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Magic World Championship XXVI Metagame Breakdown

February 12, 2020
Reid Duke

It's almost here! Magic World Championship XXVI is the most exciting event on the Magic calendar, and there has never been a better time to be a Magic fan than this coming weekend.

Although I won't be competing this year, I've played in the Magic World Championship in six of the last seven years. I can tell you that for our sixteen competitors, it will be an unforgettable experience. Each of them has worked tirelessly and will be hoping to bring out the absolute best in themselves for this event. And guess what—they're going to need it.

Preparing for Worlds is unlike preparing for a Grand Prix, a Players Tour, or any other event. The field is unusually small, the competitors are unusually skilled, and the stakes are unusually high. Before we get into the decklists, let's talk about how things shaped up behind the scenes over the past several weeks, and how our competitors might have approached the event.

The Peak of Competition

The World Championship is the most prestigious and challenging event that Magic has to offer. There's not a single weak player, and there will not be a single easy match.

To prepare, the players need to seek out skilled opponents and practice under tournament conditions. Grinding the ladder on MTG Arena is a great way to learn, but even the play in Mythic ranking doesn't compare to what we'll see at the World Championship. The level of skill and focus you'll get from opponents online simply won't match what Javier Dominguez will give you at the feature match area in Honolulu.

Are you used to people making bad blocks when you have Embercleave? Do you always seem to nab the opponent's best spell with your Absorb? Well, when it comes time for the big show, the number of mistakes will be small, and your opponents will always find ways to make the plays you don't want them to make.

One thing I strive to do for such an event is to choose a deck with a high raw power level. "Power level" is a nebulous concept, but here are some of the intangibles that I'm looking for: I want single cards that can win the game when they go unanswered. I want a potential unbelievably powerful opening hand that's difficult for my opponent to stop. I want to be able to look at my opening hand and get that jolt of confidence that this is my game to win. Once we get to the decklists, we'll discuss which ones pass and fail this "power level test."

Knowing Your Opponents

For the most part, our competitors know each other and have played against one another before this. When preparing for a Grand Prix, you might ask yourself, "What's going to be the most popular deck?" For this event, you'd instead ask yourself, "What deck is Autumn Burchett likely to play?"

Predicting the competition and gathering information can be immensely valuable.

Gabriel Nassif loves to play control decks, is he going to bring control for this event?

Eli Loveman qualified by playing Humans in Modern. Is he in his comfort zone when he's attacking with creatures?

Increasingly each year, Magic players become more open with their tournament preparation. Most professionals supplement their income with streaming, writing, or other types of content creation. Piotr "Kanister" Glogowski is becoming famous for publishing his decklists in advance of his tournaments—and winning them anyway, of course. Seth Manfield wrote an article detailing his preparation for this event. And, by the way, the decklist he submitted is only a few cards different from one you could've found here a week ahead of time!

I'll be eager to find out what our competitors knew or suspected of one another going into the event.

Small Field, Small Teams

It simply doesn't make sense to work with a large group for the World Championship, like players might for some other events. With a team of five or six players, you'd make up a full one third of the tournament field. You'd be exploitable if your opponents could guess what deck you were bringing. Plus, these players want to be the World Champion, and playing mirror matches against teammates every round isn't exactly a smooth path to achieving that.

Instead, our players will have broken up into groups of two and three (and of course some lone wolves), sometimes reaching out to unqualified players for a helping hand here and there. Let's get into the decklists and meet some of these small-batch teams.

The Metagame

Temur Reclamation

Not only has Temur Reclamation been a successful Standard deck for over a year, but it's a huge winner from the recent printings in Theros Beyond Death. Storm's Wrath; Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath; and Thassa's Intervention offer Temur the ability to play from more angles, as well as a general notch up in power level.

Temur Reclamation might just have the strongest late game of any deck in Standard, and as such passes my "power level test" with flying colors. However, its ability to overpower other slow decks is balanced by a weakness to the card Teferi, Time Raveler. It can also struggle against fast aggressive decks.

Mono-Red Aggro

Speaking of fast aggro, four players chose to bring Mono-Red. A monocolor manabase and the ability to operate on a small number of lands makes this one of the fastest and most consistent decks in Standard. On top of that, it's also punctuated by haymaker cards like Embercleave; Torbran, Thane of Red Fell; and Experimental Frenzy. Certainly a powerful deck capable of scoring easy wins!

Our red players will be hoping to prey on the Temur Reclamation players. While Temur gained some great new weapons against aggro—especially Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath—the one problem they can't correct is the heavy density of shocklands and Temples in the three-color manabase. The best spells in the world might not save you against Mono-Red if you can't cast them painlessly and on time! Temur versus Mono-Red is by no means unwinnable from the Temur side. Still, I'd guess that our Reclamation players aren't thrilled to see a quarter of the field packing Scorch Spitters and Fervent Champions.

The power team of Seth Manfield and Andrea Mengucci brought a specially tuned version of Mono-Red that showed great attention to the small field dynamic, and perhaps some accurate predictions about what their opponents were going to show up with. Four copies of Robber of the Rich will punish slow opponents who can't empty their hands quickly: Remember those enters-the-battlefield tapped lands!

Sideboard Unchained Berserker will be great against White decks in general, and great against Teferi and Deafening Clarion specifically. Finally, they decided to omit Shock altogether, which would normally be a staple for a diverse metagame but is a notably weak card against combo and control decks that don't play many creatures. The World Championship is the right place for bold gambles like this!

Jeskai Fires

Like Temur Reclamation, Jeskai Fires is a generally strong deck with a powerful combo element baked in. It performs a bit better against Mono-Red, in part due to the presence of Deafening Clarion.

Who wins the heads up battle between Jeskai Fires and Temur Reclamation is a subject of controversy, and we may not have a definitive answer until the end of this weekend. My guess is that the players who chose Temur feel confident in their plan against Jeskai, while the opposite is true from the perspective of the Jeskai players.

Both Javier Dominguez and Márcio Carvalho kept it traditional with Legion Warboss in the sideboard, but the French Hall of Famers Gabriel Nassif and Raphael Levy together innovated with Robber of the Rich to come in against Temur Reclamation and control. The Archer Rogue is my pick for the defining card of the event!

Azorius Control

Azorius Control seems to have it all for this event. Teferi, Time Raveler is arguably the best card in the format against Temur Reclamation, while life gain and creature removal gives the deck what it needs to fight Mono-Red.

My only complaint about Control here is that it scores a bit lower on my power level test and is a deck that I personally would've felt intimidated to choose for this event. These players will have to work for every win. That said, if they have their game plans and sideboard strategies razor sharp then that might be exactly what they're ready to do.

Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa is one of the best players to ever pick up a Magic card, and I won't be surprised to see him work wonders with this deck. Ondřej Stráský and Thoralf Severin have proven themselves as great players in the long run, and both had seasons for the history books last year. I'll be even further in awe of their skills if they can navigate Azorius Control through an elite field this weekend.

Jund Sacrifice

It's strange to call Jund Sacrifice a "rogue" choice since it's a tried and true deck that even won the most recent Mythic Championship—in Piotr Głogowski's hands no less. However, it's the nature of these small field events that decks you usually expect to see in force sometimes hardly show up at all.

The relative strength of Jund Sacrifice is beating up on fair, medium-speed creature decks, which are exactly the decks that didn't show up to Magic World Championship XXVI. If this is what the competitors expected, this might explain why no one other than Głogowski gravitated towards Jund.

However, don't forget that it was Głogowski who won Mythic Championship VII with Jund Sacrifice in spectacular, undefeated fashion! This is a great deck which heavily rewards its pilot's skill and experience, both of which Głogowski has no shortage of either.

My Predictions

It's high time for me to stop analyzing and let the competitors do the rest. But I'll leave you with my personal predictions going into the event.

  • My top pick is the team of Manfield and Mengucci: Great players who brought a tuned version of Mono-Red Aggro.
  • Let's pay special attention to the Azorious Control contingent, and in particular the legendary Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa.
  • I think the Temur Reclamation and Jund Sacrifice players will have to work a little harder based on the way our metagame shook out.
  • Jeskai Fires is a well-rounded deck. The metagame is neither good nor bad for these players.

Don't forget that we start on Friday with Theros Beyond Death Draft! This makes it impossible to predict a winner based on their Standard deck choice alone. Booster Draft tends to favor the experienced players over the newcomers. In particular, Marcio Carvalho will be hoping to put himself in favorable seeding after the draft rounds.

Now clear your schedule, fire up this Friday at 11 AM PST (9 AM HST / 2 PM EST / 7 PM UTC), and enjoy Magic World Championship XXVI!

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