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Metagame Mentor: Five Regional Championships of Standard Evolution

May 30, 2024
Frank Karsten

Hello, and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. This past weekend, over 1,500 competitors entered five different Regional Championships across the world, resulting in awesome matches of high-stakes Standard. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the metagame and the spiciest decks from these events. But first, let's celebrate the new champions!

Congratulations to the Latest Regional Champions!

Mateo Ferreira

Congratulations to Mateo Ferreira, the winner of the Legacy European Championship (i.e., the Regional Championship Europe, Middle East, and Africa)! He won the tournament with Esper Midrange, defeating Ivan Errico, playing Golgari Midrange, in the finals.

Both finalists earned an invitation to Magic World Championship 30 (held at MagicCon: Las Vegas) and the top 36 players who were not yet qualified for Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 (held at MagicCon: Amsterdam) earned an invitation to that tournament.

Although Ferreira is better known for playing combo decks, he correctly predicted that people were going to play a lot of Temur Analyst, Azorius Control, Boros Convoke, and Bant Toxic, and he felt that Esper Midrange was well-positioned in that context. "Raffine, Scheming Seer seems where you want to be in a diverse meta," he said. "If everybody wants to be on the edges, you kind of want to be in the middle. There are not many cards that excessively target you, and that makes it so that you always squeeze in."

A hotly debated topic for Esper Midrange players was how many Wedding Announcements to run, but Ferreira had a clear answer: "For sure, Wedding Announcement is a four-of. It's good against control anytime ... and in the mirror, it's such a mirror breaker." He pointed out that Preacher of the Schism, an alternative three-mana card, just dies to removal and never draws cards against Temur Analyst.

Kenta Harane

Congratulations to Kenta Harane, the winner of the Champions Cup Final (i.e., the Regional Championship for Japan and South Korea)! He won the tournament with Esper Midrange, defeating Rei Hirayama, playing Azorius Control, in the finals Both finalists earned an invitation to Magic World Championship 30 and the top 16 players who were not yet qualified for Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 earned an invitation to that tournament.

Harane's card choices were close to the ones of Mateo Ferreira, indicating that the Wedding Announcement build is indeed optimal in the current metagame. Harane also had several spicy one-ofs in the main deck, such as Kaito Shizuki, Ertai Resurrected, and Shoot the Sheriff. And his sideboard featured Assimilation Aegis, Unlicensed Hearse, and Caustic Bronco as unusual inclusions. This shows that with Esper Midrange, the flex slots can be tweaked to your heart's content.

Jianwei Liang

Congratulations to Jianwei Liang, the winner of the MTG China Open (i.e., the Regional Championship for China)! He earned an invitation to Magic World Championship 30, and the top 8 players who were not yet qualified for Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 earned an invitation to that tournament.

Four-Color Legends was one of the breakout decks at Pro Tour Thunder Junction, as numerous players from Team Sanctum of All posted excellent finishes with it. Now, several weeks later, it has won multiple Regional Championships. Two copies of Honest Rutstein can be looped indefinitely if you control Relic of Legends and Rona, Herald of Invasion, and the deck features many other value-generating engines. The interaction between Slogurk, the Overslime and channel lands allows you to go over the top of midrange decks, resulting in a strong matchup against Esper Midrange in particular.

Brennan Crawford

Congratulations to Brennan Crawford, the winner of the ANZ Super Series Final (i.e., the Regional Championship for Australia and New Zealand)! He earned an invitation to Magic World Championship 30, and the top 10 players who were not yet qualified for Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 earned an invitation to that tournament.

Brennan Crawford's list is another relatively stock version of Four-Color Legends, with a few spicy inclusions in the form of Vorinclex and Malcolm, Alluring Scoundrel in the main deck. These legendary creatures can be cast off Plaza of Heroes, and they can help to dig towards your key combo pieces.

Shi Wei Chung

Congratulations to Shi Wei Chung, the winner of the MIT Championship (i.e., the Regional Championship for Chinese Taipei)! He earned an invitation to Magic World Championship 30, and the top 3 players who were not yet qualified for Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 earned an invitation to that tournament.

The winning list is a relatively stock version of Azorius Control, which nowadays plays Tishana's Tidebinder main deck. In fact, as an interesting tidbit, the most-played cards at the five Regional Championships across all main decks and sideboards of all competitors were Memory Deluge and Tishana's Tidebinder. So in Standard, it's a blue world we're living in. That said, Shi Wei Chung's best card of the weekend was actually the singleton See Double in his sideboard: "The key of winning always came from my opponent."

The Metagame and Win Rates

Around 1,500 submitted decklists were available across the five Regional Championships. After fixing mislabeled archetypes, I determined the combined metagame share and the match win rates (non-mirror, non-bye, non-draw) of every archetype this past weekend, based on the available data. In the following table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype.

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Temur Analyst 12.7% ↑↑ 49.9%
2. Azorius Control 12.0% ↑↑ 55.3% ✓✓
3. Esper Midrange 11.5% 48.7%
4. Boros Convoke 11.3% 52.7%
5. Domain Ramp 9.7% ↓↓ 41.5%
6. Bant Toxic 6.5% ↑↑ 53.7% ✓✓
7. Four-Color Legends 6.2% 55.0% ✓✓
8. Golgari Midrange 5.5% 50.8%
9. Dimir Control 5.1% ↑↑ 48.2%
10. Mono-Red Aggro 3.6% 46.0%
11. Gruul Prowess 2.2% 53.2%
12. Dimir Midrange 2.1% 44.7%
13. Esper Control 0.7% 42.9%
14. Mono-Black Midrange 0.7% 42.4%
15. Gruul Ramp 0.7% 38.7%
16. Five-Color Legends 0.7% 54.3%
17. Simic Cookies 0.5% 50.9%
18. Other 8.3% 45.4%

The "Other" category included such deck archetypes as Jeskai Control, Azorius Mentor, Azorius Artifacts, Domain Control, Jeskai Convoke, Esper Legends, Izzet Powerstones, Dimir Proft, Sultai Midrange, Orzhov Midrange, Azorius Flash, Grixis Crimes, Rakdos Aggro, Boros Prowess, Rakdos Midrange, Dimir Reanimator, Mono-Blue Cauldron, Temur Prowess, Five-Color Niv, Rakdos Control, Sultai Reanimator, Azorius Midrange, Jund Ramp, Dimir Bronco, and more.

On the whole, the metagame featured many of the same decks that we had already seen at the preceding Regional Championships in Brazil and Canada. However, there were several notable developments:

  • The fall of Domain Ramp: Compared to the preceding Regional Championships, the metagame share of the Pro Tour-winning archetype was nearly slashed in half, dropping from 17.4% to 9.7%. Domain Ramp struggles against Bant Toxic, Azorius Control, and Temur Analyst, all of which were on the rise. Recognizing that the metagame had gotten more hostile, many Domain Ramp players jumped ship. The ones that didn't had a terrible overall win rate this past weekend.
  • The rise of Temur Analyst, Azorius Control, and Bant Toxic: These three deck archetypes all have an excellent matchup against Domain Ramp, and they rose in popularity to counter the previously dominant deck. They also performed well against the rest of the field, all posting an excellent performance this past weekend. Based on the data, the 95% Clopper-Pearson confidence interval for their win rate all laid fully above the 50% mark, indicating above-average results with a reasonable sample size.
  • Regional differences: While the numbers in the table are based on all decks and matches across all five Regional Championships, the metagame at each event was slightly different. For example, the most-played decks in Japan were Esper Midrange and Boros Convoke, while the most-played decks in Europe were Temur Analyst and Azorius Control. Since every tournament will be different, it's important to attune to your local metagame.
  • Card choice developments: While many decklists looked similar to the typical builds from several weeks ago, small innovations and tweaks keep happening. For example, many Golgari Midrange lists have started to include Hostile Investigator, shaving Archfiend of the Dross or Preacher of the Schism. Meanwhile, successful Bant Toxic lists added Bring the Ending, shaving Experimental Augury or Annex Sentry. And Gruul Prowess also got perfected, now with Fugitive Codebreaker and Play with Fire instead of Picnic Ruiner and Audacity.

On the whole, the Regional Championship Top 8s showed a wide diversity of archetypes, indicating that Standard is a place where you can succeed with a large variety of decks. It's still important to keep track of the metagame developments, and last weekend was not the time for Domain Ramp to shine. But for the most part, you can pick a Standard deck you like and be rewarded for practice and preparation.

Moreover, Standard still features plenty of potential for exploration and innovation. Let's take a closer look at the spiciest decks that put up promising results this past weekend.

New Ramp Strategies Succeeding

For over a year, Topiary Stomper has been a Standard mainstay in Domain Ramp. Accelerating your mana to cast haymakers ahead of time is a well-established strategy in Standard, but there's more to Topiary Stomper than Domain Ramp. This past weekend, three players earned a Pro Tour invite by using the Plant Dinosaur in decks without Leyline Binding or Herd Migration. With three different off-meta, innovative Ramp decks finding success, this trend is one of the biggest developments coming out of this Regional Championship weekend.

Marco Vassallo went 11-4 at the European Championship, good for a 14th place finish and a Pro Tour invite. At the core, his list is a Golgari Midrange deck, but Topiary Stomper and Blossoming Tortoise allow him to put loads of additional lands onto the battlefield. He can make good use of that mana when he draws a fresh grip of cards with The Gitrog, Ravenous Ride or by turning Bristly Bill, Spine Sower into an enormous size. The resulting deck is a sweet variation on Golgari Midrange that can overwhelm opponents in ways that may surprise them.

Although Gruul Ramp had a relatively weak win rate on the whole, Ben Tudman finished in fifth place at the Regional Championship for Australia and New Zealand with a sweet list based around Terror of the Peaks and Calamity, Galloping Inferno. After ramping ahead in the early turns, the Dragon can saddle up a freshly cast Calamity, Galloping Inferno, which subsequently attacks to creates two attacking copies of Terror of the Peaks. Between triggers and combat damage, you're dealing well over 20 damage. With the perfect hand, Smuggler's Surprise can even put this game-winning combo onto the battlefield as early as turn four!

Finally, Alessandro Danesi finished 18th at the European Championship with a list that combines the best of both worlds. It can put Calamity, Galloping Inferno onto the battlefield with Smuggler's Surprise, but it also has the black removal spells and the potential of curving Topiary Stomper into The Gitrog, Ravenous Ride. Outcaster Trailblazer ties the deck together, fulfilling the dual role of a ramp spell and a source of card advantage. In conclusion, multiple ramp strategies broke out this past weekend, so this is something to keep an eye on if you're playing a Regional Championship this coming weekend!

Five-Color Phyrexians Nearly Clinched A Pro Tour invite

Out of all decks that came close to a Pro Tour invite this past weekend, this is the spiciest one by far. Haobo Ma went 6-2-1 in China, falling one win short of the coveted Pro Tour invite, with a deck that left the competition scratching their heads in confusion.

The game plan is to name Phyrexian with Cavern of Souls or Secluded Courtyard. You then use the lands to power out a motley assortment of Phyrexians from all five colors. Finally, you boost them with Grafted Butcher. Many Phyrexian creatures feature the toxic mechanic, but the deck can also win with regular damage. It just goes to show that anything is possible in Standard.

A standout card in this list is Case of the Shattered Pact, which fixes the mana and can be solved as early as turn four with the help of Omnath, Locus of All. This creative brew is dazzling, and I haven't even gotten to all the one-ofs in the main deck or the combo of Venerated Rotpriest and March of Swirling Mist in the sideboard. I can only describe this deck with one word: Wow!

The Road to Magic World Championship 30

This weekend, June 1-2, the current cycle of Standard Regional Championships will come to an end with high-level competition in the United States, Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean, in South America, and Southeast Asia. To follow the action, check out the livestream for the United States Regional Championship on the DreamHackMagic channel this weekend!

All Regional Champions, as well as the finalists in Europe, Japan, and the United States receive an invitation to Magic World Championship 30—the crown jewel of competitive Magic play. As we count down the weeks leading up to that tournament in late October, each week I'm taking a look at a great deck from a past Magic World Championship.

At the 2004 World Championship, a total of 304 competitors from 51 countries came to San Francisco to compete across Standard, Draft, and Extended, In the end, Julien Nuijten became the youngest player to win a Magic World Championship, at 15 years old.

Nuijten's deck used Astral Slide to repeatedly slide out his own Eternal Witness for never-ending card advantage. With plenty of sweepers to keep the opponent's battlefield in check, he would take control quickly and eventually win the game with Eternal Dragon. His deck was designed to destroy Affinity, the dominant deck at the time, using four main deck copies of Viridian Shaman to blink with Astral Slide.

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While Nuijten's metagame call paid off, 2004 truly belonged to Affinity. The history of that deck started in October 2003, when Mirrodin introduced the affinity mechanic to the world with Myr Enforcer, Frogmite, and so on. The set also contained Ornithopter and all the colored artifact lands. Several months later, Darksteel introduced Arcbound Ravager and Skullclamp, and the Affinity deck became nearly unstoppable. Skullclamp allowed you to pay one mana to kill a creature of your own, drawing two cards. With this powerful card draw engine, you would typically churn through your deck until you assembled Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault, eat your board, and win the game.

At the February 2004 Block Constructed Pro Tour in Kobe, Affinity was an astounding 46% of the metagame, with the other 54% of the field running huge piles of artifact-destroying hate cards. A few months later, in May 2004, the Standard Grand Prix in Brussels was dominated by decks that were exploiting Skullclamp, and the finals was an Affinity mirror.

As a result, in June 2004, Skullclamp was banned in Standard and Block Constructed because "every deck is required to warp itself around this one-mana card, and almost every successful deck abuses it." The artifact, admitted to be a development mistake, became the first card in years to be banned from Standard, and it remains banned in Modern and Legacy even today.

But it was not the end of Affinity. Around the same time as the Skullclamp ban, Fifth Dawn was released as the third and final set in Mirrodin block, introducing Cranial Plating. By replacing one equipment for the other, the deck remained viable, and I showed with my Top 4 finish at Grand Prix Zurich that the right build of the deck would crush anyone who was unprepared. My list favored resiliency over explosiveness by using a high land count, Aether Vial, and Myr Retriever.

This Affinity version had a huge impact on both Block Constructed and Standard in the months to come, with the best Standard versions looking almost identical to their Block Constructed counterparts, and the deck dominated the 2004 World Championship. One of the Affinity players in that Top 8 was fellow Dutchman Kamiel Cornelissen, and if he decides to use his Hall of Fame invite for Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 next month, then I may hand him an updated Affinity deck with Frogmyr Enforcer. In any case, Affinity for artifacts is a mechanic with a storied history, and it's great to see it return in Modern Horizons 3.

Julien Nuijten, 2004 Magic World Championship

While Affinity was the dominant deck in the summer of 2004, the metagame was perfect for Julien Nuijten's Green-White Astral Slide deck. Leveraging Akroma's Vengeance and Viridian Shaman to destroy opposing artifacts, it was one of the few decks in Standard that could reliably beat Affinity. Combining a well-positioned list and skillful, confident play, Nuijten deservingly took the trophy. Several months later, in March 2005, Arcbound Ravager, Disciple of the Vault, and all six artifact lands would all get banned in Standard, finally opening up the format for more competitive diversity.

In comparison to 2004 Standard, which warped around a single archetype and broken cards, today's 2024 Standard is amazing. The metagame is varied, dynamic, balanced, and fun, with each macro-archetype having multiple flavors. The format is set to rotate with the release of Bloomburrow, and post-rotation Standard will be featured prominently at Magic World Championship 30. Featuring dozens of invited Regional Champions, it's bound to be a good show. Save the date: October 25–27, 2024!

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