MC III Metagame Breakdown

Posted in Event Coverage on June 19, 2019

By Frank Karsten

Mythic Championship III will start on Friday, June 21, and the tournament features 32 Magic Pro League members and 36 Challengers. They will test their mettle in the Traditional Standard format, and all 68 decklists have been published here.

Slightly over a third of the field is playing Esper, and it was the preferred color combination for the majority of MPL members.

Esper builds have evolved into planeswalker decks

Since War of the Spark entered Standard, Esper variations have been through major evolutions. In Week 1 of the MPL Weekly, we saw Esper Control with Absorb and Chemister's Insight, as well as Esper Hero with Thief of Sanity and Dovin's Veto. Soon after, Teferi, Time Raveler pushed countermagic out of the metagame, and Narset, Parter of Veils became the card advantage spell of choice.

At Mythic Championship III, Teferi and Narset are the most-played cards (in all main decks and sideboards combined) at 117 and 111 copies respectively. Answers are popular, too—there are 65 total copies of The Elderspell and 18 copies of The Immortal Sun—but the three-mana planeswalkers dominate Standard. They see play in multiple archetypes, including all Esper decks.

If you are interested in learning more about the recent evolution of Esper, then I recommend reading these articles by Arne Huschenbeth and Andrea Mengucci. Their Narset-based builds quickly found tournament success, and a heavy reliance on planeswalkers became the norm. At Mythic Championship III, all Esper decks contain ten to thirteen planeswalkers. (There is only one player with ten: Shota Yasooka. He registered a unique variant with Bolas's Citadel that may give him a small edge against other control decks.)

  • Teferi, Time Raveler
  • Narset, Parter of Veils
  • Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
  • Oath of Kaya
  • Thought Erasure

All Esper variants started with a core of the above five cards, typically backed up with a few copies of Basilica Bell-Haunt, Command the Dreadhorde, and Despark. But then they diverge into two variants:

You might know Esper Hero as Esper Superheroes, but I settled on these deck names because (i) all Esper decks run the same amount of planeswalkers, (ii) I value consistency in naming practices, and (iii) Esper Supercontrol would sound terrible.

So what's better in the Esper mirror, Hero or Control?

In my view, it's close. Hero of Precinct One could steal a game—something Kaya's Wrath won't do—and the Hero lists can sideboard in more unique ways. For these reasons, several players told me they preferred the Esper Hero side. On the other hand, Esper Control variants usually have more powerful non-gold spells like Search for Azcanta to dominate the late game. That might be even more important.

Ultimately, I think that it'll largely come down to play skill and sideboard strategies. For example, should you have Kaya's Wrath when your opponent might board out Hero of Precinct One and/or board in Nightveil Predator? These are the strategic decisions that could decide a match, and it'll be exciting to see the best in the world attempting to outmaneuver each other, given open decklists. Brad Nelson, who holds the best record in MPL divisional play, told me the following: "I believe knowing my opponent's 75 gives me the best chance of perfecting a sideboard plan against them. This is where I feel most at home, and comfortable."

Izzet Phoenix is the most popular deck choice for Challengers

One reason why Izzet Phoenix was a popular choice among Challengers is that three players (Patrick Fernandes, Monserrat Garcia Ayensa, and Evan Gascoyne) who qualified via the Mythic Championship Qualifier Weekend on MTG Arena are all running back Izzet Phoenix. These players can leverage their experience with the deck, as Izzet Phoenix is hard to play and sideboard optimally.

However, the MCQW metagame that brought them success is different from the one they will face in Las Vegas. Now, they have to show they can beat Esper. The good news is that Arclight Phoenix can pressure planeswalkers right away and Crackling Drake lives through Oath of Kaya. The bad news is that Teferi, Time Raveler stops them from casting spells with Finale of Promise, and Narset, Parter of Veils single-handedly shuts down all their card-draw spells.

The static ability of Narset is so important in the matchup that I wouldn't even be surprised to see "Narset, go" at the Mythic Championship. As a response, we could see Izzet Phoenix players saving up Shock and a hard-casted Arclight Phoenix. I'm looking forward to seeing these high-level gameplay dynamics in action.

Only Five Mono-Red Players

Even though Mono-Red Aggro was the most-played deck across the entire MPL Spark split and the MCQW, there are only five Mono-Red Aggro decks at MC III. This sharp decline makes sense because people have adapted with cards like Basilica Bell-Haunt, Lyra Dawnbringer, and Ripjaw Raptor. Although red players have been adding Fight with Fire to their sideboards as a response, everyone is ready to fight Mono-Red Aggro.

Already in Day Two: Boros Aggro, Bant Ramp, and two Esper Hero decks

The four MPL Spark Split Division winners earned automatic advancement to Day Two. Let's take a look at their decklists.

Rei Sato's Boros Aggro

While there are only five Mono-Red Aggro decks, there are six white aggro decks, which break down into one Azorius Aggro, one Mono-White Aggro, and four Boros Aggro. Going wide with Benalish Marshal and Venerated Loxodon can be successful when sweeper effects are on the decline.

One of the Boros Aggro players is Rei Sato, who has already locked up Day Two. The red splash for Experimental Frenzy seems well-positioned because Mortify isn't seeing much play anymore.


Ken Yukuhiro's Bant Ramp

Nissa, Who Shakes the World didn't see a lot of play in the first weeks of War of the Spark Standard, but as time went on and Teferi pushed out countermagic, more and more players started to discover Nissa's potential as one of the best cards in Standard.

Her ability to immediately pressure opposing planeswalkers while going up to 6 loyalty and having a blocker to protect herself is amazing. Moreover, she provides an incredible mana advantage that helps power out an enormous, game-ending Hydroid Krasis, Mass Manipulation, and/or Finale of Glory. That's exactly what Ken Yukuhiro will be trying to do in Day Two.


Brad Nelson's and Brian Braun-Duin's Esper Hero

Braun-Duin submitted Esper Hero for every week of MPL Weekly, and he stuck with the archetype for MC III. His best friend, Brad Nelson, also submitted the same 75, so there are already two Esper Hero decks in the Top 16.

Their particular build with Hero of Precinct One, Elite Guardmage, and Hostage Taker is set up well against removal-light Nissa decks. But they may have trouble keeping up with the large numbers of Command the Dreadhorde, Search for Azcanta, and The Elderspell typically found in Esper Control decks.

As Nelson told me, he expected Nissa decks to be popular and to defeat the open-decklist Esper Control decks in Day One.

"Those Wraths look like they are good, but they aren't when green decks know they exist," said Nelson.

As a result, he expected to face more creature-based decks than control decks in Day Two, and he made his card choices accordingly. In essence, while many other Esper decks are in an arm's race trying to go over the top of each other, Nelson and Braun-Duin cared more about the rest of the metagame. It's a gamble that could turn out fantastic or horrible depending on how the Day Two field shapes up.

Fourteen Players with More Offbeat Decks

Thus far, I have only touched on deck archetypes that were registered by five or more players each. Below you can find the deck choices of the fourteen remaining players: ten challengers and four MPL members.

This set of decks showcases Standard's diversity. Even within Simic decks, there are large differences. For clarity, Simic Nexus refers to traditional builds with Wilderness Reclamation, Search for Azcanta, and Root Snare. The Simic Ramp deck also uses Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and Nexus of Fate, but it combines those in a ramp shell with Llanowar Elves, Nissa, and Hydroid Krasis.

A deck that seems very well-positioned for the field is Sultai Dreadhorde. Multiple Esper Control players told me they were scared of that deck. Since Sultai attacks from different angles (card advantage creatures, planeswalkers, and Command the Dreadhorde) it is difficult for Esper Control to pick the right answers suite. Especially since Tamiyo, Collector of Tales nullifies Thought Erasure. What's more, Esper Control has no pressure, so Sultai Dreadhorde can usually cast their key card at 20-plus life. I wouldn't be surprised to see Nick Carlson and Amaz advance.

Nicol Bolas Will Be Wreaking Havoc

Fan-favorite Reid Duke is playing four copies of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and four copies of Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God to close games quickly and decisively. As he explained to me, Grixis is more focused on attacking the opponent's resources than Esper, which fits his play style better.

But when it comes to Grixis decks, MCQW qualifier Yuki Matsuda had a more unique take with one of the spiciest decks in the field.

Yuki Matsuda's Grixis Amass

Dreadhorde Invasion, Widespread Brutality, and Enter the God-Eternals haven't seen a lot of play in War of the Spark Standard, but they lead to powerful amass synergies. For example, if you control a 2/2 Army token created by Dreadhorde Invasion, you can cast Enter the God-Eternals and attack with a 6/6 lifelinker right away. Even if your opponent controls no creatures, you can target your own Army and have it survive as a 6/6 with 4 damage marked on it. I can't wait to see this deck in action.

TUNE IN!

Esper decks in an arms race. Hasty Phoenixes rising from the ashes. Armies being amassed. Hardly any mono-red. And some of the best players in the world. It's going to be an awesome show.

The livestream will start at 8 a.m. PT/11 a.m. ET/3 p.m. UTC on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on twitch.tv/magic!

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