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Kaldheim Championship Metagame Breakdown

March 24, 2021
Frank Karsten

It's almost here: The Kaldheim Championship, featuring all members of the Magic Pro League and the Magic Rivals League as well as top players from qualifying events held on MTG Arena and Magic Online, begins Friday March 26 at 9 a.m. PDT broadcasting live at twitch.tv/magic.

This weekend here are 211 competitors battling in both Standard and Historic formats. Let's see what they all brought to battle.

Standard Metagame Breakdown

Friday and Saturday feature a combined seven rounds of (best-of-three) Standard. In addition, Sunday's Top 8 double-elimination playoff is exclusively Standard. The metagame breaks downs as follows.



The macro-archetype "Naya Adventures" is comprised of 8 Naya Tokens variants (with Clarion Spirit, Felidar Retreat, and Toski, Bearer of Secrets) and 3 Naya Fury variants (with Goldspan Dragon, Unleash Fury, and Sejiri Shelter). Using these more fine-grained archetypes, a full breakdown can be found below.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Sultai Ultimatum 47 22.3%
Temur Adventures 37 17.5%
Mono-Red Aggro 35 16.6%
Cycling 22 10.4%
Dimir Rogues 17 8.1%
Mono-White Aggro 15 7.1%
Naya Tokens 8 3.8%
Gruul Adventures 7 3.3%
Four-Color Doom Foretold 5 2.4%
Gruul Food 4 1.9%
Naya Fury 3 1.4%
Esper Doom Foretold 2 0.9%
Bant Adventures 2 0.9%
Sultai Control 2 0.9%
Rakdos Sacrifice 1 0.5%
Jeskai Mutate 1 0.5%
Selesnya Adventures 1 0.5%
Four-Color Gyruda 1 0.5%
Abzan Midrange 1 0.5%

At the February Kaldheim League Weekend, the metagame was still sorting itself out, with aggressive decks in various colors and flavors vying for the top spot. Now, at the Kaldheim Championship, Mono-Red Aggro, Cycling, Mono-White Aggro, and Naya Adventure variants are still hanging on, but Sultai Ultimatum and Temur Adventures have claimed the top spots.

The builds of all these decks are fairly well-established—they were covered in detail by broadcast expert Mani Davoudi—and there were no major surprises. Among Temur Adventures players, 20 registered Obosh, the Preypiercer as their companion, whereas 16 preferred to have access to cards like Disdainful Stroke in their main deck, but most Temur Adventures builds look very similar. Honestly, given the metagame developments over the past few weeks, the Standard field is roughly what I expected it to be. It's settling close to an equilibrium state where most decks are well-tuned against each other.

Accordingly, there are few archetypes that are particularly well-positioned in this field. If I had to make a pick, then based on win rate data obtained from MTG Melee earlier this month I'd say that Cycling is a good choice: I believe it's favored against Sultai Ultimatum, even against Temur Adventures and Mono-Red Aggro, and decent against the rest of the field. But the margins in these matchups, if I'm even evaluating them correctly, are slim at best. Especially when you're facing off against the best players in the world.



Ultimately, I expect that most Standard matches will be decided not by deck choice but by playing skill, sideboard mastery, and matchup experience. This should make the Top 8 Standard matches exciting to watch.

The Most-Played Nonland Cards in Standard

Bonecrusher Giant Mystical Dispute Heartless Act Lovestruck Beast Edgewall Innkeeper Alrund's Epiphany Omen of the Sea Binding the Old Gods Embercleave

Bonecrusher Giant and Mystical Dispute, with 380 copies and 307 copies each respectively, are the most-played nonland cards across Standard main decks and sideboards. Lovestruck Beast and Edgewall Innkeeper are in fourth and fifth place. All of these spells have sat near the top of the Standard charts ever since Throne of Eldraine was released, so there are no major surprises there.

More interesting is that Alrund's Epiphany has established itself as the most-played nonland card from Kaldheim, at 220 copies total. The card makes good use of the foretell mechanic, is an essential piece of many Emergent Ultimatum piles, and is one of the most powerful spells that a Temur Adventures player can cast when they're ahead on board.

The Spiciest Standard Deck Choices

The top of the Standard metagame chart contains few surprises, and the most popular decks were already explained in detail by broadcast expert Mani Davoudi. However, there were several unexpected rogue choices. One example is Gruul Food, which is basically what you get when you start with Mono-Green Food and then splash for Bonecrusher Giant and Embercleave. Yet, the spice runs far deeper. All Standard decklists will be published on the Kaldheim Championship event page at the beginning of Round 1 on Friday, March 26—but right now I'll highlight my three favorites.

Gyruda, Doom of Depths Charming Prince Wolfwillow Haven

It's been a while since I saw Gyruda, Doom of Depths in Standard, especially after the rotation of Spark Double and Paradise Druid. But one Kaldheim Championship competitor registered Four-Color Gyruda, and I love it. Hitting Charming Prince or Thassa, Deep-Dwelling is still viable, and Kaldheim added the "combo" of Shepherd of the Cosmos and Port of Karfell. These can yield a (mana-intensive) way to keep a Gyruda chain going. What's more, Kaervek, the Spiteful is particularly sweet to hit against Toski, Bearer of Secrets decks, so this deck has a lot going for it.

Pollywog Symbiote Vadrok, Apex of Thunder Open the Omenpaths

One player registered Jeskai Mutate. With the perfect draw involving Pollywog Symbiote; Vadrok, Apex of Thunder; Open the Omenpaths, and a bunch of follow-up spells, this deck can theoretically kill on turn 3. If you ever see such an absurd turn in action, you may never think of Dreamtail Heron or Seize the Spoils the same way ever again. Consistency may be an issue, but this deck shows that with the right support, any spell that can generate mana or draw cards can be broken.

Chulane, Teller of Tales Felidar Retreat Lotus Cobra

Finally, two players registered Bant Adventures. It's similar to Naya Tokens, but even more extreme. After all, drawing a few extra cards with Showdown of the Skalds and Toski, Bearer of Secrets is nice, but drawing basically your entire deck with Chulane, Teller of Tales is even nicer. Especially when you also control Lotus Cobra and Felidar Retreat to exploit all those landfall triggers. I don't know how well it'll perform in practice, but it's definitely spicy.

Historic Metagame Breakdown

Friday and Saturday each feature four rounds of (best-of-three) Historic. The metagame breaks downs as follows.



The macro-archetype "Jund Sacrifice" is comprised of 56 Jund Food variants with Trail of Crumbs and Gilded Goose and 10 Jund Company variants with Collected Company and Dreadhorde Butcher. A full breakdown using these more fine-grained archetypes can be found below.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Jund Food 56 26.5%
Orzhov Auras 31 14.7%
Azorius Control 18 8.5%
Gruul Aggro 11 5.2%
Jund Company 10 4.7%
Sultai Ultimatum 8 3.8%
Goblins 8 3.8%
Abzan Midrange 8 3.8%
Bant Midrange 8 3.8%
Elves 6 2.8%
Boros Cycling 5 2.4%
Mono-Red Burn 5 2.4%
Bant Angels 3 1.4%
Five-Color Niv-Mizzet 3 1.4%
Selesnya Company 2 0.9%
Neostorm 2 0.9%
Mono-Black Control 2 0.9%
Selesnya Aggro 2 0.9%
Four-color Midrange 2 0.9%
Temur Adventures 2 0.9%
Paradox Engine 2 0.9%
Selesnya Midrange 2 0.9%
Nine Lives 1 0.5%
Rakdos Midrange 1 0.5%
Bant Spirits 1 0.5%
Rakdos Sacrifice 1 0.5%
Dimir Gift 1 0.5%
Mono-Blue Tempo 1 0.5%
Orzhov Gift 1 0.5%
Selesnya Angels 1 0.5%
Dimir Control 1 0.5%
Grixis Arcanist 1 0.5%
Kethis Combo 1 0.5%
Boros Burn 1 0.5%
Enigmatic Incarnation 1 0.5%
Golgari Midrange 1 0.5%
Rakdos Arcanist 1 0.5%

At the January Kaldheim League Weekend, Sultai Midrange was dominant with Jund Sacrifice not far behind. Since then, Historic was shaken up by the release of Kaldheim, the addition of Historic Anthology IV, and the banning of Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath.

The set releases gave rise to new strategies, such as Elves and Angels, but the ban of Uro was arguably even more impactful. It effectively eliminated Sultai Midrange as a competitively viable archetype and paved the way for Jund Sacrifice, previously the second most-popular archetype, to dominate the format.

To many Kaldheim Championship competitors, this won't come as a surprise. While it's hard to predict the exact percentage of field, most competitors surely would have expected Jund Sacrifice to be the most-played archetype. But this did influence card choices. For players who wanted to run Mayhem Devil themselves, for example, they had to prepare for the mirror match. I believe this is one of the reasons why the Jund Food variant has now eclipsed the Jund Company variant. The latter was more popular at the inception of the Historic format, but the former is better against other Jund Sacrifice decks because the staying power provided by Trail of Crumbs dominates the long game.



Looking further, Orzhov Auras as the second most-played deck comes as a surprise to me. Sure, Kor Spiritdancer is powerful and the deck got better with Uro gone, but I doubt the deck is well-positioned against Jund Sacrifice. With Mayhem Devil and Claim the Firstborn, Jund Sacrifice traditionally preys on these small creature decks.

Azorius Control as the third most-played deck is in line with my expectation, but I also have doubts regarding its matchup against Jund Sacrifice. With recurring threats and green card advantage spells, Jund players rarely run out of steam and can keep up pressure in the face of sweepers and countermagic.

Instead, I believe that players with Yasharn, Implacable Earth had the best metagame read, as it's a great way to prey upon Jund Sacrifice decks, particularly the Food variants. After all, "the pig" not only stops Witch's Oven and Mayhem Devil but also nullifies Trail of Crumbs and Gilded Goose. There are quite a few good homes for Yasharn, including Abzan Midrange and Bant Midrange, and I expect that they will do well in the metagame at the Kaldheim Championship.

Combo decks, including ramp-heavy 60-card Sultai Ultimatum variants, can also attack Jund Sacrifice from an effective angle, so they seem well-positioned. Emergent Ultimatum is even more powerful in Historic than in Standard. We might see creative piles like Hornet Queen + End-Raze Forerunners + Craterhoof Behemoth or Scholar of the Lost Trove + Final Parting + Overwhelming Splendor that, depending on the game state, will effectively end the game no matter what the opponent chooses.

In summary, I believe that many of the decks that rose from the ashes of Sultai Midrange are poised to do well. There are few hyper-aggro decks around to keep them in check, and as long as they were constructed with Jund Sacrifice in mind, they'll be happy to face the most popular deck in the field.

The Most-Played Nonland Cards in Historic

Thoughtseize Binding the Old Gods Mayhem Devil Witch's Oven

The most-played nonland card across Historic main decks and sideboards is Thoughtseize, at 458 copies. This was to be expected. The second most-played card, however, came as a huge surprise to me. If you had told me two months ago, right after seeing the full contents of Kaldheim, that Binding the Old Gods would become the second most-played spell in Historic then I'm not sure I would have believed you. But it's true. It's used to ramp into Emergent Ultimatum, to give deathtouch to Mayhem Devil, or to synergize with Yorion, Sky Nomad, so it's found a home in a lot of archetypes, with 272 total copies.

The next most-played cards in the list are not as surprising: It's Mayhem Devil and Witch's Oven, both at 268 copies each, followed by six other Jund Food essentials. It's the biggest archetype by far, after all.

Abrade Baffling End Noxious Grasp Grafdigger's Cage Yasharn, Implacable Earth

Right below the Jund Food components, we find several efficient two-mana removal spells: Abrade at 190 copies, Baffling End at 152 copies, and Noxious Grasp at 147 copies. Most of those copies are found in sideboards.

Next, we find answers that can shut down entire strategies: Grafdigger's Cage and Yasharn, Implacable Earth, at 141 copies and 135 copies respectively, While Grafdigger's Cage, mostly found in sideboards, is fine against Jund Company, it's not particularly effective against the more popular Jund Food. Yasharn, mostly found in main decks, excels against Jund Food, and I'd say it's one of the defining answers of the format.

After focusing on the most-played spells overall, let's now zoom into the additions from the last two sets specifically.

Saw It Coming Behold the Multiverse Doomskar Frost Bite Jaspera Sentinel Alrund's Epiphany Righteous Valkyrie

Kaldheim had a major impact on Historic. Besides Binding the Old Gods and the rest of the Pathway lands, it also added Saw It Coming, Behold the Multiverse, and Doomskar—each with around 40 copies at the Kaldheim Championship—as a boost for control decks.

Additionally, there were between 15 and 25 copies of the following Kaldheim cards across Historic decks:

  • Frost Bite, a popular addition to the sideboard of Goblins.
  • Jaspera Sentinel and Elvish Warmaster, which turned Elves into a real archetype.
  • Reidane, God of the Worthy, a worthy addition to white aggro decks.
  • Alrund's Epiphany, an essential part of many Emergent Ultimatum piles.
  • Righteous Valkyrie and Youthful Valkyrie, which gave Angels the critical tribal mass.
Declaration in Stone Flameblade Adept Death's Shadow Coldsteel Heart

Historic Anthology IV has not had a major impact on the Historic decks at the Kaldheim Championship. The most-played Historic Anthology 4 card is Declaration in Stone, at 22 total copies. There are also several copies of Flameblade Adept, Death's Shadow, and Coldsteel Heart among the decklists, but on the whole Historic Anthology 4 has not changed much—yet.

The Spiciest Historic Deck Choices

All Historic decklists will be published on the Kaldheim Championship event page at the beginning of Round 1 on Friday, March 26. Many of the spicy new Historic decks, including Elves, Angels, and Enigmatic Incarnation were already highlighted in Mani Davoudi's excellent format overview article, but there are always some surprises. I'll highlight three archetypes that he did not yet cover.

Blood on the Snow Golos, Tireless Pilgrim Cabal Stronghold

Two players registered Mono-Black Control. Cabal Stronghold has always been powerful in such a deck, but for a long time it was lacking a sufficiently powerful end game in Historic. Kaldheim offered a big boost in Blood on the Snow and The World Tree, both of which synergize nicely with Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. The World Tree is more efficient than Cascading Cataracts at enabling Golos' five-color activation, and Blood on the Snow can reset the board while returning Golos. Once you control multiple Cabal Strongholds, you might activate Golos multiple times per turn, at which point it's hard to lose.

Niv-Mizzet Reborn Deafening Clarion Coldsteel Heart

One of my favorite homes for Yasharn, Implacable Earth is Five-Color Niv-Mizzet, an archetype registered by three players. For a long time, Historic was missing a reliable non-creature two-mana spell that could both ramp and fix colors. Coldsteel Heart from Historic Anthology IV is exactly what Niv-Mizzet was hoping to see. Meanwhile, what I like to see is the math. As it turns out, a Niv-Mizzet trigger in the versions registered for the Kaldheim Championship will yield approximately 2.7 spells in expectation—a great amount of value!

Hollow One Flameblade Adept Zenith Flare

I like Cycling in Standard, but in Historic you need something extra to compete. Hollow One from Amonkhet Remastered helped, but it was not yet enough. Historic Anthology IV, however, provided Flameblade Adept, which was the one-drop the archetype needed to be viable in Historic. Although all spells in the main deck are red, white, or colorless—hence the label "Boros Cycling"—there are typically several copies of Yasharn, Implacable Earth in the sideboard, ready to pounce on Jund players.

Conclusion

Mani Davoudi's wish was for neither format to have any singular archetype be more than 20% of the field. That wish did not come true, but there's still a fair amount of diversity and a good amount of spice. Both formats get you to Top 8, and on Sunday it's all Standard. I can't wait to see which decks will come out on top.



Don't miss the live broadcast, March 26–28 beginning at 9 a.m. PT each day at twitch.tv/magic!

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