It’s been a mythically big week for MTG
And with the conclusion of our Ravnica Allegiance Guild Builds last week, Into The Arena is now free to talk with you all about the event which captured most Magic players attention over last weekend.
The first of many Mythic Championships took place over 3 days in Cleveland, and although this tournament featured paper Magic, the Standard metagame was not too far from what we see every day on Arena. The event was quite some success, with an exciting top 8 and great stories to follow throughout. Tournaments this big always have an impact on the the wider Magic scene, so I’ve broken down a few of the key lessons as they apply to those doing battle on Arena!
#1: Winners play winning decks.
When you ask most Magic players what their goals are in playing, most of them will say “win”. But for a large percentage what they actually mean is “win on their own terms”, or “win with my preferred strategy”. You can see this in the stigma which surrounds “netdecking”, even though it’s absurd to assume that your random build of Red Aggro will end up better than one shaped by competitive testing and the online Magic hive mind. Deckbuilding is a fun creative pursuit, and players want to believe that the result of their brewing can also bring them a victory that they 100% own.
But choosing what deck to play is as much a strategic choice as any other in Magic, and winners are most often the ones making it without this bias. Not all of us have the money or time to switch between tier 1 decks for each tournament to maximise our chances like the pros, but when deciding where to put your Arena wildcards you should definitely be looking at which decks and cards put up good numbers at recent major events.
For Mythic Championship 1, it’s simple to say that Mono Blue is a tier 1 deck. So is Sultai, despite being heavily targeted in this event and slightly underperforming as a result. Esper Control looks very good, and has backed this up even in just the week of Arena play since the event. Tier 2 deck choices are the White (splash Blue) aggro deck, the Red (splash Green) aggro deck, Simic Nexus, Selesnya tokens and Drakes. If you want to start this new season of Arena ranked off right, I would aim to be on one of these.
Obviously, how you cluster the MC1 decks into tiers is subjective – this is just my perception of the numbers these decks put up, with some fuzzy-logic allowance for factors like visibility in the meta (I was not surprised Sultai fell off a cliff in tournament endgame) or ability to perform vs. other top decks.
There’s a surprising amount to read into here which can lead to some inaccurate assumptions if you aren’t careful. One great example is the Izzet Drakes decks, which WotC tried to divide into “phoenix” builds and “drakes” builds. As a player looking to commit to a list on Arena you might conclude from the official numbers that a Phoenix-focused deck is the way to crack the meta! But alas, reports from some of the player actually represented by this data claim that the line WotC drew between the variants is arbitrary and in fact, some “Phoenix” and “Drake” players had the exact same 75. Combining the records makes the choice less clear – this is not to say the Arclight Phoenix decks are bad, but just a caution that part of choosing a winning deck is understanding your choice beyond just copying the top-placing decklists from an event.
#2: No Decklist Wins in a Vacuum
And no, I’m not talking about the importance of keeping your cards up off the floor while spring cleaning, or the difficulty of playing good Magic in outer space. This is the cautionary word to those who read the last point and then leapt up, eyes bright, to start importing the top 32 decklists from Cleveland into their Arena client. Hand-in-hand with the idea of deck choice for an event being part of strategy is the idea that no tournament list exists outside of the context of its tournament.
The tuning of 75s and even the spread of archetypes on offer at Cleveland are the answer the world’s best players came up with to that tournament format and that predicted metagame – while it’s comparable enough to Arena Standard that we can draw wisdom from it, you can’t just copy Autumn Burchett’s winning list and expect to slog to Mythic with it, especially in Bo1.
MPL member Reid Duke was streaming Arena in the days after the MC concluded, and despite placing top 8 in the event with his Mono-Blue list, it wasn’t long before Reid decided some adjustments were called for. Based on the draw-smoother for opening hands in Bo1, he could afford to cut back an Island, where most players had agreed 20 was the right number for paper. In the online ranked meta, especially in lower tiers, Mono-Red and Mono-Blue were overrepresented, probably due to the ease of assembling the cards. So a prudent player looking to maximise their win % would include some extra Essence Capture, or even start maindecking Surge Mare and Entrancing Melody.
Keep this in mind especially as you go about climbing the Ranked ladder – this environment gives many advantages to the flexible thinker who can adapt a list match by match to beat the decks they see around themselves. If you aren’t used to this sort of tinkering, look for decklist sources like the Arena Decklists twitter account or Aether Hub – by reading over such a high volume of individual decks from successful grinders, it becomes easy to see which slots in an archetype are non-negotiable and which flex cards seem to be successful.
You may even discover that…
#3: Standard Isn’t Solved Yet
While nobody wants it to be that way, the truth is that sometimes Standard is a little less balanced. The tournament meta shrinks, card choices become increasingly skewed, and whole decks are developed specifically to try and snipe at the overly-dominant strategy. Just in the last Standard rotation we had the lengthy dominance of Temur Energy paralyze player enthusiasm, and several other decks which had windows where they were almost as ubiquitous.More broadly, the cards available in Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks were so powerful that they kept most other sets from seeing play, which made Standard feel smaller.
A couple of sets in and a couple more out makes a world of difference, however. No miracle brew managed to break into the overall top 8, but even at the highest level of pro Magic there were respected players piloting fresh lists to positive – sometimes very positive – Constructed results.
- Frank Karsten iterated on his published testing of Standard 1-drops by welding the best ones into a Status//Chainwhirler shell as Warrior Tribal.
- Joel Larsson joined the small but highly successful band of players on Selesnya Tokens, but copied the tried-and-proven White Weenie plan of adding Blue for Deputy of Detention and sideboard counterspells.
- Joe Soh received some well-deserved attention on the official stream for his totally unexpected blending of the Weenie shell with Judith and Vampire tribal, but Ryan Cubit also quietly finished 8-2 on Mardu, playing the “Judith Priest” archetype which many players had speculated about during spoiler season.
- Maxime Auger contributed to the list of results for the still-underplayed Rakdos Midrange deck, proudly sleeving up Rekindling Phoenix, Spawn of Mayhem, Karn, Angrath, and even Tetzimoc in the same 75.
- Ishimura Shintaro and Seth Manfield both placed highly with pure Dimir midrange, recognising arguments that the Thief of Sanity plan most control decks were playing from the sideboard might be better than the plan A. Ishimura took things a step spicier by adding Nightveil Predator and Mesmerizing Benthid.
If this many decks can come from largely outside the already-broad meta to post winning finishes at the Pro Tour/Mythic Championship, that should signal that there is still a very wide range of decks that can be used for the relatively more forgiving task of scaling the Arena ladder. Don’t be afraid to give your brews a really good shot – other ladder players have so many reps in against all the major known decks that just playing a list where they can’t anticipate your interaction or follow sideboard guides gives you a significant advantage.
#4: Magic’s diversity is a real and vital strength of the game
I won’t harp on about this topic because it has already been rightly celebrated and highlighted by others better positioned to do so, but it definitely bears mentioning. After turning in one of the more masterful Top 8 performances captured on coverage, Autumn Burchett became the first transgender winner, the first nonbinary winner, and the first non-male winner in the history of the Pro Tour/Mythic Championship.
Their gender identity was not scrutinised or brought into the match coverage, but it was acknowledged and respected with easy professionalism, and Autumn was given space to perfectly encaspulate the importance of their winner’s journey in several interviews. The reaction in the moment and through the week has been overwhelming, with countless members of the LGBTQIA+ community reaffirming their place in the game and the community. Most of my twitter feed is still dominated by those across Magic who have declared themselves to be “Knights of Autumn”.
As WotC strives to develop Magic into the model of a big esport, this is the first area where they can claim a real advantage over the competition. Very few esports broadcasts manage to properly acknowledge gender diversity at all, and yet the coverage team in Cleveland managed to achieve the smooth normalisation-without-erasure which many among the trans audience advocate for. When you consider that Autumn is only the vanguard of a very strong gender-diverse player cohort, as well as the genuinely global mix of nations represented in the Mythic Championship field, it’s clear that MtG is truly “everyone’s game”, in a way other esports can only pay lip service to.
The image of Emma Handy barreling into the feature match area to embrace Autumn seconds after the final handshake makes for a fantastic esports moment in general, to say nothing of the catharsis it brought to trans Magic players everywhere. For a game which can sometimes still serve up dull, amateurish viewing experiences, I can easily see a focus on Magic’s triumphant diversity as its path to greater success and status.
NEXT TIME: THE RIGHT WAY FORWARD
The Mythic Championship series is a gargantuan Skaab lurching to life, and its masters at Wizards are still figuring out how to best integrate the competitive elite of MTG Arena into the traditional pro play circuit. With the feedback in from our first online qualifying race and the format released for the second, we’ll take a look at some of the other possible alternatives and how each would affect the way people play.