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Insider Picks for the MPL and Rivals Gauntlets

August 27, 2021
Rich Hagon

The event schedules for the Rivals Gauntlet and MPL Gauntlet have been updated. See this article for more details.

It's time for another virtual roundtable, as our coverage conglomerate gets ready for the double Gauntlet weekend ahead. Our nuanced know-it-alls features play-by-play announcers Marshall Sutcliffe and Riley Knight, in-game experts Corey Baumeister and Cedric Phillips, reporter Eilidh Lonie, desk anchor Maria Bartholdi, desk expert Mani Davoudi, and writers Meghan Wolff and Corbin Hosler.

Let's start things off with something easy: four seats at Magic World Championship XXVII need filling. Which three in the MPL Gauntlet, and outright winner of the Rivals Gauntlet, get the job done?

MPL Gauntlet

  • 5 – Luis Scott-Vargas
  • 3 – Brad Nelson
  • 2 – Grzegorz Kowalski, Javier Dominguez, Reid Duke, Marcio Carvalho
  • 1 – Austin Bursavich, Thoralf Severin, Chris Botelho, Rei Sato, Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, Corey Burkhart

Well, that's half the field of 24 represented in the MPL Gauntlet and two names stand out.

Luis Scott-Vargas

Brad Nelson

Luis Scott-Vargas must be wondering what he must do to reach the World Championship since he's been so close over the last few months. If our casters are right, this is the weekend that he crosses the line. As for Brad Nelson, it's the Standard format that puts him in prime position—few can navigate Standard like Nelson.

Rivals Gauntlet

  • 3 – Logan Nettles
  • 2 – Ivan Floch
  • 1 – Kenji Egashira, Shintaro Inshimura, Matti Kuisma, Shota Yasooka

Logan Nettles

Ivan Floch

Matti Kuisma

In the Rivals League, our Casters were looking for one outright winner because only that is good enough for a World Championship seat. Both Logan Nettles and Matti Kuisma are fresh from the Challenger Gauntlet, and both will need serious focus if they're to progress: missing out on the four Challenger Gauntlet seats to instead make it in a single-shot tournament is a tough prospect for any player. As for Ivan Floch, his quiet season in the middle of the Rivals League pack doesn't hide his tournament-winning abilities.

Who The World Championship Watch

This weekend is all about completing the line-up for the World Championship, but there's already twelve players waiting there. With two Gauntlets packed with incredible players, who would those twelve competitors least like to see joining them, and why?

"Luis Scott-Vargas is the last person I ever want to play against when it matters," Cedric said, "and I cannot imagine I'm the only person who feels that way."

Marshall agreed: "I've never heard a player say they liked their chances sitting across from LSV, and I would certainly sub in anyone else for him if I were playing."

And if you're not sure who Magic Hall of Famer Scott-Vargas is, Maria has the simple summary for you. "No one wants to play against LSV because, generally speaking, LSV is good at winning."

But it's not just about one Hall of Famer. Corey looked to another: 2017 Magic World Champion William Jensen.

William Jensen

"He has experience at the biggest stage—a former World Champion—and he is one of the best drafters in the game," Corey explained. "That combination coming into a [small field] is a very dangerous thing, and people should be afraid of him if he makes it to the winning three of the MPL Gauntlet."

Jensen isn't the only Hall of Famer on our casters' minds.

Shota Yasooka

"For me it's Shota Yasooka," Mani said. "Already one of the greatest of all time, Shota has proven in the past that he can be a wild card in small-field tournaments like the World Championships, making him a terrifying opponent to read."

And Corbin pointed out the juggernaut in the room.

Kai Budde

"No one wants to see Kai Budde and his seven titles in the field against them."

Challengers of the World

Eight of the 24 players for the Rivals Gauntlet have already seen postseason action, reaching the final day of the Challenger Gauntlet before falling short of World Championship qualification.

Noriyuki Mori, Sam Pardee, Arne Huschenbeth, and Keisuke Sato, Top 4 of the Challenger Gauntlet.

But for Arne Huschenbeth, Sam Pardee, Noriyuki Mori, and Keisuke Sato, the Challenger Gauntlet was, happily, the end of the line as they punched their tickets to the biggest tournament of the year. Who impressed our casters most?

"I feel like everyone is going say Noriyuki Mori here," Maria said. "His story is just unbelievable. He started playing Magic in 2019 and has played more than 25,000 games since then—which calculates out to about 20% of his life. When I asked him if he plays Magic constantly, he said—and I quote —'Yes.' He sleeps, studies, and plays Magic. That's about it! Also, when he plays, it looks like the easiest thing in the world for him. He's also flipped his sleep schedule so he can play tournaments and not be tired."

Well, maybe not everyone said Mori, but Maria certainly wasn't alone. As Mani pointed out, "Watching Mori play in the Challenger Gauntlet, it would be nearly impossible to tell that he has only been playing for two years."

And Marshall brought some historical perspective: "We haven't seen someoneburst onto the scene flying solo since the days of Reid Duke and Brad Nelson."

Fellow Japanese player Kesiuke Sato also has his share of fans amongst the casters. Meghan encapsulates his Challenger Gauntlet weekend: "Sato impressed me, for his ability to bounce back from a rough 0-3 start, to go on to win a Saturday tiebreaker to make the Top 12, and then run through the competition on Sunday."

It's perhaps a tougher benchmark to be impressive when you're one of the pre-tournament favorites, but both Sam Pardee and Arne Huschenbeth were mentioned in dispatches.

As Riley put it, Huschenbeth "really converted on this qualification to the Challenger Gauntlet. He made the most of the opportunity to fire on all cylinders and propel himself to competitive Magic's biggest stage, a spot he richly deserves. Pardee has been around for a long time, and it's terrific to see him thrive."

Cecdric agreed. "It's Arne by a mile. Winning the Kaldheim Championship was already impressive enough (a tournament he played great in), but when one starts stringing together big finishes, you have to take notice."

Eilidh went even deeper, acknowledging a player who could still make it to the World Championship this weekend: "I was quite impressed with Gavin Thompson. He piloted the Gruul deck superbly and put himself on my radar as a player to look out for in future."

Gavin Thompson

The Standard Selection of Decks

Now, there's no escaping it. Standard is a highly stable format right now, and there were no obvious holes in the Challenger Gauntlet metagame. So where can players find an edge in Standard this weekend? Cedric and Eilidh have some decks in mind:

"Call me boring all you want," Cedric said, "but I don't believe that Sultai Ramp ([with] Yorion, Sky Nomad) is going to continue to put up such poor results. The deck has been too dominant for too long to not destroy a weekend, and I think that weekend is coming to a Twitch stream near you."

'If anyone finds an edge this weekend, it will be by risking it for the biscuit and bringing something that no one is prepared for," Eilidh said. "Something like Jund Sacrifice or Rakdos Treasures perhaps. Mono-White could put up decent results, as it didn't even feature in the Challenger Gauntlet. We shall see!"

Almost everyone used the "M" word—metagame. That's what's on the "M" caster's mind.

"Since the challenge isn't finding a new deck, it will come down to who makes the best metagame prediction," said Marshall. "It will take some bravery as well, because the players who are best positioned will be the ones who not only correctly predict the metagame, but have the guts to bring a deck that ignores their bad matchups as well. Scary stuff, but it's the way to put yourself at the top."

Not everyone is optimistic that a breakthrough can be found.

Riley noted "the current Standard format doesn't reward innovation so much as it rewards different deckbuilding skills—tuning lists for a known, expected metagame, and finding effective, well-rounded sideboard strategies for the range of decks that is, by now, very well understood."

But if you're looking for something, Meghan has two words for you:

"Drannith Magistrate."

Is It Time To Go Rogue?

There is some hope for a Standard shakeup. Noriyuki Mori "went rogue" with Izzet Control at the Challenger Gauntlet. What might we see this time around?

Maria wants more of the same please: "I just want to see people pick up Mori's list. You and the Krakens can make it happen, as I've always said." In the interests of journalistic integrity, I feel obligated to point out that Maria has, in fact, never said this.

Marshall, meanwhile, decided to stretch the definition of "rogue": "Calling mono-red 'rogue'may besacrilege but if the metagame shapes up to be slow and too reactive to other decks—people will often try to cover all of their metagame bases by slowing their deck down or stretching the mana for more answers—then mono-red might, just might, be the answer."

Riley's also focused on a single color. "A couple of key additions to Mono-Green Aggro in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms have given the deck a bit of a shot in the arm. Werewolf Pack Leader and Ranger Class are powerful, aggressive two-drops that get you off to a flier, and Lair of the Hydra provides a backup win condition. Mono-green has flown under the radar, but could do work this weekend."

Rakdos Sacrifice, Temur Adventures (with Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast), and Dimir Control all had cases made for them, and Cedric points to a deck that keeps on pedalling away: "Jeskai Cycling might get the job done, because when it goes ignored entirely, it's very hard to beat. Most people respect the deck, but if they don't, one shall reap the rewards."

Well, in the Rivals Gauntlet, precisely one shall reap the rewards, while three World Championship seats will be won in the MPL Gauntlet. Whether it's a risky metagame call, or the barest of sideboard edges in a mirror match, you'll be able to see all the action with our team of commentators and writers.

So, make sure to feed the cat, stock the fridge, and turn off the phone ahead of four outstanding days of competition. September 2–5 live at

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