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Challenger Gauntlet Metagame Breakdown

August 05, 2021
Frank Karsten

The Challenger Gauntlet, where 24 of last season's best players will compete for four invitations to Magic World Championship XXVII, will unfold on August 6–8. The field is comprised of top finishers outside the leagues from the Zendikar Rising Championship, the Kaldheim Championship, and the Strixhaven Championship, including the three Championship winners: Brad Barclay, Arne Huschenbeth, and Sam Pardee. The broadcast begins Friday August 6 at 9 a.m. PT, live at

Both Standard and Historic Constructed formats will be used for the Challenger Gauntlet. All decklists will be published on the Challenger Gauntlet event page at the beginning of Round 1 on Friday, August 6, but today, we can look at the metagame.

Standard Metagame Breakdown

On both Friday and Saturday at the Challenger Gauntlet, the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds of the day are (Best-of-Three) Standard. In addition, Sunday's Top 12 playoff is exclusively Standard. The metagame breaks down as follows.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Gruul Adventures 8 33.3%
Naya Winota 4 16.7%
Dimir Rogues 3 12.5%
Naya Adventures 3 12.5%
Sultai Control 2 8.3%
Temur Adventures 1 4.2%
Jeskai Cycling 1 4.2%
Izzet Control 1 4.2%
Sultai Ultimatum 1 4.2%

Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms has added several powerful cards to Standard, including the creature lands (such as Lair of the Hydra) and Burning Hands (which cleanly deals with Lovestruck Beast and Polukranos, Unchained post-board). These new cards have boosted Gruul Adventures and Naya Winota to the top two spots of the metagame. Sultai Ultimatum and Izzet Dragons, the two most played deck archetypes from the Strixhaven Championship, have fallen by the wayside.

Naya Winota in particular gained the most from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Besides the aforementioned cards, it also benefitted from Prosperous Innkeeper (which curves perfectly into a turn-three Winota, Joiner of Forces) and Minsc, Beloved Ranger (which provides not only a Human in your library but also a non-Human on the battlefield). Spurred further onwards by high win rates in recent weeks, Naya Winota has seen a meteoric rise. I played the deck in the Arena Open myself last weekend, and I faced a lot of mirror matches.

But Challenger Gauntlet competitors were aware of these Standard developments. While some brought Naya Winota to the tournament, most came with a plan to beat it.

For one, you can tune your deck by adding several one-mana answers to Winota. Redcap Melee is well known and heavily played as a sideboard card, but Ray of Enfeeblement from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is superior because it kills Winota even through Selfless Savior.

Ray of Enfeeblement has been adopted in the main deck of multiple Dimir Rogues players and, more surprisingly, in the sideboard of four Gruul Adventures players. Those Gruul decks splash black via Pathways, Jaspera Sentinel, Magda, Brazen Outlaw, and Goldspan Dragon, and most of them even have Valki, God of Lies in the maindeck. I considered labeling these decks as Jund Adventures, but I stuck with the more familiar Gruul Adventures because the black splash is so minor. Nevertheless, the interactive black spells will provide a valuable edge against Naya Winota.

Kaervek, the Spiteful Essence Scatter

Another angle of attack is to pick Sultai Control, which based on the results of last week's Standard events on MTG Melee is one of the few archetypes with a positive matchup against Naya Winota.

Mind you, this archetype does not run dedicated ramp or an Emergent Ultimatum package. That's usually too slow to beat a turn-four Winota. Instead, Sultai Control relies on cheap interactive cards like Essence Scatter and Power Word Kill—an Adventures in the Forgotten Realms addition that is superior to Eliminate in the current metagame—and eventually kills with Lochmere Serpent, Polukranos, Hall of the Storm Giants, or Yorion, Sky Nomad.

Sultai Control also features main deck Karvek, the Spiteful, which provides an effective way to prevent most Winota triggers. The 3/2 is vulnerable to Bonecrusher Giant, but that's a card most Naya Winota decks are skimping on. So, I expect Sultai Control to have an edge against Naya Winota, but the big question mark for me is how it will perform against the rest of the metagame. Especially against Gruul Adventures, the most popular archetype overall.

Kiora Bests the Sea God

If you prefer off-meta Standard decks, then you'll be happy to know that there is some spice in the field. Izzet Control features countermagic to say no, Cinderclasm to sweep the board, and multiple Kiora Bests the Sea God to win the game. It's a combination of cards that I haven't seen before in competitive Standard, and I'm excited to see how this brew will perform.

Historic Metagame Breakdown

On both Friday and Saturday, the first three rounds of the day are (Best-of-Three) Historic. The metagame breaks down as follows.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Jeskai Control 10 41.7%
Rakdos Arcanist 2 8.3%
Orzhov Auras 2 8.3%
Mono-Black Aggro 2 8.3%
Jund Food 2 8.3%
Azorius Auras 1 4.2%
Selesnya Company 1 4.2%
Jund Citadel 1 4.2%
Izzet Phoenix 1 4.2%
Mono-Red Goblins 1 4.2%
Dragonstorm 1 4.2%

Historic has gone through substantial changes since the Strixhaven Championship, including the recent suspension of Brainstorm. Izzet Phoenix, which relied on Brainstorm to set up spell chains, has dropped heavily in popularity as a result—only one Challenger Gauntlet competitor brought Arclight Phoenix to the tournament.

Instead, Jeskai Control is now dominant, with nearly half of the field opting for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Lightning Helix. For this archetype, Brainstorm was never essential. Brainstorm added consistency and protected against discard spells, but the core of sweepers, countermagic, burn, and planeswalkers remains rock solid even without Brainstorm.

Eight Jeskai Control players aim to win by flashing back Magma Opus via Torrential Gearhulk or Mizzix's Mastery. The other two plan to stop graveyard shenanigans with Relic of Progenitus and win with Shark Typhoon. But no matter the build, Jeskai Control stands out as the most popular Historic deck choice by far.

So how to beat it? It's hard to say which decks are well positioned against Jeskai Control because post-Brainstorm Historic is basically brand new, but I do like the prospects of Rakdos Arcanist, Orzhov Auras, and Mono-Black Aggro. All of these decks run Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, which got a lot better now that opponents can no longer hide their best spells with Brainstorm. As a result, these decks may now be able to successfully disrupt Jeskai Control and emerge victorious.

There are also two spicy decks involving Adventures in the Forgotten Realms cards.

Battle Cry Goblin

One challenger brought Mono-Red Goblins and shaved several three-drops to add Battle Cry Goblin and Hobgoblin Bandit Lord. Battle Cry Goblin provides the deck with a more aggressive curve, and Hobgoblin Bandit Lord is really powerful when combined with Krenko, Mob Boss. In games where you don't draw Muxus, Goblin Grandee, these additions can make a big difference. I'm excited to discover whether it's enough to revitalize the archetype.

Prosperous Innkeeper

Another challenger opted for Jund Citadel, which got a lot better with Prosperous Innkeeper. The Halfling not only ramps into Bolas's Citadel but also provides the life required to keep casting spells with Bolas's Citadel. The Treasure can even trigger Mayhem Devil.

Sacrificing permanents to cast Bolas's Citadel can be painful when your Jeskai Control opponent puts it on top of your library with Memory Lapse, but the legendary artifact will be extremely powerful when it resolves.


The Challenger Gauntlet nicely showcases the Standard and Historic metagame developments, and there are multiple spicy deck choices. To watch the players compete for the coveted World Championship qualifications, don't miss the three-day live broadcast that begins on Friday August 6 at 9 a.m. PT at

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