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Metagame Mentor: Standard Across 3 Pacific Regional Championships

March 09, 2023
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. Today, I'll cover the first weekend of the second cycle of Regional Championships, which featured tournaments for the Japan/South Korea, Australia/New Zealand, and South East Asia regions in the Standard format.

Top eligible players from these Regional Championships earned an invitation to Pro Tour March of the Machine, held during MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5-7. But you don't have to be qualified for the Pro Tour to enjoy this festival, as it offers something for everyone—immersive experiences, exclusive play opportunities, cosplayers, artists, panels, the incredible Secret Lair Showdown, and more. The event celebrates all things Magic: The Gathering, and tickets are on sale today!

Congratulations to the Three Regional Champions!

Zen Takahashi, a Kiwi superstar with five Grand Prix Top 8s, won the Australia/New Zealand Regional Championship with Grixis Midrange. Like all Regional Championships, his triumph comes with an invitation for World Championship XXIX, to be held at MagicCon: Las Vegas on September 22–24. "I'm really excited!" Takahashi said.

You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and more on the Australia/New Zealand Regional Championship coverage page.

Takahsahi's winning Grixis Midrange deck is a relatively stock version of what many Standard players consider to be public enemy number one. Indeed, across all Regional Championships, Grixis Midrange was the most popular choice by a lot. It contains a great suite of answers for almost any matchup, and Phyrexia: All Will Be One even improved the mana base. As Takahashi put it: "The printing of the fastlands made Grixis' manabase much smoother."

Razorlash Transmogrant was Takahashi's sideboard tech for the mirror match, and many other successful Grixis Midrange players used it as well. A turn-two Transmogrant enables an aggressive start in the early game, it shrugs off removal in the mid-game, and it continually recurs as a two-mana 4/2 in the late game. Such recursion is amazing in long, grindy mirror matches that are all about resource exchanges. If the first Regional Championship weekend is any indication, Razorlash Transmogrant is the best sideboard card for the Grixis Midrange mirror match.

In Yokohama, former Magic Pro League member Rei Sato won the Japan/South Korea Regional Championship with Selesnya Poison, one of the spiciest decks in the room. In the finals, he defeated Kenji Sego, playing Esper Legends. Both finalists earned a qualification for Magic World Championship XXIX.

You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and more on the Japan/South Korea Regional Championship coverage page.

Sato's winning Selesnya Toxic deck, which uses a powerful curve of cheap toxic creatures to give the opponent 10 poison counters as quickly as possible, is the biggest breakout deck from the first Regional Championship weekend. It's blazingly fast, and if opponents spend their early turns on Reckoner Bankbuster or Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, then they may be too slow to stop the toxic onslaught. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse's life gain won't save them either.

Selesnya Toxic performed very well against Grixis Midrange at the Japan/South Korea Regional Championship, largely because it is resilient to their spot removal spells. The deck taxes them with Venerated Rotpriest, counters them with Skrelv, Defector Mite or Tyvar's Stand, or overwhelms them with Mite tokens. Previous versions of Selesnya Toxic typically ran a variety of spells like Homestead Courage to trigger Venerated Rotpriest, but that strategy is weak to interaction. Sato found success by emphasizing creatures, and the addition of Annex Sentry and Charge of the Mites helped him keep up the pressure. Seeing Sato's success, many Magic Online players picked up his decklist and immediately made several Top 8s in Challenges over the weekend, proving that Selesnya Toxic is the real deal.

Impressively, Sato's 75 contains zero mythic rares, and every single nonland card in his main deck stems from Phyrexia: All Will Be One. Since nothing of significance rotates out in the fall, this deck may turn into a Standard mainstay for the next one-and-a-half year.

However, it did hold the advantage of surprise last weekend, and opponents may not have constructed their sideboard plans with Selesnya Toxic in mind. In the coming weeks, I expect sweeper effects such as Temporary Lockdown, Malicious Malfunction, or Brotherhood's End to rise in popularity. Dedicated anti-poison cards like Melira, the Living Cure may also make a splash. That will be the real litmus test for Selesnya Toxic.

South East Asia Regional Championship winner John Daroen Sahagun

Finally, John Daroen Sahagun, a 35-year-old player from Rizal, Philippines, won the South East Asia Regional Championship and the corresponding World Championship XXIX invite with a spicy deck that I dubbed Domain Control.

You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and more on the South East Asia Regional Championship coverage page.

This deck uses the domain mechanic to maximize the effectiveness of Leyline Binding and Herd Migration. Sahagun described Herd Migration as his best card of the weekend: "Fixes colors, gains life and closes games fast!"

Supporting the domain spells requires many tri-lands, but the resulting mana base makes it easy to cast Atraxa, Grand Unifier. The diversity of card types in the deck means that she'll sometimes yield as many as seven new cards, allowing you to go over the top of Grixis Midrange or Mono-White Midrange.

Four copies of Contagious Vorrac are a surprising inclusion from Phyrexia: All Will Be One. It digs for the right lands, stabilizes the board, and even proliferates loyalty counters if necessary. The Phyrexian Boar Beast is one of the best commons in draft, and it has now also clinched a Regional Championship trophy!

All in all, with midrange, aggro, and control deck winning the three Regional Championships, the current Standard environment appears to have the right tools for a health, dynamic metagame.

The Metagame and Win Rates

Based on all decklists from the Regional Championships held last weekend, I determined the combined metagame share of every archetype. I also calculated their non-mirror, non-bye, non-draw match win rates. I used my own algorithms and definitions to assign archetype labels, thereby sidestepping any potential mislabeling on MTG Melee. Let's take a closer look!

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Grixis Midrange 29.0% ↑↑ 49.5%
2. Mono-White Midrange 10.0% ↓↓ 47.0%
3. Esper Legends 7.6% ↑↑ 55.0%
4. Mono-Red Aggro 6.6% 55.4%
5. Azorius Soldiers 5.1% ↓↓ 50.6%
6. Mono-Blue Tempo 5.1% 44.0%
7. Rakdos Reanimator 4.6% 52.4%
8. Jund Midrange 3.7% 50.0%
9. Grixis Reanimator 3.7% 52.8%
10. Jund Reanimator 2.4% 56.2%
11. Domain Control 2.4% 63.3%✓✓
12. Azorius Midrange 2.2% 38.8%
13. Esper Midrange 2.0% 40.0%
14. Mardu Midrange 2.0% 38.9%
15. Rakdos Midrange 1.2% 55.6%
16. Selesnya Toxic 1.2% 64.9%✓✓
17. Mono-Black Midrange 1.0% 51.6%
18. Dimir Poison 1.0% 17.6%
19. Other 9.3% 43.4%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype, and the arrows represent the biggest changes compared to my February metagame roundup. The "Other" category included such deck archetypes as Izzet Tempo, Esper Control, Four-Color Legends, Poison Ivy, Dimir Midrange, Boros Reanimator, Rakdos Powerstones, Jeskai Midrange, Azorius Mindsplice, Bant Toxic, Azorius Control, Jund Hellraiser, Abzan Legends, Jeskai Mindsplice, and Selesnya Modified.

Grixis Midrange was nearly one-third of the field. As a result, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the most-played non-land cards across all main decks and sideboards were Reckoner Bankbuster, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Cut Down, Bloodtithe Harvester, Go for the Throat, Invoke Despair, Abrade, and Duress.

Despite their popularity, midrange decks had middling win rates, and many black midrange decks performed worse than their reanimator equivalents. For example, the win rate of Grixis Reanimator was higher than Grixis Midrange, and the win rate of Jund Reanimator was higher than Jund Midrange. The sample sizes are insufficient to draw strong conclusions, but these early numbers support the formidable power of using The Cruelty of Gix to reanimate Atraxa, Grand Unifier. If you're playing Standard, don't cut Unlicensed Hearse from your sideboard.

In terms of win rates against the field, Domain Control and Selesnya Toxic stand out. I've already highlighted the Regional Championship winning decklists, but it wasn't just the champions—the group of ten Domain Control players and five Selesnya Toxic players put up excellent numbers collectively. As these exciting new archetypes make the most out of the Phyrexia: All Will Be One cards, I expect them to rise in popularity in the coming weeks. Another deck that had a great, promising weekend was Esper Legends.

Esper Legends was not very popular last month, but it surged to a 7.6% metagame share at the first Regional Championship weekend, with a 55.0% win rate. These are great numbers overall, and Kenji Sego earned a World Championship invite by finishing second at the Japan/South Korea Regional Championship. Sego also recently finished 28th at Pro Tour Phyrexia, so he's quickly making a name for himself.

The distinguishing feature of Esper Legends is its mana base. Thanks to Plaza of Heroes; Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire; and Otawara, Soaring City, you can run many lands to ensure you hit your land drops while retaining a fair amount of spell-like interaction. However, the channel lands are not actually lands, so they are not taxed by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, who is amazing in the nearly all-creature Esper Legends deck. In the words of Ben Tudman, who made Top 8 at the Australia/New Zealand Regional Championship with a similar list: "Thalia is the best card in Standard. There are so many noncreature spells, and often a one-turn delay is all you need."

From Phyrexia: All Will Be One, Esper Legends gained not only Darkslick Shores and Seachrome Coast to smoothen the mana base but also Skrelv, Defector Mite as a one-mana legend. Skrelv can be cast off Plaza of Heroes, reduces the cost of your channel lands, and protects your key creatures. It's a perfect fit, and it has turned Esper Legends into a top-tier deck. I expect that the archetype's metagame share will increase over time and that it will continue to excel at upcoming Regional Championships.

Spice Corner

Besides innovations like Selesnya Toxic and Domain Control that won their respective Regional Championships, several other spicy builds also earned a Pro Tour invite last weekend. Let's take a closer look at two of them.

Mono-Blue Tempo is a relatively well-established archetype in Standard, but Keisuke Naitou made the Top 4 of the Japan/South Korea Regional Championship with a unique list. His version shaved Tolarian Terror to make room for Delver of Secrets, offering a more aggressive angle. Moreover, he uses a whopping four copies of Flow of Knowledge to refill, along with March of Swirling Mist to pitch those extra cards. These unique card choices can catch opponents by surprise, and they show that more innovation in the archetype may be possible.

There are many flavors of Jund. Some go more aggressive with Migloz, Maze Crusher. Others try to reanimate Atraxa, Grand Unifier. And some, like Matthew Dewitte's 12th-place list from the Australia/New Zealand Regional Championship, use four copies of Capricious Hellraiser. The Dragon can rebuy noncreature spells for free, and if you're lucky enough, it could even hit Invoke Despair. Imagine filling up your graveyard, casting a 4/4 flier for three mana, and getting a free Invoke Despair! To do so, you need nine cards in your graveyard, which is a lot, but with three copies of The Elder Dragon War, you'll get there in no time.

Looking Ahead

Grixis Midrange remains the number one deck to beat in Standard, and I don't expect that to change soon. Meanwhile, Mono-White Midrange is on the downswing, while Selesnya Toxic, Domain Control, and Esper Legends put up solid, promising results. These novel decks will likely tick up in the coming weeks as the metagame evolves and Regional Championships happen across the globe.

The schedule for the remaining Regional Championships (RCs) in this second cycle is as follows:

See you all at the European Championship in Naples, Italy!

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