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Metagame Mentor: Magic World Championship XXVIII Breakdown

October 27, 2022
Frank Karsten

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. This week's edition is going to be a special one because the yearly pinnacle of Magic premier play—Magic World Championship XXVIII—begins tomorrow!

In total, 32 players are invited: reigning Magic World Champion Yuta Takahashi, top-finishing players from the Innistrad Championship, Neon Dynasty Championship, and New Capenna Championship, and top leaderboard competitors from the 2021–22 season. The eventual winner will take home their share of $500,000 in prizes and the opportunity to have their likeness featured on a future Magic: The Gathering card.

The World Championship is a three-day event featuring Domaria United Draft, Standard, and Explorer. Live coverage begins Friday October 28 at 9 a.m. PT on Around the same time, decklists will be published on the Magic World Championship XXVIII event page. But the Constructed metagame breakdowns are available today, so let's waste no time and dive right in.

Explorer Metagame Breakdown

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 at the moment, the formats and their metagames differ. For example, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is not available on MTG Arena yet.

The Explorer deck choices of the 32 World Championship competitors break down as follows.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Abzan Greasefang 8 25.0%
Rakdos Sacrifice 7 21.9%
Mono-Blue Spirits 5 15.6%
Temur Transmogrify 4 12.5%
Jund Creativity 1 3.1%
Selesnya Angels 1 3.1%
Azorius Control 1 3.1%
Rakdos Midrange 1 3.1%
Jund Midrange 1 3.1%
Mono-Red Fires 1 3.1%
Orzhov Midrange 1 3.1%
Enigmatic Incarnation 1 3.1%

The biggest surprise is that only one player registered Rakdos Midrange. Last week in my format primer, I wrote that the Explorer metagame "largely revolves around Rakdos Midrange." It's the most popular deck on the MTG Arena ladder, it's one of the pillars of Pioneer, and it's not missing any critical cards in the online format. It also gained Liliana of the Veil and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse from Dominaria United. Hence, many players were expecting that Rakdos Midrange would form a substantial part of the Explorer metagame at the World Championship. Yet almost none of the competitors registered it!

548531 Mayhem Devil Supreme Phantom

Instead, the most-played archetypes are Abzan Greasefang, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Mono-Blue Spirits. I can only imagine that their pilots tested the matchup against Rakdos Midrange in depth at the highest level of play, tuned their lists, and were satisfied with the results. Indeed, Rakdos Midrange players may struggle against Parhelion II or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, have trouble answering Witch's Oven loops, and may see their removal countered by Rattlechains or Spell Pierce. Especially when top players are keenly aware of the available instants in Rakdos Midrange and are adept at sequencing their spells around them.

Although Rakdos Midrange can theoretically fix all problems after sideboard, there are only 15 slots. The linear strategies in Explorer are as powerful as they are diverse, and it's easy to go over the top of Rakdos Midrange. World Championship competitors flocked to a variety of synergy-driven archetypes, and the resulting metagame is different than what many were expecting. Even Temur Transmogrify, which hadn't been a popular choice recently, is a major surprise.

These deck choices, made by the very best in the game, may have ripple effects not only on the Explorer metagame at large but also on the Pioneer metagame going forward. All 32 Explorer decklists will be published on the Magic World Championship XXVIII event page on Friday October 28. But in more broad strokes, let me give a short summary of each archetype below.

Abzan Greasefang (8 players): The dream for this combo deck is to put Parhelion II into the graveyard on turn two and to crew it with Greasefang, Okiba Boss on turn three. Self-mill effects like Witherbloom Command or Grisly Salvage set up your graveyard and increase consistency.

Rakdos Sacrifice (7 players): The trio of Mayhem Devil, Cauldron Familiar, and Witch's Oven creates a once-per-turn loop that drains your opponent for one, pings two damage, and lets you block for free. None of the lists at the World Championship use Oni-Cult Anvil; they look similar to stock Pioneer versions.

Mono-Blue Spirits (5 players): This tribal tempo deck puts down a fast clock with Mausoleum Wanderer and Supreme Phantom, draws extra cards with Curious Obsession, and stops opposing plays with Geistlight Snare. Several Mono-Blue Spirits decks feature a spicy enchantment in their sideboard.

Temur Transmogrify (4 players): The only creature card in this deck is Titan of Industry. So when Transmogrify or Lukka, Coopercoat Outcast targets a creature token, say a token created by Careful Cultivation or Shark Typhoon, then you're guaranteed to put Titan of Industry onto the battlefield.

Jund Creativity (1 player): This deck also plans to cheat out Titan of Industry, yet it uses Indomitable Creativity rather than Transmogrify. Indomitable Creativity is more demanding on the mana base, but when targeting multiple tokens, say the ones created by Big Score or Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, you can hit multiple Titans. The black splash is for cheap interactive spells.

Selesnya Angels (1 player): The Angel tribe is enabled by Bishop of Wings and Giada, Font of Hope. Righteous Valkyrie and Resplendent Angel have the right creature type, and they are supported by a suite of life gain creatures.

Azorius Control (1 player): This deck says no to creatures with Supreme Verdict, no to spells with Absorb, and no to permanents with Leyline Binding and Temporary Lockdown. The enchantments are new Dominaria United standouts. Eventually, a planeswalker like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will win the game.

Rakdos Midrange (1 player): Featuring efficient removal like Fatal Push and Thoughtseize and value-generating permanents like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Rakdos Midrange has game against everything. Despite being one the most popular choices on the MTG Arena ladder and in Pioneer tournaments, only a single World Championship competitor brought Rakdos Midrange for the Explorer portion.

Jund Midrange (1 player): This is basically Rakdos Midrange splashing for Esika's Chariot.

Mono-Red Fires (1 player): This spicy brew can ramp ahead by targeting Darksteel Citadel with Cleansing Wildfire. This enables Fires of Invention on turn three, potentially followed by a free Cavalier of Flame on turn four, with mana to activate it. The list also features Karn, the Great Creator, which provides access to a "wish-board" and stops activations of opposing Parhelion II or Witch's Oven.

Orzhov Midrange (1 player): This is another Karn, the Great Creator deck, but it's wrapped in a midrange shell with one-mana interactive spells and a lot of grinding potential. Thanks to Serra Paragon, Extraction Specialist, and Phyrexian Missionary, creatures won't stay dead for long.

Enigmatic Incarnation (1 player): The dream with this deck is to cast Leyline Binding on turn two or turn three, follow up with Enigmatic Incarnation on turn four, and fetch Titan of Industry at the end of the turn. Alternatively, Fires of Invention enables a free Omnath, Locus of Creation on turn four and a free Yorion, Sky Nomad—the companion—on turn five. This will easily bury opponents in value.

Between the three most-played decks, I anticipate that Rakdos Sacrifice is slightly favored against Mono-Blue Spirits (due to Mayhem Devil), that Mono-Blue Spirits is slightly favored against Abzan Greasefang (due to cheap countermagic), and that Abzan Greasefang is slightly favored against Rakdos Sacrifice (because the Witch's Oven deck lacks interaction). However, clever sideboards could change everything, and I'm excited to see how the matches will play out.

If I would have to pick one archetype that is most poised for success in this metagame, then I'd pick Mono-Blue Spirits. Combo decks in various forms are popular in the World Championship metagame, and they are traditionally weak to disruption plus a fast clock. Mono-Blue Spirits has both.

Standard Metagame Breakdown

The Swiss portion of 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 playoffs on Sunday October 30 are all Standard as well.

The Standard deck choices of the 32 World Championship competitors break down as follows.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Esper Midrange 22 68.8%
Jund Midrange 2 6.3%
Jund Reanimator 2 6.3%
Grixis Midrange 1 3.1%
Mardu Midrange 1 3.1%
Mono-Blue Tempo 1 3.1%
Izzet Tempo 1 3.1%
Bant Tokens 1 3.1%
Azorius Control 1 3.1%

Last week in my format primer, I explained why Esper Midrange was "definitive Deck To Beat in Standard right now". The raw card quality is off the charts, and the recent ban of The Meathook Massacre didn't really hurt it. The World Championship competitors could either beat them or join them, and over two-thirds of the field decided to join them.

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Esper Midrange, especially a version tuned for the mirror match, feels like a relatively safe choice. Five-set Standard format has a relatively small card pool, especially when compared to Explorer. This means that it's more difficult to find a critical mass of synergistic cards to go "over the top" of the dominant midrange deck. And even when you do, it's hard to obtain a massive edge over a deck that can board in countermagic. The available combo, engine, and ramp options pale in comparison to the ones that Explorer players have access to.

Another aspect is that many World Championship competitors are more renowned for their technical play than for their deck building ingenuity. In five-set Standard, you can never truly go wrong with a midrange deck, and spending your limited preparation time to learn the ins and outs of the mirror matchup is a reasonable call.

Yet that doesn't mean that it's impossible to beat Esper Midrange. Several World Championship competitors are trying, for example by relying on Titan of Industry, Silver Scrutiny, Haughty Djinn, or Brokers Ascendancy. I can only imagine that they tested their matchup against Esper Midrange in depth and found that that their brew had an edge in a best-of-three match. If they're right, then their innovative deck choices may reward them with a well-deserved World Championship victory. But there's no margin for error, and they'll have to prove everything at the highest possible stage.

All 32 Standard decklists will be published on the Magic World Championship XXVIII event page on Friday October 28. But in more broad strokes, let me give a short summary of each archetype below.

Esper Midrange (22 players): The typical mana curve features Dennick, Pious Apprentice or Tenacious Underdog on turn two; Wedding Announcement or Raffine, Scheming Seer on turn three; and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse or The Wandering Emperor on turn four. Perfect curve-outs featuring these powerful permanents can lead to easy wins. The deck also features interactive spells like Infernal Grasp or Destroy Evil that enable a control role. Finally, with Plaza of Heroes to fix the mana and mitigate flood, Esper Midrange has it all.

Jund Midrange (2 players): This collection of the best midrange cards in black, green, and red is brought to you by Ziatora's Proving Ground. The color combination features Bloodtithe Harvester, Reckoner Bankbuster, Briarbridge Tracker, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Unleash the Inferno, and other high-quality cards. One Jund Midrange list includes Invoke Despair; the other exploits Soul of Windgrace.

Jund Reanimator (2 players): This archetype arguably has the most powerful late game in the format: copying Titan of Industry with Reflection of Kiki-Jiki. By discarding the Titan to the second chapter of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and reanimating it with the third chapter of The Cruelty of Gix, you can power out Titan of Industry ahead of time. Alternatively, Llanowar Loamspeaker helps ramp towards seven mana just as well.

Grixis Midrange (1 player): Black midrange decks also come in a Grixis variant. This color combination has access to Make Disappear, Invoke Despair, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. A big draw towards Grixis is Corpse Appraiser. Exiling Tenacious Underdog or Dennick, Pious Apprentice from the opponent's graveyard while getting ahead on cards is a sweet proposition in a midrange mirror.

Mardu Midrange (1 player): Without a Streets of New Capenna land, the mana base of Mardu is worse than the other three-color combinations. But its three-mana plays are worth it, as you gain access to Wedding Announcement, Graveyard Trespasser, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. This particular list also features the spicy combo of Tainted Adversary and Rite of Oblivion.

Mono-Blue Tempo (1 player): Mono-Blue Tempo contains an enormous amount of instant and sorcery spells to boost Haughty Djinn and to reduce Tolarian Terror's cost. Fading Hope, Slip Out the Back, and Spell Pierce are one-mana interaction spells that provide a temporary battlefield advantage. When you're attacking for large chunks of damage, a temporary advantage is all you need.

Izzet Tempo (1 player): One could summarize this as a Mono-Blue Tempo deck splashing for Strangle and Rending Flame. Yet that lacks nuance because this particular Izzet Tempo lists makes several additional tweaks. For example, it uses Fable of the Mirror-Breaker rather than Tolarian Terror, it runs fewer one-mana tempo spells, and it can take a control role more easily.

Bant Tokens (1 player): Resolute Reinforcements and Join the Dance lead into Kind Darien XLVIII and Brokers Ascendancy. This archetype improved enormously after the recent ban of The Meathook Massacre.

Azorius Control (1 player): This deck counters spells with Dissipate, sweeps the battlefield with Farewell, and puts the game away with Silver Scrutiny. The deck is piloted by the same player who registered Azorius Control in Explorer; they are carrying the torch for control players in both formats.

In Standard, it's Esper Midrange against the world. This surely was clear to the World Championship competitors beforehand, and they had all the incentives in the world to find a way to beat Esper Midrange. Given that ten players submitted a non-Esper deck, and assuming they didn't make a mistake or decided to take a huge metagame gamble, they must believe that they have a good matchup against Esper. I'm excited to see if they are right and if any of them will hoist the trophy at the end.

If I would have to pick one non-Esper archetype that is most poised for success in this metagame, then I'd pick Jund Reanimator, as a turn-five Titan of Industry seems like a powerful way to go over the top of Esper Midrange. At the same time, Dennick, Pious Apprentice stops the third chapter of The Cruelty of Gix, and Make Disappear stops a seven-mana Titan of Industry from resolving, so Esper Midrange might also emerge triumphant in that matchup. There's only one way to find out: Tune in and see the best players in the world battle it out live!

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