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Metagame Mentor: Standard for Regional Championships This Weekend

March 02, 2023
Frank Karsten

Welcome to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. The main way to qualify for the Pro Tour is by placing highly at a Regional Championship, and the second cycle of Regional Championships kicks off this weekend, featuring the Standard format!

In today's article I'll summarize key details of these events all around the world, followed by an overview of the decks to beat in Standard and the biggest innovations in that format since the release of Phyrexia: All Will Be One.

Your Regional Championships Guide

Regional Championships are major Magic events—a focal point for play in each geographic region. They happen three times per year and are scheduled approximately one to three months before their corresponding Pro Tour. The first cycle, held in November and December of 2022, genuinely felt like a return to high-level paper Magic, with all the big names playing at the top tables and the excitement of win-and-ins for Pro Tours. Given this, I'm looking forward to the second cycle!

The schedule for the second cycle of the Regional Championships (RCs) for the 2022-2023 season is as follows:

Format: For all of these second-cycle Regional Championships, the format is Standard. As Prerelease events for March of the Machine begin on April 14, no new sets will be added to Standard during these Regional Championship weeks.

Decklists: Regional Championships will use open decklists, to be submitted by competitors on MTG Melee on the day before the event starts. Exact details and timing are provided by the local organizer. Once the event gets underway, decklists will become publicly available and you can follow the standings live. To do so, check out the MTG Melee pages for each event that are linked in the schedule above. Our @PlayMTG Twitter account will also provide event updates.

Invites: Regional Championships are invitation-only events. Most of the invites stem from Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) held at local stores or larger conventions in October, November, and December of 2022. On the Friday before each Regional Championship, the event hall may also hold Last Chance Qualifiers. Additional invitees include players who qualified through Magic Online or MTG Arena, top players from the 2021-22 season, members of the Hall of Fame who use their "once-per-year" invite, and players otherwise qualified for Pro Tour March of the Machine. More precise details can be found here. All in all, the level of competition will be fierce, and many of the best players in each region will be in attendance.

Prizes: Besides Gideon, Ally of Zendikar promo cards and a large monetary prize pool—for example, $100,000 in Europe and $130,000 in the U.S.A.—top players from each Regional Championship will qualify for Pro Tour March of the Machine, to be held at MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5-7. The exact number of Pro Tour invites differs per region. For example, in this transitional season it's 36 in Europe and 48 in U.S.A. Additionally, all Regional Championship winners, as well as the runners-up from U.S.A., Japan, and Europe, will be invited to Magic World Championship XXIX, to be held at MagicCon: Las Vegas on September 22-24, 2023 at. All in all, these are important events, with a lot on the line.

Qualification: If you're eager to start your own competitive Magic journey, then store-level RCQs are one of the best places to start. You can find tournaments on the Store & Event Locator or your regional organizer's website. Current RCQs through April 3, 2023 will feed into the third cycle of Regional Championships. Those RCs will be held in May, June, or July, depending on your region, in the Pioneer format.

Standard with Phyrexia: All Will Be One

Standard is a 60-card format that rotates every fall. Currently, it allows expansion sets from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt forward. It's the most popular way to play Constructed on MTG Arena, and it's the format for the upcoming Regional Championships. To grasp the latest Standard developments, I analyzed 350 successful decklists from competitive events over the past few weeks. Specifically, I used all published Magic Online decklists from Standard Challenge events held from February 8, 2023 through February 28, 2023 as well as all MTG Melee decklists with net positive wins from the same time period.

To provide a metagame snapshot that combines popularity and performance, I assigned an archetype label to each deck and awarded points equal to the deck's net wins, i.e., its number of match wins minus losses. For example, a deck that went 5–1 in the Swiss followed by a loss in the quarterfinals was assigned three points. The sum of these numbers for every archetype yields its record-weighted metagame share, which represents its share of total net wins. It may be interpreted as a winner's metagame that you can expect to see at the top tables.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Grixis Midrange 21.9%
2. Mono-White Midrange 15.9% ↑↑
3. Azorius Soldiers 9.2% ↓↓
4. Mono-Red Aggro 9.2%
5. Jund Midrange 4.3% ↑↑
6. Rakdos Reanimator 4.3% ↑↑
7. Boros Reanimator 4.1% ↑↑
8. Mono-Blue Tempo 4.1%
9. Esper Legends 3.6%
10. Mardu Midrange 3.1%
11. Domain Control 2.2%
12. Rakdos Aggro 1.8%
13. Azorius Midrange 1.6%
14. Mono-Black Midrange 1.5%
15. Rakdos Midrange 1.2%
16. Selesnya Toxic 1.2%
17. Esper Midrange 1.1% ↓↓
18. Grixis Reanimator 1.1%
19. Other 8.3%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist, and the arrows represent the biggest changes compared to my metagame roundup from January. The "Other" category, continuing the descending order, includes Esper Control, Mardu Reanimator, Izzet Tempo, Golgari Fight, Orzhov Control, Jund Hellraiser, Naya Double Strike, Golgari Midrange, Bant Toxic, Mono-Red Powerstones, Jund Titania, Gruul Modified, Rakdos Sacrifice, Naya Tokens, Grixis Mindsplice, Naya Aggro, Dimir Poison, Selesnya Enchantments, Izzet Powerstones, Azorius Mindsplice, Poison Ivy, and more. There are plenty of brews to go around.

The most-played non-basic cards across all main decks and sideboards were Reckoner Bankbuster, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Cut Down, Go for the Throat, Bloodtithe Harvester, Duress, Abrade, and The Wandering Emperor. These are the defining staples of the format that you will face in a large variety of matchups. As these cards suggest, most competitive Standard decks are interactive midrange strategies.

What's even more interesting is the impact of Phyrexia: All Will Be One on Standard. The following table has the 25 most-played new-to-Standard cards from this new set among the decklists I considered.

Card Name Total Copies Main Deck Sideboard
Blackcleave Cliffs 422 422 0
Darkslick Shores 228 228 0
Ossification 223 199 24
The Eternal Wanderer 196 180 16
Seachrome Coast 171 171 0
Sheoldred's Edict 151 89 62
Atraxa, Grand Unifier 150 150 0
Skrelv, Defector Mite 124 124 0
Rebel Salvo 88 5 83
Blue Sun's Twilight 82 49 33
Phyrexian Vindicator 76 7 69
Mirrex 73 73 0
Skrelv's Hive 71 32 39
Copperline Gorge 69 69 0
Furnace Punisher 56 11 45
Glissa Sunslayer 53 44 9
Armored Scrapgorger 48 48 0
Venerated Rotpriest 39 39 0
Tyvar's Stand 39 36 3
Razorverge Thicket 37 37 0
Vraska, Betrayal's Sting 36 26 10
Cankerbloom 36 22 14
Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines 34 8 26
Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler 32 32 0
Jawbone Duelist 29 28 1

The Decks to Defeat

Let's take a closer look at the four decks that we may see in the largest numbers at the upcoming Regional Championships. Due to their popularity, you need to keep them at the forefront of your mind when building your deck and sideboard plans. To pinpoint typical builds, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that considers the popularity and performance of individual card choices.

At 22.7% of the winner's metagame, Grixis Midrange continues its domination of Standard, featuring the best threats, interaction, and card advantage in its colors. The deck won last year's World Championship in the hands of Nathan Steuer, and its popularity has skyrocketed since then. While some main decks include Bladecoil Serpent and Blue Sun's Twilight instead of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, all versions aim to have higher individual card quality than opposing decks. You can control the early game with Make Disappear and Bloodtithe Harvester, pull ahead on card advantage with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Corpse Appraiser, and lock up the late game with Invoke Despair.

From Phyrexia: All Will Be One, the deck gained Blackcleave Cliffs and Darkslick Shores to shore up its mana base. These lands have replaced more painful or slower options like Sulfurous Springs and Shipwreck Marsh. In the sideboard, compared to the aggregate list from my analysis in January, we now see Parasitic Grasp instead of Siphon Insight. Yet these are all minor tweaks. Overall, the deck still looks strikingly similar to the way it was built several months ago, and it hasn't lost any of its power.

Mono-White Midrange, at 15.9% of the winner's metagame, has grown further in popularity over the past two months. It is arguably the most consistent midrange deck in Standard, as it sticks to a single color and has two-mana creatures that help find land drops. The deck has access to Wedding Announcement and The Wandering Emperor—two of the most powerful cards in Standard—and the mono-color mana base allows you to exploit Lay Down Arms.

From Phyrexia: All Will Be One, the deck added Ossification and The Eternal Wanderer to its arsenal, providing formidable interaction. In most builds, these cards have replaced Steel Seraph, Destroy Evil, and Sanctuary Warden. Another new addition is Phyrexian Vindicator in the sideboard, which helps against creature decks with damage-based removal.

Azorius Soldiers, at 9.2% of the record-weighted metagame, has fallen a bit over the past two months, but it remains a popular aggro strategy in Phyrexia: All Will Be One Standard. The deck has a great mana curve that combines pressure and synergy. For example, Harbin, Vanguard Aviator, Valiant Veteran, Skystrike Officer, and Siege Veteran all provide valuable early-game payoffs for focusing on Solders. In addition, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Dennick, Pious Apprentice provide nightmares to any opponents trying to cast reanimation spells.

From Phyrexia: All Will Be One, Azorius Soldiers gained Seachrome Coast and Skrelv, Defector Mite. However, these are only minor gains because Fortified Beachhead could already secure mana consistency and because Skrelv is not a Soldier. Overall, the deck still looks strikingly similar to the way it was built several months ago.

Mono-Red Aggro, also at 9.2% of the record-weighted metagame, is a fast, aggressive deck that aims to take the opponent down to zero life as quickly as possible. The version that is most prominent right now has cut Reckless Impulse and Jaya, Fiery Negotiator, thereby reducing its late-game staying power. In exchange, it exploits haste creatures like Phoenix Chick; Squee, Dubious Monarch; and Thundering Raiju for blazingly fast starts. If left unopposed, it can easily win on turn four.

From Phyrexia: All Will Be One, Mono-Red Aggro merely gained Rebel Salvo and Furnace Punisher for the sideboard. It's not even clear if Rebel Salvo is an upgrade over Rending Flame, but Furnace Punisher is an effective threat that dodges Cut Down and punishes greedy mana bases.

The New Challengers

While Grixis Midrange, Mono-White Midrange, Azorius Soldiers, and Mono-Red Aggro have held on to their position as top-tier archetypes, the new cards from Phyrexia: All Will Be One have enabled new strategies as well. Let's take a closer look at four emerging decks that leverage these new cards in interesting ways.

Although this deck can theoretically hardcast Atraxa, Grand Unifier by using Xander's Lounge, Ziatora's Proving Ground, and Treasure tokens, Atraxa mainly acts as the ultimate reanimation target. In that role, she's far better than Titan of Industry and more reminiscent of Griselbrand. The game plan of Rakdos Reanimator is to discard Atraxa by using Bloodtithe Harvester, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and Liliana of the Veil and to subsequently use the third chapter of The Cruelty of Gix to return her to the battlefield. A turn-five Atraxa will win any damage race, and even if she is removed, she will have provided a fresh grip of new cards.

While Rakdos is the most popular shell for this powerful reanimation strategy, other color combinations are feasible too. For example, there are similar-looking Grixis versions that splash for countermagic and similar-looking Mardu versions that splash for Sanctuary Warden. In addition, there are also Boros Reanimator decks that use Invoke Justice instead of The Cruelty of Gix. Indeed, are many ways in Standard to return the Phyrexian Angel to the battlefield on turn five. If you were to add up all the different color combinations, then Atraxa Reanimator would be the third-most popular macro-archetype overall. Hence, I wouldn't leave home without anti-graveyard cards in my Standard deck right now, whether it's Corpse Appraiser in the main deck or Unlicensed Hearse in the sideboard.

If you are afraid of graveyard hate or if you don't feel like necromancy today, then hardcasting Atraxa is a solid path to victory as well. This deck can do so consistently. Heck, even casting The Kami War is possible! It requires an enormous assortment of tri-lands, but the mana base math works out. If the opponent does not have access to countermagic, then these powerful gold spells allow you to go over the top of opposing midrange strategies with ease.

The tri-lands make it easy to achieve domain as well, unlocking Leyline Binding. Combined with the large collection of board sweepers, such as Burn Down the House, Depopulate, Farewell, and Drag to the Bottom, I decided to refer to this archetype as Domain Control.

I'll admit: a black midrange deck is nothing new. In fact, Jund Midrange is quite similar to Grixis Midrange, with many overlapping card choices. However, almost all the green cards in successful Jund builds stem from Phyrexia: All Will Be One, providing a radical new approach.

Glissa Sunslayer, if she lives, will do a lot of work. She is a particularly answer to Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, basically forcing your opponent into chump blocks right away. Another strong new card is Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler. The planeswalker not only allows Armored Scrapgorger to tap for mana immediately but also returns Bloodtithe Harvester to provide a repeated stream of removal effects. With these new synergies, Jund could be a viable alternative to Grixis.

Phyrexia: All Will Be One introduced the toxic mechanic, which is used by this green-white deck to quickly give the opponent 10 poison counters. With an efficient curve of toxic creatures, along with The Seedcore to turn all 1/1s into major threats, the deck packs a punch. The aggregate list also features several spells to protect your creatures and to trigger Venerated Rotpriest, allowing you to win the game outside the combat step.

The only nonland cards in the main deck that are not from Phyrexia: All Will Be One are Homestead Courage, Tamiyo's Safekeeping, and Valorous Stance, although they could be replaced with Compleat Devotion or Infectious Bite if need be. It doesn't happen often that a viable Standard deck can be comprised almost solely out of a single set, but Selesnya Toxic may have what it takes to compete.

Looking Ahead

Although midrange strategies remain popular in Standard, you can go under them with various aggro decks or go over them with Atraxa, Grand Unifier. As a result, the current Standard offers a range of viable archetypes, and the best deck choice for the metagame can vary from week to week. I look forward to seeing what the Regional Championship competitors come up with!

As a reminder, this week we are starting with Regional Championships in Japan/South Korea, Australia/New Zealand, and South East Asia. As a competitive Magic player based in Europe, I can't wait to wake up on Saturday, check out what is on top of their Day One standings, and analyze how to beat those decks in my own Regional Championship the week after. Join me next week as I analyze the first results!

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