on Sunday.