Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, the weekly column in which I highlight the decks to beat and the latest Constructed developments in competitive Magic. Soon, the most exciting event of the year, the culmination of Magic premier play, is coming up: the World Championship! Featuring Standard and Explorer as the Constructed formats, the full metagame breakdown will be out at 9 a.m. PT on Thursday October 27, and live coverage will begin at 9 a.m. PT on Friday October 28.
Right now, however, the competitors are trying their hardest to break these formats and pin down their deck choices. There's a lot on the line, including the first-place prize of $100,000 and the opportunity to have your likeness feature on a Magic card like
To put you in the competitors' shoes, today I have an introductory primer to tell you all you need to know about Standard and Explorer.
Last Weekend's Biggest Events
But first, as always in this article series, I will start by summarizing last weekend's biggest events across all formats.
Congratulations to @PiemontiAndrea for being our #LMSWarsaw Grand Open Qualifier Winner! He won the tournament using the deck "Mono-Green Devotion".— Legacy European Tour (@LegacyEUTour) October 16, 2022
📜 You can find all the Top 8 decklists on our website: https://t.co/riOqKxX6ct
See you in Naples! 🍕 pic.twitter.com/h5CjNYMwkd
The Pioneer Grand Open Qualifier in Warsaw, which awarded 32 slots for the Regional Championship in March 2023, was dominated by Green Devotion. It was the most-played archetype in the field, put three players in to the Top 8, and claimed the trophy in the hands of Andrea Piemonti. In the finals, Piemonti defeated Michael Kelly, playing
In the Standard Qualifier Weekend on MTG Arena, several big names made deep runs on Day 2, including Czech superstar Ondřej Stráský. Seven wins would have guaranteed an Arena Championship 2 and Pro Tour qualification, but six wins was already good enough for an at-large leaderboard slot at Arena Championship 1. There's no guarantee this will be the case for Arena Championship 2 as well, but one thing is clear: Stráský has not retired yet.
Explorer Primer: 7 Decks to Beat
The World Championship features six rounds of Explorer on Saturday October 29. Explorer, introduced in April 2022, is a true-to-paper format that features all Pioneer-legal cards on MTG Arena. Over time, all the Pioneer cards that matter will be added to MTG Arena, but we're not there yet.
Pioneer, created in 2019, is a non-rotating 60-card format that allows expansion sets and core sets from Return to Ravnica forward, and the most notable cards on its ban list are the fetch lands. It is the format for the upcoming Regional Championships and first Pro Tour. For an in-depth introduction to the Pioneer metagame in October, I refer you to my article from two weeks ago. The biggest Pioneer metagame developments since then are a downtick in Rakdos Midrange and Azorius Control; an uptick in Mono-White Humans and Izzet Phoenix; and the emergence of Gruul Stompy.
Yet the Pioneer metagame differs from the Explorer metagame. There are several important Pioneer cards that are not available on MTG Arena, such as
Given the dominance of Green Devotion in last weekend's Grand Open Qualifier in Warsaw, I would argue that the lack of
Overall, there is very little data or tournament decklists available in the Explorer format. Instead, I drew from my own experiences, on what other content creators are talking about, and on the set of top Pioneer decks that don't miss key cards on MTG Arena. This resulted in seven archetypes that, to the best of my knowledge, represent the top tier of the Explorer metagame on the MTG Arena ladder right now. All seven will surely be on the minds of the Magic World Championship XXVIII competitors, either as a potential deck to play or as a deck to beat. Let's take a closer look.
In Pioneer, there are two main pillars: Green Devotion and Rakdos Midrange. In Explorer, there's arguably only one, as the metagame largely revolves around Rakdos Midrange. It is heavily played and filled with some of the best and most efficient creatures, value-generating permanents, and interactive spells in the format. Rakdos Midrange is the premier midrange deck in Explorer, and it has game against everything. The recent additions of
The decklist shown is equal to the aggregate Rakdos Midrange deck in Pioneer over the past two weeks of competition, with all cards not legal in Explorer replaced by reasonable alternatives. Specifically, I changed 3
Abzan Greasefang is the premier combo deck in both Pioneer and Explorer. The plan is to put
The decklist shown is equal to the aggregate Abzan Greasefang deck in Pioneer over the past two weeks of competition, with all cards not legal in Explorer replaced by reasonable alternatives. Specifically, I changed 4
Mono-Blue Spirits is the premier tribal tempo deck in Explorer. Featuring cheap creatures, mana-efficient interaction, and
Indeed, the decklist shown is equal to the aggregate Mono-Blue Spirits deck in Pioneer over the past two weeks of competition, which is fully legal in Explorer. You may also see versions with more copies of
If I were expecting a field full of Rakdos Midrange, then I would be looking to go over the top with a card type that black-red is traditionally weak to: enchantments. I would dream of casting
Since the archetype relies heavily on
Mono-Red Aggro is the premier aggro deck in Explorer. Many different builds are possible: You could craft around
The decklist shown is based on the one that brought me success in Day 1 of the Explorer Qualifier Weekend several months ago, with several updates. For example, I revived
My inclusion of
Spot removal, counterspells, card draw, sweepers, planeswalkers—Azorius Control has all the tools a control player might want, and it's the premier control deck in Explorer. While normally control decks are great against midrange decks, Rakdos Midrange has a surprisingly strong matchup against Azorius Control due to its efficient discard spells, card advantage, and planeswalkers. Yet if you manage to correctly predict the metagame, which is easier to do in a 32-player field where various players are specialized in a preferred playing style, then you can fine-tune your control deck to have the perfect set of answers for the field. That's not easy, but it could pay off.
The decklist shown is equal to the aggregate Azorius Control deck in Pioneer over the past two weeks of competition, with cards not legal in Explorer replaced by reasonable alternatives. Specifically, I changed 2
The final Explorer deck to highlight is Rakdos Sacrifice.
I should note, however, that
In conclusion, Explorer bears many similarities to Pioneer, but the metagame is vastly different, as several top-tier Pioneer decks are not available in Explorer. The seven archetypes I highlighted give a good idea of what to expect, but many other archetypes are competitively viable as well. The challenge for the World Championship competitors is to predict and attack the Explorer metagame when there's very little tournament data available beforehand. I am excited to see what they come up with.
Standard Primer: 7 Decks to Beat
The World Championship features five rounds of Standard, starting right after the conclusion of the Draft, on Friday October 28. The Top 4 double-elimination playoff on Sunday October 30 is all Standard as well.
Standard, introduced in 1995 as "Type II", is a rotating 60-card format that currently features expansion sets from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt forward. It rotates every fall, most recently with the release of Dominaria United. Although the ban list was empty for a full month after the rotation,
In last week's Metagame Mentor article, I analyzed the impact of the ban and gave my first impressions. To quote myself: "I believe that the ban of
The data from last weekend's Standard events confirm my expectations. Based on the decklists from the Saturday Challenge and Sunday Challenge on Magic Online, The Pizza Box Open on MTG Melee, and most important of all, Day 2 of the Qualifier Weekend on MTG Arena, Esper Midrange had the highest record-weighted metagame share overall.
This is the definitive Deck To Beat in Standard right now. The card quality is off the charts across the mana curve:
Over half of the decklists that scored four or more wins in Day 2 of last weekend's Arena Qualifier were Esper Midrange, including Ondřej Stráský's 6-2 decklist shown above. His roommate Ivan Floch went 4-2 with a nearly identical decklist, only differing in the numbers of
Reaching Day 2 in a Qualifier Weekend is already a feat, as it requires a 7-1 or better match record on Day 1. And in my experience, the level of competition in Day 2 is akin to a Pro Tour Day 2, so starting 4-1 or better is just as impressive. If the raw results were not evidence enough, then pay attention to the names: Stráský and Floch are members of the Czech Magic House who have broken numerous Constructed formats in the past and who have an abundance of premier event trophies at home. When they find competitive success with almost the same deck in a fresh format, then everyone should pay attention. Especially the World Championship competitors.
Based on the results of the Qualifier Weekend, I'd say that Standard players have a choice: Either play Esper Midrange or find a way to beat it (or at least go 50-50 against it). Ignoring it is not a realistic option. That is the main message of this Standard primer in a nutshell.
Now, is it possible to beat Esper Midrange? Generally, there are two approaches: "going under" or "going over". I believe that "going under" will be difficult. Blazingly fast red aggro deck may have gotten better as a result of
Yet it may be possible to "go over" Esper Midrange with a finely tuned ramp, control, engine, or tempo deck. To do so, you need to keep up in the mid-game and then dwarf Esper Midrange with heavy-hitting top-end cards in the late game. You'll need to do a lot of focused testing to arrive at a proper build, but at least it's clear where to point your arrows. Perhaps the most innovative and dedicated World Championship competitors will show how to hit the mark.
Before I get to such options, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the alternative black midrange decks. They were slightly less prominent than Esper last weekend, but they are strategically similar, will match up close to even, and shouldn't be discounted.
The second-most popular color combination in Standard, based on last weekend's events, was Jund. It comprised nearly one-third of the record-weighted metagame, which is not far behind Esper, although it comes in both midrange and reanimator variations. On the pure midrange front, there are black-heavy versions with
A big draw towards the color combination is
I haven't yet decided whether I should count graveyard-based decks with
Jund Reanimator, especially if you believe that believe that
The third-most popular color combination in Standard, based on last weekend's events, was Grixis. It's much less prominent than Esper or Jund, but OniB still managed to score five wins on Day 2 in the Qualifier Weekend with the list shown above. There are Rakdos Midrange decks as well, but thanks to the cycling tri-lands, the addition of a third color is relatively painless. Also, the additional interactive options in the third colors made it easier to adapt to the loss of
A big draw towards Grixis is
All in all, the various black midrange decks comprised well over two-thirds of the record-weighted metagame in last weekend's Standard events. The next two non-black archetypes, according to that breakdown, are Domain Control and Mono-Blue Tempo. After a bit of a gap, Boros Reanimator and Five-Color Humans had decent results as well. I'll briefly highlight all these non-black archetypes, as they exemplify the various approaches that players might consider to beat Esper Midrange and the like.
Domain Control aims to ramp into
Mono-Blue Tempo contains an enormous amount of instant and sorcery spells to transform
Five-Color Humans uses
Boros Reanimator aims to discard
In conclusion, Standard is still fresh after the ban, but the black midrange decks, most notably Esper and Jund, remain dominant. World Championship competitors will have to figure out whether to play one of these decks themselves or whether there are ways to reliably beat them. As I highlighted, there are ways to "go over the top" of Esper Midrange in theory, although I am not sure what the most consistent or successful approach might be in practice. In any case, the incentives are there, and I am excited to see what the World Championship competitors come up with.
While the World Championship competitors are agonizing over their deck choices, this weekend of October 22-23 features several other large Magic events. In Birmingham, England, there Axion Now's "The Gathering" convention, which features a giga Modern RCQ and a giga Pioneer RCQ. On the other side of the ocean, in Newark, OH, there is the NRG Series Trial Weekend, featuring a $10K Pioneer/Modern/Legacy team event and a $5K Modern event. Coverage will be broadcast on NRG's Twitch.
But the week after is what it's all about. I'll be back on Thursday October 27 with the actual Standard and Explorer metagame breakdown of the World Championship. Then, beginning Friday October 28 at 9 a.m. PT, you'll be able to watch every minute of Magic World Championship XXVIII live on twitch.tv/magic!