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Metagame Mentor: Standard Evolution From 4 Regional Championships

March 16, 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 second weekend of the second cycle of Regional Championships, which featured Standard tournaments for four regions: Chinese Taipei, Europe / Middle East / Africa (EMEA), Brazil, and Canada. After celebrating the champions and their well-earned trophies, I will provide the combined metagame breakdown and match win rates for all major archetypes, followed by an overview of the most notable Standard innovations from last weekend's Regional Championships.

In total, 56 players from these Regional Championships earned an invitation to Pro Tour March of the Machine last weekend, where Standard will continue to evolve. This Pro Tour will be held during MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5-7, which offers something for everyone—immersive experiences, exclusive play opportunities, cosplayers, artists, panels, the Secret Lair Showdown, and more. Tickets are on sale right now!

Congratulations to Four Regional Champions!

Michael Rohrböck won the Legacy European Championship (i.e., the Regional Championship for Europe / Middle East / Africa) with an anti-aggro Grixis Midrange deck, defeating Thoralf Severin, playing a spicy version of Esper Legends, in the finals. Both finalists earned an invitation to World Championship XXIX, and the top 36 eligible players earned an invite to Pro Tour March of the Machine. You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and more on the European Championship coverage page.

Cheng Han Lin won the MIT Championship (i.e., the Regional Championship for Chinese Taipei) with a flashy Azorius Soldiers deck, earning an invitation to World Championship XXIX. In addition, the top 4 players earned an invite to Pro Tour March of the Machine. You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and more on the MIT Championship coverage page.

Adriano Melo won the City Class Games Showdown (i.e., the Regional Championship for Brazil) with Grixis Midrange, earning an invitation to World Championship XXIX. In addition, the top 8 players earned an invite to Pro Tour March of the Machine. You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and more on the City Class Games Showdown coverage page.

William La Hay won the F2F Tour Championship Vancouver (i.e., the West Regional Championship for Canada) with a land-destructing Mono-White Midrange deck, earning an invitation to World Championship XXIX. In addition, the top 8 players earned an invite to Pro Tour March of the Machine. You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and more on the F2F Tour Championship Vancouver coverage page.

The Metagame and Win Rates

Based on all decklists from both 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 look!

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Grixis Midrange 26.9% 52.4%
2. Mono-White Midrange 9.9% 50.3%
3. Mono-Red Aggro 9.5% 49.3%
4. Mono-Blue Tempo 6.6% 41.4%
5. Esper Legends 6.1% 60.9% ✓✓
6. Selesnya Toxic 6.1% ↑↑ 53.6%
7. Azorius Soldiers 5.9% 52.2%
8. Grixis Reanimator 4.9% 47.5%
9. Rakdos Reanimator 4.6% 47.2%
10. Jund Midrange 3.5% 40.4%
11. Rakdos Aggro 2.0% 54.5%
12. Domain Control 1.8% 45.1%
13. Jund Reanimator 1.3% 45.0%
14. Mono-Black Midrange 1.2% 45.1%
15. Other 9.5% 43.8%

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 the preview weekend's Regional Championships. The "other" category, continuing the descending order, included such deck archetypes as Azorius Midrange, Esper Midrange, Azorius Control, Mardu Midrange, Mardu Reanimator, Jeskai Control, Esper Control, Rakdos Midrange, Bant Toxic, Dimir Poison, Orzhov Control, Simic Stormchaser, Four-Color Legends, Gruul Modified, Mono-White Aggro, Four-Color Midrange, Mono-Red Powerstones, Mono-Green Ramp, Five-Color Jodah, Naya Legends, Poison Ivy, Bant Control, Izzet Tempo, and more. The best-performing standouts from all of these spicy "other" decks were Jeskai Control, which finished in tenth place at the European Championship, and Four-Color Legends, which finished second at the West Canada Regional Championship. Both of their pilots earned a Pro Tour invite.

Overall, the archetype distribution was very similar to the one from the preceding weekend. The most notable difference was an uptick in Selesnya Toxic, which was expected after Rei Sato's victory at the Japan/South Korea Regional Championship the weekend before. In terms of win rates against the field, Esper Legends could boast excellent numbers, while Mono-Blue Tempo and Jund Midrange disappointed. But the main drivers of success last weekend were innovations in card choices, as well-tuned lists with the right selection of cards came out on top. Let's take a closer look at the most important advances.

Esper Legends Dominated with Wedding Announcement

Across all Regional Championships held last weekend, Esper Legends had the highest win rate of all major archetypes: 60.9%. That's an outstanding number, especially when it's based on a sample size of 51 players. While the archetype as a whole seems well-positioned and poised to rise, the most successful build was unveiled at the European Championship. Four teammates (Nico Bohny, Thoralf Severin, Arne Huschenbeth, and Lukas Honnay) tore through the tournament with a combined 44-13-3 record, and Thoralf Severin ultimately finished in second place with this breakout deck.

The key tweak was to put Wedding Announcement and Razorlash Transmogrant in the main deck. Even though Wedding Announcement gets taxed by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, the tokens protect against Invoke Despair, and Wedding Announcement is more powerful than alternative three-mana legendary creatures. In addition, Razorlash Transmogrant keeps recurring as a two-mana 4/2 against Grixis Midrange, and it can dodge Corpse Appraiser by recurring at instant speed. In Esper Legends, Razorlash Transmogrant can additionally be discarded to Raffine, Scheming Seer for value. After its dominance at the European Championship, expect to see a lot of this well-crafted list in the coming weeks!

Aggro Evolved with Clever Tweaks

Aggro decks with eight or more one-drops also found success in various configurations last weekend. However, the decklists weren't the same as in the first Regional Championships. Standard kept evolving, and clever tweaks were needed to clinch Pro Tour qualifications.

Following Rei Sato's victory in Japan, Selesnya Toxic proliferated, with many players picking it up for the Regional Championship this past weekend. The archetype rose to a sizable 6.1% share of the combined metagame and, despite being on everyone's radar, won a solid 53.6% of its matches. The best-performing builds in both Naples and Taipei City used Valorous Stance and Audacity in the main deck instead of Annex Sentry and Charge of the Mites. These tweaks, credited to Piotr Glogowski, make it easier to get past Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, and they propelled Tristan Leenders towards the Pro Tour. "It feels surreal, but I achieved my dream and goal for the season," he told me. When asked about the card choices, he explained that Audacity helped to push through board stalls, triggered Venerated Rotpriest, and protected Skrelv's Hive from Invoke Despair. Valorous Stance was great as a pseudo 5th and 6th copy of Tyvar's Stand to protect from spot removal, but the ability to deal with haymakers like Sheoldred or Raffine came up as well.

On the other side of the ocean, Alan Ngo made Top 8 at the Canada Regional Championship with a Selesnya Toxic deck featuring Soul Partition in the flex slot, which can also act as a protection or removal spell. It's still not entirely clear what the optimal card choices are for the current metagame, but Charge of the Mites is on its way out.

Cheng Han Lin became Regional Champion at the MIT Championship in Taipei City, piloting a flashy Azorius Soldiers deck. The standout part of his list were the flash elements: Instead of the more commonly included Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Siege Veteran, he used Protect the Negotiators and The Wandering Emperor in his main deck, allowing him to control the game at instant speed. The noncreature spells also provide more counterplay against Brotherhood's End, which can otherwise be a problem. These tweaks were instrumental in the victory of Cheng Han Lin, who shared a sideboard guide on Twitter. However, he wasn't the only Azorius Soldiers player to earn a Pro Tour invite without Thalia, as Robert Steiner, Raoul Zimmermann, and Markus Thibeau also earned Pro Tour invites with similar-looking builds in Italy and Canada. Going forward, when your opponent starts with Fortified Beachhead, expect Protect the Negotiators, not Thalia.

Tomasz "Sodek" Sodomirski finished in 21st place at the European Championship, earning a Pro Tour invite with four Furnace Punisher in his main deck. In his words: "I decided to play a full play set of Furnace Punisher and the card is absolutely bonkers. It won me more than half of my games." Furnace Punisher typically deals 5 damage per turn cycle, blocks the turn it comes down, dodges Cut Down, and is superior to Squee, Dubious Monarch in the majority of matchups. I definitely believe that it's the way forward for the archetype, as I also chose Mono-Red Aggro for the European Championship, and I went 9-6 with Furnace Punisher as my main three-drop. Players are catching on to its power, and it's a good payoff for staying mono-color.

While Furnace Punisher provides an incentive to stay mono-color, the abundance of dual lands lure players towards a splash. Sometimes it's a small splash for a handful of black cards, such as Joao Claudio Souza's Rakdos Aggro build from the Top 8 of the Brazil Regional Championships. Other times, the abundance of black spells and midrange elements is more pronounced, such as in the deck that defending Regional Champion Joseph Karani took to the Top 4 in Canada. He shared a sideboard guide on Twitter.

Regardless of the exact build, pairing the aggression of Kumano Faces Kakkazan, Monastery Swiftspear, and Play With Fire with the power of black spells proved succesful. Last weekend's numbers—a 2.0% metagame share and a 54.5% win rate—are promising, making this a novel archetype to keep an eye on.

Finally, Seb Rohan earned a Pro Tour invite with a 32th-place finish at the European Championship, piloting an off-meta Mono-White Aggro deck. What this deck has going for it is the powerful Skrelv, Thalia, Adeline curve also seen in Esper Legends, but it gains access to Ossification and Mishra's Foundry as a mono-color deck. Compared to Azorius Soldiers, its cards are less synergy-reliant and more individually powerful, resulting in a better matchup against Mono-Red Aggro. And against Grixis Midrange, you can sideboard out several early drops and board in the majority of the sideboard, allowing you to potentially outgrind them if they misidentify their role in the matchup. This Mono-White Aggro list has a lot going for it, and Seb Rohan established it as a serious Standard contender.

Well-Crafted Midrange Took Trophies

While aggro decks were innovating in multiple directions, the bogeyman of the format couldn't stand still. Grixis Midrange was a combined 26.9% of the metagame in last weekend's Regional Championships—the most popular deck by far—but the player who took the trophy in the largest Regional Championship of the cycle so far did so with a build that was teched out against aggro decks.

Michael Rohrböck wanted to be prepared for decks like Mono-Red Aggro, Azorius Soldiers, and Esper Legends, so he shaved the slow Reckoner Bankbuster and Abrade to make room for Graveyard Trespasser and a play set of Cut Down in his main deck. These tweaks turned out to be perfectly positioned in the metagame, and they allowed him to defeat Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif in the quarterfinals, two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Nico Bohny in the semifinals, and Pro Tour champion Thoralf Severin in the finals, all on Esper Legends. Although his opponents had defeated many Grixis Midrange players throughout the tournament, Rohrböck's build proved to be their kryptonite, and Grixis Midrange players would do well to study it, especially when Esper Legends may be ticking up in the coming weeks.

William La Hay won the West Canada Regional Championship with, as he described it, a "Mono-White Strip Mine deck". With 4 Field of Ruin and 4 Demolition Field, he could really punish greedy mana bases that skimped on basics. His opponent in the finals, for example, ran zero basic lands, and you can imagine how that ended. La Hay wasn't the only player who triumphed with Field of Ruin—in Europe, Fabrizio Campanino also earned a Pro Tour invite with a similar-looking list. After this weekend, every Standard player should try to run at least one and preferably more basic lands in their mana base.

Looking Ahead

While Grixis Midrange remains the number one deck to beat in Standard, the innovations in Esper Legends, Azorius Soldiers, and other white and red aggro decks will keep the arms race going. Almost half of the Regional Championships are still to come, and the remaining schedule for this second cycle is as follows:

Best of luck to all competitors!

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